teacups

The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

One June 27th, we came up with a great plan and it worked out really well, and it was a lot like the one that we used to get to the top of the tramway in Jasper. We basically got up early, left the campsite before nearly anyone else had even gotten up out of their tents, and we hit the local bakery before heading up to the parking lot at Lake Louise.



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And even that early in the morning, the parking lot was already half full and the walkways were starting to already get crowded, though it was as much from the people that were staying at the hotel right there as it was from people coming in from elsewhere.

But I was impressed at how many people were just right at the nearest edge of the water of Lake Louise. Of course, they all had a good reason to be there....

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Yeah. It's gorgeous. The hotel is right behind us while we were taking this. To the left is the boat house that has all the canoes and other water craft, and to the right is the path around the lake. There were a lot of people using the path for a morning constitutional, and there was a pretty marked contrast between those people who knew that they were there for nothing more than the level, flat beautiful walk along the lake and those that knew that they were going up to the teahouse on the far end.

There are actually two tea houses around the lake. One is much closer, the path branching off just a bit from the hotel, but it goes straight up to that tea house. The Plain of the Six Glaciers Tea House, however, is much further(5.5 km). You have to go to the far end of the lake and then start heading up a path that starts pretty sloped and then just keeps getting steeper and steeper until you've gone 420 m (1380 ft) up.

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The flat lake trail was a real treat after all the up and downhill we'd done the day before. I hadn't tightened my boots enough for the downhill the day before, so my second toenail was already pretty bruised. I knew that there was going to be a lot of climbing and descending today, but I figured that I would just go until I couldn't anymore, rest a little, and then keep going... *laughs* A simple plan... but it pretty much worked out.

The lake walk was fascinating because all the people who were going all the way up, and then even a bit further to the feet of the glaciers themselves (another 2km and another 1000 feet up) had packs, water, sun protection, and their special shoes and walking poles to help them along once it got really slippery. The day walkers who were out for a stroll mostly had each other, maybe a bottle of water, and one man even had his newspaper. That amused me.

There were plenty of benches along the way which really were beautiful places to just stop and enjoy the view. And on the way out I noticed a lot of stair/alcoves to the water, where you could walk down to the water and put your feet in, and I promised myself that when I came back down that I'd would do exactly that.

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At the far end of the lake, we looked back and could see the hotel...

The slit flats right where the water from all the glaciers heads out into the lake as surprisingly solid. The path went over the water via walkways that let the water run underneath the wooden paths, and there were the marks of horse's feet on the silt, but not deep. Even that big and heavy and animal didn't sink at all, and they seemed to meander through the water freely. The water was cloudy with silt and still along the edges against the cliffs.

There were a few climbers up on the walls there, and we watched them for a while before heading up into the forest path.

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This is looking back once we cleared the trees. About a third to halfway up... once it got into the clear. The forest itself was pretty restful, with plenty of shade. There were a few turnouts to go by the water that was coming down to the lake and I took advantage of every one as the path pretty much went unrelentingly up. I took pictures of the trees, the flowers, the path... and found myself doing my best to catch up on breathing with each set of pictures.

That was a useful thing to just do. We also brought along two full water bottles and drank pretty freely from them on a regular basis. The path was really solid, wide on the most part and smooth enough that the slope uphill wasn't difficult to get up in so far as the footing. That can make a trail a lot more wearing than it already is due to the slope.

I was really glad of my river hat, too, once the shade ran out. I'd been a little sunburnt from the day before because we hadn't known there was a trail at the top and hadn't brought along our hiking gear, this time John was all ready with all our stuff and I was very glad of that.

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Especially once we were completely clear of the trees.

The glaciers had pushed all this material up the sides of the trough that the water now runs down, and the paths along the top ridges of them were really solid, but they didn't look that solid. *laughs* And then there was this section of trail that was pretty much alongside a colorful cliff of worn down rock. You can see the hiker going along it, and there's a steel cable attached to the wall for a handhold when things are icy or slippery. It's pretty amazing.

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As we walked along that cliff path, I met this gnarled little tree perched at the top edge of the stone. I loved it and really want to paint it some day. The dark bark and the gnarled wood as graceful as dragons....

There aren't many that are like that, honestly, most all of the trees around here were straight and well set into the stone or earth.

