Monday, November 28, 2016

First Summits - Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore

Continuing with my family "First Summits" series, we tackled one final summit this fall for a grand total of 11 family summits by the end of October. Then I went and bashed one of my knees on a tree root (on a very simple hike) and that ended our hiking season. Fingers crossed for quick healing before ski season!!

2023 edit: The platform everybody used to visit on Mount Lady Macdonald has been removed by Alberta Parks so unfortunately you won't get photos like many of the ones shown in this guide anymore.

Mount Lady Macdonald Family Summit

Mount Lady Macdonald is a technical scramble with a knife edge traverse required to reach the true summit. Needless to say we did not hike to the summit! Rather, we stopped at the "Tea House Platform" (They tried to build a tea house up here many years ago before they realized nobody was climbing up 900 metres for a cup of tea I suppose) and sat back to enjoy the views.

The beautiful platform that we reached sits perched at 2260 metres on Mount Lady Macdonald overlooking the Town of Canmore and the Bow Valley. It's an easy hike up to this point, no hands on scrambling required, and most families with experience hiking on steep terrain should have no problems reaching the platform. Most of the hike is on a fairly decent trail and it only gets tricky to follow in a couple of spots.

Awesome Views over the Bow Valley and Canmore from the platform on Lady Macdonald

Stats for Mount Lady Macdonald to the Platform

Height Gain: 888 metres

Distance: 4.4 km one way to the platform

Time that it took us: 5 Hours round trip time

Best Resource Guide: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 3

Following the relatively straight forward path up Mount Lady Macdonald

The Motivation behind tackling Mount Lady Macdonald

I'd already hiked up Mount Lady Macdonald (affectionately referred to as Lady Mac) to the platform once this year so repeating the steep grunt of a climb wasn't high on my priority list. Noah however was BEGGING to climb Lady Mac. It was bothering him that I had "climbed" it and he hadn't. I warned him that it was a very steep trail, that it wasn't an overly exciting hike (no hands on scrambling,) and that the only "fun" part would be reaching the beautiful platform. It didn't matter though because he was determined to do this hike.

I promised Noah that I would not go up Lady Macdonald without him again and that I would take him with me the next time I did the hike. I then marked it down for a spring hike (next year) and forgot about it - until one beautiful fall weekend arrived and I realized we still had time to check it off our list this season. And so we did.

My boys on our way up Lady Macdonald

Hiking up Lady Macdonald

The crux of the whole hike is twofold. First, you have to find parking near Cougar Creek and find the trailhead amidst the current construction going on. Second, you have to find the correct trail leading up Lady Macdonald from Cougar Creek. Leaving the creek too soon will take you along one of the wildlife corridor trails and you'll realize that you are traversing the lower slopes of Lady Mac rather than climbing UP the slope.

Trailhead: From the Tourism Canmore website:  "Drive along Bow Valley Trail and turn left onto Benchlands Trail. Follow the road until you see the parking lot on the left side of the road, just before the Cougar Creek Bridge."

And note that the parking lot is currently closed for construction so you'll have to park on the side of the road beside Cougar Creek.

Next, again from the Tourism Canmore website: "Follow the creek. You will reach a signed junction,
stay straight on the creek, a few minutes later you will reach an un-signed junction, go left. Another few minutes later you will reach another junction, go left onto the Lady Macdonald trail. Follow the
most used trail and avoid fainter trails and off-shoots."

And if that above descriptions confuses you too, I suggest bringing a friend along who's done the hike before. Seriously, I've gotten lost before trying to find the correct trail leading off from Cougar Creek - and I've done the hike several times!

Once you find the Lady Macdonald Trail from Cougar Creek, it's a steep but fairly straight forward hike that takes you up 900 metres to a beautiful platform.

And my best piece of advice once you reach the confusing section in the boulders where the trail seems to disappear, is to stay left. Always stay to the far left. There is a very good trail along the left hand side of the boulders.

Up, up, up the steep trail on Lady Mac

Our Experience

It was steep. It was a looooong hike through the trees until we started to get views. It was a slog.

Almost there!
That all being said, Noah loved it and it's probably one of his favourite scrambles/hikes to date because he'd wanted to do the hike so badly. We also ate pretty close to an entire package of pumpkin spice Oreo cookies during the hike so sugar may have helped a fair bit.

Noah loved a sign that he found as we approached the final section leading to the platform. It was encouraging to him and made me think we should make some of these and leave them near the top of all family-friendly summits.

