Sunday, September 25, 2011

Canmore 4 Peaks Challenge

It may not look like much, but it's no easy feat...

The Canmore 4 Peaks Challenge is simple - Summit all four local peaks in a day.  Using cars, bikes, move to/from each trailhead is not allowed.  So you can run, walk or crawl, either way, it makes for a long, long day on the trails.

The peaks include Grotto Mountain (2,706m) which is the steepest of the bunch + Lady MacDonald (2,605m), with its sketchy knife edge summit + East End of Rundle or EEOR (2,530m), a slow scree ridden climb and Ha Ling (2,407m), the 'easiest' of the four...


As far as I know, only 3 people have done this prior to my attempt... Jack Firth at the age of 50-something, completed the four summits in a day (20hrs give or take) and was joined by his son (Ben) for the final ascent up Ha Ling...

Sticking with local mountain men...Ernst Salzgeber completed all 4 Peaks at the age of 60!  I couldn't find many details on this attempt, but word is it took him in the 17+ hr range...

The latest to complete the 'quad' is climber and local Canmore Crossfit owner,
Greg Thazuk, who's built a reputation for tackling any worthy challenge that is thrown on his plate.  Greg completed the mountain mission in around 14.5hrs (not sure on exact time)...A solid effort for a self proclaimed 'non-runner'!

As for me, I'm just happy to tick this 'beast' off my list... Huge respect to Jack, Ernst and Greg - It's an honour to be part of the select that have completed this challenge!

**Note: If I've missed someone and/or you know of anyone else that has completed the 4 Peaks Challenge please acknowledge them in the comments section - I'd love to know!
A few bits in case you were wondering:

- Which summit was the hardest?  All 4 peaks were unique in difficulty, but the most physically and mentally demanding was EEOR. By that point, I was close to 8hrs and I was tired.  Having never climbed Rundle, I ended up losing the trail twice and had to bushwack my way through steep terrain to find the trail again. As I got higher up the peak, the loose scree made you lose 1/2 a step for every one you took...Add in some tough route navigating and I was just about to lose my shit.     

- Easiest summit?  Ha Ling... I've run up this one many times. I knew it wouldn't take me more than an hour and it's as close to a mountain hwy as you can get.  However, Fitzy and I had run out of water halfway up (poor planning on my part) but thankfully a very generous couple hiking down shared some of their water with us!

- Scariest moment? The 10-15m knife edge on Lady Mac was super sketchy...I definitely felt out of my comfort zone as I clung onto the edge with both hands, feet half dangling over a massive cliff trying to find an edge to step on...I had a few moments where the wind was howling so hard I had to stop and hang on...not good.

-  Freak occurrence... At the top of Grotto, the wind was howling like crazy.  Despite tightening the draw strings on our visors, a tornado like wind simultaneously blew Andy and my hats off our heads.  I was lucky, my hat was blown 10m in the air, and fell back to my feet... Andy wasn't so lucky, his visor was catapulted about 50m out in space...lost forever on the back side of Grotto.

- Best moment of the day... Fitzy 'found' a nectarine at the bottom of his pack at the top of Ha Ling.  By this time, we were parched from not having brought enough water...The sweet juiciness of the fruit brought me back to life for the last stretch home...

- Running on Flat: 1h45 min (most of this was spent running through town)
- Time spent climbing: 5h33min of speedy pole walking  
- Time spent descending: 3h18min (yes my quads are sore today)

- Breaks along the way?  At the 5h30min halfway mark (at my house), I took 30min to refuel, eat, drink, change socks and shoes. Otherwise, random water/food break along the way, and twitter posts... of course.

- Fuel? 4 ham/cheese tortilla wraps w a bit of honey mustard, 2 HoneyStinger gels, 1 Pro Bar, salt vinegar crispers (salty goodness!), Salt Stick electrolyte tabs, Tumbs (4), noodles w/ oil/salt (at home), 1L of ginger ale (at home), 2x 1.5L bladders + lots of water from creeks (I'll probably pay for this one later in the week - yikes!), 1 coke (that Fitzy brought to me on EEOR) and the most amazing nectarine on the planet!

