I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.
We woke up that morning finally deciding to tackle Rundle, as weather had been an issue before. With the previous day’s adventures in Yoho under our belt, we felt confident to make the ascent up this peak.
One of our goals during this trip was to summit a peak, so Rundle it was.
We set out as early as we could, accompanied by our new friend Lukas, knowing that it would be a long day. Starting at the Banff Springs Hotel, we made our way around the golf course until we eventually reached a junction leading us to our goal. So began the first and extremely long part of the hike which took us through deep forest and omnipresent elevation gain for a seemingly never-ending amount of time.
The initial turn into the forest quickly steepened and with the sun rising higher it became quite the workout. I remember sweating profusely, not even half an hour into the hike, and thinking ‘man, we’ve got another 6 hours or so to go’. To be precise, this hike takes you through 6.5km of nearly 900m elevation gain to the summit. Yup, definitely not in Gatineau Park anymore.
We eventually came across what seemed like an infinite amount of switch backs. They just went on and on. As they finally came to an end our spirits were lifted, as we followed the straight away that took us to the first forested ravine.
Continuing to make our way horizontally we approached the large central gully as it began to rain lightly, which then turned to snow. This was the view that greeted us upon reaching the clearing.
Naturally, one may feel inclined to skip the forest and make their way up the scramble, but everything we had read specifically warned against climbing up the gully (several people have actually been killed here, yikes). Taking some time to admire the views, we stopped for food and water as we pondered our next move.
It’s difficult to gauge from the photo, but the view upwards was daunting and actually almost dissuaded us from pressing on. We hadn’t anticipated THAT much snow and we were worried about the conditions once we made it above tree line. Focusing on the present, we decided that we would cross that bridge once we got there, so across the gully we went, and on into one of the most physically strenuous things I’ve ever done.
But first, a selfie with the gully.
Oh and Lukas looking like a boss, cause he killed this hike (in Nike’s and jeans no less!)
The Forested Ridge
Man, this next part was killer. It essentially marked the beginning of the scrambling portion and the end of the well marked path. We basically had to make our own path aided by occasional markers tied to trees. The snow made things very slippery as well, but it also helped tremendously in that there were fresh foot and dog prints which we followed. For what seemed like an eternity we basically swung ourselves from tree to tree as we made our way up. I kid you not. It was tough but actually really cool. It was just that steep.
This portion seemed to take hours, with no end in sight. The higher we got, the snowier it became and my body began to feel it. Breaks were much needed and frequent, ensuring that we faced the valley below us, so as to not gaze at the never ending forest above.
Looking above us only served to demoralize, as we seemed to be nowhere near tree line. At one point we reached a ridge where the trees began to dissipate, during which I naively blurted out that we were almost there. Yeah, nope. Up and on it went. There were times where I just wanted to give in, legs heavy and lungs panting. In many ways it reminded me of my xc and track races.
Not wanting to give in, we carried on, spirits lifting higher the further we got.
Four hours after starting we FINALLY made it above tree line, and it was amazing.
Our perseverance was rewarded with fantastic views which I will never forget. Eventually Lukas took a well deserved break and sat alone for a while as Steph and I continued towards the fabled Dragon’s Back.
I had read up quite a bit on Dragon’s Back and, while not afraid of heights, was definitely a bit intimidated during this portion. The ridge narrowed quite a bit, with two steep drop offs into the gullies on either side. It truly was exhilarating!
I didn’t venture much further beyond Dragon’s Back as the weather quickly took a turn for the worse.
We obviously wanted to reach the summit but with the storm clouds rolling in (literally surrounding us) we deemed it best to make our way down. A group of experienced scramblers from Edmonton had suggested we not venture up to the summit. Good call.
Crab walking my way back down Dragon’s Back was slightly terrifying, as I implored myself not to look at the sides, focusing my gaze instead on the centre of the ridge. Having that element of danger present definitely made this hike even better as it was something I had never experienced before.
We reunited with Lukas and spent a fair amount of time taking it all in before descending.
Four and a half hours from when we began, we set off on the return journey. Much care was taken with the snow and mud that was present.
For as sure footed as I’d like to think I am, I actually took a bad fall at the central gully of all places. Initially I was afraid that I had broken something as I couldn’t entirely feel or move my arm, but that thankfully cleared up during the subsequent hours. Several kilometres and some elk sightings later we were done. We had done it. The craziest hike I’d ever done.
From that point onwards, whenever we looked towards Rundle, the three of us marvelled at the fact that our own feet had gotten us up there, nearly 9000ft in elevation. A very humbling experience.
Since then I’ve told myself that whenever I’m back in Banff, I’ll be standing on that summit.