Hiking // Banff National Park // Tea House Challenge

TeaHouse

Hello friends!  This past weekend the hubby and I took a mini-getaway to the mountains!  We left late morning for our drive from Calgary to Lake Louise (186 km / 1 hour, 45 minutes), deciding along the way to conquer the Tea House Challenge – hiking to both the Lake Agnes Tea House and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, or 14.5 km, on the same day.  Upon arriving at the parking lot at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, we gathered our goods into our hiking bag, and hit the trails at 1:15 pm.  The short walk from the parking area to the Chateau Lake Louise is always a WOW! moment with a stunning view across the lake.  We took this same shot on our first visit to the area – but of a frozen Lake Louise – so we were excited to visit the area during the summer.  The weather was forecasted to be predominantly overcast with a light rain at higher altitudes – so we were hoping that we would still be able to capture some epic views along our hike.

Beginning of our hike in front of Lake Louise

Beginning of our hike in front of Lake Louise

First up was the hike to Lake Agnes via the moderately inclined 3.4 km (2.1 mile) forested trail, with an elevation gain of 400 m (1,300 ft.).  You walk along the right-hand path of the paved promenade around the lake (Lake Louise on your left and the Chateau on your right) for a couple hundred meters, passing a bronze statue of a Swiss mountain guide before reaching the beginning of the Lake Agnes/Beehives trail plaque.  The main paved trail continues all the way around the lake (Plain of Six Glaciers trail), but you want to take the right-hand fork in the trail.  After a short incline, you will cross a horse trail, which signifies the end of the paved path.  Here the true trail begins…and it’s a straight uphill climb through the forest.  Along the way, we experienced a few “teaser” views of the aquamarine water of Lake Louise peeking through the tree branches.  We know we have reached the halfway point when we come to an opening and a switchback in the trail that offers a perfectly clear view of Lake Louise and the Chateau!

Ready to Hike!

Ready to Hike!

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First part of the trail

Glimpse of Lake Louise from the wooded path

Glimpse of Lake Louise from the wooded path

Hike 1 - Tea House Challenge // Lake Louise

Chateau Lake Louise

Hike with a view!

Hike with a view!

Beautiful color of Lake Louise

Beautiful color of Lake Louise

Due to the overcast skies and intense humidity, the climb kept us hot and sweaty, so we stopped briefly to take a few pics of Mirror Lake with the Big Beehive looming above.

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Mirror Lake is a popular pit stop before reaching the Tea House

Big Beehive behind Mirror Lake

Big Beehive behind Mirror Lake

We pass the junction to Little Beehive and hike past the waterfall before climbing the two-tiered steep wooden stairs to the Lake Agnes Tea House.  I had read that average time is 1-2 hours, depending on fitness level, so being competitive by nature, I wanted to time us.  –> We arrived at our first destination in a whopping 48 minutes!!!  <–   We stopped to explore the Tea House, read the menu, watch the fat chipmunks scavenge for food, and then decided to carry on our merry way to the second Tea House.

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Waterfall at base of Lake Agnes Tea House

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First Glimpse of Lake Agnes Tea House

As we continued our way along the shore of Lake Agnes, we were surrounded by towering mountains.  Even through overcast shadows, the combined view of the valley below us and  Devil’s Thumb promontory (it is not considered a mountain!) overlooking Lake Agnes were breathtaking!

View of Chateau Lake Louise from Tea House

View of Chateau Lake Louise from Tea House

Devil's Thumb behind Lake Agnes

Devil’s Thumb behind Lake Agnes

The next segment of our hike was a 1.0 km (0.62 mile) descent predominantly on a thin, rocky, and twisting trail through pristine aromatic forest to the Highline Trail.

