Tuesday, October 18, 2016

First Summits - Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise

Together with my 7 year old son, we climbed 10 mountains this summer. I could also add 5 more smaller peaks because technically we reached 5 different summits on our Ha Ling / Miner's Peak day, and 3 different summits when we completed the Tent Ridge Horseshoe Hike. Add a mountain in BC, Mount Swansea, that we drove most of the way up, and another mountain in Banff, Sulphur Mountain, where a gondola took us most of the way to the summit, and you've got 17 peaks or summits for this summer.

I post the total of summits above not to brag but as more of an explanation for why I am so far behind in writing about all of our peak-bagging adventures this summer. I am just now finally getting to writing about our trip up Mount Fairview which we did in August!! And it's now October. Sigh.... (and I haven't even gone through September's summit photos yet!)

Mount Fairview Summit, Lake Louise (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Mount Fairview - Introduction and Background

Mount Fairview is the most popular mountain to climb at Lake Louise and is definitely not a "climb" in the true sense of the word. It's purely a long hike with a whole bunch of height gain to a beautiful summit overlooking all of the big mountains in the Lake Louise Group. Yes, Mount Fairview is a mountain too (not just a viewpoint) but it's much smaller than the other peaks surrounding Lake Louise and is easy enough to walk up by any fit individual. (There's practically a sign pointing to the summit trail - and actually I think there was!)

Sounds like a great hike to do as a family, right? Yes. Mostly. As long as your kids are up for a 7+ hour day and like climbing mountains.

You won't find too many family-friendly summits at Lake Louise with a view like this

Stats for Mount Fairview:

Round Trip Hiking Distance - 7.4 km  for Saddleback Pass and 10.6 km for Mount Fairview

Height gain - 600 metres to Saddleback Pass and 414 metres more up Mount Fairview for a total of 1014 metres.

Saddle Mountain Add on:

Add approximately an extra 100 metres of height gain from Saddleback Pass (for a total of 1100 metres gained) and perhaps an extra kilometre to your total trip distance (up to 12 km total distance walked.)

Our Round Trip hiking time for both Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain:

7 hours

We had a perfect day for weather on top of Mount Fairview


Why we waited until August to climb Mount Fairview

Technically, Mount Fairview was one of the easiest summits we bagged all summer. There was no scrambling involved, no hands on moves, no exposure, no need for a rope or helmet, and we had a good trail all the way to the summit. We even had cell coverage most of the time! Still, we waited till very late in the hiking season to tackle this mountain.

I don't take height gain lightly and I wanted to make sure my son was capable of tackling a mountain that had 1000+ metres of height gain. I believe in working up to big things gradually. That means, we had to first do summits with 700 metre gains, then 800, then 900, and finally we moved up to 1000 metres. This took most of the summer to arrive at this point.

I don't like turning around half way up a mountain. Therefore we waited until I knew my son was ready for Mount Fairview, until we had a strong group to go climb it with, and until the weather was perfect. When all of these factors aligned, we grabbed our window - which happened to arrive when we had an awesome family visiting from Utah, who also wanted to climb Mount Fairview. We found one other interested family and boom! We had our group. And fortunately we found a great sunny day to head out!

Big summits require good weather windows  and a strong group of hikers (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Why climb one mountain when you can climb two!! 

I know several other families who also climbed Mount Fairview this summer. And maybe it's the competitive side in me, or perhaps it's just that I'm always looking to go off the beaten path to find a "new" adventure, but I wanted our trip to be different. I didn't want to go climb the same mountain that everybody else was doing or to be a "copy cat" who just followed what all the other outdoor families were doing. I wanted a fresh approach and a new "angle" for our trip.

Add, Saddle Mountain for our "original fresh approach." I asked Noah if he was up for a "challenge" while we were hiking up to Saddleback Pass from Lake Louise. He immediately got excited and asked what his challenge was. I told him that IF he was having a strong day, and that IF we got to the top of Mount Fairview with energy to spare, that we could technically climb two mountains. That we could climb both Mount Fairview AND Saddle Mountain, which sits on the other side of Saddleback Pass, opposite Mount Fairview.

Saddle Mountain Summit for a Double-Peak Day!

Once I pitched the suggestion to my son that we summit not only Mount Fairview, but that we also run up Saddle Mountain after, it was ON. The kid entered "beast mode" and there was no stopping him. We had to encourage some of the other kids to come up Saddle Mountain with us, but for Noah, it was not an option. He was doing both! And all I had to do was tell him it was a challenge. (same thing I did on our 5 peak day when we climbed Ha Ling, Miner's Peak, and the 3 Humps.)

