Hiking the Plain of 6 Glaciers

Our second hike in Banff National Park in August was The Plain of 6 Glaciers (our first hike was Sentinel Pass). Both hikes are located in the Lake Louise area and I feel like maybe I should have branched out a little more, but they were both so incredibly scenic it’s hard to regret.

As I explained in my last post, with Lake Louise being so popular, it’s best to get there early if you want to be assured parking. I’ve heard the lot generally fills up by 8am, but I think that’s only on weekends because there was still lots of space when we got there at 8am on a Thursday. The Plain of 6 Glaciers starts right at the lake and hikes the length of the lake and up into the backcountry. I’d been to Lake Louise once before as a teenager with my parents and the lake was just as scenic as I remembered, but there were so many people so we didn’t want to linger.

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There are tons of trails from the lake; you can hike up immediately to the Big Agnes Teahouse and a ton of hiking options, or you can hike up the near side of the lake to some viewpoints, but of course, we opted to hike towards the back of the lake. Despite the early hour, there were still a lot of people on the lake trail, though the traffic thinned out considerably once we reached the back of the lake. I think a lot of tourists just hike to the back of the lake and then return to the chateau – also on the day we went, there were a lot of climbers, and they all quit at the back of the lake to climb the sheer cliff wall. So we felt much more at home once we left the lake, as beautiful as it was.

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The weather was really nice. It was chilly, but the sun was out, so we slowly started ditching layers after leaving the lake. From there the trail is mostly uphill and continues through the woods and then into what I like to call the barren alpine. The entire valley was once covered in glaciers, so there’s not a whole lot growing there and it’s mostly rock left behind from the glaciers. There are beautiful views looking back at the lake as you ascend, as well as equally beautiful views looking ahead at the glaciers. It’s hard to count them to confirm if there actually are 6 glaciers, but they’re each slowly revealed to you as you hike up the valley.

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My favourite part of the hike is that there’s a cute little tea house located about a kilometre before the viewpoint. There’s a flatish area and they’ve constructed the teahouse and put some picnic tables along the river. We hadn’t really planned ahead properly for the teahouse because I thought I’d read somewhere that it was closed because of Covid, but it was open and fortunately Seth had $20 cash on hand. So we each had a cup of tea and shared a delicious jammy scone. We were thrilled to discover all the teas are from Banff Tea Co, which we had visited the day before, so me and Emily both had the “Plain of 6 Glaciers” tea in honour of the occasion. It’s an herbal tea with a little bit of mint and it was very yummy!

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The weather started to change a bit while we were enjoying our teas. It had clouded in and while it wasn’t raining, the sky was starting to look a little foreboding, so we decided to continue on. It’s just 1 more kilometre, the last part of which goes along the ridgeline and reveals the final glacier right at the back of the valley. It’s not really obvious where the trail ends, eventually it comes to a scree slope and I think you can continue on a little further, but we opted to stop there for our lunch. It did start to drizzle a little as we were eating, but nothing too bad. It just made us glad we had left early again because the weather did get worse and the crowds got larger, but for the most part we had enjoyed a scenic and empty hike up to the top.

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The rain picked up on the way down, making it colder, and the clouds quickly moved in to obscure some of the glaciers. I always find it amazing how quickly the weather can change in the backcountry and its a good reminder to always be prepared. Fortunately we had our rain jackets and merino wool sweaters, but we saw a lot of hikers coming up looking pretty wet and ill-prepared.

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We beelined down the trail pretty fast because of the rain and made pretty good time coming down. It rained on and off for the rest of the hike, stopping for periods of time, but often starting up again. You can go back to Lake Louise via a different route that would take you to Agnes Lake and the other hiking trails, but similar to Sentinel Pass, Sadie was tired and we weren’t really interested in exploring too much more in the rain, so we opted to skip it. It was even more busy at the bottom of the lake as it was now mid afternoon, so we hightailed it out of there and back to our campsite to relax for the rest of the day. So overall, I didn’t like the hike as much as Sentinel Pass, but still very beautiful and I’d definitely go back and explore some of the many other hiking options in the area!

