Standing at roughly 2240m, Mount Yamnuska is one of the busiest peaks from early on in the season until late fall due to its southern facing wall of stone and easy access to Calgary. It attracts scramblers, climbers and a range of climbing schools and tourist groups in groves.
Mount Yamnuska is a prime rock climbing place for those living in Calgary and the surrounding area. In the 1950’s, Swiss guides Hans Grmoser and Leo Graillmair ascended the “Graillmair Chimney” route and became prominent figures of the history of Yamnuska. The “Graillmair Chimney” became a new way of bold climbing and sparked a new era of exploration. The chimney is an obvious feature of Yamnuska that splits the mountain in 2.
'Back in the day', the mountain was known only as Yamnuska (deriving from the Stoney word "Iyamnathka", meaning steep cliffs or "the flat faced mountain.") until 1961. It was then changed to Mt Laurie in honor of John Laurie, the founder of the Indian Association of Alberta by the request of the Stoneys. John Laurie was a good friend to the Stoney people and helped them in many ways when it came to government matters, preserving their culture and good relations with Alberta citizens. Due to its popularity, Yamnuska has still remained as the most commonly used name when referring to the peak.
Fun Facts of Geology
Mount Yamnuska is predominantly made up of limestone and shale from the Paleozoic era. The mountain was built because of the McConnell Thrust Fault which thrusted the Cambrian carbonate rock of the Eldon Formation on top of the Cretaceous aged, clastic Belly River Formation. The Cambrian carbonate rock is a resistive type of rock that forms the cliffs on Yamnuska. At the base of the cliff face is where the fault sits. It represents and age difference of around 450 million years. It’s unbelievable to think that you can walk along such old rock!
Mount Yamnuska Traverse Trip Log
The trailhead starts on the west side of the parking lot. Follow the wide trail in the forest up until you get to the sign where the trail splits. Take trail to the right in the direction the sign points for the hiking trail.
The trail is a gentle climb up as it switchbacks through the forest. I do rather enjoy this portion of the hike as the forest density is just enough to vary the landscape and the trail resembles a wide cobblestone type walkway.
Along the trail there are a few trails that split off to the side for exceptional viewpoints which make for good excuses to take a short break! This alose gives you a chance to spot all of the exiquiste flowers as you gain elevation.
The trail keeps leading up through the forest, first away from the mountain and then heads back west towards Yamnuska, which stands visible as you keep steadily going up.
Once you make it above the treeline, you come up to a small chimney section which is an easy scramble up and a nice change from the mundane hike up no matter how beautiful the views are! This little scramble through the rock chimney takes you to the backside of Yamnuska.
Once on the backside, keep an out for the many trails traversing up and across the mountain backside. Follow one of the trails up to the ridge line and continue on the beaten path across the back.
You come across a couple false summits along the way. The true summit lays just past the crux. The crux is a small section where you have to walk on a narrow ledge (roughly 50 feet or so). But there is a cable to guide you along the section which proves especially useful for those who have a bit of a fear of heights!
Depending on your comfort level with heights this can be a simple walk in a park or a rather exhilarating experience.
In the summer time you can usually expect a crowd or line. There is a thick steel cable firmly attached to the rock. If you are afraid of heights just be sure to hold onto the cable and remind yourself that it is not going anywhere. If you start off by pulling on it and taking the slack out you can walk across without the cable swaying on you which makes it alot easier.
Past the crux continue along the path to the true summit. Parts of the trail require a bit of holding onto the rock on some small sections but if you managed to do the chimney and the cruz, these should be no problem and should only add to the adventure!
At the summit, you are greeted with a gnome figurien left behind by some scramblers from who knows when. Feel free to take a picture with or of the gnome, placed in between some rocks, making for a great addition to any panoramic shot! The true summit provides nothing but extrodinary views. On a clear, sunny day you can even see Downtown Calgary in the southeastern direction. There is a log book where you can sign and flip through other scrambler's comments.
To return you can take the same way back, meaning you will have to pass the crux once more or what we recommend and did is contiuning to traverse on the back side of Yamnuska. On the west side of the summit there is a beaten in path through the small loose rock and dirt. Follow this trail and continue to head west on the trail.
Once you get down to what looks like a fork, hang a left. This time we took the scree path that continues down the mountain. It looks like a great scree run down... which it is. But you end up quite a bit lower then the pass which involves you hiking back up below the pass to reach it.
Once you reach the pass on the west end, continue to take the beaten trail down which is a bit steep. The path is mainly made up of small, loose rock and dirt making it for a bit of a slipperly, not fun slope down. The trail then turns into a more level path that traverses under the front face of Mount Yamnuska.
From here you have a couple choices. Half way across you start seeing several long scree runs down Yamnuska allowing you to pretty much jog down the mountain. Taking the "express way" down the mountain saves you quite a bit of time. You can also continue on past the scree and follow one of the many trail that lead you down what is normally the climbers approach route. They eventually all converge into one.
Once the scree run is over, you connect back to a trail that the climber's approach route also connects to. This will lead you back to the sign in the beginning where the hiking and the climber's route split off. Continue down the wide trail to the parking lot.
GPS Plotted Route
As you can see it goes steady upwards. The two loss/gain moments on the decent (right hand side) are from taking the easier looking route down the scree slope and having to hike back up a bit further below.
Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.
What were your experiences scrambling Mount Yamnuska Traverse?
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