Wednesday, June 27, 2018

First Summits - Mount Yamnuska Family Scramble (to the very top!)

I had to add "to the very top" to the title because I wrote another "first summits story" for Yamnuska back in 2015, a trip where we had to turn around at an exposed section with chains. This time we got past the chains, made it to the summit, and got to enjoy the awesome scree run down the front side.

Yamnuska Summit, Kananaskis Country, Alberta

Introduction to Mount Yamnuska 

The ridge of Yamnuska as seen from Bow Valley Provincial Park
Mount Yamnuska is a well known mountain near Calgary that most people will recognize by sight (if not by name.) Most hikers aspire to make it to the summit of Yamnuska, everybody wanting to see the famed "chains" and to test their bravery on the short exposed traverse required before the final climb to the top.

Yamnuska is located in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Kananaskis, and is easy to find off the TransCanada Highway near the hamlet of Exshaw.

Camping can be found in the nearby Bow Valley Campground or in the Willow Rock Campground, both located in Bow Valley Provincial Park 5 minutes away from the Yamnuska Day Use Area.

Reservations are required to camp in the Bow Valley Campground (and car be hard to come by in the summer,) but Willow Rock is first come first serve if you're looking for somewhere to stay before or after your hike.

Yamnuska as seen from the Bow Valley Campground 

Stats for Mount Yamnuska 

Height gain: 900 metres

Distance: Approximately 11 km for the full circuit 

Suggested Round Trip Time: Suggested time is anywhere from 4-6 hours according to guide book writer, Alan Kane. As a family, I'd say 6+ hours would be more accurate.

Our family's Trip Time: We did the scramble with two 9 year old boys. It took us 6 hours total (4 hours up, 2 hours down) with plenty of stops and rest breaks. 

Trip rating: This is considered an easy/moderate scramble but that being said, it's an advanced hike. There is also significant exposure where you cross a cliff band using chains to assist you. A fall could be fatal here. For families, this is a fairly extreme adventure.

Resting on the initial hiking trail up Yamnuska (the mountain visible in the background)

2022 Trail Updates

As of 2022 the trail has seen some major updates, improvements, and upgrades to the trail.

Below are some of the highlights:

There are markers outlining the entire route, start to finish, now so you couldn't get lost if you tried. While this is still a challenging scramble (especially for families,) at least route finding won't be an issue.

The initial trail to Raven's End has been smoothed out a bit, widened, and generally repaired from years of heavy use. 

You'll be following markers like this the entire route from start to finish

Beyond Raven's End, the trail to the summit is the same. The only difference is that you'll now have blue markers to follow the entire time. Also, the route no longer climbs up to the skyline as soon as you climb around to the backside of the mountain. The new route stays lower, keeping hikers away from the exposed cliff face.

Should you decide to climb up to the ridge top here, please be careful of hikers below you because you are officially off route now. Also watch for climbers below you (on the cliffs) and don't knock rocks down.

There is lots of new signage on the trail to ensure hikers are prepared for their adventure! 

Signage has also been placed everywhere, and I mean everywhere, along the route to instruct and educate hikers of the possible dangers that await once leaving the end of the hiking trail at Raven's End. The sign above greets you as you arrive at the end of the official hiking trail, and before you circle to the back of the mountain to attempt the summit.

There are signs in high rockfall danger zones as well and I saw at least a couple of avalanche warning signs for those that might be doing this as a winter hike.

This sign greets you before you begin your traverse across the backside of the mountain

Finally, there is a new descent trail once you reach the West Col from the summit. The scree slope on the front side is no longer recommended. The new descent trail is actually quite lovely too and has the best grade I've ever seen for a descent trail on a scramble route. It's very comfortable and your knees will be quite happy.

Should you decide to do the scree slope on the front side, please bring helmets. Serious injury (and death) has occurred here in the past because of rock fall hazard.

The new West Col descent route (recommended way down)

The Initial Hike to Raven's End 

Turn right at the sign and follow the hiking trail
The trip starts out with a gentle hike to the base of the cliffs, a spot called Raven's End. The distance to this point is 3.5 km one way and you'll gain 520 metres.