Initial descent to Highline Trail

Initial descent towards Highline Trail

We gradually lost elevation through the trees, and upon entering open trails, finally glimpsed our final objective – the Plain of Six Glaciers.  After 0.7 km (0.44 miles), we arrived at the connector trail.  The hubby and I choose to stay on the upper Highline Trail (another 1.3 km, or 0.8 miles), certain that our return path would bring us back along uncharted territory.  The path opened up and we saw the valley below rippled with rivulets of water fed by the glaciers.  We could hear the river bubbling, but could not yet see it.  There were significantly fewer pics along this part of the trail because shortly after we encountered a hillside of vibrant flowers, and then traversed a somewhat precarious rock ledge, it started to lightly rain.

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Glacier fed rivulets

 

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Happy Trails…to You…

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Hillside of wildflowers

The final part of the trail is a steep rocky surface, winding back into a mild ascent through the trees right before reaching the Tea House.  We scurried like little mice over the rocky incline as the rain started to come down harder.  We barely stepped onto the porch and sat down at a table before it started pouring!  –>  Total time for reaching Tea House #2 was 1 hour, 52 minutes!!! <–  We felt like rock stars conquering the second half of the hike in 1 hour, 4 minutes!

Final steps before the Tea House!

Final steps before the Tea House!

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View of Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier from end of Tea House trail

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Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

By this time, our bodies were exhausted, and we were craving some fuel!  We ordered  delicious black tea, a Tuna sandwich (hubby), a Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich (me), and a dessert as our reward for a hard climb!  By the time our dessert came to the table, the rain had subsided and the sun shined brightly for a brief 20 minutes before hiding behind the clouds again.

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Pic of fleeing sunshine after heavy 20-minute rainstorm!

There is an additional trail extension to a viewpoint closer to the field of glaciers – sign read 1.3 km (0.8 miles) – but as we had a 6 km (3.7 mile) return hike with heavy skies above us, we chose to head back.  The view of Lake Louise as we began the return hike was spectacular!

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We hiked back along the Plain of Six Glaciers path until it split between the upper Highline Trail and the lower Lakeshore Trail.  We chose to hike the Lakeshore Trail as it would prove uncharted territory for us, and were quite pleased with the soft forest footing, the sounds of the nearby river, and glimpses of small waterfalls.

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Waterfalls dotted the return path

Unfortunately, just as we neared the lake, the path was flooded due to the brief, but heavy rainfall.  We saw a few hikers take off their shoes and socks and attempt to wade across, but the hubby and I decided against that idea, not knowing the path or what lie in the water (jagged rocks, slippery rocks, etc.)  After a brief moment of debating on waiting for the water to fall back, or continuing forward, we decided to turn around and head back for the closer connecting trail, and weave our way back in the general direction that we initially hiked.  A fellow group of hikers behind us told us that it would add another 1.5 miles to the return path, but as the hubby and I were enjoying ourselves and the scenery, we didn’t mind.  And so we began, essentially, our third stage of the hike.

What we failed to realize upon making that decision was that the connecting path was STEEP and JAGGED and TWISTED.  It seemed that our ascent would never end…with each switchback we were greeted with yet another rocky hill.  It made our calves burn for a full 30 minutes…but we made it!  We finally connected back with the Highline Trail in 1 hour, 1 minute.  After a few rolling  hills, we finally came upon the initial descent of our trail.  And after a peaceful and steady 49 minutes, including some downhill trail running for the last 2 km, we finally arrived back at the lake – and were greeted by this view…

…indeed, we are in the heart of the Rocky Mountains!

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Final view of Lake Louise

The entire Tea House Challenge loop, normally completed, is 14.5 km (9 miles), but our total for the day was an additional 1.5 miles, making our first Canadian Mountain Hike a solid 3 hours, 40 minutes and 17 km (10.5 miles).

If you truly want to spend the entire day hiking, there are a few other shorter trails you can add along the way:

  • Lake Agnes Lookout: 500 m to back of lake
  • Tea House to Little Beehive: 1 km (0.6 miles)
  • Tea House to Big Beehive: 1.6 km (1 mile)
  • Devil’s Thumb Scree

Have you ever been hiking?  What is your favorite trail??

Jen

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