Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park – Hiking Alberta

 

Sulphur Mountain frames the Town of Banff in Banff National Park, Alberta.

 

 

The Sulphur Mountain hike above the Town of Banff, in Banff National Park west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is an early and easy season opener for hikers comfortable with 750 m (2,440 ft) of net elevation.  One way, the trail is 4 miles (6.5 KM) to the Sanson Peak Summit on well-graded switchbacks which traverse Sulphur Mountain beneath the gondola line.

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Snowbound Sulphur Mountain Trail near the trailhead

 

Starting elevation at Banff Hot Springs is 1,580 M (5,200 ft) with an elevation gain of 750 m (2,440 ft) past the upper gondola terminal to the replica of the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station perched on Sanson Peak (not the true summit of Sulphur Mountain) at an elevation of 2,440 M (7,640 ft). 

The Cosmic Ray Station was originally constructed in 1956 to prepare for the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year.  It was one of 99 reporting stations worldwide and considered significant because of its elevation.  The original station was closed and dismantled in 1978.  Early morning weather in Calgary is foggy.

Weather for the Town of Banff is forecast as cloudy with sunny breaks, and an afternoon high of 6 degrees C.

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Trail narrows as elevation is gained on switchbacks

 

Trail conditions are less spring-like than expected.  The trail is completely snow bound so hiking crampons are required to stick to the uneven surface.  At the beginning the well-traveled trail is hard packed on a slippery, occasionally icy surface, covered with an inch of fresh powder. 

Conditions gradually change to a single lane covered with 3 inches of powder near the top.  Hikers and gondola passengers wave at each other in passing.  The day is beautiful with low cloud hovering around the 9,500 foot level.  An almost imperceptible snowfall near the top makes the hike extra special.

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Mount Rundle across the Valley

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Waving to the gondola passengers

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Approaching the Upper Gondola Terminal on Sulphur Mountain

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada A mild dusting of snow at upper elevations

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Nearly there - the top of Sulphur Mountain. Cool!

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Looking across to Sanson Peak on Sulphur Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada View from the top over the Town of Banff, tiny Tunnel Mountain, Bow River and Mount Rundle

 

Following lunch at a window seat in the upper gondola terminal cafeteria, the hike proceeds to Sanson Peak for spectacular views of Mount Rundle, Mount Norquay, Cascade Mountain, the Town of Banff wrapped around Tunnel Mountain, the Bow Valley Corridor, and the Spray and Sundance Valley.  The temperature is a pleasant zero degrees C (32 degrees F) with still air and intermittent sun.

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Cascade Mountain on the other side of the Town of Banff in Banff National Park

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Looking back from Sanson Peak to the Dining Complex and Sulphur Mountain Upper Gondola Terminal

 

Sulphur Mountain – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The Town of Banff from the Lower Gondola Station Parking Area

 

The afternoon descent encounters increased hiking traffic making the ascent.  Time is taken to step off the single-lane trail to let people pass.  It is wise to step off the trail to the upward mountain slope side.  Stepping off to the downward slope side increases the opportunity to discover the possibility of rocketing straight down the mountain. 

Not everyone knows this so leading by example can be accompanied by courteous exchange as an alternative to reverting into rescue mode.  Back at the trail head, there is justification for a rewarding and self-indulgent dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs

Due to more snow than anticipated, this day hike has been a bit more physically demanding than expected.  Entering the crowded pool allows sitting in warm water on the sunny side surrounded by snow. 

After nearly an hour in the 39 degree C water, the grand and simple day is completed with the drive east on the TransCanada Highway to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

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