Mount Lady MacDonald is one of those hikes / scrambles that get you addicted to hiking. I've climbed the mountain twice now, and all the hard work of getting to the summit is worth it when you see the amazing views from up there.
Be prepared for a fairly long day, however I've seen people in great shape run up and down the mountain in a matter of 3hrs or so. The average hiker would take about 6-7hrs to complete this hike allowing for some rest stops at the helicopter landing pad, and then at the summit. Take lots of water as there is quite a bit of exposure and the sun can really heat you up. The elevation gain to the summit is 1200m.
It would be good to check the Kananaskis trail reports for any bear closures as this is a wildlife corridor and there are some permanent closures in the area, and often there are temporary closures. In the fall of 2005 a lady was killed by a grizzly on the Benchlands trails. Don't let this deter you, but be smart, and go with some friends! The trails are very popular and well used by hikers and mountain bikers.
From the Cougar Creek parking area, stay on the West side of the creek and follow the wide trail up into the Benchlands trail system. Soon you'll leave the Benchlands trails behind as you switchback your way up the mountain. It would be good to get a map to help find your way among the many trails at the foot of the mountain.
Once you leave the Benchlands behind, you'll be switchbacking through steep terrain in forest, then through a few meadows where on both times I've climbed the mountain I've seen bighorn sheep grazing. After a long hike taking gradual switchbacks and then following a ridge up to the col just above the treeline.
Just above the treeline you'll find a large helicopter landing pad, a steel ramp for paragliders, and the remains of a teahouse that was being constructed but is now abandoned. A gazebo just to the east of the teahouse sits on the edge of a large cliff. The views from here are spectacular. A number of hikers end their hike here as it's already been a hard push to get this far, and the scree slope above can be daunting for non-scramblers.
Once taking two steps forward and sliding half a step back to the top, you'll be treated to an amazing knife edge summit. The views across the valley toward the three sisters are great, and you can barely see over Chinaman's peak into the spray lakes valley. More adventurous scramblers will walk the summit ridge, but be warned it's basically a shear drop on one side and a very steep incline on the other. All in all, a breathtaking day, as long as the weather holds out!
On the TransCanada highway, take the off-ramp in Canmore north towards the Silvertip resort. Follow the main road up the side of the mountain till you reach the Cougar Creek parking area. It's very easy to find. Try to get in early as the parking lot fills up with many people using the various trails in the area.
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Posted By: Tournesol
- Mon Jul 23 12:31:36 EDT 2012
UpsideAwesome. Great views, great sense of accomplishment.
DownsideSome scrambling up scree to the summit.
CommentLoved this hike. And if the ridge is too scary, then just don't do the last 50 meters!
Posted By: mark3107
- Sun Jun 27 23:57:25 EDT 2010
UpsideWell maintained and easily followed trail. Dog friendly
DownsideExperienced scrambler to get safely to the summit and back down
CommentOnly went to the tea house due to the in experience of the party i was with. Dog friendly only to the tea house
Posted By: cookiemaster
- Sun Jul 12 23:18:28 EDT 2009
UpsideWhatever I said before.
DownsideWhatever I said before.
CommentMake sure you check yourself for ticks, especially in the spring! I found four female wood ticks in my pants when I came back from the hike. If you do get ticks, smother them with petroleum jelly (cuts off their air supply and makes them release their hold on you) and pluck off with tweezers.
Posted By: cookiemaster
- Sat Apr 11 20:15:35 EDT 2009
UpsideTrail is easy to keep track of. The summit is something special. The view is spectacular. Pictures just don't cut it. You'd have to be up there to understand how great the view is. On clear days, you could probably see all the way to Lake Louise.
DownsideNot the greatest family hike. If you're with a group who cannot handle steady steep elevation gain, this is not for you.
CommentI just came back from this hike. Its April 11, and the trail is in very good condition. The conditions are almost summer-like in the more exposed parts of the hike. Butterflies and ground squirrels were not an uncommon sight. The way down was a bit of a scramble. I suggest you be prepared to tackle this ascent. It demands an excellent physique. Allow yourself lots of time to complete this hike.
Posted By: intothewild
- Mon Nov 03 21:49:43 EST 2008
DownsideBears might chase you down the mountain.
CommentI hiked Lady MacDonald twice; the first time I got chased down by a bear, at night. Luckily for me, I am very quick and agile, and managed to barely out run the bear (bears are quite a bit quicker and have a lot more stamina then I would have previously imagined). it was a close one; when you can hear the bear breathing behind you as its chasing you while you run for your life, you know it was a close one. I suggest you take bear mase, a nice size pocket knife, walk around with a axe on hand, and/or don't hike up that priticular mountain alone.