Mount Yamnuska scramble
10.7 km loop, 1200m Elevation gain
Return hike should take 4-6 hours. Suitable for ages 10+
I have discovered that living an outdoor life is aspirational for me. Like all those Pinterest pins that get you excited to go out and try some creative arts and crafts or baking or cooking, I am attracted by the lure of hiking trails and remote mountain peaks. Just like the Pinterest fails that dot the web, I too fail at hiking.
Hiking Yamnuska with the CORA Meetup Group
This weekend I did Mount Yamnuska scramble with the Calgary Outdoor Recreation Association. I’ve had it on my bucket list for a while, driving past on each drive to Banff and beyond saying “I’m going to climb that one day.” When the email from the Meetup group arrived, the hike was listed as an easy scramble that could be done in 4-5hours. Perfect, I thought.I’d skip my 6k run for Team Diabetes Bermuda training and do a 10k hike instead. Being part of an experienced group would help me through the technical sections, and I’d get to check off a bucket list.
The CORA group is a great way to meet people in Calgary who like to get out and hike. Each weekend they have a few activities to sign up for. People meet at the Dalhousie C Train station on weekend mornings, and then carpool out to the day’s adventure. It works really well. If you know what you’re doing.
There are lots of trails to get up and around Yamnuska. There is a marked junction for the rock climbers to get to the base of the face, hikers wanting to get to the peak take the other fork. The hike is nicely treed with openings along the ridge every few hundred metres to give you gorgeous views of the summit above and the Bow Valley below.
Cramping Quads in The Chimney
A lack of fitness quickly showed for me. It’s an 800+ metre climb up the trail to Yamnuska, and I was quickly huffing. Then, just around the chimney section, my quads starting cramping.
This is something I’ve struggled with consistently in my exercise – how to keep my legs happy. I drink too much, I don’t drink enough, I don’t get the electrolyte balance right, it’s all over the place. The quad cramps slowed my pace considerably. Really, I should have quit at the chimney and turned back down, except the trail is a loop, so I felt I had to push on with the group.
The chimney is a tight wedge in the eastern edge of the rock that opens you out to the backside of Yamnuska – this is where all your ascending of the face is done.
False Summits For The Win
There are many false summits reached along the backside trails, the first is probably the most spectacular. Even more than the actual summit itself. There’s a wedge in the rocks where you can sit and have a break and stand on a few pillars – if you dare – to pose for photos.
The next precarious section is the fabled Yamnuska traverse. Here, a chained section takes you around a corner for about 15 metres. It has turned people around with fear in the past. I didn’t find it that difficult at all. Mind you, I didn’t look down. I was focused on the hand over hand on the cable, and made it around the corner with easy.
Then, it’s back to scrambling. Picking your way up the backside of the mountain and around the variety of trails to get to the summit. My legs were cramping badly and I was very slow to get to the top, the last in our group to arrive.
They had found a hollow away from the brisk chinook winds, where we relaxed and had lunch.
We were right under the chinook arch, so the breezes were intermittent, and often still. The peak was breezy, but for the most part it was very calm. Something that is not always the case on Yamnuska.
I did it. I hit the summit. Bucket list check!
And while they call it mountain climbing, the up part is usually the easiest. Mountain descending? Totally different story.
The descent of Yamnuska starts with a quick scree ski down the back of the western face. This is where my skill deficiency, combined with severe muscle cramping, really hurt me. Not confident in my legs’ ability to support me on the way down, I was relying heavily on my poles. Not confident in my ability to scree ski, I carefully sidestepped down while others bounced and ran past me.
Had my legs been up to it, I might have had more daring energy to try it, but I didn’t. Again, I brought up the rear.
We rounded the western edge and then this is where our group’s troubles began. There are many ways both up and down Yamnuska. The trails veer off in many directions. All will get you up, all will get you down, although some may not be as efficient as others.
Our guide had taken the scree down last time and ended up near a gravel pit before walking the road out of the park. While it worked, he wanted to keep us to the trail. Some, however, chose to descend in the scree, while we traversed the field heading back for the trails on the western end. Our plan was to take the trail down that the rock climbers take up.
However, our traverse had brought us too low on Yamnuska. We were now at a steep section that couldn’t be safely crossed, so we had to climb back up the slope to find the trail at the base of the rock face.
Trying To Find The Trail
That meant another 130m climb up scree. Scree is loose rock. It’s like climbing in sand. You take a step up, and slide right back down. It took me more than half an hour to climb back up the 65 degree face. Many times my legs buckled. I swore, sobbed, and wished to be home. I did the hike with the group trusting I’d be safe with experienced guides who knew the trail. The fact we lost the trail wasn’t so bad, my sore legs and weak skill, however, made that situation worse.
Eventually we got up, found the trail, and descended. The rest of the group was waiting at the cars. It had taken us 2 hours longer than them to descend. What should have taken an hour took me nearly 3.
My legs are seering with soreness today. No matter, bucket list check. I got up Yamnuska. I got down it. I did it.
Things To Know About Hiking The Mount Yamnuska Scramble
We ended up doing 1200 metres of vertical in our hike over 10km. That’s a lot. Make sure you are in good shape and have hiking experience. While the scramble is not that difficult, you still need to have good technical hiking skill for a smooth descent.
When descending, take the first scree run when rounding the western face, or hug the ridge and head all the way to the rock climber path on the eastern end of the scree slope. Do not descend the scree as you traverse east, that was our problem.
Thanks so much to Veronica, Conrad, Colin, Chris, and the rest of the CORA group who were so patient with me and made sure I got down safe. Team bucket list check!
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