9 am. I'm driving along the Trans Canada highway heading to Kananaskis Country. I look in the rearview mirror and see rolling prairie hills; I've definitely left Calgary behind. A few cars pass, some with mountain bikes and I wonder what trail they'll be riding today.I look at the clock again. We're about 30 minutes from the trailhead. I crest Scott Lake Hill and descend down and around the bend. The front range of the rockies appear and a familiar sentinel greets me. Hello, Mt. Yumnuska.
Friend: Hey, have you hiked that mountain?
Friend: Ya, Yumnuska. Is it good hike?
Me: Yes! Love it!
I first hiked Mt. Yumnuska 3 years ago and it has certainly left a lasting impression and a desire to return, again. So what makes Mt. Yumnuska so popular with locals? There is adventure for climbers and hikers alike.
Climbing? Yumnuska offers about 130 sport climbing routes on its West face with multi-pitches of varying degrees of difficulty. The west face is where it's at for climbing. If you are climbing follow the climber's trail on the west face. From the parking lot the trail traverses and moderately climbs the west face to the scree. Scramble up the scree to the wall and climb on!
Hiking? The hike can be done as an in-out hike or a loop hike. For this 10 km hike to the summit the rewards are immediate - views for miles and varying degrees of challenges for the novice to expert hiker. From the parking lot the trail winds its way up the west side. There are various rest stops with stunning views of the valley below. If you look close enough you can spot down Calgary. The trail to the backside is a moderate 5 km. The first of 3 challenges begin at the backside and what rates this hike as difficult. If steep drops, scrambling, route finding, and scree are not your idea of fun then the backside is not for you! Skip to the end.
The backside offers 3 challenges to reach the summit. Put your hiking poles away and use your hands!
Challenge 1: Chimney area. There is some easy scrambling and easy to climb through rock crevices. Once you get through these couple of scrambles follow the trail up to the next challenge. Stop at the first summit for some stunning views!
Challenge 2: Chains. This is a small 10-12 m section of the trail where you have to traverse the wall by holding onto a chain. When I first researched this hike the pictures of people crossing the chains looked cool, but once I was on it a few expletives echoed across the backside (sorry, no pics of me looking visibly worried). There is no real trail cut on this section - it is you, the chain, and inches of cliff wall becoming one with each other. Seriously, I don't know how people get their dog across this part of the trail. After the chains there is a moderate hike to the summit.
FRONT SIDE: COMPLETING THE LOOP
Challenge 3: Scree Slopes. At the summit have lunch, enjoy the view, cheer on the climbers, and prepare yourself for the descent down the south and west (front side) scree slopes. Scree is not for everyone. The slopes are steep. Walk it, scree surf it, scree ski it - how you decide to scree down take care. I've heard of accidents on this part of the mountain and injured hikers have had to be heli rescued. After successfully navigating the scree the climber trail awaits you and it's a nice easy 15-20 minutes back to the parking lot. If scree is not your thing then go back the way you came.
The route I described is the more common and popular way to hike the loop around Mt. Yumnuska. Some hikers choose to take the opposite way by following the climber trail up the scree to the backside. My advice - stay the course and go the popular way up. Hiking up scree is energy draining. Save your energy and your wits for the challenges on the back. We saw some hikers going up the west face and they looked exhausted and frustrated. I'm sure the heat of the day had something to do with it too.
If you're seeking a day hike that offers close proximity to Calgary, easy to moderate to challenging adventure, and stunning views then definitely give
Mt. Yumnuska a try! It certainly rates as one of my favourite day hikes and one I will hike again and again!
(This post was first published Oct 2015 on my facebook page and has been updated with new beta and pictures.)