This hike was done on May 16th, 2015 with Sandy and Chris. It was the first time the three of us went out together.
Our original mountain was Lady MacDonald, but because Canmore was getting a fair but of rain, we chose to go to a less wet area… It wasn’t the smartest but we were determined!
We got into Lake Louise at around 8:30am and walked to the chateau (to find a bathroom that was open). When we returned to our car, they had opened the washroom in the parking lot (on account of the numerous tour busses now parked there). We got ready and hit the trail (it should be noted that the mountains all around were covered in snow and while it looked cold out, it wasn’t bad). So onto the trail we went! We turned out first corner (right from the parking lot) and almost stopped dead in our tracks; snow on the trail.
The forest trail had nice scenery; lots of pine trees, moss hanging from the branches, and snow. There was a lot of that white stuff. The trail climbed steeply and in some cases, we were thankful for the snow because it allowed us to get a good grip and climb a bit better. There were sections that the snow had melted, then froze, so there were a lot of icy patches.
After a couple km, we came to some avalanche fallout areas. There were a few fresher patches of fallen snow, but nothing recent in the last few days. The mountain was relatively free of overhanging snow but there were still some slopes that had some that could still fall. We were on the lookout for all the warning signs and we were prepared to try and miss an avalanche (but really, no one can truly miss an avalanche when it’s above you; you can only prepare yourself to either get out of the way OR be in the way).
We got to the final stretch to the Saddleback Pass. By this time, the snow had become waist deep and while we tried to stay on hard packed stuff to avoid falling through, it seemed that we were in the snow more than on top. Every few steps we would sink; it was becoming a bit hard to slog through. This last stretch was worse than what we had encountered previously. Whoever rated this as a Spring hike needs to check their seasons again; this is a Summer hike only. If there is snow on the mountain, do not attempt this hike.
It took us about 30 minutes to go 50 feet. I was in the lead and every step I took, I sunk up to my waist in snow. It wouldn’t be bad if both legs sunk, but when you take a step and that leg sinks all the way up to where things should stay warm, the other one has a tendency to be left behind on top of the snow. Flexibility was my friend today (thankfully!). There were times when my right leg would be straight out in front of me (sometimes just above waist line) and my left leg would be under snow. Sandy kept worrying that I would injure myself but I think the few things that prevented that were that I was flexible, when I sank, I didn’t fight it and tense up (let your muscles go a bit limp so that when you encountered that rock at the bottom, and you did, your ankle had no weight or little weight bearing down on it so it wouldn’t snap like a tree in an avalanche), and I tried to ease myself down and not drop like a rock off a cliff (using the other leg to bear some weight as you fall through is good, at least for me).
There was one point where I had created a hole in the snow and I was standing in it; no matter what step I took, I sunk and made a bigger hole. Soon, I was standing 2-3 feet below Sandy and Chris, cold and wet. This was the point where we admitted defeat and decided to turn back. It was getting to be noonish and realized that to summit this mountain, we would have to have snow shoes or come back in the summer. So off to the car we trekked.
The return trip was quicker, but getting through that stuff we spent 30 minutes “walking” through was challenging, we fell through more times than stayed on the top. On the way down, we did encounter a loud crack followed by a rumbling. Some of the snow on the steep slopes above us decided to come and meet us. Luckily for us, we were past the point it slid down to. This was the part of the hike in which I turned to Chris and said, “I think you should walk a bit faster” and so we all picked up our pace and made pretty good time down the now icy trail.
Once down to the car, we decided to celebrate our slogging adventure rather than reaching the summit. So we had shared a bottle of Prosseco. Because of this, we wandered around Lake Louise for 30-40 minutes to wear off the alcohol. We decided that it was a nice day to go into Banff and walk around (and eat!).
This trail is definitely rated properly at a difficult hike but it should be a Summer to early Fall as long as there is no snow (or perhaps less snow) on the mountain. The snow made it near impossible to get a good pace going. This is one hike to do in Mid June onwards. The views are amazing of the townsite and ski area across the valley and was almost worth the difficulty (I imagine the top of the mountain would prove to have better views).
I will post more pictures from Sandy and Chris’ phone when they become available.