Friday, May 21, 2010

Deep, Cold and Beautiful: It's Lake Louise in May

At this time of year, visitors arriving in the town of Banff and Banff National Park tend to be really baffled by the weather. It's sunny one moment and snowing sideways the next. Understandably, they're confused. There's a huge amount of variation in our temperature and snow pack, due to our immense size. Of course, elevation plays a huge part in this equation but basically it's pretty simple. Low elevation = warmer temps, no snow, leaves coming out. Higher elevation = snowy, cold and slower to melt. It's May and this is spring in the Rockies.

I frequently tell our visitors,
"It's Spring time in Banff and Winter in Lake Louise" and they look at me really befuddled. You try and explain it to them, but they just don't get it. After all, it can be sunny and warm and-oh-so-spring-like in our fine little mountain town.

They need to see it, to understand it.

They arrive with a vengeance in their RV's, with their backpacks and tents, in their flip-flops and t-shirts and are eager to hike and to camp. In particular, they want to hike and camp at Lake Louise.

They ask:
"Are there mosquitoes at the campground in Lake Louise?"
Heck, no. It's frequently below zero here in the Canadian Rockies. It's too damn cold for mosquitoes in May.
"Can I canoe in Lake Louise?" Certainly, you can. Just not in May. "Why not?"

That's when I have to break it to them.

Why not? Well, that's because it's frozen. In May and well into June, Lake Louise is frozen. I repeat, it's frozen. The iconic turquoise waters of Lake Louise are frozen under ice about 8 1/2 months of the year.

Like I said, you need to see it, to
get it.

Here's a picture of me on my run on Monday evening.

Aaaah. Sweetness. Warm spring air. Can't you just smell it? The smells of spring, moist and earthy everywhere.

Here's another picture of me on my run on Wednesday night:

WOW! Isn't it gorgeous? Clearly, it MUST be spring, yes?

You can understand why visitors don't believe me, when I break the bad news to them. How can it be spring in Banff and winter in Lake Louise?

Sadly, I'm sorry, it's true: Lake Louise is
frozen. Solid. Icy. Yes. True. Sorry. Get it?

Here's a picture of me today, looking down on Lake Louise.

I repeat, it's frozen.

Aaaah. Beautiful. Crisp, cool and clear air. Fresh. White. Lovely.
But, different - yes?

Deep, Cold and Beautiful - Lake Louise, Alberta

Here's the pictures from today's run, I enjoyed an adventure in the heart of the Lake Louise area. It was a great day, complete with gale force winds off the glaciers, mountain goats and lots of post-holing. It's spring in the Rockies.

The Bow River Valley

Mirror Lake

Lake Agnes

Lake Louise, as seen from the Highline Trail

Mountain Goats

Lake Louise, as seen from the Plains of Six Glaciers Trail

The trail ends here.


Although my photos may look winter-like, there were so many signs of spring to enjoy and take in. The plants emerging from the earth, the waterfalls flowing, the smaller lakes beginning to break up and the massive avalanche debris that finally, obstructed my journey. The mountain goats were working hard, digging in that hard frozen place - grazing and feeding.

As I descended back towards Lake Louise and back into the sub-alpine, I cruised by an avalanche chute that was alive with the signs of spring. Shrubs beginning to leaf, water flowing, grass emerging from the earth and jeeeeezus, what's that? A fuzzy little grizzly bear cub in the middle of it, not 20 metres off the trail. Crap. I stopped dead in my tracks, looking for Mama - but I didn't see a thing. No prints in the snow or earth, no signs anywhere, just a real live grizzly bear cub. I got out my bear spray, took off the safety and just kept running. Looking over my shoulder, of course.

When I reached the back of the lake, I got another nice surprise. Where the spring water was beginning to flow, from glacier, to snow, to stream, to lake - the ice had broken up. And Lake Louise revealed herself to me, with a glimpse of her turquoise waters.


Anonymous said...

oh my gosh leslie your home is BEAUTIFUL! I am excited to be in the US Rockies but your side looks drool-worthy. Next year I may have to hit you up for some fun your way!!

I was trying to explain the same thing about the weather to my parents (from NC) when they came into town. It was sunny and 80's in Denver but when we went just 45 min into the mtns it was snowing and 20-30's. the weather is always changing!
Take care and have fun- keep the pics coming.

