It began with a phone call.
Some friends had phoned to ask if we wanted to join them on a hike at Lake Louise. To the teahouse. We’d been to Lake Louise several times, but each time our attempt at a hike was thwarted by our small-in-stature-loud-in-voice companions.
So we said yes. I’d read a blurb about the hike to the teahouse in my Rough Guide and it sounded beautiful. Our recent adventure on the Douglas Fir Trail had bolstered my confidence that the boys could manage a one-mile-plus hike. Because I vaguely recalled the Rough Guide had indicated it was a 3km hike to the teahouse.
So we loaded up the car-van with snacks and water and extra clothes and a Baby Bjorn carrier and a jogging stroller. And we drove off in search of adventure.
By the time we were halfway there, it was pouring rain. The cell phone rang, it was our friends. Did we want to ditch our plans on account of the rain? Nah, I replied, certain the weather would change.
Sure enough, by the time we reached the Lake, it had stopped raining. We tumbled out of the car-van with the kids, Bjorn carrier and jogging stroller in tow. I didn’t pack any snacks or drinks for the hike because (1) I thought we were hiking about a mile, and (2) I didn’t want to carry anything nonessential, and (3) we were going to a teahouse. For cake. And tea. We made the requisite pitstops and met up with our friends and their two boys.
It was shortly after 12pm.
The professor realized he’d left his wallet in the car. ‘Should I run back and get it,’ he asked, since I had very little cash in mine. We told him it was fine, that between the rest of us we probably had enough money to cover a round of refreshments. Personally, I fully expected the teahouse to accept debit cards. I mean, who goes for a hike with a wad of cash?
It took us a while to get in the hiking groove. The boys were bursting with energy from the car-ride and excited at the chance to be with their friends. And we were slowed by a clump of people gathered at the far end of the lake, pointing to an ambiguous speck of blackness on the opposite hillside.
Shortly after the ‘bear’ sighting, things changed. The gently meandering path beside the Lake turned into a steep-ish trail laden with mud and rocks and horse poop. And then it started raining. I’d brought hats and mittens. I hadn’t brought raincoats.
If there’s anything more miserable than trying to coerce five boy-children along a muddy, rocky trail...in the rain….I am not aware of it. I felt like a pauper from Les Miserables, but instead of a rickety wagon filled with our worldly possessions….we had a blue stroller filled with a baby.
If ever you go on a hike and you want every single hiker to speak to you, do one of two things: (1) push a jogging stroller along terrain that is clearly not meant for a jogging stroller, and (2) hike with five small boys. It became something of a joke as hiker upon hiker stopped to warn the stroller-pushing-professor: the trail gets much narrower up there, this is as far as you’ll be able to take that, etc.
‘If you want to save the lives of future hikers, tell them not to talk to me,’ Mr. Johnson muttered to me under his breath.
Our fellow hikers were also intrigued by the Von Trapp-esque boys traipsing along the trail. ‘How old?’ ‘Has he walked the whole way?’ Why he talking to me?’ the Hen invariably asked after each comment.
We were walking for what seemed like hours. ‘We can turn around if you want,’ our friends conceded. But they weren’t yet familiar with the exceedingly stubborn (crazy!) Johnsons. What would be worse than a hideous hike? A failed hideous hike.
We reached a fork in the road. One sign pointed up, towards Lake Agnes. And the other pointed straight ahead, to the Plaine-des-Six-Glaciers. ‘Which one are we supposed to take,’ I asked our friends. I’d assumed all along we were going to Lake Agnes, since that was the teahouse mentioned in my guidebook.
‘Straight ahead,’ our leader instructed.
So we trudged on. ‘Would you rather run ten miles, alone, or do this hike?’ I asked the professor. ‘I’m not sure,’ my distance-hating husband replied. The answer seemed obvious to me: I’d choose running (limping!) alone for ten miles to struggling along a mountainous trail with three kids. In the cold and rain. I didn’t have encouraging words to offer when my oldest wailed that he was cold and hungry. I had no energy to beg the Hen to walk when he stopped dead in his tracks and insisted I carry him. I had no energy to carry him, either.
We came to a rocky ledge that had a rope along one side, for hikers to hold onto – lest they slip and fall off the trail. I had visions of my oblivious-to-his-surroundings three year old tumbling to his demise. After we’d passed the precarious spot, we met some hikers on their way back from the teahouse. ‘Not much longer,’ their ringleader chirped, ‘about another forty five minutes or so.’
When I heard ‘forty-five minutes’ I wanted to cry.
Instead, I kept putting one foot in front of the other while singing ‘The Locomotion’ loud enough for my boys to hear. Because I couldn’t think of anything else that conveyed a (false) sense of energy and optimism.
The closer we got to the teahouse, the more I worried that I wouldn’t find the mental fortitude necessary to walk back down the mountain. ‘I’m not leaving that teahouse,’ I warned my better half. ‘I will stay there and get a job. You can go back with the boys.’