Fossil Mountain is part of the Slate Range located in Banff National Park
, one of four connecting national parks in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The whole range sits behind the Lake Louise Ski Resort on the east side of the Bow Valley. Although you enter via the ski resort, you soon find wilderness as you break through Boulder Pass and up to Deception Pass in full view of the smaller glaciers surrounding the Wall of Jericho. The much more popular objective, Castle Mountain
, sits directly south of the Slate Range.
Fossil Mountain was officially named in 1906…..and yes, because it contains an abnormal amount of fossils. Since I skied the mountain in winter conditions, I cannot attest as to what fossils exist on the route today. It was first ascended in 1906 by a topographical survey team. Interestingly enough, the first ski fatality in the Canadian Rockies occurred on Fossil Mountain in 1933 via an avalanche. More recently, in 1988
, two experienced mountaineers died in an avalanche on the mountain as well (after parking their skis).
The views from the summit are mostly dominated by Mount Temple
to the southwest. The only published route is the easy scramble. However, I chose the more challenging alpine ski ascent/descent in the winter.
The Trans-Canada dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come in from Calgary. Travel to the Lake Louise exit and turn right towards the Lake Louise Ski area and drive 1.6kms to another right onto the Temple Lodge access road. Proceed another kilometer and turn right into the Fish Creek parking area on the right before the gate. If you are on skis, skin up a low angled groomed slope to the right 4kms to the Temple Lodge ski lift. If this is a summer scramble, hike or bike 4kims up the vehicle restricted gravel road.
Either way your objective is to get up the hill to the lift area as you will be circumventing around the east side of the ski resort.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter the park. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in Banff National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. Park headquarters are located in Banff and you will drive through the manned kiosks as you enter the park.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. This approach trail is often restricted or even closed in the summer, therefore, I advise checking with Parks Canada
for any area and/or trail closures.
When To Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I chose to ski Fossil Mountain in March. There is regular cross country ski traffic back to Skoki Lodge in the winter, but no regular track setting. I used back country skies and recommend treating this trip as ski mountaineering if you plan to ascend Fossil Mountain, which is not a common objective in the winter. You will return much faster on backcountry skis versus cross country skis as well.
There are four excellent back country camp sites surrounding Fossil Mountain that can be used during the summer months
, Hidden Lake Sk5, Baker Lake Sk11, Red Deer Lakes Sk19 and Merlin Meadows Sk18. In the winter you can make reservations to enjoy Skoki Lodge
, but it is relatively expensive. It is a ski lodge located through Deception Pass. You can go on line at Banff National Park
to pick a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan on camping at a backcountry site.
The Banff National Park website
has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports
is also extremely useful.
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