Saddleback Pass - Lake Louise - Hiking Alberta

 

Saddleback Pass offers incredible views over Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

Saddleback Pass, above Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, is a 7.4 KM (4⅝ mile) round-trip hike with an elevation gain of 600 m (1,970 ft.) to a maximum elevation of 2,330 m (7,642 ft.) 

The 2 hour, sunrise drive west from Calgary to Lake Louise Village is punctuated by a pause near the Bow River for the obligatory photographs of Castle Mountain and mist in the valley as cool air warms rapidly.  Nearly transparent sheets of ice float gracefully along the surface of the Bow River.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain along Bow River in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Under clear, blue skies, the turn north leads to a quick tour of the Lake Louise Ski Area which is bustling with activity on this Easter Monday.  The Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola is a summer attraction within this spectacular Rocky Mountain terrain.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Lake Louise Ski Area, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The short drive from the Lake Louise Ski Area towards Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers a dramatic mountain view south to my hiking destination for the morning.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Saddle Mountain on photo left and Fairview Mountain on photo right with Saddleback Pass between them in Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass is wedged between Saddle Mountain and Fairview Mountain.  A brief stop at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre informs about snow conditions and forcasted weather near the top of the pass.  It is always wise to check.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The Lake Louise Visitor Centre in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

At Chateau Lake Louise, parking at the west end of the uppermost lot will shave about 0.3 KM (¼ miles) and a few meters of elevation from the climb.  Two trail junctions (first left away from Fairview Lookout, then right to avoid the horse trail) are clearly marked along the fairly consistent grade.  Frozen snow offers an easy-to-hike-on, crusty surface using hiking boots supplemented by hiking crampons and gaiters.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Saddleback Pass trail to the left and Fairview Lookout trail to the right, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Horse trail to the left, Saddle Pass trail to the right, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The hike through predominantly evergreen forest is on moderate incline until arriving at the first of several avalanche chutes where short distances of flat trail provide some relief and offer spectacular panoramic views into the valley above Lake Louise Village.  Along the way there are copious displays of Old Man's Beard which is edible in a pinch.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Old Man's Beard (Usnea) at Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The best views occur near the unobstructed middle of an avalanche chute, however it is wise to gawk around and take photographs from near the margins in the unlikely event the rumble of moving snow requires a sprint to safety.  The risk of avalanche increases in the rapidly warming air and deserves to be carefully managed.  Every year lives of the invincible or uninformed are lost.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada One of the avalanche paths on Fairview Mountain at Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Chateau Lake Louise from Fairview Mountain in Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Chateau Lake Louise, and mountains to the west, from Fairview Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

On the lateral east, through forest and across avalanche paths on the north face of Fairview Mountain, there are countless examples of weather-created snow sculptures which capture the imagination similar to the time-honored tradition of gazing skyward to find transitioning images in the clouds.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Tubular snow sculpture on the trail to Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Sleeping child snow sculpture.  ET ?

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Hanging ring snow sculpture. (Toilet seat?)

 

Mist in the valley to the east is gradually dissipating.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada View east from Fairview Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The trail transitions from civilized to steep, on switchbacks through forest, until the open ground of the last, wide avalanche chute opens into sparse larch forest and the first clear view of the east face of clearly and aptly named Saddle Mountain.  Sun hanging directly above Saddle Mountain in clear, blue sky renders snow powerfully bright.  Even equipped with very dark prescription glasses covered by wrap around, fit-over, polarized and UV400 filtered dark sunglasses, it is still bright. 

The risk of cataracts can be nearly eliminated by lifelong practice of eye protection.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada First view of Saddle Mountain is accurately named in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

An hour is required to reach the final approach to Saddleback Pass as the route curls around the east flank on the steep, snowbound ascent.  An earlier start would have been beneficial because the warm sun on the open snow has eliminated the supportive crust and post holing is becoming progressively deeper on the struggle to the top. 

