Monday, October 31, 2016

Gotta do THIS - November Edition

November is one of my favourite months out of the whole year. Yes, really! And I'm sure you hardly believe me because most of the sports my family enjoys are not exactly "in season" right now. We haven't decided to try fat biking yet, hiking is well past its prime with snowshoeing still a ways out for powder, I don't paddle when there's ice forming on lakes, and skiing isn't exactly great yet.

Shoulder season is definitely tricky but I still LOVE November and I'm excited to share my favourite things to do this month with you.

November is an awesome month. Really! (photo: Elbow Lake)

Gotta do THIS - November (with Giveaway)


1. Ride the Banff Gondola and Visit the New Upper Terminal (with Giveaway)

I've always loved Banff in November. It's quiet, the tourists are long gone, and ski season hasn't really started yet. We head out mid-morning for a relaxed start, easy peasy day trip, and go for a short walk around town, ride the gondola, stop in at the hot springs, or sometimes even stay overnight. It's a great season to visit Banff.

This year, the Banff Gondola should be one of the top things you think about doing if you plan a day trip to Banff. The upper terminal has recently undergone a $26 million renovation and is looking fabulous!

Winter wonderland on top of the Banff Gondola

 "Journey to the top of the Banff Gondola to see a whole new side of Sulphur Mountain and the Canadian Rockies. We’ve completely rebuilt, redesigned and reimagined our mountaintop experience, creating a world-class indoor experience that equals the awe-inspiring ridgetop boardwalk 2900 ft. above Banff. From new restaurants and interactive exhibits to a multisensory theatre and a breathtaking 360-degree rooftop observation deck, the all-new Banff Gondola experience heightens every sense. "

I've been up twice now and am blown away by how amazing the interpretive centre is. I'd have to say that the Banff Gondola now has the best "family museum" or interpretive facility in Banff National Park - and the views aren't bad either!

Checking out the Interpretive Centre at the Gondola

On a budget? You can always hike up, check out the indoor exhibits, watch the movie, and then get a discount ticket for the ride down. A One-way down ticket is $25 for an adult and $13 for a child (aged 6 - 15 years.) Children under 6 are free. Visit the Banff Gondola website for full pricing details.

If you decide to hike up to save a few bucks, I'd recommend spending the saved money on lunch in the upper terminal. The Northern Lights Cafe has done away with the old cafeteria style menu that you used to find when you got to the top of the gondola. Now you'll find fresh sandwiches, soup, pastries and other goodies, along with fancier options that would make you think you were having Sunday brunch at the Banff Springs Hotel. And they serve Starbucks coffee! Visit the gondola website for information on all dining options.

The newly renovated upper terminal at the Banff Gondola

For a special night out in Banff, have dinner at the Sky Bistro in the gondola's Upper Terminal. The Signature Sky Experience includes admission to the Banff Gondola and your choice of any two-courses from the menu starting from $65. Full info can be found on the Sky Bistro website.

Above Banff at the Banff Gondola

Special Upcoming Events at the Banff Gondola

Visit the Sky Bistro during Banff's Taste of Adventure Festival. The event runs through Saturday, November 5th. The Taste of Adventure package includes your admission to the Banff Gondola and a three-course tasting menu from $49.00 - which basically means you're getting a free gondola ride! This is a great deal and I'm still trying to figure out if I can fit it into my own calendar!

Visit the Banff Gondola website for more information or contact the Sky Bistro directly.

Also, the Banff Gondola is now featuring stargazing every Friday night from from 6:00pm – 8:00pm (included with admission). For more information, go to the Gondola Events Page.

How could you ever have a bad day on top of a mountain?

Win complimentary tickets to the Banff Gondola for two adults and two children

I have four tickets to give away to one luck family so that you can come visit the Banff Gondola and check out the newly renovated upper terminal for yourselves. The tickets are valid through December 31st, 2016.

For full details and to enter, please proceed to the bottom of this blog post.

Above the clouds on top of the Banff Gondola

2. Attend the Banff Santa Claus Parade

This month's edition of "Gotta do THIS" is going to focus pretty heavily on Banff events, attractions, and activities because I absolutely LOVE Banff in November. (You've gathered that already, right?)

