The Finger is a prominent spire outlined against the sky located on the east side of the Bow Valley in Banff National Park
, one of four connecting national parks located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. It is best viewed from the Muleshoe picnic area on the Bow Valley Parkway (1A) and is a subsidiary spur of an unnamed peak that is akin to Louis
, mountains of solid Devonian limestone west of the Sawback Range. The Finger was unofficially named by the infamous Canadian mountaineer Lawrence Grassi in 1935, but was brought to prominence by a poem written in 1940 by Earle Birney. The poem, about a climbing accident, may be found in "Tales from the Canadian Rockies” (added to the left). Lawrence Grassi also made the first ascent of The Finger in 1935.
There is more than one rock alpine route up The Finger, but the only published route in the “Selected Alpine Climbs of the Canadian Rockies” (added to the left) is the Board Route
, thus, the route I ascended. Not unlike the Eisenhower Tower
or the Gmoser Route
, this route is graded by an older and tougher Canadian standard. I offer my own version of what I consider to be a better approach, versus the published account. The summit gives you a glimpse of Assiniboine to the south as well as a close up of Mts. Cory
, Copper and Pilot.
The Trans-Canada Highway dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come in from Calgary. Bypass the Banff town exits and take the Bow Valley Parkway exit. Turn right and follow the scenic parkway (90% of the time there are bull elk visible from the road) for 13 km. Park in a small gravel parking area on the left next to a large drainage originating from the east side of The Finger which is in clear view from the Muleshoe Picnic area on. The Bow Valley Parkway is normally closed to traffic for wildlife purposes from 6:00PM to 9:00AM until June 25th each year. However, there is no gate and I am not aware of the proper etiquette for climbers regarding this restriction, but I do know you more than likely cannot complete this route in 9 hours.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter the park. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in Banff National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. Park headquarters are located in Banff and you will drive through the manned kiosks as you enter the park.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. We just had a grizzly fatality in Canmore, June, 2005. I advise checking with Parks Canada
for any area and/or trail closures.
When To Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed The Finger in the wettest June in recorded history as most alpine climbs were still out of shape. Except for the occasional snow patch and the harrowing rock fall most likely due to excessive rain and snow, the route was in condition.
You can go on line at Banff National Park
to pick your camp site and obtain your camping permit. The closest camping is at the Johnston Canyon Resort and Campground
several kilometers north of where you park your car. Further down the Parkway is the Castle Mountain Hostel
located at Castle junction. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit, if you are going to use a backcountry site, which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously. The only bivy site I saw was actually on descent. I assume someone ran out of daylight.
Mountain ConditionsBanff National Park’s website
has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association
is also useful, particularly for winter travel.
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