For some reason, Fatigue Mountain had been on my radar for many years by the time 2018 rolled around. I don't remember when or where I first heard about it, but it intrigued me as it sounded like a fairly easy ascent that wasn't done very often due to its location far from any parking lots. When I skied to the summit of its tiny neighbor, Citadel Peak, back in 2011, I was even more intrigued. I also remember mixing up what was "Golden" Mountain and what was "Fatigue" Mountain. They both look so close from the Sunshine Meadows and Citadel Pass areas, that they're very easy to confuse with one another. Now I know.
I always wanted to ski Fatigue rather than scramble it. I'm running out of easy ski ascents and Fatigue seems like an easier ski than Citadel Peak, so it just seemed like a great candidate. Alas, after many years on my ski objectives list, it just wasn't happening for some or another reason so when the opportunity came knocking for Phil and I to spend a few days bagging peaks in less-than-ideal weather around the Citadel and Fatigue Passes, Fatigue Mountain moved to the "scramble" list. Unfortunately for me, since I'd first wanted to ascend this peak, it had become very slightly more popular, thanks to Mr. Andrew Nugara adding it to one of his scrambles guidebooks. (It can't be that popular however, since there's still no register at the peak and no trip reports published in the usual places as I write up this one.)
Originally Phil Richards and I had a pretty aggressive plan for the July holiday weekend. We needed at least 4 days and 3 nights for our original plan, but we also needed decent weather. Already a week out we could see our plan collapsing. By the Wednesday before our trip we had changed objectives at least twice and considered many others. The issue? A series of weak low pressure systems were moving in from the Pacific, across BC and into AB via their usual channels. What was really buggering up the forecast models was the presence of a weak high pressure system in between all the lows! This provided just enough clearing to keep peak baggers like us planning a trip, but also enough possibility of thunder storms and even snow to keep our ambitions in check. Eventually we settled on the Fatigue and Citadel Pass areas for two reasons. Firstly, we could bivy at Fatigue Pass (as it's outside Banff National Park) and secondly, we've seen Mount Assiniboine enough times already that while we would be disappointed with no views, we'd be OK with somewhat limited ones. We planned and packed for a 3 day, 2 night trip just in case of weather delays and made sure to have plenty of reading material if we were tent-bound for hours at a time.
The plan finally in place, we met early at Phil's house in Canmore on Friday, June 29th before driving to the empty Sunshine Ski Village parking lot and struggling into heavier-than-normal packs. We were missing the summer opening of the Gondola / Sunshine Meadows Bus (by 24 hours), thereby increasing the distance and height gain of our trip by at least 10km and 500m! Oh well. There'd be no "cheating" on this trip! We marched up the rather dull and boring road to Sunshine Village at a pretty good pace in the cool morning air. The skies weren't exactly clear, but the temperature was perfect for hiking uphill with an overnight pack. My knees let me know pretty quickly that they weren't impressed with the additional weight but I gave them a stern talking to and they settled down fairly quick. We chatted our way through the resort and up to the Sunshine Meadows before realizing that we'd already come quite a way at a good pace. Stopping for a bite to eat and some water, we also realized that the clouds were thickening over the Continental Divide and our mountains were covered in clouds. Oh well. That's the risk we took by not sitting on the couch this weekend! We struggled back into our packs and continued marching through the lovely alpine meadows toward Howard Douglas Lake.
[Marching up the Sunshine Village road.]
[New signage along the paths at Sunshine Village. Phil checks to make sure we're on route. 3 of our 4 summits are visible at left, Quartz Peak, Fatigue and Golden Mountain.]
I've hiked through the lovely Sunshine Meadows before - on a 1 day approach to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in the fall. This time through the meadows was a bit different, although the weather was surprisingly similar. It was, of course, vastly different than my previous ski approach through the meadows in 2011 while on a mission to ski Citadel Peak! One thing to note about the meadows trail, is that it certainly isn't flat. It gains height from the village, than slowly loses height before gaining it back. Then it gains a whole bunch of height to the Quartz Hill shoulder just before Howard Douglas Lake and campground before losing it to the lake. Then it gains back some of the height to Citadel Pass. Sound exhausting? If you're not prepared for it, it can be. We were mostly prepared (mentally) and before long we found ourselves at the soggy shorelines of Howard Douglas Lake. I was amused at the fact that Phil packed a large can of aerosol bug spray on the outside of his pack like he was loaded for a bug battle. Of course given the damp and cool conditions we were in, there wasn't even a single fly to be found! I would continue to point out this extra bit of weight to Phil throughout the next day or so - much to his amusement - or maybe it was only mine?
[A lovely day for hiking the meadows. All four summits now visible with Citadel just peeking out above Phil's head. I skied Quartz Ridge and Hill at right, earlier this year.]