I say "gentle" because you start on a good hiking trail. It's steep at the beginning but then the grade eases off and it becomes quite pleasant. There are good views and it's an enjoyable walk.

When my son was younger and we attempted Yamnuska the first time, he really struggled on this part because it wasn't exciting enough for him. A hiker he is not! He was only happy once we started the actual scrambling on the backside.

This time though he had a friend to chat with the whole time and it made for a much more pleasant hike. So follow our experience and bring friends for the kids. The hike will be much more enjoyable.

There are lots of gorgeous viewpoints like this on your way up to Raven's End 

Around the Backside of the Mountain and Up the Chimney 

So far, you've been hiking up the front slopes of Yamnuska below the cliff bands. You can see the cliff bands in the photo below. Once you reach the ridge top though (the treed ridge top that is, not the actual cliff ridge top) you have to make your way to the backside of the mountain.

Approaching Raven's End

From the end of the hiking trail you'll walk around the back of the mountain to your right and scramble up a short chimney. There are a few big steps but you'll always feel fairly protected with the walls around you.

And notice the painted blue square in the photo below. As of 2022 there are blue markers on sign posts too.

Scrambling up the chimney to the backside of Yamnuska 

Traversing across the backside of the mountain to the chains

You'll be following a fairly good trail as you traverse across the backside of the mountain making your way for the chains. 

Just follow the blue markers and you'll never get off route. 

Traversing along the backside of Yamnuska on scree trails 

The hiking here is relatively flat with little height gain. Just flat traversing for the most part.

Optional visit to the top of the cliffs:

Back when we did this trip as a family in 2018, the route climbed to the top of the ridge. The new route stays low as of 2022. And while I recommend following the new route, I'm keeping the description and photos in below because they were part of our original route.

If you want to visit the ridge top there is one short scrambly rock step where kids will need to use their hands a bit (and where you may need to spot younger kids.) It's short though and very blocky (lots of good hand and footholds.)

Rock step on the way up to the ridge top

Note this is not the high point of your day and you're not at the summit. You've reached the top of the ridge though and you can look down the cliffs that you were staring at from the highway.

Sitting on the ridge of Yamnuska, nothing but valley below! 

This is where my husband always gets nervous and you'll probably want to keep a careful eye on the kids (especially if you have a wife who's constantly trying to get photos as close to the edge as possible.)

This is a great spot to have lunch and to turn around if you don't think you can make the summit, you're short on time, you see a thunderstorm coming in, or you've had enough of the loose rock and scree.

When my son was 6 years old, this was his summit. We didn't reach the official summit on our first attempt.

How's this for a view?!! Yamnuska ridge top 

The Chains (Where you'll either turn around or continue on for the summit)

Continue to traverse across the mountain following the blue markers until you reach an exposed traverse along a narrow ledge with chains to hold on to.

We turned around at the chains on our first attempt of Yamnuska because we hadn't brought enough climbing gear with us to protect our son (and at age 6 we felt he should be protected with a rope.)

This time we were more prepared, still felt we needed to add our own extra protection, and were able to protect our son with some quick draws, a short length of rope, and his climbing harness. (A climber I am not so if you want more information on how we protected our son on this section please contact me and I can put you in touch with my husband to answer specific questions.)

Photos of the Chains: (Why you're reading the story after all!)

My husband leading the way across the exposed ledge with chains
Protected and not going anywhere if he falls
The kids thought the chains were awesome 
The ledge that you traverse with the chains 

And the question of the day - at what age can kids safely do this without bringing climbing gear along? 

That's your personal decision. The friends we went with decided their son could do it without a rope. And that was their personal choice. I know other friends who've done this without a rope as well, and others who've chosen to go the "cautious route" as we did.

You do whatever helps you sleep at night knowing you made the best decision for your children.

At age 9 we wouldn't let our son do this without a rope, but that was our decision to play it extra safe.

