Friday, October 12, 2018

Mount Baldy Double Summit Traverse from Baldy Pass

There are a few ways to reach the main summit of Mount Baldy in the Kananaskis Valley. Logic would say that you should take the shortest, most direct route from the trailhead to the summit. We however parked at a trailhead 2 km away so that we could visit both the main summit and the south summit of Mount Baldy, and enjoy a beautiful ridge walk connecting the two peaks.

Enjoying the views from the main summit of Mount Baldy looking down over Barrier Lake

Introduction to the Mount Baldy Traverse

Mount Baldy is the big peak you see across from Barrier Lake as you drive into Kananaskis down Highway 40. The photo below was taken from the Prairie View hiking trail above Barrier Lake looking across to Mount Baldy.

Mount Baldy as seen from the ridge above Barrier Lake

While you can definitely hike straight up to the main summit in roughly 4 km return, we wanted a bigger adventure. We started at the Baldy Pass Trailhead, 2 km further down the road. This allowed us to summit not only the main peak of Mount Baldy, but to also reach the south peak via a 3 km long ridge walk.

While I call this the "Baldy Traverse," many people have their own definition of the traverse which does "not" start from Baldy Pass. The more "popular traverse" these days involves hiking up the Mount Baldy trail and descending a different route from South Baldy (starting and ending at the same trailhead.) The vast majority of hikers do not access the south peak from Baldy Pass (wanting to avoid the long ridge walk.)

We love off the beaten path adventures though, and I'm a big fan of ridge walks.

Looking ahead at the beginning of our ridge walk towards the South Peak of Mount Baldy from Baldy Pass

Stats for the Baldy Traverse

Height gain: 875 metres gain to the summit of the main peak of Mount Baldy

We first gained 487 metres height hiking up to Baldy Pass. From here we gained another 344 metres to the summit of South Baldy. From there it was another 50 metres or so to the main summit (more if you take into account that we had to drop down off South Baldy and climb back up to the main peak.)

Distance: Approximately 9 km total

We hiked 4 km to reach Baldy Pass. From here we hiked another 2 km to reach the summit of South Baldy. There was 1 final kilometre to the main summit of Mount Baldy, and then we estimate we hiked another 2 km on descent back to the highway. (My husband then had to walk an additional 2 km back to the car at the Baldy Pass Trailhead.)

Total Trip Time: It took us 7.5 hours to complete the traverse hiking with a 9 year old boy.

Looking back towards Baldy Pass (the low point between our ridge and Midnight Peak in the background)

Step One: Hiking to Baldy Pass 

We parked in the official parking lot for the Baldy Pass Trailhead and then enjoyed an easy 4 km hike on a good trail to reach Baldy Pass. 

Hiking up the Baldy Pass Trail

The trail climbed 487 metres of height but never really felt steep. It took us just over an hour to reach the pass at a good pace.

Read about the Baldy Pass Trail on the Alberta Parks website here. 

And honestly, as a destination, Baldy Pass is not terribly exciting. You definitely want to hike a short ways along the ridge at the very least to get some views.

The "exciting" Baldy Pass 

Baldy Pass to South Baldy Peak Ridge Traverse

Once we left Baldy Pass, we were leaving the hiking trail behind. We also knew we'd say goodbye to the rest of the hikers on our trail. We met one other small group along the ridge, but they turned around after maybe a half hour (too scared to scramble up the first cliff band section.)

The traverse to the South Peak of Mount Baldy is a 2 km long hike with a few "hands on" scrambly bits. Route finding skills would be beneficial here or I'd recommend bringing an actual guide book.

The guide book we used for this section was the  Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1, by Gillean Daffern Amazon affiliate link 

Hiking up the ridge from Baldy Pass (faint trail through the scree visible in front of my boys)

I won't go into a detailed description on how to reach the summit of South Baldy (please invest in the guide book above) but here is a brief overview of what to expect:

1. you'll head north (to your right if standing at the pass facing the trail you hiked up) and will be able to follow a rough, but easily identified, trail up the ridge in front of you. The trail stays right at the first rocky step.

