Yamnuska (Mt John Laurie) - Summer
Date Walked: 21st June 2012
Distance: 6.1 miles (9.8km)
Actual Ascent: 2716 ft (828m)
Time Taken: 5 hours
Before we even arrived in Canada I had seen this unusual mountain on hike reports that I researched online.From the details I had seen it seemed to have a great mix of hiking and scrambling with the addition of a hazardous shelf and some great scree runs, who could resist, particularly on the very first day of summer.
With thunderstorms due in the afternoon I rose at 05:30 and had a light breakfast with a gallon of tea, after getting my stuff together I left the house at 06:30 and made the 40 mile (65km) drive West on the Trans-Canada Highway to its junction with the 1X, North on the 1X reaches highway 1A where a 1 mile (2km) journey East brings me to the well signed car park entrance where I immediately pull over a grab a shot of the sheer face of Yamnuska.
The mountain has the official name of Mt John Laurie and is referred to by some people as Mt Laurie, but by far the most used and certainly most appropriate name is simply 'Yamnuska' which translates as 'Wall of stone'
I'm the first person in the car park today and after the usual exploration of local area and a review of the notice board I get my stuff together and set off from the well marked trailhead at the western end of the car park loop at 07:30. Just as I depart another car arrives and the driver waves me off along the trail.
the trail begins by winding its way through a beautiful birch forest which allows dappled light through the light green canopy above, I'm only in the t-shirt and already feel the heat of the sun and for the first time over here a little humidity in the air.
the forest is dotted with wild flowers peeking out from the shade to grab their share of the abundant sunshine. the wild rose not yet open following the cool evening rains, the white geranium (centre) and red paintbrush are all common sights along the way.
the trail winds its way steadily in a pattern of short ascents that begin to work you before levelling out for a section of almost flat ground, this pattern repeats all the way to the ridge top, occasionally the trees open out giving a glimpse across the valley
at the top of one of the rises is a split in the trail offering 3 routes, fortunately a well placed sign directs hikers to the right and climbers straight ahead, I hope to return along the climbing route later after making a circuit though there is some trail finding required after the scree slopes.
breaking out onto a lower ridge section and looking West toward the eastern flank of Yamnuska I am struck by a reminder of 'Cliffords Tower' in the city of York, England. The prominent position and yellow stone walls almost reflection the position of the tower exactly. Memories of working in York, the office, people and the beautiful city come flooding in along with thoughts of family and friends; for one moment the tiny pangs of homesickness begin to prickle and I have to shut them off and get back to the hike.
the open ridge allows some different wild flowers to spring up along the way including (on the left) the western wood lilly.
on reaching the ridge line the trail splits into two again, my guide book claims the right hand trail is less steep but there is not enough ascent between here and the rock face for that to matter so I take the left fork and head directly toward the rocky eastern edge of Yamnuska
as I ascend above the tree line a whole range of mountains appears to my right (North) I've never seen these before and like the look of their sheer sides and sweeping plateaus above, perhaps I'll investigate these further in the future
more plants grace the ground along the trail bringing colour to almost every nook and cranny of the mountain, though the plant on the right here seems to be already down to it's seed pods it still looks pretty cool, a lot like a dandelion but with hard tops
Now I see first hand the glorious opening scramble that leads steeply up the ridge through a crevice, the stone in the foreground looks a little like the 'Old man of Storr' on the Isle of Skye though it's prominence is not captured well in this shot
I waste little time in scrambling up to the crevice to examine the route through, being dwarfed by the surrounding rocks just adds to the excitement (that little red spot is me)
there is quite a tight squeeze at one point past a huge boulder wedged in the crevice then a small sheer sided channel before emerging to see the first leg of the scramble. As seen in this photo there are apparent trails directly across the scree and up the opposite side of this section, I took the left hand side one of these as I was drawn by actually seeing a trail....This was a bad idea, the scree acts like a treadmill so you step forward and upward, then as you put weight on the leading leg it slides virtually all the way back down again with the movement of the scree and it is much further than it appears here. So anyone considering this hike should take a steep left here to a much higher trail not visible in this photo which levels out quickly allowing a much easier traverse. (I saw that trail from the top once over the other side!!)
ascending that damn scree I stop for my first break of the day as I near the top just holding on to the shade of the first corrie. The views North across the valley and East to the prairie are beautiful and I tuck into a couple of tangerines and watch the chipmunks scampering around on the rocks for a good 10 minutes.
this little fella in particular seemed more than happy to come close and have a good look at me from all sides, scampering all the way around me to get a good look.
at the top of this first ascent there is a better pathway worn into the cliff circling around and up toward an impossibly placed clump of fir trees that seem to be growing out of the rock
the hike is now a series of finger like ridges that poke North away form the rock face of the mountain, each has a corrie before it and a scattering of trees close to the top. The trees in the photo above are now on my right hand side as I walk back along the finger to cross the next corrie, there is a need to cover a lot of hiking for a very short distance gain though the magnificent scenery goes a long way to equalising that.
