Mount James Walker

Canmore
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Mount James Walker

Distance: 17.9km
Elevation: 1,175m
Time: 6-9h

Difficulty Rating:

A scramble up Mount James Walker is an engaging adventure! Amazing summit views combine with a beautiful approach beside a lively creek, past multiple tarns, and up an isolated valley to make a Mount James Walker Scramble worthy of any bucket list!

Getting there

The trailhead is located on the unpaved Highway 742, also known as the Smith-Dorrien Trail. From Canmore drive towards the Nordic Centre. Continue past the Nordic Centre and travel about 48.0km before reaching the Sawmill Day Use Areaparking lot.

About

When to do

July - October

Backcountry Campsites

No

Toilets

Trailhead

Pets allowed

Yes - On Leash

Scarmbling Rating

Grade 1

Exposure

Mild

Family friendly

No

Route Signage

Poor

Crowd Levels

Low

Route Type

Out and back


Elevation


Detailed Description

On the surface, Mount James Walker appears to be a moderate, exposed scramble, but a little research revealed that there is also a much easier route consisting of gently-angled scree.

We arrived in the empty Sawmill parking lot just after 8 am and headed directly east (“up” from the parking lot) to find the start of the trail, a gated old logging road marked with snowshoe trail signs. We set a brisk pace along it in the cool morning, soon arriving at a cairned junction 2.0km from the parking lot. Head right here, following a good trail on former logging road as it headed up the James Walker Creek valley. New growth is slowly taking over this trail.

Eventually the old logging road ends and the trail continues into the forest. There is some deadfall to deal with, the worst being a narrow swath of forest that had been mowed down by an avalanche in the past few years, but nothing unusually problematic.

Nearly 4.5km from the parking lot there is a lovely scenic pond. Unfortunately, it was flooded, and the trail and the entirety of its shoreline meadows were underwater, forcing us to detour into the forest to the right to get around it. It would be wise to either be prepared for water or wait for drier weather.

The trail on the other side was in reasonably good shape, and after a moderately steep climb through forest next to a very lively James Walker Creek, you arrive in the beautiful open meadows of the upper James Walker Creek valley. The moderate route up the mountain looms in front, but turn right and wander up the valley between James Walker and Mount Inflexible.

This valley is very scenic and as you make your way to its head you will passed several tarns, meadows, and snow patches. From the head of the valley, start up the easy and very stable scree slope, stopping a short distance up for lunch. The weather was very interesting at this point as the hot air from the Kananaskis valley rose quickly along the James Walker – Inflexible ridge, rapidly forming swirling clouds just a few hundred meters from us.

After lunch continue your ascent over stable scree. A large snowfield covers a few hundred vertical meters of slope below the summit, but a narrow section of rock to the east allows for continued ascent on rock. Travel remains remarkably easy until the last 100m, at which point the slope steepens and the scree and rubble become frustratingly loose. It is not bad relative to other mountains. Indicative of how easy this ascent is, the last 500m vertical took just 1 hour 10 minutes to ascend, which is a pretty good rate.

The view from the summit is spectacular. That of the Opal Range was particularly impressive; James Walker is perfectly positioned so that the view of each peak in the range is well separated from its neighbor.

Return the way you came.

Insider Hints

  • Go during a dry time of year to avoid the full pond.

  • Fill-up on bagels in Canmore before the hike at the Rocky Mountain Bagel Co.

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