Summit Elevation (m): 2959
Trip Date: Friday, June 29, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 2000
Round Trip Time (hr): 11
Total Trip Distance (km): 35
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: Easy hiking and scrambling with some exposure on the summit ridge but mostly avoidable. A long day from the Sunshine parking lot!
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
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.
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?
There were some hardy campers at the Howard Douglas campground, but we weren’t even done our approach for the day and marched onward 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 Pasque flowers. 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!
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!
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.
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.