Mount Louis

August 11, 2021


Banff, AB

Mt. Louis is an iconic tower of limestone in Sawback Range not far from the town of Banff that is known to be difficult. There is no “easy” route to reach the summit of this peak with the easiest being the Kain Route, 15+ pitches of climbing with the last two pitches on Perren Crack at a sustained grade of 5.7, and some might say the first pitch of Perren Crack is actually 5.8. The Gmoser Route that merges into the Kain Route halfway up, and “Homage to the Spider” on a different face are two of the other classic climbs on this mountain but both are much more technical and beyond my league. I had been wanting to climb the Kain Route for a few years but I needed at least one partner who’s significantly better than myself on rock climbing to make this happen. The right team eventually formed this year. Oakley and I had been talking about some Rockies objectives and I sensed that he preferred “classic climbing” rather than “chossneering” so I suggested Mt. Louis but we needed a rope gun for the last two pitches. And then Yanick from Banff joined the team and with him joining I had no doubt we’d make this happen. I had climbed three summits with Yanick last year and he’s that perfect “rope gun” I was looking for. On top of his extensive climbing experience Yanick had already climbed the “Homage to the Spider” to the summit and knew the descent route really well.

We also wanted to climb Mt. Birdwood but Mt. Louis is the more fun one so we agreed to climb this first. The earliest possible day would be Wednesday as I had a trip commitment in the Coast on Monday and I needed a full day to drive to Banff. I secretly wanted the weather on Wednesday to be bad so that I didn’t have to rush, but the weather turned out “decent” so I must hurry up. Needless to say it was a tiring ride from the packing to the driving. I made an early wake-up call on Tuesday so that I could drive out of Fraser Valley before the traffic became really terrible. The traffic situation through the interior BC was much better than expected with no major delay whatsoever, but I myself needed a nap somewhere near Rogers Pass. After that I bought some dinner and breakfast in Golden’s Subway and pushed to Banff in one shot. Yanick offered me to stay in his home during my entire visit. There’s no spare bed but all I needed was a couple squared meters to lay the thermarest and sleeping bag. I was able to fall asleep before midnight. A couple hours later the alarm went off and I drove Yanick to the Bow Valley Parkway turn-off at just after 5 am, confused about the gate and the closure of our trail-head. Oakley and another party-of-two showed up shortly after and we realized that we must walk an additional kilometer to the proper trail-head, which was not a big deal but frustrating.

Mt. Louis via Kain Route. GPX DL

The other party was more concerned of congestion on this route so went ahead. The three of us took our time sorting out some last minute gears and then dashed down the paved road to the proper trail-head. A bridge had been pulled so we must scramble down and up some steep and loose river bank kind of choss to get onto the proper trail. I had been onto this trail only one time and that was in 2012 traversing the three summits of Mt. Edith. This time we took the lower trail wrapping around Mt. Edith towards Edith Pass. This entire stage was in a mosquito-infested forest with no view. There’s a stream of water about 100 vertical meters under the pass and that was the only water source on this entire climb so we took our time there taking a long break and loading up the water bottles. Upon reaching the next junction we took the left branch aiming for the hiker’s Cory-Edith Passes loop and this trail eventually brought us to the base of Mt. Louis. Since the descent route was very different than the ascent route we couldn’t really ditch much stuffs. Yanick ditched his poles but I needed mine for the loose scree on the descent “trail”. I only left a water bottle behind for the return and carried everything, which on the other hand, was a bit too heavy for my like.

Morning light shone on the east face of Mt. Edith
Our first view of our objective, Mt. Louis
Oakley descending into the Gargoyle Valley, still on a trail
Yanick studying the route. This is a rugged peak..
The morning was still cloudy and this was looking at Cascade Mountain

To reach the base of the Kain Route we had to traverse rightward around the base of the peak for at least 10 minutes and eventually got there in about 3 hours after the start. The other party was already one pitch ahead but our plan was to solo as much as possible as the lower route was essentially a “gloried scramble” with odd bits of 5.4-5.6 moves here and there. The first two pitches looked exceptionally easy so we started right away. I did swap my footwear to rock shoes here as why-not. The third pitch had one 5.6 move to get into a groove feature. This pitch looked incredibly slabby so I let Yanick to go ahead and show us the move. It turned out easier than expected and Oakley even managed to skip this move by climbing on the climber’s right side wall. Beyond this we had another pitch of slabby but mostly 4th class terrain to get onto a broader, leftward-traversing ramp and the next stage was to scramble across this ramp to access the middle section of the east ridge. Meanwhile the other group was doing the right-hand variation.