Whatever decision you make, know that there would be a significant fall here (possibly a fatal one) if something went wrong.

Very happy and in his element! 

After the flat traverse across the chains, you also have a short down climb section where  the chains continue. I find this part harder because I don't like down climbing.

I've included a couple of new photos from 2022 below that show what to expect on the entire chain section.

Crossing the exposed cliff holding onto the chains

The down climb after the chain traverse

Past the Chains and on to the Summit 

There's one tricky section after the chains (with one challenging step as shown in the photo below.) We thought about short roping our son across this section but my husband just held his hand and he was fine. (It's easier than it looks if you see people ahead of you on this section.)

The one tricky section following the chains 

Afterwards, there's a fairly loose steep section where you'll have to downclimb a mix of scree covered slabs and a rocky gully before reaching the final traverse to the summit. 

I honestly don't remember this section being too bad back in 2018 but this year, 2022, I found it nasty and extremely unpleasant. I suspect it's because the gully was snow covered and so we had to take slabs down covered in loose rock. Hopefully it's easier when dry.

Beginning the short downclimb before the final summit push 
Short downclimb before the final climb up to the summit
The end in sight! Final push up to the summit!

The Summit of Yamnuska 

It took us 4 hours, but we made it to the summit and knew that it would be a fast descent down the front scree slopes.

We stopped for snacks and photos before heading down.

Summit of Mount Yamnuska! 
My Boo and I on the Summit of Mount Yamnuska

From the Summit down to the West Col

From the summit there's a super fun scree run down to the West Col (the most amazing scree I've ever seen where each step plunges you gently down the mountain with no effort or stress to the knees.)

Descending scree from the summit down to the shoulder

2022 update: This section SUCKS. The new trail either goes higher of the good scree or else the good scree is gone. Regardless, if you follow the blue markers, you'll be descending a long loose slippery slope where every step threatens to slide your feet out from under you. I can't count the number of times I nearly fell down. 

It's endless scree covered slabs and hard dirt covered in small rocks. I had no grip at all.

The descent from the summit starts off pleasant

As of 2022 this is what much of the descent from the summit looks like

You'll reach the West Col at this point and then you have two choices:

A. Hike around to the front side aiming for the large scree slope that you can see from the highway and run down the scree. It's quick, effortless, and saves a good 40 minutes. It's also more dangerous, the scree isn't as good as it used to be, and there is significant rockfall hazard. (People have died after being hit by rocks from hikers above.)

B. Follow the new route down the West Col hiking trail. It is a lovely, gentle, relaxed trail, that takes you back to your ascent trail after passing by the cliffs on the front side. It's also a good way UP if you don't want to do the chains.

The shoulder of Yamnuska - hiking around to the front side

Scree Route:

We used the scree route back in 2018 because that was the official route. 

First of all, do not run down the first scree slope you see at the shoulder!! Keep traversing and wait until you're halfway across the cliff face before you go down. Descend too soon and you'll get cliffed out.  A very well developed "false trail" has appeared at the shoulder that gets people in trouble. You must traverse under the cliffs before descending.

Also, please bring helmets to protect yourselves from rock fall hazard on this section.

Traversing under cliffs to get to the good scree descent down the mountain

Running Down the Yamnuska Scree Slope (the fastest descent in the Rockies)

Traverse below the cliff bands until you get halfway across and start to see really long scree slopes. Pick one and descend. (best not to pick the first one you come to because it will be overused and the scree won't be as good.)

Running down the front side of Yamnuska

I'm not sure how much height you lose on the scree run, but it's a LOT. It took us 4 hours to hike up, and only 2 hours to hike down. Your knees will love this hike because you get to run down soft scree all the way to treeline far below.

Truly one of the fastest descents in the Rockies.

From the bottom of the scree run, there's a good trail leading left back towards the parking lot. You'll pass by a small waterfall and you'll be on a good hiking trail in no time.

And our boys were still running in the final 20 minutes before reaching the parking lot. Strong from start to finish.

