Searching for Dead Snails on Escargot Corner

Escargot Corner is a funny sort of route in the finest Rockies tradition.

Why do I say that? Because the approach is legendary for eating parties looking for the base of the route.

Here's the thing. Escargot Corner itself is not very long. It's six pitches - and that's if you climb the rather contrived bottom two pitches which you can just bypass with a quick scramble - so the actual true corner is only four pitches. To climb those four or six pitches, you have to find a poorly described pull off, then navigate a braided mess of faint trails while gaining a bunch of elevation and the whole thing takes between an hour and half and two hours depending on how fit your party is.

It's a 5.6 trad route with bolted anchors - I would say it's probably a pretty awesome first multi-pitch trad lead. Bring a rack to 3" and a dozen draws and you're more than golden.

So let's recap. Hard to find parking, difficult to follow trails. Two hours of hiking. Just to climb four or six pitches of super mellow climbing. Classic Rockies.

But here's the thing. The approach isn't actually that hard, it's just poorly described and the only real description of the approach that I could find before heading out myself was in Bow Valley Sport and the old version that I have kicking around isn't super clear (maybe the new one has a better description).

Here's what we're going to do. I'm going to  describe, as clearly as I can, how to get out to this route, because having climbed it, it's worth the approach.

How to Actually Find Escargot Corner

Step 1. Parking

Finding parking isn't hard. From Calgary, drive towards Banff and then overshoot it. When you reach the turnoff for Norquay, take a look at your odometer. Approximately two kilometers after the Norquay turnoff you reach a sweeping right turn. On the other side the road you'll see the Vermilion Lakes/Mount Rundle lookout. A couple of hundred meters later there concrete barrier on your right will come to and end and there's a gravel pull-off - hit the brakes, pull fully off the road and park there.

This is your view from where you park (assuming there's forest fires raging at the time). You're just past the Vermilion Lakes/Rundle lookout heading West.

Step 2. The Fence

Sooooo, there's a fence. The wildlife fence that lines the highway all through the Park. From where you've parked walk West down the highway until you reach a small drainage (just a few meters). On the west side of the drainage, there's a couple of fence posts. You need to climb over the fence and doing it at one of the posts makes it way easier (in the past you could crawl under the fence at the bottom of the drainage, but the dastardly Parks staff plugged the hole, so you're going over the top). 

Step 3. The Powerlines

Once over the fence, immediately cross back over the drainage to the East side where you'll find a trail that heads up the East bank. About 100m up this trail you'll reach a power line cut with, shockingly, power lines overhead. A small trail cuts right (East) and follows the power lines - follow it. The trail goes up a small hill gaining the broad crest of a ridge. As of time of writing, there's some work going on to install some new poles - so either look for that, or look for new poles, or just go until you get to a high point on the power line cut. 

Step 4: The Ridge

From the high point on the power line cut, the trail turns left to climb up the ridge. Just keep climbing the ridge, don't take side trails, don't get fancy, just stick to the top of the ridge as you climb up. Eventually the trail turns into a bit of a rocky scramble - which means you're right on track. Stay to the top of the ridge, keep going, stay high.

Stay on top of the broad ridge as it climbs up.

At an elevation of roughly 450-500m above the highway, you'll hit a notch or col in the ridge. You descend a few feet and then keep climbing up the other side. Keep climbing. The next time you hit a flat spot, there'll be a small clearing with a big cairn in the middle. Go stand at this big cairn and then STOP. The trail continues in front of you - but that's a trap. That's the descent trail from the top of the route. There's a small, semi-hidden trail to your immediate left that disappears into the trees and then starts losing elevation - follow that. A couple of hundred meters along this trail, you enter a bit of an alpine bowl - slabby rock above you, choss gully below you. The trail continues to contour between slab and choss until you hit a big, undercut piece of slab. STOP. This is the bottom of the route.

This is just past the notch at around 450-500m. You hit that flat spot, drop down into the notch/coll and then continue climbing.

Step 5: Revel in your rad-ness

You found the bottom of Escargot Corner and you didn't even get lost! I hope.

Actually Climbing Escargot Corner

The first two pitches are described as about 95m combined of climbing in the guide book. We had a 60m rope and basically ran out of rope on our way to the first station which is just a tree - I ended up having to scramble up a bit of 3rd class slab in order for my partner to reach the tree. The first pitch works its way up a bit of a shallow corner before breaking left. From the tree, I took over and climbed a mellow pitch of low fifth that continues up and left before hitting a good bolted anchor at the bottom the true Escargot Corner.

Looking back at the start of the corner system with a smoky backdrop.

From there, the route just follows up the incredibly obvious corner for four pitches of low fifth trad climbing. It's about as hard to get lost on as Joy.

If you can get lost on this, well, I have no words.

When we were climbing the route, the local forest fires were in full swing so we started with some visibility in the morning which rapidly degenerated to 'can't see the next peak' by the afternoon. I'm glad we weren't out there for the views.

What were were out there for was the dead snails. Escargot Corner gets its name because on the right face of the corner, half way up the final pitch, there's a section of rock which is covered with fossilized snails. It's super, super cool if you're even a tiny bit of a nerd and it was the whole reason we were out there - I'd wanted to see the mythical snails and Julie wanted to take a photo home for her son.

The whole reason to be there (other than the great climbing) - the super cool snail fossils on Pitch 6

Long story short, mission succeeded. 

Julie, at the top of Escargot Corner

The Descent.

From the top of the route, it isn't quite a walk off. You start walking back down the ridge you followed on your way up, but before you can rejoin the trail, you hit a cliff band that you need to do two rappels to get past. There's a nice, new bolted rap station (despite what the old guidebook says) which you rap off. The guidebook says to stay climber's left, but I initially went way too far left and ended up on an adventure rappel, roaming around a slab looking for an anchor. 

After what seemed like an eternity of wandering around, hanging off a rope, I eventually found it (with some help shouted down from above). Basically, don't go climber's left, instead, just don't go climbers right - follow the natural line of the ridge as you descend and you'll find the next bolted station. Easy peasy.

The rappels worked just fine on a 60m rope though ti was a bit of a rope stretcher getting to the bottom. Regardless, it works. 

From the bottom of the rappels, follow a tail back down the ridge until you hit that big cairn and associated fork in the road. If you've stashed some gear in the area (like we did -  poles and such), grab it, and then just retrace your footsteps to the car. 

Scramble your way back down the ridge to your car!

Well, hopefully you can now climb Escargot Corner and then get back down without getting lost. It's a super fun alpine-y feeling day that's worth the walk. Go do it.

Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.