Elevation - 2554m / Rating - Moderate/Difficult / 15km Loop / 1500m Gain / Watch Data
Team: Brett Rayner / Jared Smith
Most people are content tackling one peak per day. Then there are crazies like my friend Jared and I. If we select a summit, and find out there are others close by, we will forgo a second trip, and go for multiple. We also seem to like running on these adventures. It all makes for some exciting trips, and this one was no different.
I finished work at 5:30 pm, and headed to my brothers house, where Jared and his dog Hazel were waiting. We had talked about going on a trail run that evening, but I was feeling tired, and Jared was not motivated either. The weather was looking spotty, and it was going to be dark in a few hours. I sat down to eat a snack, and soon found the motivation to go out for a quick trip.
We had been talking about doing the three peaks of Mount Edith near Banff. I climbed the highest (north) summit with my brother in 2016, but weather forced us to retreat before we could head to the centre, and south summits. We would be running back to the car in pitch darkness, but in theory we would make it down from the tough scrambling before sunset, and I had already done the loop and was comfortable navigating in the dark.
Thankfully we had Kevan to look after the puppy, and we quickly shoved a few important items in our running packs, and took off for the trailhead. We made it to the parking lot at fireside picnic area just before 6:30, did a little stretching, and then took off running down the trail. The route follows the Cory/Edith pass hiking trail, and the first section follows an old road, and then a trail that breaks off to the left at a sign. The forest begins to thin, and the trail winds through grassy fields above the highway. At a big tree with a sign you turn left uphill. The trail follows switchbacks up the steep open slope, with a few flat spots for rest breaks and taking in the views.
Jared kept a good pace, and I jogged behind as we entered the trees again. The trail continues steeply through the trees, and grows rocky near the top of the ridge. Finally the peaks of Mount Edith become visible, and the hint of a trail traversing below them can be seen in the distance. There are a few short down climbing moves before the trail levels out and cuts into the steep slopes of Edith.
View looking towards Sulphur Mountain
The south summit of Mount Edith
Jared travels light
Most groups will go all the way to the pass, before ascending the north summit first, as the trail is less steep. As you get directly below the south summit, there are a few trails which head straight up the mountain. Jared and I stopped to discuss a storm that was approaching, as we heard a rumbling in the distance. We decided that we could make a quick descent down from anywhere along the three peak ridge, at anytime, and began slogging up the loose scree.
Within 20 minutes we were standing on the col between the centre and south summits, deciding again if we should turn back, as the storm was moving closer. We could not see any lightning, but the thunder was getting louder. I have a storm alarm on my GPS watch, which gauges changes in atmospheric pressure, and warns when a storm is about to be right on top of you. From previous experience I know this feature works fairly well (every time it has gone off I've gotten wet, hailed on, or been in the middle of a thunderstorm), but should never be relied on. We decided that if this alarm went off, we would turn around immediately.
We headed off towards the summit block of the south peak. This is arguably the hardest of the three to ascend, involving steep scrambling, exposed ledges, and a few climbing moves. There is a faint trail to follow, and you start by traversing below a vertical flat wall on climbers left. The goal is a long, wide crack, which looks more like a tunnel as you get closer.
Storm moving in
Jared takes the last few steps up to the centre/south col
The summit block of Edith South (Photo - Jared Smith)
The scrambling gets steeper as you approach the tunnel, and it is best to hug the climbers left wall, as there are many good hand and foot holds, and you can avoid most of the loose scree. The tunnel is very steep, and we went up one at a time to avoid knocking any rocks on each other. There are no hard moves, and lots of holds to grab on the walls. As you emerge from the tunnel, there are many faint trails that travel up and left along ledges. Don't go too far, as it is easy to miss a ramp that leads up the wall to climbers left. I followed some cairns and came to a cliff, before realizing I had missed it
As I turned to backtrack, I saw a flash of light in the sky. I began counting, and thirty three seconds later the low rumble of thunder broke the silence. I looked down at my watch, expecting to see a little lighting bolt flashing at the top (storm indicator) but nothing was showing. Jared and I agreed that if the time between the flash and the thunder was less than thirty seconds, we would bail.
From the ramp the trail turns heading south again, and soon you enter a narrow gully, with a steep broken wall at the end. Climb up with a few awkward moves, and the way to the top will become clear. I waited for Jared to make it up the wall, and then we both started heading for the top. I saw another flash of light, and quickened my pace a little.
