Friday, June 01, 2018

East End of Mount Rundle Double Summit Day

I can't really call this a "first summits" story because it was actually our second time to the summit of the East End of Mount Rundle in Canmore. We took our son to the top of this iconic mountain two years ago when he was 7. Now at 9, it was a LOT easier!

East End of Mount Rundle Summit, Canmore

First, What is the "East End" of Mount Rundle? 

Mount Rundle is a large mountain that stretches all the way from Banff to Canmore. The main summit is reached from the Banff side, and requires a very long day (one we aren't ready for as a family.)

The East End of Mount Rundle (EEOR) is a different summit that overlooks the town of Canmore. It is an easier scramble than the main peak from Banff and is a lot shorter. It took us 5.5 hours round trip this year.

The parking lot for EEOR is the same as the one for Ha Ling Peak - so it gets very busy, and you should arrive early to avoid having to park on the road. Read more on the parking area here

Note, my son has officially named this summit FEOR - the Fun End of Rundle. 

East end of Rundle Summit with the long ridge walk to the Main Summit in the background

Trail Stats

Height Gain - 900 metres

Distance - 2.6 km one way to the summit 

Hike Rating - Easy Scramble (for experienced adults.) Advanced for families 

Suggested Time - It took us 5.5 hours this year, round trip, and took us 7 hours two years ago when my son was 7 years old.

Suggested Prerequisite Hikes - Ha Ling Peak and Lady Macdonald to the platform 

Ha Ling Peak across the highway is a great training peak before the East End of Rundle

Suggested Guide BooksScrambles in the Canadian Rockies by Alan Kane or the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, volume 3 by Gillean Daffern (Amazon affiliate links.)

If I had to choose one, Daffern's hiking guide provides a better route description overall. Kane assumes you know how to climb a mountain and gives a few brief route pointers.

Know that Kane's high point and Daffern's summit are different. (Though Kane's book does describe a traverse to tag both high points/summits.) 

Most people these days do the easier summit as described in Daffern's book (a summit I refer to as "Party Summit.") Ironically though, most people take Kane's route up the scree gully and cliff band below the summit rather than scrambling up the exposed ridge as Daffern describes in her book.

We did Kane's scree gully route to the summit up and down (following the crowds,) but then tagged both Daffern's and Kane's summits (why I refer to our double summit day.)

Descending off of Kane's Summit with Daffern's Summit in the background

Finding the Trailhead for the East End of Mount Rundle Trail 

I feel the need to explain clearly how to find the correct trail up the mountain. There are several paths leading up the mountain - most of them insanely steep and not the one you want!

From the official parking lot start walking back up the highway (heading back in the direction towards Canmore.) It's less than a minute walk to the trailhead. 

You'll pass a couple of large signs on your left hand side and then you'll come to an empty frame that used to have a sign in it. The trail starts immediately after that empty sign frame. (between two power poles)

Do not start right from the parking lot and make sure you're starting on a nice trail. If it feels like a animal trail, it probably is!

The nice easy trail up the south ridge turns steep quickly

The Initial Trail up the South Ridge

Scrambling small rock slabs on the way up the EEOR trail

You'll start on a really good trail through the trees and then quickly get to the "scrambly part" - see the photo above. There are lots of short cliff bands, rock slabs, and fun little places to use your hands. Kids actually love this part of the trail and we made very good time on this section.

There are also a few narrow parts where you'll feel slightly exposed as you hike along a path beside the edge of the mountain overlooking the Spray Lakes Road. Be careful here and consider walking rather than working on your trail running skills.

Other than that, take your time, take plenty of water breaks, and enjoy the views! This is one of those hikes where you'll have views most of the time. You won't spend hours slogging up through trees. 

You'll also have plenty of photo opportunities of Ha Ling Peak across the way (a mountain you have hopefully already scrambled if you're considering doing EEOR.)

And something we found to be new this year, there are blue squares painted on rocks to indicate the correct path up the south ridge. We always found the route to be fairly obvious and didn't need them, but I could see the markings being helpful to novice hikers. 

