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Yamnuska Mountain Hike or Scramble

Yamnuska Mountain Hike or Scramble


Yamnuska Mountain Hike

Yamnuska comes from the Stoney Indian word “Yamnathka” which loosely translates to “flat faced mountain.” The trail itself is a 11KM circular loop hike with an elevation gain of 855 Feet.  We recommend climbing this mountain counter-clockwise (taking the path to the right) in good weather conditions.  This is so you will not have to climb up the huge scree slopes.  In addition to that, on the way down; it gives you a chance to have a little fun scree surfing! This was a challenging and memorable hike.

Yamnuska Mountain

Our adventure began by driving West from Calgary on the Trans Canada Hwy for about 45 mins to the Bow Valley Provincial Park.  Yamnuska is a very recognizable mountain and one of the first ones you will encounter while driving  into Canadian Rockies towards Banff. (right side of Hwy 1)   As one of the gals in our hiking group said,  Yamnuska looks like the back of an ancient dinosaur.   This beautiful mountain boasts a wide cliff face, with a 500 foot (152m) vertical-drop that local rock climbers use to hone their skills.

Path up Yamnuska

Lee, one of the fellas in our group, had completed this hike 4 times before and was happy to point us in the right direction. We left the Yamnuska parking lot and followed the well-worn path for about ½ KM, where we encountered a sign that said Hikers to the right and Climbers to the left.  Lee suggested that we take the trail leading to the right as he explained the path to the left would be a grueling climb up a number of large scree slopes.

Rock outcropping

Choosing the path that would send us counter clockwise, the trail meandered through a lush spruce forest speckled with aspen trees. This trail is a steady continuous climb with many switch backs.  Half way through the switch backs we were lucky enough to spot a brown bear scrabbling across our path to a quieter section of the mountain. We double checked we had our bear spray in close proximity and proceed on our quest.

Eventually the trail broke out of the trees and we found ourselves faced with a large rocky section that looked like there was nowhere left to go.  Lee pointed out the spray-painted dots indicating the trail we would need to follow in order to traverse the boulders blocking our assent. We squeezed and pulled ourselves through this sections to find a winding path across a small scree slope on the other side.

Rock wall on Yamnuska

Top of the rock wall Yamnuska hike

At the mid-way point we came to what is referred to as the ‘false summit’ of Yamnuska.  From here we could peer down the sheer cliff face and look for rock climbers slowly making their way up the wall. We stopped to grab a quick bite to eat and watch the numerous other hikers continue upwards towards the summit.

False summit on Yamnuska

Yamnuska is a very popular hike, due to its close proximity to Calgary, AB.  We seen all types of outdoor enthusiasts including one fellow who did this hike in a pair of flip-flops (Not recommended by the way.)  It should be noted that Yamnuska is not for the faint of heart.  It is classed as a scramble for a reason.

Top of Yamnuska Hike

Scrambling is an ambiguous term that means walking up steep terrain using your hand and your feet; and usually has a “non-technical” summit as the destination.  Having that said there is still quite a bit of risk involved in scrabbling.  Climbers can encounter everything from falling rocks, negotiating a knife edge, to an unexpected cascade of loose rocks from a hiker farther up the hill than you.   Many scramble routes have a spot called the ”bad step.”  This is where a scramble suddenly becomes much more serious.

Yamnuska Chains with 150 foot drop

Mount Yamnuska’s Chains

On Yamnuska you will eventually reach one of these “bad steps” at a narrow little ledge about 115 feet long (35m).  The ledge has a chain bolted to the face of a very steep rock wall. When I first seen the path I was sure I was not going to make it.  It was required that I point my back to a 150 foot (46m) drop and edge out onto the almost not existent ledge. The narrow ledge at my feet felt like it was only wide enough to fit my tippy-toes on. (I am looking down Shrek!)  Then at about the halfway point of this sketchy spot,  the nifty little ledge disappears and you are required to swing yourself around a corner, holding on for dear life to the casually swing chain & grope around with the tip of your boot to find the next foot hold.

Doing the chains on Yamnuska Hike

This section of the climb demands a bit of bravery and nerves of steel.  After making it across the chain section I watched many people became ‘stuck’; being afraid to move along the ledge.  Because Lee had done this hike so many times before, he thought to bring along a climbing belt with two carabiners attached to it, just in case one of our hiking group became frozen on the ledge.

Yamnuska Chains

This was the toughest section of our hike.  Even after we crossed the chains with its tiny little ledge we still needed to descend a steep section of rocks in order to continue our climb to the summit. From here it is a steep continual scramble all the way to the top.

Climbing down chains on Yamnuska mountain

The view from the summit is spectacular.  I suggested to my group that we should do this hike again in Fall just to see the Bow River Valley below us decorated in the beautiful yellow colors of the season.  It is well worth the climb.

View from the top of Yamnuska mountain

Remember, this is a circular hike.  We had reached the summit and now it was time to  work out way down Yamnuska. As it turned out the fastest route down was straight down the backside of the mountain; through a grouping of large steep scree slopes.

Scree surfing on Yamnuska

Scree surfing simply means running (heels down) or hopping down a pile of loose rock scree  As you run downhill the scree surrounds your ankles and calfs; making it feel like your are running on a strange billowy mattress. I would say the movement is like running through a bouncy castle or trying to crush grapes in a barrel.

We descended rather quickly to awaiting path that wraps around the front of the mountain. (in front of the 500 ft climbing wall) Once you are in front of the steep cliff wall that is Yamnuska, you have one more scree surf to the tree line below.  Then follow the well-worn path back to the parking lot.

Scree surfing on Yamnuska

A couple of side notes:  Caution should be taken.  This hike is classified as a Scramble.  While scrambling there is a high level of danger with regards to loose and falling rocks.  You can become injured or even killed while scrambling.  It is not suggested to do this hike in wet or snowy conditions.  Know your limitations. Be prepared in case of emergency (first aid kit, cell phone, knowledge of the area)  Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. (Just in case)

Yamnuska Trail Head

Also check out a few hikes close by:

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View of Moraine lakes deep blue colour from the rock pile

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