Calgary’s location in the shadows of the Canadian Rockies allows easy access to the mountains. The low tree line allows for huge cliffs with exposed rock and therefore a large amount of climbing opportunities. Below are our suggestions for some of the best moderate grade, multi-pitch climbs accessed from Calgary.
Bow Valley Climbs
Multiple climbs – Yamnuska
Recently reopened after trail maintenance, Mt. Yamnuska is possibly the busiest mountain close to Calgary, not only for hikers but for climbers as well. There are a lot of routes to chose from, but it’s always best to arrive early so you’re not climbing under another party because rock fall is a real hazard on Yam. Most of the easy to moderate climbs are trad with bolted belay stations. Depending on the route there may be old and new bolts and old pitons along the way. The climbs are usually a combination of cracks, chimneys and face climbing and the limestone rock can be excellent in some places and crumbly in others.
On the west end, climbs are usually 6 or 7 pitches long. Our favourite 5.6 rated climbs include Windy Slabs, Easy Street, King’s Chimney (some say 5.7) and Grillmair Chimney (8 pitches). Routes that are a little tougher at 5.7 include Grey Goose, a great climb with more exposure and Unnamed. The latter has a pumpkin painted on the rock near the top so is often climbed on Halloween. Finally, Western Union is a very fun route with chimneys and exposed face climbing and is rated 5.8. For all of these climbs the best way down is to join the hiking route.
Multiple Climbs – Kid Goat
Kid Goat is a great cliff beside Mt. Yamnuska. It has a short approach and plenty of well established routes. Most climbs are short at 4 or 5 pitches. The routes are bolted with bolted stations but they are definitely not sport routes. Bring a small rack with medium to small cams. The best book for topos was written by Chas Yonge. We were lucky enough to meet him a couple of times when he was climbing on Kid Goat.
The most popular climb on Kid Goat is Keelhaul Wall (5.6), but we prefer the two 5.7 routes Twilight, and Twilight Zone. Rated 5.9, we love the sparsely protected Highlight, and the more heavily bolted routes Gray Waves, Blue Bubble and Gaslight.
A few of the routes cross over and then climb above other routes so always be aware of who is below you. The rock is mostly good, but there is a lot of loose rock at belay stations and on ledges. Many climbs can be rappelled, but there is also a good hiking trail to the bottom.
DECEPTION (5.8) & BEAUTIFUL CENTURY (5.10a) – NANNY GOAT
Right beside Kid Goat is a larger limestone cliff called Nanny Goat. There aren’t as many routes as on Kid Goat, but they are all longer. At 5.8, Deception is a great slab climb which forces you to trust your shoes. You can walk off after 7 pitches to make it a 5.7 or continue on the final 2 pitches to make it 5.8. The last pitch is worth it with a tricky ledge to mount and a thin crack. The route is well bolted, but still wouldn’t be categorized as a sport climb. We have always brought a couple medium and small cams.
One of the most popular climbs on Nanny Goat is Beautiful Century. It’s a 7 pitch 5.10a sport route on excellent rock. It’s a great climb featuring different styles of climbing including slab, roofs, corners and cracks all on very good rock. It’s very popular so either arrive early or plan to climb below other groups.
Generosity (5.9) – EEOR, Mount Rundle
High above the town of Canmore the steep cliffs on East End of Rundle (EEOR) have quite a few multi-pitch climbs. Our favourite is Generosity (5.9). It’s a long climb with 13 full length pitches that climb up several corners and chimneys as well as an exposed traverse. The 10th and 11th pitches are the most fun as the route ascends water runnels. These unusual features are very different from most other rock in the area. The route is very well bolted but you should bring a small rack of medium to small cams. There is an easy descent on the EEOR hiking trail.
NE Face (5.6) – Ha Ling Peak
Unfortunately Ha Ling is closed for the summer of 2022 for trail maintenance. Best known for its short, steep hike on the south side, we prefer another way to get to the summit. The NE Face on Ha Ling is rated 5.6. There are more difficult routes on the face, such as Sisyphus Summits, but we love this classic route. There are a few bolts and pitons in the most risky spots, but generally it is considered to be a full trad route. NE Face is 12 pitches long and takes you to the hiker’s summit. We’ve surprised more than a few hikers when we popped up over the cliff beside them. The descent follows the hiking trail.
Joy Route (5.5) – Mount Indefatigable
This climb is similar to Escargot Corner (below) because it climbs a long corner and moves back and forth between it and the slab beside. It’s an easy 10 pitch climb but what sets it apart are the views of Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. The climb is above the lakes and as you get higher you also have views toward Mount Joffre and Mount Sir Douglas. There is very little protection on Joy Route, so bring a good selection of cams and nuts.