- Best piece of gear?  Ski poles... essential for all the up/down. 

- Body damage?  Quads are beat, small blister on right foot from all the side walking on steep scree slopes...that's it.

Suunto Movescount Beta: Forgot to recalibrate the altitude on my watch at the start so the base altitude is about 100m off (should be 1325m, not 1428m)...Start - halfway - finish point was my house in downtown Canmore, I took a 30min refuelling break at the halfway mark, otherwise was more/less trying to keep moving most of the day.

View from the top of Grotto - #1:  Was psyched to have Andy Reed with me for most of the day...Thanks Andy! Canmore in the backdrop.  You can notice Spray Rd that cuts into the side of EEOR (Rundle) - Had to run up that road to get to the last 2 trailheads of the day.

View from Lady MacDonald - #2: Great view of Canmore on a perfect day! In the center of the photo is Ha Ling Peak (left of center valley) and EEOR (right of center valley). Spray Rd cuts up the slope...

Top of Lady MacDonald: Super windy conditions made for some tough climbing on narrow summit ledge...

Lady MacDonald's knife edge summit - Difficult to see but most of this section is only 1 to 2ft wide ... Hangin' on for dear life - white knuckling it all the way across - Didn't feel very comfortable up here!

Taking a water break in Cougar Creek after 2 peaks...Andy takes a bit of gravel out of his shoes.

View of Ha Ling Peak midway up Rundle - #3:  If only I had a squirrel suit... Hit a low point going up EEOR, and was looking for any excuse to take a break! 

One more to go:  Taking a quick break in the reservoir in between EEOR and Ha Ling.  Having lost Andy, I was happy to be joined by Fitzy for the last climb of the day. 

Don't do it!  A twitchy chipmunk hangs out on the top of Ha Ling...He wasn't too pleased when we left without leaving him any crumbs-


Unknown said...

Was a great day in the mountains Phil, but after a big week, I just didn't have the legs to keep going. I'm told Canmore hit 28 degrees C yesterday, so the heat didn't help. Great effort, and I (unlike you) have to somehow psyche myself up for another attempt!

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil. Having trouble finding this info elsewhere but thought I'd try my luck with you. Do you know what the conditions are like on the Rockwall Traverse trail in early October? Is there snow there already? Too burly to run it? Glad to see you ran the four peaks! I'll be up there next weekend.

Ian MacNairn

Phil said...

Andy: It was great to have your company on the definitely helps to have someone else 'out there' with you - Rest up for the next attempt, probably a little easier knowing what you're going up against now!

Phil said...

Ian: Fall running on the Rockwall is amazing, but early snow can be a factor - all depends on how much precipitation we get locally. There's no real way to find out how the conditions are up high unless you chat with hikers coming out...but a you can make a good educated guess by looking at the local weather - I usually check Canmore/Banff/Sunshine webcam/Lake Louise/Kootenay National Park). If it's cool and it rains in the valley, it's most likely snowing up high. As of this morning (Sept 29th) there's already a dusting on the local peaks, and if Environment Canada is right, and it rains like it's supposed to this weekend, then anything above 2,000m will be covered snow in Kootenay National Park. That said, keep an eye on the weather, all you need is 3 - 5 days of sunny days (15-20C) to clear the trail up. Good luck, let me know how it goes!

Project NOWE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Project NOWE said...

Chris Miske and Mike Shoemaker (currently a teacher in Canmore) with one or two others did the "quad" 4 or 5 years ago.

Tom Wolfe
Canmore, AB

Phil said...

Tom: Just checking in... Thanks for the update - Always found it hard to imagine that more hikers/runners had not made the attempt!

Bryon Howard said...

I remember following this on twitter years ago.