Wanting to get clear of the forest fire smoke haze that had enshrouded Canmore for so many days from the Verdant Valley forest fire, we headed back to the Lake Louise area, getting to the trailhead super early to beat the crowds. Our destination was the peak of Fairview Mountain… and what incredible, far more than “fair” views it had!
Seeing the stunted trees, and the splintered tree bits scattered throughout the destructive avalanche paths puts things in perspective: there are tremendously powerful natural forces that shape these mountains and their fragile environments!
Have you ever heard the shrill whistle of a marmot? As you head through rockfall areas with large, lichen covered rocks, you can often hear the shrill whistle of the marmot sentry, on guard, usually perched up a on a rock, warning the rest of its colony of your approach. Marmots are such social creatures! To me, they look a little like a badger meets a beaver (without the crazy beaver teeth and tail), and they behave a bit like prairie dogs, in the way they organize themselves and care for one another in large underground packs. Look carefully in the video below and you’ll see the marmot. Take a listen…
Eventually we emerged in a larch forest, with its soft needled trees sparsely populating the high alpine landscape. Covering the mountain’s saddle, and carpeted in wildflowers, they were beautiful. But we were not yet at our destination, for we were heading up the talus/scree slope of Mount Fairview.
The last 415m of the trail saw us working our way up this scree/talus slope to the mountain top… one step at a time. Just placing one foot in front of the other, it’s amazing what you can accomplish and what heights you can climb. As we ascended, it was quite atmospheric, with everything above (and often below) us enshrouded in cloud. The looming cliffs of Mount Aberdeen winked in and out of existence as we climbed, ever higher.
Even though this part of the trail was a heart-pounding, sweat-drenching, breath-wrenching, muscle-wearying talus slog, it provided a welcome distraction with all of its purple flowers.
I know I’ve said it before, but it’s amazing, the way these alpine plants grow and thrive in such harsh conditions. Short & stunted, they have amazing adaptations for surviving short growing seasons, almost no soil, freezing night time temperatures, harsh daylight sunlight, enhanced UV radiation in a thinner atmosphere, and a lack of pollinators.
It’s incredible the way these dramatically cut mountains, with their steep cliffs and imposing peaks, when seen from below, can have relatively smooth approaches up their backsides. Don’t get me wrong… hauling yourself us a scree ramp is hard, physically taxing work, but it passes relatively quickly, often with no sketchy exposure, and then voila! You’re there.
This hike took us about 6 hours with a generous lunch stop up top as we waited for the clouds to lift, and then a detour to the Fairview Lookout spot on the way out. It was a fantastic way to explore the area, and it gave us a new perspective on a landscape we otherwise know from other hikes. From there we saw the tea house trails, the Chateau Lake Louise and the lake itself, in all of its pastel blue glory, far below.
We also gained a bit more insight into the place we will be going in two weeks time: Abbot Hut (the highest Alpine Club of Canada backcountry hut that lies tucked in behind the mountain in this photo, nestled between the Lefroy and Victoria glaciers). I’m nervous about the scree slog to get there, but I otherwise can’t wait!
One last note about this particular trail experience… the people you can meet, hiking in the Rocky Mountains near hot spot tourist destination places like Lake Louise and Banff, can be really rewarding experiences. Generally, you meet like minded people who are there to do the same thing that you are: experience the rugged natural beauty of the mountains, stretch a few physical limits with rigorous exercise, and take in the splendour of the natural spaces we’re lucky enough to have here. They tend to love the outdoors. They tend to love big wild spaces. And they tend to be people who embrace life.
Eric and Laura, the people we met on this hike from Tennessee, were two such people. And they did a wonderful thing for us at the end of the day… knowing they were leaving the next day and could not take their bear spray with them, they gave it to us! How nice was that!
Elevation Gain: 1013m
The detail on the map shows a little detour (to the left on the map) you can do to the Fairview Lookout where you can get a good view of the iconic & historic Chateau Lake Louise hotel. It adds about 1.5km to your trip.