One of the biggest events coming to Banff this month is the annual Banff Santa Claus Parade - moved up a month to November! (Yes, for those who are confused, it's traditionally been held the first weekend in December.)

Celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season in Banff (photo: Paul Zizka and Banff Lake Louise Tourism)

This year, the Banff Santa Claus Parade takes place at 6pm on Saturday, November 19th and while that may seem a bit "early," it does give one another reason to visit Banff this month.

Visit the Banff Lake Louise Tourism website for more information on the Santa Claus Parade of Lights.

Santa Claus Parade of Lights in Banff

While you're in Banff...

  • Spend the night so that you don't have to drive home after the parade in the dark. (seriously, we hit a deer one year so it's worth the expense.)

  • Visit the Gondola! (see the previous paragraph)

  • Visit the Hot Springs (especially nice after the parade when you'll need warming up)

  • Enjoy a hike on one of Banff's easy trails. Some of our fall favourites are Sundance Canyon, the Fenland Trail, and Stewart Canyon at Lake Minnewanka.

Not a bad place to spend the night after the parade! (Photo: Hidden Ridge Resort)

Visit the Banff National Park website for information on easy hikes in Banff.

Hiking the Lake Minnewanka Trail to Stewart Canyon

3. Celebrate the Beginning of Skating Season in the Rockies

There are many outdoor ponds, lakes, and rinks in the Rockies that get cleared of snow and maintained by park or resort staff through the winter, usually starting mid to late December. November however gives us a different experience where we can often experience "natural skating" on lakes that are not maintained or cleared of snow.

We often get a brief window mid to late November where some mountain lakes have frozen (thick enough to skate on) without being snow covered yet. Some years, it never happens. Other years, we get a magical window where the ice on certain mountain lakes is smooth like glass and 100% snow free.

November skating in Banff

Johnson Lake in Banff has always been one of the first lakes to freeze and my family has skated on it for the past 5 years now.

Other options for natural skating are Vermillion Lakes, the pond at the Grotto Creek Canyon Day Use Area outside Canmore, Lake Minnewanka (later in the winter,) or the Ghost Reservoir outside of Cochrane (often good all winter long.)

Skating on the Ghost Lake Reservoir

For information on where to skate in Banff and Kananaskis, visit these links below:

Skating Season in the Rockies

First Tracks on Johnson Lake!  November Ice Skating in Banff

Ice Skating on the Ghost Lake Reservoir - often great for skating all winter long

How to Love Winter in the Rockies - On Skates!

November is my favourite month to visit Banff 

Banff National Park's Guide to Skating in the Park

8 Memorable Places to Skate in Banff National Park - Banff Lake Louise Tourism

Skating on Grotto Pond, Kananaskis

One other spot where we enjoy skating, not mentioned in the stories above, is on the pond at Kananaskis Village (Cleared by Delta Resort Staff and open to all visitors with skate rentals on site.) It is usually ready to go by Christmas or earlier if we get really cold weather in December.

The Pond at Kananaskis Village

4. Launch the Winter Hiking Season at Highwood Pass

By November I'm always longing for snow and would drive hours to find it. Fortunately, we don't actually have to go that far though because Highwood Pass is the highest paved road in Canada and gets a lot of early season snow!

Snowshoeing up to Elbow Lake, Highwood Pass

We head out to the Highwood Pass area mid to late November every year to go snowshoeing and to enjoy some backcountry sledding.

Elbow Lake in November, Highwood Pass

I've written a LOT on this topic already so please visit these stories below on November at Highwood Pass and make sure you get out by the end of the month. The road closes at the end of November and will be closed until late June next year. This is a very brief window to snowshoe up to Elbow Lake or Ptarmigan Cirque while you can drive to the parking lots.

Winter wonderland at Elbow Lake, Highwood Pass

November at Highwood Pass:

Early Winter Snowshoeing at Highwood Pass

Family Snowshoeing Adventures - Elbow Lake

November Hiking and Backcountry Sledding at Highwood Pass 

Ptarmigan Cirque in November, Highwood Pass

5. Get the Skis out for Early Season Snow

This might actually be the biggest reason I love November. My skis FINALLY come up from the basement. We get so excited for this that last year we were practically cross country skiing on dirt at Kananskis Village on November 6th! (the earliest I've ever been out skiing!)