The platform was awesome, we had it all to ourselves, and the views were amazing! I always pick a nice day for the Lady Mac hike because it would be disappointing to hike all the way up and then to see nothing.

The return trip down was an "interesting" one for us. Normally Noah is crazy fast on the descent and runs faster than I could possibly keep up. This hike however, he was definitely walking rather than running and we had to keep encouraging him to continue on. I think it's the first hike ever where he was stronger on the way up than down. Fortunately, I'm sure this will never happen again and I'll be chasing after Noah for the rest of my life as I struggle to keep up.

My boys on the platform overlooking Canmore

Safety Notes with Late Season Hiking


Planning on heading out to hike Lady Mac this season still? Read my previous first summits story: First Summits - Mount Saint Piran, Lake Louise, for some special tips and advisories associated with shoulder season or winter hiking.

As far as I know, there is little to no avalanche danger on the Lady Mac hike (as far as the platform) BUT I am no expert. Consult with a local visitor centre before taking the kids here on a true winter hike up this mountain.

 Lady Macdonald Summit Shot


Other Family First Summits

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 

First Summits - East End of Mount Rundle Summit 

First Summits - Tent Ridge Horseshoe, Kananaskis

First Summits - Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise 

First Summits - Mount Saint Piran, Lake Louise

Rest stop at the old Tea House Site on Lady Macdonald

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Families: Trips, Activities, and Tours

I will always remember one of my favourite Christmas gifts that I've received so far as an adult. It was a gift that couldn't fit under a Christmas tree, that couldn't be wrapped, and that required skiing 11 km to enjoy. The trip to a backcountry lodge was given to my husband and I by his parents back in 2006, it's a pretty great gift if you still remember it 10+ years later.

The Christmas gift that took us to Skoki backcountry lodge

We've also had family members buy us ski cards as Christmas presents and my father would buy us discount cards to every hill within a five hour drive of Calgary. It made skiing a LOT cheaper and we were very grateful for those cards.

A Christmas Gift Could Give you THIS Great Experience!

So, now I ask you, what would you like for Christmas? What lodge or resort have you been longing to visit? What tour have you been eyeing up? What bucket list item could a family member easily buy you as a present? Or, what could your spouse buy you that would make your favourite winter sport much easier to do this upcoming season?

Where would you like to spend a weekend with the family this winter?

Below are some suggestions to get you started with your holiday wish list. I hope they will also serve as inspiration if you're looking for ideas for that hard-to-buy-for spouse, outdoor loving parent, or child who has more than enough toys in the house! Choose one of these ideas for your brother, sister, best friend, or even your child's teacher at school if you're working together on a class gift.


Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Families: Trips, Activities, and Tours


Suggestion 1:

A Fun Weekend Away for the Family

If you're immediately thinking that you don't want to spend Christmas away from home, don't worry because I don't either! What I'm suggesting is that you plan a weekend away for the family sometime in the new year. Book a couple of nights at your family's favourite mountain hotel (perhaps a resort you've always wanted to stay at,) and brainstorm some fun activities you'll do while there.

Then, you buy a calendar. You write the date of the trip on the calendar and you wrap it up to put it under the tree, addressed to your family or to the kids. With the calendar, you could type out a nice letter outlining the fun activities you plan to do. Examples could include skiing, a snowshoe tour, an afternoon at a resort tube park, a trip to the hot springs in Banff or passes for the Banff gondola, dinner out at a favourite restaurant, etc.

If buying a trip for an extended family member (and you don't want to book the date for them,) ask the resort about purchasing a gift card. Alternately, I worked with my husband's parents the year they sent us to a backcountry ski lodge. We chose the dates together and surprised my husband with the present.

Winter at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Lodge 

First Featured Mountain Resort: Pomeroy Kananaskis Lodge 

We LOVE the Pomeroy Kananaskis Lodge and it's positively magical during the winter with its skating rink, snowshoe and cross country ski trails right outside your door, sledding hill, sleigh rides, and proximity to the Nakiska Ski Area. The restaurants are family-friendly and affordable, and the swimming pool is worth a stay alone with its indoor/outdoor hot tub and eucalyptus infused steam room. They've also added waterslides in the pool area as of 2020.

To read more about winter at the Lodge, read my story from last winter: Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village this Winter.

Ski trails right outside your door at Kananaskis Village

Second Featured Mountain Resort: Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis

Choose between yurt camping, glamping in canvas wall tents, cabins, or lodge stays at the all inclusive Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis. Receive afternoon tea, dinner, breakfast, and a packed lunch to go the next day with all stays. Enjoy a backcountry experience with drive up access in the remote Spray Lakes Valley.

