- 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.].
- MAXIMUM ELEVATION: 2,350 m.
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 8o
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 200
C), 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.