There were quite a few people on the trail with us, people that we were passing, and who would pass us whenever we were taking a rest. Mostly in ones or twos, but there was a whole pack of younger people who had the ice poles and full gear. There were nearly 20 of them and when they were going they were fast and then whenever they stopped group dynamics would take over and they would stay in one spot for a really long time as they all took pictures and then organized so that they could get going again. John and I started calling them The Peloton. *laughs* As they would all go wooshing by us at once.

Luckily, they had just passed us when we reached this cliff path, so we didn't have to worry about them, just a couple other people we were with.

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And perched on top of a mountain was the Moon. We noticed it starting to head toward the horizon when we started the hike, and since we were going toward where it was going to set, we decided to wait on taking pictures of it, and when we were out on the open trail, John noticed that it was touching the peak...

So we got a good shot of it settling into the snow.

The last few switchbacks seemed to take just about forever, but the last one suddenly dove back into the cover of some really short trees. We'd somehow into a different mountain's tree line, and there was suddenly shade and a creek that ran along the path itself. There were rocks that stood above the water, but it was clearly made so that the water would run through. I really loved that.

Then the stones suddenly took on not just a pattern, but were pretty clearly laid down... and we were in the plaza of tables and paving stones that was really for hikers to stop and just sit down and enjoy the view. We kept going just a little ways, saw a pretty amazing outhouse, and then a ways further was the Tea House.

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I made it.

*laughs* I was pretty pleased, too. And the tea house had a menu of a couple of types of full meals for lunches including sandwiches and even a hot dish that they served with a few sides. But we weren't really hungry for a whole meal after that workout, and they had simple tea biscuits with hot tea. So I got some black current tea while John was sane and asked for the cold lemonade.

It was high altitude tea. The altitude changes the temperature that water boils at, so it never really brews the same at altitude as it does at sea level; but it tasted wonderful nonetheless, given how thirsty I was. The biscuits were just a slightly sweet version of the buttermilk biscuits I make for a starch for dinners. I was kind of surprised at how good they were with jam. I think I'm going to have to make some at home in the afternoon sometime when I want something to go with afternoon tea.

It was a wonderful break after the long hike, and in the shade of the patio the breezes felt great, and I really enjoyed just resting for a while. My right knee wasn't particularly happy with me, but it wasn't seizing up, which was good; but it felt really good to just be off it for a while.

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A family of four had come just a bit before us, and their two children hadn't really liked the biscuits. When they all left, these guys came into check out the baskets. They're Clark's Nutcrackers, and they were as bold as anything. Flying right in and eating everything in sight and mostly ignoring the people that came by. It was pretty impressive, because the moment the family left, they were in there, picking up everything they could.

The staff of the Tea House live there for five days in two cabins that were built at the same time as the Tea House, and they hike in and out along the same path that we took. There was one older man who stayed on the ground floor, telling stories and greeting people as they came in, and he was part of the staff as well, selling shirts and things in a little impromptu booth outside the house. It was fun listening to him, as he was loud enough to hear from the second floor, while we finished our food and drink.

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He's there in the shorts, talking to customers. The whole tea house is pretty rustic and beautiful in its own way, covered with prayer flags. I wonder if that's just something all mountain places do more of? I don't know, but a whole lot of places that are much higher up in altitude in Colorado seem to have a lot of Nepalese items around them. It's like a bit of the spirit of the Himalayas has just transfered itself to any place that considers it closer to the sky...

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Or maybe it's just closer to the snow and stone.

All good things.

This is one of the six glaciers. And while we were watching, we heard the crack and rumble of an avalanche coming down off the high snow. It's that time of year, and at first I thought it was thunder, but then there were more crashing sounds than booms, and we could see the puff of while snow against the blue sky. I was amazed to watch the pour and fall of snow and ice in the distance.

The avalanches seem to be pretty common this time of year as the melting happens. And there were peaks and mountains surrounding the plain that the tea house was built on. There was also water running through it with stones and benches and tables to settle on. The pit toilet turned out to be clean, neat, and completely stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Very nice.

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I really enjoyed this resting spot, especially with the views in all directions. It was pretty amazing just to sit and look around.

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Eventually, though, we had to head back down.

This guy... *laughs*

He was actually someone we'd met on the way up, he'd come up from behind us, nearly jogging the last switch backs, talking loudly about how everyone got to this point and thought the path was going to go on forever and then the tea house was right there. And as we started on our way down, I heard him behind us, talking about how he'd left one of his poles at the outhouse and people had thought someone was in there just because he'd forgotten about the pole.

