On Saturday August 29, 2009 I decided to make a solo attempt at scrambling up the popular Cascade Mountain in Banff National Park. I figured that since this was such a popular trail there would be tons of people to help scare the local bear population off the trail for me.
I was partly right...
There were tons of people! I left the parking lot at 08:00 behind a group of 24 (!) people being led by an organization of some type. I tried my hardest to stay behind them but eventually I slowly passed every member of the group till I found myself hiking alone through the forest, surrounded by fresh bear berries! OOOPS.
The 6km hike into Cascade Amphitheater is pleasant but long. The worst part is losing height for the first 1-2km before finally gaining height on a steep trail to the amphitheater. You actually don't want to walk right to the theater (unless you want to see it - it's kind of cool), but if you want the most efficient scrambling access, take the very first trail that branches to the right once you pass the last sign to the theater. There will be sticks or logs blocking the trail but obviously you can still use it to access the ridge.
[Lots of flowers on the hike.]
[Crossing Forty-Mile Creek.]
[Even though there were no warnings at the trailhead, I knew all the ripe berries meant bears would be a possibility.]
[The trail is very well-used.]
[If you follow the main trail you end up in the amphitheater which is a nice spot to grab a coffee or bite to eat - assuming you packed that way!]
[You can avoid the amphitheater by taking a hard right turn before going up that far and hitting this ridge.]
[Great views of the Norquay Ski Resort and Mount Norquay. Edith, Cory and Louis on the right.]
[Close up of Edith, Cory and Louise (L to R)]
[After traversing around the scree you see how far you still have to go! Make sure you follow the cairns with orange flagging or you will get off route.]
[Lots of route markers on the way.]
[Looking back at the ascent ridge - I've just lost a bit of height here.]
[Looking down the ascent ridge (R) with Banff and Mount Rundle (L) in the background.]
[You do not want any snow or ice on this traverse section! There are some places with down sloping slabs and small scree to get over. It helped to have long legs here.]
[The crux isn't too bad when dry.]
[A familiar scree slog to the summit - a Rockies theme.]
[Looking down into the Cascade Amphitheater. The ascent ridge at left.]
[Looking back down the ascent route.]
[Gorgeous view down Lake Minnewanka with Aylmer on the left and Inglismaldie / Girouard on the right.]
Eventually I ended up passing a total of around 35 people before catching up with the first 3 summiteers just before the summit. After taking in the rather smoky views and driving a golf ball off the summit (the 3 guys were on their first summit and celebrated by trying to hit Johnson Lake with range balls!) I was ready for the descent.
[There is some debate about whether the first summit is indeed the highest one, but based on this photo, I think it probably is. If a subsequent peak doesn't look obviously higher, it most likely is about 5-10 feet lower. Slightly higher looking peaks are usually the same height as the one you're standing on for some reason. ;)]
[Looking north off the summit. The valley below is a nice mellow ski trip in winter.]
[Looking over Edith, Cory and Louis towards Pilot, Brett and Mount Ball in the far distance with the snow cap.]
[Not an every day sight...]
[A pretty decent swing!]
[Looking over the Norquay Ski Hill and Mount Norquay towards the Sundance Range and Sunshine Ski Area.]
[Looking up Lake Minnewanka. Costigan in the far distance, Inglismaldie and Girouard just right of center.]
[Mount Aylmer with the lower ridge of Astley at left.]
[A very smoky Bow Valley. Rundle at left.]
I passed tons of people on the way down and did something that I very rarely do. I took a short cut trail off the main trail. This was not a smart idea for a number of reasons.
[Looking straight down Banff Avenue from the descent ridge!]
[Lots of cairns to follow.]
Remember my theory that everyone was chasing the local bears off the main trail? Well I was right. But I was no longer on the main trail! As the short cut trail kept going and kept NOT hitting the main trail I was getting a bit worried. I was in the middle of a fresh berry patch, far off the main trail and on my own now. I breathed a sigh of relief when the short cut finally intersected with a main trail again. But I knew this wasn't my ascent trail but rather the left hand branch of it. But I knew I must be close and headed down it. I wasn't doing my usual yelling because I figured there were lots of people around and I didn't want to sound paranoid.
About 100 meters from the main amphitheater trail I ran into a large black bear eating berries. Yep. Alone with a black bear who was not that ready to give me room to get around him.
I briefly turned around before he saw me and pondered what to do. I figured I didn't have the energy to backtrack around him and since I had pepper spray I palmed it and took the safety off. I slowly approached the bear, talking in a firm but not too loud voice I told him I just wanted to get past and he should let me. He didn't really want to but eventually he slowly moved into the bush and I slowly made my way past him (probably no more than 15 meters at the closest point) before making my way down the trail again. I surprised myself by not feeling too nervous the whole time. I'm glad he wasn't a 800 lb grizzly with cubs - I didn't feel very threatened by this bruin.
[I didn't linger to get a better photo... ;)]
I yelled my way to the parking lot, letting people I knew about the bear. One lady was very jealous that I seen it and couldn't believe that I simply talked it off the trail. She'd never seen a bear over all her hiking in the mountains. I'm not sure how that happens, but I suspect she maybe doesn't do a lot of solo hiking... ;-)
Lessons learned? KEEP YELLING NO MATTER HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE ON THE TRAIL! I'm convinced that my yelling "Hey BEAR" every 20 seconds when in bear areas has help me avoid many encounters of the furry kind with huge claws. I nearly ran right into this guy and would have if I wasn't being a bit paranoid about it. If I was yelling I think he would have at least been off the trail when I did meet him.
Cascade is a good, quick mountain if you don't have time for a major objective. I had more fun than expected on it.