I then reach the ledge that makes Yamnuska famous and provides a nice adrenalin shot as you use the permanent chain (bolted to the rock face) to traverse a narrow ledge with a sheer drop of several hundred feet below. In two separate locations along the 30 metre ledge there is virtually no ledge at all which really adds to the feeling that you are scrambling, in truth if you have a head for heights you are probably much safer here than many other locations on this mountain.
from a wide (well wider) section I am able to let go of the chain and grab a shot to show the drop, note the large 'gap' in the ledge at the end of this wider section, there is no problem crossing as the rock face is very rough and perfect for grip though you do need to believe in the chain as you put most of your weight on it as you skip across the void. Don't be confused into thinking there is a shelf further down as appears on this photo, that is just a shadow, the plain truth is, if you let go of the mountain here you are going on a very long and very sudden descent :/
as you reach the far end of the ledge the chain disappears down through a small crevice and is needed for the short down climb from here. Though this may look scary to some, it is a simple traverse that just requires your full attention for a short time (if it was that bad would I have run along it 3 times to beat the timer on the camera?)
after the ledge and slight down climb I rise up again almost to the top of the ridge to cross the corrie where a large window opens out providing a great view back across the bow valley, there is then another deeper down climb (which is a bit of a bummer after all that ascent) but required in order to pass a jagged outcrop in the corrie
after rounding the pinnacle in the corrie it is a steep ascent again to the top of the next rib, looking back gives a great view of the jagged rocks along route so far, the ledge with the chain can just be seen a the bottom of the furthest tall/sharp abutment.
a well worn path along the scree from that last rib leads to a small cairn marking the start of the final short ascent, the view from here back down the valley toward the open prairies is incredible
the view to the South-West is even better and leaves a mouthwatering prospect for the summit which is now only a short ridge hike away.
On reaching the summit cairn I was not disappointed, standing on the top of this beast was something I'd wanted to do since seeing it on the internet all those months ago. I had to wait for the snow to melt and it loomed large on the horizon every time I drove along the Trans-Canada highway, now here I was, funny hat and all.
looking East along the face of the mountain and out toward Calgary shows the unique formation of several standing corries with a sheer wall behind them.
looking South-West shows the lush green bow valley, the bow river and Trans-Canada highway before the vast ranges of the foothills still holding a little snow. To the West (right) Loder Peak that I hiked 3 weeks ago and a myriad of other peaks too numerous to list.
looking behind me (North) is more of the same, the clouds are starting to really bubble up over the tops now and I'm glad I'm not just setting off (as I normally would be about this time)
across the valley I can see Heart Mountain horseshoe beneath the sightseeing helicopter that is buzzing around now, another on the ever growing list of mountains I intend to hike.
after wandering around a while and eating my pasta salad lunch I laid down on the warm summit with this spectacular view all to myself and enjoyed the morning sunshine.
after a nice 20 minutes or so stretched out in the sun I took a last look over the edge trying to work out where the climbers path went through the forest below. The scree runs were very clear (light lines below cliff) and I assumed that they would lead to the path.
I take a last look West at the beautiful scene across the mountain tops and valley below before beginning my descent toward the orange scree where real fun awaits.
the initial descent requires care with light scree covering smooth rock a good long slide could be in order, from the first step below the summit I look back up at the summit peak and along the wall where I can hear climbers talking, though I can't see them.
I am now on the top of a tremendous deep scree descent, with marble sized scree at calf depth it is incredible fun to run full tilt down the side of the mountain with the scree cushioning every step (think of running down a mountain of pea gravel) It is great fun and I gallop down to the path that traverses the slope about half way down.
as I take the diagonal path I see 4 people trying to hike in directly up the scree, as I sit and have a drink and an orange I watch their painfully slow rate and feel for them, I'm not sure how they came to be at that point but to get there is a very long hike from any direction. I assure them they are almost there and get a smiling thumbs up in return.
there is a good trail leading across from the scree slope down toward the western flank of the mountain and I take the time to really enjoy the surroundings and drink in the beauty of the Rockies as I wander slowly along the trail
as the trail reaches the lower ridge it dives off to the South (left) and down another scree slope, I stopped for a moment here and took in a final 360 before heading down again
the trail drops steeply beneath fascinating rock formations surrounded by wild flowers sticking in clumps to the loose scree.
as I hit the tree line the dark clouds are appearing on the horizon, there is defiantly going to be some thunder showers today, perhaps soon. I'm glad I've got the forest for cover if I need it.
I don't drop down to the forest here but follow the faint trail as it weaves its way under the face of Yamnuska toward that last huge scree slope where another 'run' awaits.
as I make the traverse of the scree I finally see the climbers who's voices have been echoing along the cliff face, this shot gives some idea of scale as the tiny dots make their way up the rock face
with the huge central column towering above me I reach the scree run and turn away from the rock face charging downhill on an incredibly fast, cushioned descent
following the obvious 'runs' of others I find the climbers path in the trees below and head East across the slope
After a nice hike through the forest passing a waterfall en route, as planned I reach the point in the trail where earlier today I'd selected the right hand pathway. Ahead dark clouds dump a torrent of rain on the prairies
through the last section of trees I meet dozens of people heading up the mountain and when I get back to the car park I see almost every spot taken. Overhead the storms creep toward Yamnuska
I'm glad I made the effort this morning and got out here early before the rain and before all these people filled the trails. I love the solitude of the mountains and crowds don't fit well with that. Having got this 'popular' hike out of my system I think I'll try to find the less popular ones for a while now until the heat of summer dissipates and with it the crowds.