I lived in the Bow Valley for four years before I really even knew what exactly was Tunnel Mountain. I have been back and forth on Tunnel Mountain Road to attend the Banff International Film Festival, etc., but never paid attention to the “hill” as Tunnel Mountain was so named by James Hector
in the late 1800’s. Tunnel Mountain was officially named in 1883. The Canadian Pacific Railroad company had considered building a tunnel through the mountain for the railway. Eventually they came to the conclusion it was easier to circumvent the mountain to the north.
I was turned on to the seven pitch Gooseberry route (5.8 trad)
by some friends who had picked it up on Tabvar.org. From hiking across the base of the east face to the start of Gooseberry, I learned there are quite a few routes, both trad and sport, on the east side of Tunnel Mountain. Still, this is not an area that really serves those of us in Canmore well since we are closer to much longer and more challenging trad routes on Yamnuska
or sport routes in Cougar
and Grotto Canyon.
Interestingly enough, the first accender of Mount Assiniboine
, the highest peak in Banff National Park
, James Outram
was also the first official accender of Tunnel Mountain in 1900. Therefore Outram became the first man to climb both the highest and lowest summits in Banff National Park.
The shape of Tunnel Mountain is a result of its submergence by glaciers. The ice glided up the west side of this bedrock knob, but on the east side carried off rock loosened by repeated freezing and thawing of water in crevices. The rounded appearance of Tunnel Mountain contrasts with the sharp summits of nearby, higher peaks, such as Rundle
There is a popular tourist trail to the summit of Tunnel Mountain (used for descent of the technical routes), but this page is dedicated to the following climbing routes:
Black Band Area (South Tunnel):
This is a small cliff with 6 sport routes that are ideal for early season climbing. The approach takes about 15 minutes and the crag is exposed to the sun and sheltered from the wind. Climbs on the south side of Tunnel Mountain are reached from the small parking area at the corner of Buffalo Street and Tunnel Mountain Drive opposite the viewpoint for Bow Falls. From the parking area follow a large trail heading east that slowly descends to the valley floor. Continue until a major side channel of the Bow River is reached (about 10 minutes). The river channel bends sharply to the right at this point and there is a small sandy beach. Leave the main trail just past the beach and walk diagonally left away from the river passing a large Douglas fir at the foot of the slope. Locate a small trail (cairn) that zigzags up the slope towards the lower left end of the cliff a few minutes from the river.
Number One Sturfried 5.10a
- Al Ducros and Pierre Giguerre, 2000
Walk The Line 5.10b
- Chas Yonge and Chris Perry, 2006
The Missing Link 5.10b
- Al Ducros and Deborah Ashton, 2000
The Force 5.8
- Al Ducros and J.P.McCormid, 2002
One Brick in the Wall 5.10c
- Al Ducros, Deborah Ashton and J.P.McCormid, 2002
Miller's Traverse 5.8
- Al Ducros and Deborah Ashton, 2000.
Gooseberry Area (East Tunnel):
I have added the Gooseberry route with approach, etc. There are quite a few projects and new routes all over the south wall. The two long trad/sport routes are Gooseberry: 5.8- 250 meters- 7 pitches-
Lloyd MacKay and Ken Baker, 1967 and the MacKay Route: 5.10c- 215 meters- 7 pitches
- Joe MacKay, (finished?).
The Trans-Canada Highway runs from Calgary through Banff National Park on its way to Vancouver. As you pass through the park gates and approach the Banff exits, take the first exit coming from the east. Turn left and cross under the TransCanada. Take your first left on Tunnel Mountain Road. Proceed until you come to a four stop intersection. Turn left on Tunnel Mountain Drive and this paved road circumvents Tunnel Mountain to the north. Where you park depends on what route you are after.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Banff National Park coming from the east on the Trans-Canada. 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 a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the conventional campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. The huts are managed by the Alpine Club of Canada
versus the Parks. The Alpine Club of Canada headquarters is located in Canmore, AB and the Banff National Park headquarters is located in Banff, AB.
When to Climb
As with most climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed the Gooseberry route in May and found the route dry and in good shape. This is an ideal early or late season multi-pitch rock climb.
There is a variety of camping around the Banff area and of course tons of lodging. There is a large RV/tent campground on your right on Tunnel Mountain Road as you approach Tunnel Mountain. You can go on line at Banff National Park
to pick a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan on camping at a backcountry site. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas unless you are also in possession of a specific horse grazing permit.
The Banff National Park website
has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports
is also extremely useful. Tunnel Mountain has 8 accident reports on this site, 5 of them related to Gooseberry.
It is a popular route.