[Looking back along our approach trail as we grind up the Quartz Hill shoulder. Twin Cairns in the distance at left.]
[Looking down at Howard Douglas Lake. Fatigue and Golden in clouds at left with Citadel still underneath them.]
There were some hardy campers at the Howard Douglas campground, but we weren't even done our approach for the day and marched onwards without delay. The clouds continued to swirl overhead as we ascended to Citadel Pass but I found the weather perfect for hiking and the scenery was quite stunning despite not being larch season and the lack of sun. Sunshine Meadows is known for its incredible displays of wildflowers and even though we were about 2 weeks early for peak bloom, we were treated to some large patches of Alpine Buttercup, early Indian Paintbrushes and copious amounts of dying Pasqueflowers. As we crested Citadel Pass, we started looking for obvious places to diverge off the trail and start our ascent of the easy angled west face of Fatigue Mountain. We hiked a ways off the trail before leaving most of our camping gear behind and continuing on with smaller day packs. It was strange to feel no weight on our backs and we ascended fairly quickly!
[It's wet and early for wildflowers, but they're starting to flourish.]
[As we approach Citadel Pass the weather isn't looking great. The mountain visible here is Golden Mountain - our 3rd peak of the day.]
[Ugh. That doesn't look too inviting to be honest. But we're here now and we did expect some clouds so up we go!]
We had great views behind us as we ascended - but we knew our summit views would be a bit disappointing thanks to heavy cloud refusing to leave the summit ridge above. As we ascended into the clouds we entered that strange atmosphere that climbers know - where the world condenses into mere feet in every direction and your gut feels the exposure rather than your eyes seeing it. We got enough glimpses to the east to realize there was a substantial drop on that side!
[We're not likely to get any summit views but that doesn't mean we won't get views while ascending. This is looking back at Quartz Hill (R) with The Monarch in clouds beyond. ++]
[Phil on the lower west slope of Fatigue with Citadel Peak in the background.]
[Quartz Hill and Shoulder rise above another unexpected pond. There was fire fighting equipment still lining this pond which was obviously used as a water source for the Verdant Creek wildfire in 2017. You can see the burn area at distant left. ++]
[Now we're much higher than Citadel and entering the clouds. Simpson Ridge and Nestor Peak in clouds beyond with the evidence of wildfire clear at distant right. Citadel Lake at lower right. ++]
[The photo pretty much summarizes the scrambling on Fatigue. The scree is actually not that bad - I've been on far worse in the Rockies.]
[Trying to get as many views / photos as possible before entering the clouds! Looking back over the Sunshine Meadows at right and Citadel Pass at left.]
[Entering a world of gray.]
[On the summit ridge.]
As we approached the summit we could also see a very surprising little tarn tucked against the eastern aspect of the mountain, draining into Fatigue Creek and eventually into Brewster Creek. The summit cairn had no register. As we sat there, we got lucky with a break in the cloud cover! The break only lasted about 5 minutes but was enough to snap some photos and lift our spirits a bit before heading back down.
[A break in the clouds gives us a surprising little lake tucked against the eastern walls of the mountain.]
[Phil stands just off the summit gazing towards a very hidden Golden Mountain across Fatigue Pass.]
[A break in the clouds! Summit panorama from the eastern outlier of Fatigue at left over Golden Mountain at center and Citadel Peak at lower right. ++]
[Looking out of Fatigue Creek Valley towards Brewster Creek and the rarely explored peaks of the Sundance Range.]
[I bet this lovely tarn sees very few human visitors!]
[The outlier at right now with "Little" Fatigue in clouds at left.]
[Views all the way to Townsend and Mythic Tower with Cougar Peak at right distance.]
[Sundance Peak is one of the only named summits in the entire Sundance Range and doesn't sound easy. Mount Rundle rises beyond.]
[Paradise awaits at the Policeman's Meadows hunters cabin which is free to stay at if you bother with the long approach to the middle of nowhere.]
[Descending back out of the clouds with Golden Mountain at left. The route down from Citadel Pass towards the Porcupine Campground and approach to Og Lake is at bottom right. Policeman's Meadows is visible as a spot of lighter colored green at mid-right.]
[Looking over the Sunshine Meadows and Ski Resort. Brewster Rock at right.]
[A telephoto of Golden Mountain's long summit ridge - much further than it appears here.]
[Golden Mountain is clearer now with Fatigue Pass showing up above Phil's head here.]
[Storms continue to roll towards and over us from the west, but none of them are severe enough to stop us yet.]
[Our next summit of the day would be my 2nd ascent of Citadel Peak.]
We briefly considered combining this summit with its neighbor to the north - Quartz Peak (or "Little" Fatigue) but given the thick clouds we thought we'd save that summit for our last one if it worked out. Citadel Peak would be our next objective as it was low enough to give good views despite the weather.