Climbing Mount Rundle, Banff, Alberta

I spent a year in Canada on a working holiday visa when I was in my early twenties. During that time I did a lot of partying, not enough travelling, and made some fantastic friends. I spent the winter working at a ski resort and the summer at a hotel in Banff, Alberta.

Banff is one of my favourite places in the world. Admittedly I have a soft spot for both towns based on tourism and the mountains, so for me it was a winning combination.

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The main street of Banff, AB in mid-summer

A word of warning though, which is particularly relevant if you are planning to climb mountains in the area; the weather can be very changeable so you need to be prepared for just about any eventuality year-round.

Having said that, I climbed Mount Rundle with little to no preparation. I am not endorsing you do the same. The trip was organised by someone else and I agreed to go along with no real thought given to whether it was a good idea. It was a good idea, I’m glad I did it, but it was a bit foolhardy as I could easily have come to grief.

Mt Rundle is a really popular climb. It’s a distinctive mountain that towers over Banff and Canmore.

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View of Mt Rundle from Cascade Ponds (+ me)

The stats

Mt Rundle is classified as a scramble. The hike to the 2590 m summit is steep; over a distance of 6.5 km you will gain almost 900 m in elevation.

The experience

In plain English, that means it’s a long day. To give you an idea of the fitness level  required, at the time I was healthy and young, but I wouldn’t call myself very fit. I did the occasional yoga class, had a physical job as a housekeeper, and my main mode of transport around town was walking. It had been almost a year since I had seen the inside of a gym. I got through the day but I was so sore the next day that I had to crawl down the stairs to get to the kitchen!

Take note where it is described as a ‘scramble’. I didn’t know what a scramble was and was completely unprepared for what met me above the treeline.

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Hands-free was not an option

Don’t try this with hiking poles, they wouldn’t be helpful for the scramble.

Before the tree-line (for about the first 90 minutes), it’s quite a standard trail hike, albeit fairly steep with a series of switch backs.

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We had no idea what was ahead of us

Above the treeline watch out for the famous Dragon’s Back, which is a narrow ridge between two large and deep gullies. It is a sloping slab of limestone covered in loose scree – step cautiously.

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Slow and steady

Officially it should take about 7-8 hours, however it took us about 10 hours. It was steep enough that I took almost as long coming down as I did going up the mountain – but I am pretty timid when it comes to heights. It took me a while to work up the courage, but really the only way down some parts is to sit on your butt and slide.

Directions

Parks Canada provides a detailed route description in Climber’s Guide to Mount Rundle. Pick one up at the Banff information centre and review the tips, recommendations and gear lists.

Parking for the Spray River trailhead is located near the Spray River bridge on the road to the Banff Springs Golf Course. Cross the bridge and follow the paved road just past the first fairway to the start of the trail. Follow a fire road for about 300m to the Mt Rundle Trail junction.

 Things to do to prepare for the climb:
  • Get up early – you don’t want to be stuck on the mountain after dark
  • Have a good breakfast!
  • Bring clothing for cold, windy conditions as you climb higher even if the weather forecast is good
  • Know that you will have to stop and descend immediately if there is any sign of severe weather. Hikers have experienced lightning, hail, and heavy rain in summer which can start mudslides on the switchbacks.
  • Check the trail conditions report
  • Download and read The Scrambler’s Guide to Mt Rundle which contains really important information about safety, the route and what to do in an emergency
  • Pack lots of food and more water than you expect. The scree is quite dusty and will make you thirsty.
  • Pack a first aid kit

The views from the top are amazing across Banff and Canmore.

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Happy face

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Altogether a pretty fun day!

To complete your experience

Eat:

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Poutine – the perfect Canadian recovery food

Watch:
Probably no climbing movie made, ever. They all terrify me and would have played havoc with my mind while I was on the mountain.

Read:
Again, probably none of those amazing stories of survival. Just don’t go there.

Listen:

 

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