I wasn’t born in the mountains, but little by little, they pulled me in. My life changed forever on the day we loaded up our rental car and drove west from Calgary on a once-in-a-life-time trip for this snowboarding teenager from the small hills of Ontario. Taking in the views as much as we could, my dad behind the wheel slowly rounded each bend, and as we entered the Bow Valley, the soaring mountains seemed to swallow us up. Soon there was no horizon, only white jagged peaks in every direction. I had never felt more at home.
I didn’t know it then, but I fell deeply in love with the Rockies and many years later with a girl who shared my affection for them. After graduating high school at 17, I left for Colorado (what seemed like the centre of the outdoor universe) to explore more mountains and as much rock climbing as my body could handle. By my early 20s, I was back in Alberta –– climbing, hiking and skiing and came to the realization that Canada is home to some of the best mountain-living in the world.
I met my wife through climbing on the coast in Squamish, BC –– she was on a road trip, but living in Canmore and soon so was I. We’ve lived in many different places for many different reasons, but Canmore will always be a home for us. I still climb as much as I can, juggling dad life between writing, guiding and parenting two little ones. It’s a lot sometimes (as any parent will attest), but there’s no other way I’d rather live my life.
Recently, I had the honour of working with Destination Canada to share some of my favourite places in the Canadian Rockies. While there are no doubt thousands of adventures to be had, I was able to narrow this project down to two places within only a few kilometres of each other: Loder Peak and Grotto Canyon.
Located in the Wildland area, this is a designated wildlife corridor so always travel with the appropriate gear and safety equipment required. It’s important to be considerate of all living things by staying on designated trails and keeping your distance from each other as well as any animals you may encounter.
This adventure began with an early morning drive to the Jura Creek parking lot, on the 1A, which is about 15 minutes east from Canmore, Alberta, or 55 minutes west from Calgary.
Getting up early is one of the hardest things to do in our busy lives, but with some of the greatest rewards.
Joined by two friends, we packed our bags the night before and set our alarms for 6am. The next morning, we began our journey in the dark by headlamp and the forecast called for high winds, but that didn’t deter us. Following the obvious yet narrow path of impact dirt and gravel, we quickly began to gain elevation, and our warmer layers quickly found their way to the top of our packs. The hike follows a stunning rounded ridge, not unlike the backbone of a three-kilometre-long dinosaur, that weaves in and out of rocky outcrops and brawny bushes. If you ever feel too exposed, there is always an easier line to take just around the corner.
After about an hour, we reached the first lookout point that highlights dozens of amazing more peaks in a 360-degree view––from Yamnuska to Fable and Lougheed to Heart and everything in between. We arrived at the rock cairn just as the sun was coming up over the horizon, and everything lit up like a warm fire. As we scrambled around exploring more views, a strapping young mountain goat meandered to the summit to join us in this celebration of light. It was such a special moment that we just had to take some pictures before he bound off in search of others, and soon after, we migrated back down the other way to our cars. We leaped and hopped down sticky rock slabs, and laughed our way through the trees.
Later, after a quick lunch break and ample time for the sun to warm up the atmosphere, we hiked into Grotto Canyon. For every mountain we see, there is a valley below, and sometimes those valleys turn into canyons. Thousands of years of rushing water carve smooth sculpted walls out of Alberta’s limestone, and while some make for excellent rock climbing, others are just to be appreciated for their natural beauty. Grotto Canyon is one of my new favourite places for its mix of both.
Grotto is known for its winter ice walking, ice climbing and rock climbing history, it is also one of the more accessible canyons for young families to explore. With beauty abound, it is a place to hike and appreciate the power of the elements, and also to rope up. In fact, it’s one of the rare places in the Bow Valley that you can climb an ice pillar with picks and crampons, as well as a rock wall with sticky rubber and a chalk bag on the very same day.
Although there are plenty of places for beginners to learn, the canyon is home to Canada’s very first 5.13 rated rock climb established in the late 1980’s. Today, it is still a cutting edge arena with one 5.14 and a handful of futuristic looking projects.
While this is just one of hundreds of beautiful canyons to visit in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it has become one of my personal favourites. The biggest reasons are for the powerful style of climbing and the quick access from the road. In 20 minutes from the parking lot, I can be warming up on some classic routes and preparing for something steeper, I can also be back to town in half an hour (tops) to pick up the kids –– it’s a quaint mountain playground only minutes from the 1A.
And while the rock season may be ending as we approach the holidays, I hope to be back out there in March as the days grow longer to experience early Spring conditions, and feel those warm rays from the sun beaming into the Canyon again.
These are hard and unprecedented times, but Canada is filled with amazing adventures right in our own backyards. The Bow Valley is a day trip for many Albertans and is filled with hikes and scrambles for the seasoned alpinist or the family seeking a nice sunrise. So I encourage us all to keep our distance, respect closures or restrictions, but get outside with loved ones and explore places we’ve never made time for before when it’s safe to do so. Remember, it’s not what we look at that is important, it’s what we see. www.canadanice.ca