Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Canada/Alaska Day 6: Lake Louise, the glacier walk and the rafting adventure!

Lake Louise is a place that my father has talked about for 40 years. He and Mum came here sometime in the 1970s when the water was blue and the day was perfect.

I came at a time when the weather was a little grey, with tiny flakes of snow dropping and the lake was still frozen over.

But as you can see, it is still beautiful.

Tommy Wilson was the first white person to see Lake Louise. The Native Americans that he was with called it “The lake of little fishes.” The water is cold all year round, only getting as high as 4C at the height of summer. As one wit said, “You fall in a man and come out a boy!”

When we were driving to Lake Louise in the morning, Sharon told us a few pioneer stories. The first was about Georgia Engelhard.

She was an intrepid mountaineer and scandalised the good people of Banff by appearing in pants instead of skirts. One newspaper editor fumed:

“Pants weren’t made for women; pants were made for men. And women were made for men.”

Jimmy Simpson was born “bad to the bone” according to his Scottish family, who sent him to Winnipeg, Canada when he was 16. In those days Winnipeg was a rough and tumble town – and it still is, according to Sharon – and before he knew it, Jimmy had gambled away the money he was given by his family to buy a farm and then he sold his gold watch for a train ticket to Calgary.

He didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket all the way, so he stowed away on a train and was thrown off when he was discovered by the conductor because he was snoring too loudly.

When he reached Banff, he found his place. He found work as an outfitter and soon became very good at it, earning the nickname “Wolverine Go Quickly” by the Native Americans because he was so quick at walking with snowshoes and he was a crack shot and excellent at setting trap lines.

He fell in love with Williamina “Billie” Ross Reid, and together they raised a family in the cabin that he built by the Bow River. It became a massive tourist attraction once the road was built in the 1930’s.

It was built in an octagonal shape because the trees in the area were so small. This gave it a distinctive air and it was wildly popular.

He wasn’t a great businessman and it was Billie, who used to be an ice skater, who engineered the family’s financial security. She taught her daughters to ice skate and when they grew up they joined the Icescapades, earning the money to pay off their father’s debts.

He was called ‘The Old Man of the Mountain” and was a popular figure in Banff. As well as his mountain skills, he was a gifted painter as well,

Jimmy Simpson lived till he was 95, and when he died the Prime Minister of Canada gave the eulogy, saying that he did more for tourism in Canada than anyone else.

Not bad for a boy who was “bad to the bone!”

Bill Peyto was originally christened as Ebenezer William Peyto, so no wonder he went by the name of Bill! He also came out to Canada at a young age from England and found work as an outfitter in Banff.

He reportedly liked horses much more than people, and wealthy customers would sometimes complain that after a long day’s riding, he’d make them wait for him to pitch the camp while he’d bathe, feed and water the horses first. Once he’d pitch camp for them, he’d leave them to their own devices while he’d go off to a lake he liked and he’d unroll his swag there.

He was a beloved character of the area, easily recognisable by the wild west clothes that he wore – A leather jacket with fringes on the sleeve that he had a nervous habit of picking off; two pairs of leather trousers, with the top pair being full of holes; and a perfectly starched white neckcloth that people said was actually napkins that he used to seal from the Banff Springs hotel.

He fought in the Boer war and when he returned he learned that Banff was going to throw a welcome parade in his honour. He jumped off the train the day before it arrived in Banff so the citizens of Banff had to have the parade without the main player.

A typical story about him was one where he wanted to have a quiet drink, but when he got to the bar there were a lot of noisy men in there. He went out, grabbed one of the lynxes that he used to keep as pets, came back and let it out in the bar. The place emptied in a panic, and he was able to enjoy his drink in peace.

He became the first warden of the Banff National Park, and he has a glacier and a lake named after him.

Anyway, back to Lake Louise. I’ve wanted to see this place ever since I was a child.

Rona taught me how to do a panorama shot by taking this shot for me. You can see how winter is still hanging onto the Rockies this year, even in the middle of May.

Lake Louise is perfectly framed by the mountains. When the guy who built the grand hotel in Banff saw it, he very quickly arranged to build another big hotel here.

This hotel was built to resemble a Swiss chateau because there were so many Swiss guides at the time who were working in the area. They no longer let blow-ins like us inside the main part of the hotel, but they’re not stupid. One side of the hotel has a café that was doing a roaring trade in coffee.

I’m sure I spent more time waiting in line for a coffee (and a cheese croissant that I bought for lunch) than I did gazing at the lake.

As I was walking towards the hotel to buy a coffee, I saw a girl doing a photoshoot down by the shore. Rona, Mad and I walked down to get a closer look, but by the time we got there, she was all tugged up in a goosedown jacket.

I don’t blame her. For the first day of this trip, I ditched the grey dress and put on trackie dacks. It was a cold day.

On the bus ride towards the next adventure – A GLACIER WALK that I forgot we were doing until this morning – we heard a couple of stories about bears. In Banff they cut down apple trees if the apples aren’t picked in time, to discourage the bears from coming into town.

One time, there was a bear found spreadeagled on the roof of a house. He’d eaten all the apples from the tree beside the house, then climbed up onto the roof to have a little rest. People were coming from all over town to take photos.

The drive from Banff to Jasper consistently ranks fourth on the list of the world’s best drives. It didn’t disappoint.

