Big Sister -- Sep 10, 2006

Elevation Gain: 1200 meters (3936 feet)

Climbed by: me, Kevin, Mark.

Drive from Canmore along the Spray Lakes/Smith Dorrien road until you get to the dam, which is PAST Goat Pond, and a couple kilometers past the bridge over the canal. There will be a large gravel pit on the left, and a road across the dam on the right. Park in the gravel pit, and walk to the back of it. The trail should be evident at this point.

The walk up through the woods is steep and unrelenting, but you gain lots of elevation in a hurry. Better here than on the slab above! You basically go up the tree-covered hump in the foreground, angling to the left. It doesn't look like much from the photo.

If you stay on the trail, you will end up on a ridge (the one at the extreme left of the first photo below). Follow this ridge, glancing down to the right periodically for a good place to climb down. At perhaps the best place to climb down, you will see a couple cairns down below, and someone jabbed a large stick into the ground to help point out that this is indeed the right spot to clamber down. There was no cairn at the top of this downclimb, so we erected one out of a couple of rocks that were sitting there doing nothing else. This is a 3-4 meter downclimb, and is fairly straight-forward, but be careful just the same (it's a long steep limp back to the car from here).

Supposedly, you can continue along this upper ridge to avoid the relatively easy, not-exposed 3-4m downclimb. On the way back, we turned around and went that way for a bit. There's supposed to be an exposed 2m downclimb, but we didn't find it. If it's as exposed as it sounds, though, the unexposed 3-4m downclimb almost certainly has to be a better choice unless people are stacked up waiting to go down and you're in too big a hurry to wait your turn...

Once you're down from the ridge you get to decide whether you'd like to trudge up the scree on the left, alongside the ridge, or give your calves a workout by scooting up several hundred feet of gravel-littered slab. Mark and Kevin started on the scree, then switched to the slab. If it's wet, you really don't want to be on that slab. The day we did it, it was bone dry, so no problem. You'll want to wear a helmet here, for sure. Especially if there are people above you maybe knocking rocks down the slope. They pick up speed in a big hurry here!

Work your way upward, and sooner or later, you'll find that you're funnelled up to the end of the ridge, just before the pinnacles (see the first picture below, just left of center). This marks the location of the 5m downclimb. Looking down, it might seem a little freaky, but it's a dead-simple downclimb. Nothing is overhanging, there are lots of hand and foot holds, and it's not particular exposed (well, you're exposed to a 5m drop if you manage to somehow fall off the top).

Once you're down, skirt along the left side of the pinnacles. There are many trails, but we found the one closest to the base of the pinnacles to be the easiest. We didn't see any rocks fall, but you'd be pretty dumb not to wear your helmet here, just in case. Kane says in his book that you wouldn't want to do this part if there's snow, and I would tend to agree (unless you had the appropriate mountaineering equipment and experience). However, when it's dry, this section is really NOT an issue at all. We brought a short rope and some rock pro, and didn't need any of it.

A little further up, and you're on the summit. Take a break here, eat some lunch, take your pack off, and venture further along the ridge at the top. We didn't do it, but there's a ridge walk to the part of the summit you can see from the Bow Corridor, overlooking Canmore.

Go back down the way you came up. The upclimbs are, as always, easier than the downclimbs.