Riders of Rohan is a steep, historical trail above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
On a summer weekend afternoon, the Grassi Lakes parking area will likely be very busy. This hot Sunday afternoon in August is no exception. Following a pleasant, gentle hike along Rundle Canal, the next objective will be an aggressive climb on Riders of Rohan trail with a return via the difficult option from Grassi Lakes above Canmore, Alberta, Canada. This hike begins from Grassi Lakes parking but instead of hiking the busy trails to Grassi Lakes, the trail for Riders of Rohan begins on the paved access road, next to Rundle Canal, past the small TransAlta housing community, towards their power generation facility at the base of Ha Ling Peak.
Grassi Lakes parking is jammed with cars and overflowing a long way down the access road. A shady, vacated spot just a few metres from the trail-head is a lucky find at Grassi Lakes in Bow Valley near Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Across the bridge, a secondary bridge provides an excellent view of TransAlta's Spray power plant. A short moderate climb beneath power lines leads to a long, arguably somewhat straight and rustic gravel road beneath power lines stretching east. The hike passes the T-junction where trail from the other side of Rundle Canal intersects. Continuing straight, about half a kilometer (¹⁄₃ miles) later, the Riders of Rohan trail-head appears.
Initially, the ascent is gentle. The grade increases slowly but exponentially until, at the first intersection with the Highline Trail, the pitch can be considered steep. Trail quality is better than expected with the exception of flood debris in a short stony section. This trail is classified as an expert-level downhill mountain biking route. As elevation increases rapidly, trail surface becomes substantially more rocky and rugged, and the logic in the expert downhill rating becomes clear.
Keep in mind the Riders of Rohan portion of this hike is only 1.6 KM (1.0 mile) with an elevation gain of 335 m (1,100 ft) to a maximum elevation of 1,722 m (5,680 ft). Gross and net elevation are virtually the same. The hike is a thigh-thumping, heart pounding, wind-sucking bit of a climb. Definitely good aerobic exercise. A few mountain bikers come rocketing down the trail on my ascent. There is usually space at trail side to step out of the way. Exchanging greetings with anyone so intensely focused, at that pace, would be distracting and dangerous to the highly committed mountain bikers.
The Riders of Rohan trail gets progressively more rugged as altitude increases. In spite of the rugged terrain, there are moss carpets on the sidelines and visions of scenic, forest magic along the way.
Arrival at a small, short dip in the trail creates uncertainty about ability to hike downhill after so much uphill. The dip is a very brief but welcome reprieve in the relentless ascent. The trail continues to aggressively increase in complexity as more impromptu ramps are passed and respect for the skill of expert mountain bikers increases. The few who pass me are wearing full face helmets. Full body armor is justifiable.
A bit further down a water flow tower links the canal to the long downhill penstock as accessed from the Riders of Rohan trail in the Bow Valley above Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Grand mountain views across the Bow Valley from here.
To hike the descent of Riders of Rohan trail from the dam at Whiteman's Pond at the crest of Canmore Hill in Whiteman's Gap, the correct approach is along the TOP of the dam. Offshoots from trail above Grassi Lakes and trails along lower tiers at the dam lead nowhere. It is important to stay on the top of the dam and hike to the fenced canal with the cylindrical tower beneath.
Looking back to the trail link from the dam to the descent of Riders of Rohan trail in the Bow Valley above Canmore, Alberta, Canada. There it is. Between the pole and the fence. Enjoy the incredible view from this plateau.
A view across the valley to the East End of Rundle (EEOR) with the Smith-Dorrien trail (Hwy 742) and the top of the Grassi Lakes climbing walls in the middle foreground from the top of the Whitemans Pond dam in the Bow Valley above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
The Riders of Rohan trail extension continues south along the west side base of Ha Ling Peak above wonderful views of Whitemans Pond. Trail quality improves substantially but after a short distance a backtrack to the trail intersection begins the descent to Grassi Lakes.
On approach to Grassi Lakes, people are assisted who have been misled by confusing signage on the transition from peace and quiet to frantic pandemonium. A small, sawn-log bridge with a handrail traverses the outflow from Grassi Lakes to tumbling waterfalls. Nearby a still-water, picturesque pond deserves a moment of reflection on initially graceful descent.
The difficult part of the route is a very steep descent (or ascent) on wet and uneven rock steps. There are throngs of people making their way cautiously up and down the short, challenging component. The reward is magnificent views over the power station, the Rundle Canal and surrounding mountains of the Bow Valley Corridor.
The trail returns to excellent quality, flattens out and widens on the final stretch to the car at Grassi Lakes parking. Distance from Grassi Lakes to parking, on the difficult option, is about 1. 5 KM (1 mile).
The number of cars has increased substantially since hike beginning. Total distance of the Riders of Rohan loop hike beginning from Grassi Lakes parking is only about 5 KM (3.1 miles) with the benefit of a good workout and phenomenal scenery. Best done on a weekday in shoulder seasons.
The Riders of Rohan trail claims historic roots. From the 'Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, 4th Edition, Volume 3', the present day Riders of Rohan trail was an Indian trail connecting the mountains to the prairies through Whiteman's Gap between Ha Ling Peak (Chinaman's Peak) and Mount Rundle. Early European travelers began using the trail in the early 1840s on this route which became known as the Oregon Trail (not to be confused with the U.S. version). A portion of the original south component from Whitemans Gap is forever buried beneath Whitemans Pond.