This, my friends, is the majestic Mt. Rundle. Day 2 of our mountain getaway included an “unplanned” climb up the face of this mountain! Let me explain…
Mt. Rundle trail info (via: TrailPeak.com)
Distance: 13 km round-trip
Elevation Gain: 5,175 feet/1,577 meters
Summit: 9,675 feet/2,949 meters
Time: 7-10 hours
Location: Parking lot at Banff Springs Golf Course. Make your way across the bridge and follow the paved road just past the first fairway to the Spray River trailhead.
After the freakishly windy and cold climb the day before on Mount Bourgeau, we decided to grab some additional gear in a store in downtown Banff. As we were checking out, the store clerk asked us about our hiking plans, and we told her that we were open to any suggestions. She asked if we had heard of Mount Rundle. YES…but we’ve also heard that it’s EXTREMELY difficult. She proceeded to tell us that her friends (who weren’t even in “great” shape) were able to make the climb in a full day, so we (“fit” hikers) should be able to do it too! It was supposed to be a local favorite. I’ll admit, I first heard about it, and diligently researched it (my Thinking Out Loud 07.24.2014 post), after our hiking friends mentioned it was on their hiking bucket list. If the store clerk said we could do it…why not try it?! To be fair…it did look like an EPIC hike that we shouldn’t miss out on. And so it began…
We woke up just a tad bit earlier than the previous day, gathered our gear, and drove the few miles from our hotel to the Banff Springs Hotel Golf Course. Realizing that we had to park across the bridge and down the road from the trail, we finally reached the trailhead at 8:50. As we stopped to take a few pics, a park ranger drove up and asked if we were hiking Mt. Rundle today. Umm…that would be a yes…is that ok? He then, very calmly, told us that there was a bear “just down the road.” But that they “knew” the bear – #178 (or something like that) – and he was “not normally aggressive.” But…as he was nearing the cabins, they were going to push him our way. As in….up the same path we were hiking. “Just so you know. But nothing to be afraid of. If you see him…just yell, “Hey Bear!” He has been conditioned to avoid those who yell that. Have a good hike.”
Ummm….I think I may have peed my pants a little bit. My thoughts went something like this: They were pushing him up OUR trail….then nope – we shouldn’t hike…it was crazy…why couldn’t they push him another direction…he’s a nice bear…all we have to do is say HEY BEAR…where is my bear spray…the hubby runs faster than me…Oh My God I’m going to get mauled by a bear…and why is the hubby walking towards the trail???
The hubby reasoned that the rangers did their due diligence in warning us, but if there was a “real danger” we would not have been allowed on the trail. So I clipped the bear spray to my side…and we were off. We hit the trail at 9:00 am. It was 0.7 km up a fire trail road to the Mt. Rundle junction. From there, it was another 6 km (3.73 m) to the summit. Of course, I was like a skittish dog and checked around me every 30 seconds for signs of a bear. We never did see him. The trail starts off very good – a well-defined, steady climb with beautiful views glimpsed through the forest slopes.
About an hour into the climb, we begin the aggressive ascent of a dozen or so switchbacks. This is where you REALLY get to view the valley, Sulphur Mountain across the way, and the stunning castle-esque Banff Springs Hotel below. There are two small gullies along the horizontal traverse following the switchbacks, which is a nice (albeit brief) break from the steep climb! There is a light snow dusting on the ground, and the day is beautiful! The weather is comfortable for a steady climb, and we do not put on our second layer until we reach the next to last switchback.
We eventually arrive at the large central rock gully that I read about, which marks the end of the “good quality” trail. We were able to navigate our way across the gully, and over to the other side, where we were greeted with a very forested, steep, rough terrain. At this point, the snow covers any real path that may exist. The benefit of the snow, however, is that we can make out the footprints of another pair of hikers! So we decide to follow the path that they forged. There are parts of this trail where I am literally jumping up to grab a tree trunk as leverage to pull myself up the incline! I felt like a mountain monkey!!! But honestly, even with all that work, it was SO MUCH FUN!
As the trees start to thin, we encounter a couple who is working their way down. Wow…they must have gotten an early start! They stopped to chat for a few, and told us that they in fact, did not reach the summit, as it was too icy. They also told us that there was another man on the trail – hiking in Vibram shoes – you know…the toe shoes. Amazing.
Finally we reach the edge of the alpine line and find ourselves on the “Dragon’s Back.” The view here is so awe-inspiring! You are surrounded by mountains and valleys and the enticing mountain peak! We continue to climb, following the bright orange flags marking the safest passage. Even though the distance to the summit is short, it is STEEP – climbing 609 meters (2,000 feet) in 2 km (1.24 m).
We pick our way along the ridge, known as the “Dragon’s Back”, which is a rock spine between deep canyons on either side. It is here that we encounter the third man on the trail. He is on his way back down, and mentioned that even though he made it a little bit further than the last couple of hikers, it was still too icy to reach the summit. We chat for a few, then continue along, telling ourselves that we will go as far as we can go. The surface is smooth limestone, which is now layered in ice at our high elevation. The climb is steep, slow, and arduous. And then we realize…we can go no further… The path is just too icy, too unsafe, to continue on. So we make our way to the nearest tree marker, take some breathtaking pictures, absorb the jaw-dropping views, and prepare for our descent.
According to the Scrambler’s Guide to Mount Rundle, I would say we made it to about where the “5” is marked on the map below – oh so close! Alas, we may have failed in our bid to reach the summit, but I guarantee we will return another day! This is, by far, one of my favorite hikes!!!
The path down is just as much fun as it was coming up…trying to forge our way back over gigantic rocks, and swinging from tree trunks. We stop again once we reach the central gully to refuel and take it all in. We are indeed, in very good spirits!
Overall, our (estimated) 12 KM (7.5 m) hike took us a total of 7 hours, 32 minutes (including our food and picture breaks). Not too shabby for our first “extreme” mountain hike, eh?!
Have you ever hiked a mountain?