I wanted to remind everyone that Woolrich and Travel Alberta have teamed up with the folks of the Rocky Mountaineer to give away the exact same Canadian railroad adventure from Vancouver to Banff that I’m currently writing about. I’ve never been able to do anything like this before—write about a trip and then offer it as a prize to my readers. But here you go. If you’re reading about my railway adventure through the Canadian Rockies and thinking, God, I sure would like to go on a trip like that, well, here’s your chance.
This week’s winners are Charles Kulander, who lives in Moab, and Barbara Roberts who lives…well, I don’t know where she lives since she didn’t tell me. But I’ll let Woolrich figure out how to get her stuff to her.
We’ll be doing the give-away again next week. So send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and in the header put “Woolrich.” You don’t have to put anything in the body of the e-mail except maybe your name (and maybe where you’re from).
The view of Lake Agnes from the teahouse veranda. Photos by David Lansing.
Sitting at an elevation of 7,005 feet, some five and a half miles from Chateau Lake Louise, is the Lake Agnes Teahouse, billed as “the highest situated tea room in Canada” when it was first built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. It’s crazy to think about, isn’t it? A tea house up near the top of the Continental Divide, reachable only after a long hike of several hours?
Here’s the amazing thing: I realized once we got there that the stout woman with the oversized backpack and friendly dog who zipped by us on the trail an hour or so ago, moving so quickly it was almost as if she was jogging, was the very same woman inside the cozy little cabin making tea for us. She’d been carrying her supplies—fresh milk and assorted pastry goodies—in the backpack. Something she does every morning.
The teahouse was surprisingly busy. We hadn’t really seen more than a few other hikers on the trail, but there were at least a dozen day-trippers sipping tea inside the cabin and an equal number out on the deck, taking in the views of the little lake and the ragged peaks of Mount St. Piran.
Because of the crowd, it took a while to get our pots of tea, but no matter; no one was in a rush. It felt good to sit on the tree stumps that had been converted into seats and to strip off some of the many layers of clothing and let the cool mountain air cool us down. Some from our group took their tea down to benches by the side of the lake; others huddled around a pot-belly stove inside the cabin. After about an hour, Bruce gathered us up and said it was time to head back down. We slipped off to the south side of the lake, over the top of a waterfall, and began retracing our steps back to Mirror Lake and the Chateau.
On the descent I was actually able to keep my head up, not having to constantly gasp for air, and take in the scenery. It was spectacular.
Just a reminder that if you haven’t entered the Woolrich Adventure Sweepstakes to win a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff (including a stay at Chateau Lake Louise), you should do so. You can enter the sweepstakes here.
This is week two of the Woolrich give away. They’re giving away either a men’s railroad vest or a woman’s buffalo check shirt—your choice—to two of my readers each week. All you have to do is send an e-mail to me at (email@example.com) with the subject header “Woolrich” and your name in the body of the e-mail. Every week, through June, Woolrich will pick a couple of my lucky readers and send them some cool Woolrich product.
Last week’s winners were Angeline Munoz and Lorelei Dacus. Send me an e-mail…you might be this week’s winners. They will be announced on Saturday.
So we hiked all day and we hiked all night. I thought we’d never stop hiking. Actually, that’s not true. We only hiked for about four hours. It just felt like we’d been hiking all day.
We took the Lakeshore Trail around the eastern shore of Lake Louise. That was pretty. Nice, wide path and not too difficult of a climb. Before we headed into the forest, we stopped to admire the diamond-like glint of Victoria Glacier which is slowly slipping into the lake, dragging with it all the rocks and boulders and grit of the mountains which is why, front this perspective, Lake Louise looks a milky blue. It’s all the dirt particles in the water refracting the light, Bruce said.
Big Beehive looks down on a reflection of itself in Mirror Lake. Photo by David Lansing.
From here the grade steepened considerably and the trail narrowed. Bruce walked alongside me for a bit, asking me questions about my work, until I pretended to had to tie the laces on my boots just so he’d move ahead, ending our conversation which, for me, was labored in the thin air. At one point, Bruce stopped the group and knelt down over some scat just off the trail. It was smaller than cow pies but larger than deer berries.
“Anyone know what this is?” he said, pointing at the pile.
“Poop?” said Erika.
“Well, yeah, that’s right,” said Bruce. “But what kind of poop?”
No one offered a guess. “It’s from a grizzly,” he said, and then he went into a monologue about how bears shit in the woods for several reasons, not the least being to let the other animals know they’re there. “It’s like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant,” he said. “If one bear poops on a trail, he’s telling any other bears that may come around that this is his turf—stay away.”
Just like people.
After about an hour and a half of steady climbing, the trail finally leveled out as we approached tiny Mirror Lake. It’s called Mirror Lake because it perfectly holds a reflection of nearby Big Beehive mountain atop its glassy waters. From here it was about another half mile up a pretty steep trail to the biggest surprise of all, a little teahouse on the shore of Lake Agnes. As we approached, Erika wondered if they also served cocktails. “I certainly hope so,” I said.
Our Heritage Guide, Bruce Bembridge, wearing the traditional Swiss guides hat. Lots of weird hats on this trip. Photos by David Lansing.
The itinerary for yesterday morning called for a “guided hike” at 10. That’s all it said—guided hike. There was no mention of grizzly bears or breathless ascents on a five mile trail nor climbing 1,260 feet up the side of a mountain. No, sir. Just a “guided hike.”
Like I said, I’m definitely the most urban guy on this trip. So when I walked into Bruce Bembridge’s funky little office (snowshoes on the walls, Hudson’s Bay blankets on the chairs, a beaver pelt here and some yellowing maps there) wearing my Rainbow flip-flops, he suggested that I might want to go back to my room and get some footwear that was, in his words, “a tad more substantial.”
How far are we hiking? I asked him.
“Oh, just a ways up the mountain,” he replied. See, that’s the problem with these outdoorsy types: They think a five mile hike with 1,300-feet of elevation gain is “just a ways up the mountain.” I think it’s a heart attack waiting to happen.
So I went back to my room and put on some hiking boots and a few more layers of clothing. When I got back down to where Bruce, who is one of Chateau Lake Louise’s heritage guides, was standing in front of the lake chatting with our group, he’d also gotten me a couple of walking poles. “You might need these,” he said. I noticed no one else was given walking poles. No matter. I took them.
A forest full of tree huggers. Photo by David Lansing.
Bruce turned out to be a regular Will Rogers, full of information and blustery stories about bears and avalanches and getting lost in the woods. At one point, he stopped to tell a story about the trees and how you can tell the difference between a spruce and a fir (spruce needles are sharp and hurt like hell when you grab a bunch, as Bruce insisted we do; fir are soft and pliable). He told everyone to gather around a fir while he talked and then he asked us to give the tree a hug.
“Now, no matter what your politics, you’re all officially tree-huggers,” he said.