  • Try Yurt Camping in Kananaskis at Mount Engadine Lodge - All meals are included with your stay and you can spend as much time as you want inside the main lodge before you retreat to your private yurt for the night.

  • Mount Engadine Lodge Glamping Experience (expect decadence) - Take camping to the next level in a heated canvas wall tent at Mount Engadine Lodge. Each tent has an indoor bathroom, electricity, and a heater. All meals are included with your stay and you can spend as much time in the main lodge as you want before retreating to your tent for the night. Each tent sleeps up to four people with a king sized bed and a pull out sofa.

  • Family Winter Getaways at Mount Engadine Lodge - Don't want to camp or glamp? Stay in the main lodge at Mount Engadine or in one of their beautiful cabins. All meals are included.

Try decadent glamping at Mount Engadine Lodge this winter with your family

Suggestion Two: 

Ski Discount Cards and Passes 

Ski Discount Cards

Didn't jump on seasons passes this year? No problem. Put an RCR Rockies Card in each adult or teen family member's stocking and you'll be able to afford multiple ski days on the slopes this winter. Each card costs less than $100.00 and includes three free days of skiing at four awesome resorts including Nakiska Ski Area, Calgary's closest resort. And for creative gift wrapping, wrap the discount card in a pair of ski socks or a new pair of gloves.

The Sunshine Super Card is another great discount card offering free days and discounts at Sunshine Village, Marmot Basin in Jasper, and Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

And finally, we love the Lake Louise Plus Card where you can get three free days of skiing at 5 great resorts including Panorama and Castle Mountain Resort. You can also link children to your Lake Louise Plus Card so that they receive discounts every time you use your card.

Ski cards, lift tickets, and gift cards make great Christmas gifts!

Read more about ski discount cards in the following stories:

You can also buy lift passes from Costco at a great discount or you can buy online ski tickets for most resorts. These make great Christmas presents wrapped up with a new toque or pair of ski gloves. And, the gift cards would be very useful if planning an afternoon at one of our area tube parks.

A gift card or passes for the Nakiska Tube Park makes for a great family gift!

 Suggestion Three: 

Tours and Guided Adventures

Just to get you thinking, here's a short list of fun tours you could give as a gift to your family this Christmas:

Most companies will print you a voucher that you can wrap up to put under the Christmas tree. Otherwise, book the tour and mark the date on a calendar that you would wrap up. Alternately, you can usually buy gift cards for tour operators if you don't want to choose the date for an extended family member.

Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like an awesome tour booked for the family

Featured Tour Operator: Kananaskis Outfitters 

Kananaskis Outfitters operates a small outdoor retail store out of Kananaskis Village and I can assure you it's a great place to stop if you've forgotten your ski pants at home while heading out for a day of skiing in Kananaskis. (and yes, that has happened to me.) I love stopping in at the store every time I'm at the Village and have been known to build my Christmas list after spending time browsing around the store.

In addition to the store, you'll find a full rental shop here for all your equipment needs while visiting for a day or a weekend. They rent cross country ski packages and snowshoes (including children's sizes,) fat bikes (for youth and adults,) pulk sleds for pulling youngsters on the trails, and ice skates for the whole family (along with hockey sticks and pucks.)

Finally they offer fat bike tours to a frozen waterfall, stargazing snowshoe tours, and daytime snowshoe tours which are suitable for the whole family. Note that the evening snowshoe tours are best suited for adults or for children 12+.

And note if you're wanting to go fat biking as a family, they have two 24" sized youth fat bikes. 

Frozen Troll Falls (a short snowshoe, hike, ski, or fat bike ride from Kananaskis Village)

For full information on rentals and tours, please visit the Kananaskis Outfitters Website.

Also read the story I wrote for Snowshoe Magazine last winter:  Moonlight, Snow Angels, and Snowshoes.  

Try a stargazing snowshoe tour at Kananaskis Village this winter (Credit Kananaskis Outfitters)

 Suggestion Four: 

A Romantic Weekend away for you and your Partner

There are beautiful resorts located all over the Canadian Rockies and chances are, you know exactly which one your partner would like to stay at. I know it wouldn't take much for my husband to pick ten awesome resorts or backcountry lodges that he could take me to - with a guaranteed scream Christmas morning.

