It seems as though Instagram is filled with beautiful people sat in kayaks in the centre of Lake Louise. Crystal blue waters surround them, the mountains sprawl in the distance, iced with snow, and the Fairmont Hotel sits majestically, swelling with the beauty of it all.
The reality, however is that you will follow the signs to Lake Louise, be herded through diversion after diversion, only to find that you’ve been fully diverted out of the area. When we parked up to go and find out more at the Information Centre, the woman at the desk looked as though her hair had been frazzled by frustrated people on a daily basis.
“People want to come here for the 'perfect picture',” she says distracted. “It’s what Instagram has done to this place. Everyone wants to ‘just see it’, but everyone seems to include the population of planet earth.” She informs us that the car parks were full by 6.30 in the morning. By now it’s noon and people have been turned away for nearing on 6 hours. There is an overflow car park, about a 10-minute drive from here, but there’s a 2 hour wait for a parking space there. People are just sitting, on the side of the highway, waiting for their place, to get on a shuttle bus, to get in a queue, to take a picture, to then get in numerous other winding queues: for water, for the toilet, for the kayaks, to hike the trails.
My mouth is open, I can’t help it. I’m shocked, genuinely shocked. How has this happened? I naively believed in the pictures, of crystal blue serenity, when the reality is more a tourism hell, similar to a watering hole. Flabbergasted, we asked her what she would do. “Run,” she said, “Run for the hills.”
Just as we were about to turn, I asked her if there was anywhere else. “Where do you go? If you want to see the lakes, I mean. What’s the Lake Louise for locals?”
She smiled. “Now you’re talking.” She’d put us into that millennial, Instagram-obsessed box, the thousands of people she is harassed by, cried on and perplexed by. She grabbed a map for the Icefields Parkway, a long stretch of road which goes from Banff through to Jasper National Park and continues north.
“Now, it’s really not very far. If you see here, this huge patch of water, this is a view your eyes will pop at. What you wanna do, is park up the car, and then walk this way, to take the foot path along the lake edge.”
I took the map, we thanked her, and then we ran to the car, leapt inside and howled with joy to get out of the place. Not before almost running over an Asian tourist, who was too preoccupied with taking a photo of the gift shop with a mountain in the background, to notice oncoming traffic.
We followed the roads, onto the Icefield Parkway, and soon we were there. It was so unassuming, trees along the side of the road, until suddenly you can see around 10 parked cars and caravans on a dirt patch, in front of the largest mirror-lake, crystal blue, lined by fir trees and with whole shelves of snow sitting in the mountain peaks.
After sitting, for a good half an hour, just taking it in, we ventured down the lake-side path. Or what we thought was the lake-side path. We went further into the trees, climbing over logs and thorn bushes, and soon we were on the water’s edge. I crouched down, balancing on the verge to touch the water. Cold, but not ice-cold. T took enough pictures to wear himself out, I jigged up and down ringing the bear bell attached to my belt – I was not getting eaten here, so close to the car.
They were a truly gorgeous five minutes. The sun, the water, the trees and the smell of the woods. The snow in the distance, the cold water and wet feet. We soaked it all up, not just the boggy marsh underfoot, but Bow Lake, the experience. We turned to head back, T getting “just one final shot, I swear…”, when I looked down at a mud patch I’d been avoiding. There, centred perfectly, was a large paw print, fresh and moulded perfectly in the wet brown. The cogs whirred as my brain processed what was in front of me. Of course, you can guess what happened next.
I yelled, frantically rang my bell and sprinted for the road, leaving T amused and bewildered in my wake.