Banff National Park Climbs
Valleyview (5.9) & Dan’s Delight (5.6), Bankhead Buttress – Cascade Mountain
The prominent Cascade Mountain in Banff National Park is a popular climbing area. Left of the main waterfall are two great climbing buttresses, Mother’s Day and Bankhead. The climb Mother’s Day at 5.6 is probably the most popular, but we’ve always found it to be very busy. We prefer a couple of climbs on Bankhead Buttress. Dan’s Delight is a fun trad route rated 5.6. Even better, Valleyview is a 6 pitch well bolted 5.9 route. It’s on solid rock and has a few opportunities for tricky moves climbing ledges and a series of corners. Although it is bolted, bring a few small cams. Both climbs give you amazing views of Lake Minnewanka below.
There is a rappel route immediately left of Dan’s Delight. We haven’t used it and apparently it is difficult to find so go to Tabvar for a full description. The descent for Valleyview to rappel the climb.
Plutonian Shores (5.9) – Raven’s Crag, Sulphur Mountain
Above the town of Banff, you’ll find one of the best climbs in the area on Raven’s Crag. Plutonian Shores is a 5.9 multi-pitch sport route with great views, but the best thing is the unusual rock. The cliff is composed of of very grippy but strange looking water-worn blue and black limestone. The climb itself is also interesting with slanted corners and bulges, excellent pocket holds and a few ledges. The route is a well bolted sport route and other than a few long slings, no other gear is required.
Escargot Corner (5.7) – Norquay Slabs
Access to the climbs on Norquay Slabs is a little tricky which is likely what keeps Escargot Corner less busy. It’s a very fun and interesting 5.7 climb that moves back and forth between a long corner and a friction slab. There are not many bolts, so bring plenty of gear for protection. In addition to being an interesting climb up a long corner, the route passes a few areas with snail fossils. You can’t miss them and is why it was named Escargot Corner. There are very few bolts or pitons on the route so bring a full set of cams. The stations are bolted for rappel, but you can also walk off.
Kain Route (5.7) – Mount Louis
Kain Route is a classic climb in Banff National Park. You can see Mount Louis from the TransCanada Highway where it entices you to climb to its summit each time you pass. Don’t underestimate the rating of this climb though, we’ve heard of many parties who had to spend the night on the mountain. With difficult route finding, over 700 m of trad climbing and a rappel descent, it makes for a long, but great day. The most difficult pitches are the last two that ascend the long Perren Crack on good rock. After spending most of the day climbing, the long rappel descent can’t be rushed or taken lightly either.
Brewer Buttress (5.6/7) & SE Ridge Eisenhower Tower (5.6) – Castle Mountain
The long routes and long drive from Calgary keep this mountain from being as busy as it otherwise would. From the easy 5.6 climb up Eisenhower Tower to the classic Brewer Buttress, these long climbs are worth the drive. Brewer Buttress (5.6/7) climbs the crest of the Buttress on good rock all the way to the summit. Climbing cracks, corners and chimneys the 13 pitch climb is a classic trad climb. The descent route for Brewer Buttress is tricky. It involves rappelling down a steep descent gully.
From the highway Eisenhower Tower looks taller than the mountain proper, but it’s actually a few feet shorter. An easy 5.6 (recently upgraded from 5.5) SE Ridge climb is another long day made even longer because you must rappel back down most of the pinnacle. The rock can be loose so it’s recommended to ascend on the right variation and descend on the left variation which has bolted rappel stations.
Both routes are trad climbs and require a good selection of gear.
Yoho National Park
Grassi Ridge (5.7) – Wiwaxy Peak
The incredible views you will have while climbing the ridge above Lake O’Hara is reason enough to climb Grassi Ridge. The route follows the ridge on mostly very good quality quartzite and has a couple of sections of exposure. There are a few bolts, and bolted stations but the majority of the route requires gear. It’s easiest if you stay in Lake O’Hara campground the night before climbing, but it’s possible to get the climb done without.
A few extra climbs that are worth mentioning are: Morningside (5.7) – Mount McGillivray; Gooseberry (5.8) – Tunnel Mountain and Aftonroe (5.7) – Guides Rock.
- There are many sources for detailed route information including topos. We typically use: Kid Goat Crag by Chas Yonge; Bow Valley Rock by Chris Perry & Joe Josephson, Canadian Rock, Select Climbs of the West by Kevin McLane; Banff Rock by Chris Perry and on-line at Tabvar.org
- Always climb with a helmet when climbing in the Canadian Rockies as lose rock is a continual concern.
Coming Next – Sailing From The Caribbean To Chesapeake Bay
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
If you like what you read, please comment or share (with credit) using the links below