a peek inside the fishbowl

04 Sep, 2018

The Fishbowl goes West: the best and worst day

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

In the previous post in this series, I wrote about our climb up Sulphur Mountain and the gondola ride down, which was very cool even though the views were obscured by wildfire smoke from B.C.

Every day of our holiday was jam-packed. At one point the kids asked me if/when we were ever going to relax. I may have cackled in response. Rest? RELAX! Haha! We rest when we sleep, kids! There was so much to see and do here that we couldn’t waste a moment.

From Banff we moved to new accommodations at Lake Louise. We stayed at Lake Louise Inn, which we kind of regret because there are quite possibly nicer accommodations in this area. Our room had a kitchenette and a back door to a “yard,” which was fine, but it was dated and old and the pillows were something awful. The girls thought the 1970s stove was hilarious and retro, but I thought it was ugly and annoying that one of the burners didn’t work.

Our first full day at Lake Louise was dedicated to a trail ride on horseback. Mark and I did this on our honeymoon 20 years ago and we enjoyed it so much that we knew we had to do it again with the kids.

We have five or six photos from that ride back in 1998 (remember, this was pre-digital!). Here are two of them:

Me: twenty years ago at Lake Louise.

Mark, twenty years ago at Lake Louise

And here we are today…

Me and Pepsi at the Plain of Six Glaciers

Mark and his horse
I am getting ahead of myself a bit.

This day’s adventure started very early and we set our alarms so we could be at the Brewster Adventures tables for 8:30 a.m. We worried about parking – the lot is extremely limited at Lake Louise and fills up quickly – but as it turned out there was plenty of parking at the “regular” lot when we arrived.

The light, because of the wild fires and resulting smoky haze, was a little eerie and at first we weren’t able to get a sense of whether the smoke was going to impact our ride and our views at all. This is what it looked like when we arrived that morning:

A pink morning at Lake Louise

We checked in, signed our lives away on the waivers, and waited for a couple latecomers to join our party, which gave us just enough time to quietly observe the horses. They appeared to be a trusty bunch.

Brewster stable corrals at Lake Louise

Making friends

Just after 9 a.m., after a brief orientation, we were saddled up and on our way. Our group was small: the guide, the four of us, and a younger couple who ended up at the back of our pack so it was almost as if they weren’t even there.

The destination was the tea house at the top of the Plain of Six Glaciers; a four-hour ride that includes a break at the top.

I cannot describe how stunning the views are along the way. The stables are very close to the Fairmont Lake Louise. The trail – which is “horse-only” in parts – starts off in the woods and skirts the lake for the first little while. This part is woody and cool with occasional glimpses of beautiful blue Lake Louise.

A glimpse of Lake Louise from the trail

Soon enough the water turns into an alien landscape of silty shallow water. This is the far end of the lake and that’s the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the background:

View of Fairmont Lake Louise, across the lake

The trail continues with views of cliffs, rockfall, and goes through near desert-like conditions. Of course, the mountains look down upon you the entire way while the six glaciers slowly come into view.

Everything around us was so huge: the trees, the sky, the mountains, the piles of rocks… dragged by glaciers and possibly an avalanche. It is stunning. It is immense. The photos don’t do it justice. This place easily fills your eyeballs and your heart:

Horse ride at Lake Louise

Trail ride at the Plain of Six Glaciers

Horseback ride, Plain of Six Glaciers

Horseback ride, Plain of Six Glaciers

Trail ride, Lake Louise

We arrived at the tea house and found it busy with hikers.

The teahouse, Plain of Six Glaciers

I was surprised to learn that teahouse supplies are airlifted by helicopter and staff walk up for 5-day on/2-day off shifts. I was very much looking forward to taking in the views with a cup of tea and a scone but it was sadly not to be. We only had about 20 minutes at the top, which was not nearly long enough to order and eat (maybe visit the outhouse if needed), especially given the crowds. We really only had a brief look around before we had to go. This is my only complaint about our tour. I really wanted to linger but we had to rush back to where our horses and guide were waiting.

Here’s a peek at the view up there:

View near the teahouse, Plain of Six Glaciers

We took the same route down. Once again we were treated to stunning vistas. Seeing them from the other side this way was nice; not redundant as one may think. (You can see a bit of the hiking path on the left on the photo below.)

Trail ride back to Lake Louise

My horse was named Pepsi and he wasn’t as obedient as the others. Pepsi had a mind of his own and took every opportunity to veer off the path to snatch a mouthful of juicy grass or plants. We were told at the outset not to let them do this. Apparently, they get enough to eat and need to keep to their routines. The way I see it, Pepsi was either extra hungry, very single-minded, or just couldn’t resist mountain-grown greens. What’s more, Pepsi had a sixth sense for the very moment I reached for my camera because that was always the exact moment he chose to lunge for the grass. This was cute at first, but by the end of our ride I barely had enough strength to pull the reigns and get him back in line.

