Cascade Mountain

Summit Elevation (m): 2998
Elevation Gain (m): 1650
Trip Time (hr): 5.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 20
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes
: If there’s snow on the upper traverse / crux this is no longer a scramble and can be dangerous. Wait until its completely dry.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps
Photos: View Album

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 but mostly wrong about that!

Cascade Mountain Route Map.

There were, indeed, 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. 

Hmmm. The 6km hike into the Cascade Amphitheater is pleasant but long. The worst part is losing height for the first 1-2km along Forty Mile Creek before finally gaining height on a steep trail towards 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.

I ended up passing a total of around 35 people before catching up with the first 3 summiteers just before the summit on the final endless scree slog to the top.

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.

Gorgeous view down Lake Minnewanka with Mount Astley and Aylmer on the left, Costigan at distant center and Inglismaldie and Girouard on the right.
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. Sira Peak visible at distant right here.

I passed tons of people on the way down and did something that I very rarely do. I took a shortcut 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 shortcut 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 definitely on my own now. I breathed a sigh of relief when the shortcut finally intersected with a main trail (road) along Forty Mile Creek 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.

Views towards Mount Norquay, Edit and Cory over the ascent ridge.

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 particular bruin.

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.

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