Monday, August 22, 2016

First Summits - East End of Mt. Rundle Summit as a Family

We've been on a mission to tackle several big summits this summer as a family and they've been getting more challenging each time we go out. Last month we hiked up to the summit of the East End of Mount Rundle in Canmore, referred to as EEOR (East End of Rundle.) It was a great adventure but was definitely pushing the limits for what we feel comfortable hiking with a 7 year old child.

Summit of East End of Mt. Rundle overlooking the Spray Valley

While we had no major challenges or periods where I'd say we were in serious danger,  there were many many moments where I had to admit that next time we'd do things a bit differently. We made a lot of minor "mistakes" in my mind and it wasn't as much fun as the hike could have been. Not as smooth. Not as flawless.

In hopes that you might learn from my reflections (and because I learn best myself by writing stuff down,) below are some of my take aways from the hike.

Summit of the East End of Mount Rundle, age 7

Reflection 1 – Always listen to your Children

When your child says from the get go that they are tired – listen to them. I always say that you're never going to know what kind of day your child is going to have until you get on the trail. Within 5 minutes you can usually tell if it's going to be "that kind of day" where you should turn around and just go for a short stroll and grab an ice-cream cone, or if it's going to be a "power day" where you could hike for 8 hours and still find your child running at the end.

This was not a power day. If we had listened, we would likely have turned around at the first viewpoint and called it a day. Noah made it to the summit and he did fine given how hard the hike was, but it wasn't one of his strongest days. His heart perhaps just wasn't in it and he might have appreciated a more relaxed day.

Hiking up small cliff bands and fun scrambly bits near the start of the trail

Reflection 2– The Summit is optional

Don’t go out with the determination that you MUST reach the summit (like I did this time.) It’s too hard then if you have to turn around. It makes you do reckless things when you decide to push on. Not that we were reckless this time, but we should have stopped at the ridge.

The next four photos below were all taken below or at the ridge so you'll still have plenty of reward for your efforts!

Interesting scrambling on the way to the ridge with mild exposure
Rest break before the ridge (and a fine place to stop if the summit is too far)

Noah was already "done" by the time we reached the ridge and there was a good "false summit bump" that we could have named as “Noah’s summit." There’s always a bump somewhere that you can proclaim as your summit of the day.

The photos below show the beautiful ridge overlooking the Spray Valley, Canmore, and Ha Ling Peak opposite you. I recommend most families with children under the age of 10 stop here. It's just not necessary to continue past this point. We did, but we also brought a rope and used it!

Reaching the Ridge below the Summit
This "bump" on the ridge is where we should have stopped

Reflection 3 -  Do the hike without your children first  

This should seem obvious but it takes time to go out solo to "test" a hike before taking the kids. (Time I don't always have.) I'm also guilty of forgetting what a hike is like if it's been more than three years since I last did it. We just did a hike this past week and I honestly had forgotten that it had three summits we'd have to climb up and over! I'd forgotten how long it was! I'd forgotten how exposed it was at times. And I brought a whole gaggle of kids with me.

Earlier this summer we did another summit and invited friends assuring them it was easy and that I'd done it when pregnant. Again, I'd forgotten how hard it was. I must have been a very fit pregnant mama!!!

On rope and traversing cliffs to reach the summit of the East End of Mount Rundle

And moving on to the East End of Rundle, I'd recently climbed up to the ridge with girlfriends and knew what to expect, but hadn't done the summit since well before my son was born. (perhaps 10 years ago.) If I was smart, I would have re-done the summit without Noah before bringing him along. He did fine and we had a rope to protect him, but it was harder than I had remembered.

Tired but proud to have reached the summit of EEOR

Reflection 4 - Family hikes should be EASY for the adults

Any family hike you do should be exceptionally easy for you the adult before you bring the kids along. If it's at your perfect comfort level (where you would not do anything harder) you will be focusing on surviving the hike yourself, and not focusing 100% on your child.

My husband helping our son get down from the summit on rope for protection

Ha Ling Peak across the valley is easy for me so I can support Noah 100% even by myself without another adult along for support. I feel comfortable on it and am never worried. The East End of Rundle however is something I  had to really concentrate on. The terrain was very loose, it was steep, and it was exposed at times on the way to the summit. This meant that my husband had to take on more of the stress of supporting our son and it put him on edge at times.

The descent was a lot looser than I had remembered

Reflection 5 - Start early!! 

The early bird gets the worm when it comes to summits with kids. We didn't start until 11am and this was way too late for summiting such a big peak with a child. It took us 7 hours to complete the hike and so we weren't back down until 6:00pm.

There were many breaks on the way up due to the heat on these sun baked slopes

IF you do want to have a relaxed start or just can't get to the trailhead any earlier, here are a few tips that will make the ending smoother:

  • Make sure it's a cooler day if starting late. It was a very hot day for EEOR and we were baked climbing up the hot dry slopes in the middle of the day. We should have started by 9am for this particular climb.

  • Don't promise things you can't guarantee (ice cream at the end, dinner out in a restaurant.) We got down too late and my son had to settle with a quick hamburger from a fast food restaurant on the way home in the car. My husband was disappointed too because he'd been looking forward to enjoying a beer on a patio in Canmore (which definitely didn't happen.)