I am extremely happy that I have discovered such a powerful motivational tool. Forget candy, all I have to do is pull out the "C-word" - challenge, and it looks like we will be doing some mighty things going forward! Now to try it during ski season! (It's only a 20 km loop, honey...)

Saddle Mountain Summit

Hiking to Saddleback Pass

Mount Fairview is one of the rare summits in the Rockies that is accessed via an official maintained trail, signed, and nearly impossible to get lost on. (Once you find the trailhead, lol!) We were originally heading out on ski trails until I remembered that the trail starts from behind the boat house at Lake Louise. Ski trails would have gotten us nowhere!

Saddleback Pass is only 3.7 km from Lake Louise and at a very reasonable pace with kids, it takes about 1.5 hours to reach the pass. We stopped often for candy breaks and enjoyed views over to the Lake Louise ski resort. The trail was never especially steep and the kids had fun searching for marmots and pikas as we got closer to the pass.

Our mighty crew hiking up to Saddleback Pass

The kids were begging for a long-ish break by the time we got to the pass and so with no particular agenda for when we had to be back at the parking lot, we were quite happy to have a very long "early lunch" break in the beautiful meadow below Mount Fairview. (We ended up spending a lot of time in this meadow both before and after climbing up Fairview.)

Lunch break #1 at Saddleback Pass below Mount Fairview in the background

Climbing to the Summit of Mount Fairview

Once you reach Saddleback Pass, it's only 1.6 km with 400 metres of height gain to reach the top of Mount Fairview. "Only."

The trail was awesome for a summit trail and was well switch-backed. There is only one corner that can easily be missed and we saw several people on descent bashing their way down steep rubble after missing it. (Fortunately we paid close attention on the way up and didn't miss the corner on the way back down.)

While the kids did fantastic with the steep switch-backed climb, there was one "trick" that worked amazingly well to get them to the top of the mountain! We had a trail runner Dad in the group who'd run ahead of the kids, up a couple of switch-backs, and then wait with candy in his outstretched hand. Once every child had passed him, he'd take off running again to pass the kids and get into his "candy position" further up the mountain. I don't think I heard a single complaint after we started this game. (Thank you thank you Chris!!)

The final ascent of Mount Fairview on a very clear and easy to follow trail (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

On the Summit of Mount Fairview

Wanna guess why it's called "Mount Fairview?"

There's definitely a "fair view" from the top of this mountain and you have great views of all the big mountains in the Louise group including Mount Victoria (the big glaciated peak that sits at the back of Lake Louise.)

Mountains and Glaciers in all directions from Mount Fairview

We probably spent close to 45 minutes on the summit taking photos and resting until we decided we should go down to warm up. Even on a sunny day, it's never exactly "warm" on top of a mountain at Lake Louise. You'll need gloves and a good coat even in the middle of summer.

Not a bad spot for a nap!
The kids RAN down from the summit at alarming speeds and we adults struggled to keep up. Again, yay for at least one trail runner in the group who could keep up to the fastest kids.

I couldn't even begin to keep up to the kids on the way down at times

Adding on Saddle Mountain for a Two-Summit Day

Saddle Mountain is only an additional 100 metres of height gain above Saddleback Pass and is a lot of fun to ascend. There's not much of a trail and you get to scramble up big boulders as you pick your way up to the summit. No surprise therefore that kids would find it more fun to climb Saddle Mountain than Mount Fairview in all honesty. And the views aren't so bad either.

Climbing up the big rocks and boulders to reach the summit of Saddle Mountain

We made short work of this ascent and then returned to the meadow for lunch #3.

Standing on the summit of Saddle Mountain with Mount Fairview across the Pass

Back in the meadow and we started to wonder why there was nobody else in sight, why it was so quiet, and why there were no more day hikers anywhere around. After checking watches, we discovered it was actually getting quite late and that perhaps we'd been lounging about a bit too long after our second summit.

Chilling at Saddleback Pass before a late run back down to Lake Louise

Back to Lake Louise

Even though we were still in the meadow at Saddleback Pass at 4:30pm, we made it back to the lake by 6:00pm and I had cell coverage at the pass to call home and let my husband know that we would definitely not be home for dinner. McDonalds in Canmore it would be!

