Not Fairview Mountain— GREAT-view Mountain!

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!

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The hike began on the shores of Lake Louise. Our goal for the day was to summit the peak on the left in this photo.
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To the side of the popular tourist photo spot, you follow the directional sign to the Saddleback Pass trail.
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We were on a well worn trail, with the first part of the hike. A steady climb up through a pine forest for about an hour, it was relatively average as far as mountain hikes go, as there were no views, no trail side creek and no wildlife to spot.
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A little trail beta: when you get to this spot you can take either trail. The left is a more gradual trail and the right is steeper. They both go to the same place.
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We enjoyed the trail more once we headed across a few wildflower strewn avalanche slopes, with their bursts of colour, whistling marmots, lichen splattered rock fall, and splintered trees.
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The views played hide & seek with the clouds and peeked through occasionally as we crossed avalanche slopes.

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!

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The trail was well constructed with rock steps to withstand the powerful avalanches that rocket down these slopes every year… look at the way the trees have branches only on their downhill sides, and the way trunks are splintered, folded and cracked here.

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…  

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As we climbed ever higher, we zigzagged across avalanche slopes like this with beautiful, thick wildflower carpets blanketing the sides of the trail. This is where the trail began to get special!
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The slopes are steep, but that doesn’t stop the flowers from growing with tremendous diversity & success (this pic was taken on the way down, once the sun was out).

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.

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Looking down below, you can see the larch covered saddle of the pass with our trail coming up from the left and then turning abruptly toward the scree slope we were climbing.
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We were still hiking through cloud cover. In this photo you can see the cliffs of Mount Aberdeen behind us, playing hide ‘n seek. We met a wonderful couple from Tennessee who were also heading up to Fairview Peak and spent much of our time on the mountain hiking with them, sharing stories & our love of travel & mountain trails. That is the neat thing about hiking in a world class tourist destination: you meet fascinating, like minded people from around the world.

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.

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Once we arrived at the summit, like a curtain lifting on a stage performance, the clouds parted and opened up the most dramatic landscape scene imaginable!

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.

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What a lunch spot! Far below is the Plain of Six Glaciers, its heavily populated trail full of moving dots (people) like bumper cars along the lakeshore and beyond, its popular tea house, its hanging glacier, its glacial moraines, and its avalanche paths..
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The clouds and the smoke haze messed a bit with our ability to really see detail from up there, but it was spectacular, nevertheless.
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The turquoise in this photo is Lake Louise, far below, with well known features like “The Beehive,” Mount St. Piran, Mount Victoria’s peak and the Victoria Glacier lying across the valley.
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As we settled in up there, the sun came out, making for perfect picnic temps.

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.

IMG_6456.jpgWe 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!

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From Bill, Seamus & me to you all: happy trails!

Fairview Mountain Trail Map

Distance: 10km

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.


Click here for more terrific hikes in Banff National Park. And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

9 Comments on “Not Fairview Mountain— GREAT-view Mountain!

  1. So amazing! I was wondering how you were doing with the smoke up there. It’s much clearer here today, and I think it even looks like rain on the Rockies this morning. Fingers crossed. We’re parched!

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    • Sorry, Dave… the ones we’ve been doing lately are steep & hard, on purpose. We’re training to head up to Abbot Hut next week for an overnight in one of the iconic Alpine Club of Canada huts. It’s a 1920’s stone building, perched high on a mountain shoulder above the glacier that lies at the end of Lake Louise. And the approach is a grueling 5 hours, 3 hours of which is an ugly scree slog… carrying more weight than we’re used to, with rocks that move under your feet & rocks that can rain down from climbers above. It’s something we’ve wanted to try… not sure how it will go. Here’s a link if you’re curious… http://www.alpineclubofcanada.ca/huts/abbot-pass-hut/

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    • Thanks so much! I’m quite nervous about that scree slope, and carrying more than I would on a day hike. We’re going with a group of friends though, some of whom are more experienced, so we’ll be in good hands. It sure seems like a phenomenal place!

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  2. Pingback: Hiking the Paradise Valley to Sentinel Pass & Moraine Lake – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

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