Hiking // Banff National Park // Fairview Mountain

Fairview

Hello friends!  Day 4 of our mini-getaway to the mountains was a huge success – as we finally reached the summit of a mountain!  We randomly selected the Fairview Mountain hike the night before due to tons of high reviews…and absolutely loved every minute of it!

View from the summit!

View from the summit!

Fairview Mountain trail info (via: TrailPeaks.com)

Difficulty: Difficult
Distance:  10 km roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,281 feet/1,000 meters
Summit: 9,003 feet/2,744 meters
Time: 4-6 hours
Location:  Lake Louise Chateau hotel parking lot.  The Saddleback Pass trail starts near the boathouse along the southern lake shore.  Follow the trail to Saddleback Pass and always keep to the right when the trail splits.

As this was our last day in the area, we left the hotel underground parking and drove the short distance over to the Upper Parking lot, which is where the traihead is located.  The trail starts climbing at once, up into the heavy forest, the extreme fringe blocking the view of the lake from the parking lot.  Almost immediately (0.6 km), we come to a trail junction sign, where the left fork goes to Saddleback Pass (our route), and the right fork goes to Fairview Lookout (1.0 km).

Trailhead

Trailhead

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First part of the path.

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Fairview Lookout Junction.

After about 15 minutes of walking, the trail leaves the forest for a short stretch, contouring fairly steeply across a hillside for a few hundred yards before passing back into heavy tree cover.  Here I get my first views down into the valley – looking out across the tops of the trees and over to a row of formidable-looking mountains.  I know the view is gonna just keep getting better, so we move on, back into the woods again.  We continue to climb steadily and the trail soon switches back on itself – now the mountain on the left side, and the forest below on the right.  At the next switchback, the trail again leaves the cover of the forest for a few yards and we stop to survey the view which has dramatically opened up since our last stop.  I can see the northeastern end of Lake Louise, the incredible turquoise waters gleaming through.  Shortly thereafter, we see the sign for Saddle Mountain and Sheol Valley.

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We are on the right path…there is a sign!

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It was quite an icy path.

We hike another 20-25 minutes, and the valley beneath us becomes more and more exposed.  We come to a fork in the road, and I remember reading that you continue to “take the right path at every junction.”  So we go right, where the trail steepens considerably.  Everything opens up with Saddle Mountain on the left and the Fairview Mountain cliffs on the right.  We come to another fork in the road, and continue on the path to the right.

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Keep right at the fork.

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Keep right at the fork, again.

A look at the trail heading up to Saddleback Pass.

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The mountains rise above you!

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That’s where we are headed!

We trek onward and upward, and eventually the trail leaves the forest behind.  We head up into a barren, rocky meadow, known as the saddle, between Fairview Mountain and the next one over, Saddle Peak.  We cross the meadow, walk through a few small trees leading up to the steadily upwards switchback, and the path is thick with mud and ice.  A light rain has begun, and we pull out our ponchos.  After a 15 minute drizzle, we start to get steamy under the ponchos, and decide to wear our outer shell only.  After all that switching around, the rain moves on, and we are left with a fairly blue sky hovering over a rocky road ahead of us.

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Trail junction in the meadow at Scheol Valley vs. Fairview Mountain

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The path to Fairview Mountain

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A look into the valley behind us.

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Poncho time.

Just as we reach the last of the trees, the trail immediately begins to climb in earnest up to the summit, whose bulk now fills most of my periphery.  There are endless switchbacks up a steep rocky pitch – up, up, and up, until the curvature of the mountain itself causes the trail to curve away out of view.  We at last encounter a small group of three hikers, who are on their way down.  They said the view is amazing…but it’s quite windy.  At this point, the prospect of actually reaching a mountain summit overwhelms us and we march forward.  We are forced to stop for breath after just about every other switchback – leaning over, breathing heavily, and turning to take in the sensory overload all around.  Every step I take towards the summit pushes more of the dirt and rock beneath my feet further down the slope of the mountain.  But the path is well maintained, and I do not feel nervous for the climb ahead.  What looked like a sandy rubble from below was actually jagged rocks and loose scree that is easily navigable.

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The destination lies ahead…

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Can you spot the hikers???

At last, we staggered over the last stretch of rocky footholds, and discover that WE MADE IT!  I feel amazing: fit, enlivened, invigorated, and lucky!  And we are alone on the summit.  The view is absolutely stunning – a full 360* panorama of the mountains and valleys around us.  I am no longer gazing up at glaciers and towering rock peaks; I am now looking across at them, and in several cases, even down at them!  At last I have fully climbed a Canadian Rockies mountain!  The hubby snaps a pic of the plaque that sits on a nearby rock, cautioning those to return via the same trail, and it all becomes so real.

Whichever way I look, the land falls away beneath my feet.  Directly below lies the famous turquoise waters of Lake Louise.  The Fairmont Chateau sits on its lake shore, utterly dwarfed by the expansive Bow Valley in which it sits, a point of reference useful for gauging the sizes of the other landscape features all around.  Scurrying across the jagged boulders strewn about every square inch of the summit, the hubby picks a route that I expect will afford him a better view down into the gigantic glacial cirque that lies below us.  I know that my camera cannot embrace the vastness of what I see around me.  As I creep along the edge of a sheer drop off, I again get a little nervous, choosing my steps carefully and methodically.  The wind comes in unbelievable gusts – leaving me to crouch down and hug the rocks until it resides.  Only after we climb back down does the hubby tell me that he witnessed our hiking map fly out of my backpack on one such gust…he was afraid that I would freak out!  We take it all in, grinning ear to ear, and finally step back down into the rocky facade to grab a bite to eat.  We are halfway through our sandwiches when we hear a couple of hikers below us!  We yell encouragement down to them and are greeted with WHOOPS of laughter when they reach the summit.  After another series of wind gusts, we decide to head back down, and let them enjoy the summit in solitude.  I now understand what a treasured experience it is – and what more perfect gift could we provide to fellow adventurers!?

Summit!

Summit plaque!

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Inukshuk

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360* View!

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Stunning views

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360* View – Overlooking Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau!

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Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

A bit windy!

A bit windy!

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Obligatory couple selfie!

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Standing on the edge…

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I didn’t want to blow off the mountain…

I am running down a mountain.  Or perhaps the mountain is running up me.  All I know is, I’m making quick work of this descent.  The going is exceedingly steep, and slowing myself down takes a good 15 or 20 feet to execute.  I imagine the plume of dust that rises up from my footfalls, like a mini-tornado racing for the foot of the mountain.  The hubby is just ahead of me, and I can tell he is also enjoying the exhilaration of basically throwing his body down a mountainside.  This is trail running at its finest.

As we approach the tree-line, near Saddleback Pass, the slope of the trail begins to taper and we slow to a trot, because for the first time on this descent, we can go slower.  When the trail plunges back into the forest, the breathtaking views behind, we tear through the woods with unbridled glee.  We slow to a walk only when we start to pass others coming up the trail.  I then begin a game of counting the people we pass.  All in all, we pass 68 adults, 4 children, and 1 dog on our descent.  I am so glad we left early and had the amazing opportunity to experience the summit in solitude.  Scratch that….I’m just so happy we had an amazing four days of hiking!

Jen

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