Have you ever ridden a horse for four hours? Expert riders undoubtedly build muscle mass over time but for beginners, it’s a different story. When we took this trip twenty years ago I remember how much my butt and legs hurt when we dismounted at the end of the ride. I had hoped that the passage of time between then and now meant that I’d developed enough backside padding and muscle for the ride to be a bit more comfortable. I was dead wrong. I was in agony at the end… and I am not using that word lightly. In fact, the last 20 minutes were pure torture and I was very close to getting off the horse and walking the rest of the way back to the stable. Everything south of my hips was screaming in pain. I tried everything imaginable and nothing helped: sitting upright, sitting heavily, loosening my muscles, tightening my muscles, leaning back. I’m sure the guy riding behind me wondered if I was sitting on a barbed wire.

At one point Pepsi had taken a bit too much time grazing when he realized he was falling too far behind so he set off at a trot to catch up with the others. Haha! Cute, right? Every bump sent shooting pains up my legs.

Finally, FINALLY, the end drew near and it was my turn to dismount. Pepsi made his way to a wooden platform so I could get off. Our guide was there to help and I told her that I was really worried that my legs were going to give out from under me. Thankfully, amazingly, I was able to swing my jelly leg over, plant it on the platform, and remain upright as I hobbled away. My backside has never hurt so much. In fact, the next morning I had bruises on parts of my body that never see the sunshine. It took DAYS to fully recover and sit down without grimacing.

Thankfully the rest of my family was in better shape than I was, although everyone had a varying degree of aches. I was sore, that’s for sure, in body and spirit. We walked (well, I staggered) to the viewing platform at Lake Louise for a brief rest before departing.

This shot doesn’t show the other 250 people who were behind me as I took it. :)

Lake Louise

After a brief rest, we gathered our strength and went back to our hotel. Mark made lunch while I cracked open a cider and convalesced on the back patio with a new friend.

I'm not sharing my cider!

It was the best day, and the worst day so far. The good news is that we finally had time to relax! Unfortunately, it was because it hurt too much to move.

6 Responses to "The Fishbowl goes West: the best and worst day"

1 | Kiya

September 4th, 2018 at 11:18 am


I ache in the places where I used to play.

2 | Carolyn

September 4th, 2018 at 2:37 pm


I love your story! There must be a gazillion stories out there about getting to the Tea House because I have a fun one too from 4 years ago. Imagine we have 4 kids, ages 13, 9, 8 and 5. My husband and I had both been to Lake Louise in the past but separately. His memory was going to the Tea House. I had never been. So I said let’s go – we had most of the day although we were heading to Jasper that night. The crowds were outrageous so why not hike to get away from them. My husband warned me that it was approx a 5km hike (one way). I was sure the kids could make it especially since he had done it as a kid… It had to be kid friendly right? Rain was threatening but we had planned for it. We hiked up and got to the Tea House – ordered our expensive soups and finally found a place to sit and then it rained. People took pity on parents with 4 kids so let us cram inside to eat out of the rain. Headed back down as the rain stopped. My husband made the mistake of putting our 5 year old son on his shoulders to help him along and got a horrible kink in his neck/back from it which lasted for the next 3 days. Then my son had to pee but wouldn’t in the forest (too many people he said might see) so he and I ran down the rest of the 2km left of the hike to run into the Fairmont before he peed his pants – we made it – just! Now in hindsight, it is one of our funny memories but at the time, probably not one of my best mom decisions.

3 | Sandy

September 5th, 2018 at 10:14 am


What a great story…although I am sorry you ended up in such discomfort. Sounds awful! I would love to do what you guys did this summer…except maybe the horse ride. A great experience but one I would probably regret halfway through ;) . Thanks for all the great info!

4 | Lynn

September 5th, 2018 at 10:28 am


We were at Lake Louise a couple of years ago and when I started reading this post, I felt regret that we didn’t do this. But by the end, I thought – yup, glad we didn’t! I have no horse-riding experience and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been half as brave as you. Glad to hear you made it through and I am super happy to live vicariously through your awesome photos :).

5 | andrea tomkins

September 10th, 2018 at 12:52 pm


In hindsight this is all quite funny, but then again I have the benefit of hindsight. :) Lynn, this trail ride would have been better for my butt had we opted for the one that’s only three hours. I would have been sore, but not terribly so!

6 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive The Fishbowl goes West: The best restaurant in Lake Louise? - a peek inside the fishbowl

September 10th, 2018 at 12:53 pm


[…] In my previous post about our travels out west I wrote about the gorgeous and awful horse ride we took to the Plain to Six Glaciers. […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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