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Montana Trio Completes “Crown Traverse” From Missoula to Banff

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Mike Wolfe, Mike Foote and Steven Gnam arrived in Banff, Alberta, on Thursday, having traveled 600 miles on foot through one of North America’s largest and most rugged wilderness areas.

The trio departed their hometown of Missoula, Montana, on September 15. They spent the following three weeks and two days traveling the self-designed route, dubbed the “Crown of the Continent,” from Missoula to Banff. Foote, 32, calls it “an exploration of our very big backyard,” including high-country traverses through Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.

The remote route crossed only three paved roads, covered steep terrain carved by glaciers and frequently meandered off-trail.

“The Crown route is a nebulous thing,” Foote says. “As we designed our itinerary, we sought out the most aesthetic high-mountain traverse we could feasibly complete between Missoula and Banff. We worked to integrate as many high-alpine technical ridgelines as possible.”

Between three individual schedules and an encroaching winter that would make the route impassable, they had a limited window in which to complete the run, and moving as fast and as light as possible was important. The trio was followed by a one-man crew in a van, but frequently went overnight without support, sleeping in bivouacs.

Because the Crown Traverse is not on a contiguous trail, the runners did not consider their run an attempt at a fastest known time, or FKT.

“This is an exploration,” says Wolfe, 38, not a speed record.

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Foote (left) and Wolfe break out the maps to plan their adventure.
Photo by Steven Gnam/courtesy of The North Face

In addition to seeking adventure, Wolfe says the trio hoped to draw attention to the protected wilderness they passed through, as well as its importance for the First Nations people and myriad animals, including bears, moose and elk, living there.

“It’s a very wild landscape, but there’s lots of human change and growth in the area affecting it,” Wolfe says. “We’d like to share the story of this place with a wider audience.”

Besides that, Wolfe adds, “We mainly want to show off how spectacular and wild the mountains and landscape are in the Crown. The fact that we can literally run from our doorsteps and be deep in grizzly country and wilderness on high-alpine ridges within 30 miles of my home [is] pretty special.”

Foote and Wolfe, colloquially known as “the Montana Mikes,” are friends and frequent training partners. In addition to running competitively on the U.S. and international trail-ultra circuit—Foote finished second at Colorado’s Hardrock 100 Endurance Run in July—they co-direct The Rut, a Montana mountain race that has drawn an international field.

Along with Gnam, who photographed the Crown Traverse, the Mikes have deep connections to the land surrounding their Missoula base (Gnam and Wolfe both grew up in Montana, and Foote moved there in his early 20s) and wanted an immersive experience of the landscape by traveling across it on foot.

“[We] all have a deep relationship with the landscape of the Crown,” Foote told Trail Runner before the trek. “It’s literally shaped us. It’s been the venue for so many adventures for much of our formative lives.”

He added, “We all feel, though, that we have never immersed ourselves in the landscape in a way such as we are planning on this trip. We want to experience more of it, with less distraction, and for a longer duration than we ever have before.”