Mount Lawrence Grassi is a mountain known for its beautiful views and popularity of its scrambling routes, both to the northwestern peak, “Ha Ling Peak” and Ship’s Prow on the southeastern peak. The mountain is south of Canmore and east of the Spray Lakes so one can see beautiful panoramic views of Canmore and the surrounding area at the top. Mount Lawrence Grassi is also next to the popular mountain, Mount Rundle. The 2 are separated by Whiteman’s Gap.
The scramble to the top of Mount Lawrence Grassi is moderate in difficulty and the views along the way are enough to offer your mind a brief relief from the workout your legs will be getting!
Although the exact timing of when the mountain was named is unknown, the individual that inspired the name was an Italian miner who had immigrated to Canada in 1912, Lawrence Grassi. Lawrence first began work with the Canadian Pacific Railway as a section hand for 4 years near Kicking Horse Pass. Then he went on to work in the coal mines at Canmore. Although the coal mining era in Canmore lasted from 1886 to 1979, Lawrence only worked in the coal mines until 1946. While he worked in Canmore, he became a well-known and respected climbing guide. He built many of the trails in the area including the “Grassi Lakes Trail” which was named after him. When he retired from working in the mines, he went up to the Lake O’Hara area for several summers and worked as a Park Warden for several summers.
Grassi traveled around the Rockies making many solo climbs, some of which are suspected to be first ascents that were unfortunately never recorded. In 1925, he completed the first solo ascent of Mount Assiniboine while in 1926, he and a climbing partner made the first ascent of Cascade Mountain on the east face above Cascade Falls. It is said that Lawrence’s favorite climb was the technically demanding Mount Louis which he climbed 32 times.
For someone who absolutely loved climbing, Lawrence Grassi did not look the part. He tended to climb wearing suspenders and old mining boots with hobnails. Sometimes, it is said he even wore rubber boots. His strength was extraordinary even without the appropriate climbing attire. In 1926, in the Tonquin Valley southwest of Jasper, a doctor by the name of R.D. Williams from Calgary broke his leg while climbing Bastion Peak. Instead of leaving the man and getting help, Lawrence Grassi carried the man who was much heavier than him for 2 miles down the steep mountain, across a glacier and over moraine to a rescue party waiting for them.
The love the Lawrence had for the mountains was legendary. There is a story that he headed out to Calgary for an eye exam but as he reached ghost dam, he looked back and decided to return because the mountains looked too far away.
When the idea for the 2 gem lakes found above Canmore to be named after Lawrence Grassi in 1938, Dr. J.S. Woodsworth made a speech to the House of Commons in support of it. In his speech he said,
“Last summer I spent a month in a little mountain town in the Rockies. For me, the most interesting individual in the community was Lawrence Grassi, an Italian miner. In the course of a prolonged strike, instead of loafing about the village, he set off into the hills, axe on shoulder, to make trails to points of interest. It was a labour of love. He loved the mountains but enjoyed having others share their beauty. So day by day he pushed through the bush discovering the best ways of approach -blazing a trail, cutting out the underbrush, grubbing out stones and rocks, bridging little mountain streams...”
Dr. J.S. Woodsworth
Dr. Woodsworth went on to say,
“The world needs Grassis... men who will seek new paths; make the rough places smooth; bridge the chasms that now prevent human progress; point the way to higher levels and loftier achievements.”
Dr. J.S. Woodsworth
Mount Lawrence Grassi Trip Log
From the Canmore town site you will want to go west on Spray Lake road which turns into the Smith Dorrien Spray trail shortly after. Follow this paved road as it turns into a gravel and heads up the mountain side gaining a fair bit elevation. Once you pass the reservoir at and head downhill a little you will see Goat Creek Parking lot. Turn in here. Goat Creek Parking lot is about 7.2km from the Three Sisters drive and Spray Lakes road intersection.
The very wide gravel path will slowly narrow and become a single track. Soon after you will snake through a lot of rock fall across the path and come to a entrance into the forest which was marked with a cairn.
From here the trail heads steeply upwards with nearly no level ground. One large point. Make SURE you pay attention to the trees. The path is marked reasonably well if you follow the tape nailed or tied to the trees. Unfortunately we missed one and ended up following this drainage for awhile before giving up on the trail as we reach a cliff wall with a small waterfall and turned back to find the trail once more.
Once you start clearing the tree line the view unfolds helping you along as you slog up the mountain side.
After the dirt trail comes a bit of scree that you have to head up. It is of decent size so you fortunately do not have to make three steps to make it up one.
You will come across a few step down ledges that you will have to down climb/step off of. They are only a few feet high if you follow them to the end instead of down climbing part of the way up. On your way back down make sure you go back up these or if you follow the ground to the left or right it eventually disappears and scrambling back onto the higher ground can pose a little challenge.
From this point the route itself is relatively easy to follow since you have cliffs on both sides of you so all you have is up.
Shortly after we had to turn around due to a thunder storm rolling in. It was coming right at us and traveling at a pretty quick rate. It didn't feel very safe being out on exposed rock holding a bunch of metal hiking poles.
The rest of the photo's and experiences are when I came back a week later to solo and had an idea to bivy at the top for some early morning mountain shots.
My experience here will probably sound harder than the route truly is due to it raining and being fairly windy. My headlamp also does not reach as far in the rain as it would without so there probably are easier ways up this rock that I did not notice.
I started around 8:30pm and being bogged down with a full pack for a bivy and gear, the sun was already set by the time I reached the point that we retreated from a week earlier.
Once you reach pass the rock ledges and scree the rock slowly narrows and the drops on both sides seem pretty looming. the crux of the route I would say comes up around that point. It is a thinner down sloping section with loose rock that has a large drop on both sides. Due to the wind I had to crouch and hold on with my hands to make going uphill on this feasible without slipping.
After this you have pretty large scree you have to head up. Rather uncomfortable to try and move quickly on this stuff due to its large size and ankle/knee twisting nature.
After all that you will reach the summit and hopefully enjoy it on a nice warm day. I was not so lucky. Once I reached the top, the wind was so extreme that it was nearly impossible to hear yourself think or stay balanced. On top of that the rain picked up even more and the sky started lightning up like a strobe light to the west ranges which resulted in me bailing out as quick as possible.
Return the same way you came. Take care on the skinny portion and remember to gain the large ledges on your way down as you see them.
GPS Plotted Route
What were your experiences scrambling Mount Lawrence Grassi?
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