Mount Rundle is a popular hike from the Town of Banff to the true summit with lofty views over the Bow Valley in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
This hike/climb on Mount Rundle is prefaced by many prior missions which include the Black Tusk in British Columbia, the summit of Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country, Alberta and a south to north crossing of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Past experience includes hikes and scrambles to many summits within the Coast Mountain and Rocky Mountain Ranges.
Packing the night before and early bedtime preclude an early start from Calgary at 4:20 AM. Driving in the dark and heading west on the TransCanada Highway begins at 5 AM. The hike starts at 7:10 AM from the trail-head just past Bow Falls in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The mosquitoes are ferocious.
After a short, flat haul along the Spray River Trail, the junction marker at an old fire road informs there are 5.2 KMs (3¼ miles) remaining to achieve Mount Rundle’s summit. Following a steady climb for 0.3 KM the next trail junction marker claims a further 6 KM (3¾ miles) to achieve the summit of Mount Rundle. Apparently the distance is increasing. If this trend continues the objective may not be achievable within a lifetime ;-)
On good quality and frequently-traveled trail the grade is moderate and the ascent proceeds steadily across the lower forested slopes of Mount Rundle. In about an hour a sustained ascent on a dozen switchbacks provide aggressive elevation above the first cliff band to a horizontal traverse.
Excellent views of Sulphur Mountain build across the valley as elevation increases. The Banff Springs Hotel, now far below, is rendered golden by early morning sun. The traverse past two small gullies leads to the massive Central Gully where good quality trail ends.
On the other side of the Central Gully a rustic trail climbs steeply up the slope through the forest and continues on rough terrain until the rugged trail breaks the tree line just below 8,000 ft. (2,438 m). There is only sketchy trail now but the view to the seemingly far away mountain summit is awe-inspiring as the sun rises above it. With less than 2 KM (1¼ miles) to go there is still have more than 2,000 ft (609 m) of tough elevation remaining.
The route continues over talus and sections of slab. The ridge between two large and deep gullies narrows to form the "dragon's back", a narrow, sloping spine of rock. It's surface is smooth limestone bedrock, often covered by loose gravel. Cautious footsteps are required. Views are phenomenal.
The summit of Sulphur Mountain becomes lower across the valley as elevation gain continues. Snow-covered Mount Assiniboine looms conspicuously above all neighbors in the distance. On this clear, beautiful day, visibility at elevation is over 200 KM (125 miles). At the end of the dragon-back incremental elevation gain increases on more challenging scree. The ascent is steep, slow and arduous.
After an hour on this steep final approach, poles are holstered and cameras are stowed to scramble the horizontal cliff face to the summit. The rock is sharp and tough on the hands but the scramble is straightforward with plenty of foot and hand holds.
On the approach to the true summit at 9,675 feet (2,949 m), the route offers a couple of short, easy scramble sections. Focus is important to avoid injury. The hike and scramble culminates at 12:10 PM at the summit cairn with a 360 degree view of surrounding mountains.
The north face of Mount Rundle is a sheer cliff face. There is a weak cell phone signal enabling calls from the summit to family and friends across Canada, to share the excitement of the achievement and to potentially reduce concern others may have for our safety.
Lunch is enjoyed in the sun tempered by cooling breeze. Sitting in a sheltered cove to relax is awesome while having lunch with legs dangling into 3,000 ft (914 m) of air.
Weather is fine but cloud is building. The temperature is 10 degrees C (50 degrees Fahrenheit) at the top with a mild, gusting breeze. Prior to descent, a cairn is constructed in a small sheltered cove near the summit. A laminated photo inside will honor a terminally ill acquaintance so those who follow may have the opportunity to meet her.
Descent begins following more than an hour on the summit. Typically, afternoon wind strength increases. Scrambling back off the summit and descending the scree and dragon-back is time-consuming due to tenuous footing. Use of poles is not practical and many sections involve sliding on the seat of pants over scree on top of smooth rock. After involuntarily doing the splits, the body reminder suggests this particular position is no longer part of present-age physical repertoire.
Back at the tree line, now sheltered from the wind, hiking poles are reintroduced and for several hours the descent, including the traverse across three gullies, continues back to the trail-head, hiking now on very tired legs driven by very good spirits.
Arrival back at the car occurs at 5:20 PM where a good friend is waiting for us with the best ice-cold beer ever tasted. Boots are pulled, sandals back on, injuries are minor. The next stop is at Banff Hot Springs on Sulphur Mountain for final views of the recently-conquered and sun-drenched Mount Rundle. Conversation is animated.
Supper happens at Phil's in Banff before heading home to Calgary with a spectacular sunset in the rear view mirror. There is an isolated super cell directly over Calgary which later prompted tornado warnings and caused golf-ball-sized hail storms.
The day has been long, tough and immensely rewarding. All of our objectives are met and the experience will create an indelible memory.