Memories of Lake Louise and the Columbia Icefield

Tim and Deborah at Lake Louise, Alberta

This week, after thoroughly enjoying and extending our stay in Revelstoke, we arrive a day late to Lake Louise. We were continuing our way toward the Calgary Stampede but couldn’t pass up a visit to Banff and Jasper National Parks. This area offered great memories for both of us. Deborah reflected on a teenage summer camping trip here in 1968 with her parents. Together, we reminisced on our romantic engagement stay at the Fairmont Lake Louise in 2006. Once again, a planned stay at a campground was cut short. But this time, it wasn’t just the lack of cellular or internet.

Tim’s Perspective

Lake Louise, Alberta

Lake Louise, Alberta. One of the most beautiful places in North America.

There is no doubt that Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful places in North America. Located just a few kilometers from Trans-Canada Highway 1, it is easily accessible. Returning here this summer, my emotions were divided. I am delighted that so many people are able to come and see this beautiful glacial lake nestled in the Canadian Rockies. At the same time, I cherish the memory of my first visit, many years ago, when it was an isolated, peaceful destination resort.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise sits in the spine of the dramatic rocky mountains that define the border between the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. These mountains are home to six Canadian National Parks and numerous provincial parks and wilderness areas. Visitor fees are reasonable—just less than $10 per day per person or $68 for a yearly pass (Canadian dollars).

Lake Louise 2019, a popular tourist destination.

Last week at Revelstoke, we were happy campers in a relaxing park with great WiFi. At Lake Louise, we thought we knew what we were in for.

Bow Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier

Bow Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier

I made our Parks Canada reservations back in January, on the first day I could register but just barely secured one of the last spaces available. It included electricity only—no water or sewer hook-ups and no WiFi. Additionally, national parks generally do not have cell service except (maybe) at the main villages. There were way too many trees for us to connect our satellite TV dish.

Canadian Pacific Railroad

With no phone, no WiFi, and no TV, we anticipated quiet nights. These national parks were initially reachable only by the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR). We knew the tracks went along the side of the campground but also knew all crossings were separated by under- and overpasses. No need for locomotive horns. Well, that lasted about 20 minutes before the first train came by—and not more that 150 feet from BAM. It blasted not one, not two or even three, but four long, loud blasts. 

Lake Louise campsite

Willy and Bam parked at our campsite at Lake Louise. Very peaceful for 20 minutes at a time.

I didn’t time the frequency of the trains, but a good estimate would be three an hour—all day and all night. Being inquisitive, I walked about 50 feet to see why the heck the locomotives were honking when no roads crossed the tracks. There, off the main campground road, was an access road to the tracks. It was a gated and locked service entrance, owned and used only by authorized CPR vehicles.  They say you get used to locomotive horns and can sleep through them, I’m here to say: not all of them and not in two nights! We left before we could find out if the third night was the charm.

As I was awoken throughout the night, I often wondered what thoughts go through an engineer’s head. It’s the middle of the night and there were maybe 500 people, half in tents, sleeping in nearby campgrounds. I mean, really, is it pleasureful to hold that horn down? Do you think you are a musician when you add the final two quick beeps at the end? Don’t CPR employees, the only people authorized on this locked road, have a system to know when a train is coming?

The Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway

Willy ready to tour the Icefields Parkway

Our exploration focused on The Icefields Parkway. It starts in Banff National Park just north of Lake Louise and ends in Jasper National Park at Jasper. We became quite friendly with the entrance ranger. When I stopped for photos at Herbert Lake just past the entrance, I discovered I didn’t have a memory card in my camera. We backtracked to BAM and then stopped at the entry gate to say hello a second time.

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park

Clouds and rain seemed to be closing in, so we stopped at nearly every viewpoint for fear they would be socked in on our return. As we proceeded north, the mountains  became more dramatic and the glaciers increased in size and frequency. Many peaks are classified as horns. Most glaciers were high up and ended at the edges of massive cliffs. Often, they seemed to be hundreds of feet thick at their break-off edge. 

Peyto Lake at the Bow Summit

Peyto Lake at the Bow Summit

The road follows the Bow River. It’s a glacial aqua blue as it flows into and out of multiple natural lakes. In flat valley areas, it is often hundreds of yards wide as it ribbons through vast, flat glacial crushed rock beds. Finally, we headed up Sunset Pass and the beginning of Jasper National Park and the Columbia Icefield.

