|High Season calls for lowered expectations
Lake Louise is busy in winter but it’s a mob scene in the summer. Correction: A mob has a leader. it’s a herd scene in the summer. At 10:30 the parking lots were nearly full. By noon you couldn’t park a skateboard. Cars and RVs were circling bumper to bumper - like vultures waiting for someone to give up their space or die.
Down at the lake you had to stand in line - just to get up to the water so you could take a picture. Linguistically it resembled the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, every language is spoken here but English. If you do hear English chances are it will be the Queen’s English, not the Canadian or American twang. The predominant language is French but you also hear German and a lot of Japanese. So you have to make a decision. You can either get annoyed that people come to your hemisphere and have the audacity to speak a language you don’t understand - or you can choose to enjoy the diversity and the sight of people from all over the world having fun. We chose the latter.
Having seen Lake Louise a decade ago in winter, the difference today was striking. Victoria Glacier at the end of the lake is shrinking rapidly. No longer do you hear the occasional thunder of a piece breaking off and falling into the lake. The thunder has been replaced by the gurgle of water running off faster than it is being replaced. At this rate in ten or fifteen years the glacier will be gone - if it lasts that long.
We took off on a trail that runs the length of the lake. For the first quarter mile the trail was as crowded as the dock, but farther along the trail got empty. At the end of the lake you come to the river of glacial run off. Here the water is chalky and more opaque than the lake. The chalkiness is caused by finely ground stone dissolved in the water. This ‘glacial talc’ accounts for the milky turquoise color of the lake.
Rock walls at the glacier end are tall and steep - so steep that most of them are vertical. Here several groups of rock climbers were testing their skills. On the trail back we started meeting people again, and by the time we reached Chateau Lake Louise the herd had grown! The only way to take a picture that didn’t have people in it was to point your camera straight up! We had lunch on the Chateau’s patio, then gave one of the vultures our space.
We headed north out of Lake Louise and turned onto Highway 93, the famous Icefields Parkway. From Lake Louise to Jasper we will be passing Alberta’s icefields, the largest and most famous of which are the Columbia Icefields that surround Mount Columbia. At 3,747 meters Mount Columbia is the highest point in Alberta. For the metrically challenged, 3,747 meters is just under 12,200 feet.
We drove for 80 miles, stopping for the night at a small primitive campground in the National Park. From the campground we can see the mountains surrounding the ice fields, their jagged peaks softened by the thick white glaciers that cover them. It’s a scene of ethereal beauty, well worth a trip across the continent to get here. Tomorrow we'll take a closer look but for tonight - a warm bed on a dark night beckons.