Desperate to ski!

For those who enjoy downhill skiing, most resorts will open in November. Nakiska Ski Area was the first ski resort in Canada to start snow making this winter and is supposed to open weekends starting November 5th from what I've heard.

For updates on Nakiska's opening date, please follow them on Facebook or Twitter, check my Facebook page where I'll have updates, or contact Resorts of the Canadian Rockies directly. For information on other ski resorts and opening dates, visit their websites directly.

Early season skiing at Nakiska looks pretty good!

For those who like cross country skiing, there are a few places you'll want to check out if you aim to ski in November:

  • Moraine Lake Road, Lake Louise (should be groomed by mid-November.)

  • Frozen Thunder at the Canmore Nordic Centre (open to the public in the afternoons through the week or all day on weekends. Admission fees charged.)

  • Kananaskis Village or West Bragg Creek are closer options and I've skied both most years in November. Don't expect "amazing" snow until later in November, but if you really want to get out, both should have some track setting up by mid to late November. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is also a good bet for early season skiing if you head to the Elk Pass parking lot.

  •  Finally, we LOVE skiing the Cascade Fire Road up the Cascade Valley in Banff in November. It requires very little snow to be enjoyed on skis and last year we skied it on the third weekend of the month. The trail starts from the Lake Minnewanka Parking lot.

November skiing at Kananaskis Village

Best websites for Trail Reports and Ski Conditions:

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Live Grooming Report

Ribbon Creek Live Grooming Report (for Kananaskis Village)

Canmore Nordic Centre Live Grooming Report

West Bragg Creek Trail Reports

Ski Here (Look for the Trip Reports Tab at the top of the page)

Banff National Park Trail Reports

November skiing on the Cascade Fire Road, Banff

Additional Resources:

November in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Off to a Great Start at Nakiska Ski Resort

Nakiska Mountain Resort - Raising the Bar in Family Excellence

Family Cross Country Skiing at Lake Louise 

Cross Country Skiing with Kids - 5 Ways to Make it Fun

November Ski Touring in Paradise Valley 

Teaching Toddlers and Preschoolers to Cross Country Ski

Introduction to Family Backcountry Ski Touring

Other Events in Banff this month

Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival - October 29th November 6th.Visit the website for information on the program, for free events, and to buy tickets to watch any of the films.

Banff Craft Beer Festival - November 25th and 26th. Visit the website for more information and to buy tickets.

Banff Christmas Market - November 25th - 27th. Visit the website for more information.

November is an awesome month!


Additional "November Inspiration" Reading from the Archives

Enjoying Shoulder Season in the Canadian Rockies
Backcountry Sledding, Highwood Pass

Three Fun Ways to Beat the November Blahs

Summer's Over - Now What?  10 Ways to Enjoy the Late Autumn Season

Enjoying Shoulder Season in the Rockies - Think Outside the Box


November in Banff  


A stress-free day in the mountains

Life after summer in the mountains

Giveaway! Win Tickets to the Banff Gondola for Two Adults and Two Children

I have four tickets to give away to one luck family so that you can come visit the Banff Gondola and check out the newly renovated upper terminal for yourselves. The tickets are valid through December 31st, 2016.

Please enter below if you will be available to make the trip out to Banff before the end of the year to visit the Banff Gondola.

The contest closes at midnight on November 6th with winner notified on Monday the 7th. If I can not contact or reach the winner by Wednesday the 9th, I will choose another winner.


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Special Thanks to Brewster Travel Canada for partnering with me on this month's edition of "Gotta Do THIS." I know that one family is going to be very happy to win tickets to visit the gondola. Thanks as well to Brookline Public Relations for assisting with the contest.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Drawing Home Premiere at the Banff Mountain Film Festival

It's been years since I've taken the short trek out to Banff for the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival but I'm actually planning on going out to the festival twice this year! It's "the place to be" for outdoor adventure enthusiasts and you'll be rubbing shoulders with mountain film makers, professional athletes, and guide book authors whose books you've been reading for years.