Traversing towards the base of Kain Route, looking back at Mt. Edith
Ascending to the base of the Kain Route was a bit unpleasant
While we reached the base, the other party was one pitch ahead
Yanick and Oakley soloing pitch #1
This was Pitch 2, still easy peasy
Looking ahead towards the infamous “Diamond Face”
Yanick going ahead showing us the moves on Pitch 3
While I went up that 5.6 step, Oakley tried a variation here to bypass it
Above the crux on Pitch 3 now, the terrain was steep and slabby
Somewhere after Pitch 4 we split up taking some different lines. All went
This was the start of that rising traverse on grassy ledges
Meanwhile the other party took the right hand variation
Looking back at Mt. Brewster

The middle section of the east ridge involved a few steep and exposed steps around 5.5 and again, with Yanick showing the moves we all kept the soloing momentum and the next thing the terrain transitioned to a short section of knife-edge and on the far side of this ridge traverse we found the bolted station for the rappel. This rappel is the characteristic spot on Kain Route as there aren’t many routes that require a rappel on the ascent. The beta we had said this was a 22-meter rappel but the reality was a full 30-meter stretch to find the bolt on the “ledge” below. The next pitch was an exposed traversing pitch with the crux at middle, rated 5.5 and again we opted to continue soloing. That “steep wall” crux was not terribly loose, but involved a few tricky moves. We all had different beta here with mine requiring a dynamic move to reach out to a hand-hold. The other party was one pitch behind us at this point.

Onto the middle section of east ridge now. Climb on..
Oakley on the typical terrain here.
Me on one of the 5.5 steps showing the angle of the terrain…
The climbing wasn’t too bad but the exposure’s becoming real
Oakley popped out onto a mini knife-edge feature
Oakley in front of the north ridge of Mt. Edith
Yanick going ahead to search for the rappel station
Oakley still negotiating that knife edge ridge traverse
Another view of Mt. Brewster
Me and Yanick just before the rappel
Yanick on the rappel which was a key character of this route
Oakley figuring out that 5.5 “steep wall” on the traverse pitch
Meanwhile the other group just finished their rappel

After this traversing pitch we were directly under the south face of Mt. Louis and the aim for the next few pitches was to ascend/traverse two rock ribs to the left. The first one was a solid 5.5 while the second one involved a “cracked wall” rated 5.6 and the exposure was getting real here. We somehow decided to solo both of these pitches and there were a few spots that neither Oakely nor I were feeling very excited about. I struggled more on the 5.6 section and after that we agreed to start roped climbing. Meanwhile the other party passed us. Those guys were roped up the entire way from the bottom and I had no idea how they managed to climb this fast, but it looked like they were simul-climbing which is something I don’t have a lot of experience with. Ironically the next two pitches were actually easier than the ones we just soloed but the rope did add some extra security and to release the mental stress. After these two easier pitches we walked across a long stretch of “plateau” and now we were directly under the Perren Crack. To reach the bottom belay station of the first pitch of Perren Crack we did have to scramble some 4th class terrain and here we caught up with the other group again, and they were half a pitch ahead.

After the traverse pitch, Yanick charged ahead soloing the next pitch, 5.5
Oakley starting the 5.5 pitch. Good holds, but severe exposure
The move ahead of Oakley was the crux in this pitch.
This pitch terminated into a gully feature, which felt much more secure
Yanick soloing the next pitch, the “cracked wall”, rated 5.6
Two more easy pitches later, Mt. Edith’s getting smaller
Oakley at the base of the Perren Crack

The Perren Crack is called a crack but there’s literally zero crack climbing involved and the moves are extensively face moves on sloppy limestone. Yanick did not bring rock shoes as this grade of 5.7 was too easy for him, but watching him leading the first pitch didn’t boost confidence. Oakley and I were thinking it’d be a challenge to even follow up and it sure was. Yanick led a line far towards climber’s right side corner and that involved a few moves of vertical pulling on sloppers with very poor feet and I was very close to taking a fall at some point. I cleaned all the pros so when Oakley climbed he could make his own reading and he picked a line more on the middle of the face. It’s not easy to pick the line of the least resistance on this pitch and different beta all go. The second pitch was less vertical but more slabby. My arms were a bit pumped at this point so I enjoyed this second pitch more than the first. Yanick ran a full 60m swing on this second pitch and that brought us very much close to the summit. There was still fair amount of class 3-4 scrambling to reach the true summit but those were nothing compared to what we just did.