Hiking back down from Saddleback Pass at the end of the day

Top Success Factors on this Trip

  1. I collected a strong group of families to do the hike with and focused on making sure the kids would have buddies of a similar age. (I have discovered that a 10 year old girl for example doesn't always enjoy hiking with a bunch of 6-8 year olds, and that girls especially like to have other girls to hike with.)

  2. We took our time, stopped often, took many rest breaks, and didn't try to rush too much or push the kids to complete the summits in record breaking time. The full outing took us 7 hours but much of that time was spent hanging out at Saddleback Pass or on the summits.

  3. Candy. Of course. (and the running candy game mentioned earlier)

  4. Training! You don't just start with 1000 metres of height gain if you've never climbed a mountain with your child. You start smaller and work your way up. That's what we did and it was successful. Next summer we'll do the same and try to work our way up to longer distances as well.

  5. We chose a nice day for our hike. It wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable hanging out at the pass if it were raining or snowing. And we wouldn't have spent 45 minutes on top of  Mount Fairview if we'd have had 50 km per hour winds. Weather is always important but never more so than with kids!
Two of the boys running down off of Saddle Mountain

Additional Reading

To read about our previous August summit, read: First Summits - Tent Ridge Horseshoe, Kananaskis

To read about some of our other summits this summer check out my previous story on the East End of Mount Rundle. It has a lot of reflections in it, learned over the summer. It also has a complete link at the bottom to all of my "First Summits" posts.

Parting shot descending from Saddleback Pass

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

5 Reasons to Make Nakiska your Local Ski Hill this Winter

After last weekend's snowy weather in Calgary, it's hard to deny that winter is on its way! And while many hear the "s word" with dread , my family is very excited to get back on skis - and to have a very snowy winter! "Snow" is only a bad word if you decide to hibernate indoors all winter long without embracing a whole new set of seasonal sports. Bring on the snow I say because we are ready to hit the trails and slopes (and tomorrow really couldn't be too soon.)

For  those of you who are just as excited about the approaching ski season as my family is, I know you have two big things on your mind right now as we creep towards November and ski hill opening dates. One, you're trying to find new skis, boots, winter clothes, and gear for your kids. (and I'm with you on that one!) Two, you're trying to decide which ski passes you should purchase for the upcoming season and where you will focus your resort skiing this winter. (and yes, I'm with you there too!)

Winter wonderland at Nakiska Ski Area, Kananaskis

For my family, we are choosing Nakiska Ski Area as our "local ski hill" for the fourth year now. We'll ski at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park when we're hanging out in Calgary since you can't beat a hill that's 10 minutes from your house, but we plan to spend weekends out at Nakiska, our chosen "close to home" mountain ski resort for another year.

Learning to ski at Nakiska Mountain Resort

5 Reasons to Make Nakiska your Local Ski Hill this Winter

1. Affordable Skiing

Ski as a family for as low as $699.00 for the Entire 2016/2017 season with a family season pass at Nakiska. The family pass was originally priced just under $2000.00 for a season but has been drastically reduced - until October 15th! And that's this Saturday. So buy your season pass now for the best deal you'll get this year.

If you don't need a full family season pass, you can also buy adult passes individually for $299.00 - again until October 15th.
This kid will ski for $20 this winter!

And I've done the math for you. As an adult, you have to visit Nakiska 4 times to have fully paid for your season pass. After that you are saving money. Ski once a month from December through March and that's already 4 times. Ski more, and you're really saving.

Don't want to buy a season pass? You'll still find Nakiska to be one of the most affordable ski resorts near Calgary with lift tickets costing roughly $20.00 cheaper than most other resorts.

You can also buy an RCR Rockies discount card (or ask for one as a Christmas present) which gives you your first, fourth, and seventh ski day free at any of the four RCR (Resorts of the Canadian Rockies) hills. This would include Nakiska Ski Area, Fernie Alpine Resort, Kimberley Alpine Resort, or Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. The other days are highly discounted (up to $30 savings per day,) and you typically receive other deals with your card at local hotels and restaurants.

Official word from RCR is that news on the discount cards for the 2016-2017 season should be released right after the season pass sale ends. (Hopefully on Monday, October 17th.)

And for families with kids in grade 2 - here's what you'll want to know: Your child can ski at any of RCR's four resorts for $20.00 all winter long! The Grade 2 Fun Pass is available on the RCR website and you can believe I bought one for my son!

