Distance: 13.5 km
Elevation gain: 1030 m View map Download GPS track
When I woke up this morning and looked out the trailer window at Bow Peak, I was nearly ecstatic to see that the morning sun alighting it was yellow, not red, indicating that the majority of the smoke had cleared out overnight. We’d woken up a bit late (the sun was already up, after all!) and so quickly got ready and zipped up the parkway to scramble up Bow Peak. We’d been camping at its base for nine nights so far this summer, so it was about time!
We parked in a gravel pullout on the west side of the parkway an unusually long distance north of Bow Peak, then hiked a few hundred meters south along the parkway to a small tree bearing a bit of flagging marking an obvious and good trail. We followed the trail down to the outlet of Bow Lake and the supposed crux of the day – the crossing of the Bow River.
After changing into sneakers we started across and were pleased to find that what we had assumed would be freezing cold water was actually quite pleasant. More importantly, the current was light and it was no more than knee-deep on me (a bit under two feet deep). We’d avoided this trip for a few years now because of our fear of crossing the river, but it wasn’t difficult at all for us.
Once across the river we followed a good trail all the way to Crowfoot Pass. The old growth forest, several gorgeous streams, and carpets of wildflowers along the trail made it one of the more beautiful trails we’ve hiked in Banff National Park, and Bow Peak kept the moderately steep ascent to the pass completely shaded, even just before 10:00 am.
Multiple marmots and two tarns greeted us in Crowfoot Pass, one of the more beautiful passes we’ve visited. Even if you have no intention of scrambling Bow Peak, a trip to the pass is definitely worth it. In fact, staring up at the pile of nasty rubble that is Bow Peak and the wonderful meadows of Crowfoot Pass, I seriously considered aborting the ascent and just wandering around the pass instead.
We stuck with the ascent plan, however, and from the highpoint of the pass turned and started up the grassy lower slope of Bow Peak. This soon transitioned to quartzite boulders and loose rubble that got steeper and looser the higher we went. I found the larger stuff easiest to ascend, but it wasn’t relaxing at all as every few minutes I’d land on a giant boulder that would shift underneath me and nearly send me flying.
I’d thought that once we reached the summit ridge the going would improve, but it actually got a bit worse. The crumbling ridge was nothing but huge boulders and we had to haul ourselves over dozens of them. It wasn’t necessarily difficult, but it was terribly tedious. It certainly wasn’t a hike though. This was definitely scrambling, and if moderate scrambling involves the use of hands for hauling your butt up boulders, then this was moderate scrambling. Thankfully any exposure to the northeast could be easily avoided.
The terrain improved as we approached the actual summit, 3.5 hours after starting out and 1.5 hours from the pass. The views were spectacular despite the smoke, the weather was calm and warm, and we were able to have a long and relaxed lunch.
On the decent I decided to follow a rough trail down a scree gully much closer to the summit than where we’d gained the ridge. It was incredibly loose and on many occasions mini scree avalanches carried me down a few meters, but overall it was much easier than hopping down the boulders of our ascent route would’ve been. Lower down a very good and cairned trail took shape and it appeared that this was the usual ascent route, but given how loose it was I wouldn’t recommend ascending it; despite the annoyances of our ascent route, it would be a superior choice.
Back down in the pass we were surprised to meet several other groups totaling 17 people. One group was heading to Bow Peak, but the others were planning to explore the pass. One couple was positively giddy in the forest below the pass and I don’t think they fully believed me when I assured them the best scenery was still to come. The forest and its streams are really quite beautiful!
Thankfully the Bow River crossing, which I’d worried would be much deeper in the afternoon, turned out to be just as easy as on the way, and we soon found ourselves back at the truck in the surprisingly crowded gravel pullout. As we hadn’t had a chance to fully explore the pass, this is an area I’ll probably head back to.