Saturday, October 03, 2009

mountaineering

Today's soundtrack:
Begin to Hope by Regina Spektor
Buena Vista Social Club by Buena Vista Social Club
Viva la Vida by Coldplay

On Wednesday, the Spaniard and I rented a car and drove into the Rockies for a midweek mini-break. We had decided to stay at the Chateau Lake Louise, as Miguel had gotten a ridiculously good deal and we just couldn't say no. Mountainview hotel room for $139? Sure, why not? Who needs a view of the lake anyway? So we threw our clothes in the trunk, quickly burned a few cds, charged up our cameras and took off.


Since we couldn't check into the hotel until 4pm, we decided to spend Wednesday meandering about the Rockies, slowly and leisurely making our way to Lake Louise. We stopped in Banff and had a quick lunch at Subway (even though we were staying at Chateau Lake Louise, we were on a budget. We're students, after all) before driving to Sulphur Mountain. This is where the Banff Gondolas are, where you can ride all the way to the top of the mountain, enjoy the view, and ride back down before your Starbucks coffee gets cold. Being on a budget, however, we decided that the $24 per person ride just wasn't worth it (also, I am rather terrified of heights). Besides, why be lazy and take a gondola up when you can hike up the mountain! What's 5.8km and a vertical climb of 655m? The guidebook says it only takes about 2 hours each way. It'll be like a walk around Westwood Lake.


Within a few hundred meters of the beginning of the trail, I was already cursing Miguel. Whose brilliant idea was this anyway? At 1/4 of the way up and I'm sweating, panting, and seriously considering turning around. And just when I'm about ready to pack it in, this view erupts in front of us.


Okay, maybe we'll keep going. By the time we were 3/4 of the way, I understood why people took the gondola, but Miguel reminded me that the fellow who lived in the weather station at the top of the mountain would hike this trail everyday. Well, if a Brit could do it...


When we reached the top in 1 hour 30 minutes, I felt like I'd just climbed Mount Everest. I am Kate, Mountaineer. I was feeling very proud of myself. We hiked over to the weather station, from which the view is amazing, and back to the top of the gondola station. As we climbed a small flight of stairs, I felt as though my legs were about to fall off. I, quite literally, could not walk another step. All illusions of a future career as a world famous mountaineer disappeared as we hobbled towards the gondolas. What was normally a $12 one-way trip was free because the ticket agent wasn't working that day, so we hopped on a gondola and rode down the mountain. And while it was a lovely view from the gondola, it goes by so quickly that there is no real opportunity to soak it all in. Although my hip was screaming at me that night and the next day, the hike up Sulphur Mountain was worth it.


We arrived at Lake Louise and checked into our hotel, surrounded by young men in green Swiss mountain guide outfits. Turns out that's their uniform. We, to our great surprise, were put into a lakeview room on the 8th floor. The walls on one side slant in a bit on account of the gables and we had the most amazing view of the lake. In short, we couldn't have had a better view if we'd paid $500 a night. We snickered at those folks who did.


The next day, with my hip screaming at me, we were determined to hike the Plain of Six Glaciers, which is 14.2km roundtrip and a vertical climb of around 365m. Miguel, having visiting Lake Louise before, had hiked the Big Beehive and over to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, wanted to see the Victoria Glacier and the other teahouse. I had no real interest in heading to Lake Agnes, as it seemed like everyone went there. The trail is marked easy, after all. The Plain of Six Glaciers, however, is labeled "strenuous, steep sections". Excellent. We left at noon, pack filled with snacks, and started our trek with very few folks nearby. The trail was not busy, although we rarely went an hour without seeing someone. For the best, probably, as I spotted bear droppings in two places - not more than a day or two old - so the more people on the trail, the better.


The views from the trail were amazing. Rockfalls, glaciers, peaks, and rose quartz cliffs meant that we stopped pretty frequently for pictures.


At the teahouse, we scarfed down tuna salad sandwiches and lemonade. The teahouse itself is staffed by lovely folks who live in the cabins nearby for 5 days at a time, then hike down at the crew change. Afterwards, they hike back up with a full pack of supplies for the teahouse. What took us an hour and a half takes them an hour or less - with a full pack. There's no electricity and everything is cooked and heated by propane stoves and lamps. Essentially, they are camping in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Nice work if you can get it.


After lunch, we hiked out to the Abbott Lookout. What was a nice path turned into a goat path (all I could think of was when Lady J and I were lost in Cinque Terre), and then into a shale, rocky goat path. Summoning the little courage I had, I followed Miguel up this narrow goat path on top of a pile of rocks which overlooked a steep fall onto a glacier (and death) on one side and a less steep fall onto jagged rocks (and serious injury) on the other side. The filling of pants was worth it, though, when we reached the very end of the path and had this amazing view of the Victoria Glacier coming down the mountain. We couldn't see the little cabin, though. The very cold, very strong wind off of the Glacier sent us back down the mountain and towards the teahouse after only a few minutes.


My very fancy wool sweater actually kept me very warm up on the Lookout. Other folks (mainly Germans), with their fancy mountaineering clothes, rushed back shivering. Thank you, Elizabeth Zimmerman.


The way back was slower, as by this point my knee was hurting from compensating for my wonky hip. Miguel borrowed my Warmest Mittens, as his hands were freezing, and liked them so much that I'm now knitting him a pair to match his fancy orange scarf. At about 4:30 in the afternoon, we arrived back at the Chateau, jumped into our swimsuits and headed down to the steam room to warm up and rest our weary bones. After an amazing dinner and dessert in the Lounge, we headed back to our room and watched a Ken Burns documentary on the National Parks in the States. I'm already mentally planning our next hiking trip in the Rockies.

The next morning - our last morning there - we woke up to snow and fog. The other end of the lake wasn't even visible. Worrying about the roads, we left earlier (much to Miguel's chagrin) to avoid snow and ice. We stopped in Canmore for lunch and wandered around the downtown. I even managed to accidently stumble across a yarn store - Knit and Caboodle - but managed not to buy anything. Shocking, I know.

Today, being Saturday, we are no longer on vacation, although we have not yet had showers or moved from the futon. Miguel is reading Norwegian Wood and Regina Spektor is on the stereo. Maybe one more day of vacation wouldn't kill us...

3 comments:

  1. Wow! Cinque Terre kind of seems like a pony ride compared to this adventure, Lady K! Loved the post, you crazy, spontaneous kids :)

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  2. I love the hike up to the teahouse. We started in town (of course I was almost 20 years younger when I did it...sigh). Such a majestic trek. Thanks for the memories!

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  3. 1) Your first photo of cascade mountain was my view every morning driving to work for 2 years!

    2) Locals'secret: if you hike UP sulphur mountain, you can get a free ride back down on the gondola. Also, if you have a Banff address on your driver's license, you can go the whole way on the gondola FREE. Too bad I had to change mine...

    3) AWESOME SWEATER. Looks warm on that dirty, dirty glacier!

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