Top 13 Mountains Every Calgarian Should Know –
Your friends or relatives have arrived and you want to show them the mountains. Or you take a family drive and your kids are asking. It helps to know some mountain names and some facts to make the drive to Banff/Lake Louise more interesting. It was difficult to choose just one picture for each mountain so I tried to pick the most common or popular view.
- Banded Peak – pyramid shape with black horizontal rock band aka “the pointy one with a band on it“. Visible from most of Calgary and surrounding area. Straight West of Okotoks- In a group with Outlaw, Cornwall which has the “cornpatch”- (last visible snow from Calgary in warm summer- skiable) and Glasgow. Banded Peak was sketched in 1881 by Marque of Lorne in first published drawing of Calgary Mountain Skyline. The Marque was a Canadian Governor General and Lake Louise is named after his wife who was Queen Victoria’s daughter.
- Moose Mountain – closest Mountain with rocky top to Calgary – West of Bragg Creek and very prominent from West on Highway 1(just South of Scott Lake Hill). Also lines up with Anderson Road and has an active fire lookout that was replaced in fall 2020. Can run, hike, bike or XC ski to the top from several directions. Just SouthWest of Moose is Prairie mountain – “the exercise/training peak for Calgary area” -steep hike that is across the road from Elbow Falls. ( bonus Fisher- closest mountain to Calgary that is over 10,000 ft),
- Devil’s Head – Spirit mountain named and drawn on leather hide map by guide “Old Swan” in 1770. Devils Head’s name is an accurate preservation of its native Cree-language name, we-ti-kwos-ti-kwan.Only Mountain identified by name and shape by Peter Fidler and subsequent explorers. Most visible from highrise buildings and Highway 1 and 1A West. Prominent Head shaped mountains were revered by native tribes and were used as signposts for annual North-South migration as followed buffalo. Identifiable from Carstairs on South. The other two “spirit mountains are Chief Mountain in Montana and Devils Tower in Wyoming by Black Hills. Tough access through Ghost area. Bonus Aylmer- highest by Banff and Blackrock (old 1920’s fire lookout). Peter Fidler was the first non native to climb in the rockies. He did Thunder mountain in 1792 with 2 Pikani guides. His 4th great grandson Bruce McKay has his 1792 Journal which describes the ascent. Bruce ascends Thunder every year.
- Yamnuska – First big mountain on right as drive West on Highway 1. Has a vertical limestone face due to a fault. There are 170 steep multipitch rock climbs on front and the backside is many Calgarians first taste of scrambling and exposure as scramble with chains along a ledge. The scramble is best done counter clockwise so the descent is the first big steep scree run for many people( yellow streak down front). The official name from 1961 is Mount John Laurie, but Yamnuska is its Nakoda name and most popular tag.
- Heart Mountain – by Exshaw and Lac des Arcs – rocky scramble training mountain (honorable mention to Baldy by Barrier Lake which is another scramble training mountain). To get into scrambling please buy Scrambles-In-The-Canadian-Rockies-3rd-Edition by Alan Kane or Andrew Nugara’s More Scrambles book and read the introductory and safety sections and then study the route descriptions carefully. There have been many rescues and some deaths on these mountains caused by over eager or ill prepared scramblers.
- Lougheed/Windtower – first closeup of big mountain over 10,000 ft from Highway 1. Has a dramatic vertical north face. All four peaks of Lougheed and Big Sister are visible from Calgary – line up with West end of Glenmore and 17th ave. ) – There are scramble routes up the backside from Spray Lakes. Windtower is an easy scramble in summer from Spray Lakes.(Smith-Dorian Road)
- Three Sisters – iconic group of mountains that is the most photographed and painted in Canmore area and maybe the Canadian Rockies – ( best viewed from North or across valley). Little Sister is a climb, Middle is a long but easy scramble and Big Sister is a Moderate Scramble from Spray Lakes side. West Bow Trail lines up with vertical North face of Big Sister
- Ha Ling, Canmore’s exercise/training peak. Climbed by Chinese kitchen worker in 1896 on a bet/dare. Many hikers first mountain. Now has a well graded trail with stone steps and even stairs. Together with EEOR(East End of Rundle) and Lady MacDonald are Canmore Triple Crown. Some classic multipitch climbs up front side. Lady MacDonald is named after the wife of the President of the railroad. She was so impressed with the mountains that she rode on the front of the train engine on the cow catcher to get the best view.
