Monday, October 04, 2021

Rimwall Summit (First Summits in the Canadian Rockies)

Rimwall is the unofficial name for the summit to the west of West Wind Pass, a popular kananaskis hiking trail along the Spray Lakes Road, (the Smith Dorrien Trail.) 

Rimwall is easily recognizable by its large vertical wall but fortunately the hiking route goes up the much easier backside where you'll only have to navigate a couple short easy cliff bands. Overall, the route is very similar to the East End of Rundle trail (with less risk of rock fall and far less crowds!)

It is my personal opinion that Rimwall is a much better hike than the East End of Rundle (EEOR) for a similar experience and I'll never hike EEOR again. 

Views over the Spray Lakes from the Rimwall Trail

Stats for the Hike 

Distance:  7 km return from the West Wind Pass Trailhead off the Spray Lakes Road

Height gain: 900 to 1000 metres of height gain (I had different recordings on my tracking apps.)

Time it took us to complete the return hike to the Rimwall Summit: It took us 5.5 hours and we were hiking with a 12 year old (though let's be honest, he's much faster than his mother!)

Best time to do this hike: This is a summer hike so wait until at least mid June to make sure there's no snow on the trail. The trail is hikeable into early October most years.

Rating: This route is considered a "scramble." There is no official trail, you'll encounter steep scree, a couple easy cliff bands, and you'll need route finding skills to find the best way to the summit. 

In Alan Kane's scrambles book, he rates this summit as "moderate." We however, chose an easier route that would best be rated as an "easy Kane scramble." (Still not a hike, but the exposure was less significant in the route we chose.)

Best Guide BookScrambles in the Canadian Rockies by Alan Kane (Amazon Affiliate link) - though keep in mind that we didn't really follow much of Kane's route. 

All Trails Link - Rimwall Summit. I recommend using the All Trails app so you know where to park on the Spray Lakes Road. By downloading the app you'll also be able to make sure you're heading in the correct direction the entire time.

Note to download the map, you'll need to have a premium paid subscription. I find it to be worthwhile, even just so I can see how far I am from the summit every time somebody asks "how much further?" 

Disclaimer: We didn't follow the All Trails route once we got above treeline and chose our own route that we determined to be the safest. When you decide to do a scramble, you should never blindly follow a blue dot on your phone up a mountain.

Prerequisite Summits - I recommend checking a few other easy/moderate scrambles off your list before tackling this one (especially with the kids!) 

It actually took us two attempts to reach the top of Rimwall because we weren't confident we could reach the summit safely on our first trip. We returned this year with a rope and helmets (in case things got extra spicy.) I'm happy to report we did not need the rope, and helmets weren't really necessary either in the route we chose.

Recommended summits to try first could include Heart Mountain, Yamnuska, the East End of Rundle, Paget, Wasootch Peak, or Mount Baldy. (See my complete First Summits guide here.) 

Wind Tower, West Wind Pass, and Rimwall Summit (left to right)

Rimwall Summit as seen from West Wind Pass

Finding the Trailhead for West Wind Pass

From Canmore, you'll get on the Spray Lakes Road, (the Smith Dorrien Trail) and drive past the Canmore Nordic Centre, past the Goat Creek Trailhead for Ha Ling Peak, and then you'll continue towards the Spray Lakes Reservoir. You'll pass by the turnoff for the Spray Lakes West Campground and then you're almost there!

There is no parking lot, but you'll always see vehicles parked on the side of the road beside the trailhead. And the trailhead can be seen here on Google Maps

You'll begin by hiking up Spurling Creek and within very short time, you'll come to a junction with the High Rockies Trail. Continue hiking straight ahead, angling to the left (north.) Very soon you'll see a steep narrow trail heading up, leaving the wide High Rockies Trail. It's unmarked, but this is your trail for West Wind Pass. 

If you find yourself on a wide "road like" trail for more than 15 minutes you've missed the junction for the West Wind Pass Trail. And if you aren't climbing steeply, you're definitely not on the West Wind Pass Trail which starts off with a good hill to get the lungs working.

Looking down on the Spray Lakes Reservoir from the climb up the lower West Wind Pass Trail

Finding the Unmarked Rimwall Junction 

Once you leave the High Rockies Trail behind and officially get on the West Wind Pass Trail, the hiking is fairly straightforward and the trail, while steep, is easy to follow.

The moment of truth comes about 30  minutes in, where the West Wind Pass Trail actually goes DOWN for a brief bit. You are going to want to continue going UP. Step over a fallen tree and continue going steeply up. You are now on the Rimwall Trail which has been well beaten down by hikers over the years and is easy to follow until you reach treeline.

The Rimwall Trail is generally quite pleasant until you reach treeline and reminds me of the lower trail on the East End of Rundle. It's never especially skittery or loose, the rock is good, and the trail is well defined.

If you've downloaded the All Trails Map, you'll easily see where you turn off onto the Rimwall Trail.

