Canadian Rockies Hiking: Cory and Edith Passes

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Trail to Cory Pass, Banff National Park. © Kathy Copeland

An opinionated guide to the Cory and Edith Pass hikes in Banff National Park, Alberta. This guide is brought to you by Canadian Rockies hiking experts Kathy and Craig Copeland at hikingcamping.com.
Location: Banff National Park
Round trip: 11 km (6.8 mi) to Cory Pass
Circuit: 12.9 km (8 mi) around Mt. Edith
Elevation gain:

  • 900 m (2952 ft) to Cory Pass
  • 1000 m (3280 ft) on circuit

Key elevations:

  • Trailhead 1460 m (4789 ft)
  • Cory Pass 2360 m (7741 ft)
  • Edith Pass 1950 m (6396 ft)

Hiking time: 4.5 to 6 hours for circuit
Difficulty: Challenging
Map: Gem Trek Banff Up-Close

Opinion

The optimal speed at which to appreciate Banff National Park is between 3.2 and 4.8 kph (2 and 3 mph).
How do I know this? I recently consulted the Walk the Earth Institute. Membership in this highly exclusive think tank is limited to me and Kathy.
Both of us are self-appointed experts on everything to do with foot travel, and our methods are rigourously scientific: if we agree, it must be so.
At the Institute’s last convention (yesterday’s hike), we were speculating about the speed at which most tourists stroll the sidewalks of Banff Avenue: 1.6 kph (1 mph) or less, we decided.
Optimal hiking pace was the Institute’s next topic of discussion. We then asked ourselves, “In the unlikely event these tourists are capable of maintaining minimum speed requirements, and assuming they really want to see Banff Park, where should they be walking?”
“Cory Pass,” Kathy said. I agreed. So it was unanimous and therefore indisputable.
Starting just a few minutes’ drive from Banff Avenue, the Cory Pass hike is an athletic endeavour. Some might call it “punishing.” An 885-m (2903-ft) ascent in just 4.5 km (2.8 mi) places shocking demands on lethargic muscles. But the exhilarating scenery more than compensates for the effort required.
Well before reaching Cory Pass, the airy trail (acrophobes beware) traverses the steep west face of Mount Edith. Lift your eyes from the abyss below your feet, and you’ll see Mount Cory looming just across the canyon. Behind you, the Sundance Range fills the southern horizon.
Rock pinnacles give Cory Pass a feral atmosphere. Just beyond the pass, the fang-like 500-m (1640-ft) face of Mt. Louis looms like a monster in a child’s nightmare. The first person to climb it was Conrad Kain, sort of the Captain Cook of the Canadian Rockies.
From Cory, keen, strong hikers drop into the aptly named Gargoyle Valley. They round the talusy north side of Mt. Edith, then return via forested Edith Pass. The circuit adds variety and allows a more gradual, comfortable descent.
Though this is strictly a hike, requires no scrambling and poses no dangerous exposure, the terrain is rugged, the trail steep. It’s not for the inexperienced or unfit.
Turn around at Cory Pass, and you’ll endure a toe-jamming, knee-pounding descent. Proceed into Gargoyle Valley only if you’re secure on loose rock and will remain confident where the way forward briefly requires vigilance.
You’re a capable hiker? You’ll enjoy the challenges of the Cory-Edith circuit because they make it a spicy journey. Just give the snowpack on the far side of Cory Pass time to melt; wait til mid-July. Snow usually bars easy passage to Cory until late June. Whenever you go, expect thirsty work on dry terrain. Pack at least two litres of water per person.
Also be prepared to endure highway noise from the Trans-Canada while hiking the trail’s lower reaches. The sound of passing vehicles is even louder than it should be, because the majority far exceed the park’s 90 kph (56 mph) speed limit.
“Much too fast,” Kathy said. I agreed. There you have it: another certifiable fact, brought to you by the Walk The Earth Institute.

Fact

By Vehicle
From where Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) departs Trans-Canada Highway 1, just west of Banff townsite, drive the Parkway north 0.5 km (0.3 mi). Turn right, following the sign for Fireside Picnic Area. Continue 1 km (0.6 mi) to road’s end. The trailhead is near the bridge over the creek, at 1460 m (4789 ft).
On Foot
Cross the bridge and pass the picnic area. Head east, initially on an old road. In 200 m (656 ft) follow a trail left (marked by a hiker sign). It leads through forest lightened by aspen and broken by meadows.
Reach a junction at 1 km (0.6 mi). The trail to Edith Pass continues straight. If you complete the circuit, you’ll return that way from Edith. Go left (north) for Cory Pass.
The Cory Pass trail climbs skyward, generally northwest, up the south-facing slope. Crest the forested south ridge of Mt. Edith at 1900 m (6232 ft), having hiked just over 2 km (1.2 mi). Rewarding views begin. Mt. Bourgeau is southwest. The Sundance Range is south. Mt. Rundle is southeast.
The trail bends north-northwest and the ascent eases. Ahead is 2553-m (8374-ft) Mt. Edith. Northwest is 2801-m (9187-ft) Mt. Cory. Between them is Cory Pass.
The trail follows the ridgeline, continuing at a moderate grade with one steep section. At 2045 m (6708 ft), it drops 14 m (46 ft) into an awkward declivity, then ascends gradually across the barren southwest slope of Mt. Edith.
The long, airy traverse is on a very narrow trail crossing several avalanche chutes that are precarious even when snowfree. Snow is still present? Stop. Assess the danger. Lacking an ice axe and self-arrest skills, be willing to turn back rather than risk a serious fall.
Traverse the canyon headwall to reach the narrow defile of Cory Pass at 5.5 km (3.4 mi), 2360 m (7741 ft). Directly north, across Gargoyle Valley, is 2682-m (8797-ft) Mt. Louis.
To continue the Cory-Edith circuit, descend the precipitous north side of the pass. The trail curves right (northeast), dropping rapidly across steep talus through short Gargoyle Valley.
Rounding the north side of Mt. Edith, stay high, just beneath the cliffs. You’ll see gargoyle pinnacles through here. Closely follow the cairns through bulky rubble.
Near 2000 m (6560 ft), the trail works its way right (southeast). Maintain your elevation while crossing a boulder field for ten minutes. Then watch for a yellow-orange hiker sign on a tree; that’s where the trail enters forest.
Ascend then descend yet again before reaching 1950-m (6396-ft) Edith Pass at 9 km (5.6 mi). Mt Edith is now right (west), Mt. Norquay left (east). Trails depart both sides of Edith Pass. Don’t turn left (north), or you’ll drop to the Forty Mile Creek trail. Go right (south), and descend—steeply at first, then moderately—through forest.
Reach a junction 2.9 km (1.8 mi) from Edith Pass. You’re now on familiar ground. Right leads north to Cory Pass. Straight leads 1 km (0.6 mi) generally south-southwest back to the trailhead.
More Canadian Rockies hikes.
Kathy and Craig Copeland are the opinionated hikers. They write unique guidebooks—bold, intelligent, entertaining and of course accurate—that ensure you make the most of your precious time outdoors. Their titles include “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, The Opinionated Hiking Guide,” and “Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies, The Premier Trails in Kananaskis Country, near Canmore and Calgary.” Visit hikingcamping.com to see or purchase any of the Copelands’ books.

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