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.

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