Book a romantic weekend away for you and your partner this winter, and as with suggestion one, mark the trip down on a calendar that you can wrap up and put under the tree. Resorts will often print vouchers as well outlining the stay and inclusions of the trip (with meals that may be included for example.)

Emerald Lake Lodge (one of the places we've stayed before as a Christmas gift)

Wanting to do this for a family member? Coordinate with their spouse or partner to pick dates and offer to take the kids for the weekend. (And yes, that's two gifts actually.) Alternately, surprise both parents and leave the trip open ended for dates. Give the couple a gift card/voucher for the resort or print out your own voucher with an IOU for the intended resort.

Finally, this is a great gift to give to your own parents who "have everything," or who can't ever think of anything they want for Christmas.

Pretty sure your partner would approve of a stay at Mount Engadine Lodge! (photo: Paul Zizka Photography)

No babysitter? You can always take the kids with you. Less romantic I know, but many of the condos in Banff have one or two bedroom suites (so you can have some alone time) and a backcountry lodge is always romantic, with or without kids. 

Need some more inspiration: 

Check out my latest story for Snowshoe Magazine: Ten Snowshoe Adventures to try this Winter in the Canadian Rockies. It features many gorgeous front and backcountry lodges, romantic tours, and resorts - many that are just as awesome on a pair of skis if you prefer skiing to snowshoeing. (Just skip the backcountry huts or hostels if you are really looking for a romantic weekend and don't fancy sharing a bedroom with strangers.)

Shadow Lake Lodge in backcountry Banff - romantic with or without kids (Photo: Shadow Lake Lodge)

Recommended Reading: 

Read: Our Favourite Family-friendly Backcountry Ski Lodge (Shadow Lake) - Note, this lodge is now operated by the Alpine Club of Canada but is still an all inclusive package and just as decadent. - Book your stay here

And, if you're staying in Kananaskis, make sure you book a day at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa for you and your partner.

Suggestion Five: 

The Ultimate Outdoor Adventure for your Partner

Do you have an adventurous partner that you never quite know what to get for Christmas? Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling.

  • A Guided ice climbing or backcountry ski day

  • A Course with a local adventure company (intro to ice climbing, backcountry skiing, rock climbing, etc.)

  • Any of the family adventure tours listed above (without the kids) - Think dog sledding, fat biking, a moonlit snowshoe tour, or a Rat's Nest Cave tour in Canmore.

  • An Avalanche Skills Training Course

  • A day at the  Kananaskis Nordic Spa (this is on my annual Christmas list)

Most companies would be happy to give you a gift card or printed voucher for you to wrap up and put under the tree. Think of a creative way to wrap it. (For example, what would your partner need if he/she were to go fat biking for a day?)

Gift your partner with a day of adventure this Christmas

Suggestion Six: 

Tickets to a Concert or Event for you and your partner

You shouldn't have problems thinking of an event your partner would like to go to over the next few months. The one that comes to my mind though is the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. The Tour usually comes to Calgary in January.

Babysitting suggestion: coordinate with friends who also want to go see the film tour. Buy tickets on different nights so you can take turns watching each other's kids. 

And I suspect for 2020, the Film Festival will go virtual so you'll be able to purchase a pass and watch all the movies with your whole family from home. 

Get inspired to travel and to explore at the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour


Suggestion Seven: 

Passes or Vouchers for Family Fun Activities

While this may not be a primary gift for the kids, it makes for a great stocking stuffer. Consider some of the following ideas:

Buy your kids fun passes for Christmas
  • Passes for local theme parks and attractions such as Calaway Park, Heritage Park, the Telus Spark Science Centre or the Calgary Zoo

  • Passes to a local climbing gym. (You can even buy passes for the Climb Park at the Hanger or the Rocky Mountain gyms in Calgary) - see the photo to the right.

  • Gondola tickets in Banff or tube park passes for WinSport, Nakiska or Mt. Norquay

  • Passes to a favourite leisure centre.

Bonus Suggestion: 

A Subscription to an Adventure or Wildlife Magazine 

My son has subscriptions to two magazines and he loves getting them in the mail. The ones I recommend for kids are the National Geographic Kids Magazine and Wild,  which is published by the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

And while you're at the Canadian Wildlife Federation's Website, consider adopting an animal for Christmas.

Magazine subscriptions are great presents for the grandparents as well and ours regularly get a list of publications that the family wants.


