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The Demanding Yamnuska Hike Is Full Of Surprises

The Demanding Yamnuska Hike is Full of Surprises

Mount Yamnuska has stared me in the face for long enough. I decided this past weekend that it was time to stand on its airy summit. But little did I know what I was in for. This demanding Yamnuska hike is full of surprises.

Mount Yamnuska from afar

Yamnuska is easily visible from the Trans-Canada on the way to Banff National Park

You can’t miss Yamnuska’s impressive rock face on a drive from Calgary west towards Banff National Park, especially when it’s bathed in the light from the golden hour. It’s the first major mass of rock you see. And it is just 45 minutes from the western outskirts of Calgary. The mountain is famous in climbing circles for its multitude of routes including Blue Jeans Direct – the hardest climbing route on the wall with an impressive 5.14 rating.

The 3 areas that can be a problem on the Yamnuska Hike 

Most people hike to the summit rather than climb but go prepared for some scrambling – and exposure. This is not a hike for novices or young families though both can enjoy the lower elevations of the mountain.

The 11 kilometre hike gains 900 metres (2,953 feet). Except for a few short sections, the hike is almost always going up – and very steeply at times. There are three areas that can give hikers a problem.

The first is the chimney reached after a solid hour of hiking. It’s not that difficult but it does require a few moves and a bit of muscling to make it through the narrow gap. Then there’s a mix of trail covered in scree and rock ledges to reach the real crux of the hike – a narrow exposed ledge with a bulge. It’s made safer with chains bolted into the rock.

Many people turn back at the chains because of the exposure. Some people bring a harness and a few carabiners and clip in while others – like myself – move forward with concentration. The section is short – perhaps 50 feet long in total, and the drop-off isn’t big but it’s enough to be unsettling. To get through it, hold onto the chains tightly and move your feet from toe hold to toe hold. It’s entirely doable but it can be nerve-wracking for many people.

The summit is reportedly only 300 metres from the chains, but it feels much longer. A few airy steps and some more climbing will have you on top 2.5 – 3 hours from leaving the parking lot. I think the worst part through here is the possibility of rockfall, and I can see the value in a helmet. One girl dislodged a medium sized rock near my husband – and a collective “ROCK” rang out, though you really don’t have much time to react.

The summit isn’t big. On a sunny weekend for a good part of the year you will be sharing it with a dozen or more hikers, and even the occasional dog. From the top you can see the initial route down through the scree – the third of what is considered to be a problem on the hike. It’s actually quite fun – if you stick to the main route. Head through the thick scree – not the pebble sized stuff that will roll your ankle in a second’s break of concentration.

Clematis can be seen at lower elevations

Clematis can be seen at lower elevations

The first of three obstacles on Yamnuska - a chimney you must climb through

The first of three obstacles – a chimney you must climb through

The view on the other side of the chimney

The view on the other side of the chimney

 Mount Yamnuska is a busy place on the first day of May

Yamnuska is a busy place on the first day of May

The Demanding Hike up Yamnuska is Full of Surprises

You come up through the gap – which is less difficult that the photo suggests

A line-up for the chain section on Mt Yamnuska

A line-up for the chain section

Me in the chain section on Mt Yamnuska - paying careful attention to foot placement

Me in the chain section – paying careful attention to foot placement

The Demanding Hike up Yamnuska is Full of Surprises

A view of the chain section – it’s short but it needs your full attention

 Expansive and airy views from the top of Mt Yamnuska

Expansive and airy views from the top

John starting down on the scree slopes

John starting down on the scree slopes – running shoes are not advised

Small pebbles are like ball bearings underfoot

Small pebbles are like ball bearings underfoot

More than 130 climbing routes on Mt Yamnuska of varying lengths and grades

More than 130 climbing routes on Mt Yamnuska of varying lengths and grades

A lot of concentration is required on the scree so you don't fall and twist and ankle

A lot of concentration is required on the scree so you don’t fall & twist and ankle

The descent feels long and hot (bring two litres of water on this hike) but parts of it are a whole lot of fun – especially the final big descent down the scree field you can see from the highway. John and I have both said we’ll never look at the mountain in the same way now that we’ve been down that slope.

Crossing the scree slopes beneath the summit of Yamnuska

Crossing the scree slopes beneath the summit of Yamnuska

 Looking down the scree slope - this is the fun part of the hike

Looking down the scree slope – this is the fun part of the hike

I always find the last kilometre at the end of a hot day the most tedious. Although it felt good to be back on an easier trail with some shade, all I wanted was a cold drink and a pair of scandals by day’s end.

The Demanding Hike up Yamnuska is Full of Surprises

It’s a treat to be back in the woods

What should you bring for the Yamnuska hike?

  • Real hiking boots as opposed to running shoes with no tread are highly recommended.
  • Gaiters would be good in the scree.
  • Mountain weather can change quickly so always carry extra clothes and rain gear, even on a hot sunny day.
  • Water – a minimum of two litres per person. If you take your dog bring lots for them as well.
  • A helmet and harness would be optional. Helmets are less of an issue on weekdays when there are fewer people hiking.

Read: The 10 Hiking Essentials Everyone Should Carry

Getting to the Mount Yamnuska Trailhead

Drive the Trans-Canada Highway west to Exit 114 signed to Seebee. Head north on 1X to Highway 1A. Turn right (east) and follow the road about 2 kilometres to the parking lot on the north side of the highway. It is signed “Yamnuska.”

The Yamnuska hike is more challenging than many – but it’s also fun as it offers a variety of hiking experiences. Before you go, ask yourself how you do with exposure.

The Demanding Hike up Yamnuska is Full of Surprises

Leigh McAdam

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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