Pilot Mountain is part of the Massive Range along with Mount Bourgeau, Massive Mountain, and Mount Brett (this group of mountains reveal the appropriate naming of the range) located in the Bow River Valley of Banff National Park . Banff National Park is one of four connecting national parks in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Pilot is one of the most visible mountains along the TransCanada as it resides in a bend of the Bow Valley, therefore, it can be seen from either direction for quite the distance. I photographed Pilot Mountain from a dozen summits before I finally climbed Pilot itself. Pilot Mountain was officially named such in 1884 by George Dawson because it served as such a landmark to early Canadian Bow Valley travelers. Pilot Mountain was first ascended in 1885 by a geological survey team.
Alan Kane suggests in his guidebook, Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, to climb Pilot Mountain and Mount Brett together. I concur with this strategy being an avid peak bagger, but it makes for an athletic day in the mountains, gaining a total of 8400’ via my altimeter. When investigating the climbs on the internet and reading the actual summit log on Mount Brett, I found no evidence of anyone else combining the two. However, it worked for me.
The key views from Pilot Mountain’s summit include Copper Mountain, Mount Brett, Mount Ball, Isabelle Peak , Castle Mountain, Storm Mountain , Massive Mountain and of course Mounts Assiniboine and Joffre in the distance. The route options are diverse therefore I will add the route I utilized and offer my two cents worth as to what would probably work better. I found the description in the guide book, as is common, to be considerably lacking in detail.
The Trans-Canada Highway dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come in from Calgary. Continue past the Banff and Sunshine Ski Resort exits. Trans-Canada is a four lane interstate type of highway, but it will let you turn left across traffic into several different trailheads. The second one you come to at 30+/-kms beyond Banff is the Redearth Creek Trailhead. There are restrooms at this location.
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. Even if you use a hut, you will need this permit. 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. I advise checking with Parks Canada for any area and/or trail closures.
When To Climb
As with most climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I did Pilot Mountain in August and the route was free of snow except for the last 1000’ which had up to four inches of fresh snow. There are no published backcountry ski routes on Pilot Mountain nor does it appear feasible to ski to the summit.
The closest camp site would be the Lost Horse Creek, RE6, backcountry site in Banff National Park and would make for a great base camp if you wanted to bag Pilot Mountain, Mount Brett and/or Copper Mountain on separate days. It is 7.2kms in on Redearth Creek Trail. You could really live it up with a reservation at Shadow Lake Lodge another 6kms west on Redearth Creek Trail. They feed you well and even have a homemade sauna (live fire) which I have experienced on a winter ski trip. There are several more backcountry sites in the area. 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.