Find my complete set of holiday gift guides below

A Holiday Gift Guide for Active Kids 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

First Summits - Mount St. Piran, Lake Louise

We hiked up Mount St. Piran at Lake Louise in late September and it felt like we were tackling a winter summit. There was much more snow on top than we had anticipated and were we to repeat this same summit now, there would already be avalanche danger. This was our 7th "first family summit" that we did this summer for a grand total of 10 family summits completed by the end of September.

Mount St. Piran Summit, Late September

Mount St. Piran Introduction

Mount St. Piran is located at Lake Louise and is one a few "hiking summits" located here where you'll be able to pretty much keep your hands in your pockets the whole time. There's no actual "scrambling" involved in getting to the top and you'll follow good hiking trails much of the time.

Unless you're crazy enough to descend the back side with kids (and yes, you know we are that crazy,) it's a very easy hike with no technical difficulties. Your kids just have to be able to hike up 900 metres of height gain.

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.

Hiking up to the summit of St. Piran, Lake Louise

Stats for Piran


Entering the snow zone on St. Piran
Height Gain: 900 metres

Distance: 12.8 km for the full loop that we did, ascending up the regular St. Piran Trail and descending to the Niblock-St. Piran Col to reach Lake Agnes from the back side

Time that it took us: 6.5 hours round trip total

Age of Kids we hiked with: Ages 5 through 13

Best Resource Guide: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies by Alan Kane (available at all major book stores)

Hiking up the Lake Agnes Trail

The hike starts on the heavily used Lake Agnes"tourist trail". This is probably the least enjoyable part of the trip and the trail was way too busy for our liking, even in September.

Fortunately, this trail is only 3.4 km long and we only had to go 3.1 km to the junction with the Little Beehive Trail. In that distance we gained our first 372 metres of height on the well maintained trail that was never very steep. (which isn't a bad way to travel.)

High above Lake Louise

Turning off for the Little Beehive Trail

At the 3.1 km mark you turn off for the Little Beehive Trail and follow this much less traveled path until you come to the junction for the St. Piran Summit Trail.  The Little Beehive viewpoint is at the 4.2 km mark but you don't hike the full distance. You'll turn off about 500 metres before reaching the end of this trail.

Climbing up the Little Beehive Trail (photo: Megan Dunn)

Along the way we started to get our first views and we began to see larch trees around us. We'd see more as we climbed higher up towards St. Piran.

Looking down on the Little Beehive covered in  golden larch trees

On the St. Piran Summit Trail

The Little Beehive is reached after climbing up 500 metres. This means that you have roughly 400 more metres to go when climbing up to the summit of St. Piran. And this is just a rough guess because you don't go all the way to the Little Beehive "summit."  There is definitely 400 to 450 metres of height gain ahead of you from this point though. And you'll want to pull out the candy here because the trail gets steeper!

The lower slopes were dry and covered in golden larch trees (photo: Megan Dunn)

We came to the signed junction for the St. Piran Trail about 100 metres before the end of the Little Beehive Trail. The Piran Trail is not an official parks trail but is still well maintained and is well switch backed for most of the distance. Views open up over Lake Louise and the whole valley and it's positively magical when the larch trees are golden. And the views do help take the mind off of the climbing.

Getting higher up the St. Piran slopes and it's getting snowy! (photo: Megan Dunn)

We followed good switch backs all the way up to the St. Piran shoulder and the snow was very manageable so far. The trail had been packed down by hikers ahead of us and so we had a very good path to follow. We didn't need ice cleats or spikes.

Climbing up to the St. Piran Shoulder above Lake Louise (photo: Megan Dunn)

On the St. Piran Shoulder

We stopped briefly at the shoulder to take some photos and to contemplate the snowy slopes ahead of us. The gloves definitely came out.

St. Piran shoulder before starting our ridge walk to the summit

Hiking up the Final Summit Ridge

For our crew, the hiking was easy going until we got to the shoulder. From here, we had to traverse the ridge up to the summit on snow slopes that were a big slippery.

Hiking up the ridge as the snow got deeper

The snow was also a lot deeper than we had expected for late September (and not packed down at all.) The boys also weren't entirely prepared in their light hiking shoes or trail runners. Fortunately they did have rain pants and we all had gloves, toques, and warm layers of clothing - all of which we needed!!

Final hike to the summit (photo: Megan Dunn)


The Snowy St. Piran Summit  

We didn't spend a lot of time on the summit because it was freezing cold up here. There was also deep snow drifts that came halfway up to my knees.

St. Piran Summit, late September

We took our photos, had snacks, and proceeded to make our way off the mountain.