My boys cruising down the easy groomers at Nakiska

Other affordable perks at Nakiska

Children 5 and under can ski all winter long at all four RCR resorts for $20.00 with an RCR Rockies Tiger Pass, available for purchase on the RCR website. Families can also buy the Super Pass Tiger (which includes Lake Louise) for the same price.

Note as well:
"Kids 5 and under are technically free at all RCR ski resorts. To get them on the lift they need to have a lift ticket to be picked up at the ticket window for free each day they are there.  The Tiger pass however allows parents to skip going to the ticket window each day to get a free ticket and allows them to go straight to the lift all season like a regular pass."  

Students aged 18-24 receive discounts on student season passes, with the cost as low as $239.00 right now until October 15th. (Full details on the Nakiska website)

There are also specials for seniors if you visit the Nakiska website (with those over 80 only paying $59 for a season pass!!)

Children and adults alike have generally been allowed to ski for free in the beginner area at Nakiska serviced by the magic carpet. (Note you will still have to get a magic carpet pass from guest services but there has been no cost for this beginner pass in previous years.)

For all other passes and for full information, visit the Nakiska website.

Practicing in the Beginner Area at Nakiska (which is free for adults and kids)

2. Nakiska is GREAT for beginners

If you didn't see it in the previous paragraph, it bears repeating: Children and adults alike have generally been allowed to ski for free in the beginner area at Nakiska serviced by the magic carpet.

You will still have to get a magic carpet pass from guest services but there has been no cost for this pass in previous years. 

Official word from RCR for the 2016-2017 season however is:
"The Magic Carpet/learning area is part of our beginner lift ticket cost. We are still waiting to hear what that will be for this coming season."

Hopefully beginners will continue to be allowed to ski for free in the learning area because if you've ever tried running alongside your child on the bunny hill (not wanting to buy a lift ticket just to help a 2 or 3 year old learn to ski off the magic carpet run,) it's a lot of work. It's much easier to chase after a child if you, the adult, also have skis on rather than running down the hill in your boots.

Also, most kids who are just learning to ski will have a very short attention span and will only last at the hill for an hour or two. It's nice if you don't have to pay for skiing until they can manage half a day of skiing off the chair lifts.

My husband teaching our son to ski in the beginner area at Nakiska

Other Great Features at Nakiska for Families with Beginner Skiers 

The Nakiska Tube Park is conveniently located right next to the beginner ski area. Yes, the kids will beg to go tubing, yes, it's a lot of fun, and yes, you should try it at least once. If you think you'll be doing a lot of tubing, you can purchase a family tube park pass as well for the season. (Note that children must be 42" tall or 3+ years old with an Adult. Also, kids under 5 can get a free ticket with a paying adult)

The hill is easy to find your way around on. There is no back side and the resort is small. You'll feel quite comfortable your first visit. (which I wouldn't say for bigger resorts)

The Bronze chair is a great place to start with novice skiers who are ready to progress past the beginner area. Every run off this chair is green and the runs are short so little legs won't get tired half way down. As an adult who's spent many days skiing with a young child, I've always found it comforting to know that we can't ever get into trouble on this chair. There's no "accidentally ending up on a blue," or "getting lost and having to guide a child down a black run."

Know in advance however that the Bronze Chair is not always open in November when the resort officially opens for the season. It is often one of the last chair lifts to open as the lower runs don't get as much snow as the ones higher up do. Also, once kids progress past the Bronze Chair, they will have to be ready to ski intermediate terrain. 59% of the hill is intermediate terrain with only 13% dedicated to beginner runs.

Finally, new skiers will appreciate the quality and amount of grooming at Nakiska. For me, an intermediate skier, I love Nakiska's smooth groomers and am often scared at resorts that focus on more "natural" terrain. Moguls and powder may be awesome for more advanced skiers, but beginners will appreciate the perfect Nakiska corduroy. 

First visit to the Nakiska Tube Park -and it was a blast!

3. Location, location, location!

Nakiska is Calgary's closest mountain resort and I can be parking my car in front of the day lodge within 45 minutes of leaving my house. This is great news for families who don't want to wake up at the crack of dawn to get to Banff, find parking at a big ski resort, get on a gondola before the resort opens, and be ready for first lifts - by 9:00!! Love for Sunshine Village aside, it's just not practical for my family. I love my grooming and I want first runs. My husband loves his powder- and also wants first runs. Add lessons for the kids and you'll need to be at the day lodge before 9am.

