My son, Bill, and I stood on top of 9,675 ft. Mount Rundle in the summer of 2005. Mount Rundle is an arduous climb with gross vertical elevation near 5,300 feet over 6.5 KM one way.
We remain tired from the Forget-Me-Not Mountain climb the previous day and from Calgary’s HAWKS police helicopter, interrupting our sleep by circling overhead at 3:30 AM. By 4:20 AM we are on the road with less than optimal rest. The tops of Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain are illuminated in orange light.
On this climb we will achieve the 2,998 m (9,836 foot) summit of Cascade Mountain, climbing gross vertical elevation of about 1,524 m (5,000 feet), over a round trip distance near 18 kilometres (11.25 miles).
We hike to the end of the road through the Mount Norquay ski area where the trail begins behind Mystic chairlift, and hike downhill to the bottom of the valley. Bill and I hike along Forty-Mile Creek and cross the bridge onto constant grade, switch-back trail to the Cascade Amphitheatre. On my reconnaissance mission, the remainder of the climb appeared straightforward. Not so.
Cascade is a deceivingly large mountain. From Banff Avenue, in the Town of Banff, its presence is formidable and from the Cascade Amphitheatre, which is a huge bowl canyon behind the west side of the summit, the ridge route to the summit appears reasonable. After scrambling up the rocky trail from the amphitheatre to the ridge, marmots watch our progress along the ridge and soon we break the tree line above 2,438 m (8,000 feet).
We are focused on the false summit in the distance which precludes our bid for the summit. The weather is close to perfect for hiking. After an hour of intermittent hiking and scrambling along the ridge line, with big air to the immediate left, the false summit appears no closer than when we began.
Along the route there are four main obstacles to be negotiated. They are: the first peak, the hidden notch, the false summit and the main summit. After an hour and a half of hiking the ridge we slog our way up the steep slope of the first peak. It is much larger than expected and at the top we discover the downside is a 30 m (100 foot) scramble back down to the ridge. The hidden notch is, well, hidden, but it involves a series of scrambles down shallow cliff faces to pick up the detour around the false summit.
Route finding is an issue. This mountain is a very popular climb and today is no exception. There are many others on the mountain ahead of, and behind us, on this holiday Monday. Past traffic has created a labyrinth of paths which intersect with game trails that lead nowhere passable. We learn quickly to ignore these false indicators and approach the mountain as new ground where we carefully and analytically pick our own routes. This works better, although, there are still times we get into places where we must backtrack and find an alternate route. About four and a half hours into the climb we negotiate our way down, across and up the other side of the hidden notch where the false summit looms large in front of us.
The path to circumvent it edges horizontally along the edge of a steep slope. During this section the true summit is completely hidden from view. Vistas of the Town of Banff are breathtaking. Mount Rundle seems dwarfed in the distance.
We are very fortunate to have a dry, sunny day. This would not be a safe place on wet rock or snow. As we work our way around the false summit there is one area following a vertical scramble up where a smooth, steeply inclined rock slab must be traversed. It is only about 3 m (20 feet) wide but there is little room for error. We are paying attention and make the crossing without incident. The path improves slightly as we work our way across the side of the false summit.
The first view of the true summit is awesome. Directly in front of us is a large snow cornice. Behind us is the tall face of the false summit. Across several few hundred metres of ridge in front of us is the very steep and rugged route to the summit. We are tired, dirty and beaten up. The steep climb ahead of us is a mixed scramble on rock and scree. The ascent requires an additional hour of hard, frustrating labour to complete our final assault on the summit. Increasing afternoon wind is becoming an issue as well. We battle our way to the top and drop over the edge to a sheltered little cove in the sun on the quiet side of the mountain. There is low signal strength on the cell phone but we call friends and family from coast to coast. Lunch is good. Legs hang free in 1,524 m (5,000 feet) of air.
Bill and I take time together to enjoy the top of the mountain and the incredible views that surround us. Lake Minnewanka is directly below us and appears larger than I would expect. Pictures are taken to document our achievement together. It is one more in a growing list accumulated over the past three decades.
Cold wind at the top is our motivation to return to the protection of the ridge where the descent has us layering down into a hot day. Footsteps taken by tired legs are cautious on shifting scree and the down scrambles off the true summit are performed carefully, with precision, to avoid injury. We take separate routes at times to avoid knocking rock down onto one another. The return trip around the false summit is no less intimidating than the hike in. Not much edge to hang onto here.
Scrambling back up and out through the hidden notch is straightforward. On the ridge climb down to the first summit we opt to circumvent this obstacle and hike off-trail across a kilometre and a half of frequently unstable talus. Continuing down the ridge and back into the tree line, our objective is to remain vertical and optimistic. Each of us knows we are exhausted but it is not up for discussion, although we talk about our experience climbing Fortress Mountain in August of 2002 which left us in similar condition late in the day.
Dropping into the valley, the final push from Forty-Mile Creek uphill to the ski lodge is long. Hiking poles and upper body strength compensate for spent legs. At the car we are quickly into fresh clothing and footwear and focused on buying lots to drink in Banff. We soak at Banff Hot Springs in 41 C water to relieve tired muscles before returning to Calgary.
I expected Cascade Mountain to be an easier climb than Mount Rundle. In retrospect it was not. The mountain is deceivingly large. Scale and distance are difficult to assess. The scenery is absolutely spectacular.