Grotto grind.

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Grotto Mountain (right), Lady Mac (left) – Photo: Canmore Runner

“Friends don’t let friends run Grotto”. It was good to be told this (Simon and Emily), two days after Ms. Canmore Runner and I had ground our way up and down Grotto Mountain. While knowing this in advance wouldn’t have stopped us, forewarned is forearmed and we might have been better prepared for the 10km (with 1,429m of elevation) slog that lay ahead and that really put the Canmore Quad into perspective. As I stood on the summit of Grotto, I thought to myself: “Seriously? You do this and then run up Lady Mac, Ha Ling and East End of Rundle?” My hope of one day achieving this feat was starting to feel as shaky as my legs. And we still had the descent to contend with. Forty-five quad crushing minutes, two falls, a bloodied wrist and shin later, I was starting to think that the “Triple Crown” of Lady Mac, Ha Ling and East End of Rundle would still be a significant – and more enjoyable – achievement.

At an altitude of 2,706m, Grotto Mountain is the highest of the Canmore Quad peaks. And having now climbed them all, it also felt like the most brutal. On Strava, it looks like this:

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The trailhead is located across the road from maintenance huts at the Alpine Club of Canada, towards the end of Indian Flats Road, just off Highway 1A and about 3.5km outside Canmore:

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Photo: Canmore Runner

The trail is well defined and easy to follow for the most part. On those few occasions when it isn’t so obvious, there are “tell-tale” bits of orange tape hanging from branches or cairns to help keep you on the right track.

It starts innocuously enough. The first two kilometres or so are reasonably plain sailing and offer some glimpses of the goal you’ve set for yourself:

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Photo: Canmore Runner

But before too long it becomes this steep and seemingly endless climb through the trees, albeit punctuated with some great views back across the valley:

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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner

Once above the tree line, the grade begins to even out and the whole experience becomes more enjoyable as you’re able to run, at last, and scramble your way to the ridge which you follow to the true summit:

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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Ms. Canmore Runner, summit in the background – Photo: Canmore Runner

And once at the summit, the views are panoramic and breathaking:

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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner

And then, there’s the descent. It’s a simple matter of retracing your steps back to the trailhead. While this would normally be something to look forward to, don’t expect some fast and fabulous descent. It was a grind going up and a grind going down thanks to the steep gradient and the loose, gravelly nature of the trail, particularly once you’re back below the tree line. This can lead to some spectacular slips if you’re not careful. It’s only really in the last 2km that your quads get a break and you can cruise back to the trailhead – and breath a sigh of relief, as I did, that you’re not now heading off to run the other three Quad peaks…

Until next time, happy trails.

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