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The Glittering Mountains of Canada
Chapter I. Lake Louise: The Entrance to the Northland.


It was a long time ago that 1 lost track of the number of times I had climbed from Lake Louise to the summit of Mount Fairview. From days of early June when spring snow still lay banked in the Saddleback until the flurries of late September; at many times between, and more than once in a season, in storm and sunshine, I have dallied along its trails.

When the Limited pulled out from Calgary, westward bound, on many a cool morning we sat on the observation platform—long before other passengers were about—waiting for the first glimpse of the Rockies. As the train swung along the windings of the Bow, we would crane our necks for that first glimpse of the misty jagged line, low down against the horizon, that meant high hills again. As we got nearer and the sun rose higher, the low-toned grey, resolving into purples and reds and the deeper hues of rock, contrasted sharply with the lead-blue patches of snow still untouched by morning light. Miles away still.

Then Canmore, with the Three Sisters—how much higher they always looked than we expected—and the broad avenue of rocky peaks, with strangely twisted strata, that leads to Banff. We seldom stopped at Banff on the way out; it was reserved for the homeward journey, after the days of trail, when nothing was quite so enjoyable as the warm water of the swimming-pools. How many last-days of vacations we remember—basking lazily on the grass, wet bathing-suits warmed by the sunlight, as we strove vainly to fix in our memories the detail of that lovely panorama of the Bow, its falls and foaming canyon, stretching toward the far distances of shadowed cliff and lighted ridge!

But when the train had passed the square-topped tower of Pilot Mountain, it was always Fairview that we looked for. We learned to recognize its outlines far away; long before Storm Mountain and the wooded saddle of Vermilion Pass were near; long before the opening of the Valley of the Ten Peaks drew our eyes to the towering heights of Deltaform and Neptuak and Temple. Perhaps it was only because we knew the little mountain so well; but little heights always affect the mountain-lover in such fashion. A small peak as a rule is the best view-point because there is still something left to look up to. Panoramas from the very highest levels, lacking definite fixation points, are apt to confuse all but the trained observer; the outlook from a lower point often charms because of the uplift of form and outline which delimit it. And so it is with Fairview. Year after year we have come back to it; perhaps as a convenient training walk, but more likely on account of the sheer beauty with which it is surrounded.

The little motor-railway to Lake Louise winds upward through the trees, along a road-bed bordered Lake Louise was named in 1884 in honour of Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll; it was known to the Indians as the Lake of Little Fishes.

with iceland poppies, red, white and yellow, and with a final effort and a long-drawn whistle reaches the Chateau. You will stand spell-bound at the startling view of Lake Louise, with the pure, icy heights of Victoria soaring beyond the long expanse of deep-blue water—a lake, iridescent as a chameleon’s skin, with sudden, pulsating changes of colour to brilliant green or dull grey as sunlight strikes or shadow dulls.

But if you are following with us the upland paths, a long stop will not be made on the lake-shore; but, with a pack full of lunch, you will be out on the trail that zigzags up the forested slopes of Fairview. If it is early in summer, snow-banks, discoloured and half hidden by twigs and pine-needles, still remain in shadowed nooks along the way. The mountain side will be alive with springs and rivulets formed by melting snows above. In places the trail has become a stream bed, which must be circumvented by devious balancings on unstable boulders and slippery logs.

It is good to stop and look back at a peacock-blue corner of the lake, seen through the pine-tops. Our gaze wanders to the Bow Valley, with its strip of silver river, and the bare peaks of the Richardson Group beyond. The whistle of a locomotive is heard, shrill and strangely near; but only a thin wisp of smoke, far below, indicates an Express from the west. Sometimes the whistle utterly deceives and it is only a friendly marmot, just around the bend; you can see the fat little beasts sprawled out on the rocks, sunning themselves, ever ready to pop down into their burrows if an over-curious human should approach too closely.

Up on the trail, heavy timber thins out and gives way to soft-needled larch and scrubby, wind-blown pine. A lumbering porcupine, crossing the path, climbs a stump to watch as we go by; a pebble tossed and he scuttles off indignantly. A walk of two hours has brought us up the curving path near the Saddleback; snow patches become more frequent, and before reaching the cabin the corniced summit of Mount Temple is in view. Pleasant it is to while away an hour on the nearby ridge of Saddle Mountain; it is only a short scramble up the bouldered crest to the edge of a tremendous precipice above the valley called Paradise. Perhaps an eagle, flying below the cliff edge, will be trying to your sense of balance—it may be sadly lacking on the first day—but you will have much to distract your attention. Almost below is the winding stream that conies from the melting ice of Horseshoe Glacier; and, across the valley, tiny Lake Annette nestling like a blue jewel below Mount Temple. Highest of the Lake Louise mountains is Temple, its elevation of 11,626 feet, nowhere seen to better advantage than in its stupendous, rock-ribbed northern wall, crowned by a glistening cap of pure white, corniced snow, from which thundering avalanches fall on warm summer days. An avalanche does not have to look very big to produce a tremendous roar, and the spattering snow-blocks and clouds of spraying flakes are often visible long after the noise has died away.

Northwest from Saddleback a shaly trail leads upward in diminishing zigzags toward the summit of Fairview. Just one foot over nine thousand feet it

rises, a barren cone with larger slabs and boulders as the top is neared. There are strange little things about those rocks if you but look closely: tiny shortstemmed flowers, pink and white, in flat masses of colour against a background of brilliant green leaflets; moths, light-blue and brown, hovering on the trail; small jumping-spiders, with filamentous homes protected by the clefts of stones. Sometimes, in late June, on the margins of the long western snow slopes where we so often glissaded downward, we have seen grouse, with white winter plumage partially retained, in striking contrast to the dark rocks on which they perched. And once, on the very top of the mountain, a lonely squeaking pika came bravely out to investigate the straps of our pack-sacks.

How many carefree, sunlit hours we have spent there! In the south is the precipitous wall, with cliff and hanging glacier surmounted by rising heights from Sheol to Lefroy,1 flanking the valley that contains Lake Louise. And here one is able to appreciate the magnitude of that valley more than from the lake-shore by the Chateau. Symmetrically angled Victoria, at the valley’s head, sweeps airily downward in a gleaming ice-face that rests on the edge of bold cliffs and promontories. Here one may see avalanches occasionally breaking from the line of green ice-front and toppling down with trailing banners of snow to the lower glacier. Down the steep northwestern wall of Fairview are the waters of Lake Louise, arrowy, and dark as lapis save for the brief silver wake of a tiny skiff. Beyond, as a far retaining wall, are forested slopes, with terraced benches that hold the Lakes in the Clouds, rising to timber-line and adorning the bases of little bastions and turrets that fortify the heights of Whyte and Niblock.

After that, it is into the north that you will be looking; into a north that begins just across the Bow Valley, with the far peaks of Yoho and broad snowfields gleaming in the afternoon light. Northeastward is the wide valley of the Pipestone, with trails, used rather infrequently, to the unexplored rock-peaks at the head of the Clearwater and Siffieur Rivers. Mount Hector’s bold breadth of cliff and two-fanged Molar separate the Pipestone from the upper valley of the Bow, which leaves the railroad and curves into the north country, close below the eastern escarpment of the Waputiks. There are peaks of the Continental Divide, continuing the wall that borders Yoho, and supporting a vast snow-plain, partially seen—the Waputik Icefield—whose eastern tongues form headwaters of the Saskatchewan. Through a visible break the glaciers of Mount Balfour stream down to the delta of Hector Lake; there is a glimpse of distant blue-green water in an angle of the valley where Bow Peak, a landmark of the pioneers, lifts its broadly rounded heights.

Beyond all this are other mountains, and still others, until all outline is lost and nothing left save delicate gradations of light, merging with distance. There was always a subtle mystery in those farther heights; clear delineation was denied by very space, exasperating and trying to the imagination. For there, in the north, was the region of the great icefields, of the highest mountains, of the things that one wanted to see and could not; the clearest day was never fair enough. We have sat, tried companions and I, by the cairn of Fairview, blinking our eyes, attempting the impossibility of visualizing the thing that lay beyond that northern rim. Curiosity was ever present and insatiable; it mattered little whether the day was calm and luminous, crystal clear with a cold light that outlined crag and ridge; or whether grey-purple clouds clung low to a foreground of brightest green hills; or if the nearest things all disappeared in a white smother of driving snow-flakes—the wish to see into the beyond remained.

At last there was nothing to do but go; and go we did, into that wondrous land of far-off valleys where the great rivers of a Continent come leaping down in little brooks and arching waterfalls from the ice-tongues; where rise, beyond the old horizon, the castellated crags and snowy spires we had read and dreamed of. It was the valley of the Bow and the trails of the Waputik that led us onward to unvisited corners of the northern ranges. We were not pioneers ourselves, but we journeyed over old trails that were new to us, and with hearts open. Who shall distinguish?


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