Sulphur Mountain is a hike above the Town of Banff in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
In the Town of Banff weather is cool under light rain. The Visitor Information Center, which was under renovation and temporarily relocated to historic Canada Place at the Sulphur Mountain end of Banff Avenue, is back in business along the main street as usual.
After a check of trail conditions, the decision to hike to the summit of Sulphur Mountain is confirmed. The ascent of this popular and easily-accessible mountain is always a good season opener on an even grade climb of 697 m (2,286 vertical feet) over 5.5 KM (3⅝ miles) one way with 29 switchbacks on excellent, wide trail.
Avalanche warnings are posted at the trail-head (5, 200 ft elevation at Banff Hot Springs). On the hike ascent there is evidence of a half-dozen old and small avalanches along the route but path over them is well established. Weather patterns this year have made avalanche conditions hazardous. Risk today is very low to non-existent.
Wide trail at the bottom is icy and requires hiking crampons for stability. The trail narrows as elevation increases on switchbacks beneath the cable-car line carrying tourists back and forth from the bottom. There is waving of hands. Snow deepens to about 4 feet at the 7,500 ft summit.
Along the route, light rain diminishes and sun struggles to break through cloud cover. Summit arrival is in a snowstorm. Fresh air is abundant.
Home-made lunch is excellent in the warm and sheltered cafeteria. Snowfall is heavy outside. Horizontal visibility is very limited but there is visibility down the mountain so it is snowing on top and raining below.
The decision is to wait at the top an indeterminate time for the storm to pass and get spectacular photos of surrounding mountains, including Mount Rundle directly across the valley, or head back down to spend some time soaking in Banff Hot Springs. Easy call.
On the way down the snow stops about 15 minutes into the descent. The photos can be taken another day. Two fine feathered friends adopt me and we fly down the first half of the mountain together, making very good time. If crackers or seed were available the friendly birds would likely perch on my hand to feed from my palm.
Banff Hot Springs is crowded and the water warm at 39 degrees C. Mountain underground seeps are dry so heated municipal water feeds the pool. Forty-five minutes is enough before heading back to Calgary.