Distance: 13 km
Elevation gain: 1000 mView map Download GPS track
This summer the Rockies have been plagued by smoke from BC wildfires, limiting views to a few kilometers on some days. Today was one of those days and while we desperately wanted to scramble up a much larger peak, most larger peaks were hidden in the haze. We settled for a hike we hadn't given much thought to in the past, a loop over Cory and Edith passes just west of the Banff townsite. It turned out this was an excellent decision!
The trailhead is located in the Fireside Picnic Area, located at the end of a 1 km road that exits Highway 1A to the right, just after the 1A branches off the trans Canada to the west of the Banff townsite. As a side note, the Fireside Picnic Area is aptly named as it has a large stone fireplace, supplied firewood, and picnic tables!
Initially the trail meanders through open forest, reaching a signed junction after 1 km. Turn left here, steeply ascending the grassy slopes. Switchbacks ease the ascent, but you'll still ascend 480 m over just 1.5 km. It's by far the most taxing part of the trip. Cresting the ridge you've been ascending, Mt. Cory (left) and Mt. Edith appear; Cory Pass is the gap between them. Portions of the trail along the slopes of Mt. Edith are visible as well. For the next 500 m the trail follows the ridge, reaching a cliff at the end that must be descended. For us this was the most difficult part of the trip. The trail at this point is on bedrock so footing is mostly very good, but the rock has been polished in places so traction isn't great. It's steep too, and a stumbling fall would send you to the emergency room or the morgue. Dozens do it every day without incident, however, so perhaps it simply looks worse than it is.
From here forward the trail is relatively easy and the ascent is moderate all the way to Cory Pass. For an improved view from the pass, ascend the minor ridge to its right. It's only 35 m higher, but the views explode in front of you. Mt. Louis to the north is particularly impressive. It's also here that you realize the beauty of this hike on a day when visibility is terrible: Mounts Cory, Edith, and Louis and the valley below them are all with 2 km of the pass, meaning it's going to have to be a very terrible day for their views to be obscured!
To complete a loop via Edith Pass, descend the steep northern side of Cory Pass on good trail. The valley is known as Gargoyle Valley as a few hoodoo-like rock formations look, I suppose, like gargoyles, but they're not particularly impressive and are only really along the first 50 m of trail. What is impressive, however, is pointy Mt. Louis and the north side of Mt. Edith looming above you. They're so close and so vertical they nearly completely blocked my GPS from getting a signal (this has never happened before) and even at 1 pm a large area of the trail was in the shade.
Exiting the gap between Mounts Edith and Louis, begin descending along scree, taking trail options that keep you closest to Mt. Edith (right). Watch for a yellow hiker sign on a tree on the other side of the avalanche slope. It's probably a bit higher up than where you are. Head for it along good trail, avoiding confusing forks in the trail. At the sign the trail enters forest, and while it occasionally grants views as it passes through avalanche slopes, it's a bit of a plod back to the car from this point forward. Where the trail intersects the Forty Mile Creek trail is Edith Pass, but it's completely in trees and you wouldn't even know it was a pass without a topo map. From here it's an easy downhill walk back to the car, although it will likely take an hour or more.