Bow Valley Provincial Park
Time: 4 hours
Distance: 11 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 900 m
How To Get There: Heading west on the TransCanada, turn right at Hwy 1X and then turn right again once you reach the Hwy 1A intersection. Follow Hwy 1A for about 2 km until you see the blue Yamnuska sign. Turn left after the sign and park at the parking lot.
I can now count myself as official Albertan hiker! Sure, I've done tons of hikes in the past few years, but up until now, I had never gotten myself up the Yamnuska summit. If you live and hike in southern Alberta, chances are you or someone you know has done this hike before. I first heard about it when I was camping in the backcountry last summer and sitting around the fire with some fellow hikers. One guy told me that it was a fun hike so I told myself I was going to have to try it out someday. Luckily, the gorgeous weather in Alberta allowed today to be that day. Because Matt had to work, I was going to be attempting this summit solo which was a bit unnerving. I had done my research and knew that hiking Yamnuska requires a lot of scrambling and a lot of exposed areas. But I wanted to prove to myself I could do it so I set off. The weather was already a lovely plus 20 degrees by the time I reached the trailhead at around 10:30 am.
The parking lot was completely packed which came as no surprise to me. I knew that this was an incredibly popular trail. I also knew that there were several different ways to reach the summit. Luckily, as I started on the trail, I was joined by three other hikers who had done this hike before, so I followed their lead.
The trail itself meanders through the forest for the first while, crossing a small bridge and then over a forestry road (this is where climbers can register their names- for climbers only) before beginning to ascend upwards. Along the way you can see beautiful spring wildflowers covering the forest ground.
I was still following behind the other three hikers when we came to the first "fork" in the road. Here, a sign indicates that climbers continue straight while hikers turn right.
This part can be a bit confusing for some. While the sign does tell hikers to turn right, there is actually a more straight forward trail if you continue going straight. So all four of us continued forward. It's not long after this that you come to another trail intersection.
This time, we did turn right, which leads to probably the most grueling part of the trail. It's mostly a straight up climb for the rest of the way until you reach the cliff face.
The positive side of large elevation gain in a short amount of time is the great views that greet you right off the bat. Bow Valley Provincial Park stretched on for miles beneath me and I could easily see (and hear) the TransCanada from off in the distance.
Along this part of the trail, I was treated to the beautiful sight of a red-tailed hawk as it flew circles above me. I was fairly certain it was sticking so close to me at this point because I was so hot and sweaty I was most likely creating the thermals for him to ride on.
Once I reached the cliff face, I gave myself a quick moment to rest in the shade. Here, I was able to inspect a cross with the name "Janet" on it that was leaning up against a rock. Mount Yamnuska can be a dangerous place, especially for inexperienced hikers or climbers, so I took a moment to appreciate that fact and then continued on. From here, there was a large cut in a rock with a boulder blocking the middle section.
I put my hiking poles away and began scrambling up and around the right side of the boulder then made my way through the cut. As soon as I made my way through this portion, I was hit with amazing views of the north side of Yamnuska. You can see the green valley below as well as a chain of mountains wrapping around far in the distance.
This is also where I spotted the first of many blue squares. These blue squares are an indicator that you are going the right way or show you which way you should be going. Very useful!
From here, you continue onwards until the trail loops up and you climb your way to a "fake summit". If you go all the way up, which I did, you can see right over the cliff face. It's a bit overwhelming, especially if you are afraid of heights, so make sure not to get too close to the edge.
Then I continued on, moving up the scree trail and climbing over rocky boulders to get to the next part of the trail: The dreaded bolted chain section. Originally, I had planned to go with Matt so he could coax me to go on the chains. However, I was Matt-less so I had no choice but to coax myself. The trail was busy, so I stepped aside to let a large group go ahead of me in order to pump myself up. When it was finally my turn, I made sure to just be as careful as possible and to not look down.
This narrow ledge is approximately 35ms long with a bolted chain that one can hang onto while traversing the ledge. The ledge disappears in spots and requires a side step to the next foot hold. It ends with a quick rappel down before you meet with the trail again.
Right after, as if to say "good job, you didn't die!", there is a cool little crack in the cliff wall that allows you to have a sneak peak of Bow Valley on the other side of the mountain.
For the next 500 m or so, the trail follows right along the edge of the north side of the mountain and there are some very slippery spots with hidden slabs. There are no chains here so it is wise to go slow and take your time. Once this portion is finished, you are faced with the daunting climb to the summit itself.
It is a tough scramble the whole way up, but once you reach the top, the reward is completely worth it. Views from the summit are stunning. Seebe dam and the Bow River are in view below.
The prairies open towards the east and the Rocky Mountains rise to the west.
I took the time to take a few pictures of the surrounding view and was lucky enough to have some friendly Aussies take a picture of me with the summit cairn.
Then I found a place to rest and eat my lunch. I stayed up on the summit for a good half hour, enjoying the view and studying the geocache that is attached to the rockwall of the summit.
Finally though, it was time to head home, so I began hiking the west route, which is the fastest way down.
I followed the trail down the steep scree slopes that leads down the northwest side of the mountains. The scree here has been walked on so many times that it is actually quite slick in some sections. Being the smart person that I am, I decided to try to go around the scree by walking along the left side of it. This only led me to more scree and one good fall on my butt. There is a cairn built as you go down, indicating that you are still in the right area.
I finally reached a small spine that forces you to either turn right or left. I turned left (turning right takes you on a whole other trail) and continued descending around the west side of the cliff face. The trail here is also very well-worn so I was careful to go slow (though I still found myself on my butt once or twice).
The trail then wraps under the bottom of the cliff face and I made sure not to stop here since it is a bad place for falling rock.
Finally, I reached the part of the trail that you can actually see clearly from the parking lot. This is the part that everyone has so much fun on and I can definitely see why! To get down to the treeline, you simply run and hop straight down the loose scree slope. There is so much loose rock and gravel that it catches you every time you place your foot down and carries you forward (just make sure to step down heel first to ensure stability). After this part, I found myself back in the trees and simply followed the trail past the hiker/climber sign and back down into the parking lot.
This hike is absolutely beautiful and is a great workout! It's definitely not for people who want to bring their dogs or for someone who is just getting into hiking, as there are a few technical parts. But for those who don't want to travel too far (Mt. Yamnuska is only 45 minutes west of Calgary) for an adventure, this is the perfect hike!