Little Lougheed

After a wonderful stay at Mount Engadine Lodge in 2022, we were excited to have planned a return visit this fall. Our first getaway was over the first weekend in October. We decided to take advantage of the lodge’s low-season rates – which see a precipitous drop from summer prices beginning at the end of September. Although it was a little late, we thought that, with a little luck, maybe even the larches would hang onto some of their gilded needles. What we ended up with was three days of unseasonably warm weather and larch trees decked out in their finest gold. It was perfect.

Although we knew we were unlikely to get such ideal conditions two years in a row given fall’s fickle weather, we booked the same weekend for October 2023. Once again, the larches were peaking later than usual and the forecast was looking promising. And then it happened. A surprise dumping of snow buried much of Kananaskis Country twenty-four hours before our reservation.

While only a bit of powder fell in Banff and areas further north, Kananaskis bore the brunt of the storm. A couple of our larger objectives – Snow Peak, The Fortress and potentially Sparrowhawk – were all blanketed with some of the highest totals in the area. With that, my meticulously planned itinerary went out the window and we scrambled to put together a backup.

What do you do when you can’t get up high? Look for something less high. While the general assumption is that lesser peaks offer lesser views, that’s not always accurate. Case in point: Little Lougheed.

An outlier of the much larger Lougheed massif – which includes Lougheed I, II, III and Wind Mountain (Lougheed IV) – Little Lougheed stands at just 8,146 feet (2483 m). Despite this stunted stature, it offers some absolutely killer views of Spray Lakes. We hiked Windtower back in 2022 and didn’t think the views of the large reservoir could get any better. However, Little Lougheed gave those views a run for their money.

Three-mile hikes are usually completely off our radar. We love a full day out in nature, rather than just a few hours. Sanchez generally feels the same, as she’s usually still begging to continue after 20 miles (30 km). However, with the unexpected winter conditions we had, this was what it came down to.

The hike up Little Lougheed may be short, but it is steep. Although it’s only 3 miles (5 km) roundtrip, the trail gains nearly 2,200 feet of vertical over the 1.5 miles to the top. It’s largely a hike, though you do have to cross a few areas of rubble and boulders, including one longer section along the summit ridge.

The unmarked trail begins off the Smith-Dorrien Trail, just north of the Sparrowhawk Day Use Area. The forested path was obvious, running alongside Spencer Creek and soon meeting up with the High Rockies Trail. Here, the trail passed beside a pretty little warm-water spring covered with vibrant green mosses. It looked like the backdrop of an enchanted world where you’d find fairies and gnomes, all hidden beneath the canopy of an otherwise ordinary pine forest.

As the trail climbed up the hillside, it popped in and out of the trees along the forested ridge. As we gained elevation, Old Goat and Mount Nestor soon came into view above the jewel-toned waters of Spray Lakes. While the scenery was beautiful in and of itself, it was made even better with the fresh dusting of snow and ephemeral cloud inversion that had formed over the reservoir, disappearing almost as quickly as it had formed.

Between the fresh fall of snow and the fact that we were the first ones out that morning, the path was completely hidden when we hiked. Lucky for us, we had an accommodating little friend who broke trail for us. That clever rabbit must be very familiar with the environs here, as his (or her) little prints followed the GPS route almost perfectly for well over a kilometer.

As we picked our way up the final rocky slopes to the summit, the views were just wicked. As annoying as it is when the transition to winter starts hindering summit scrambles, everything does look a little more magical beneath a fresh coat of powder.

From Little Lougheed’s humble crown, the surrounding summits looked especially grand cloaked in white. Across Spray Lakes, Mount Nestor, Old Goat Mountain and the many peaks of the Goat Range were particularly striking. Just over the connecting ridge to the northeast, Lougheed II looked quite imposing, despite being flanked on either side by Lougheed I and Mount Sparrowhawk. Further north and northwest, we could make out the familiar silhouettes of Windtower and the Rimwall, as well as Big and Middle Sisters.

For such a gorgeous Sunday and such an easy objective, we couldn’t believe we were the only two up there. We were shocked but grateful. Since we had it all to ourselves, we took our time soaking up the quickly warming sun and enjoying an early lunch before making our way back down.

Like Windtower, Little Lougheed really is a bang-for-your-buck outing, offering up some pretty great views for just a moderate amount of effort. Better still? If you’re short on time, this one makes a nice half-day outing. Although we typically seek out something longer, this short excursion was beneficial for one very important reason… It ensured we made it back to Mount Engadine Lodge in time for high tea. With a charcuterie spread like this one, you can imagine where a certain little street dog’s priorities were.

Total distance: 3.1 miles (5 km)
Elevation gain: 2,190 feet (670 meters)
Scramble rating: Easy (Nugara)

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