There are hikes which transcend normal appreciation of spectacular wilderness.
This hike on Mount Rundle will experience an amazing and profound wildlife encounter.
This solo ascent of Mount Rundle, is the end of a year-long spiritual mission for a friend.
A year earlier this rigorous hike placed a laminated photo in a cairn at the 9,674 ft. (2,949 m) true summit of Mount Rundle in memory of a special woman who lost her physical presence to cancer. On this day a solo attempt will be made to retrieve that photo.
Following an early drive west on the TransCanada Highway from Calgary, Alberta, Canada into Banff National Park, under the golden glow of rising sun on Mount Rundle, arrival at the parking area adjacent to the Banff Springs Golf Course just beyond Bow Falls is ahead of the crowds.
Beginning elevation is 4,400 ft (1,341 m). The temperature is a comfortable 14° C (57° F). At 7:15 AM the hike begins in sandals to keep feet comfortable on excellent trail past the Banff Springs Hotel Golf Course.
The route begins on Spray Lake trail, left on a fire road, then after 2.5 KM (1⅝ miles), left onto the Mount Rundle trail with 5,200 vertical ft. (1,585 m) gain required to achieve the summit.
At 8:06 AM the first small gully is crossed. At 8:09 AM arrival at, the beginning of a dozen switchbacks gains elevation rapidly with amazing views of the Town of Banff and Sulphur Mountain in the sun.
At 8:38 AM the 2nd small gully is crossed and at 8:43 the 3rd small gully is crossed. This hike is enjoying excellent progress, feeling good, and the temperature, at 8° C (46.4° F), is perfect for the ascent effort. At 8:51 AM arrival at the huge Central Gully earns a 10 minute rest stop prior to beginning the steep and relentless climb above the east side of the central gully.
The steep trail on the edge of the Central Gully is challenging with lots of tree roots and loose rock. The 7,800 ft. (2,377 m) tree line is achieved but sandals stay on past the tree line until 9,000 ft. (2,743 m) before change into leather boots is required for safety due to steep navigation in scree.
The lower scree is a mixture of everything from sand to gravel to small rock that can compromise secure footing with bedrock underneath. Temperature has dropped to a comfortable 5° C (41° F). A breeze is building and the sky is becoming overcast.
A new scramble route on the ridge passes a weather monitoring station but the route provides no safe way to make the traverse to the true summit. A retreat is required and the 2nd attempt is successful on the traditional route.
It is surprising to be alone on the mountain. There is not a soul in sight in any direction but the anonymity is peaceful and appropriately reverent. A 30 KM/HR (18¾ mph) breeze is building. At 11:55 AM, arrival at the summit is achieved. There is a significant wind chill so layering up and donning toque and gloves becomes sensible.
The laminated picture is no longer there. There was a small hope but no expectation the photo would still be there a year later. The cairn was dismantled perhaps by people or more likely by harsh weather.
At 12:30 PM a short scramble to a sheltered rock cove is conducted to get some relief from the wind for a quick lunch. The sky is clearing. Mount Assiniboine, about 30 KM (19 miles) in the distance, is a gauge for change in cloud height and direction, warning of potentially bad weather. Up high, heavy weather can move in fast and furious but there are no problems this day.
At 12:55 PM the descent begins. A few photos looking back at the summit are captured prior to proceeding onto the approach to the Dragon Back. About half way down the slender spine of rock between two steep canyons (central gully on the right) a sole mountain goat stands about 200 yards ahead. I wonder.
The mountain goat continues to graze on sparse vegetation. The beautiful animal seems oblivious to my presence so a carefully composed photo is taken from about 20 m (67 ft) away with the belief this will be the last opportunity before the goat disappears over the ridge.
The cautious approach continues slowly until the wait begins while sitting on a rock perhaps only 20 feet (7.3 m) from this magnificent wild animal. Talking softly, I explain why I am on the mountain and make idle conversation. The goat seems to be listening carefully. Walking between a mountain goat and the edge of a steep precipice is not recommended.
About 10 minutes later, this beautiful animal leaves the Dragon Back for the Central Gully ending one of my best personal encounters with a wild animal ever experienced. The descent continues across the narrow Dragon Back.
At 6:50 PM the return drive to Calgary has been completed. Mission accomplished. The Mount Rundle solo adventure has been a long and arduous, but absolutely magnificent and mystical day.