Saturday, January 31, 2009

Banff and Calgary - Day 3 (Part 2)

After a short while of walking down the trail, we came across a sign. One of the arrows pointed in the direction we came from with the words "Taillhead: 2.0km." Another arrow pointed in the direction we are heading with the words "Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House: 3.6km." Seeing that we were nearly halfway to the teahouse, we decided to visit it since we didn't really have any other plans. We though a nice walk through the woods and sitting for a steaming cup of hot chocolate would be a great idea.

At first, the terrain was very pretty and calm, winding through the woods with a view of cliffs and glaciers ahead. Everything was covered in a carpet of pristine white fluffy snow. Below the trail was a small valley where a small icy stream was flowing toward the lake. Everything about it seemed to match the description of the stereotypical winter wonderland. It was very beautiful, calming, and inviting.

As we continued, the trail started to get steeper and steeper. At the same time, the snow was also getting deeper. As we hiked under the large, lenticular clouds enshrouding the mountaintops, large snowflakes started wafting lazily around us. We started hitting steep switchbacks in the trails, and the trees around us started shrinking in size and became more sparse. When we finally reach an area that is knee deep in snow where the trail seems to have devolved into nothing more than a few sets of footprints in the deep snow, we realize that we were getting more than we had bargained for. We kept pushing forward, intent on finding the teahouse.

The view at this point invokes the feeling of a harsh winter landscape of a frozen world in a video game or movie. Ahead, one can see the towering cliffs disappearing and reappearing under a shroud of clouds and the icy wall of the Upper Victoria Glacier pushing toward the edge of the rocky cliffs where it falls to becomes the Lower Victoria Glacier. The quality of the ice makes the glacier look smooth and blue, in contrast to the white, soft looking snow all around it. To the left, there is a grand view of a series of sharp pointed peaks and a field of snow and rock. Below lies a large surprisingly symmetric half-pipe shaped valley carved by previous glaciers. The trees scattered around the valley look tiny compared to the vast expanse of white snow and black rock. Looking back, one can see the valley descend down to the lake, where the valley walls are flanked by two dark, dense forests which become thinner the higher up you go in the valley, yielding to bushes and other small plants, which in the wintertime become clusters of twigs poking out of the deep snow. The most interesting feature in the area, however, is the view to the right. There, jutting up from the trail is a series of tiered rocky cliffs covered with giant icicles many times the height of a person.

The deeper we push into this exotic looking winter world, the more we start to doubt that the teahouse actually exists. At one point, we pass an Indian couple heading back to the lake. The woman is obviously not enjoying any part of the trek. They tell us that they were also looking for the teahouse, but that they were not able to find it. We think about heading back, but according to the signs, we are within one kilometre of the teahouse. As we were contemplating the situation, another couple passed us and told us that the teahouse is not far away, but is closed for the season. In addition it's still a steep climb to get to it. However, they told us that there was a hot chocolate machine. Seeing that we were so close, we decided to push on.

After another series of switchbacks, we emerged onto a flat area with trees and a good view of the Upper Victoria Glacier. Following the trail into a grove of trees, we spot the teahouse. The teahouse is a two storied wood cabin that is very well maintained. There are smaller cabins and sheds surrounding it on the forested slopes. As we got close, we found that the cabin was boarded up for the season, and didn't see any hot chocolate machines. Making the best of our situation, we climbed the external stairs onto the wood landing of the second floor. There, we rested on the benches and the floor, drank some ice cold water that has started to freeze in our water bottles, and shared some trail mix and a large cookies from this morning's breakfast.

When we had our fill of the view, we decided to head back the way we came even though there was another way back that would bring us through another lake. As the other route was longer and it was going to get dark soon, we decided to head back on the fastest route possible. At one point, somehow Kim and I became separated from Smitty and Darryl. We ended up struggling and roughhousing through knee deep snow where there were hardly any other tracks. Smitty and Darryl ended up crossing a ridge on the icicle covered cliff, where there was a chain for them to hold onto in case they slipped. After our separate adventures, we were united and hiked quickly back to the lake.

When we got back to the car, the sun had already set and were were completely soaked. The bottoms of our pants were also frozen solid. Making a quick stop at a convenience store in the small village area of Lake Louise, we got water and hot chocolate, a perfect end to a long and frosty adventure through a frozen world. We drove down the Bow Valley Parkway for half of the trip back as we took a wrong turn trying to get onto the Trans-Canada Highway. The road was narrow and snowy, but it was very beautiful as we were travelling through the forests at the base of the tall cliffs soaring above. When it became dark outside, we took the first opportunity to switch to an actual highway, and drove back to the hostel without incidence.

When we arrived back at the hostel, we took a nice warm shower, got a change of clothes, and met up for a hot dinner, through which Darryl was entertaining himself by snorting black pepper. After dinner, we had some rye and cokes and played cards by the fireplace with some Aussie girls and some new people I met in my room from Germany. When it was late enough, we headed over to the hostel bar.

Before entering the bar, I had to settle one thing. The night before, I received an e-mail from the Couchsurfer who had previously said that he should be able to host told me. He told me that his house mates were all sick so couldn't host me anymore. As the hostels in Calgary were all full by then, I posted an emergency couch request on the Calgary board, hoping to find a place to stay. Luckily, that night, I received some replies to my post. I was told to drop by a Couchsurfing PJ sleepover party where I can stay the night or find Couchsurfers who were willing to take me in.

Having that settled, we headed to the bar. Kim and the Kiwis decided to leave on the same bus as the one I was going to take the next day. Seeing that it would be our last day in Banff, we drank a lot and partied hard. It was karaoke night at the hostel bar, and of course we got on stage and sang, or I should say, yelled at the top of our lungs. We sabotaged the karaoke screen for the resident Briton, danced on top of pool tables, made a new pile of broken straws, and took turns buying each other rye and cokes. I met the two from Québec who took our photo at Lake Louise. As I was drunk, I was telling them emotionally how I loved Québec and wanted them to stay in Canada. I probably made a fool of myself, but the two I was talking to seemed to agree with me. Before the night was out, one of the Québecoise offered me a cigarette and hash.

As the night went on, it became very warm in the bar so I ended up spending a good time outside behind the bar where I can see the stars clearly. It was also quieter there, and I had a few good talks back there, including one with Mark about the Haka. He told me stories of how everyone he met had asked him to do the Haka when they found out he was from New Zealand. He also told me that he was the lead Haka dancer for his military group which means that he has to perform the Haka for every foreign official that visits his unit, and he was very annoyed at that. However, as he was drunk that night, we managed to convinced him to jump on the stage and do the Haka for everyone to celebrate the end of his long stay in Canada when the bar was closing.

Afterwards, as we were wrestling around some sofas in the lobby, we were told to "F--- Off Outside!!!," which led us to joining a large group of people from the bar standing outside after being kicked out as the bar closed. They decided to stay around and order pizza and poutine, but seeing that it was already very, very late, I decided to head to bed as we had to catch a bus tomorrow just after noon. Knowing that we would part ways tomorrow after a bus ride, I went around to say goodnight and goodbye. Kim and Smitty were nowhere to be found as they have developed quite an intense liking toward each other. I gave a quick goodbye hug to Darryl and had a hug with Mark which was just slightly too long for comfort. Walking back in the cold, I set my alarm and mentally prepared myself for another possible hangover tomorrow morning.

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