Kootenay National Park, B.C.
Elevation: 2,300 metres
Estimated Time: 8.5-11-plus hrs
The Rockwall may be the best long-distance mountain run anywhere. You spend a great deal of time running along a beautiful alpine plateau that is bordered by calving glaciers and a long and imposing cliff face known as the Rockwall. While the distance of the run seems manageable, the steep elevation gains and descents pose a major challenge. If you complete the entire traverse, you’ll have to climb and descend three high mountain passes of up to 1,000 metres each. The trail is one of the more popular hikes in the Canadian Rockies and is usually finished in three to five days. Make no mistake — the Rockwall is a big objective in a remote mountain environment that should not be taken lightly. Be prepared for extreme weather, bears and adverse trail conditions. You may not see anyone else on the trail and there will be snow up high late into the summer.
One end of the Rockwall trail is at the Paint Pots parking lot on Hwy 93, 19K south of the Trans-Canada. The other end of the trail is at Floe Lake parking lot another 13K south from the Paint Pot’s. You will have to arrange some sort of shuttle between the trailheads or try your luck at hitchhiking. The trail can be run in either direction; however I prefer starting from the southern access at Floe Lake as described below.
After a brief warmup through the charred remnants of a forest, head across a bridge and climb up towards Floe Lake. After 700 metres of climbing you reach a campsite and the alpine environment for which the Rockwall is famous. In another 2K and 300 metres elevation you will reach the first pass between Mount Numa and Foster Peak. Enjoy a couple more kilometres of beautiful alpine running, and then start the 800-metre descent toward Numa Creek and its campsite. Shortly after crossing the bridge stay left at the junction and climb another 700 metres before dropping back down to another campsite at Tumbling Creek. Run through the campsite following a moderately climbing trail heading back up toward Wolverine Pass. Once on top of the pass, the good news is that all of the big climbs are behind you and a 20K stretch of mostly downhill trail will take you past the impressive Helmet Falls and out to the Paint Pots parking lot.
Two trails leading down from the Rockwall offer shorter traverse options or emergency exits. The first is at 18.5K and follows Numa Creek and the other is at 25.6K and follows Tumbling Creek. Both trails lead directly down to Hwy 93.
– During the summer months, there will most likely be some hiker traffic and possibly a warden stationed at the northern end.
– Water is available and easily accessed from either Numa or Tumbling creeks.
– Wild blueberries are abundant in the valley bottoms at certain times of the year.
– Fall is especially beautiful when the trail is carpeted in soft yellow needles from larch trees.
Bob Walker is the Canmore, Alta.-based author of Mountain Running in the Canadian Rockies. Find him at www.mtnrunning.ca.