- 2013 - 

Opabin Plateau

Late July Early August 2013


We stayed at: Arkle House in Banff
:::.. Best of Banff Lodging
:::.. B&B Canada
:::.. The Complete Banff B&B Guide


This year (late June/early July 2013), the city of Calgary and the surroundig areas were devasted by severe floodings.

For a time, the highway between Calgary and Canmore was closed due to severe damage.

Some trails were also damaged due to washouts, but, by the time we arrived (late July early August) all the roads were open (except the road to Sunshine Village) and most of the trails were accessible and in good conditions.



Quotes from :

  • Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
    [by Graeme Pole; Altitude Publ. Canada Ltd., Vancouver; 1999]:
    "The Edith and Cory passes loop is unquestionably the most spectacular and strenuous outing in the vicinity of Banff".
    The author describes hiking the trail in a counterclockwise direction.

  • Canadian Rockies Trail Guide
    [by Brian Patton & Bart Robinbson; 8th edition; Summerthougth, Banff; 2007]: "Cory pass is the most spectacular hike near Banff. ... (Caution: do not underestimate the physical exertion that this hike requires. The trail is also hazardous when the ground is frozen or there is snow and ice on section of the route.)"
    This guide describes the hike in clockwise direction.

  • The Gem Trek
    "[Very strenuous] This spectacular hike leads to splendid alpine terrain at Cory Pass and unforgettable close-up view of the wrinkle face of Mt. Louis".
    The map's back page notes describe the hike in a clockwise direction.

Observation: By making the circuit in a counterclockwise fashion, the hikers would have to scramble up the Gargoyle valley to Cory pass, for well over 1 Km, on a very loose and shifting scree on the slope of Mt. Edith.
In addition, the steep and at times extremely steep sections of the trail, after Cory pass, would be a "knee-jarring experience" [italic quote from "Canadian Rockies Trail Guide"].

Trails we hiked While in Banff

Late July - Early August
  • TIME: 8 hrs circuit (our time; Gem Trek Publ. = 3 to 4 hrs to Cory pass).
  • DISTANCE: 12.9 km circuit; 5.5 km. to Cory pass [Gem Trek Publ.].
  • ELEVATION: +920 m [Gem Trek Publ.].
For our hike, we followed the trail in a clockwise direction.
The trailhead is at the Fireside Picnic Area, along the Bow Valley Parkway, just outside Banff.

We started the ascent at 8 am, with low clouds and fog in the Bow valley. Temperature 8oC

The forecast for the day was announcing a 60% chance of rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon.  The same forecast for the previous day was completely wrong. Once the fog cleared, it remained sunny all day.

This trail is deemed, by many, to be one of the most strenuous/difficult day-hike in the vicinity of Banff. Cory pass is 5.5 km from the trailhead and requires a steep gain of 920 m. in elevation with very few short switchbacks.

As we gained altitude through the aspen woodland, the mist started dissipating and we soon were above the sparse clouds some of which were still lingering below the surrounding peaks. Quite a spectacle looking south/west in the distance across the Bow valley towards the Massive Range and many more peaks in the far distance.

Unfortunately, and for a long while, one can hear the noise of the heavy traffic from the Trans-Canada highway.

After a couple of hours (for us anyway; shooting pictures compounded with a few other intermissions) we reached the Cory knoll viewpoint (1.7 km from start) from where the V-shape of the pass is clearly visible high in the distance.

Not too far up from this viewpoint, maybe 1 Km. or so, we encountered a rocky knoll; this requires first a short steep climb up; then the trail fades somewhat and, if not careful, you end up looking down a steep cliff. As you approach the ledge, look for a yellow trail sign high on a tree towards the right. Here the trail drops about 15 m. almost vertically; we descended backward, stepping down on the thin ledges of a brittle shale rock, using our hands to steady ourself.

From here on the trail climbs steadily along an open and, from time to time, narrow and eroded trail all the way to the pass, which is visible most of the time.

We arrived at the pass at noon. The panorama to the south, parading numerous peaks and mountain ranges, was decidedly impressive; with good visibility one can spot Mt. Assiniboine towering in the distance.

After lunch (the thermometer registered 200C), we walked a few yards over towards the somewhat narrow Gargoyle valley; unexpectedly we were struck with astonishment: we were looking straight at the limestone face of Mt. Louis. A rather spectacular view, which made the climbing effort absolutely worthwhile.

Continuing over the pass, there are a few tall stacks of rocks on the right, one of them has a natural hole carved in it. Here the trail seems to vanish into the loose scree. I ventured amongst them to look for the trail. It was visible just below, undulating on the mid-flank of Mt. Edith.

We just kept walking down, on the left, past the rocky-towers and as soon as we were clear of them we joined the trail tracking on the right. The base of this section of the trail is loose scree; it goes on for over 1 km. Early in the season it might difficult to follow due to the snow melt erosion. According to hikers we met on the trail, who had done this hike several times before, the trick is to stay as high as one can all the way to the huge rock slide visible, at some point, in the valley to the left.

