Kananaskis Country and Canmore
Rock and Ice Climbing, Canmore & Kananaskis Crags
Canmore is the last town outside of Banff National Park on the east side. As
such, it has become somewhat of a Mecca for people looking to get into the
mountains without having to deal with the regulation and bureaucracy of the
park. The Canadian Alpine Club is based here, which has certainly helped raise
the profile of Canmore as an outdoorsy town.
Canmore is populated by a healthy mix of climbers, mountain bikers, rich people,
and hippies, and has a very laid-back though active atmosphere. For the climber,
Canmore offers virtually everything one could want. Fantastic mountain vistas
and lots of rock (at least 8 crags within a 20 minute drive) including both
sport, gear, multi-pitch, and alpine routes. For days when it is too wet to
climb there is lots of great hiking and mountain biking. In town there are all
the conveniences a modern climber could want.
And best of all for all those stuck to jobs back in the city, all this is only
an hour and fifteen minutes away from Calgary.
Rock Climbing around Canmore
Most of the climbing around Canmore is in the canyons formed by the runoff from
the mountains in the area. As such, many of the cliffs receive only a limited
amount of sun, which is good on hot summer days, but can be cold in the early
and late season. As well, keep in mind that recent precipitation, or warm
weather in the early season may leave the creeks in the canyons very high,
making the many crossings difficult, and some of the cliffs unclimbable. The
climbing itself is quite varied. Acephale, Grassi Lakes and Carrot Creek are
steep, pocketed crags, while Cougar Canyon and Heart Creek tend to be less
steep, but more technical climbing. The long cliffs on Mt. Rundle and Ha Ling
peak offer some fantastic multi-pitch climbing, both sport and gear, in a fine
situation over 1000 metres above the valley floor.
The Crags of Canmore & Area
Acephale is home to the highest concentration of hard routes in the Rockies. The
steeply overhanging pocketed limestone crag has over 50 routes, of which only a
handful are below 5.12.
Heart Creek flows through a narrow canyon between Heart Mountain and Mount
McGillivray just before it crosses the Trans Canada highway. The cliffs along
the west side of the canyon offer a number of climbs, mostly in the 5.10 and
5.11 range. The rock is featured, though not very pocketed, and generally slabby
or vertical. Most of the climbs are quite short, though there is definite
possibility for long, hard, long routes on the wall to the north of Blackheart.
Set in a picturesque canyon between Mt Rundle and Chinaman’s Peak, Grassi Lakes
offers a number of excellent, steep routes on pocketed limestone of variable
(poor?) quality. Owing to the steepness of some of the walls, Grassi is often a
good place to climb when it is raining out.
Ha Ling Peak
The impressive 550 metre north face of Ha Ling Peak (formerly Chinaman’s Peak),
which stands above Grassi Lakes and Canmore, is climbed by the longest North
American sport route north of Mexico. Although the route goes at 5.10d, it is a
long, serious climb, with 11 pitches of 5.10. There are also a number of gear
routes on Ha Ling.
East End of Rundle and Kanga Crag
The east end of Mt Rundle offers a number of multi-pitch routes, both gear and
sport, as well as some shorter routes at Kanga Crag at it’s base.
Carrot Creek, to the west of Canmore along highway 1, has a number of
outstanding routes on the very steep limestone walls along the gorge on the
north side of the highway. Note that at the current time Carrot Creek is
currently CLOSED to climbing, due to the importance of the valley as a wildlife
Bathtub Brook and The Alcove
Two small, relatively undeveloped crags near the Harvie Heights area of Canmore.
The routes at The Alcove are generally a little stiffer than those at Bathtub
The Stone Works
The Stone Works is the gorge immediately west of Mt Lady McDonald. Most of the
climbs are on the walls of the narrow canyon, as well as a couple of walls
above. Climbs are generally in the 5.10 to 5.11 range.
Cougar Canyon, the drainage between Mt Lady McDonald and Grotto Canyon, offers a
large number of climbs on some good quality limestone. The climbing is generally
technical vertical face climbing, and the rock is edgy as opposed to pocketed.