This winter I'm also looking forward to getting out to Nakiska Friday afternoons. My son finishes school every Friday at noon and I'm thinking if we eat in the car, we can be on the lifts by 1:30. With season passes, this is very doable and we only need to ski for a couple of hours to make the trip out worthwhile.

I am looking forward to lots of skiing this winter!

Other perks for having a mountain that's close to the city:

  • It's easy to return home for a mid to late afternoon nap if you have younger kids
  • You can master the art of the "relaxed start" - especially if you have a seasons pass
  • You'll never spend more time in the car than you will skiing
  • You'll definitely be home for dinner (even if you leave after the chairs close for the day)
  • It's easier to justify a half day of skiing with younger kids (something you wouldn't do if you had to spend 3+ hours driving to and from the hill)
  • You'll appreciate the proximity of Nakiska on snow days when roads are icy and you wonder if you should even be out on the highways
Learning to ski at Nakiska Ski Area

4. Nakiska is EASY

There is no gondola that you must first ride to get to the ski area.

The day lodge at Nakiska is cozy and comfortable. It feels like home and we often just throw our hockey bag of gear/lunch/extra clothes under a table in the lodge. It's that casual.

You'll never struggle to find parking. And no matter where you park, you're never far from the day lodge and the lifts.

Kananaskis Village is conveniently located just down the road and is a great place to spend time after skiing or to hang out with younger kids who tire easily while the rest of the family is still at the hill. We like to get a coffee at the cafe in the Delta Lodge and then we go hang out by the fireplace in the main lobby. (and they never seem to mind our crazy kids running around there)

There is on site day care offered for families with children as young as 19 months.

The kids snow school at Nakiska is fabulous! And it's a great way to ease into your day. Drop the kids off at their lessons, go hang out in the lodge and grab a coffee, slowly bring all of your adult gear in from the vehicle, go out for a warm up run, and just relax for an hour or so. (or maybe that's just me as my husband would be out on the hill as soon as our son was dropped off at his lessons.)

This is the "peaceful way to start the day at Nakiska - kids in snow school!

Save time by reserving rental equipment ahead of time online.

Rent ski equipment for the kids for the season for $179.00 and then return the gear at the end of the season with the Wings Leased Ski Program. For this price, you'd be hard pressed to find new gear for the kids for a season. (And you know that their feet are going to grow again for the following year or that they'll need longer skis.) Avoid the hassle of buying new skis each year with this program aimed at kids 12 and under.

Finally, there are plenty of options nearby for the non-skier in your family. There are cross country ski trails that leave right from the Nakiska parking lot, there are snowshoe trails located at Kananaskis Village or at the Ribbon Creek Trailhead down the road, and there's an ice skating pond at the Village along with a small sledding hill. You can also rent cross country skis, snowshoes, and skates at the Village. With all these options, you just might have to spent the weekend!

Cross country skiing at Kananaskis Village below Nakiska

5. A Family Can Plan an Affordable Ski Weekend at Nakiska

My husband would be the first to tell you that "affordable" is a relative term but if you compare options, a weekend in Kananaskis doesn't have to break the bank.There are three main options that families can look into if you'd like to make a mini-vacation out of your ski day at Nakiska.

The Super Affordable Option: The HI Kananaskis Hostel is located down the road from Nakiska and offers reasonable rates in either private rooms or dorm rooms (divided by gender.) Kids have to be 6+ to stay in a shared dorm room but can be younger in the private rooms. For more information, check out the HI Kananaskis Hostel's website or read my previous blog post: Affordable Family Ski Vacations in the Canadian Rockies.

The "affordable" option: Not as cheap as the hostel above, but you get your own hotel room with this one.  The Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino is more family-friendly than one would think given that there is a casino on site. It's also less than a 15 minute drive away from Nakiska and has an indoor pool with waterslide. There are often great deals on the RCR website that include lodging at the Stoney Nakoda along with lift tickets for Nakiska.

The "fancy" option:  For those with a larger budget (or if you just really want to treat yourselves to a nice weekend away) there's the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis (now a Marriott hotel.) We love staying here and relaxing in the pool with outdoor hot tub after a day on the slopes. And even we don't stay overnight, most of our ski days end up here for at least coffee, drinks, or dinner.

Note that the Delta Lodge is now under new ownership and is a Marriott Property. More info. can be found on the Kananaskis Lodge website.

