Seeing the Light at Banff’s Tunnel Mountain
Banff National Park, Alberta
There are only so many times you can be told to take a hike before the phrase becomes literal. It felt like the right time to tackle Banff’s Tunnel Mountain again after a long break. It may surprise many people that summer is actually the peak season in Banff despite the awesome ski hills that surround us in winter. One of the main reasons must be the huge variety of hiking options that are open to visitors. If you are anything like me and want to get some of the best views without losing too much breath, then Tunnel Mountain is a great start.
Hiking boots – check. Water – check. First Aid Kit – check. Cigarettes – check. Well you need something to celebrate making it to the top. Note: a mars bar or photograph would be the healthier option. There are two ways to start this excursion. From the very bottom, you are looking at a menacing 4.3km round trip. Otherwise you can start from just north of the Banff Centre and make the trip in less than 3.6km. The elevation is barely noticeable and you are unlikely to be out of breath at any stage unless you stupidly stop to celebrate the half way mark with a smoke.
Much like a good woman, Tunnel Mountain can be a bit of a tease. It offers stunning panoramic views almost from the word go. Every time you wind around a corner, it feels like you have reached the top. You can’t imagine getting better views of the town, the golf course, the Fairmont Springs and general nature. Squirrels and birds dance around you as if you are Snow White in her pre-porn Disney movie days and you can’t help but feel the joy of life as the breeze makes you skip along with them.
Views of Mount Rundle (a much more difficult climb) adorn the eyes before the top finally comes into sight. Though it really was an easy hike, the feeling of celebration when the summit was reached was still enough to make me wish I had brought a flag to plant into the highest point. Newspaper headlines spun around in my head – “Special Banff Man Conquers the Tunnel.” That was before I read the sign at the peak celebrating the achievement of a local Banff woman who walked (not even hiked) Tunnel Mountain at least once a day for 40 years. Talk about stolen thunder.
You may be wondering as you reach the top – where the hell is the tunnel? There isn’t one. The deceptively named mountain got its name from the Canadian Pacific Railway back in 1882 who proposed to build a tunnel right through the middle of the mountain. Obviously realizing that perhaps there was too much testosterone invested in the idea of exploding through the Mountain, they ultimately took the more Buddhist route of going around the mountain rather than through it. Just like my childhood nickname of Toad Face, the name has stuck to this day for one of Banff’s busiest climbs.