summer adventures, part 2: plain of six glaciers tea house hike

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

The night before our final full day in Banff, I found myself stressing out about the hike I’d planned for the following day. A dark, needling feeling of doubt had inserted itself into my mind, and that feeling grew stronger as the hike grew nearer.

I worried that the hike was going to be too far for us, and that I wasn’t fit enough to make it to the end. I worried that the kids would hate it, and I worried that I would hate it. I worried about bears. Actually, I worried quite a lot about bears.

But mostly, I worried that I wasn’t capable.

I kept these fears to myself. I didn’t want the kids to know that I had any doubts. I didn’t want them to have any reason to whine and complain any more than usual. If they started in on me about not going, I knew that I might back out. And I had no intention of backing out of this hike. As nervous as I was about it, I was committed to completing it.

There are two hikes in Banff, both out of the Lake Louise area, that lead to historic tea houses. The most popular one is to the Lake Agnes Tea House, a tea house has been serving customers since 1905, and it is a 4.5 mile round trip hike. Our guide book recommended it as an excellent hike for families. The other tea house hike is to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, built in 1924, and a 7 mile round trip hike.

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

We chose the Plain of Six Glaciers. It seemed less popular, thus would probably be less crowded. It also seemed like more of a challenge, given the distance, and I really wanted to challenge myself. Plus, the lure of chocolate cake at the completion of the uphill portion of the hike was strong, and I thought it would be a great incentive for the kids to stay motivated.

The hike started with an easy 2 km walk around Lake Louise to the trailhead. Once on the trailhead, it was a gradual uphill climb for the majority of the hike to the tea house. The gain in elevation was not tremendous, just 1380 feet (420 meters), but my ankles and calves felt every bit of that climb in elevation.

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

There were many moments on the hike where the only sounds were the chirping of ground squirrels from the rocks along the path, trickles of water down the sides of the mountain from the melting snow fields, and the rhythmic crunching of our feet on loose gravel. I would find myself lost in my own thoughts, and then I would remember: bears.

“Kids, start talking,” I’d say. “Talk loud.”

I wish I could say that the kids loved the hike. I know they look back on it fondly now, or at least Oliver does. For a lot of the hike, it was mostly the following, repeated over and over again:

I hate this.

How much longer?

Can we go back?

This is stupid.

I’m not doing any more stupid hikes on this trip.

The beach is so much better.

Most of this was from my daughter. My son’s sweet disposition hasn’t yet been tarnished by the evil pubertal hormones, and he is still blissfully unaware of how uncool, unreasonable, and stupid his parents are.

“We can do this. Keep going,” I would say. “We’re not turning back.”

Also, “There’s chocolate cake at the end.”

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

There was one point where steel cables were bolted into the side of a cliff. Oliver was a bit freaked out by this, but really, it didn’t feel terribly scary. As long as I didn’t look down, that is.

Looking back, Lake Louise appeared small in the distance. We could see the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, but it looked tiny and unimpressive from so far away and so high up.

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet


plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

We were only passed by a handful of hikers, in small groups of two to four at a time. Most of those who passed us were younger or obviously more fit. We were not passed by any parents with young children. I felt better and better about myself as we neared the top.

The last set of switchbacks were tough, but we knew we were nearing the end, so we pushed on, despite the grumbles from the tween. We rounded a final corner, and we were there. We’d done it. It had taken us about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

This path continues on for another kilometer to better views of Abbot Pass and Victoria Glacier. We were satisfied with stopping at the tea house.

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

The view from the tea house. I believe this is Mount Victoria.

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House has no electricity or running water, but they serve plenty of wonderful treats that are baked on site using propane stoves. The kids ordered biscuits with jam and honey, we shared two slices of chocolate cake, and we all had lemonade.

As we sat on the balcony of the tea house enjoying our well-deserved treats, we heard only the occasional quiet conversations of the other hikers who’d made the trek, the chatter of Clark’s Nutcrackers in the trees above us, the murmur of a snowmelt-fed creek nearby, and the periodic rumble of avalanches echoing across the valley from the neighboring mountain.

It was heavenly.

After about an hour at the tea house – enough time to eat our packed lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonder bread (the best PB&J I’ve ever eaten, by the way), use the outhouse, and let the kids play on the rocks in the nearby stream – we packed up our stuff, donned our backpacks, and headed down the trail that would lead us back to Lake Louise.

