Saturday, August 24, 2013

Under the Chateau

Today I try to get in the hike to the glacier that was preempted by car repairs yesterday. I wake up, get dressed and do a 15 point turn in my campsite so that I can drive out frontwards and manage to do so without destroying any more pieces of my house. The hike that I’m starting leaves from the Chateau on Lake Louise and goes up to some small peaks called the beehives because of their round shape and ribbed rock faces. It then joins the trail to Lake Agnes 1000 feet above Lake Louise before climbing over a ridge and down into the path of the massive glacier that carved these mountains. The glacier has receded significantly in just the last 100 years and the trail goes deep into the valley over the ice to a hanging glacier.
I first go into the hotel to see if I can find a snack to bring along because I’ve run out of food to bring on hikes. There is a little mall under the hotel with a candy shop. I stop in to get some granola bars but have to spend five dollars to meet the minimum for credit card purchases so I get a couple of candy bars as well. I can tell that the shop owner is Japanese because of the way he hands my credit card back to me; held with two hands, gripped between the thumb and index finger at the corners, the plane of the card parallel to the counter. I used to see this a lot at work and always appreciated the respectful way with which an action as small as passing a card was handled.

As I exit the store I hear the faintest sound of a harp playing an undulating, thalassic melody emanating from the stairwell. I follow the sound up to the lobby where the harpist is playing the last notes of Clair de Lune. The lobby can’t live up to the vision that I formed of it as I followed the music up the stairs; it’s a typical lodge design with antlers and earthy colors with some clean looking modern landscape paintings hanging behind the reception desk; nothing too risky. Though I get the same feeling inside that I do outside that the hotel is trying to look much more expensive than it is. This is no Frontenac and the treatment on the outside is the same as a Holiday Inn just on a more massive and spacious scale. Still, you’re paying for the view of the lake, the hikers are the ones looking at the hotel.
As I climb the trail the big hotel is never out of view for long, reminding me that if I were rich I’d be heading back there for dinner and a drink after climbing this mountain on horseback while taking pictures with my Leica rangefinder. It also never seems to get any smaller no matter how far away I get which is a bit discouraging when I try to gauge my progress. A sheet of cloud coasts along the valley floor and before long it’s blanketed the mountains across from the lake which makes the views from the beehives a bit less dramatic but really deepens the color of the lake.
The lake is given its color by the rock flour ground up by the passage of the glacier over the bedrock, brought down by the melt water along milky streams. Lake Agnes has none of this suspension and is a clear dark blue. A tea-house has been built on the shores of the lake and I find this strange at first and counter to the concept of preservation that the park system promotes. I think that landscapes that were popular for recreation at the turn of the century were all developed before the park system was in place to protect them and will all have these types of amenities. That said, it seems like it would be a great place to stop for lunch on a hike if I was willing to spend $10 for a bowl of soup.
Along the way I’ve been watching Gray Jays forage for berries from the trees. They move from branch to branch with such efficiency of energy; a jump and a spreading of the wings, the landing impact absorbed by flexing their legs requiring no fluttering of wings to arrest the fall. If they need to turn a corner they’ll dive straight down off their perch flip their wings once to change direction and sail to their next perch. Because of this they move through the air like they are on rails, never wasting a movement, and they’re fascinating to watch. They scavenge on the ground as well, hopping around and digging through the grass.
After about 8 miles I set foot on the glacier. I don’t realize it at first because it’s covered in gravel from the mountains but looking down from the ridge of the terminus that I’m walking along I see splits in the gravel revealing blue ice where the glacier is moving around corner. Another couple of miles and I’m at the terminus of the hanging glacier. The ridge gets so steep that the gravel under my feet just rolls me down the hill as I try to climb so I sit down and watch the ice up on the cliff hoping to see a piece calve off. I had heard the thunderous sound of ice falling from the cliff when I was in the woods earlier but as I wait it seems that all has stabilized for the moment.

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