Pick up a free map of Fernie Alpine Resort featuring summer hiking and biking trails. Their website has a resort map: www.skifernie.com.
Fernie Alpine Resort operates their chair lifts in summer and both routes ride at least some of the distance on the lift. A fee is charged for the chair lift rides. The lifts operate from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during summer, but you may want an earlier start than 10 a.m. to complete the long hike and be back by 5 p.m. for the ride down.
The rocks were brought to life for me by hiking with two professional geologists. We examined fossilized corals, petrified crinoid stems (which are fossilized relatives of the starfish) and hard, knobby, silica rocks that protrude from the limestone, called chert nodules. The layers here are on edge and have actually bent back on themselves, leaving the older marine Palliser formation of limestone sitting atop the younger Fernie shale. Venturing uphill you go backward in geological time.
The mountains of the Lizard Range of the Rockies near Fernie consist of crumpled light-grey blocks and massive layers of limestone that were forced upward, and today the ends of those layers rise in sheer, cliff-like steps. (The rock steps are like a stack of books that was tipped over and then one corner of the stack was lifted up.) Hiking the ends of these bedding layers gives the impression of ascending up the edges of that stack of books.
Planning the hike
Plan your hike when the weather is dry, because narrow sections of this ridge are slippery when the clay soil is wet.
Summer thunderstorms are common and there are only a few routes to get off the ridge. Bring extra clothing in your pack, as cold breezes scour the barren summits even on the hottest summer days.
There is no surface water for drinking along this hike, so carry at least two or three litres with you.
The resort is trying to prevent conflicts between cyclists and hikers by asking hikers to stay higher than the chairlifts and cyclists to ride lower than the top of the lifts. The caution noted on the map should be emphasized: “Do not walk on black diamond bike trails; cyclists whiz down very fast.”
Ridgewalk trails are not suitable for dogs.
There are two ways to do this hike. Both involve some steep scrambling and balancing along rocky steps. They are not technical climbs, but it is challenging terrain.
One way is the shorter ridgewalk, which is not as exposed nor as ambitious as the as the second way, which is to hike the challenging entire loop.
Shorter ridgewalk: Polar Peak
The first option is to ride the chairlift both ways and hike up only the southern section of the ridge to Polar Peak. It still gives you the ridgewalk experience but it eliminates most of the challenging terrain and exposure. Besides being easier, this first way is much shorter, about four to six hours.
The shorter ridgewalk starts at the top of the Timber Chair (opening time is 10 a.m.) and follows a circular route. Start at Lost Boys Café and head toward Lost Boys Pass. Follow signs up to and along the ridge and over Elephant Head summit, 2045 m (6,709 ft.). A cable is installed along a narrow section. Hike along the ridge to Polar Peak. Follow the signs. Backtrack along the ridge and descend a ridge between two ski bowls. Hike back to the Timber chairlift for your ride back down. Do not continue northwest beyond Polar Peak, as the route is narrow and Snake Ridge is a difficult descent.
The second option, the full ridgewalk loop, is a long day hike of about six to eight hours. The route has sections of steep, blocky and hazardous scrambling, with some loose rock and very narrow exposed mountain passes. Climb several summits along the ridgewalk. After a satisfying day hike, ride the chairlift down from Timber Bowl. Of course, if you still feel like it, you can hike all the way down, as well. Watch for downhill cyclists, and stay off routes marked for cyclists.
Cables may be installed in places along the route for safety, but normal weathering and other hazards may have reduced their security. Check their condition before counting on them, as this route is not maintained, and, as with all trails in the mountains, use this route at your own risk.
Lizard Range full loop
Time: full day hike
Distance: 11.1 km full loop
Elevation gain: 1074 m (3,524 ft.) plus another 365 (1,200 ft.) for gains and losses along the six summits of the ridge
Grizzly Peak: 2103 m (6,900 ft.)
Polar Bear Peak: 2134 m (7,000 ft.)
Trail: rough route to alpine ridge; scrambling; exposed narrow ridges; cables across exposed sections; trail not suitable for dogs.
Shorter ridgewalk: Polar Peak
Time: short day hike
Distance: 3 km one way
Elevation gain: 340 m (1,125 ft.)
Trail: steep limestone; well-marked; narrow ridge; cable down one slope; trail not suitable for dogs.
Map: 82G/6 Elko (NAD27)