Treeline on the Rimwall Trail looking over the Spray Lakes

The Gully Approach to the Ridge of Rimwall

In Alan Kane's scrambles book he recommends avoiding the gully and using the skyline ridge approach which is much more exposed. We chose the gully because it seemed safer and more protected. Loose scree may be annoying, but I'll take a scratched leg if I fall on scree over broken bones (or worse) falling off a cliff!

The All Trails route also shows you climbing up closer to the ridge crest and avoiding the gully further left. 

Personally it's up to you which route you take, but we were following a fairly good path towards the gully and it was a pretty good route up and down the mountain.

Step One: Treeline to the Gully 

Avoid the ridge to your right and trend left as you make your way up the steep scree slope heading for a gully that will take you to the ridge.

The scree here is steep but it's generally easy to hike up (and down.) Again, this part reminded me a lot of the scree on the East End of Rundle hike.

The photos below are from our first attempt in 2020.

Climbing from treeline up steep scree to the ridge of Rimwall

Nothing crazy, just lots of scree as you climb to the ridge.

In the photo below you can see that the scree is broken up with short sections of slabs and grass patches.
It provides some relief from the loose rock.

Climbing to the ridge of Rimwall

Step Two: The Gully to the Ridge 

I'll be honest, the gully is not fun or pleasant in any way. It's steep, it's loose, and it goes on forever! It's relentless and feels like a slog. 

That being said, we never felt like we were in danger of rock fall, nobody else was in the gully with us, and we felt a thousand times safer than on the upper slopes of the East End of Rundle trail where you have hundreds of people trying to share the same slope, knocking down large rocks on the people below.

And I've seen way worse scree on other hikes!! I'd repeat Rimwall any day over some of the other summits we've done.

In Alan Kane's book he mentions the gully being wet, but it was 100% dry when we did it. We also didn't encounter any problematic slabs. The scree was generally good to ascend and descend.

I must stress though that you'll need route finding skills to choose the best path up the gully. If at any point you realize you've bitten off more than you can chew, you're scared, or you don't feel safe, turn around and appreciate the views you've already gained!

Even if you don't make the summit, the views from treeline are phenomenal! 

The photos below from our recent trip in 2021 give you a good idea of what to expect in the gully.

If at any point you start to think that this trip is too big for your group, but you'd like similar views, check out the much easier trip to the summit of Windtower from West Wind Pass. (Same trailhead.)

Still following a "trail" up the gully

Getting close to the ridge of Rimwall

A nasty mess of rock and scree leads you to the ridge

Nice and steep (but I made it up in trail runners!) - Changed to boots for descent

Traversing the Ridge to the Rimwall  Summit 

This is as far as we got in 2020 because we didn't feel safe continuing. Rimwall had not been our intent but we'd accidentally ended up on the Rimwall Trail while trying to hike to West Wind Pass. (Remember the part where the West Wind Pass Trail goes down. We kept going up.)

We returned this year to finish the ridge walk to the summit and discovered that all the "fun" was waiting ahead along the ridge. The nasty stuff is all below you at this point. The ridge is easy compared to the scree you already ascended.

The ridge starts off pretty mellow with a nice traverse along the top. Keep kids well away from the edge because this mountain drops off all the way down to the Wind Valley below.

This is as close to the cliff edge as he was allowed to go!

Looking down on Wind Ridge, another fabulous hike we did this summer

Cliff Bands below the Rimwall Summit

There are two short cliff bands you'll have to climb  up en route to the summit and perhaps this is what gives Rimwall it's "moderate" scramble rating. 

Fortunately there are great handholds and the cliff bands were easy.

Traversing to the first cliff band

Making our way up a crack in the first cliff band

Second cliff band, easy like a staircase

The final slope to the Summit 

Past the cliff bands there's a good trail all the way to the summit and you're almost there!

The final slope to the summit

Upon reaching the summit you'll be rewarded with amazing views over the Wind Valley (towards the TransCanada Highway and Dead Man's Flats) and over the Spray Lakes Reservoir.

We found a pink summit register!

It goes without saying that you are standing on top of a massive cliff. Be careful!! Our son wasn't allowed to walk around much. It was "sit down and eat." And "don't move."

My boys looking over the Spray Lakes Reservoir

Rimwall summit looking over the Wind Valley

Hiking down 

The descent was better than we expected, not nearly as loose or nasty as it could have been going down a gully, and we made good time - straight to a pub in Canmore!

Did I mention that it was 30+ C the day we did this? We were baked by the time we got to the bottom after spending hours on the exposed slopes of Rimwall with no shade.

Perhaps consider doing this on a slightly cooler day because there really is no shade once you leave treeline.

Descending from the summit of Rimwall

Downclimbing the cliff bands

Why you were careful on the summit above this cliff!!

Heading back into the scree!

Want to discover more first summits to tackle in the Canadian Rockies?

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