Visit the RCR website for more on ski vacations, packages, and hot deals.

Winter at the Delta Kananaskis Lodge

Additional Reading

To read about our first ski weekend at Nakiska last year while staying at the Delta Kananaskis Lodge, read my post: Off to a Great Start at Nakiska Ski Resort.

To read about one of our first experiences skiing at Nakiska, and why we fell in love with this small resort, read: Nakiska Mountain Resort - Raising the Bar in Family Excellence

To read about our experiences with ski school at Nakiska, read: In Support of Ski School - Quality Training and Fun

Looking forward to the start of ski season in less than a month!

Visiting other RCR Ski Resorts this Winter

One of the reasons we've chosen to make Nakiska our local hill is because we want to focus on RCR resorts for our ski vacations that we plan this winter. We love Fernie and Kimberley Alpine Resorts and can't say enough good things about these two resorts for families.

Read about our trip to Fernie Alpine Resort last winter.

And read about our trip to Kimberley Alpine Resort last winter.

Kimberley Alpine Resort has awesome tree runs for kids

Want to visit one of RCR's other resorts this winter?

Purchase a Nakiska season pass and choose the Ski BC add on option.  You'll receive 2 Ski Days at either Fernie, Kicking Horse or Kimberley. The option is valid all season long but you must purchase the pass at the same time as your Nakiska Seasons Pass.

Alternately, buy a RCR Rockies Discount Card (more details to be released soon for winter 2016-17) and you'll get your 1st, 4th, and 7th day free at any RCR resort. I've found that these make great Christmas gifts!

And when the time comes to book your vacation with accommodation, you can search for packages, deals, and vacations on the RCR website. You can also sign up for last minute deals that you'll receive via email.

Fernie was our first big mountain resort that we skied at as a family last winter

Tentative Opening Weekend for Nakiska is November 5th and 6th and we're very excited for that! Fingers crossed I find my son a new pair of skis by then!

Disclaimer: I am receiving free skiing with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies this winter.  However, I was not paid to write this post and as always, all opinions are my own. We love RCR ski resorts and have very happily chosen to partner with this great group of resorts again for another winter.

Friday, October 07, 2016

First Summits - Tent Ridge Horseshoe, Kananaskis

Tent Ridge was one of our favourite family hikes that we did this past summer. It was challenging, it took us 7 hours, and we conquered three summits over the 10 km loop. The total height gain was 800+ metres once you took into account every summit you had to go up and over (losing height and regaining it with each one,) and the area was very remote (read: you likely won't meet a lot of other people  and will follow unofficial trails the whole time.)

We had hands-on scrambling moments on the traverse of Tent Ridge, one mom pulled out a rope on the first cliff band, and we nervously watched the children running along the narrow ridge (at moments where I'm sure they should have been walking.) In the end though, only 2 out of our group of 12 needed minor first aid in the parking lot (one after falling while running down a steep scree slope and getting banged up a bit, and one after tripping and falling on the final trail back to the car - resulting in some scrapes and bruising.)

Scrambling on Tent Ridge, Spray Valley Provincial Park

Oh, and I should mention that we did this epic long adventure with 7 children, the youngest only 6 years old.

Sound fun? Read on then. :)

Our mighty Tent Ridge Team (ages 6 through 12)

Trailhead, Route, and Directions for Tent Ridge

The Tent Ridge Horseshoe Trail is located in Spray Valley Provincial Park behind Mount Engadine Lodge and near the Mount Shark Trailhead.

The best description for trailhead and route comes out of Gillean Daffern's hiking book: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1. The book is available anywhere that you buy books (MEC, Chapters, Amazon...) and I'd recommend putting it on your Christmas list if you're serious about taking the kids on this hike next summer.

There's also a description for the route and trailhead on Trail Peak, a GPS track on the All Trails Site, and a good write up on Bob Spirko's website.

From the Kananaskis Trails website you'll get the basic directions for starting your hike. Beyond that, the links above should help you with "where to go" from the trailhead.

Know though that this is an unofficial trail. You can and could easily get lost if you don't know where you are going. There were moments where we wondered if we were en route after leaving the ridge and trying to follow trails back to the road. I highly encourage you to hike the trail without kids first (which I've done several times,) and to bring somebody with you who is awesome at route finding! In this case for us, it was my friend's husband who corrected me right from the get go when I was about to start up the descent trail!