Striking his Mountain Summit Pose

Note that there was no avalanche danger yet but should you attempt this hike now in November, there would be significant risk.

Rock shelters at the top of St. Piran

Completing the Traverse to the Niblock-St. Piran Col

We love loops, ridge walks, and traverses. It was therefore a no-brainer that we'd attempt to do the traverse of St. Piran, coming down the far side to the back of Lake Agnes.

Traversing the St. Piran Ridge to the Niblock-St. Piran Col (photo: Megan Dunn)

Normally, the traverse is "relatively" simple and straight forward but the slope is steep (very steep,) not fun when it's snowy (not to mention avalanche prone if too snowy,) and route finding is required. I've done this descent many times as has my husband so we felt comfortable with taking a more original way down rather than following the same trail we'd taken up. Also, we knew there was not enough snow for avalanche risk yet.

Our youngest hikers making their way across the ridge (photo: Megan Dunn)

In the end, I "almost" regret coming down this way because the snow made the descent very sketchy and tricky. It was slippery and the snow covered up holes in the rocks. Our son, Noah slipped numerous times when he'd fall into a hole and twist his ankle or hurt his knee. It wasn't fun in the slightest descending the steep slope and I think almost everybody in our group fell at least once.

Descending steep slopes to the St. Piran-Niblock Col (photo: Megan Dunn)

Fortunately, we made our way to the Niblock/Piran Col and then things started to improve (slightly) as we got on a rough dirt trail. If muddy this section can also be slippery though - and it was muddy. Overall, it was a much harder descent down the back side than I had remembered pre-kids.

The kids descended numerous sections on their bums holding on to trees to lower themselves. Adults fell as we all took turns sliding down the steep dirt/rock mixture through the trees, and my husband wants to point out that even in the summer, this is NOT an easy descent. The trail is brutally steep and does not fall into beginner hiking terrain. It is much easier to return via the same trail you hiked up. (And you can still detour up to Lake Agnes by going down the normal way.)

Descending very steep slopes down to the valley behind Lake Agnes (photo: Megan Dunn)

The walk through the valley towards Lake Agnes was also very pleasant (and is why I always choose this descent route.) You see nobody else when hiking this secret little valley and you won't meet a single other day hiker until you reach the junction with the Big Beehive and Lake Agnes.

There are a lot of fun rocks to scramble on at the back of Lake Agnes (if you haven't been hiking for 5+ hours already.) For us, we pretty much just continued going once we reached the lake.

Lake Agnes, finally!

Lake Agnes Tea House and Descent

We reached the crowded and touristy tea house at Lake Agnes. We didn't stay long because it was hard to be in the midst of so many people after being alone on the trails all day. We had some quick snacks, fed the kids their final sugar, and then proceeded to run down the stairs for the trail home.

Following the Lake Agnes trail to the Tea House

The final descent was a quick trail running affair, boys running down the trail hell bent on reaching Lake Louise. It took less than an hour to reach the lake and the kids passed many/most adults on the trail. We just tried to keep up.

Back on the Lake Agnes Trail (photo: Megan Dunn)

Special Safety Notes with "Winter and Shoulder Season Summits" 

As mentioned, St. Piran is exposed to avalanche risk and you shouldn't climb it when there is significant snow if you are not prepared or trained for traveling in avalanche terrain.

Right now it is advised that you check with an information centre in the mountain parks before attempting any summit in the Canadian Rockies. Traveling into avalanche terrain with children is not something I advise or practice.

Note that many/most summits you'd just calmly walk up in summer can and could have avalanche risk. So always ask and do your research before heading out!

As far as gear, our kids should have had winter boots on for this particular hike.

Shoulder Season Summits look a lot like this

Recommended gear for shoulder season hikes:

  • Winter boots or waterproof hiking boots (not low cut hiking shoes)

  • Layers of waterproof clothing, mittens and gloves, toques, and a Buff or something to cover the face when it's windy

  • Hiking poles for slippery slopes

  • Ice cleats or spikes. I like Kahtoola Micro Spikes personally.

  • Emergency gear in case something goes wrong and you have to wait overnight for a rescue. This should include a headlamp in case it is dark when you descend the trail.

Note that this list is not exhaustive. It's just a few top items that come to mind.

Family summit shot on St. Piran

 Additional Reading

To read about our previous "first summit" read  First Summits - Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise

 Another good read is 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.

Big thanks to Megan Dunn for collaborating with me on this with amazing photos. You can find her on instagram or at her blog here.