Yanick starting up the first pitch of Perren Crack
The section ahead of Yanick felt like the crux of the whole climb for me
Yanick at the belay station above Pitch 1 on Perren Crack.
Oakley coming up to the station
Oakley starting the second pitch of Perren Crack
Oakley higher up on the second pitch of Perren Crack.
Ropes were packed and time to scramble again
Me on the traverse towards the true summit. The cross is in sight
Tricky 4th class terrain on the summit ridge traverse
Partial Summit Panorama from Mt. Louis. Click to view large size.
Partial Summit Panorama from Mt. Louis. Click to view large size.
This is looking north towards Mt. Ishbel and more peaks in Sawback Range
Cascade Mountain was one of my first ever scrambles, done in 2011
This is looking across Bow Valley towards Mt. Assiniboine way in the distance
Mt. Rundle is one of the most iconic peaks in the entire Canadian Rockies
Mt. Fifi in the foreground.
Me on the summit of Mt. Louis

On the descent we just needed to follow Yanick’s lead. We together had two 60m half ropes so we had options to combine two into one. All stations were bolted and easily found. The first three rappels were in a straight line down a gully and we completed in two – one long and one shorter. The next stretch had the gully’s angle turning skier’s right. Oakley led down a full 60m rappel and that got us down onto a “key ledge”. We noticed an abandoned ATC on an awkward spot. Yanick even tried to down-climb to retrieve it but he knocked down a rock and that rock knocked the ATC completely off the mountain. We had to scramble up and over a notch across this wide scree ledge to find the next stage of rappels. The next two rappels had some very cool positions down a rock slab and we also must be careful not swinging into the deep gully next to the wall. At the base of these rappels we had to down-scramble a short distance to find the next one. And the most exciting rappel was the last one where we joined the ropes to make a full 60 m straight line vertically down. Getting into this rappel was awkward but the main chuck was a fun ride.

Setting up the first rappel
Yanick went down. We did a full double-rope rappel here
Oakley on the next rappel, a single roped one
Oakley led down the next rappel (double rope)
Yanick finishing this double-rope rappel onto the intermediate ledge
We had to traverse the ledge and scramble over that notch
The first of the two rappels down this slanted rock slab
Yanick led down the second slanted slab rappel
Note that we had to avoid being sucked into the deep chasm
We were surprised there’s a bit of tricky scrambling to reach the next station
Yanick led down a single rope rappel to the final anchor
Oakley finishing his second-to-last rappel
Yanick leading down this massive, fun vertical rappel to finish the climb
Oakley midway down this fun ride

I knew there must be a climber’s path to lead down into the valley between Edith and Cory Passes and I was correct. I would even call this path a “trail”. I had some concern of descending the horrible scree on the trail shoes but with this trail found the descent was not bad at all. It still required a lot of care but nothing’s sketchy. The two poles that I carried up and over Mt. Louis also helped as I’m terrible at hiking without poles. The rest of the hike-out was tediously and boring but Yanick set a fast pace dashing down. We eventually took a long break at the creek as we all ran low on water, but the mosquitoes forced us to get moving as soon as being hydrated. We eventually finished with round trip time 13.5 hours, which was not bad at all especially in a group of three and some massive breaks we took here and there.

We found the climber’s path. Mt. Cory ahead
Continuing down the climber’s path in front of Mt. Edith
Down into Gargoyle Valley now, looking back at Mt. Louis
The hike-out was very boring and tedious

We all went into the town of Banff for a dinner in Banff Avenue Brew. Yanick and I drove back to his place after the dinner while Oakley drove back to Calgary. The following day would be a rest day for all three of us as the plan was to climb Mt. Birdwood on Friday. I killed most of Thursday in Canmore mostly sitting and eating. I also managed to shop a new helmet and a new harness as mines were already too old and broken. The dinner at Indian Cusine was exceptionally good that I would definitely go back for on my next trip to Canmore.