Grassi Lakes has been a Canmore destination for hikers and climbers for well over 100 years. You can park above and hike down or park below and hike up and the reward is equal: a series of beautiful ponds tucked beneath ancient rock.
In 2018, road construction installed a fence above the climbing area at the top of a large hill that brings you to the upper Grassi parking area. The fence was designed to keep loose rock out of the anyone, but the heavy equipment used during construction likely disturbed countless tons of now-loose rock on the canyon-side of the fence. The result has been a ticking time bomb of smashed stones waiting to be knocked into the canyon and onto unsuspecting climbers and hikers.
What would knock the rocks down? Bighorn sheep that frequent the upper slope, wind and rain have been knocking rocks down on such a regular basis that not only should climbers wear helmets, but hikers, too. The sizes of the rocks range from golf balls to microwaves and they fall from above everyday. The falling rocks are to blame for at least one serious accident. Wear a helmet at Grassi Lakes.
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Shooting top down for the first time in a while. Here’s @sashadigiulian warming up on The Harlot 5.11d, at the Meathooks Wall at Grassi Lakes. As we were walking in, there were a few mountain sheep on the cliffs above knocking down rocks at various places where people were climbing. It seemed like they made their way over the Golf Course Crag knocking down a lot of large rocks, sizeable ones too that would have definitely caused serious injuries. It made wearing helmets seem like an appropriate decision even though the crag where we were is overhanging and protected. There is still a short distance at the end of the routes that isn’t overhanging and as protected as the base of the routes. Fun day out!
The rock has deep holes called pockets that rock climbers use to pull themselves up, it’s really the only place with so many pockets like it in the Rockies.
The many bolted routes feature long glue-in bolts that are closely spaced, it’s almost foolproof and guarantees a fun time in the mountains. Tens of thousands of climbers and hikers visit Grassi Lakes annually (that number is totally made up, it might be way more or less), but more than ever before there seems to be a threat to people’s safety.
The area is named after Andrea Lorenzo Grassi (Lawrence Grassi), who immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1912 and settled in the Bow Valley in 1916 to work as a coal miner. There are many things named in his honour, such as Lawrence Grassi peak, a few classic climbing routes and at least one school that I can think of. He made the first technical ascent of the Littler Sister over 100 years ago and put in countless hours opening local hiking trails, he truly is a Canmore legend.
Grassi Lakes also has pictographs that date to over 1,000 years, maybe more. It’s an historical location that deserves to be as popular as it is. As recent as this month, there was rock climbing development and route upkeep taking place thanks to The Association of Bow Valley Rock Climbers (TABVAR, follow them on Facebook and support them through donations). There’s even a new route graded 5.11d that has become very popular in the Meat Hooks area.
All of these things combine to make Grassi Lakes one of the best places to hang out in the summer near Canmore, but few climbers and hikers know that it’s also dangerous. On the western slopes above the canyon are thousands of tons of loose rock that constantly fall into the Grassi Lakes area.