Hiking along the edge of the south ridge on the way up the EEOR trail

Hiking to the Large Meadow below the Summit

It feels very good to reach the flat resting area that marks the end of the lower ridge. (See the photo below.)

I'd consider this an excellent "halfway" point (not sure if it actually is nor not) and even a good turn around spot for hikers not wanting to do the real scrambling involved after this point. 

First open resting spot at the top of the lower ridge on the way up EEOR

After this brief flat resting spot, the trail begins to really climb before you reach the beautiful meadow. And I'm sorry, but you just have to put your heads down and slog your way up the scree. It gets loose, it gets nasty, and it's honestly not much fun.

At this point, you can also evaluate how the team is doing. If anybody is crawling up the scree slope on hands and knees, turn around. It will be worse on the way down!!

The nasty scree slope below the meadow (photo from our 2016 ascent)

Our son actually did very well on this section (and shockingly there was no complaining!!) I was very surprised. He actually never complained once the entire time and only got frustrated on the final cliff band section because there were too many people on the trail.

And while this steep section might not actually seem so bad on the way up, it is dreadfully loose on the way down! Bring bike gloves so you don't tear your hands up if you fall. Our son fell a dozen times or more trying to hike down the loose scree. Without bike gloves his hands would have been bleeding.

We usually have lunch in the meadow (where you'll often be treated to seeing groups of sheep.) And this is another great stopping point for hikers not looking forward to the cliffs above.

The Upper Meadow (photo taken on our previous ascent of EEOR in 2016)

Decision Time - Which Route from Here?

Once you leave the meadow you have choices to make.

Option One: Heading for the Summit!

Take the rather obvious path through the scree veering left, heading to the cliff band below the summit - from where you'll traverse along a narrow ledge system to reach the top. This is the route described in Kane's scrambling book that he especially recommends on descent. (And 99% of the people heading up EEOR take this route both up and down.)

You can see the path through the scree in the photo above. And you will make your way up and through the cliff band you see in the photo.

Climbing scree to the summit ridge of EEOR
Option Two: Heading for the Viewpoint Below the Summit 

If you look up and decide you are not going to reach the summit, choose this option instead.

Stick closer to the right hand side of the ridge (there's a good trail here too) aiming straight for the bottom of the cliffs. You'll reach a fabulous viewpoint that you could call "Family Summit." 

"Family Summit" Viewpoint on the EEOR Trail (Photo from our 2016 Ascent)
I've hiked to this viewpoint in the evening with girlfriends when we were short on time, and we visited this spot on our 2016 family ascent (before continuing on to the main summit.)

There is no technical climbing involved to reach this viewpoint.

Last time we did the hike up EEOR we followed the path up along the right hand side of the ridge (much nicer for scree) until we got to the beautiful viewpoint in the photo above. After this we traversed over to follow Kane's scree gully route to the summit. 

This year, we skipped this viewpoint and headed straight for the summit. 

For many, this is as far as you'll want to go (Photo from our 2016 ascent)

Choosing Your Summit 

As mentioned earlier under " Suggested Guide Books" there are two different authors who've written about this hike. Alan Kane describes  a high point (the true EEOR summit) that is marked on my photo above. Gillean Daffern describes a different summit that 99% of the people heading up the mountain will head for - hence why I call it "Party Summit." 

Daffern describes reaching her summit straight from the viewpoint along a narrow exposed ridge walk. I wouldn't recommend this with kids.

Kain recommends taking Daffern's route up to her summit and then traversing over to his summit, before descending via a scree/cliff gully (where the arrows are in my photo.) The scree gully through the cliff band is the route that most people today take both up and down. Very few people take the route straight up the ridge from the viewpoint. 

Traversing over to the cliff band below the summit

Heading for the Summit through the Scree Gully and Ledges 

We made our way quickly under the cliff bands (with significant rock fall danger from above) and climbed up a ledge system until we could either go left for Kane's summit or right for Daffern's more popular summit.

Please bring helmets if choosing to take this route to the summit! We only had a helmet for our son and I regret that decision now. I had no idea how bad the rock fall danger had become on this hike. 

