CMC Valley is tucked behind Yamnuska in the Bow Valley Corridor west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The picturesque valley wedged between the dramatic, south-facing cliffs of Wendell Mountain and the north face of Yamnuska (Mount Harvie) is accessed by the familiar and popular trails used for Raven's End and the Yamnuska Traverse.
Best to start early. Parking can be competitive, east of the Hwy 1X/1A intersection from the TransCanada Highway, and west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This is also a heavily populated rock climbing area as well as an easily accessible hiking destination.
Initial trail from the trail-head kiosk is civilized and ramps left on progressive incline to bypass a cliff band topped by a four-way junction. Yamnuska hikers go right (east). Climbers forge straight ahead (north) (Rock helmets are mandatory beneath the south face). No idea what lurks left (west), but there is time to investigate.
The trail heading predominantly west trends down and tracks the top of the rock band over outstanding views of the Yamnuska Natural Area. At one open location, anchors in the rock service short rock climbs on the shallow cliff band below. The trail gradually descends towards the quarry but time restraints and specific goals will require further route investigation another day. Retreat to the trail junction begins the familiar ascent east, first on relatively flat trail with dips until ascent begins along the right side of a drainage. Scenic side trails are best left for the return hike.
The ascent beside the drainage swings right through forest along the top of one cliff band, and beneath another, to a prominent natural lookout with sweeping vistas across the Bow Valley and Morley Plains created by glacier retreat through the east front range of the Rocky Mountains.
Mist in the warming day creates ethereal images and a moose is bottom feeding in one of many small, spring-fed, kettle lakes in the Yamnuska Natural Area below. Above and behind, Raven's End rises dramatically above forest. The correct trail proceeds straight ahead at the lookout into forest and to the rock arrow marking the left turn back towards Raven's End.
Initially, flat forest trail leads to a short rocky section which climbs more aggressively to the top of the ridge. A short distance further is a large evergreen tree with two signs in the middle. Both signs direct a right turn at the trail junction for the CMC Trail which will drop down into the valley.
CMC is an acronym for 'Calgary Mountain Club' which remains active today as a less formal group of serious climbers who meet weekly in downtown Calgary. Check their website. Many years ago, a legendary cabin and meeting place, now long gone, was maintained in CMC Valley near the creek at valley bottom between Yamnuska and the dramatic buttresses of Wendell Mountain.
The initial descent, on relatively linear drop into CMC Valley, is evenly graded and more civilized than expected. The grade increases near the bottom of the valley but never exceeds easily manageable in appropriate footwear.
Good trail is initially flat to a scenic lookout towards Wendell Mountain, Association Peak, End Mountain and accompanying peaks in the Ghost. New pine cones are forming. Initially, the trail begins gentle descent through typical forest then continues with variable pitch, past, over or around the occasional trail obstacle, through a spectacular mossy region to a bottom section where drainage has deepened the furrow and created a rocky base. Near the bottom, trail disappears into wetland and care may be required to avoid stepping on small frogs scurrying to get out of the way. The trail leads quickly to a four way junction.
Straight ahead drops to the visually and audibly evident creek at valley bottom. A turn left leads to another drop into the valley bottom where the preferred creek crossing is adjacent to a more formal rest, lunch and/or camping spot. There is excessive trail braiding in the area from copious traffic over many years. An intuitive approach is helpful. Those who wish to continue west out of the forest and into the open meadow must cross the creek and continue west along trail on the north side.
This first foray into CMC Valley will be content on this day to explore and familiarize myself with the multiple trail options on the south side of the creek. The valley and approach to Wendell Mountain will be left for another day.
Past explorers have left an assortment of fire pits and intriguing structures along the creek. On lateral trail above, there are old, overgrown hunting blinds which were abandoned and destroyed long ago. There are powerful sights, sounds and odors along creek side within this sensory extravaganza with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. June 2013 flood damage is palpable and several landslides have permanently altered routes and created new opportunities.
Many informal camping sites have hosted past visitors to the creek.
The return climb to the top of the ridge is the reverse of original access. Sun, filtering through forest canopy, creates magical images of shadow and light, particularly through the section of trees rooted into vast expanses of moss carpet.
Back at the top of the ridge near Raven's End on the northeast corner of Yamnuska (Mount Harvie), the retreat is a reverse of access with spectacular, long range views over the Yamnuska Natural Area towards the front range of the Rocky Mountains.
The trail is crowded with hikers who prefer a later start in the day. The less crowded early morning ascent works better when cool air buffers body heat generated by the more vigorous ascent. The commune with nature becomes a more ethereal and personal experience. To each their own.
Today's hike has been more of a reconnaissance mission to investigate lay of the land for subsequent hiking with further incursion into the valley for the opportunity to get up close and personal with the dramatic buttresses of Wendell Mountain or perhaps even traverse the circuitous route past the south face of Yamnuska. There are many hiking opportunities here.
Today's maximum elevation is a modest 1,753 m (5,750 ft) with net elevation gain of 545 m (1,788 ft) and loss into CMC Valley of about 170 m (557 ft) for gross elevation differential in the range of 715 m (2,346 ft) disregarding fascinating exploration in the valley bottom.