The trail that you'll hike to reach Tent Ridge through Monica Basin

My biggest direction tips:

1. From the parking area, do not take the trail that is ahead of you UP the road. That is your descent path!! Walk back DOWN the road and you will see the trail going into the trees on your right hand side. This trail takes you to the meadow so that you can do the horseshoe from left to right. (my preferred direction)

2. When you come off the far end of the ridge, closest to overlooking Spray Lake, just follow the main trail all the way until you end up on an old road. This takes you to the official road where you parked, just up from your vehicle. We wondered constantly if we were on the right trail, if we had to turn off somewhere, if we should turn onto any of the side trails... - no. Stay on the main trail. It is the correct one. Gillean's book is a bit confusing here as she talks about loops and such. Just go straight. On the main trail.

The gorgeous meadow you'll cross to access Tent Ridge through Monica Basin

Our Experience on Tent Ridge

The Hike to the Ridge

We enjoyed the relatively easy hike to the meadow below the ridge in Monica Basin. It was uphill for sure but the height was grained gradually and it was never that steep. It took us perhaps an hour to reach the ridge. None of the kids had problems on this first part of the trail and we stopped occasionally for candy breaks.

The only crux was finding the right trail to get started. As mentioned above, from where you'll park your car, hike DOWN the road a short ways to find the trail heading off into the trees. Do not walk up the road. There were several parties at the trailhead at the same time as us and most of them followed the trail UP the road from the car park. We didn't see any of them on the ridge so I think they just tagged the one summit and headed back down.

We did the full horseshoe traverse of the ridge and appreciated hiking it left to right. (doing the loop in a clockwise direction.)

Tent Ridge in front of us, easy hiking through Monica Basin as we approach the ridge

Gaining the Top of the Ridge

Once we got to the far left hand side of the horseshoe shaped ridge, we proceeded to scramble steeply up to the first summit. There was one cliff band that was especially "technical" for 6 and 7 year olds and a rope came out when one of the moms expressed a bit of doubt.

Scrambling up the steep ridge crest to gain the ridge proper

This first part of the Tent Ridge Traverse was also the point we almost "lost" two families, debating whether they should turn around or not, but fortunately the hiking got easier and everybody decided to continue.

Guide book writers will say Tent Ridge is "not" technical. And for an adult it isn't.

There were several scrambly bits on the first third of the ridge walk leading up to the first summit. Once we got further along though, it was all hiking on top of the ridge and hands could go back in the pockets (so to speak) for most of it.

The ground was way below us on this first cliff band leading up to the ridge (the crux of the whole day really)
Hiking up to the ridge top on our way to the first summit (photo: Alyssa Erickson)


Hiking to the First Summit

I lost track of where the actual "summits" were with all the up and down we did, but I'm pretty sure it was the first summit that had this firenet repeater station on it. It made for a good lunch spot and we stopped here for at least half an hour.

Lunch at the first summit

Time to reach this point from the moment where we started climbing up the ridge was probably an hour. (I didn't keep track but that seems about right.)

There were so many gorgeous views hiking to the first summit
more scrambling on the second cliff band en route to the first summit
There were a lot of interesting hands on moments getting to the first summit

There were several short cliff bands that we tackled (including the first big one) to reach this first summit, but the hiking got a lot easier once we reached this point. Most of the technical scrambling was behind us and now we just had to finish the looooooong hike to the end of the ridge and back down to the cars.  (and it was a lot further in distance than I had remembered it being as an adult when I last did the hike.)

more scrambling en route to the first summit
Easy hiking along the ridge after we'd finished the scrambling

Hiking to the Second Summit or the "Hub"

The hiking was much easier past the first summit but first we had to hike way DOWN off the summit and then way back UP to the next one. The kids were a little less than "thrilled" to be losing height only to re-gain it, but they all made it up to the Hub in relatively good spirits.

The boys looking up at the second summit from below the first summit
Watching our group hiking up towards the second summit from where we had lunch on the first summit

The photo above is really good for showing how far we had to hike down off the first summit. We took a lot of breaks!

Happy kids on the "Hub" or Second Summit
Summit shot of my Boo (age 7) and I

Traversing Tent Ridge to the Third Summit

According to guide books, we were only starting the actual "Tent Ridge" traverse past this point. Up till now, we'd been traversing a connecting ridge in a horseshoe shaped hike.

