This mountain is hard to ignore. The distinctive shape, size, and ever-presence have made it one of my most photographed subjects. I can see it from my bedroom window, observing it at sunrise and sunset has become my daily ritual. Hiking the flanks was on my list. I’m calling this the Rundle Rumble.
The Spray River separates Mount Rundle on one side and Sulphur Mountain on the other. It was Saturday of a holiday weekend and there was no way I was joining the masses on Sulphur Mountain. Many enjoy the gondola ride to the top. I had the hike on my list but it would wait for a somewhat less busy time.
There are at least two options to summit Mount Rundle. From the Town of Banff side, access is considered a scramble route with the first two-thirds a hiking trail, that was the section I planned to hike. Another option is from Canmore, called the East End of Rundle or EEOR.
Parks Canada website includes a detailed description of this trail (link). The hiking trail ends at Central Gully, my planned turnaround location.
I parked at the Spray River West Trailhead and hiked clockwise. After crossing the Spray River, the river trail was an old road full of rocks and roots. I was happy to switch to singletrack at the junction.
It was a steady climb, up, up and more up, so I was glad for distractions of the floral variety. Good morning Fairy Slippers.
There were a few flat soft sections along the trail, these made my heart (and feet) sing.
Occasional views were offered as I gained elevation.
Looking across at Sulphur Mountain, the gondola, and The Rimrock Resort near Banff Upper Hot Springs.
On the left is the Sulfur Summit Discovery Center and on the right is the Cosmic Ray Station. I visited both while in the area.
Way down there is the Town of Banff, with Mount Norquay in the background.
There were a few sections of trail on the switchbacks that weren’t in the best of condition, but nothing too sketchy for most hikers.
After 4 miles and 2,000′ elevation gain, I reached Central Gully, an avalanche chute. I met a group hoping to find water in this ravine. Parks Canada has this advice, “The Central Gully marks the end of the hiking trail and the start of the “scrambling” section of the trip. The route to the summit crosses this gully and ascends to the top by way of the forested ridge beyond. Do not climb up the Central Gully! Despite appearances, it is not a safe route to the summit. The gully is easy at the start but gradually steepens, forming dangerously smooth slabs where several people have been killed!“
This is a super long chute. Looking up from where the trail crosses.
I met two groups of young men heading for the summit. One of these guys was sliding as he tried to traverse this chute. One slip and you are going down, down, down.
The quick way down. The lead guy in the above photo had hiked this route previously and said he made the mistake of missing the crossing and started down before realizing his error. From the Parks Canada website, “On the descent, it is critical to return to this point and stay on the hiking trail for the rest of the way down. From across the gully, the end of the hiking trail is surprisingly difficult to see. Several fatal accidents have occurred when descending climbers missed the trail and fell while on a shortcut through the first cliff band that lies 100 m downhill from here.“
For those who dare . . . I can’t help but wonder how many of the 20 hikers I met on my way down attempted the summit.
Here are a few words from the Parks Canada website, “Scramble up the steep track in the trees just right of the rocky outcrops. Stick to the most obvious path that climbs directly up the slope. There is no “built” trail—only a few cut trees, and the path is slippery in places. About 100 m up the slope, the path traverses horizontally to the right and away from the steeper slopes overlooking the Central Gully. From here on, the route climbs almost straight up through the forest. The path is well worn but continuously steep and smooth. Near the treeline the path has eroded badly to expose the smooth bedrock underneath. This entire section can become extremely slippery when wet. The slope that the route follows is actually a ridge bounded by the Central Gully on the left side and another similar large gully on the right. This ridge leads most of the way to the top. Above treeline the ridge gradually narrows to form the “Dragon’s Back”, a sloping spine of rock between the two gullies. Its surface is the smooth slope of the limestone bedrock. For much of the way, it is covered by loose gravel, and there are steep cliffs on each side. Careful footing! The ascent beyond the Dragon’s Back is a long and straightforward slog up the loose scree to the summit ridge. The ridge crest is a sharp edge with the vertical east face of Mount Rundle below. Traverse to the right along the ridge for about 100 m (mostly along the right side of the crest) to the summit high point marked by a cairn. There is a modest flat spot here to rest and enjoy the view.“
To complete the loop, I hiked south on the Spray River Trail to the Quarry Loop bridge. You get good views of Sulfur Mountain, the Gondola line, and The Rimrock Resort near Banff Upper Hot Springs.
You have to hike a bit south beyond the bridge before working your way back north.
There are hoodoos along this section of the trail, where you’ll often also see rock climbers.
From the bridge, you get a view of the Banff Hot Springs Hotel.
This was a nearly 9-mile, 2,200-foot elevation gain/loss loop hike.
Mount Rundle Portraits
While this great mountain is visible from many places in the Town Of Banff, it is best photographed a bit further afield, like this view from Two Jack Lake in early May.
Lake Minnewanka view.
Back at Two Jack Lake for sunrise reflections.
Mount Rundle playing second fiddle to Banff Hot Springs Hotel (Fairmont).
The view from Cascade Ponds.
Sharing the limelight with the old train cars at Lower Bankhead.
Looking down at Mount Rundle from Tunnel Mountain summit. My early morning hike didn’t provide for the best photographic light.
On a smoky day, the view of Rundle from the Hoodoos trail.
The Rundle view from one of the town pedestrian bridges over Bow River.
As seen from the Upper Banff Hot Springs pool.
I stopped at Tran Canada Highway 1 overlook on my way into town at the end of April.
As I dropped into town, I stopped at a pullover for this view with Vermillion Lakes in the foreground.
Town view from the Mount Norquay Road.
Coming down the Mount Norquay Road.