This would definitely be one of the most memorable days of the trip. It was Laurent’s birthday! We drove from our hideout which had slowly been populated by other budget travellers towards Lake Louise. We had been advised by a couple of people that the teahouses were worth a visit, but often got crowded by mid-morning, and as a result, resolved to get there at a very early time. We parked right next to the short path leading visitors towards Lake Louise, which was mostly still in the early moonlight hours with the small exception of the few couples paddling away on their red kayaks.
Walking past the $900/night Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, we soon noticed that we were probably beating the crowd to the teahouse. It was a fairly straight forward walk to get there, and totaled a mere 5.4km walk with some slight elevation using the smallest route. The sun was rising and lit up the sky with a brilliant orange, and we walked up towards the teahouse.
As we turned a corner, Emily noticed a big brown furry butt just 10m away from us on the trail and alerted Laurent. An underfed grizzly turned around and looked at us, and we stood there for a second, stunned at this unexpected appearance and walked a 100 m backwards to think what we would do about this. We made quite a bit of noise by shouting and blowing a whistle as was advised to us from the park ranger in the Grand Tetons to try and scare it off. Laurent pulled out the 9 year expired bear spray as a last resort. After a few minutes, we figured that the bear was probably gone, and walked up the path again. The bear was still busy digging away at its hole, but definitely noticed that it was about to be bothered by some tasty looking humans who would make a nice breakfast. It stood up and looked at us, and after gazing at us briefly, sprinted at us. Laurent deployed the bear spray, and the bear made a sharp U-Turn up the trail away from Then, we found out that bear spray releases a satisfying cloud of orange chemicals, and secondly, that expired bear spray apparently still works fine. With the wind pushing some of the pepper in our noses, we walked down the trail a little bit, and hoped that the bear would be gone. We stood there for 10 minutes, and when we looked up, we noticed the bear ambling towards us down the trail and without hesitation, decided that we could forego this fancy teahouse and we would be satisfied with Tim Hortons instead.
We booked it down the trail once we had determined that there was no bear close to us, and warned the other hikers we saw who were also presumably headed towards the tea house. Eventually, a group of 12 other hikers congregated at the beginning of the hike up, and together, we marched in a pack upwards to get our morning tea. As we did so, we saw the bear again, but this time instead of coming towards us, went to the side in the direction of the river. We found safety in numbers, and eventually made it up to the windy and cold Plains of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Ground squirrels and little marmots frolicked about and didn’t seem to think about the possibility that they might be mauled by a grizzly at any time. To be fair, we didn’t either until we saw the thing. We celebrated Laurent’s birthday and our survival with some tea and cake overlooking the beautiful mountains ahead.
Our first mission after we got back to the town of Lake Louise was to inform the rangers of our sighting. They took our sighting seriously, and sent a ranger over from the office nearby to gather details of what we saw. Apparently the day before, a couple had also reported seeing a grizzly in the same area around sunset. We hope that the rangers will be able to find a safe solution, and hoped that the next time we saw a bear, we would be in a closed door vehicle with the ability to speed away quickly.
That afternoon, we finished our 9 sights on the Icefields Parkway at the Red Chairs at Wilcox, and pleasantly noted that the skies had cleared up slightly and the visibility over the mountains improved. We had delicious burger and wings at De’d Dog Bar before heading off to one of the Skyline Trail trailheads. Along the way, we saw a lot of mule deer grazing about. We parked our car in the cover of other cars belonging to hikers doing the trail.