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. 

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. We could have done it faster but why rush when there are gorgeous views to enjoy.


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

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.



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? You'll be following these the entire way to the summit. (No idea who put them there but I guess they could be helpful.)

Scrambling up the chimney to the backside of Yamnuska 

Traversing to the Top of the Cliffs 


You'll be following a fairly good trail as you traverse across the backside of the mountain making your way for the ridge top. If you ever get lost (or wonder which of the many scree trails you should be on) just look for the painted blue squares. They are everywhere and always tell you if you're on the best path.

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.

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

And You've Reached the Top of the Ridge


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)


From the top of the ridge, continue to traverse across the mountain following the painted blue squares on the rock until you reach an exposed traverse with chains.

The photo below gives you a good idea of what you're traversing before you reach the chains.

A good look at what you're traversing on the backside of Yamnuska

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! 


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 one short downclimb (with some easy hands on scrambling) and then a final traverse to the summit.

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


Around the Shoulder back to the Front Side of Yamnuska


From the summit there's a super fun scree run down to the shoulder of Yam (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

And you can check out the video below if you don't really know what it looks like to run down good scree.





We expected the shoulder to be super loose (it used to be) but it wasn't so bad really, and before we knew it we were on the front side of Yam, ready to traverse under the big cliffs that you see from the highway.

The shoulder of Yamnuska - hiking around to the front side

BIG NOTE here - Do not run down the first scree slope you see at the shoulder!! Keep going 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.

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

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. The boys were both wearing Keen Kids Oakridge Shoes which worked well.

  • Bike gloves for the descent. We swear by them when scrambling. Fall down and you won't gash your hands up. (We like the Zippy Rooz half finger gloves.)

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.

The course should be open by the July long weekend and makes for a great addition to the grizzly bear refuge tour since you'll be riding the same chairlift.

More information will be available on the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort soon.

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.

Myself, I can't wait to try stand up paddleboarding on the Kicking Horse River (on a calm stretch of water) some evening when I'm in Golden and can sneak away from my family for a couple of hours. This tour runs every evening at 5pm and is appropriate for anybody with the desire to try stand up paddleboarding, no experience necessary.

I also have it on my personal bucket list to try a Wapta Falls SUP tour where you get to paddle both the Beaver and the Kicking Horse Rivers. It's a great way to paddle two rivers in one day and to get up close to a gorgeous set of waterfalls.

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.

You can find a guide to the Columbia Wetlands and River here if you want to plot out a day trip (or even an overnight trip) on the river. The guide gives great directions for put in and take out locations through the Columbia Valley and breaks each stretch down by distance.

Tours and kayak rentals can be arranged through the Glacier Raft Company. Alternately, bring your own boats and explore any of the nearby lakes or rivers near Golden.

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.)

Playing on the Town of  Golden's pump track and skills park

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," and it was very easy to run shuttles for short downhill rides for this 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

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. 


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