Rockies :: Canmore and Bow Valley :: Grotto Mountain
Halfway up "Cougar ridge" with beautiful views opening up towards upper part of Grotto mountain
October 14, 2015
Grotto Mountain is well-known Canmore landmark on the North side of Bow valley. Popularized by Alan Kane scrambles guidebook it sits directly east of Cougar Creek and is frequently ascended year-round. There are several well-known ways up. Most popular is ACC route starting from ACC clubhouse; more direct and recommended for peakbaggers is "Big Gully" route that branches off ACC route about 15-20 minutes past trailhead. Presented here is most scenic and relatively unknown option that starts from Cougar creek trailhead (same as for Lady MacDonald) and climbs semi-forested "Cougar ridge" gently rising at west flanks of the mountain. Well defined trail is never too steep, and nowhere as eroded as ACC route. Crux of the day might be finding where this trail starts- look for Waypoint "1- Trailhead" on GPS track. Above treeline it joins ACC route; remainder is well-known Alan Kane ridgewalk. For fit individual this is also good candidate for after-work hike / fat burner, if you are comfortable descending with headlamp. Optional loop return via ACC route is possible; in this case, follow Horseshoe biking / equestrian trail that links ACC route and Cougar creek.
From parking at Cougar creek trailhead walk up left side of the creek, then cross to the right side past last houses. (Alternatively you can walk back and cross the bridge on Elk Run blvd, then hike up from the start on the right side). Find first trail that heads in the woods, then continue parallel with Cougar creek. Do not follow one of many trails heading right; instead continue north and find narrow, but well defined forest path that continues above the berm, then switchbacks up lower slope of Cougar ridge. This trail emerges to open bench with good views of Bow valley, turns right, dips a bit then starts direct ascent. There is alternate, bit more adventurous start available as well. For this one hike up Cougar Canyon for ~10-15 minutes past the berm fence erected post 2013 floods. When you come to first big gully coming down Grotto on right (east) side, leave the canyon and scramble up on left side; you should be able to pick-up fairly decent trail. This trail eventually dwindles and you must cross the drainage then short bit of bushwhack brings you to "Cougar trail" running up the ridge (about 1/4 of the way up).
Higher up there are several short cliff bands that can be scrambled directly, or bypassed to the left on good trail with cairns leading the way. Upon joining the ACC trail follow obvious path in scree climbing up towards skyline ridge. At the top, turn right and follow the ridge to the summit; it is about 30-40 minutes away. It is best to stay at the crest of the ridge throughout. Only at one point there is bit of scrambling (class 2) as you must bypass low cliffband; alternatively descend the scree to the right, then grovel back up to the ridge. Final bit is very enjoyable with great views throughout. Views from the summit are exceptional and in my opinion better than from Lady MacDonald across the street.
|Grotto Mountain from Cougar Creek|
|View of Mt. Lady MacDonald halfway up "Cougar ridge"|
Looking down at Cougar Creek from ascent ridge
|Final ridge leading to the summit (upper right)|
|Summit view back to length of final ridge|
|Views east from the summit to Exshaw and Lac De Arcs|
|Overall Difficulty||D5||Steep ascent with several short cliff bands. Plenty of talus. Upper ridge has one class 2 step.|
|Snow Factor||S3||Frequently windblown and feasible year-round. Steep parts are below treeline and thus no objective avalanche danger. Upper ridge could be risky if frozen and slippery|
|Scenery||Bow Valley and Rundle massif, Wall of Canmore and 3 Sisters. Good views of upper reaches of Cougar canyon|
|Trail/Marking||Good||Trail up "Cougar" ridge well defined, but trailhead might be hard to locate. Way is obvious above treeline. ACC route (optional loop descent) is well-trodden but eroded, with several forks that might be confusing.|
|Suggested Time||6-7 hrs||Return time for loop return via ACC route; shorter if descending the same way|
|Elevation||Start: 1430m Max: 2720m Total: ~1300m||Round Trip: 13 km|
|Gear||Full hiking boots and gaiters. Hiking poles very helpful, specially on descent. Climbing helmet optional|
|Water||Dry hike. Carry 3L minimum, more in summer season and when temps are warm|
|Dog Friendly||Yes||No on-leash restrictions|