Go right at this point on the visible trail

you will reach the crux on your ridge walk within the first 30 minutes where you'll have to scramble up a short gully in order to stay on the ridge (aiming diagonally left.) This is where the group in front of us got scared and turned around. This is where we pulled out a rope to protect our son. In reality though, it was super easy scrambling and we really did not need a rope. By the time I'd gone ahead though to test it out, and reached the top with ease, my husband already had the rope out and just decided to use it.

Scrambling up the crux en route to the South Peak

The only challenging section as you hike the ridge to South Baldy

3.  Continue to follow the rough trail along the ridge until you reach a great viewpoint referred to as the "South end of Baldy" in the guidebook referenced above. You will have hiked 0.9 km from the pass at this point.

Final scrambling to reach the south end of Baldy viewpoint  (before hiking further to the actual south summit)
Way in the distance is the actual peak of South Baldy (with the main peak poking out from behind)

4. This is the point where you must contemplate continuing Vs. turning around. You've reached an awesome viewpoint by now, it feels like you've reached a small summit, and the real South Peak of Baldy is still another 1.2 km away (and it honestly looks like it's going to take hours to get there!)

In the photo below you can see the south summit ahead of us (not close) and beyond that, the main summit of Mount Baldy poking out from behind. (And remember, we were aiming for both of these summits!)

Ridge walking towards the South Summit of Mount Baldy 

We decided to keep going, following a trail that constantly climbed up and over endless false summits and smaller bumps (that each looked like the real summit.) Noah lost it more than once when he realized that the next bump was "not" the summit and that we had many more to go. - and I'll be honest that we nearly turned around more than once because that south summit just never seemed to get any closer!!

Rest break as we contemplated whether we could continue or not towards South Baldy in the distance

And again, I could provide greater detail in terms of where to go left off the ridge, where to stay high, where to drop right... - but we never had any problems following the unofficial trail and I still recommend bringing the guide book with you if you're new to route finding.

Rock, more rock, and even more rock as we approached South Baldy 

5. We finally got to the last scree slope that would lead us up to the South Summit of Mount Baldy. It took over 2 hours to reach the summit from the time we left Baldy Pass - which is our slowest pace ever for a 2 km hike!! (That's like 1 km per hour!)

Endless scree towards the end of our ridge traverse
Final climb to the south summit
We got to the summit and then we had a BIG decision to make. So far it had taken us approximately 4 hours since we first pulled into the parking lot (including time to pack up, rest breaks, and a very short lunch break at the pass.) 

A very determined hiker looks lover the ridge he just hiked

We really didn't want to go back along the ridge (it was a very rough and rocky hike and we'd be looking at another 3 hours before we'd reach the parking lot again) but none of us really wanted to take the escape route either (dropping down scree slopes below the south peak to reach the highway.)

In the end, Noah made the decision and chose to keep going. He summoned every last bit of energy inside of him, and told us that he still wanted to complete the traverse so that we could reach the main peak of Mount Baldy.

Now we just had the exposed technical climbing section ahead of us!

South Summit of Baldy

South Baldy to Main Baldy Technical Scramble 

So far, our hike had been a cake walk compared to what we still had ahead of us. Gillean Daffern's hiking guide book says: "For hikers, going for the main summit is easily resisted when you know it's a difficult scramble from this side." - and she is 100% true on that.

Alan Kane's scrambling guide book lists the section below Mount Baldy as difficult as well with the following definition of "difficult"
"Much use of handholds required, sections may be steep, loose and exposed... fall distance may be significant enough to be FATAL." - Alan Kane, Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies 
And this is where we were taking our 9 year old son.

The main summit of Mount Baldy behind us (our route, straight UP the right hand side)

The photo above shows the ascent route straight up the right side of the cliff bands to the top of Mount Baldy. And note, this is "not" the normal route that hikers use to reach the top of Mount Baldy. There's a decent trail that goes to the summit on the other side, avoiding this entire exposed section. Most hikers will go up and down the same trail to reach the summit rather than approaching Mount Baldy from the south. ("most hikers" we are not though.)

On rope and making his way up the exposed cliffs below Mount Baldy

I can NOT recommend this section with children unless your family has significant rock climbing experience, you bring a rope and the other necessary climbing equipment to ascend the cliffs safely, and you know how to guide your children up a route that is not bolted or a traditional sport climb. 

