Dirt Bag Guides: Canmore

Tom Livingstone and Uisdean Hawthron visited the Canadian Rockies for some alpine climbing in September, living mostly our of their rented van and poaching WiFi wherever possible. Since I live here, I rarely have issues with finding my bed or WiFi, so I thought I’d ask them for a visitors’ take on the Dirt Bag’s Guide to Canmore, Banff and climbing in the Rockies.

Check out Tom’s reports from their trip The Greatest SummerFrustration and HopeCanadian Dreams – North Face of Mt. Alberta attempt as well as Uisdean’s North Face of Mt Alberta Attempt

The Beta

Best Wifi
Canmore: The Alpine Club Lodge
Banff: The Banff Centre (best in Bow Valley!)

Best place to get a shower
Canmore: The Canmore Nordic Centre ($1 for 5 minutes).
Banff: The Banff Centre ($6 for endless showers and steam room!)

Best place to get gear
Switching Gear in Canmore should be your first port of call as it has good, cheap, second-hand gear.
Vertical Addiction in Canmore for technical climbing kit.
Valhalla Outfitters in Canmore for clothing, equipment and climbing kit.
Monod’s in Banff for everything climbing.

Best places to hang out
Canmore: The Nordic Centre and The Alpine Club.
Banff: The Banff Centre and the numerous cafes on the main street are good.

Best rainy day activities
Go to Elevation Place in Canmore for a tiny indoor climbing wall.
Go to the Cinema in Banff.
Hang out at the Nordic Centre or The Alpine Club in Canmore (The ACC has good showers, lounge, washing machines and wifi).
Go for a run around any of the trails from the main street.

Best cragging around Canmore/Banff
Echo Canyon is ace, including The Lookout and Coliseum crags.
Grotto Canyon is not great but ideal if you only have a few hours.
For multi-pitch routes, go to Yamnuska or The Ghost (highly recommended).
Go to the Back of the Lake crags (e.g. Air Voyage Wall) if you’re in Lake Louise and after the best single-pitch trad routes.

Getting around
Renting a vehicle when you arrive in Canada works well. If you’re flying, go to Calgary airport. We rented from Enterprise (note — take a taxi from the airport to their ‘in town’ depot, and you’ll save a lot of money. Airport prices are very inflated).

A mini-van (e.g. Chrysler Town & Country) is the best solution if you want to sleep in the back of it and still have room for all your kit.

Having your own transport is essential for getting around in Canada.

Accommodation
If you don’t want sleep in your vehicle then stay at the Alpine Club in Canmore or go to a hostel.

More knowledge
The commercially available outdoor maps aren’t great. The best we found were the yellow, 1:50,000/1:75,000 waterproof hiking maps available in the above gear shops.

If you drive past Lake Louise and onto the Parkway, make sure you’ve got a full tank of gas and plenty of food. There are no more supermarkets past Lake Louise.

Safeway is a good supermarket with average wifi, money-off-fuel vouchers and a budget range.

Climbing
The alpine climbing in the Rockies is really good (when it’s in condition). Expect alpine scale and quality, without massive altitude, but with chossy rock and super-remoteness if you venture a little further. A helicopter rescue would be impossible in many areas unless you had a sat phone!

In one month we made attempts at Mt. Kitchener’s Grand Central Couloir, Mt. Andromeda’s Andromeda Strain, Mt. Alberta’s North Face (twice) and climbed the Greenwood/Jones on Mt. Temple.

We didn’t slouch around and took a gamble when conditions weren’t perfect. All our attempts ended due to poor conditions. C’est la vie. You could just sit around in town and only get one or two routes/attempts in a month, but that’s not why you came here, is it?

Compared to the Alps, there are very few alpine climbers in the Rockies, but they’re all total legends and wads. If you want to find out about conditions, you’ll probably have to go and have a look for yourself.

Check out the Canadian Alpine Mountain Guides conditions reports. They’re helpful.

The weather reports are fairly basic. Spotwx.com is a good one, and check out the Yamnuska alpine guiding company for links to other weather sites. Supertopo.com have some very informative forums with a lot of history about the Canadian Rockies (e.g. http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=2506731&tn=0)

September seems to be the best month for Alpine objectives. It’s relatively warm and dry but ice should (!) be forming. In our month-long stay we experienced a ton of snowfall, some cold and crisp weather, some rain, a couple of days of 25 degrees and sunshine… so who knows!

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