Skating

Climbing Alberta’s Mt. Yamnuska

by Kevin Jagger on July 8, 2013
This article originally appeared on Kevin's personal website.

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Katie Babich navigating one of the trickier parts of the Mt. Yamnuska hike

 

Every summer our weekends are filled with long runs, bike rides and hikes. With the weather starting to resemble a season similar to summer here in Calgary the team headed out to Alberta’s Kananaskis country to get a hike in on a beautiful day. As is pretty much always the case, the day was filled with plenty of adventure, both planned and unplanned.

To start, we were unsure of the road / trail conditions in Kananaskis. Driving in off the Trans-Canada highway everything appeared back to normal on the road. The side of the roads showed massive erosion on the creek and river banks. Then we came to the bridge that we had scene on the news. completely taken out by the waters below with a temporary bridge built over top.

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Just to the west of the bridge was a pedestrian bridge seemingly to nowhere as the land has been taken away by the massive current and the entire water flow has changed directions and no longer goes under the bridge.

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After crossing this bridge we spoke with an Alberta Parks ranger to get an idea of a trail that might be open. We were told that Mount Yamnuska, on the other side of the Trans Canada was still open so we headed that way.

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Pulling into the parking lot you can see that we were not alone. If the parking lot was any indication the trail would be packed. As we are in the middle of bear and big cat country its not a bad thing to be on a busy trail. Lots of people making lots of noise helps reduce the chances of a wildlife encounter.

The trail is pretty incredible. It starts out in the forest and is a bit of a climb. Then you make your way above the treeline crossing a series of switchbacks to get up to the first peak. The first part is pretty straightforward. From that peak on things start to get a little tricky. The rest of the hike, for about 1,000m of incline involves climbing rock, unstable footing and at one point having to cross around a rockcliff holding onto a chain. Here are some photos below of our hike. Pretty amazing place.

Here are some photos from the hike including a helicopter rescue (story below).

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Our hike came to an abrupt hault about 3 hours in as we were scaling down the front side of the mountain on the skree runs. This is a pretty tricky part to navigate. Essentially you have to run down the hill but dig your heels into the rocks to prevent your bodyweight from carrying forward (like running down a steep sand dune but with far worse consequences if you miss a step). As I was heading down with two of my teammates, Danielle and Katie, we heard the sound of someone coming down the front side very fast behind us.

As we looked back we could see that the man could not get his balance back and each step forward took him faster and faster. At this point I was taking a video and you can hear us yelling that something was about to go wrong. Finally, one step too many sent the man into a bit of a barrel roll down the mountain.

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This is a screenshot from the video, this is the very beginning of the fall

From top to bottom the skree run is probably a feet hundred feet. About 150 feet down we saw him slam into a large boulder hitting his head quite badly. Katie and I were the first to get to him and it was quite a scary scene. The cuts were numerous and blood covered 90% of his face, with two big cuts on either temple and a slice underneath his eye. We were relieved to see that he was still conscious and after a few moments we were able to get his name and at one point grab his phone and text his family.

We began to get him cleaned up and start to try and access what to do next. Danielle joined us as did Nick and Pieter who had to climb back up the mountain to get to us. After finding more and more very deep cuts we determined we could not move him. Luckily I still had cell phone coverage and thanks to my Mophie juice pack I had 99% battery life. I called 911 who dispatched us to Alberta Parks.

Within 30 minutes a helicopter arrived carrying two absolutely incredible rescue workers who were dropped off right beside us on the mountainside. They harnessed the insured hiker in the “Scream Seat” and took him away to the hospital. He left alert and in good spirits despite what had just occurred. While he will no doubt be sore all over for the next week and likely have a pounding headache it could have been much worse. As crazy as it sounds we believe hitting that boulder (the only one on that side of the mountain) saved his from a far worse fate as there would have been nothing else from stopping him as he tumbled down the rest of the mountainside.

An absolute massive thank you to the people at STARS, Alberta Parks and all of our emergency services workers!

The key learning from this:

  • Make sure you have a charged phone on a hike (either get a Mophie battery pack or turn your phone off if you think you are going to drain your battery over the course of the hike)
  • Wear proper footwear, hiking boots are worth the investment particularly on steep declines where you need the support to keep your balance and stability
  • Pack latex gloves in your first aid kit
  • Not a good idea to hike in a group of less than 3, if you get in a bind you are going to need help from multiple people

It was a crazy day on the mountain, thankful to the emergency personnel that responded and very proud (again!) of my teammates for taking immediate action and helping a fellow hiker.

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