The one movie that I am excited to see is "Drawing Home" which will be make it's world premiere Wednesday, November 2nd at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.

"Drawing Home" World Premier at the Banff Mountain Film Festival

Movie Synopsis and Cast

"Drawing Home is a romantic, warm, dramatic retelling of an epic true-life love story that until now has been little known outside of Canada. The film, which was shot in and based on the beautiful settings of Banff, is coming home to make its World Premiere at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival."

Boston in the 1920s. A young East Coast debutante is dating the most eligible bachelor in the world, John D. Rockefeller III. Her future seems set: a dream life in the upper echelons of society. But when she least expects it, she meets a young painter from one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Their worlds are polar opposites. As their attraction turns their lives upside down, they soon face a universal question: Can you find "home" in another person? Inspired by a true story. (source)

The film features an all-star cast: Juan Riedinger (The Romeo Section, Narcos), Golden Globe and Emmy Nominee Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black, Star Trek Voyager), Emmy Winner and Golden Globe Nominee Peter Strauss (State of the Union, Rich Man, Poor Man), among many others. As well as local Albertan and Canadian artists, including Calgary-native Julie Lynn Mortensen, who is making her silver screen debut.

See the Film Trailer Here

"Drawing Home" comes home to make its World Premiere at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.

The film is being screened at 7:00p.m. and 9:30p.m. Wednesday, November 2nd (18+ only) at the Lux Theatre in Banff, AND I have two tickets for the 7pm showing!

Enter below to win and there will be a bonus entry if you leave me a comment telling me one location that you recognize in the film trailer from within Banff National Park (main street Banff aside.)

Contest ends Sunday, October 30th and winner will be contacted by Monday, the 31st.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Winter Must Have: The North Face Thermoball Jacket for Kids

I almost called this review "Ode to the North Face Light Puffy" with the goal of writing a love song for The North Face Kids' insulated jackets. My son has been wearing North Face winter jackets for 5 years now and I don't see us moving on to another brand anytime soon.

Winter Must Have: The North Face Thermoball Jacket

Beyond my own son, I've seen North Face insulated jackets being a very popular choice in my Outdoor Playgroup Community (2000+ families big now,) the reversible Perrito Jacket being the classic group favorite for the toddlers and preschoolers.

Cozy warm in the Perrito Jacket while skiing

My son lived in his green Perrito Jacket when he was younger and got two seasons out of it. He then moved on to a similar jacket without a hood for a couple of seasons.

On to the Boys Insulated North Face Jacket

Now we've moved on again to the Thermoball Full Zip Jacket which continues to impress and please us in true North Face fashion. It is a bit strange though having a North Face jacket that isn't green for once.

The North Face Thermoball Full Zip Jacket

Why We Love North Face Insulated Jackets

My son's been wearing North Face "light puffy" jackets for 5 years now so obviously there's a few things we like about these lightweight insulated jackets. And I bought both his Perrito Jacket along with the next big-kids model of insulated jacket with my own money so we didn't just go with North Face because it was free gear. (Something you should definitely know!) My son's new Thermoball Jacket is the first North Face Jacket we've been given for an official review, but our love affair with North Face goes way way back.

Fall hiking in his new Thermoball Jacket

What's to LOVE about North Face Insulated Jackets:

They are lightweight and great for 3-season adventures in the Canadian Rockies. My son has biked in his previous jacket (a very similar model to the Thermoball jacket) and has used it for spring/fall hiking when there was no snow on the ground.

These jackets compress to almost nothing! You can stuff them in a backpack and pull them out when your child gets chilly. This has been great for us with backpacking and other backcountry trips when the bulky GAP puffy we had for a while was just too big.

The jackets are great for layering. My son would wear his Perrito Jacket on its own or would wear it underneath a ski jacket on really cold days. Together with a shell jacket over top, my son has been warm down to -30 (or colder) outside for hours. With the next insulated jacket, he'd wear it underneath his North Face Rain Jacket on cold days and would be sweating buckets if we weren't careful. It was a super warm combination! (and side note, my son has never known a rain jacket that wasn't made by North Face. I just keep buying him one orange rain jacket after another, but always sticking with North Face)

An insulated jacket you can even wear for fall mountain biking

They are great for active sports. I'd never dress my son in a down coat and then send him out to go mountain biking. Lightweight synthetic jackets like the Thermoball jacket however are great for active sports. I have a similar one and I even wear it cross country skiing.