He apologized about being in my picture and I said, "No, honestly, you've been a part of this whole experience." He laughed and trotted on down the mountain.

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Going down was much faster than going up, surprisingly and shockingly so. There were all these stretches where I hadn't had any idea I'd been going uphill on the way up, but which were obviously downhill on the way down and so much easier on the legs than it had been the other way.

I found myself stepping aside for everyone that was coming up, yielding the right of way at pretty much every opportunity because it was so obvious that they were working so much harder than I was. I was amazed, as I'd been worried, at the beginning, that I might not be able to make it down on the way up. This particular picture was of a path that had been broken rock we'd been stepping our way up that I'd been worried about my knee for on the way down. But it turned out to be really easy.

On the way down...
As you can probably tell by my expression in this picture, I felt pretty good about the way down. I had tightened my boots at the tea house, which really relieved my aching toe. And the hard part had already been done...

On the bottom third of the climb, we met up with a group of people who were clearly not outfitted for the full climb. They didn't have water bottles or hats, and one lady was in sandals. They had a tiny dog with them, that they were already having to carry. That kind of bemused me, and when the man, who was leading the group asked us, "How much further is it to the tea house?" We had to tell him pretty much the truth and that they were barely a third of the way up and it was only going to get steeper. He looked a little grim, but we told him that there was a good look out just a little further on, where they could look back and see the whole lake, and he was grateful for that.

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Near the bottom of the path, I started seeing a lot more climbers up on the walls. They were everywhere, all roped up and ready to go, with tons of pitons already set into the rock for courses that were already mapped out.

A lot of hikers stopped to watch them as they climbed their way up over the sheer walls. It was really amazing to see them from below like this, and there were packs of them cheerfully shouting help to each other for sections that had overhangs. One girl dropped from the wall while we were there, but the ropes were there for a reason and she had a spotter that did exactly what was needed.

After all the up and down hill walking the flat walk along the lake was not a problem. I think some of it is that I've been doing three mile (5km) walks nearly every day, and they're not just easy, but the whole walking motion is now something I can just do for just about ever. Going forward along a flat is now just easy, when there was at time when I would have run out of steam much earlier.

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I got my treat at the very end. We actually headed down the first set of steps I was able to find, as I hadn't remembered there being multiple accesses; but it turned out that there were three or four of them all along the lake side.

The water was very very cold. I guess it should have been obvious, given that it was all glacial melt; but it was still a shock to really tired, hot feet that had been shut up in solid boots for most of the day. And it felt so very good when I actually settled in. I really enjoyed it a lot. As we sat there we were joined by several other people, including one couple we'd traveled with on the way up. They'd come down a little slower and later than we did, and it was fun to talk with them again while we just sat and rested.

I was pretty proud of actually having made it all the way up and all the way back down again.

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By the time we made it back out to the car, the place was utterly packed. Tour buses come on a regular basis and drop hundreds of people off to go take pictures at the near end of the lake. So there were crowds and crowds of people, bunches of them following tour guides with the little flags in duckling rows.

The parking lot was so full that when we decided to sit at our car and eat our lunch we got asked by about a dozen different people if we were leaving. We replied that we were but only after we'd eaten our lunch, and one guy decided that meant he should just park in the lane and wait for us, with a gradually growing line of people behind him until a ranger came to tell him to move along.

That was just... weird. And the public restrooms down by the parking lot were in the worst shape of any of the restrooms I'd seen so far on the trip. The rustic little outhouse up by the teahouse was cleaner, and that's saying something.

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We headed south from Lake Louise, intending to get to Radium Springs for the night. John had heard that there was a hot springs there, much like the Glennwood Springs springs, where they had built a huge swimming and soaking facility right on top of the natural springs.

We took 93 South through Kootenay National Park, with its own ranges of mountains, but enormous stretches of it were burnt like this. Mountain after mountain was covered in nothing but the blackened skeletons of what had once been trees. It was astonishing how much damage there was, and it had been quite some time ago as there were lots of little trees growing now out of the wreckage of what had been vast forests. It was kind of sobering to drive through such vast stretches of such destruction.

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There was still some green and life amid all of that. There were other cars stopped by the side of the road, so John stopped and we got to see a whole herd of these mountain goats browsing in the greenery that grew all along it. The newness of summer had them shedding mightily and I was so tempted to go over and pull some of that wool off for spinning. *laughs*

The tiny baby was so cute and fuzzy in contrast with the scraggly, shedding elders. But they were all over the side of the foothill and it was good to see the life.

