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The Canmore Quad- Betting Against the House

“Whenever I see a casino I get a hollow feeling in my gut”, my Mom told me on our drive home from a ski trip in Lake Louise.

“What makes you say that?”

“I just don’t understand what’s so entertaining about gambling. I can’t imagine throwing my money and time away like that. It’s just a bunch of colourful machines designed to take your hard earned cash. I know a lot of people enjoy it, I just don’t understand what’s so entertaining about it”.

Both my parents would rather spend their money and time training for triathlons, marathons or Ironman races (which consists of a 4km swim, 180km bike ride and then a marathon back-to-back). Ever since I can remember, my sister and I were being whisked away to watch them compete in amazing races all around Canada. We even helped out on the occasional rescue mission when a bike tire popped on a 130km training ride. So you could imagine their excitement when I told them about my about my plans to try the Canmore Four Peaks challenge.

What is the challenge?

Simply put, you have to summit four specific peaks in Canmore, Alberta in under 24 hours. The four mountains are Ha Ling, the east end of Rundle (EEOR), Grotto and Mt. Lady MacDonald. The first time I heard about this was last summer in a bar with some friends. One of them told me, “Did you know if you finish the Canmore Four Peaks Challenge they give you a free meal and a beer here?!”

I was hooked. Summit four mountains and get some free food and beer? I can’t think of a better way to spend my day. For about a month I told pretty much anyone who would listen about the challenge and my tentative plans to try it. Eventually, I told my parents and my sister who were equally psyched. At one point my parents, sister, some friends and a co-worker all wanted to attempt the challenge with me this summer. It was all very exciting. Then I got a call from my Dad,

“Buddy, have you actually researched this thing? It’s pretty intense. From what I found only 9 people have completed it… But I’m still in!”

Only nine people have completed it? I had six that wanted to join me. Clearly I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Little did I know there were two rules that scared off most people and raised the stakes…

1- You cannot drive or bike between mountains. The only mode of transportation you can use is your own two feet.

2- You must start and finish at the Georgetown Inn in Canmore.

These two rules drastically changed my perception of this challenge. The four mountains are scattered around Canmore with 53km of road, hills and trails between them. I had originally planned on recruiting a support team (my girlfriend and some friends) to drive the car between trailheads, have snacks ready and provide a substantial amount of emotional support. But the driving obviously wouldn’t be allowed. Running these 53km and climbing the 4892m of total elevation gain would be a momentous achievement. And after some more research, I realized that most of the people who have finished the “Canmore Quad” are trail runners and ultra marathoners.

The Quad is a major objective for the Canmore running community and many more than nine people have completed it. I found that the fastest known completion time is nine hours and 14 minutes and the slowest recorded time (according to my research*) was 20 hours. Needless to say, my friends and coworkers were much less inclined to join me.

My Mom doesn’t understand why people spend their time gambling. Average casino- enthusiasts probably don’t see the appeal of running more than a marathon, hiking until your legs go numb and generally beating your body down for hours and hours at a time. They may wonder if it is really worth a free meal and some beer. There’s not even a 1% chance of hitting the jackpot and getting rich. They may ask, “What’s so entertaining about that?”

I guess it goes both ways, Mom.

It must have been instilled in me long ago that heinous physical challenges can be justified by seemingly insignificant rewards (food and beer, in this case). You don’t have to be a gambler to realize that the mountains have a major house advantage, and that the house almost always wins. Though despite realizing how difficult the Canmore Quad really is, and how much work it will take to finish it, I am strangely motivated.

The plan is to attempt the Canmore Quad next summer with whoever is free from my family. It’ll be 4892 vertical meters of “fun” and 53km of family bonding time in the mountains.

What’s not to look forward to?


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