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

Note that as of 2021 there are parking fees in effect for Lake Louise. Follow this link to the Banff National Park website for more information. You can also take a shuttle bus to Lake Louise or use Roam public transit from the Town of Banff. Information is in the previous link.

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.