Hiking down off the Hub for the Tent Ridge Traverse

Many people hike this portion of the hike only to the "Hub" by hiking up in the reverse direction and skipping the whole horseshoe. They hike up and down our descent trail, tag the Hub, and hike back the same way without doing the big long horseshoe shaped ridge walk.

Easy sections of the ridge walk (not all like this!)

We could have done just the Tent Ridge hike too but I prefer doing the whole Horseshoe and it gave us 3 summits instead of 2. If you want to do Tent Ridge without the connecting horseshoe, Daffern describes the Tent Ridge hike in the same trail guide and has two different entries for "Tent Ridge" and the "Tent Ridge Horseshoe"  that we did.

Scrambly bits on the Tent Ridge Traverse
We probably should have supervised the kids a bit more here but they did AWESOME!

The photos above give you a good look at how exposed or narrow the ridge got at times. Not a problem for most adults but for young kids, it certainly was committing. And again, I'd forgotten just how narrow the ridge is from the last time I did the hike without kids.

Narrow ridge walking on Tent Ridge

I love the photo above  because it definitely puts the ridge in perspective and lets you know how narrow it was at times. Kids definitely need good balance, to be solid on their feet, and to have previous experience with scrambles and advanced hikes.

The photo below shoes one fun moment where we had to descend a short cliff band and squeeze through a small tunnel at the bottom. (the adults chose to go around the tunnel)

Fun scrambling on Tent Ridge (photo: Alyssa Erickson)
Looking back UP at the Hub (our second summit)

The photo above gives a LOT of perspective. We hiked DOWN that ridge behind our group in the photo. We climbed down those cliff bands, we scrambled all that black rock, and we made it safely down from the Hub in the background at far left.

Honestly, the top bump in the photo on the far left hand side is where we hiked down from. It certainly looks scary from this vantage point and were we to have been hiking up, we may have gotten scared and turned around at this point. In reality, it was fine and was a lot of fun.

Easy ridge walking towards the final summit overlooking Spray Lake
Easy peasy hiking from this point on

The hiking got a lot easier as we got closer to the final summit overlooking Spray Lake. The views also got amazing the further we hiked. And at this point, the kids had been hiking for 4 hours I'm sure. Probably more if it took 7 hours in total.

Approaching the Third Summit!
We like to be goofy if we're going to take a photo together. (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

The Third Summit and Back to the Cars

The third summit was probably the most beautiful with Spray Lake below us. The kids were getting tired by this point, and we still had another couple of hours to go before we'd reach the cars.

Fortunately, it was all DOWN from this point and that certainly got the kids going!!

Third Summit on the Tent Ridge Horseshoe Hike
Summit Shot of My Boo and I

What was the hike down you are wondering? Steep! Steep as hell. Lots of scree, loose, and easy to slip on. I made my son put on his bike gloves at this point and tried to encourage him to walk slowly. Of course he still ran and thought it was hilarious to descend on his bum much of the time. Thankfully his shorts have no holes in them as a result!

Only one of the kids got a big banged up taking a big slide down the scree and the rest had minor slips. It was definitely the steepest slope I feel like descending with kids though.

Descending down Tent Ridge at the end

Sadly I don't really have any photos of the final part of the hike, nor do any of the others so I suspect we were all in "get back to the car" mode at this point. Add on a bit of "survival mode" getting the kids safely down the steep scree to the trail below.

Once we got back into the trees, we just followed the main trail all the way to the road - where we all gave loud war whoops that we actually ended up right at the vehicles! We weren't sure if we should follow the side trails, try to loop back to our ascent trail, or just follow the main trail we were on. In the end, the main trail was a great one and we ended up just up the road from our cars, clearly in site.

A Mighty Group of Hikers on Tent Ridge (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Want to do this hike with your kids?

Please get a guide book (recommendations at the beginning of this post,) research your route ahead of time, and go with a strong group of hikers.

Do a reconnaissance hike first without the kids as well. That way you'll know if it's too narrow, exposed, technical, or long for your family. We had a great day but I know this hike is NOT for everybody.

While we had children as young as 6 on this trip, I wouldn't really recommend kids under the age of 8-10 attempt Tent Ridge (unless the kids have a lot of previous experience hiking or scrambling.) We had a strong group of children that I would not say are the "norm" for this sort of hiking.

Mighty Kids doing Mighty Things!

To read about some of our other summits this summer check out my last story on the East End of Mount Rundle. It has a lot of reflections in it, learned over the summer. It also has a complete link at the bottom to all of my "First Summits" posts.