Grotto Canyon is the drainage to the west of Grotto Mountain, near the Baymag
cement plant #2. Grotto is one of the oldest and largest crags in the Rockies,
with over 200 routes, however many routes are of poor quality. The climbing
ranges from viciously overhanging to slabby, and offers a wide variety of grades
(5.6 to 5.13). The rock is generally featured but not pocketed, and tends to
polish easily, especially along the base of the cliff which is washed by the
creek at high water. Usually wet for a few days after a storm.
The tall, chossy looking wall just to the west of Grotto Canyon. Traditionally
known for multi-pitch routes on horrific rock, there are now a few sport routes
at the base as well.
Steve Canyon and the The Sanctuary
Steve Canyon is the next drainage to the east of Grotto. Although the Upper Wall
has some longer (30m) routes, most of the climbs are short, and in the 5.10
range. The Sanctuary is a cliff a 45 minute hike above the canyon. With its
southern exposure, the Sanctuary is a good early or late season crag.
Rock Climbing in Kananaskis Country
Kananaskis Country extends along the eastern fringe of the Canadian Rockies,
south of the Bow Valley. Unlike the climbing in the Bow Valley which is mostly
in canyons, the climbing in Kananaskis is generally on the many cliffs on the
foothills of the Rockies. The bluffs are not as steep or pocketed, and the
climbing tends to be more technical than strenuous. Most of the crags offer
primarily single pitch routes, though Yamnuska, the first major wall seen
driving west from Calgary has a number of outstanding multi-pitch routes of a
few hundred metres.
Most of the crags in K-country are accessed from highway 40. Yamnuska, Kid Goat
and Nanny Goat, on the north side of the Bow Valley, are accessed from highway
1A. Moose Mountain, Prairie Creek and White Buddha are all accessed from highway
66 (the Bragg Creek road). Burstall Slabs is on Spray Lakes Road between the
Kananskis highway (40) and Canmore.
The crags in Kananaskis are among the best early and late season crags. Although
they are subject to the same unpredictable weather patterns as the rest of the
Rockies, it is often possible to start climbing in early April, as soon as the
snow melts enough to make the approaches reasonable. Barrier in particular is
one of the best early season crags.
The Crags of Kananaskis Country
Well known for it’s many excellent multi-pitch routes, the 500 metre south
facing wall of Yamnuska has been one of the hot spots of climbing activity for
many years. Note that the climbs on Yam are not sport routes, they are long,
serious climbs. Due to rock fall hazard a helmet is strongly advised on Yamnuska.
Kid Goat and Nanny Goat
Two crags on the southeast face of Goat Mountain, both offering a number of
decent climbs at a moderate grade. Note that for Nanny Goat some gear is
required for most of the climbs.
One of the larger Kananaskis crags, with well over 100 routes. The north end of
the cliff has a number of 2 to 4 pitch gear routes, most at a moderate grade.
The south end of the crag is mostly sport, offering a number of great climbs in
the 5.9 to 5.12 range. Barrier is one of the best crags in the early season, and
occasionally escapes the afternoon showers which plague the mountains in the
An anomaly amongst the limestone crags of the Rockies, Cowbell Crag is on a
conglomerate bluff 10 km north of Highwood Junction. The crag is characterized
by thin to medium sized cracks, and nearly all of the climbs require gear. The
grades are generally 5.10 and below.
Well worth the 40 minute approach. Steep, featured limestone cliffs look down on
Prairie Creek flowing through the valley bottom. Most of the good climbs are
5.11 and above. Because it faces north and often gets a breeze, Prairie is a
good place for hot days.
A bouldering crag one valley south of Prairie creek. Park in the parking lot
just past the Prairie Creek pullout and head up the dirt road for a couple
kilometres, then head up the steep hill to the north to reach the cliff. The
problems do not generally top out, but finish at a line of huge jugs half way up
the cliff. A number of problems from V1 to V7.
This information has been provided courtesy of Matthew Buckle. [email protected]
Click HERE for Types of Climbing and Terminology