Snow on the trees. We were so lucky to see them like this.

This is one side of a lake we drove past.

And here is the other side. Frozen. Yes, it’s the same lake.

The Athabasca Glacier Walk was great. “Athabasca” means “where the reeds grow”, and there’s a mountain, a river, a glacier and about a dozen other things all named Athabasca.

This place is unique in that there are 6 glaciers all in the same area.

We were going to be moved onto the ice by getting into another coach, which drives to the specialised vehicle called an Ice Explorer, which would then take us to the glacier. By the time we got there, we’d have around 30 minutes on the ice.

I tell you, after Antarctica it felt weird being allowed to walk in the ice without snowshoes, and it felt strangely silent not to hear the sound of penguins calling to each other.

The guy driving the ice explorer machine was an English guy called Liam.

He was telling us the history of the ice explorers and then he said this:

“I drive a Mercedes every day worth 1.3 million. I tell my Mum and it keeps her happy. She thinks I’m making something of myself.”

There are 23 of these ice explorer cars in the world and 21 of them are here. Two are permanently in Antarctica and one of them is owned by Australia and the other by America.

Liam said that there are fewer Ice Explorer drivers in the world than there are astronauts, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

The Ice Explorer can drive on angles up to 36 degrees and the wheels are only 2 inches shorter than I am. It’s a beast.

The truck can move up to a gradient of 36 degrees, which is incredible. It moves at an impressive 25 kms/hour. 

The ice is from the world’s last ice age, and now the experts estimate that there are only 60 – 80 years of its life left.

Here’s me looking excited. I don’t know what I was doing with my hands.

Looking back towards the Ice Explorer.

A close-up of the ice at the top of the glacier.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

After we got back from the glacier I went through the gift shop. Nothing I wanted to buy! I was so proud of myself.

Then I was all on my own. I took the very squashed cheese croissant that I bought from Lake Louise and went outside. I found a nice flat rock to sit on, draped my coat over my knees and ate my lunch in front of a beautiful little glacier. I’ve got no idea which one of the 6 possible glaciers it was, but I didn’t care. It was beautiful.

So there I sat, happily munching away on my croissant and an Aldi nut bar I had in my bag and I had the most peaceful, beautiful lunch.

I put an alarm on my phone so I wouldn’t be late for the bus. Another little adventure that I’d almost forgotten about was the river rafting that I’d signed up to do this afternoon.

What a day!

We were rumbling along, then suddenly the cry went up from the front of the bus, “BEAR!”


He was intent on eating as much grass as he could. He looked up at us, then went back to filling his mouth with as much grass as he could. He was eating with gusto!

We were all thrilled. One of the big ones has been crossed off the list!

Then it was time to go on a gentle rafting trip. At the last minute, Megan decided to come too. Why not? We’re only here once.

We were split into two groups. My rafter guy was called Brad. He’s been doing this for 11 years and was very skilful. He managed to splash every single one of us during the 8km river ride.

All the peaks in this part of the mountain range are named for Victoria Cross recipients. Not just Canadians, but also British and Australian.

One of the guys asked Brad what were the best animal encounters he’d had in his 11 years of doing this. He said the best one was when they rounded a curve on the river and they saw two grizzlies fighting on the bank.

“They weren’t at all interested in us, and the river was flowing slowly, so we all got a great view of it.”

Another time a group of elk burst out of the woods right near where we assembled to get onto the rafts, and they swam to a little island. One of them had huge claw marks down his back, so they were escaping from something!

Lightning hit this tree and the top half fell into the river. After a couple of years, Brad noticed two holes at the top. Something had decided to make the stump its home. He guesses that it’s a woodpecker but he hasn’t seen anything coming or going.

By the time he told this story, we’d gone past the tree, so you can only see one hole at the top, but trust me, there were two.

Remember how I said that Brad splashed everyone? This woman was sitting opposite me. She was NOT AMUSED.

“These ponchos do NOTHING to protect you!” she kept saying.

There were tourists on the banks of the river and we’d all wave.

It’s an interesting thought to realise that when the explorers and the Native Americans first came through here, the only clear and reliable way to get around was by river travel.

I don’t know how they did it. Life in those times must have been brutal.

Anyway, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. The sound of the water, the beautiful scenery and the fresh air were all very pleasant. There were no white water bits to scare the living daylights out of you, but that’s ok. I’ll save that for another trip.

We ended the day in Jasper. Our hotel has a laundry room, so everyone is very excited about doing laundry.

It’s the little things…

Dad joke of the day:


  1. Maureen

    Your description of the day sounds wonderful! You are causing me to put the Pacific Northwest just a bit higher on my travel list.

  2. sandyg61

    That part of the world is so scenic and the lakes are divine. Our weather in August was very different to yours but still beautiful. Keep having fun!!!

  3. Josie

    Haha, I heard that Mercedes joke when I was there last summer! The first time we saw Lake Louise 40 years ago it was also in May. We were shocked it was still covered in ice LOL! For any of your readers going to Banff, definitely use the Upper Hot Springs and soak for a couple hours. For C$15 you get a towel and there are changing rooms and showers. So good for aching muscles after all the travel.

    • FrogdancerJones

      My nieces work at the hot springs at home. I don’t want to go there after all the stories I’ve heard…

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