If you’ve never experienced hiking in the rain I implore you to try it. Setting off to tackle a 5 hour hike on an eerily quiet July morning — reaping the benefits of waking well before sunrise — the weather would not rain on our parade. Greeted by murky turquoise expanses of water synonymous with The Rockies and Lake Louise, met with consistent heavy rain at 6.30am on this particular Saturday morning I feel as though many tourists have switched their plans. Maybe this is the winning ticket though, because as we begin our hike — almost instantly soaked to the bone (not clad in any type of waterproof or weatherproof gear) — we only meet a handful of people in the first 30 minutes, then blissfully, no one again for 2 full hours.
The Beehive lookout becomes our end goal. And by end I naturally mean our summit goal, don’t forget that to hike up means to hike down. Traversing mucky, shale scattered tree root trails, quickly we become engulfed by thick dark forest, misting rain settling on the evergreen extremities. Dull daylight creeping farther away as we step deeper into the mountain’s core. When we stop and listen (more often than not to catch our breath) the pitter patter of rain on my hood, the drips running down my face and the chorus of water cascading through thousands of mossy tree branches and scrub make for an intensely meditative setting. Transformed to a moment in time of such serene calm you forget how cold and numb your body, feet and skin feel. You simply feel alive and fresher than ever before, a tiny speck of human life in the vast landscape of Alberta, Canada.
Choosing the apparent path-less-travelled we navigate the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail, then follow the Plain of Six Glaciers, before looping back to begin the very steep Beehive incline. I would highly recommend this route, but note it’s a hard climb. Nearing our summit (surely we’re close, we pant) we take a minute to rest, eat a handful of nuts and risk an al fresco toilet break. All this time, we’ve been accompanied by the faintest tinkling noise, that being a bear bell. I still don’t understand how this kitten like toy (which comes highly recommended for such hikes) might have deterred any ominous hairy animal from hunting us down but we sure as hell shake it hard while relieving ourselves in the soaked dark corners of the forest. Unafraid of being caught by fellow humans (like I said, we seemed to have the route to ourselves) this made our chances of seeing bears all the more possible and all the more exhilarating. A stark reminder we’re in their territory, hours from civilisation and must keep our wits about us.
Clambering successfully to the top of The Big Beehive our view is slightly scuppered by misty rolling grey clouds but it doesn’t dampen our spirits. Knowing we’ve made it, all limbs aching but intact, the reward is the hike in itself as we gasp in the elevation and surrounds. 3 hours in the rain, suddenly the summit is plunged into minus temperatures and we’re met with snow and hail. Pulling on “dry” layers from our sodden backpacks, especially thankful for clean dry socks (despite wet shoes), it’s not long before we begin the descent for fear of catching our death from cold.
Zigzagging the switchback trail to Lake Agnes, a fear of heights would be unwelcome here. Half sliding using the edges of our feet, avoiding the sheer drop to the side of this steep downward trail we are called closer to a new icy blue lagoon surrounded by shores of snow, jagged peaks and high cloud shrouded forested mountains. By now we are seeing a couple of people every 15 minutes as the day creeps closer to noon. Nearing the lake edge we wish we had snow shoes, anything but day to day running shoes as the trail turns to pure snow and ice for the next 20 minute climb. *You really should not follow our example of attire.
Curving the entire outline of Lake Agnes, in the near distance a tiny wooden house on stilts comes into view, a welcome sight with the thought of some much needed warmth and refreshments. Once a stop gap for mountaineers built in 1924 by workers of the Canadian Pacific Railway, The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House now offers respite for modern day hikers while keeping its olden day charm. With no electricity or running water, supplies are taken to the hut on foot by the few who live and work there. Some larger items are taken by helicopter at the start of the season, but otherwise this tiny house remains lit by fire and candle, with packed-in hikers creating extra warmth if you’re lucky enough to nab a table indoors. On this particular freezing wet day I’m glad we had a meer few coins to afford one hot chocolate to share. Don’t forget your cash as they have no way of taking your credit card here, no matter the size of your bank balance.
Descending Lake Agnes Trail it’s slippy underfoot with mud strewn footfall increasing, tourists becoming more and more frequent. Passing Mirror Lake to then rejoin a much wider, maintained path leading to the end of our almost 5 hour loop our legs feel like jelly but we’re egged on by the thought of the car and the comfort and warmth it will bring. Not to mention that feeling of elation for completing the days challenge. Now the pathway is extremely busy with families and soloists just beginning their day of hiking, we’re full of joy knowing that while they’re just starting, we’re almost finished.
Lake Louise suddenly peaks back into view, the turquoise sheen darting through silhouettes of thinning treescape. Then suddenly and with relief the monumental and familiar exterior of the Fairmont Chateau is within reach. Back in the car, hot air blowing at max volume we scramble to strip the drenched clothes off our wrinkled skin and shimmy into anything remotely dry, myself and my boyfriend not speaking for a long time. Not because there’s a problem, very much the opposite. Taking in the scale of the journey just encountered: encompassing all weathers; nature; varying terrain felt underfoot; the vast landscape and imagery the eye has just captured and being witness to something truly special and bucket-list worthy, we take our time to silently reflect. Even now, a year and a half later I get goosebumps thinking back to this trip. A stark reminder of what amazing travel awaits us again, all hoping the opportunities return to us sooner than later. If you ever get the chance to visit the Canadian Rockies — do yourself a favor and don’t dare think twice.