On the journey up to Lake Agnes, you will come across Mirror Lake (named after its magnificent reflections) and a waterfall that cascades from Lake Agnes itself. These created some fantastic photo opportunities, and I very much enjoyed testing out my shutter speed options, allowing the water to cascade whilst the rest of the scenery stayed still and perfectly in focus. It worked remarkably well given that I had no tripod!
The family-run Tea House at Lake Agnes offers hot drinks and baked goods, so once you’re at the top, take a while to just sit and enjoy the 385 metre-deep view with some refreshments in hand. Alternatively you can continue up on the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House hike, making a total of 5.3 kilometres one way, or you can connect the two Tea Houses via the Highline trail to form a 14.6 kilometre loop. Be warned, this is not an easy hike and will take a minimum of 5 hours even for the most experienced. This would, however give you a fantastic chance to see the Lower Victoria Glacier.
Glaciers in The Rockies are by no means few and far between though, and one of the most famous of these is Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, which I had the privilege of hiking on, following in the footsteps of the million or more tourists who do the same every year.
The glacier is situated in the Columbia Icefield and is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies. The Athabasca Glacier itself was simply beautiful to see from the bottom, where the oldest part of the glacier resides alongside the visitors centre. With my spikes on, winter coat, gloves and hat at the ready, I headed up with my guide, who showed the group where to walk, where not to walk, what to look out for and also told us a bit of about the glaciers past, present and future. About half way up the flowing valley glacier, I learned that where I was standing was transient ground. This glacier was constantly shifting, moving and changing – a perfectly natural phenomenon for such a feature, but there was also something more sinister in play: global warming. Staring at a large pole protruding from the ice itself,
I was transfixed by the lines painted on it, signifying the height of the glacier this time last year and even just 2 weeks ago. Over the last 125 years, the glacier had lost half its volume and retreated more than 1.5 kilometres from where it was, but in just a year, more than 10 metres of the ice has been lost, and the melting process is accelerating. We stopped in our tracks to appreciate something that simply wouldn’t be around within 100 years. Here, you feel like you’re treading on lost history.
If you’re not much of a hiker, or simply didn’t come prepared for the ice (although they do offer all the necessary equipment) you might just want to look on and enjoy the view. In which case, just down the road from the glacier ‘entrace’ is the Glacier Skywalk, offering a perfect balance of breathtaking views, adrenaline-pumped excitement and feet firmly on the ground.