Tracking Down Those Three Sisters

Those of you who know Canmore know those iconic mountains, the Three Sisters, that loom over the townsite. Originally, simply called “The Nuns,” they were named after three Catholic Sisters, because of their shapes, and have been given the nicknames  of”Faith, Hope and Charity” by some. The Three Sisters lie outside our back door and taunt us with their proximity. Their unique profile graces many an artist’s canvass and haunts many a photographer’s lens.

There are three hikes that lead up to two accessible vantage points: one, a long and rather cumbersome trudge up the backside of Middle Sister to her peak; one, a shorter scramble up a creek bed from the drainage basin in the Spray Lakes area that tops out at Three Sisters’ Pass and can be done in half a day; and one that is not a trail so much as a “suggested route” on a gem trek map that involves some bushwhacking and a lot of route finding, from the north side of the pass.

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The Three Sisters, seen out our back window.

We have been bound and determined to find our way from our back door, out and up over the pass from that north side, and yet that enticing bushwhacking route still evades us. We’ve attempted it three times now, with pre-flood Gem Trek contour maps in hand, and we have yet to get all the way up there without reaching something that is impassable (like a tall, steep and crumbly creek bed slope or a massive cliff face of a rock feature that the locals affectionately call the Ship’s Prow). So recently, we decided to approach it from the back side, up in the Spray, and see what our route might look like from from its destination, above.

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This is the creek bed. There is no official trail… you simply keep hiking up the drainage.

With a 600m elevation gain, that backside way was a fun scramble up a dry creek bed. I love walking up giant pieces of slab, past small pools, and scrambling through little canyons with the creek appearing and disappearing under foot. In the fall, it is mostly dry, making for an easy and accessible route. And the beauty of this trail is that it is little known, and there is no official trail head or parking area for the tourists, so there’s a good chance you can have it all to yourself.

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If you look closely you can see my trusty four legged companion & me in this photo, hiking along the dry creek bed.
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The huge pieces of slab are super fun to hike along.  It’s amazing to me the way a dog, with hard claws and an inability to grasp handholds, can scramble up rock bands with ease!
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At times you walk through little canyons, hemmed in by shelves of rock rising up at steep angles that make for an easy scramble adventure.
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At the top of the creek drainage, where everything underfoot turned into loose, crumbly scree, we turned into the forest. This was the last, steep push to the pass.

We wound up high in a windswept, grassy, slightly snow-filled meadow with the peak of Big Sister looming 500m above us to the east.

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At the edge of the tree line, it was a short walk up to the vantage viewpoint of the pass itself.
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This is the top of the pass as it looks northwest over the town of Canmore. We had to wear spikes (those red things on my feet) for the last bit of the forest as we approached the pass. Ice was building up in there already.
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The perspective is off in this photo as the slope in this part of the landscape is exceptionally steep, but look closely and you will see a group of hikers, ahead of us on the pass.
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This is the wonderfully dramatic, imposing flank of Big Sister. It looms, 500m above you from the saddle of the pass.

Up at the pass, we found ourselves perched on the easternmost edge of a massive alpine cirque that cradles the slope of Mount Lawrence Grassi, with the majestic ship’s prow of the Nakoda Massif off to the right of the photo below. From that vantage point we poked around a bit, trying to see the best route up from the backside (it would come up from the far right of this photo). img_5177We think we’ve got it figured out… but with the recent snows, and rapidly decreasing day lengths, we’ve run out of season so we’ll have to wait until next summer to complete our adventure.

Ah well, it’s important to always have something to reach for! A quest of sorts. Wish us luck!


Click here for more terrific hikes in Kananaskis Country (Canmore Area). And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

9 Comments on “Tracking Down Those Three Sisters

  1. Pingback: Mighty Windtower – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

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