Dan said...

Great pic,thank for sharing. I'm glad you didn't run into Mama Bear!

aka Moogy said...

OUTSTANDING. So jealous...

Meghan said...

Lovely, but where was mama bear?! No photos I bet, what with the concern you probably had for your life! Nice FiveFingers! Hugs!

Leslie said...

Yup, it's the 2nd time in 2 weeks I've had the bear spray out, armed and ready! Funny, but terrifying.

Hi T - I keep telling y'all, I really do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The first time we arrived in the Colorado Rockies for Trans Rockies, my partner and I were like "Seriously? This is it?" Followed by: "Where are the trees?" Don't get me wrong, that corner of Colorado is beautiful and I loved it, but it just wasn't what I was expecting. The only thing that compared was the Grand Tetons.

Hi Dan, I'm sure glad too. That was a seeeeeriously stressful moment! All of our bears are currently down in the low elevations, with all of the snow still up high. They are literally using the same trails as us, these days.

Hi Moogy! Yeah, baby yeah. It's sweet here. But you've got to embrace winter.

Hi Megs,

I dunno and I didn't stick around to find out. She had to be close! I was hootin' and hollerin' and being a good girl and making my "bear noises" before I saw the cubby, too! I'm seeing lots of dead things in the woods in and around Banff these days, evidently there's been an increase in cougar activity. The other day there was a cougar kill right in town that happened during the night on the front lawn of the Banff Centre campus.

Enjoy your weekend, everybody!

Matt Hart said...

gorgeous photos! as usual.

JeffO said...

Wow, so much adventure in such short time.
You should paint your Five Finger toe nails. That would look hilarious!

Kaz said...

Yup as I said before on a comment - that is exactly what it was like when we were there last. That being said it didn't just turn winter in Lake louise, but on our wee tent too at the campsite just outside of Banff. Got some cracking skiing though as a result! Glad we had rented a car so we could nip into town and warm up in a coffee shop!

It is truly a beautiful spot! We will be back again soon. There should be a trans Canadian rockies - I would be there in a flash!


HappyTrails said...

Absolutely stunning photos AS ALWAYS Leslie. That long spring can be a drag but those views that it creates are breathtaking. Theoretically your tourists could canoe on Lake Louise, it just would require a Toboggan strapped underneath... That turquoise water is worth the wait - beautiful! Run well and please, please avoid mama bear!!

Brian said...

Happy to hear that you didn't meet mamma bear. I think I would have soiled myself if I stumbled across a cub. We have 80+F ice to be seen. Could have used some of that cool weather for my first AR of the year.

Danni said...

Awwww widdle cub!

Anonymous said...

HI Leslie! beautiful pictures as always ;-)
I guess that is the only time of the year were i don't miss Banff.......we have 25degrees and spend the last 3 days on the river :)
see you soon and make the snow go away - I want to go hiking ;-)))

mrf0rd said...


Stuart said...

Very always! We have the variety from sea level to high desert to the sierras! Lot's of variety

Carolyn said...

Awesome Leslie! One of my fave places and two of my favorite trails...minus the summer crowds!
As always, awesome pictures!

Sara said...

So happy to have stumbled on your blog while researching Banff trails. My husband and I are visiting the last week in May and being from Kansas - an hour in any direction and the weather is the same - it didn't even occur to me that areas would still be frozen. But, of course they would! Your pictures are glorious though and even if the whole town is a solid sheet of ice make me even more anxious to be there!

Laura said...

I'm glad to have stumbled across your site! I am heading to Banff at the end of April to go skiing. I was very curious as to whether I would be able to catch a glimpse of the famous Lake Louise in an unfrozen state. Your blog answered that for me! Thanks, it's nice to know what to expect.

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Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your blog and photos. Im here in the UK and trying to decide if i should come to Banff end of May. Would love to do hiking around the area including Lake Louise, take photos. I keep wondering if there will be too much snow/ice on the lake. Your photos here have been very helpful :-) Such a beautiful area

Unknown said...

Your blog post is very helpful, I'm going to be visiting Banff in late May and have been doing a lot of research about it. Can I ask about your shoes for hiking? Will I need to have snowshoes or some kind of coverings it looks like you have on your shoes in the pictures?

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