Tuesday, July 26, 2016

First Summits - Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake

We spent the Canada Day long weekend camping in Southern Alberta at a beautiful provincial park on Beauvais Lake near Pincher Creek. While there we had one big objective: Climb Table Mountain! While it's not exactly a "popular" hike for folks from Calgary, (and most of you will have never heard of this hike,) it is a special mountain for me personally.

Western Plateau of Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake

Ascent #1 of Table Mountain - 3 Months Pregnant

Table Mountain is one of the biggest hikes that I did while I was pregnant with my son, the same son who now climbs mountains side by side with me rather than in my belly! I figured that if I could climb this mountain while pregnant, it couldn't be that hard of a hike and it would be perfect for a family outing. I remembered one short chimney that we had climbed through (with photos to prove that this pregnant mama managed to scramble her way up it,) and remembered a "small bit" of loose scree on the way down. Just a little bit. And that was all I remembered. I did remember liking the hike though. I think... Maybe?

Scrambling up Table Mountain when I was pregnant

In hind site, I have no idea if I ever really liked the climb up Table Mountain when I was pregnant, if I found it challenging or not, or if I swore I'd never hike up it again. I just remember being very hot (since we did it in July on a warm day,) and trying to hike very slowly so that I wouldn't overheat or exhaust myself too much. Those things I do remember.

My husband worried a lot less about me back in our early days. He'd never let me do this now!

Time to Climb Table Mountain Again 

Assuming that a 7 year old could hike the same mountain his pregnant mother had hiked when he was in her belly, we recruited a few other friends to come along on the hike with us while camping at Beauvais Lake. They all had children around the same age as Noah, our son, and I assured them it would be a "walk in the park." I reminded them that I had first done the hike when I was pregnant. I'm positive I told them that it would be relatively easy. "Just a hike with a bit of loose rock here and there." "We'd follow a relatively good trail." "There was just one chimney with a few "hands on" moves..."

Nothing steep or hard about this, right?

I know now that I can no longer trust my memories from the months when I was pregnant.

I know that that I did a lot of crazy stuff when I was pregnant. A LOT!

On of the more "interesting" parts on Table Mountain

I know now that there is a good hiking trail up Table Mountain. But that it was not the route we took when I was pregnant - and it's not the route we followed this time either.

I know now that at least one of my friends likely won't do another "scramble" with me anytime soon.

Not the hiking trail up Table Mountain

And I know now that my son is just as crazy as his mother because he actually liked the climb up Table Mountain, scree bashing and all! (and there were a lot of moments that honestly, were not a lot of fun.)

We spent hours bashing our way up this steep scree.

 Ascent #2 of Table Mountain - Children in Tow

The trailhead for Table Mountain starts from the Beaver Mines Lake Campground, two and a half hours south of Calgary near the town of Pincher Creek.  The trailhead is well marked and there is a  "decent" trail all of the way to the summit. It's steep and loose, but it is a good trail and you shouldn't get lost if you stick to it. Our plan however was to leave the hiking trail to do the "scramble" off trail route. (which would be more direct, steeper, and more interesting.) We set off on the Table Mountain Trail with expectations that the hike would only take four to five hours at most, and that we'd be back at the lake in no time to go for a swim.

The last photo I took on the hiking trail before we headed "off trail" to scramble the mountain

Quick Stats:

Elevation Gain - 740 metres

Expected trip time (according to the guide book) - 3.5 to 5 hours

Guide Book used - More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies by Andrew Nugara

Guide Book Rating - Easy

"A good choice if time and/or energy are limited."  - Nugara

The guide book told us to hike on the well maintained official trail for 20 minutes until reaching the second big clearing. At this point we were supposed to leave the trail and basically (in my words) - bash your way up roughly 600 metres of scree to the Western Plateau. Sound fun??

For the first couple of hours we saw scree, more scree, and then more scree...

Nugara doesn't make it sound nearly that torturous but "scree bashing" is the best description of what we did. The slog was broken up a couple of times by cliff bands we had to pick our way through (one on purpose because it looked fun and we didn't want to go around,) and one being the chimney I had remembered from our first ascent 7+ years ago.

Cliff bands at least made the route interesting
There were lots of interesting spots as we got closer to the ridge

The small cliff bands were the reason we'd chosen the scramble route
One of the cliff bands we had to climb up
The kids were like mountain goats and did awesome!
This route will be a bit much for novice hikers

Anybody wondering why we left the official trail to bash our way up 600 metres of scree? Answer: Because we are crazy. And because we wanted to find the chimney we both recalled being so much fun right before the Western Plateau.

We got to traverse under this giant cliff face right before the final chimney
Climbing the chimney
Climbing up to the top of the ridge

Anybody wondering where we would have gotten to if we had chosen to stay on the official Table Mountain hiking trail? Answer: The summit. Yes, the official trail goes right to the Western Plateau where you do a pleasant ridge walk to the summit.

the scramble route was hard but parts were a lot of fun!
The final climb to the Western Plateau

Again, why did we choose to do the "scramble" when there was a perfectly good hiking trail to the summit???