They are always warm, even when wet. My son has never gotten cold or soaked through in one of his North Face jackets. The jacket itself will be wet if he's rolling around in the snow, but he himself is dry and warm underneath.

Synthetic jackets are versatile. I don't like having to pack 5 jackets on a trip. I'd rather pack one jacket that can perform across the board for any activity we might be doing. If we have to, we can layer with a second jacket, but you can't layer with a heavy down jacket.

Layering with the North Face Rain Jacket

Finally, I'm sure it's worth mentioning that my son used to HATE winter. He absolutely hated snow and anything cold. The change to accepting and finally liking winter "coincidentally" happened after buying him his Perrito jacket. So, was it really a coincidence??

The switch to liking winter and the beloved Perrito Jacket

Is it also a coincidence that in all of my photos from our early Outdoor Playgroup days, 3 out of 5 children are wearing a North Face Jacket? - Probably not.

I have few winter photos without at least a couple of kids in North Face jackets

Why The "Thermoball jacket"

The following quote comes from the Altitude Sports website, the company that sent us our Thermoball jacket.
"Independent CLO testing has shown that ThermoBall™ technology can offer the low weight, loft, warmth, and compressibility of down with the wet-weather insulating performance of synthetics."
And I can testify from personal experience that this is true. My son has already been wearing his jacket this fall, has played in snow wearing it, and has stood on top of a mountain in it. Always warm and dry.

On top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff, after an early fall snow storm

Combine the fact that we've always loved North Face kids' jackets, that we prefer lightweight synthetic jackets to heavy down coats, and that North Face has this brand new technology to make their winter jackets even better, ensuring that they insulate, even when wet - and it was a no brainer for us that we wanted a Thermoball Jacket.

We will continue testing the new Thermoball Jacket throughout the winter and you'll see it featured in many of our upcoming adventures. (Hopefully we'll take it skiing this weekend.)

Winter is here and my son (left) is ready for some serious snow to play in!

For full technical specs, please follow this link to read more about the North Face Full Zip Thermoball Jacket. And note that while this is the boy's model, there is also a girls' version.

North Face makes technical clothing that you can count on!

Purchasing North Face Kids Clothes

We got our Thermoball jacket from Altitude Sports, a Canadian eCommerce site focused on technical clothing and outdoor gear. The company encourages people to become members which gives you 5% off on every order along with free returns at all times with a 60 day return policy. There is also free shipping within Canada on all orders over $49.00.

And while you're checking out the Altitude Sports Website, make sure you check out the Sale Page for some great deals. You'll also find discount codes, one of which will allow you to get 20% off your next North Face order if you purchase something by October 27th.

There is no sport that you can't do in a North Face Insulated Jacket

Other North Face Items worth checking out for the kids

Altitude Sports carries a variety of great North Face gear from jackets to sleeping bags, camp boots, infant bunting suits, pants, and gloves. To see the full youth line up of gear, follow this link to the North Face Youth Collection on the Altitude Sports website.

I'm personally eyeing up the camp booties for our backcountry hut trips (which also come in toddler sizing) and I'm definitely eyeing up the Youth Dolomite Sleeping Bag - as I always hear families asking about sleeping bag recommendations for kids. The "boys jackets" page alone could keep me reading for an hour. (Especially since I think our current ski jacket came from Walmart last year.) - not my finest parenting moment.

North Face Kids - Never Stop Exploring

Disclaimer: I was given a North Face Thermoball Jacket for review from Altitude Sports. As always, all opinions are my own and I was not paid to write a favorable review. I have been paying for my own North Face kids gear for 5 years now and we have never had a single complaint with my son's insulated jackets or rain jackets. (and of note, we've always been able to re-sell every single jacket without a single rip or hole, a true testimony of good gear - and something I can not say about other jackets we've had.)

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.