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 Ampitheater 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 ampitheater. 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 effectient 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.
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 smokey 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.
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.
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 ampitheater 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 but I didn't feel very threatened the whole time.
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 bruins. 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.
I took pictures of the berries at the beginning of the day already because I knew the bears would be out eating them, even though there were no warnings at the trail head.
The main trail is very well travelled!
Make sure you take a hard right before entering the ampitheater to gain the ridge.
Mounts Cory and Louis show up.
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.
This was the 'sketchiest' part (not bad). There are some places with downsloping slabs and small scree to get over. It helped to have long legs here.
Part of the crux - wouldn't want too much snow here.
The crux. The summit is visible on top right. There are three guys ahead of me but they're hard to spot.
The final 250 vertical meters.
Lake Minnewanka environs from the summit.
More of the same.
The North Summit - does it look higher? :-)
Vern on the summit of Cascade Mountain:
Golfing from the summit? Good times!
The ampitheater and the route up as seen from the summit:
Mount Norquay ski hill and summit:
Looking down hwy 1 from the summit. Mount Rundle on the center-right:
Mount Aylmer. What a slog that was! ;-)
Looking back on the descent. Lots of people going up:
Follow the cairns! Some people ignored them because they seem to be the long way around. They're not. They are the right way, especially the cairns with orange or pink flagging.
See the bear? Black spot on the side of the trail...
He finally moved off the trail enough for me to get past.
Looking at the mountain from the place where the trail leaves the resort. Hike to the Mystic Chair and then take the skier's path into the forest. There's a sign right at the beginning but you first have to find the trail!