My lungs are burning, my legs noodle beneath me. My existence is reduced to the never-ending switchbacks that lay ahead. At least we’re out of the jostling throng of spectators below at the base of Lake Louise; Now there is just the single file groups heading up and down that path like some enormous human slinky.
Luckily the way is shaded and only occasional patches of sunlight break through, leaving us to hike in the cool. At one point, we get a glimpse of the lake several hundred meters down below us. It’s the same aquamarine color as all the other bodies of water we’ve seen so far in Banff.
We trudge on and eventually come to a fork in the trail. Right takes us the long way round to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, while the left is short but will take us up a much steeper elevation gain. We choose the left, and are promptly rewarded with a stunning view into the backcountry. West has the itch to explore… I just have the itch. The sun is hotter now and sweat is weeping from every possible source. A breeze whips up, however, and saves the day as we march upward.
Finally, we come to the bottom of a ridiculously steep staircase. We can hear the taunting sounds of the waterfall ahead and begin the ascent. At last we top out! Before us is nestled a little alpine chalet perched on the cliff next to a waterfall on the shores of Lake Agnes. Wood smoke and the smell of teas and cakes drifts towards us as we shamble our way forward.
40 minutes and several long lines later we have out teas and West his cookie. We sit overlooking the lake and waterfall as newcomers top out and join the groups milling about sipping tea and enjoying the fruits of their labor. The tea is excellent, warming my now shivering flesh as I cool off from the grueling uphill battle. I scoot closer to West seeking his body heat as a slowly sip my hot herbal beverage.
We eventually head back down the trail at a good clip, our knees taking a pounding, but our hearts light and the mood jovial. Along the way, we begin keeping pace with a father/son and son’s girlfriend trio. The father and son are from Australia and the woman from the US we soon gather. Several hikers of Asian heritage stop the father man and in broken English, inquire how much further it was to the top. “Half way there mate!” he answers brightly. We are about 3/4 from the top it should be noted. They excitedly move on and the man turns to us and whispers loudly, “Whoops! Probably should have told them the truth, but just wanted to give them a little hope, you know?”
We continue on with them enjoying the comradery you share only with those whom you have shared a common trial with. We bid them goodbye at the trailhead and get back to our car and off to our next adventure.
We drive for eons it seems into Jasper National Park to the Columbia Ice Fields. The glaciers around us are enormous and ancient, the sun glancing off them like cities of glass. We don’t stay long at the fields with the bus loads of tourists rushing the viewing platform every few minutes. We head for base camp after not much time at the Ice Fields but this is no sad thing, for the drive is littered with stellar views. It’s hard to get away from the views here. Thankfully, we don’t mind.