  • If you suspect the hike will take a long time, make sure you have NO plans that evening. My husband wanted to get home and had chores he wanted to do before bed. This made us feel rushed on the way down and we had to rush home. Meanwhile, on another long hike last week, we just accepted that we wouldn't  be home till late. We still went out for dinner, we took our time, and bed time was moved till 9:00pm. It was much more enjoyable!!

Rushing back down late in the afternoon

Reflection 6 - Take the guide book suggested time and add 2 hours to it.

We recently did a backpacking trip with a suggested trip time of three hours in. It took us 2 hours 45 minutes with our group of kids. This is NOT normal. We were actually planning for a trip time of five hours based on the recommended time for a fit group of adults.

If you complete a hike in less time than you anticipated - bonus! But plan for longer and then you won't be stuck out past dinner without enough food on you.

I scrambled up those cliff bands to the summit!!

Reflection 7 - Keep it light

The attitude that is! (Your pack will likely not light if you are hiking with kids and focused on safety.) Stop often, recognize when your child is tired and step in to lighten the mood, bring out the candy, bring out a special snack, etc. We pushed too hard because we knew we were in a rush - especially on the way down.

We did another big epic 7 hour hike last week and we stopped a lot more! (probably why it took 7 hours.) It was way more enjoyable and we had more fun. The kids probably consumed pounds of candy and were still happy going into the 7 hour mark.

There's nothing wrong with taking a break

Reflection 8 - Snacks, more snacks, and MORE snacks

You'll need approximately one snack per hour of hiking. Therefore we should have had six different snacks for Noah (and for ourselves) along with a snack saved in the car for the end of the trip. We didn't. We were crashing on the way down (mentally and physically) and were starving by the time we reached our fast food restaurant.

My boys on the summit of Mt. Rundle's East Summit

Reflection 9 - Bring friends

Last year I would have said that this was purely optional and we enjoyed many big hikes as a family of three. This year though we've tried both solo family hikes and big group hikes. The group hikes have ALWAYS been more fun! Way more fun!!

When we hike as a family, we have to play games constantly to entertain our son. We tire of counting, of playing alphabet games, and of entertaining a mind that is bored of trudging up scree slopes. Meanwhile when we hike with friends, the kids entertain themselves. They make up trail games, they chat about their favourite movies, books, Pokemon characters...and are just happy!!

I've also noticed when we hike as a family without other children along that our son feels isolated. He knows that he's the youngest and most inexperienced hiker in the group. He gets tired of being told to be careful, to watch his step, to do this, to not do that... Meanwhile with friends, we either relax more on our parenting and take a step back or else perhaps the kids just know that there's support in numbers (they are all being told to be careful - and it's ok.)

Hiking is more fun with friends

Notes on choosing hiking friends: As much as we love hiking with friends, there are many kids that my son can not hike well with. Either their paces or hiking styles don't match (my son is not a stop to smell the roses kind of kid,) the kids are too competitive together, or other issues interfere with having a harmonious hike. I won't go into all the various issues/challenges we've seen but it often comes down to trial and error and you'll want to choose your companions carefully for the BIG trips. Invite friends that you know you can hike well with and "test" out other hiking relationships on shorter outings.

Mighty kids need mighty friends

Reflection 10 - Hiking should be a social activity

Yes, it's about the summit, it's about the views, it's about the accomplishment...- but less so for kids. Honestly they won't appreciate the scenery like you will. They will have a harder time pushing on for the sense of reward and accomplishment. And at times, they won't care if they reach the summit or not.

Kids (and adults) are social creatures. Their highlights will be their snack breaks with their friends, running down the trail chatting and being silly with their new best friend that they just met a few hours ago, playing trail games with other children, and hanging out with their friends after the hike. Yes, after the hike! That's probably the most important part of the day for the kids. We just did another big trip with friends and we went out for dinner after. The kids had a blast at the restaurant and it could have been the highlight of their entire day. On another recent trip, we all went out for pizza after.

Reward the kids for a job well done and keep the hike social.

Adults hike for the views. Kids just want to have fun

Want to do this hike with your family?

  1. Hike it solo first to determine if your kids are ready for EEOR
  2. Start with the hike to the ridge and call it a day at this beautiful spot
  3. Go with a very experienced group. This is NOT a beginner hike!
  4. Bring a rope to protect young children on the climb to the summit
  5. Helmets recommended for rock fall from above on the final summit climb
  6. Get a guide book!! I purposely did not go into details on the route description. Alan Kain has a brand new scrambles book out. Gillean Daffern also has a great hiking book which describes the route up EEOR. Note that we took Kain's route up, as do most people based on the well beaten path up the gully to the first summit, and we tagged the first of two summits (again as do most people based on the number of folks we saw on our summit compared to the empty second summit further away.) We reached the summit described in Daffern's book but did not go all the way to the second one described in Kain's route. With enough time, both are achievable but most people do stop at the first one.
  7. Start with easier scrambles and work your way up.  There are other suggestions below.

EEOR final summit climb

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  

First Summits - Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake

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