This section for us fell under the category of mountaineering, and my husband protected both my son and I as we climbed up. A fall could definitely have proven fatal and I would not have been comfortable without a rope for even my own safety. (We actually did this scramble before having a child and I had to use a rope then too.)

Technical climbing below the summit of Mount Baldy

What we experienced on this section of our hike:

Exposed scrambling below the Mount Baldy Summit
  • Extreme route finding. It took my husband a while to figure out the best way to get up through the cliff bands below the main summit. It was not "obvious," there was no chain like you'd find on Yamnuska, there were no markers, no painted blue squares as are appearing on many routes across the Rockies, and the trail was not very well defined. - and we've even done this scramble before!

  • Very loose scrambling on the first pitch. I would never have done this section without a rope for my own personal safety let alone my son's safety. This was not a place you wanted to fall, and the terrain was very sketchy.

  • Blocky scrambling on the second pitch. This part didn't scare me (as much) and I would have been fine without a rope (for myself anyway.) Falling was not an option though, and one careless step could have proven fatal.

According to my notes, it took us TWO HOURS to complete this section from South Baldy to the main summit of Mount Baldy. Two hours to climb up 50 metres!!!

Just a "little bit" of exposure here below the summit

Reaching the Main Summit of Mount Baldy

The scrambles guide book says it should take 3-5 hours round trip to hike to the summit of Mount Baldy.

Well, it took us 6 hours just to get UP. Needless to say, if you have dinner plans, start early or don't do the crazy traverse we did!

Looking back on the ridge towards South Baldy 

From the top of the cliff bands it was a short 10 minute walk to the main summit where we took a very short break before starting our hike back down. We were already looking at a healthy dinner of power bars at this point (knowing we'd never be home in time for actual dinner,) and needed to make a rather speedy descent.

Summit shot on top of Mount Baldy (6 hours in)

Descending from Mount Baldy on the Main Trail (the route most people take up and down) 

We had roughly 2 km of distance left at this point and it took us another 1.5 hours for our total time of 7.5 hours.

All smiles on the final ridge walk off the summit

The descent can be broken down into the following sections:

1. A short ridge walk off the summit. Here is where you get the best views of the day. 

You'll get these views on your way down 

2. A steep loose scree bash down to a plateau. There was nothing fun about this part at all, but we got down to a flat plateau and were able to relax for a minute at the rock couch.

Relaxing at the plateau below the summit 

3. Decision Time! Worst scree descent ever or another pitch of exposed climbing. You'll reach a point where you can either tackle a short exposed section of climbing (where we would have needed to pull the rope out again,) or you can just bash your way down scree slopes. 

We chose the ugly nasty scree descent (loose as heck) because we didn't have time to do another section of roped climbing. 

Lots and lots of scree on descent!

4. Back to tree line. I was never so happy to see trees and a trail!!! Unfortunately, the trail is still incredibly steep and does have the occasional loose section (so careful attention must be paid to the trail the entire way down.) The angle finally lets up when you reach the highway and not really any sooner.

5. Highway jogging back to the car. My son and I waited at the trailhead while my husband ran back for the car. He actually left us as soon as we reached tree line so that he could run down faster, and go get the vehicle. 

And then we finished off our hike with a power dinner of champions at McDonalds. Nothing like McDonalds poutine and chicken nuggets to refuel, lol.

Final shot from the summit ridge

Recommended Reading 

The best guide book for the scrambling route up Mount Baldy is this one by Alan Kane: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. (Amazon affiliate link.)

Recommended Reading: First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies 

Resting along the ridge traverse between Baldy Pass and the peaks of south and north Baldy

Disclaimer: Please don't take my son's age as a "reference age" for this trip. My son has been climbing mountains since he was 4 years old and is now able to do hikes that many adults would be terrified to do.

We also went into this trip with significant mountaineering and rock climbing experience and my husband is a competent leader in these areas. 


  1. Your photos look amazing. I would love to go here after reading your post. Thanks for some great tips on where to go

  2. Beautiful!!!!. Thanks for sharing!