Cranbrook resident Connor Schartner is no stranger to the backcountry. A helicopter mechanic at Big Horn by trade, and an avid snowmobiler and hiker in his spare time, the 25-year-old endeavoured to hike Fisher Peak each month of the year in 2021. And he did so successfully.
Schartner moved to Cranbrook with his family when he was 10, and started hiking seriously when he was in Grade 12.
“I’ve done a lot of overnight backcountry trips and snowmobiling, so I have experience and I know what to look for,” he said. “I’ve hiked Fisher quite a few times before, usually once a year. My friends and I were doing speed laps during the summer, seeing who could complete the hike the fastest.”
Craving a bigger challenge, the group decided to hike Fisher at one of the more challenging (and dangerous) times of year — January.
“I would say, don’t attempt Fisher in the winter unless you’re prepared, confident and know the mountain,” Schartner said. “You have to have the proper gear, and the proper training; avalanche training.”
Conditions were good on their January trip, Schartner said, and that prompted an even bigger and better challenge.
“I said, let’s hike it every month this year,” Schartner recalled. “When you’re up there in the winter and it’s a beautiful sunny day, Fisher Peak standing out, it’s beautiful.”
Sometimes he hiked solo, and other times, with his friends or his girlfriend, Abby Ferrige.
Fisher Peak is the highest summit on the Southern Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 2,846 metres (9,336 feet). It’s a challenging 4.5 kilometre hike to the summit with an elevation gain of 1,340 m (4,400 ft) on the hike. It usually takes anywhere from eight to ten hours to complete the hike, summit and back.
During the winter months, conditions can change quickly.
Schartner explained that in the winter, he and his friend Brett Race had to snowmobile to the trail head, snowshoe to the bowl, and use crimp-ons and picks for the remainder of the hike.
“You’re carrying a lot of gear, so it’s definitely a challenge. Sometimes you’re in waist-deep snow. It forces you to push yourself mentally. You have to say to yourself, you can do it.”
Schartner documented his journey on each hike, and compiled the footage into a YouTube video that has garnered attention on social media. While Fisher Peak is a popular hike for locals and tourists alike, it’s not often someone hikes the mountain 12 times in one year. Some might say, a truly ‘Kootenay’ experience.
In the video, Schartner can be seen on the summit in all kinds of weather from snow and clouds to sunny, clear skies.
He says his favourite part of the experience was the solace he found hiking in the winter months, when the mountain is far less busy.
“When you’re the only person, or two people up there, above the clouds, it’s so vast. In the summer months it can get quite busy, with, you know, 20 people at the summit.”
In March, Schartner hiked with his friend Jake Harach. They packed their skis and boots and skied down the mountain from the saddle.
“That was a pretty neat experience,” Schartner said.
Now that he has completed the challenge and the end of 2021 nears, Schartner says he will probably return to hiking Fisher Peak once a year. That doesn’t mean he won’t continue to push himself, though.
“It was a lot,” he laughed. “I’ll probably continue hiking it once a year or so, in the summer. Of course, looking for new challenges otherwise.”
His advice for those who have never hiked the famous peak? Take your time and go when conditions are best.
“Summer is a lot easier, there’s more daylight and there are lots of people on the mountain if you need help,” he said. “Stay hydrated, bring lots of water because it definitely gets hot up there. I’ve seen older people up there and young kids, so pretty much anyone can do it. Just take your time and enjoy it.”
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