The Canmore Scramblers Quad

The "Canmore Quad" is a classic test piece of Bow Valley trail running: Four summits, ~50 kilometres of pavement and trails, and ~4,500 metres of elevation gain/loss. The guidelines are simple: Take a picture on each one of the four iconic mountains surrounding the town of Canmore. The peaks are Grotto Mountain, Mount Lady MacDonald, Ha Ling Peak, and the East End of Mount Rundle (EEOR). The Order in which these peaks are summited does not matter. The only "rules" are to start and finish at a single location in Canmore, on the same day, and all travel should be by foot, no biking or driving across town to access the trails. Easy eh?

Standard Route

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The standard route for the Quad is to take the path of least resistance, using roads whenever possible to access the base of the peaks,  ascending to each summit by their least technical route, then returning to the base by the same path. I've never been a fan of back tracking, much preferring loops to out-and-back trails. So this standard route never appealed to me, and therefore the "Quad" stayed off my radar, as an endurance trial that I would never have the mental motivation to undertake 

Our Modified Route

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Adam Mertens had been thinking about this problem, being interested in the Quad but not motivated by the standard route, and so came up with a new, more technical way to tackle the quad. The main goal of his planned route was not pure efficiency, but instead to avoid backtracking by taking different paths up and down each mountain. This often meant following a more exposed scrambling/climbing route up, then descending on the standard trail. A secondary goal was to avoid the spray lakes road as much as possible, since we would be running on a weekend and the dust from the endless stream of cars on the gravel road is rather unpleasant... 

Approach to Grotto Mountain

To Approach Grotto Mountain we attempted to take a path along the river, then cut across, unfortunately this ended up with us fording several creeks at 5am. Nice way to wake the body up! We took the direct Grotto Ascent trail from the ACC hut, a steep grind that puts you directly on the summit block after ~1400m elevation gain.

Summit #1 - Grotto Mountain

We topped out on Grotto to some beautiful light streaming through the high clouds. A quick pause to study our route up Lady Mac, pose for the all-important selfie, then we were off running down the west ridge!

East South East Ridge of Lady Mac

The East Southeast ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald is traditionally considered an alpine climbing route, with a grade of 5.5. The few sections of 5th class climbing are short and solid, and after a few scouting missions by Adam, and one together, we were confident in our ability to solo the ridge line and therefore keep this within the realm of a "run." A jog up the creek plus a steep slog up through trees puts you at the base of the ridge proper. Plenty of enjoyable romping up solid slabs, with the occasional short steep section, puts you on the exposed knife-edge summit ridge, and eventually the summit proper. Felt good to have the two tallest peaks out of the way!

Summit #2 - Mount Lady MacDonald

We descended off Lady Mac by the standard hiker's trail, then ran across town to our staging ground/start/finish line, my house. We enjoyed a non-standard lunch break for a mountain ultramarathon: toasted bagels and greens while lounging on a couch! One of us even snuck in a quick shower while changing for the second half. What a luxury!

Ha Ling North Bowl

We crossed the river, then ascended local trails up past the quarry lake dog park and across the powerline trail to the base of Rider's of Rohan, a steep downhill mountain bike trail. Dodging bikers was  definitely the objective hazard on this section! A more mellow option would have been to take the trail past Grassi lakes, but we chose to avoid the crowd of hikers and climbers that would be out on this sunny summer sunday. Riders of Rohan put us perfectly at the base of our third objective, the North Bowl of Ha Ling peak. 

The north bowl is iconic, visible from everywhere in town, and probably the most photographed mountain landscape  in Canmore, after the three sisters of course. However the bowl from below looks oppressively bleak, a blank wall of slab, seeming to be only a few degrees less vertical than the true north face to the right, which hosts several iconic climbing routes. Even after ascending the bowl several times now, it's still hard to believe it's possible (and fun!) when looking at it from town!

Summit #3 - Ha Ling Peak

We topped out on Ha Ling, after a fun romp up the solid grippy slabs of the North Bowl. Lyen and Briony, two local friends (and neighbours) met us halfway up the bowl and cheered us on to the top with some much needed encouragement! They also crowned Adam as "Sir Basic B*tch" with a dirty old ball cap, likely blown off a hikers head several years before... not sure what that was all about. A quick pause to survey the town and look back towards Grotto (far right) and Lady Mac (left of centre), had we really been up there just this morning?? Then a fast flowy descent down the beautiful new hiker's trail, where we met Lyen and Briony's roommate Andrew, who was waiting with a car full of snacks, and more importantly an encouraging smile, and an excuse to take a break and chat!

Summit #3 - East End of Rundle (EEOR)

Contrary to the last three peaks, we ascended EEOR from the gap by the standard hiker/scrambler trail. Adam and I had explored the traverse over EEOR the other way (up the front bowl and down the trail) a few weeks before, and decided that the steep loose scree would be much more fun to come down rather than go up. And this worked much better for our aesthetic loop anyways! We took the right hand ridge variation to reach the summit, a bit more exposed that the standard slabs, but more engaging as well. We summited in a small flurry of snow/graupel as a storm cloud passed by, ah the joy of summer in the rocky mountains!

Glad to have our final summit down, and spurred on by some beautiful post-storm light, we descended down the steep scree into the front bowl of EEOR. A short downclimb brought us into the snow filled basin, for a few hundred metres of out-of-control boot skiing, a much needed break for our battered knees and quads. Then it was just a matter of avoiding several waterfalls by skirting around them on the right, before linking up with the steep trail down to the Canmore Nordic Centre. Finally a quick cruise down some smooth mountain bike trails, and a light jog home along the river path. I couldn't believe we were still running at this point!

Final Descent from EEOR

Finish Line - Double Rainbow!

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