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Right when we turned off the main highway to head toward Radium Springs, there was this single range of mountains that we saw in the distance that were unlike anything else we'd seen up to that point. Most of them were pretty rounded on top, worn by weather and wind and time. But these were so defined, sharp, and craggy that we actually took the exit and pulled to the side simply so that we could walk back and get a good shot of them.

I have to admit that they remind me a lot of the grandfather mountains in the book about the hats. *laughs* I've totally forgotten the name of that book, but the kid? or animals? give the grandfather mountains these hats, and the mountains looked like these. Huge, craggy, old, and sharp as anything, and it was a funny thing to be reminded of one of Jet's childhood books out in the middle of our adventure...

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There really wasn't all that much to the town of Radium Springs. Just one main drag, with a grocery store on one end, the town hall and information center on the other, and a strip of hotels, restaurants, and businesses in the middle. There was a whole string of hotels between the Springs themselves and the downtown, but we decided to stay in town in this little place. It was old and odd, and we had two rooms that both had a king sized bed in the front and a queen sized bed in the back, with an AC only on the window of the back room.

We turned it on, got our swimming gear and headed to the Springs.

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The Springs were just at the south border of Kootenay National Park, and right at the boundary was this magnificent crack in the wall of the mountains that the road went through. We dropped in the parking lot and walked back and forth a few times, taking pictures from various vantages. It was startling to drive through to get into town, and we went back through it to get back to the Springs.

There are other angles of the passage in my Flickr photo group, and it was really fun to get out and take them and listen to the water falling through.

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The hot springs facility looked like it had been built during the 50's, then anything radioactive had some appeal for the Future. It was all in that style. The tile and glass and steel of the changing, bath, and shower rooms was stark and utilitarian, but they required that all shoes be left out in the hallway, and not taken into the changing area.

Once inside, I found a busted locker, and just put my few things into it. I figure that at most of these hot spring spas that if someone can actually pay the entry fee they're not desperate, so there really isn't anything to fear about them actually stealing anything. And the things that I bring I deliberately make sure they're not valuable at all. I'd left my purse back at the room, and so all I had was my towel, clothing that I wanted to change into after, and I left my glasses in there.

I went out to the pool and was very happily surprised to find the water completely clear and odorless. It turns out that this is one of the very few hot springs in the world that are that way. I was used to the Glennwood Springs hot springs that smelled of sulfur and left layers of deposits all around the rim of the pool. This was perfectly clean and clear, and just as hot. After the long hike, I just sank in up to my chin and sighed.

It was wonderful. John and I soaked until we were too hot, got out and dipped in the cold pool for a bit, and then went back in and soaked again. When we got out, we just dried off and went back to the room to shower thoroughly before going out to dinner.

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The town of Radium Springs was just one strip of businesses along a main street with a grocery store at one end and the town hall at the other; and a strand of hotels that led up to where the springs were. There were a few restaurants in that extra stand of businesses, and one of them was The Old Saltzburg Restaurant, which served Austrian food. They advertised their spaetzles even in the phone book, so we decided to eat there.

They were delicious. John got nothing but the spaetzles, mixed with a cream sauce and various veggies. I got a grill assortment of meats along with veg and just plain, toasted spaetzle with plenty of butter. Yum. I really enjoyed my meal and it was a special that came with both salad and apple strudel for dessert. John helped me with the salad, and the strudel was good, too.

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After dinner, we did a little exploring, and found this enormous lumber plant behind the town. It was astonishing how much wood there was piled up there, and along the far side of the plant were all the 2x4s and other cuts of wood that had been made from all the trees.

There was also a dirt road that led to this plant, and there were warning signs saying that lumber trucks used the road, and that you had to communicate on certain frequencies in order to not get in the way of the trucks that were bringing the lumber in. That was impressive and a little intimidating.

There was also a small river flowing through the area back there, by the dirt road, and a little sign said that it was the beginning of the Columbia River. We both were astonished by that. The Columbia is a river as wide as some seas by the time it gets to Washington, and I guess it had to start *somewhere*; but it was amazing for both of us to see the Columbia so small we could actually throw a rock across it.

The room had a small air conditioner in the back bedroom, and we had it on full blast as we went to sleep. It worked just fine, and we were comfortable enough, and after 27,500 steps, 227 flights of stairs, and a full day I slept really well that night.
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