What I Learned Climbing Fisher Peak, BC
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Fisher Peak Hike in the BC Rockies offers the highest summit of the southern range at 9,336 feet. You cover an elevation gain of 4,400 feet in 5km and if you move at the pace I do, the pain lasts about 9 hours. I did it twice in two months. Here are some thoughts and things I learned along the way.
This is one thing I never did as a kid growing up in Cranbrook, hike Mount Fisher. Most people from the area do it regardless of their hiking experience, physicality or familiarity with mountainous terrain. Which after doing it - one and a half times the summer of 2018 - is actually insane to me. This is not a hike, this is masochism in the form of a steep uphill grind, and it is a beast.
We made our first attempt at Fisher Peak early in the season on July Long Weekend. No pants, no gloves, no toques, no poles and we forgot the beer in the truck. Despite the weather forecast being totally crappy the whole weekend we couldn't help ourselves. We had been talking about it for more than a year, saying how we needed to do it, who am I to pass up a bad idea. It was probably mine anyways.
Ask anyone who's hiked Fisher in the past and they will tell you that they remember the first part being the worst and pretty steep. Then it's "not bad", they say. You hit the meadow and "it's flat", they say. Then it's up the skree to the saddle and bouldering to the top, but not bad. Bullshit. The whole thing is a steep climb that you know is going to kill your knees on the way down, the skree has somewhat disappeared so it is big rocks and awkward steps, the top part is sketchier than a guy in an alley trying to show people his white non-windowed van full of puppies, and the meadow is like a two minute walk at best.
For some reason I feel bad saying this, but it is not my favourite hike.
The weather worsened as we climbed of course, it was raining in the valley, then before we knew it we were in the middle of when Calgary experiences all four seasons in a day, but on frickin' steroids. It was so foggy, wet and nasty up on the saddle we decided not to risk it. And when another couple turned around, frozen to the bone, we did too. My mom's always in the back of my head. Would be proud we turned around but pissed we went up in the first place.
Just a Dumpster Fire of Emotion
That was the hardest thing I think I've done physically in a very long time. We missed the trail and headed up the wrong side of the waterfall, bouldering and taking a much longer detour than we needed to. I think that was when I first started crying. I was so not prepared for any of what this hike was going to be, I honestly didn't think I could make it and started criticizing all of my life choices. Thank God for Coach Adrian.
The Importance of Small Goals
The ONLY way I even made it to that saddle was because of two things:
1) He asked me if it was mental or physical.
When I told him to go kick rocks, he changed his approach.
2) He started setting small goals with me.
Let's get to that part just up there around the corner. Now let's just make it to that tree right there. Before I knew it, boom, three hours later we had reached the saddle, and I wasn't crying anymore.
"I asked you if it was mental or physical," he said, "because most times it's all in your head and what you're telling yourself."
It was a super humbling experience not to make it to the top. A tough one to swallow because we were so close, but if you remember at the beginning of this post I said we forgot the beer in the truck so reaching the top anyways would have been bitter sweet.
What I Learned Climbing Fisher Peak
1. It was one of those lessons where you learn you are not invincible. And I don't mean that with nearly as much bravado as when you say that about a motorcyclist riding without a jacket or helmet, but I was pretty confident I could do anything. And I was pretty confident I could do it without much thought or preparation. Well I can't. Sweet Age can (*rolls eyes*), I cannot.
2. It was a good reminder that there are many things out of our control and at certain places in our lives or at certain times, things can change in an instant, and we are at the mercy of time. I also learned that just when you want to throat chop your boyfriend for asking you if it's "mental or physical", if you trust that he's got your back he will find a way to encourage you and push you just a little bit further, or in this case just a little bit higher. And then maybe you'll trust yourself, that you can do it.
3. I learned that every step really does count. Not just because it moves you along but because if you're not careful and you don't watch your step you run the risk of slipping, hurting yourself or others, or literally falling off a mountain and dying.
It's all these lessons that made our second trip up Fisher Peak, two months later, a much more enjoyable experience. And this time, my dad came too.
The best part about climbing Mount Fisher or Fisher Peak as it's better known, isn't the hike or even the view, it's the experience and who you do it with. But you knew that already.
2002 was the last time my dad hiked Fisher Peak, it was with my older sister and her best friend. Oddly enough you get cell service almost the whole way up. Awesome for the Insta Story, unless your phone dies from the cold and you can't get it to turn back on. Then it's just frustrating.
My dad called his brother that day from the summit, 16 years prior. Just over a week before our successful hike, my sweet uncle died. When we reached the top on September 2, we called my aunt.
My dad had been preparing to hike Fisher with us, doing the Kimberley Ski Hill twice a week, so we had talked about it and heard about his last trip up there many times. I didn't know he called my uncle, he mentioned it that day on the drive up. That's the funny thing about life, it has a way of working things out, bringing things together or making small moments significant.
I'll never forget this hike, I'll never forget how much my achilles hurt the first time we attempted it and how much my quads hurt after the second. I'll also never forget how awesome it felt to climb the highest peak in the Southern Rockies with my 67-year-old ninja father. What a ride this one is.
"It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."
- Sir Edmund Hillary
Fisher Peak Trail Details
Level: Difficult hike
Distance: 10km roundtrip
Danielle Time: 9 hours which included a snack stop, multiple rests along the way, lunch and a micro photoshoot at the top
Elevation Gain: 1400 m (4400 ft.)
Elevation at the Top: 2846 m (9336 ft.)
Take: Poles, pants, warm clothes, mitts / gloves - both for the cold and climbing the skree
Beer Pairing: Something with low alcohol percentage volume. Recommend a grapefruit radler