The Columbia Icefield

Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield

A section of the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield

The Columbia Icefield is the largest in the Rocky Mountains. It covers 125 square miles in area and reaches a maximum thicknesses of nearly 1,200 feet. There are six major glaciers, with the Athabasca Glacier the most visual and accessible from both the Parkway and the Glacier Discovery Centre. From the Centre, you can access large, 60-person snow coaches and travel onto and up the glacier.

1948 Athabasca Glacier marker

Tim and the 1948 Athabasca Glacier marker

During the modern era of this Icefield, the Athabasca Glacier reached it largest size around 1840 before it started receding. There are signs marking the 180-year recession all the way from the Discovery Centre to current Athabasca ice. Standing next to a sign marking its size at my year of birth, it is a long walk, both back to the maximum ice size in 1840 and forward to the current glacier. To me, it is amazing how long this steady shrinkage has been. It is also shocking to see the current, accelerated rate that it is happening. I am so happy to have visited. The Athabasca Glacier, like so many of our natural wonders, may not be here forever.

Deborah’s Perspective

As a teenager, my family would travel and camp each summer with a small 16-foot travel trailer and a camp tent. I was a reluctant participant and not nearly as mesmerized with the scenery as I was in reading my books, trying to find a rock-and-roll radio station, missing my friends and staying connected by writing long, handwritten letters.

Summit Pass, Jasper National Park

Summit Pass, Jasper National Park

In the summer of 1968, my family traveled to Canada and visited several of Canada’s national parks, including Lake Louise, Banff, and the Columbia Icefield.

Summer of 1968

As Tim and I traveled the Icefields Parkway, some old and foggy memories began to return to me with amazing clarity. “I remember camping at Mosquito Creek campground,” I declared as we approached the turn-off. I remembered that particular campsite for two reasons. One was the sound of the river that flowed by our campsite and the other was because I thought the campground was named appropriately. Several of the letters I wrote while I was there included the swatted and squished mosquitos on my white, lined, notebook paper.

Athabasca Glacier, 2019

Athabasca Glacier 2019. Note: The 60-person snow coaches on the glacier and the parking lot.

As we neared the Athabasca Glacier, I surprised Tim when I told him that I had been there with my parents in ’68. I described the visit and told him that the glacier was right next to the parking lot. When we arrived, we spotted the parking lot, and then I saw the glacier. To my surprise, the glacier was now a hike from the parking lot.

Quickly, I assumed that the glacier had receded over the past 51 years. That assumption was quickly validated as we discovered the signs that marked where the glacier had reached since 1840. Sure enough, a 1964 marker was at the parking lot.

Summer of 2006

After 25 years of marriage, Tim and I got divorced in 2004. Then we feel in love again, got engaged, and remarried in December of 2006. During the summer of 2006, Tim and I took the Rocky Mountaineer train trip from Vancouver to Banff. It was breathtakingly beautiful. After a couple of days in Banff, we shuttled to Lake Louise and stayed at the beautiful and elegant Fairmount Hotel on the edge of Lake Louise.

It was a special and beautiful time, and I recall Lake Louise as a quiet, serene, and romantic destination. A memory very different than the crazy, crowded venue of 2019.

Memories

Our adventure in Lake Louise and the Columbia Icefield has included amazing scenery, fun times, and, for me, some beautiful memories. It was bittersweet to recall the memory of my young parents determined to travel, explore, enable their two children to see the world, and create lasting family memories. Even with my teenage attitude, I vividly recalled the love, adventure, and excitement of seeing and visiting new places every summer, including here in 1968.

Tim & Debra at Lake Louise 2006

Lake Louise, 2006

And as Tim and I recalled our hand-in-hand hike around Lake Louise in the summer of 2006, I could actually feel that excitement of being in absolute euphoric love, wanting to be with this wonderful man every minute, day and night.

Lesson Learned

My lesson learned on this trip was that, even though Risk Blossoming is about living the life that we dream, memories are an important part of that life. Memories give us insight into ourselves: our life, feelings, personal attributes, and traits. Memories can transport us back into the past, to the person who lived through that previous experience. And they can help us to understand who we are today, and give us insight into the future, to the person we are yet to become.

Explore. Discover. Grow

 

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