- Cascade – you drive straight toward Cascade after enter Banff Park Gates on Hwy 1. It is right beside first exit to Banff with great view of Cascade waterfall (ice climb in winter). The decommissioned Banff airport is in front of Cascade and mainly used by the local Elk herd. Cascade is heavily photographed as lines up with main street in Banff(Banff Ave). Long hike with some scramble at top. see excellent brochure to avoid going off route and being rescued. No shortcuts. Parks Canada Scramble Brochures
- Rundle – Long massive mountain with 8 peaks. Runs from Canmore to Banff. See both pictures for perspective. Most iconic view is from West over Vermilion Lake -honorable mention to other Banff favorites beside town are Tunnel (easy first hike for many tourists) and Sulphur which has the Gondola. East End of Rundle (EEOR) is a moderate scramble from Canmore and West end of Rundle is a moderate scramble from Banff. – See Parks Canada Scramble Brochures
- Castle – with Eisenhower Tower – classic view from highway 1 over Bow River. Long hike/scramble by Rockbound Lake. Tower is classic rock climb. The bump beside the Tower(just to left) is highest point at South end but the highest summit of Castle is at North end beside Stuart Knob.(Stuart Knob can be seen just right of the Tower)
- Temple – Famous as dominates view from Lake Louise area. Glaciated top and North face heavily photographed from Lake Louise village and ski area. Temple is one of 10 peaks around Moraine lake/Larch Valley and is the easiest to access of all the 54 Canadian Rockies peaks over 11,000 ft(3353m)- see very good parks brochure –Parks Canada Scrambling Brochures
- Victoria – prominent glaciated peak at end of valley with Lake Louise – Draped with glaciers it is also an 11 thousander. Lake O’Hara is on other side of Victoria. The high pass between Mount Lefroy and Victoria is Abbott pass which has Abbott hut – a stone climbers hut built in 1922.
Other Interesting or Notable Mountains in Canadian Rockies and Nearby Area – Note Link has Climbing Information for each one.
- Assinniboine – highest in Southern Rockies – identifiable for 50 km+ , matterhorn of rockies, – fantastic/spectacular hiking backpacking destination. Most popular route is North Ridge which is facing camera and the sun/shade divide. Mainly an advanced scramble on loose rock with some 5.5 sections on upper part.
- Robson – west of Jasper on Highway 16 – Highest in Canadian Rockies. Has 10,000 ft of prominence(3050 m) from trailhead to top. – Berg lake, falls, etc. Difficult climb as conditions are hard and some years is not climbed at all. Kain face and roof shown here versus the SW face which faces the road.
- Athabasca – Columbia icefields – dominant view from highway 93North – 11,000er (Andromeda, Athabasca Glacier and Snow dome to the right of this pic). This is North face and Silverhorn.
- Mount Columbia – highest mountain in Alberta – glaciated – ski ascent in winter/spring – totally hidden from view from highway
- Alberta – hardest of the 11,000 ft group and hidden from view from highway- less than 30 people have done full list of 54 or 58 – takes many seasons and a full lifetime for most.
- Edith Cavell – South of Jasper – angel glacier just showing one wing. This is the East ridge from North.East ridge is advanced scramble with some sections of 5.3 climbing on quartzite rock ridge.
- Sir Donald – Rogers Pass Highway 1 Best view coming from West – Climb is left skyline ridge 5.5 on quartzite rock.
- Crowsnest – and 7 sisters and Frank Slide/Turtle Mountain – Highway 3 – Crowsnest pass. Moderate Scramble.
- Chief Mountain- The second Spirit mountain after Devils Head – Very Prominent for Southern Albertan’s (visible for 50 km). Located just across border in Montana near Waterton Park- 3rd Spirit mountain is Devils Tower in Wyoming
- Fisher – Cranbrook area – Stanley cup on top twice by Scott Niedermayer 2000 Devils and 2007 Ducks
- Stanley – if drive to Radium/Invermere. 93 South just as cross into B.C. look left. – Glaciated North face is regularly climbed and skied.
- Begbie – Revelstoke Highway 1- climb by glacier which leads to horizontal ledge(see pic) and then scramble up blocky quartzite ridge.
- Nelson – prominent from Invermere valley – pic from Panorama ski resort.
- Bugaboos – Granite spires rising from glacier. World class climbing- climbers from all over world.