Mount Lady Macdonald Scramble in Winter

Mount Lady Macdonald

Distance: 7.8 miles (12.5 km). Elevation gain: 3900 feet (1200 m). Duration: 5.5 hours. Relatively dry and difficult winter scramble. Spectacular views of Canmore and the surrounding peaks.

The Mount Lady Macdonald trail begins at Cougar Creek, starting out as a leg burner through the forest, then meandering through boulders, halfway up. The boulders, sparse forest, and views of the Bow River Valley make for a classic mountain landscape that isn't always offered by forested walks to lakes, or hikes up scree slopes. But don't forget that Cougar Creek is aptly named – make sure to bring bear spray and brush up on safety protocol ahead of time in case you encounter a cougar! This hike is doable in all four seasons but be sure to check ahead for weather conditions no matter what time of year.

Around 2300 meters, you can stop at the abandoned, half-built tea house to rest and recover before the final 300 m steep summit push. At this point, the trail gets blown out due to exposure to the elements. Hiking poles and crampons make the ascent far less nerve-wracking, but the loose scree and 30 degree slope still won't make things easy. As much as possible, stay on exposed scree, where footing isn't always solid, but is at least visible. Luckily, the scree that makes the ascent difficult also makes the descent a breeze.

The ridge leading to the summit of Mount Lady Macdonald is affectionately known as a Knife-Edge Ridge. To one side, there's nothing to catch you from sliding down the mountain if you fall. To the other, there's a straight drop. When completely dry, the ridge is less than a meter wide, and in the winter, wind-swept snow makes crossing very dangerous—this should only be attempted by experts.

There is no shame in choosing not to attempt Knife Edge Ridge. Remember the number one rule when scrambling: getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory. While the abandoned tea house also doubles as a helipad, no successful day on the mountain ends with a helicopter ride to the hospital. Sub-summit views are just as breathtaking and worthwhile—plus, it provides motivation to get back out when conditions are more favorable. A true scrambler's career always has a few (or many) failed summits!

Driving Directions: Westbound on the TransCanada highway, exit at Canmore towards the Silvertip Resort. Follow Palliser Trail Road, then turn left at Benchlands Trail Road. The trailhead for Mount Lady Macdonald Trail begins at the northeast end Cougar Creek parking lot, just before a bridge.

Because the trail is somewhat washed out, if you don't spot the trail on top of the river bank to the left, there is a red marker on a tree before the debris net. The marker leads up a steeper route, so keep an eye out for the trail if you're looking to save energy.

Pack List

  • Hiking boots
  • Hiking poles
  • Crampons
  • Winter layers
  • Water and snacks
  • Camera
  • Bear spray - it's cougar country!
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Activities Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Year Round
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
Scenic

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

A challenging steep climb that is hard work but worth the views

I am not an advanced hiker by any means. At the beginning I was thinking "What did I get myself into? I am way to out of shape for this" as it was a steep climb that gains elevation quickly. As we progressed there were more boulders to climb around and a bit of scree slopes. It wasn't easy by any means but the challenge made the gorgeous views of canmore below and the surrounding mountains that much more rewarding and enjoyable. We went in March so it was a bit icy and muddy towards the top, which was more difficult coming down ( I slipped and fell a few times). I would not attempt this hike without poles unless you are really advanced. They will really save you balance wise and save your knees. Despite the difficulty of this hike I would really recommend it if you are up for a challenge cause at the end of the day we really enjoyed the views and felt great that we accomplished it! :)

Did Lady Mac in the summer and went about 1/3 along of the ridge, and would have completed it had we not run out of water and dehydration been a risk. I don't recommend rushing the summit ridge, and would definitely not recommend the ridge to beginners, it's pretty exposed and has high consequence for mistake. It was a super sunny and dry day, great for exposed scrambles, and probably best to try it out in a summer season first! It's south facing though, so during the winter depending on current snow conditions it sometimes has less snow than the other surrounding peaks. One winter my aunt did Lady Mac every month of the year. We plan on going back and tackling it as a winter scramble with some crampons and ice axe... and perhaps finishing the ridge!

I hiked Lady Macdonald Saturday, May 30th 2015 and had a lot of fun! The terrain keeps the trail very entertaining with scrample and boulders to climb over at parts and then long weaving paths with save inclines for a comfortable and safe run.


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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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