Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Canmore Triple Crown

Within a month of moving to Calgary, I had already heard about the Canmore Triple Crown, but it took 3 years of living here to finally do it. If you haven't heard of the Triple Crown, it requires the completion of 3 popular hikes around Canmore in a day (Ha Ling, East End of Rundle aka EEOR and Lady MacDonald). It sounded achievable but grueling and despite tossing the idea around many brainstorm sessions, there was always something more appealing on the table and thus it never budged from its place low on ever growing list of weekend activities. A bad weather forecast was shutting us down from our original weekend trip and I threw out the idea of going for the Triple Crown, since you can scramble in any weather. To my surprise, it was met with enthusiasm so we got an early night on Friday in anticipation of a big day of hiking.

The Triple Crown can be done in a variety of ways. The most "pure" way would be to run between the trailheads, adding a few hundred metres of elevation and a number of kilometres to an already committing day. I was not interested in that based on my level of training for this endeavor (none). The least intense way is to do all 3 hikes over the span of a summer. The Georgetown Inn in Canmore will reward you with a pint glass and T-shirt for completing this "challenge" and posting selfies of yourself on each summit on their Facebook page. That did not seem very interesting at all, so we opted for the middle option, all three hikes in one day, using the car to get from trailhead to trailhead to make it more manageable. This still resulted in an 11 hour day with 3000m of climbing over 23km.

We started with the least popular of the three hikes, EEOR. This is a 900m easy scramble that follows a good trail straight up the ridge to the summit. There is some scrambling to reach the top but nothing too crazy. We were moving quick and able to bang this one off in just 2.5 hours round trip. From the summit, we noticed some guys checking out a flat spot along the ridge. We soon realized that they were getting ready to base jump and were lucky enough to be able to watch all three of them huck themselves off the cliff and into the abyss. We wandered over to their take-off to check it out by they were long gone by the time we arrived.
Minute #1 - Leaving the car full of energy in the sunshine
Heading up to the summit of EEOR
Nice weather and views from EEOR summit
Top of EEOR - 1 down, 2 to go
Views of Spray Lakes and Ha Ling (our next challenge)
Checking out the base jumpers take off - yikes!
 Next up was Ha Ling, 700m of elevation. In the time we had done EEOR, the parking had filled up and the mountain was crawling with Saturday hikers. It was a much different crowd than the people we had seen on EEOR who were out to scramble, base jump or camp and were well equipped for the mountains. The Conversely, the Ha Ling crowd had a significantly higher percentage of hikers in jeans and skate shoes. Kyle described the mountain as an ant-hill and it certainly felt like it with people switch-backing all the way up the mountain in a long string. We got to the top right around 12:30 and it was hard to find a spot on the ridge to hang out! We didn't stay long and took a scree detour that probably took about 20 mins off our descent time by skipping two big switchbacks. We were back at the car in just under 2 hours where we took a well-deserved lunch break and sat with our feet soaking in the frigid water of lake. We were five hours into the challenge and starting to feel the pain of two quick hikes with the longest and hardest still to go. Clouds had been gathering all day and the nasty weather that was keeping us from climbing looked like it was going to make an appearance. Kyle and I made a pact that we were going to finish this thing that day, there was no way I was coming back to re-do it later!
Top of Ha Ling with the hordes
Mountain sheep family at the bottom of Ha Ling
Sheep running down the slab
Lunch break and ice bath for the feet after 2 summits 
After an hour rest, we started up Lady MacDonald. The pace had noticeable slowed and our feet were getting pretty sore. The challenge put on by the Georgetown Inn only requires that you go up to the old teahouse (which is no longer there and only has a heli-pad remaining), but the true summit is a significant way above that. We had decided to make a call when we got up there, but I was pretty set on going to the true summit which involves a ridge scramble for a few hundred metres. I had been up Lady Mac just after moving to Calgary but just to the ridge top, and Kyle had been to the same place back in High School. Although neither of us were saying it, we both wanted to push through the pain and finish the challenge properly. It is 1200m elevation from the car to the summit and it took us just over 5 hours to complete the hike. We had to take a long break at the heli-pad to stretch and eat before pushing on to the ridge. On the way up the scree slope it started snowing. Luckily the squall only lasted for about 10 minutes but it was miserable. Neither of us were interested in talking anymore and we were just focused on putting one foot in front of the other to get to the top. We both caught a second wind at the ridge when we could see how close the true summit was. We scrambled along the ridge, which only had one crux section directly below the top. What a triumph to be on top! It was a short-lived celebration as we still had to get back down but it was a great feeling to be descending for the last time for the day. Back at the car we ate all the food we had then made a quick stop at the Georgetown to pick up our free T-shirts. If we were going to do it again (maybe as a quad to add Grotto in like another group that was out that day) I think we would want to do Lady Mac first and then finish with Ha Ling. It was a pretty awesome way to spend a questionable weather day!
Rest at the heli pad on Lady MacDonald as clouds move in
Where we already were
Ridge traverse on Lady Mac
True summit of Lady Mac and mission complete
Views of misty mountains from Lady Mac
Cool clouds around Ha Ling as seen from Lady Mac Descent

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