All of a sudden I could hear (and feel) static electricity as I touched the rocks. It only lasted for ten steps, but this was a good reason to turn around. I looked behind me and saw that Jared was close, then took the final steps to the summit. We stayed only a few minutes at the top to rest, before dashing back down the airy upper ridge. Luckily we stayed dry while it was raining just across the valley.
In 15 minutes we were standing back on the centre/south col, feeling a little less vulnerable. Again we discussed heading down, but the storm had seemed to pass, there was blue sky above us, and plenty of sunlight remaining. We started up the gully towards the centre summit, which is short, but steep and covered in loose rock. If you stick to the left side of the gully you can use the wall for assistance, and any harder terrain can be bypassed by staying left of the main gully.
Jared in the tunnel/chimney
Jared makes a move to gain the south summit ridge (harder to down climb)
Brett on the south summit
Jared enters the tunnel
Standing on the centre/south col with the ascent gully in sight
As I reached the top of the gully, thunder echoed through the valley. I encouraged Jared to hurry to the top, as turning around would have been slower than continuing. From the gully, the way to the peak is short, and fairly easy. Just before the top there is a few scramble moves up steeper rock.
The summit is nothing special, but the views to the north and south summit are amazing. We took a longer break on top this time, and ate a quick snack. I had now completed the three peaks of Edith, but needed to get Jared to the north (and highest) summit. After a few quick moves down the steep top section, we were running across the ridge towards the north summit chimney. A short, steep, dirt gully leads to a ridge which traverses around (left) the north summit block.
Looking back at the south summit
Jared stands on the centre summit
Looking across to the north summit with Mount Louis off to the right
There are two chimney options that lead to the summit of Edith, and we took the north facing route (which I had done before). It is fairly narrow and quite steep, and can be easier without a pack on. I found that it was easiest to climb up and out of the chimney when you get two thirds of the way up, as sticking to the bottom all the way can be tricky. Once on top of the chimney it is easy to move up the slab, and feels a little airy off to climbers right.
It only takes one or two minutes to reach the summit from the chimney. There is one challenge left before the summit, which is a short gap jump (or an alternate traverse left and down). The height difference is only four feet, but a mistake here could be fatal. The left hand alternate is less daunting, but a slip and uncontrolled slide would also spell disaster.
The summit is fantastic, surrounded by Mount Cory, Louis, Brewster, Norquay, and many others in the distance. I pointed out or descent route to Jared, a scree covered down sloping run through Gargoyle Valley. The sun had long since disappeared behind the horizon, and we needed to be heading home (total elapsed time: 2 hours 45 minutes).
Climbing the chimney to north summit
Jared approaches north summit
Looking across the gap jump
Start by getting back across the gap (or carefully navigating the go-around). There is a small ledge for your toes, and you have to lean out over the gap and place your hands on the edge, and pull yourself up like you are getting out of a pool. From here carefully make your way down the low angled slabs to the chimney. There is lots of loose scree here, and exposure to cliffs below is the main hazard. Squeeze back down the chimney, and enjoy nice scree skiing down to the pass.
We could have taken the trail back the way we came up, but that would have been shorter, and we came for the loop. We blazed down Gargoyle Valley (named for the rock features high above) and were soon navigating a giant rock garden. The route hugs the slopes of Edith, and soon the rock trail turns to dirt. There is some up and down through dense bush, which takes you below the south summit. We entered the forest, and the trees dimmed the already dwindling light. We moved as quickly as possible for about twenty minutes, before stopping to get out our headlamps.
We continued in the dark at a reduced pace, calling out often to alert animals of our presence. Our headlamp beams moved side to side, scanning the trail, and the forest, for hazards. It can be scary running in the forest during the day, and it is downright terrifying in the dark. Luckily the trail was easy to follow, and we made good time. Within an hour of leaving the summit, we made it to a trail sign and took a right back towards the parking lot. After a short walk up a big ramp, you end up back at the big tree and sign, completing the loop. From there it was a short jog back to the car. We even made it back before 11 pm (when the lot is closed for the night).
Down climbing the chimney
Souvenir from the run
I love fitting runs like this into the evening after a day of work. It can be a good way to wind down, and I sleep very well after a long day! With that said I don't always pick an objective like Mount Edith. The scrambling was hard, risk high, and it is a little far from town. I would never go on a run like this alone, or at this time of day. I felt comfortable because I had done the north summit loop before, and Jared was there to back me up. We got very lucky with the weather, and our pace was spot on. The Cory/Edith loop is one of my favourites, and made for a nice evening in the mountains.