Here, navigation of these steeper slopes would benefit from the snowshoes left behind.  Determined to reach the objective, it will require nearly another hour of hard work to hike, with frequent stops for rest, the final half kilometer to the top of Saddleback Pass.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Another of many avalanche paths on Fairview Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Approaching Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The view from the top is amazing.  Descending immediately before snow conditions worsen and potentially become dangerous would be wise, but a few minutes are taken for a quick lunch and rest while thoroughly enjoying the hard-earned, surrounding spectacular panorama.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada View of Lake Louise Village from Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada View of mountains to the north from Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada North mountain view from Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 


Perhaps the incredible view is best summarized by a brief video.


 

Far below, the snow cover has slid from the distinctive, red metal roof of the Lake Louise Railway Station.  Back country skiers are carefully staging their graceful descent of the broad, unblemished slope from near the top of the east flank of Fairview Mountain and it is relaxing to observe their mission in the bright, warm sun tempered by a cool, gentle breeze and the phenomenal surrounding panorama.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Long lens view of Lake Louise Village from Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Expanded view of Lake Louise Village from Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

This pass is somewhat reminiscent of Harvey Pass, above Bourgeau Lake, where there are short easy ascents to bag peaks on either side. 

Prior to descent, a Summit Stone is left in a crevice between two boulders peeking above the snow at the top of Saddleback Pass.  New snow will bury the colorful stone but some lucky recipient will find and benefit from the musings on a subsequent hike.   Saddleback Pass is a popular route in summer as a gateway via the Sheol Valley Trail to Paradise Valley and a wide variety of spectacular mountain features including Pinnacle Mountain, Giant Steps, and Sentinel Pass to Larch Valley beneath mighty Mount Temple.

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche chute view of mountains to the west near Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Sculptured snow on the flank of Fairview Mountain below Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

From the hiking guide book, 'Hiking Lake Louise', by Mike PotterSaddleback Pass was once the location of a third tea house operated by Canadian Pacific Railway between 1922 and 1937.

The descent improves past the exposed areas of sticky, non-supportive snow into the easier-to-navigate, protected, crusty snow in the coolness of the forest.  The hike has taken much longer than planned or expected.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

It was an amazing day. The typical, between-season, footwear conundrum was a factor but there is no perfect solution all the time. The objective was achieved. Avalanche risk was minimal. The Fairview slopes are relatively mundane at trail location. Steeper close to the summit. Still, I advocate taking in the view from close to chute margins so I can sprint to safety if necessary. There were skiers on the avalanche slopes staging themselves cautiously, one at a time, down the less predictable slopes. As you know, Leigh, for each of us, it is the practice of knowledge and experience, combined with appropriate risk management. The skiers would all be fully avi equipped. Where I was, the risk was low, but I was paying careful attention. On the hike down, there was minor evidence of moving snow, probably triggered by skiers higher on the mountain. Nonetheless, I cross all the chutes expeditiously. It is never a place to pause for lunch ;-) Thanks for your comment, Leigh. It would be ideal if everyone who travels in the upper elevations was avalanche certified from a reputable training program. The slopes appear much different when you know what to look for. Like crossing a busy city street, there are no guarantees. But, I think you will agree. The air seems much fresher up there.

What a fantastic day for an outing. I'm assuming the avalanche danger was fairly minimal at the time.

Thank you, Helen. The views from Saddleback Pass are spectacular and I had a perfect day to enjoy them in spite of the extra effort required to make the final approach. Another trip is on my bucket list to hike to Saddle Mountain and Fairview Mountain summits. Saddle will provide an outstanding view of Mount Temple and Fairview should provide a unique perspective of Lake Louise and the Plain of Six Glaciers. I'll wait until the snow is gone and probably venture into Sheol Valley for a way as well. Thanks for your kind comment, Helen. You really need to get over here. Leslie is running again.

Magnificent panoramas!

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