Before reaching the rock slide (it looks like a dam), the trail goes down at at steep angle and with much looser scree underfoot (a sinking feeling at each step).

Near the rock slide we noticed many cairns scattered all around; avoid those taking a path to the left, which will take you down further in the valley floor; look instead for those that will take you up to your right, almost under the vertical walls of Mt. Edith.

A note of caution: When the visibility is limited, it is very easy to get lost in this area. The rule of thumb, as suggested by others, would be to stay high on the slope.

By looking ahead you will see the beginning of the forest; along the edge of the forest, to the right and a bit higher, there is a small yellow trail tag nailed to a tree [not easy to see]; that is where the trail connects and continues down back to the trailhead at the Fireside Picnic Area.

See my photo album to get a better idea

Soon after entering the forest there is a trail to the right; I followed it for a short distance; not sure where it would end up; I eventually backtracked; so just ignore it.

Once we entered the forest, we had to contend with a combination of treacherous slippery roots and rocks for a long while.

A couple of kilometers before reaching the parking lot, we noticed buffalo berries along the trail and soon thereafter we sighted bear scat right on the trail; it looked just a few hours old ...; bear spray at the ready!

See the elevation profile of the trail in the next panel below.
  • TIME: 1 hr.
  • DISTANCE: 2.4 Km return.
  • ELEVATION: n/a
  • MAXIMUM ELEVATION: 1,884 m [lake elevation]
This beautiful lake, with the Wenkchemna peaks as a striking backdrop rising on the eastern bank, offers an easy and gratifying excursion along its shoreline.

One of the most interesting observation, on the morning of our visit, was the variation in the volume of the water cascading over the rock wall of Mount Fay's glacier, noticeable within a time frame of just over 30 minutes.

The parking space is rather limited, therefore it is advisable to arrive at the lake fairly early in the morning in order to get a parking spot.

By 12:30 the cars were lining up on the side of the approach road, which has a very narrow shoulder.

Temperature at noon was 120 C.
  • TIME: 3 hrs 30' return.
  • DISTANCE: 10.2 Km return.
  • ELEVATION: +538 m.
We started the day with very low clouds all around the Bow valley and in Lake Louise village.

Arrived at the lake at 9:30. The parking lot had just a few vehicles in it. The lake was still shrouded in fog. As we started climbing towards Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes, the fog started to lif.

Just after Mirror Lake, the trail is shared with the horseback riding travelers.

The teahouse at Lake Agnes was already full of people, both inside and at the outside picnic tables.

Still a lot of wildflowers along the trail, just past the Teahouse.

The view from the Big Beehive covered shelter is obstructed by trees. To view Lake Louise from these heights one needs to deviate from the trail and carefully approach the steep edge of the ridge.

From the top of the Big Beehive, and well before heading towards the shelter,the trail continues down and connects with the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail for the return to Lake Louise.

For our descent, we chose to return the same way to admire the beautiful wildflowers one more time. The distance is more or less

Temperature at the covered shelter was 200 C, just before noon.
  • TIME: 5 hrs 40' return.
  • DISTANCE: 18 km return.
  • ELEVATION: +760 m.
On this trail there are two lakes, wedged between the ramparts of Castle Mountain and Helena Ridge. As we approached the first lake, Tower lake, we were ashtonished, this late in the season, to find an ample variety of wildflowers in full bloom.

Tower lake is 7.7 km from the trailhead, with an elevation gain of 670. Just past the lake, the trail abruptly ascends the vertical headwall to access the stark scenary embracing Rockbound Lake.

As you leave the stunted forest and approach the lakeshore, try to get a fix on a point of reference of where you exited. A few hikers get lost trying to find the trail going back down.

From here one can attempt to scramble up Helena Ridge and other peaks (4?)

Temperature at the start of the hike, 8:40 am, was 70 C.
At Rockbound Lake, 11:50 am, the temperature had reached 200 C.
elevetion profile Cory pass

An approximation of the trail's elevation profile.

  1. The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide; Brian Patton and Bart Robinson, Summerthought Publication, Banff, Canada - Second edition, 1978
  2. Plants of the Rocky Mountains; L. Kershaw, A. Mac Kinnon, J. Pojar, Lone Pine Pub. Canada & USA - 1998
  3. Tour Book; AAA & CAA, AAA Pub. - 2001
  4. Maps by Gem Trek Publishing; Cochrane, Alberta, Canada
  5. Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies; Graeme Pole, Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd. , Vancouver - 1999
  6. The Wonder of Yoho; Don Beers, Rocky Mountain Books, Calgary - 1994
Page originally created September - 2014
New graphic April 2020
Giorgio Zanetti