Think of trekking in the mountains and sipping tea whilst you get lost in the surrounding mountain peaks and you won’t be wrong for thinking that the following piece is set in the Himalayas. Worlds away from tea plantations and miles away from the “roof top” of the world, I spent my summer vacation in the Canadian Rockies.
By default, the location for my summer travels was determined when I learned my cousin was getting married – and the Canadian Rocky Mountains are conveniently on his doorstep. While surfing the guidebook I came across the “Tea House Trek” as one of the top 20 things to do in Lake Louise. The “Tea House Trek” is found in Lake Louise within a part of Banff National Park that is located in Alberta, Canada.
The Rocky Mountains are a majestic mountain range, the third longest in the world and the longest range in North America. The mountains stretch 3000 miles starting in Canada and running the length of the American west all the way through to New Mexico.
The trek is a combination of two separate hikes that can be completed separately but if you’re looking for a challenge and set out early enough one can certainly combine both into the day, visiting two teahouses offering stunning views and quality tea.
We started our trek at Lake Louise. Chateau lake Louise forms the major landmark that has views over this most magnificent piece of nature. Starting out, you follow the lake and the incline increases as you pass through the forest. The alpine air and the crisp smell of the alpine trees is abundant, as is a distinctive scent of citrus.
After two hours and 5.5 km of walking amongst breath-taking scenery, you reach Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse in need of a strong cup of tea and hot food. The teahouse is set at an elevation of 2100m and was originally built by two Swiss guides for the Canadian pacific railway company.
The teahouse is designed as a Swiss chalet and reflects the early influence of the Swiss guides who pioneered the hiking and climbing in the area. The house was purchased by Joy Kimball in1959 and has been operated by the family since.
The structure has two levels and space is at a premium – you will be lucky if you can find a table. Thankfully, there was a table going spare as we arrived, offering us a wonderful view of Victoria Glacier.
The menu is well stocked with hearty fare: soup of the day, freshly made bread, home made pies and desserts – are just some of the foods that weary hikers can choose from. I ordered the soup of the day, which was a mix of kidney beans, potatoes and carrots; some warm homemade bread; and a quinoa salad for good measure – to help fuel the final push from the teahouse to glacier.
The tea available came from Banff Tea Co., presented in pyramid tea bags. A good selection was offered, from which I chose a Chai. A strong cup of Chai in the mountain air while overlooking Victoria glacier is an amazing experience.
Although some may be disappointed to note that no loose-leaf tea is served, understand that the teahouse is quite remote; no road accesses for cars to service it. The house relies on an annual airdrop of propane and other dry stores. The staff makes regular weekly trips using the same trail we hiked up to restock other supplies.
After refueling, we pushed another 1.6km to view the glaciers. The maintained trail ends half-way to the pass. A pair of good walking boots is necessary to navigate the moraine slopes. No sign marks the end of the trail but hikers are aware when they reach the grandstand view of Abbott’s pass and Death Valley below.
Our journey is only half complete as we head back down the same path. We push on to Lake Agnes to complete the trek. Heading down, hikers are treated to the breathtaking views of Lake Louise and Chateau Lake Louise where we started our trek. To reach the Lake Agnes Tea House one must take the Highland Trail branch partway down. Hikers walk above the glacier trail from the first leg of the journey. Again, the views of lakes and the surrounding scenery is amazing. The air is crisp and the smell of fresh pine is wonderful.
The final push to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is up a very steep 400m climb. I found this to be the most energy-sapping part of the hike. A flight of stairs marks the final route to the teahouse – we were all glad to see these anticipated final steps! Hikers climb the final flight of steps to the teahouse visible in front of you, with Lake Agnes on your left and the sound of a waterfall in the background. The elevation here is 7000 feet. The teahouse has been here since 1905; today it is a family run business, staffed by college students from all over the world.
We arrived half an hour before closing, and thankfully it was not as crowded as the Six Glaciers. Lake Agnes offers loose leaf teas with a very impressive list of 100 loose-leaf teas for hikers to choose from. I was delighted to see “Rare Adams Peak white tea” being served and had to try a taste of home! I started with a strong robust English breakfast tea. We also took the waiter’s recommendation and grabbed the final piece of homemade apple crumble.
The views from the tea house are breath taking, on one side Lake Agnes sits reflecting the sun light with a 360 degree view of Lake Louise. The sound of waterfall crashing in the distance was appropriate sound track for the scenery.
I was eager to try the Adams peak silver tips and found the taste to be excellent. It is clear that the teahouse places a real emphasis on serving great tea – and both the silver tips and the English breakfast were fantastic teas, living up to the house standard.
The staff at the tea house make the experience so much more memorable, and they where kind enough to show us the kitchen which reminded me a lot of the tea house kitchens that one finds at the foot hills of Adams peak in Sri Lanka.
After sipping and savouring one of my favourite teas we headed back down to the trail to Lake Louise. A great day of hiking and seeing some excellent views was made complete by sipping excellent tea in a most unlikely locations. I would thoroughly recommend this hike to any one visiting Banff National Park and Lake Louise.
Images courtesy of Dananjaya Silva.