Getting closer to the cliff band section 

Hiking through the cliff band and along the ledges was actually the scariest part of the whole trip. It was very crowded and the rock was quite loose. A fall could also have ended quite badly - and so our son went on a rope here for protection.

Scrambling through the cliff band to the summit

This is the part of the hike that you may want to make sure your kids have some solid scrambling experience before attempting. Otherwise, head to the viewpoint below the summit mentioned earlier and call it quits there (where you'll still have great views over the valley.)

A mess of scree, ledges, and loose rock on the final climb to the summit

Summit Number One - Kane's Summit

From the nasty ledges above we veered left following a faint trail for the main summit referred to in Kane's scrambling book. This is the official summit of EEOR and the highest point. 

The summit is straight ahead of us up a short scramble step

Reaching this summit might have been the best part of the whole trip. It was a short fun scramble, no exposure or anything, and easy enough with a few hand placements.

Walking to the top of Kane's summit with the more popular "party summit" in the background

You can see the other summit in the background of the photo above. We climbed back down and then traversed over to it after. We thought it would be cool to just stick to the ridge, but that wasn't doable for us with a child.

Kane Summit, East End of  Mount Rundle 

We loved this summit because we had it all to ourselves! There was nobody else on it and we could have relaxed here for hours. Unfortunately we still had one more summit to tag so down we went.

Summit Shot on the East End of Mount Rundle

 Descending was easy (and fun) as we made our way over to the more popular party summit so that we could say we'd tagged both peaks.

You can see the descent off  Kane's summit below: 

On rope and ready to scramble off Kane's summit

Heading for the next summit in the background

And Over to "Party Summit"

This is the popular summit that 99% of people will reach when they hike up the East End of Rundle. It is also the one shown in the photos above as seen from Kane's summit. (and if you look carefully in the photo above, you can even see a faint scree line with people on it climbing their way up to the top.

On the "Party Summit" with Kane's Summit in the background 

It's an easy traverse between the two summits but you do have to go down, and back up a short distance. Don't try to stick to the ridge. It's too narrow and scrambly.

Family Summit shot on the East End of Mount Rundle

Missing in these photos: the 20+ other people on this summit that I managed to crop out of the shots.

High above Canmore and the Bow Valley from the top of  EEOR

The Way Down - Always the Worst Part 

If you thought the way up was hard, it's even harder going down. The top ledges through the cliff band are very loose and I ended up sitting down on my butt to lower myself down each short step. We were grateful for the rope here.

Doesn't this look fun?!

As you can see in the photo above, the rock is very loose. One step and you're sliding. People were clutching on to the rock wall for dear life as they descended.

My boys descending from the top of EEOR

It should be noted that my son was the only child on the mountain this day! We were surprised and I was wondering how many people were looking at us (and thinking how crazy we were.) There's a lot of pressure when you're doing big stuff like this with a child. You know there are people judging you, hikers who think you're putting your child in danger, and then others who are shaking their heads at you. Risk aside though, my son probably had more experience than 70% of the other hikers on the mountain this day.

Making our way down from the summit

Back in the Meadow and Down to the Bottom

We were happy to be off the summit and definitely enjoyed a break in the upper meadow.

Back off the summit and enjoying some flat terrain again

In these photos you can see how pretty the hike is - even if you never make the summit.

Rest break as we look over at Ha Ling Peak 

The hike down seemed to take forever but we ended up finishing with a return time of 5.5 hours - which isn't bad given we tagged two summits and took plenty of breaks. 

There are plenty of spots for awesome photos on this hike 

For more information please consider investing in one of the guide books mentioned earlier in this story. 

Additional Recommended Reading: First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies

Parting shot from the East End of Rundle Hiking Trail

Disclaimer: Please do not choose this as your first summit!! If you have not already hiked to the top of neighboring Ha Ling Peak in Canmore, please start with that first. I'd also recommend several other challenging hikes before trying the East End of Mount Rundle.

My 9 year old has already done many other scrambles and was well trained for this climb.

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