The boys running down the front side of Yamnuska

West Col Descent Route 

There is a new descent trail once you reach the West Col from the summit. The scree slope on the front side is no longer recommended. The new descent trail is actually quite lovely too and has the best grade I've ever seen for a descent trail on a scramble route. It's very comfortable and your knees will be quite happy.

Comfortable West Col Descent Route

Recommended Gear

Dressed for success! (Helmet, bike gloves, and gaiters)
  • Helmets - you're traversing under cliffs, you're scrambling up a chimney, and you're traversing an exposed ledge. All good signs that you should be wearing helmets - even if nobody else is

  • Gaiters! You'll want them for the scree descent to keep rocks out of your boots. We put ours on at the summit.

  • Good hiking boots or shoes. This isn't exactly the kind of trail you use trail runners in unless you want the scree to tear them to shreds. 

  • Bike gloves for the descent. We swear by them when scrambling. Fall down and you won't gash your hands up.

You want your legs and hands protected before running down this slope

Recommended Prerequisite Trips and Suggested Reading 

Yamnuska is rated as an "easy" scramble but that's because there's only one exposed or difficult section (and it has chains.) Without the chains, this would be a difficult scramble (something you'd never do with kids.)

My personal opinion though, even with the chains, this is not an "easy" hike. It is a moderate scramble with hands on climbing involved, and you'll want to have reached some other solid summits first with the kids.

Yamnuska Summit Shot 

Try some of these trips below as you work your way up to Yamnuska (links go to the stories I've written:)

Climbing down from the chains on Yamnuska
Heart Mountain Family Scramble

East End of Mount Rundle Double Summit Day 

Nihahi Ridge to the South Summit 

Tent Ridge Horseshoe Hike 

5 Summit Day in Canmore (Ha Ling Peak to Miners Peak) 

Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore 

Little Lougheed, Spray Valley Provincial Park 

And for a complete list of scrambles, summits, and ridge walks my family has completed, read this story: First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies

Lower slopes on Yamnuska (a great hike!)

Buy a Guide Book! 

I encourage everybody to go buy a guide book and to study the route you want to tackle rather than just relying on blogs, trip reports, and photos from other people's climbs.

The best guide book for Yamnuska is this one by Alan Kane: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. (Amazon affiliate link.)

Parting Shot from Yamnuska

Monday, June 25, 2018

Family Adventure Bucket List for Golden, BC

Like many, my family has been guilty of using the town of Golden as a "refueling station," stopping for gas, coffee, or a quick bite to eat on our way to Revelstoke and beyond (usually heading towards the Okanagan on our summer vacation.)

Family Adventure Bucket List for Golden, BC

Golden as a Destination!

My family is well acquainted with the motels in Golden, frequently pulling into town for a night on our way out west, and I could easily list every fast food restaurant in town. Beyond that though, we'd never really thought much about spending an entire weekend in Golden. It was never a "destination" for us.

This started to change for me last summer though when I visited Golden for a guided Via Ferrata climbing tour at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Golden was actually our destination for that trip, and even though we only spent one night in town, we didn't drive any further. My girlfriend and I actually drove to Golden because we wanted to visit Golden!

Doesn't this look awesome?!! (Kicking Horse Via Ferrata)

My family recently spent a weekend in Golden and once again I was made aware that Golden is so much more than a "refueling stop," more than a quick overnight stay on the way to the coast, and much more than the highway you see driving through town.

Family hiking at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

If you aren't exactly sure where Golden is, visit the Tourism Golden website. Then check out my adventure bucket list below. I've got it on a notepad on my phone and am excited to check off one or two adventures each summer.

Family Adventure Bucket List for Golden, BC 

1. Say hi to Boo, the resident grizzly bear, at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Boo lives in the "largest enclosed and protected grizzly bear habitat in the world" and you'll get to enjoy a scenic chairlift ride to access the grizzly bear refuge at the resort. (words quoted from the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort website.)