I have a few "theories" for why we chose not to take the hiking trail

I think we had "romanticized" the whole "chimney" part of the scramble and we wanted to do this part. We knew the hiking trail avoided it.
We honestly didn't remember the 600 metres of scree bashing. (I didn't anyway)
We took the hiking trail down on our first ascent of Table Mountain and I remembered it being quite loose. It wasn't much fun then and I didn't think it would be any more fun going up this way.
 Because this was the route we "knew." Back before Noah was born, we were dedicated "scramblers." One didn't take the hiking trail if there was a more interesting option.
Finally on top of the Western Plateau
The Western Plateau over Beaver Mines Lake is the big reward at the end of the scramble

Overall Experience Climbing Table Mountain as a Family Hike

The scree bash to the chimney was definitely not a lot of fun. It wasn't "technically" hard or anything, but it was a slog. The kids however were machines and never uttered a word of complaint!! Seriously, they were angels. Meanwhile, a couple of us moms had a few choice words at moments (myself for sure when my husband chose the wrong clearing to head up at the beginning.)

Reaching the Plateau made it all worth it!!

The chimney was just as much fun as I had remembered it being. Noah loved it and it was really easy. However, other scrambly bits were harder than I had remembered and at least one novice hiker in our group was more than a little freaked out by what certainly felt like exposure at times.

Views from the Western Plateau at the top of the chimney

The Western Plateau was glorious, beautiful, and very airy. You definitely didn't want to let the kids get too close to the edge.

Definitely worth the climb!

The walk to the summit across the ridge from the Western Plateau was looooooong!!!!! And I don't remember this part from our first Table Mountain hike at all. I'm honestly surprised the big kids made it (one family chose to stop at this point as they were carrying their two younger children for large portions of the hike) and I still can't get over how positive the kids were about the whole experience.

Walking to the Summit (straight and then left to the high point)
We probably walked for an hour to reach the summit on this ridge
The kids were starting to get tired at this point! (see the Western Plateau in the background?!)

The summit was anti-climatic after the gorgeous views and blocky table like properties of the Western Plateau. One definitely doesn't miss anything if they skip the summit.

Summit Shot of Dad and Son

My new fav. summit pose (with the Western Plateau in the background where we had hiked from)
Tired but we made it!

Here I'm pointing to the far end of the ridge we had hiked from to reach the true summit

After reaching the summit there's bad news - you have to hike ALL the way back to the freakin' Western Plateau to find the trail down!! And it was a long walk over the first time!

Summoning energy for the hike down!

It is really hard to find the "official" descent trail when you chose to scramble up off trail. We wanted to do a loop taking the hiking trail down. Good luck finding the trail though if you do this! It's hidden in the trees off of the Western Plateau and we never did find it until we were well below the ridge.

Scrambling down off of the ridge (again, off of the official trail)

It may have been a mixed blessing that we missed the official trail down at the top because we found the most awesome scree run off of Table Mountain! The kids loved it and were true mountain goats. Our most novice hiker was not so fond of it, but it really was a great scree run down.

Two of the kids running the scree slope down off of Table Mountain

Back on the official trail, we realized that there is no "easy" way up Table Mountain. Even the official trail is loose, nasty, and steep as heck! It wouldn't have been much more fun. And we wouldn't have gotten to do any hands on scrambling.

The official trail (just as loose and steep)

The only injuries of the whole trip happened on the official trail down. I slipped and sprained (bruised, hurt??) a finger, and Noah took a face plant and tumbled head first down some rocks. It definitely wasn't any easier on the official trail.

End Trip Time Result: 7 hours car to car!!

Needless to say we didn't get to the beach at the end of the hike and had to head straight back to camp for dinner.

Easy hiking near the bottom of the official trail

Will we do Table Mountain Again?

No. Not again. And not that I regret doing it. I'm super proud of us all for doing it. It was a great adventure and I'm super happy that we tackled it. And I'm so proud of the kids for making the summit with fabulous energy, attitudes, and determination.

However, it wasn't entirely "fun enough" that we'd do a repeat hike if we happened to be in the area again.

This kid kept running to the very end of the trail! (probably why he face planted down a steep hill!)

Should you Hike Table Mountain with your Family?

Definitely. The views are phenomenal and it's one of the best hikes in the Castle Wilderness area. However, I recommend the hike for children 8-10+ and I do recommend taking the official hiking trail if you want the easiest option. If you want to do the scramble, make sure you pick up a copy of Nugara's book before you go and don't let the "easy" rating fool you.

The scramble route is "easy" for an experienced adult hiker, and is "easy" in that there are no technical moves required. Most of the time you could hike with your hands in your pockets and you would not be seriously injured if you fell. However, for children this is an advanced hike and requires significant experience on easier summits.

Whichever route you choose, Table Mountain is a steep hike. There is no easy way up

Recommended prerequisite hike:  

Ha Ling Peak in Canmore (for both the scramble and the official hiking trail.)

Other First Scrambles


Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

More First Summits - Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis

Ha Ling! My Baby Climbed his First Real Summit

First Summits - The Mighty Yamnuska with a 6 Year Old 

First Summits - Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis 

The Four Summit Day - Ha Ling Peak to Miner's Peak (and beyond)

First Summits - Forget Me Not Ride, Kananaskis 

Copper Mountain from Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff 

First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort

Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits (Nihahi Ridge to the South Summit)

5 Summit Day in Canmore (Kid-Friendly) - Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak 


  1. The climbing was a lot of fun and I will do a scramble again with you...one day...maybe ;)

  2. We (eventually) found the actual trail back down, and weren't sure that it would have been much easier going up. Lots of loose rock/dirt, so I'm with Tanya and Karen, this was great to do once, but unlikely to be revisited! Both kids still talk about their climb over the top, but we were a little nervous of the kids on the top and worn out, so we didn't get evidence of the four of us at the Western Summit!

    1. At least I got photos to prove you came out and made it up the scrambly parts. Glad you found the trail back down.