Thursday, August 13, 2009

The First Hike - Plain of Six Glaciers at Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Distance: 8.4 miles (13.6 km) round trip
Time: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Season: June - October

The Plain of Six Glaciers at Banff National Park is an absolutely quintessential hike for all who visit the Canadian Rockies. While it was surprisingly quite busy, that is for a reason. This hike basically has every geological and ecological aspect of Banff, in addition to unbelieveable icy scenery all rolled into one spectacular valley.

The hike begins at the enormous Chateau Lake Louise. The hike begins as a leisurely stroll along a flat trail skirting the eastern edge of the turquoise blue Lake Louise. After 2 km, the trail reaches the end of the lake at a muddy delta forms where the inflowing stream deposits its glacial flour into the lake. Here, the trail begins its slow ascent through spruce forests with glimpses of the beautiful hanging glaciers in the back of the valley.

About 1km after departing the lake, openings in the trees reveal a massive terminal moraine from the last advance of the Victoria glacier in the 1800's. Here, massive cascades of brown water tumble down the debris field where the stream has cut a notch into the moraine. The trail begins climbing more, as it skirts the edge of the valley, with towering mountain peaks rising above.

There is a place at appears to be nearing the end of the trail, with the glacial headwall seemingly just behind it. However, this is a false illusion, as the trail then switchbacks up the slope. However, within 1 km from that point you will arrive at the "teahouse". The teahouse is an alpine hut serving expensive sandwichs, pasta, coffee, and an assortment items. This is where most people end the hike, with a spectacular view into the back of the basin, with glaciers all around.

However, by continuing an easy 1.3 km further, you can reach the very back of the basin and stand directly above the beautiful Victoria glacier. From this end point, there is an incredible view all the way down the valley to Lake Louise below. In addition, you can see the crevasses and other glacial features up close and personal. In the very back of the basin, there is a narrow notch known as "Death Trap" which is filled with ice and has vertical cliffs rising from all sides.

I found being so upclose and personal with a glacier to be an exilerating experience. This became especially so when the something like the sound of jet airplane came rumbling through the valley. Upon looking onto the other slope, I saw this amazing avanlance in action!

Although this trail was much busier than I prefer to hike on, the incredible beauty of the spot and the fascinating geology made it well worth tolerating the crowds and really the highlight of my visit to Banff!


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