On the hike down, I caught myself gloating when I passed sweaty, exhausted-appearing but more fit younger people. I gloated more when a group or two of them turned around and headed back, without completing the hike.

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

That day was one of my favorites of our trip. I challenged myself — the whole family, really — to a 7 mile hike, and we did it. I proved to myself that I was capable. I was sore for a good two to three days afterward, but it was so incredibly worth it.

There is something so wonderful and awe-inspiring about seeing beautiful, hidden scenery that not everyone gets to see, and only getting to do so through physical exertion and will power.

I fell in love with hiking in the mountains that day. Which is a bit of a shame, since I live in one of the flattest places in the United States.

plain of six glaciers | the merry gourmet

After hiking up and downhill for 7 miles, we didn’t look so bad.

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20 Responses to “napa valley, california: eats and drinks”

  1. Elizabeth Howes — October 26, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

    Great shots! I actually live in Marin (40 minutes south of the wine country) but never get tired of photos of the area. Especially when they involve great food and wine.

    Thanks for sharing — and Happy (belated) Birthday!

  2. Kristina @ spabettie — October 26, 2010 @ 8:47 pm

    GORGEOUS photos ! I went to Bouchon (Vegas…) for my birthday… I have always wanted to visit all the restaurants in Napa… it all looks delicious!


  3. Kate @ maître de moda — October 26, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

    What a great post – the pictures are fabulous!
    Happy birthday! I cannot wait to go to Napa one of these days…the food looks absolutely fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Gail — October 26, 2010 @ 8:56 pm

    I got up from my sickbed to have a bite to eat and look at food blogs.
    This post has cheered me up more than words can say.

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  6. Dr. Bob — October 26, 2010 @ 10:32 pm

    Gorgeous photography.

  7. Kate @ Savour Fare — October 26, 2010 @ 10:43 pm

    OK, now I have to open a bottle of wine.

  8. Kim — October 27, 2010 @ 1:13 am

    Happy belated birthaday! Oh how I wish I spent mine in Napa. Maybe next year?!

    Beautiful pictures!


  9. — October 27, 2010 @ 3:00 am

    excellent pictures!
    that weather is perfect for a glass of wine and nice food! 😀

  10. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — October 27, 2010 @ 6:40 am

    Looks like a wonderful trip MJ. Can’t wait to read a little more about it all. And it brought back so many memories 🙂

  11. SMITH BITES — October 27, 2010 @ 7:27 am

    beautiful MJ and so happy you got to go for your birthday! we wanted to see Napa this summer when we were there but just didn’t have the time with everything else that had been scheduled – but i feel as if i’ve been there now because of these gorgeous photos! does make me want to visit even more – love it!

  12. Maria at Fresh Eats — October 27, 2010 @ 9:17 am

    Such pretty photography of a wonderful place. Looks like you had a wonderful time! Makes me want to go back.

  13. Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle — October 27, 2010 @ 11:58 am

    I was supposed to visit Napa this summer but life went a bit awry, so I’ll enjoy a bit through your visit and pine for the day it actually happens maybe a bit more? Beautiful photos, thanks for taking us along!

  14. Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles — October 27, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

    What an opportunity you had! Lovely photos!

  15. Nancy@acommunaltable — October 27, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

    Gorgeous photos!! Can’t wait to hear more about your trip! Last time we were there it rained the entire time – but it was still a blast and we loved every minute of it!!!

  16. Wendy (The Weekend Gourmet) — October 27, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

    Your post is bringing back some wonderful memories of my trip to SF/Napa in Spring 2009. Love Bouchon Bakery…we ate dinner at ad hoc and loved it. I’m sure Bouchon is fantastic as well. Want to go back next year for another ad hoc dinner + Bottega. And more vineyards!

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  18. Steph — October 29, 2010 @ 11:35 am

    Lovely pics! I’ve always wanted to visit Napa in the fall.

  19. Nothing better than Napa Valley! I am fortunate to live about an hour away and pop up there often. Bouchon bakery and restaurant are among my favorites!!! Nice photos – thank you for sharing! Must try that Barlow wine!

  20. Jason Phelps — October 31, 2010 @ 8:40 pm

    Holy pictures! I have to get to Napa ASAP.


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