20170813: Devil’s Thumb (Lake Louise, Banff)

6hrs, 16km, 750m elevation gain

Lake Louise. Forest fire haze in the air.
Lake Louise. Forest fire haze in the air.

So Jocelyne, how’s work going? Bert asked.

Oh no, I thought. Here we go. Zzzzz!

In the car, Jocelyne and Bert proceeded to discuss node segmentation and fiber and co-ax and other boring specialized stuff. Anna and I took the opportunity to doze on and off. Anna and I met as co-workers a few  years ago; we’ve out-talked talking about work by now. We went to the Japanese Festival together yesterday (sake-flavored Kit-Kats, anyone?). This morning, we prioritized catching up on sleep during the drive to the mountains.

But of course one cannot sleep the entire way when there’s the prospect of an enticing hike and the adrenaline of excitement accumulates within.

Eventually the conversation topic turned to Business Ventures in the Canadian Rockies, and we contemplated that if we were in charge we’d eliminate some of the stores at Lake Louise Village and replace them with:

  1. Smoothie vendor
  2. A Dirtbelly fast food concept, and;
  3. Turn the rooftop of Samson Mall into a glass-enclosed patio for an upscale-casual Canadian contemporary eatery. One that would serve seasonal deliciousness like mushroom stew and bannock wrapped elk tacos with fireweed-and-charred blackberry chutney, and refreshing spruce tip cocktails, white sangria with Summerhill Pyramid Winery Ehrenfelser, and incorporate clever nods to the immigrant population with randomness such as masala chai mini donuts with coconut cream, and 60-cent green tea buns from Chinatown that we’d sell for $3. Maybe we’ve been watching too much Chef’s Table on Netflix, but we’re convinced a rooftop chef’s garden would position Lake Louise at the forefront of global culinary destinations. Oh, and the views from our patio!

Jocelyne, who is still in her 20s, came up with our eatery’s name: Millennial Peak.

We’d hire a social media strategist, obvi.

Some creative thinking and un-endorsed driving later, Bert had maneuvered the vehicle into a rare available parking spot. At 10am Lake Louise was already full and traffic attendants were turning people away to the shuttle areas. Parks now has free shuttles to help alleviate congestion. (Banff NP saw a million visitors on Canada Day, compared to Jasper NP’s 250,000.) What were once sleepier spots are now major draws. A re-thinking in Parks management will need to happen; it’s inevitable. There’s a vibrancy that comes along with the energy of crowds, and increased accessibility to natural spaces cannot but be good for humanity, but a big part of mountain recreation, for me, is the solitude.

Except today!

We began the mass migration to Lake Agnes teahouse (incredibly busy, even on a rainy day), 6km, then around the lake and up to Big Beehive. Foreign languages and accents floated around us as we passed various families of hikers. I had some fun noting people’s shirts, identifying them as alumni or students from different institutions: Toronto, York, Regina… As a group of students hopped past a middle-aged couple, the man said good-naturedly to his partner, “That’s the problem with youth… In too much of a hurry!

Lake Agnes. Devil's Thumb on the left.
Lake Agnes. Devil’s Thumb on the left.

Bert wondered when the Beehive trail was created. I guessed 1920s, if not earlier. The Lake Louise Chateau and teahouses (1901!) are at least that old. Beehive must surely be, too.  Think of how many people have walked this very path… In their heavy itchy woolen clothing and canvas backpacks…

Finally we had some space to ourselves as we reached Big Beehive junction and traversed on the lesser-traveled trail towards Devil’s Thumb. From the junction step over the tree trunk laid across the path towards Mount Whyte. The tree’s been there for years; I don’t know the why. In any case the trail parallels the valley towards Plain of Six Glaciers, then angles up aiming for the low point of the Mount Whyte ridge. From the ridge Devil’s Thumb is a short ways to the right.

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View from Devil's Thumb
Whoo-ee, from the top you can compare Lake Agnes and Lake Louise, and see people going up and down Big Beehive. The Chateau looks tiny in the distance, like a toy.

The views, for the effort, compared to Mount Whyte summit (trip report here), make this a truly worthwhile hike. We turned it into an easy scramble but there’s a rough path around the boulders at the top, which flatten out to a convenient viewing area. Chipmunks played hide-and-seek beside and behind us as we made our way up, watching us with bright dark eyes, alternating bravery with hesitancy, and no doubt hoping we’d reward their animated companionship with crumbs from our lunch.

Silly chipmunk, sandwiches are for humans!
Silly chipmunk, sandwiches are for humans! (Edit: A reader has kindly advised that this is a Golden-mantled ground squirrel Callospermophilus lateralis, not a chipmunk. Thanks :))

If it were a nicer day we would have lingered up top longer. Rejoining the masses, we took the Plain of Six Glaciers trail back to Lake Louise. A hot tea at the Chateau café was much-enjoyed. Cheers to tourist infrastructure!

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Slopes of pink fireweed, an edible plant of Alberta.
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