Meet Boo in his wildlife refuge in Golden  (Photo credit: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

2. Climb to the top of Terminator Peak at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Reaching the top of Terminator Peak requires a short 1-2 hour hike that most families will enjoy. The trailhead is accessed by gondola where you'll do most of your height gain for the day.

And if you have teenagers in the family you can try the guided Via Ferrata climbing adventure

Climbing Terminator Peak on the Via Ferrata Climbing Route 

3. Try the brand new disc golf course at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Definitely one of the only lift-accessed disc golf courses in the Canadian Rockies. Ride the scenic chairlift and then play a round of disc golf as you hike back down to the bottom of the resort.

This activity makes for a great addition to the grizzly bear refuge tour since you'll be riding the same chairlift.

Note to access the course you need to purchase a Grizzly Bear Refuge ticket or Adventure Pass ticket and then ride the Catamount Chair to mid-station

Ride a chairlift up the mountain and then play disc golf as you hike back down

4. Have lunch on top of a mountain at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Ride the gondola to the top of the mountain and then enjoy a decadent lunch at the Eagle's Eye Restaurant, "Canada's most elevated dining experience." - quote from the KHMR website.

You can go for a short hike while you're there as well and marvel in the views of the Columbia Valley spread out below you.

Enjoy mountain top dining in the Eagle's Eye Restaurant at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

5. Try downhill lift-accessed mountain biking at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

This one is very high on my son's list and he's already memorized the trails he wants to ride.

Enjoy all the thrill of downhill mountain biking with none of the work climbing up the mountain first! Sounds pretty good, right? And don't worry if you aren't the most "experienced" rider because there is a good selection of trails for all abilities. The resort also rents bikes and protective gear to keep you safe.

Mountain biking at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (photo credit: Dave Best)

6. Try rafting on the Kicking Horse River

There are at least 5 different companies operating rafting tours on the wild and adventurous Kicking Horse River, so choose one that offers a tour your family would enjoy and discover why this river has been named "one of the wildest and most intense recreational waterways in Canada." (Quote from Tourism Golden)

And don't worry if you've never tried whitewater rafting before because there are many different kinds of tours available in Golden. Family float trips focus on safety and a gentle introduction to the river, some trips suitable for children as young as 4 years old.

Rafting on the Kicking Horse River (photo: Alpine Rafting)

7. Explore the Columbia River by canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard

The Columbia River gently winds its way through Golden and "is home to the largest intact wetlands in North America." (quote from Tourism Golden)

My family loves kayaking and stand up paddleboarding down this river and has done numerous day trips through the Columbia Valley as well as one overnight trip where we camped alongside the river on a beautiful little beach we found.

Family float trip down the Columbia River

8. Bike the family-friendly Rotary Trails around town

Start at the Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge downtown Golden (the longest timber-frame, covered pedestrian bridge in Canada) and hop on the family-friendly rotary trails for a leisurely ride around town with the kids. The Rotary Loop is a 7km long wide gravel pathway that circles the town. It is chariot-friendly and great for novice riders.

Along your way, stop at the town pump track and skills park located behind the Mt. 7 Rec Plex, visit the skate park next door, or stop in for a swim at the outdoor pool.

See a town map here (with the bridge located at Spirit Square.)

Note as of 2021 the pump track has been paved and now its a flowy smooth asphalt track.

The brand new asphalt pump track in Golden 

9. Explore the cross country mountain bike trails around town

Warm up with a couple family practice loops on "Bush Party," part of the Mountain Shadows Trail Network, and then move over to the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) Trails for some smooth, fast singletrack excitement off the CBT Mainline Trail. My son especially loved the "Mighty Quinn Trail."

Beyond those suggestions, stop in at a bike shop in town for more recommendations or inquire at the town visitor centre. Our go to source for trails is always the Trail Forks app - where you can look over all the bike trails in Golden

Regardless of which trails you try, make lots of noise. We saw a bear just as we were getting into our truck at one of the CBT trailheads.

