As the van screeches to a halt, I think to myself, Where is that damn horse stable!? Although the Canadian Rockies is known as a sacred place to unplug from the hectic demands of everyday life – ‘city’ anxiety had set in about making the horseback ride up to the legendary Lake Agnes Teahouse in Lake Louise.
There are only two ways to make it up the 3-mile switchback trail to the Lake Agnes Teahouse at 7,000 feet – slogging it on foot or on horseback. Since it had been drizzling for two days, I desperately wanted the horse to wade through the swampy path rather than destroy my new hiking shoes. (I suppose there is no vacation from vanity.)
Our group of seasoned travelers was to be at the Brewster Stables, adjacent to the Fairmont Lake Louise, at 1 pm to make it for the last day of the ride. Before our scheduled horseback ride, time had whizzed by as fast as we did during the thrilling rope course and zip line at Rafter Six Ranch in the Kananaskis Valley. We left late as many of us were going back to do sections of the rope course again - it was a perfect combination of fear-factor and pleasurable sensory overload at being high in the sky surrounded by the scents and scenery of the rugged forest.
We arrived at 1:45 pm for our Brewster Adventure horseback ride due to bear sightings (if you see cars pulled over on the side of the road, it’s a bear, moose or elk sighting) and reminders of home, road work delays. I sprung out of the van, dreading my chances to visit the teahouse could be as good as winning the lottery, and found the horses saddled up. Certainly a good sign to find the horses ready, but alas, all horse and no guide still make for a no-go.
Frantic to find a trusty guide, calls were being made to just about everyone in the entire province of Alberta, but to no avail. Although it was June, it was a chilly 45 degrees, which only added to our foul moods. We took shelter in the opulent Fairmont overlooking the pristine, aqua-colored Lake Louise to air out our complaints about how our driver could have sped to get us there at least fashionably late instead of flat out rude late.
As we were bemoaning our lost opportunity, an icy gust of wind blew in as a cowboy (imagine the theme song of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly playing underneath the scenario) so handsome he could have been the poster boy for GQ Cowboy, walks in. He says, with his green and blue polka-dotted silk scarf knotted in a complicated diamond shape around his neck, “No more rides today ladies, but I’m the manager of Brewster Stables and I will personally take you tomorrow at a time that suits you.”
With his assuring words and captivating presence, the flustered, stressed-out energy of four city gals suddenly vanished, replaced by giggling and exchanged private glances of, “Whoa, how did we get so lucky as to miss our horse ride today to get a private tour from this cowboy hunk!”
The following day, we arrived in a leisurely fashion, greeted by Andrew Campbell, our personal trail guide and savior of the horseback ride, outfitted in authentic duds – Capri-length chaps (chinks), Spanish style Gaucho hat, shiny blue paisley scarf, fitted bolero vest, Wrangler jeans and lace up boots with spurs. We found out later he was not a cowboy but a buckaroo (Spanish cowboy) – thus explaining his distinctive get-up.
We also donned a unique costume – riding raincoats that made us look like little druid oompa loompas. Vanity did not enter the picture here as those yellow slickers saved the day, otherwise we would have arrived miserable and dripping in the relentless rainfall.
Despite the overcast sky and wet conditions, spirits were high. Andrew sensed this and he led us in a goofy call and answer song as we began the trail up to the teahouse. The horses sauntered easily, allowing us to take in the full scope of the majestic landscape of Lake Louise and Fairview Mountain below.
As the trail steadily rose, I felt a profound feeling of gratitude towards Snickers, my trusty horse, especially as we passed those poor unfortunate souls climbing the trail on their own two feet in the rain with no special yellow druid cape.
After about an hour of riding and listening to Andrew’s rodeo anecdotes (he was a former rodeo bronc-rider of the Calgary Stampede), we reached Mirror Lake aka The Goat’s Looking Glass as mountain goats are prevalent in the area. It could have been named the Bear or Cougar Looking Glass as they are also numerous, but thankfully, none were spotted.
Side note: Yet another reason to opt for horseback. Andrew stated that not one case has ever been reported of a bear attacking a horse with a rider…We sighed collectively when we heard this as that morning White Mountain Adventure’s expert guide Paul Sylvester took us on a nature hike around Johnson Lake in Banff and explained the likelihood of crossing a hungry bear’s path - they were just emerging from hibernation. Yikes!
I let out another sigh of relief once we dismounted and were minutes from our final goal. After peering below to watch the dramatic descent of the waterfall and climbing some serious stairs, we finally made it to the much-anticipated historic mountain teahouse built in 1901.
The setting was pure fairy-tale magic – a rustic log cabin framed by a still-frozen Lake Agnes, jutting midnight blue glaciers and a tea menu elaborate enough to compete with the Mariage Frères teahouse in Paris.
Surveying the magnificent panorama, I knew it would be one of those unforgettable moments to cherish for a lifetime. All the stress, logistical nightmares and lost vacation time to make this horseback ride to the Lake Agnes Teahouse was entirely worth it as I shared a cup of steaming Bourbon Vanilla tea and freshly baked banana bread with my lady friends and our charming GQ Cowboy.
To experience your own enchanting moment at the Lake Agnes Teahouse, reserve your ride with Brewster Adventures. $115 per person, 3 hours round trip.
Lucky Southern Californians, as of June 2011, WestJet offers several affordable direct flights daily from Anaheim to Calgary, Alberta. With WestJet, you'll be swooning over the GQ cowboy in less than a three hour flight to Calgary and a two hour drive to Lake Louise. WestJet's motto of 'just because you pay less for a flight doesn't mean you get less' rings true with their efficient, no-nonsense service, with a few jokes in tote too.
About Brewster Adventures
The Brewster family and staff are real life cowboys and cowgirls of the Canadian Rockies. Rest assured, they know horses and they know how to handle, in a patient, light-hearted manner all levels of riding experience. For over 100 years, Brewster Adventures has been taking guests on both summer trail rides and winter sleigh rides. They offer half/full day rides to other hidden treasures of Lake Louise and Banff in addition to their most popular – the Lake Agnes Teahouse ride.
For other Canadian Rockies adventures while in Lake Louise and Banff, visit: http://www.banfflakelouise.com
Photo Credit: Lindsay Taub