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Wedgemount Lake Backpacking Trip

It’s been 3 years since I hiked Wedgemount Lake, but this trail still haunts me!

Wedgemount Lake is a 14km round trip hike with a whopping 1200 metres in elevation gain. All I can say is, don’t underestimate it. Wedgemount has recently been added to Garibaldi Park’s database of reservable sites, so you now have to book to go up there, which wasn’t the case when I visited. I suspect this may have actually increased the traffic up there though because people that aren’t able to get a spot at Garibaldi Lake or Elfin Lakes, see it on the map and decide to go there instead. I don’t actually know if this is true or not, but I did meet a group of 5 guys at the trailhead to Elfin once who were changing their plans to go to Wedgemount when they realized Elfin was full, but just a guess!

Wedgemount is incredibly scenic once you get to the top, but boy is it a long slog to get there. I went in late August with Brandon the first summer I started camping and I believe we started hiking sometime after noon. There’s very little to see but forest until you reach the halfway point across a short boulder field. After that, it’s back into the woods again until just before the end when you have to climb a steep boulder field to get up to the top. Don’t get me wrong, the whole trail is steep, but the boulder field is definitely tough with overnight packs as you’re basically climbing up over the rocks.

When you get to the top of the landslide, you’re in a valley of sorts, with Wedgemount lake at the bottom, surrounded by another set of peaks and the Wedgemount glacier. You hike down into the valley, which is completely wide open with very little shelter. Over the years, people have moved the rocks around to create little rock-walled campsites to protect from the wind that funnels in through the valley across the lake. There is a small hut up there as well, but I think most people opt to camp as there’s tons of space up there and lots of sites to choose from.

It was certainly windy when we went up there. Even though it was August, it’s one of the coldest camping trips I can remember. I was fine once I got in my sleeping bag and went to bed, but until then, it’s freezing sitting out on the ridge with nothing to shelter you from the wind. We set up our tent as fast as we could and tried to find the most sheltered place to quickly make and eat out supper. Then we hit the sack pretty early because it was just so cold outside.

It’s a beautiful location though. Wedgemount Lake itself is quite large, but the soils must be a lot siltier than other lakes in the park because it has a much paler blue hue to the water. The wind died down overnight and we got up early to do a little exploring around the lake. Like I said, it’s a wide open space surrounded by other mountain peaks, so there’s tons to explore up there. Our exploration was pretty limited, which kind of makes me what to go back, but that landslide still haunts me and I don’t want to have to haul my backpack up over it every again.

We did explore to the glacier though. If you walk around to the head of the lake, you can see the Wedgemount glacier. I’m sure it looks different every year depending on how the ice changes and melts, but the year we visited had left another lake at the base of the glacier with lots of bergy bits (real technical term – I’m a Newfoundlander, I would know) floating around. The glacier is huge and looks misleading in pictures, but Brandon got a few great photos of me standing at the base of the glacier that really put the size in perspective.

The lake is nice, but the glacier was definitely the highlight for me. The only other glacier I’ve hiked to is the glacier at the top of Brandywine Mountain, so it was a landscape quite unlike where I usually hike (the Brandywine Glacier was very different as the ice melt was flowing down the mountain instead of pooling).  I can’t decide whether Wedgemount makes for a better day hike or overnight though. A day hike seems like it might be rushed, but having just a day pack sounds a lot nicer, so it might be a judgement call based on your fitness level.

The clouds were looking pretty threatening though, so we didn’t stick around too long at Wedgemount. We packed up our things just before the rain hit and hiked back over the landslide and down again. Wedgemount is just as tough going down as it is going up. It’s a steep hike over the landslide and then the trail feels like it goes on forever after that, with nothing to look at and no respite for your knackered knees. It was a relief when we finally hit the parking lot.