The trail-head for Cascade Amphitheater begins at Mount Norquay Ski Village in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
This mission is advance reconnaissance for a hike/scramble to the 2,998 m (9,836 ft) summit of Cascade Mountain scheduled for the first week of August.
Inside the Banff National Park entrance, the mountain looms ahead. The second exit to the Town of Banff ascends to the Mount Norquay Ski Village where the 8 KM (5 mile) hike begins past the lodge in drizzle on a downward sloping road to the trail-head on the right.
Light rain is replaced by warm sun on the kilometer (⅝ mile) of descent to powerful Forty-Mile Creek. A bridge across the creek begins the aggressive ascent on switch-backs.
At a Y intersection, trail to Elk Lake heads left and right leads to the Cascade Amphitheater. The climb continues relentlessly on root-laden trail through heavy forest.
The hike over the top of the ridge occurs following extended ascent for the initial view of the spectacular Amphitheater, bathed in sunlight across a sub-alpine meadow.
The route continues along the ridge trail, through the meadow, and well back into the massive rock fall.
About 1.5 Kms (⅞ miles) into the talus, a sheltered area provides a cozy spot to enjoy lunch with my new friend 'Squirrel' who has scurried over to become an instant companion.
The day is sunny and pleasant with a slight mountain breeze and clear skies overhead. A half hour later there is a drop of rain. Within moments, dark clouds roll over the top of the mountain and displace clear, blue sky. The temperature quickly plummets by 15 degrees C.
From a position well above 2,438 m (8,000 ft), when heavy weather arrives at higher altitude, the event can be characteristically sudden and violent. Buddy 'Squirrel', has already anticipated the sudden apocalypse and scurried to shelter. As quickly as possible, kits are packed up in preparation for rapid retreat from the exposed area of talus.
A dash across the challenging talus and the meadow to forested shelter more than a kilometer away must be completed rapidly. Hopping on and over rocks, the shortest route is a straight line dash to cover in a grove of evergreen trees about a kilometer distant.
Horizontal, high-speed snow occurs near the beginning of the mad dash from the rock fall to reach the edge of the meadow. For the next kilometer a robust sprint and leaping over pools of water is required on the run across the meadow. The storm attacks with ferocity and horizontal snow is driven into whiteout by 80 KM/Hr winds that are fortunately pushing towards the objective. Oh, look , there are some pretty flowers.
These impromptu high-speed jaunts are great fun. As the race is completed into the forest for shelter, there is a justifiable and well-earned celebratory yell. Quickly layering into a toque, gloves, and a warm layer begins the wait for inclement weather to change.
Within a few minutes the storm passes because such is often the way of mountain weather. When the weather is unpleasant, just wait a few minutes. The access trail to the beginning of the summit ascent is nearby. There is an immediate opportunity to hike to the top of the ridge and check route conditions.
In less than 20 minutes the sky clears, the sun comes out and layering down to shorts and a T-shirt becomes necessary. In the mountains this is a typical four season day. The ridge views are spectacular but today's effort will continue only a short way towards the summit so the main experience can be shared with my son.
The return hike off Cascade Mountain is via the same route taken and followed by a drive into the Town of Banff. Within the hour, while soaking in the Banff Upper Hot Springs, another isolated snow storm invades nearby Mount Rundle and the top 3,000 feet of the mountain disappears for 20 minutes before clear skies return. The warm water in the hot spring stays sunny throughout.
Such is the nature of mountains.
The drive home passes through isolated thunderstorms and into beautiful rainbows over Calgary, Alberta, Canada.