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While gazing at the wall of barren, snow-decorated mountains dramatically flanking the aqua-coloured lake, I sensed familiarity. I assumed it came from assorted pictures I had seen over the years, as the destination is famous. Then I remembered 20 dollar bills once featured Moraine Lake on their backs (in 1969 and 1979 to be specific). The memory is vague—$20 was a lot in my youth; my hands rarely touched that much money. Though the actual Moraine Lake scenery is nicknamed “The Twenty-Dollar View,” it is, as far as I’m concerned, priceless.

A Curvy Climb

Back in the car after our gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain in Banff, I headed us towards Lake Louise. I had visited the spot a couple of times before, but it’d be the first for Tessi. I changed my mind partway there and drove past the turn to take the 14 km (about 9 mi) route up to Moraine Lake—a new destination for both of us. We joined the train of vehicles—the lovely day had brought out tourists in droves—as we followed the steadily climbing road. Its curvy path abuts unnerving precipitous drop offs along the way. Finally, we pulled into the packed parking lot, where we lucked out on an empty spot. From there, the lake’s mountains hover above the tree-lined paved lot to tease of the full panorama awaiting us.

I didn’t bother looking for signs to confirm if dogs have to be leashed. I automatically tethered Tessi to me out of respect of the throng of people around us, and any wildlife, especially bears, hidden in the surrounding forests.

Because of the substantial presence of grizzly bears, posted signs instruct people to hike in “tight groups of four or more for safety.” The standard signs indicate either “is recommended” or “is mandatory.” The former was checked off. If the latter is the one checked and you disobey, there can be a court appearance and a fine up to $5000. For me, a person who is unused to bear country, the thoughts of fines being so high because of the threat of bears is intimidating. I didn’t venture to Moraine Lake to hike the trails anyway; I just wanted to bask in the featured view.

A Lakeside Stroll

I think she enjoyed the glacial refreshment.

Once out of the parking lot, an expanse of weathered logs blocked our way to the shore. While I debated on the easiest manner to traverse them, I shot a variety of pictures. The pristine beauty of the landscape is amazingly sharp and clear. I see it in my photographs. I swear my cameras had sported new lenses.

After navigating the logs to reach the water’s edge, Tessi immediately headed in for a drink. I think she enjoyed the glacial refreshment.

I took my time strolling on the stony shore along the lake. We turned back when the crowd thinned down to only a couple of people. The forest’s boundary stood a little too close for comfort.

The Rockpile

The only aspect to mar the scenery was the huge mound of an unsightly moraine, named the Rockpile. On its backside it offers cemented stairs to the top, where the visitor can revel in a more magnificent panorama.

Once we reached the moraine’s crest, Tessi picked up scents from the surrounding rocks and started yanking me all over in an effort to investigate them. Did the smell come from the pika, which, according to an information sign, inhabits the Rockpile? Or was the smell from other creatures—golden-mantled squirrels or least chipmunks, perhaps—also calling the area home? The motivation to Tessi’s nose remained hidden from me. No animal revealed itself.

I noticed from this point, the water takes on the appearance of the vivid creamy aqua I’ve observed in pictures. It had looked more of a translucent bluish-green from the shore.

While absorbing the view with my eyes and my camera—and keeping Tessi from bothering other people’s enjoyment, I heard a faint rumble. A guy beside me pointed out an avalanche taking place on one of the mountains. Seeing the downward rush of snow so small and far away made me realize just how immense these formations are.

As we made our way back down to the shoreline, I noticed the landscape beyond the stairs, opposite the lake, is swept in a tapestry of forest with rocky peaks poking out. Tessi continued to pull in an effort to stick her snout in amongst the lichen-spotted rocks bordering the stairs.

Visiting Bears

Near the bottom, we met up with a ranger holding a computer tablet. He was enthusiastically showing people pictures of a mama bear and her two cubs seen in the nearby Lake Louise Campground that morning. It reminded me on why I’m reluctant to camp in grizzly country. (Years ago, at a bookstore I had worked at, I had read several books covering the topic of bear attacks. One of those books happened to include a story about an attack on tent campers at Lake Louise Campground.)

Leaving a Priceless View

Abandoning thoughts of wildlife, I found an easier route off to the side to take us back to the car, instead of climbing back over the logs. Indulging in one last glance in final appreciation of the priceless Twenty-Dollar View, we left what is an amazing destination and is now, to me, more than just pictures in books and on money.

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© Cheryl Smyth, 2014

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