Mountain biking on the CBT Trail Network in Golden

And for some fun downhill biking, try shuttling the family on Mount 7 where you might get to see paragliders take off from the launch site. My son loves the Schacher Trail which starts from the launch site and descends 1200 metres. For a pleasurable experience (without climbing the trail first) you'll need an adult who can drive down to the bottom while a second adult rides down with the kids.

This ride is rated intermediate but I would recommend it for strong youth who can handle a lot of berms and tight switchbacks. You'll have hundreds of them as you make your way down.

Park at Reflection Lake to wait for your riders at the bottom. And for the riders, when the Schacher ends, hop on Wood Lot and Premature to reach Reflection Lake. 

Standing on the launch pad on the Summit of Mount 7 above Golden

10. Take a Day Trip into Yoho National Park

My family loves Yoho National Park and there is no shortage of awesome places to visit in this park. Below are a few ideas to get you started:

Paddling on Emerald Lake 

Other Activities to Try Near Golden 

  1. Visit the Northern Lights Wolf Centre outside Golden

  2. Enjoy a restful beach day at Cedar Lake (perfect for a calm paddle, swimming, or playing in the sand)

  3. Visit the Dogtooth Indoor Climbing Gym  (Perfect for a rainy day in Golden or if you just need a break from the sun)

  4. Take a day trip to Glacier National Park (located between Golden and Revelstoke)  - and this would be the Canadian park (not to be confused with the American one by the same name.)  - Hiking trails in Glacier National Park can be found here.

  5. Take your older kids or teens on an off roading adventure 

Asulkan Valley Hiking Trail, Glacier National Park 

Where we Stayed on our Recent Trip to Golden 

We spent two nights at the Kicking Horse Kabins just outside Golden in the Blaeberry Valley. It was approximately a 20 minute drive away so we made sure that when we left our house Saturday morning, we had everything we'd need until we returned for dinner that evening.

Our accommodations in Golden, the Kicking Horse Kabins

We loved our accommodations with the highlights below:

We had a large house all to ourselves. Our cabin had three bedrooms upstairs (we only used two of them,) a comfortable living area on the main area, a very large dining room table (perfect if you're sharing the house with another family,) and a small kitchen that had everything we needed to cook our own meals.

We had a barbecue outside as well which was great for an easy dinner. We just picked up some steaks and corn in town, and that was our evening meal.

We loved the outdoor hot tub - that again, we had all to ourselves since it was a private house rental. The hot tub was located right outside the back deck and was protected by the large awning on the house, keeping us, the patio furniture, and the barbecue dry in case it rained - which it did.

Backyard with hot tub, barbecue, and private deck

We loved the farm atmosphere - There was nothing around our house except for other farms and acreages. It was very quiet and we didn't have to worry about loud neighbors partying in a hotel room beside us.

We got to listen to wolves howling at night - There's a nearby Wolf sanctuary and we got to listen to the wolves barking and howling every evening. That was probably one of the biggest highlights to staying at the Kicking Horse Kabins.

The cabin would be great with another family - With three bedrooms upstairs, and a pull out sofa, there was plenty of room for two families. It would be a great place to stay in summer or winter, and I've already got my eye on the place for a winter ski trip.

There was also a fire pit in the backyard which would have been a great way to spend the evening with friends after the kids were in bed.

Cozy living area in our cabin 

The food!!! - Owner, Karen Breedon, lives in the house behind the rental cabin (across a large field in case you're wondering about privacy, and she brought us fresh breakfast ingredients each day along with a freshly baked decadent dessert Saturday night. She would have brought us homemade pizza Friday night too but we didn't arrive in time.

Meals can be added on to all stays, and I highly recommend taking advantage of Karen's home cooking. We had freshly baked bread, muffins, cookies, and other goodies, enjoyed farm fresh eggs, bacon, and sausages, homemade buttermilk pancake mix, and condiments as necessary to enjoy our breakfasts.

The meals definitely take this lodging up a notch and set it apart from the other rental options in Golden.

Space for friends 

Thanks to Tourism Golden for sponsoring our trip to Golden and for Karen's hospitality at the Kicking Horse Kabins.