Ha Ling & Miner’s Peak

Aside from the Three Sisters, Ha Ling Peak is probably Camore’s most iconic landmark. A subpeak of larger Mount Lawrence Grassi, a multipeaked massif that towers more than 1,000 meters above the bustling mountain town, Ha Ling’s sheer north face looks makes it look impossibly unapproachable when viewed from Canmore’s downtown. From this vantage point, it’s hard to believe the peak is just a walk-up.

According to one version of local lore, Ha Ling was named for the first person on record to have reached the summit. In 1896, a Chinese immigrant and Canadian Pacific Railway worker was bet that he couldn’t summit the peak in less than ten hours. Stirred by the dare, Ha Ling departed Canmore one morning for the summit and returned victorious in time for lunch. No one believed his claims, so he returned with a party of others in tow to show off the handkerchief and makeshift cairn he’d left at the top. While the challenge may seem like a farce given the ease of today’s well-worn trail, the uncharted slopes were much different one hundred thirty years ago.

Following his feat, the highpoint became known as Chinaman’s Peak – a name that stuck around for a century. In 1997, however, the peak was renamed due to racist implications associated with the name ‘Chinaman.’ After a months-long battle by a local schoolteacher, the name Chinaman’s Peak was officially changed to Ha Ling. In 2018, a documentary on Ha Ling’s history was released, exploring not only the peak’s more recent colonial past, but also that of the Stoney Nakoda people that existed long before Ha Ling.

Today, Ha Ling is one of the most popular peaks in Canmore and, quite likely, one of the most popular in the Canadian Rockies. Its proximity to town makes it hugely appealing for both locals and visitors alike. Multiple sources suggest that the trail sees hundreds of hikers per day during the busiest summer months. As such, Ha Ling looks much different now than it did just a decade ago.

To help support the massive amount of traffic on Ha Ling Peak, Alberta Parks made significant trail upgrades in 2019. Improvements included trail grading, and the addition of wooden steps and handrails. While the overhaul makes it feel much less like a true wilderness experience, it is safer for beginner hikers and does protect the slopes from soil erosion due to the constant foot traffic. Additionally, just last year (2022) when we were in town, Alberta Parks also put in a new parking lot to better accommodate the huge amount of visitors.

Due to its insane popularity, Stephan and I swore we would never touch this peak. We go into nature for solitude, and combatting the crowds hardly sounded like something we wanted to take on. However, once snow effectively buried all summit scrambles the Main Ranges, we were forced to make a choice: (1) seek out accessible objectives further east or (2) stop hiking for the year. Clearly, we decided on the former. With Ha Ling being one of the few summits that’s accessible year-round, we decided we needed to change our mindset and give it a go.

To minimize the chance of encountering hordes of people, we tried to be mindful when choosing a day. We ultimately opted for the last Sunday in October. It was now well into shoulder season, a small amount snow had accumulated on the peaks around Canmore, and the temperature was a balmy -15C (4F) the morning we set out.

There’s not a lot noteworthy about Ha Ling’s ascent route. It’s steep, gaining about 2,600 feet of vertical over the 2.5 miles to the top, but it’s largely an on-trail hike. About ninety percent of the route climbs through the forest via switchbacks, steps, and hand cables that were part of the Alberta Parks trail improvement project. The last bit from the saddle to summit traverses more rugged scree, but even here the path is obvious. Alan Kane lists Ha Ling as an easy scramble in his book, but it’s kind of hard to see how it meets the criteria of a ‘scramble.’ I suppose it could be because trail improvements were made after the book’s most recent edition was published in 2016. Having never hiked the original route, though, I can’t speak to the pre-2019 days. When we went up, no use of hands was required.

About halfway up the trail there’s a viewpoint that offers a decent look northwest to Whitemans Pond and the East End of Rundle. Other than a couple peek-a-boo views looking west across the Spray Valley, though, there’s not much to keep you entertained on this one.

For us, the most interesting part of the hike was when we stumbled across some unique marks in the snow. If you look closely, you’ll see the track marks of a rabbit or other small animal (the prints were a bit vague and not super well-defined). The prints eventually meet up with a series of waning ‘scratch’ marks, with deeper impressions near the mammal tracks that quickly transition to lighter lines. The marks likely reveal the sad end to an ill-fated critter who was scooped up by an owl or other raptor, whose wings are revealed by the uniform lines in the snow. Although difficult to capture given the terrible lighting and the fact that we didn’t want to mar the prints by getting too close, it was a fascinating find.

Once we finally broke treeline, we got a nice look at the peaks across the Spray Valley, made even lovelier with the fresh dusting of powder. From the saddle, it was a short half-kilometer march to the top. Even with the snow, enough people had been up that the route was still easily visible.

From the top, we were able to look down on the town of Canmore and across the Bow Valley to the peaks of the Fairholme Range. Immediately southeast, Mount Lawrence Grassi’s equally angular summit soared a few hundred meters overhead.

Having finally made the trip up there, we figured we we’d head back to the saddle and scoot up neighboring Miner’s Peak on our return. It was certainly an easy add-on, and probably the easiest double-summit day you can do in the area.

From the saddle, it took us a mere 15 minutes to reach Miner’s slightly-higher summit. The scree ramp was only moderately steep, gaining about 400 feet (120 m) of vertical in the 0.3 miles (0.5 km) to the top. The final ridge to the summit was pretty narrow with some mild exposure, so make sure you’re comfortable with conditions before heading over (snow and wind can make a big difference). Although measurements for both peaks seem to vary, most agree that Miner’s Peak just edges out Ha Ling in terms of elevation. Our GPS put Miner’s at ten meters higher than Ha Ling, measuring it at 8,113 feet (2473 m) compared to 8,081 feet (2463 m) for Ha Ling.

Despite the freezing temperatures, the full sun and uphill grind had kept us both sweating for much of the hike. However, once we hit the saddle between Ha Ling and Miner’s Peak, we cooled off quickly. The wind up here made it cold enough that no amount of sun would help and, now that we were exerting less energy, we finally started to feel cold. Sanchez had started to look a little uncomfortable as we neared the top of Miner’s, so we kept our summit stay very brief so we could get her back down and out of the breeze. For a dog that grew up in the warm climes of Thailand, she’s an absolute beast in the cold weather.

For a short, high-traffic hike that we never intended to do, Ha Ling was pretty good. We saw maybe two dozen people – and somehow managed to share the summit with just one other hiker – so I’d call it a win for a trail that sees hundreds of people a day in the summer. While it by no means ranks anywhere near the top of our favorites list, it was a great peak to bag in the off-season. Additionally, it was kind of nice to be able to experience the Canmore classic for ourselves. While it was never a priority during our two six-month stints in the area, it also felt kind of irreverent to have driven past dozens of times without putting boots to trail.

Total distance: 5.5 miles (9 km)
Elevation gain: 2,950 feet (900 meters)
Scramble rating: Easy (Kane)

Know before you go:

  • While Ha Ling can be hiked year-round, the trail does cross a couple of avalanche paths. Be sure to check avalanche conditions before heading out.
  • This is a notoriously busy peak, so be prepared to share the trail. If you want to avoid peak crowd times, choose an off-season weekday either earlier or later in the day. That’s about the best you can do. You’ll almost assuredly be sharing the trail with several, if not many, others.
  • Despite the peak being just minutes outside Canmore’s downtown, you will need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to hike Ha Ling. Passes can be purchased online for $15 CAD per day or $90 CAD for an annual pass.
  • If you hike Ha Ling without tacking on Miner’s Peak, the route is slightly shorter, clocking in at 5 miles (8 km) and 2,600 feet (800 meters) of elevation gain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *