Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a magnificent place of shimmering lakes, glistening glaciers, sky scraping peaks and sun-dappled alpine meadows. World renowned Mount Assiniboine, at an elevation of 3,618 meters, is situated along the continental divide near the south east corner of the park and has defined mountain splendor in the Canadian Rockies for over 100 years. No roads penetrate this unspoiled wilderness, with trails providing the only land access. Camping, hiking, mountain climbing and viewing spectacular mountain scenery are the main activities here, as well as fishing, horseback riding, and ski touring in winter - from BC Parks.
[The location map for Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.]
Named by George M. Dawson in 1885. The name is that of the Stoney Indians or Assiniboines. Official name. First ascended in 1901 by James Outram, guided by C. Bohren, Christian Hasler sr. (from peakfinder.com)
I've been dreaming of the Matterhorn of the Rockies since I first laid eyes on her while on a hiking trip to the area in 2008. I never actually thought I'd be climbing its NE ridge but it was fun to imagine! Towering over everything in its vicinity and visible from almost every prominent peak in south Banff and Kananaskis , Mount Assiniboine is a big, beautiful mountain that has inspired climbers from all over the world to test her charms.
Many have succeeded but many have also failed - a number of climbers have even lost their life on the steep unforgiving slopes over the years. I've heard stories of people losing their way and rapping down the north face in white-outs. I've talked to people who attempted Assiniboine as their first peak and then watched others die from serious injury after slipping on descent - exhausted and inexperienced.
Falling at just under 12000 feet high, the weather and climbing conditions are extremely unpredictable on Assiniboine and this contributes to its charms and it's bite. Experienced climbers call the ridge a 'glorified scramble' when dry and have soloed it in 5 hours hut-to-hut (including raps), but I have other friends who have taken 9 hours just to reach the top. After recently climbing Fryatt with Kevin Barton, we made some plans on that long drive home to attempt another 11000er if the weather held into late September. Against all odds, the weather DID hold and by the week of September 16th we were planning either an ascent of King Edward or Mount Assiniboine and Lunette Peak. Kev strongly preferred the 'Big A' and I wasn't arguing so that was that.
Given the unbelievable warm and dry weather in Sept 2012, I was caught a bit off guard when the reservation staff for the Hind (climbers) hut stressed repeatedly to me on the phone that big 'A' was plastered in snow and ice. She also gave me a tone that implied we were nutso for even thinking of climbing it this late in the season. When I phoned the lodge on Wednesday to confirm the hut was still open I got the same vibe - the mountain is out of shape for the year but "good luck"! Apparently no one had even tried the peak for three weeks - that the lodge knew of.
Hmmm. I even went on a scouting mission with a hike up Tent Ridge with the family to scope conditions on the mountain and it looked pretty dry to me from a distance but if the staff at the lodge were saying the route was icy and snowy how could I argue? It sits right outside their window after all. Kev and I weren't scared of some snow and ice (Victoria / Huber was another two 11000er peak day we did in bad conditions) so we simply geared up for the possibility and made plans anyway. The forecast was so good for the whole weekend that we didn't fully trust it. A huge omega block was stabilizing the weather for weeks of sunshine and dead air all over the Rockies - conditions local climbers pray for but only get once or twice a year - at MOST. (The block is still here as I'm typing this trip report while sitting on a rock near Drywood Creek after climbing Pincher Ridge on September 24 under warm and dead calm conditions. It's ALWAYS windy in the Castle area.)
One thing making our climb a bit unique was that we were planning to bag both the big 'A' and Lunette in one push. This meant we had to exit via the huge SW face of Assiniboine and Lunette Lake and also had to lug our full packs with all our bivy gear etc up the north ridge of Assiniboine since we weren't coming back to the hut on our traverse. It also meant descending the SW face to Lunette Lake with heavy packs - possibly partly in the dark...
I picked Kev up at 0745 and we headed for Settlers Road in Kootenay National Park. The gravel mining road was in superb condition and I flew down it pretty quick in my xTerra. There were a few tight stretches where I'm glad we didn't meet mining trucks but in the end we only ran past two of them in 38km so there aren't that many on the road - they do drive very fast though. As we turned onto the much rougher and narrower Aurora Creek road for the last 4 km we started to realize how beautiful this area really is. We stopped the truck to take photos of Aye and Eon - both of them rising spectacularly above the valley beneath. With their fall coats and the brilliant blue sky they looked very inviting but also remote and a little intimidating.
[Aye on the left and Eon on the right as we approach the Aurora Creek parking lot on the rougher 4km approach road.]
We parked at the trailhead (any vehicle should be able to make the drive but no guarantees about crossing the manky bridges...) and wrapped the truck tightly with available chicken wire. We used a lot of the material that was laying around because we were the only ones there. We loaded up our packs and headed up the trail - a hot sun beating overhead in a clear fall sky.
[The truck is surrounded by so much wire there's no way we're getting in it either. Good think Kev left his wallet on the dashboard... :)]
Almost immediately we ran into a registration box for people going in to do Assiniboine. We noticed that a party had completed the climb a week previous - there goes the theory that nobody climbed it in three weeks anyway. This was a good sign. The trail to Assiniboine Lake is excellent. It climbs steeply at first and then more gradually, crossing a few streams (one log bridge with cable) before splitting at the Lunette Lake turnoff. I looked up that trail as we passed it, thinking that possibly we'd be coming out on it the very next day with a successful climb! It seemed impossibly far off at this point though! When we got our first glimpse of the SW face of the big 'A' I almost gave up - it looked ridiculously huge and steep from this angle! It looked awesome too though... ;)
[The trail up Assiniboine Creek is awesome, especially with the fall colors at their peak.]
[This log was interesting to cross about 34 hours later in the dark... ;-) Thank goodness for the wire though - it certainly makes it easier.]
[More awesome approach views and colors. The trail was in really good shape.]
[The mighty "A" reveals her SW side as we round the trail towards Assiniboine Lake. Assiniboine on the left and Lunette on the right. This is the face we will descend and it's as big as it looks!]
At the turquoise waters of Assiniboine Lake we took our first break - Kev's feet needed some TLC. The trail ends just past the lake so we also took in some food for the climb ahead.
[Approaching Assiniboine Lake]
[Assiniboine Lake is gorgeous! We have to go around on climber's right and then up the large scree slope up to the right side of the photo on lighter scree. ++]
[Great colors around Assiniboine Lake]
The route from the lake to the Strom / Assiniboine col is pretty straight forward but a bit of work. We went up scree slopes at the far end of the lake and around an obvious buttress on climbers right. Soon after that we struggled up an old moraine and could see the Sturdee Glacier far off and to out right. We headed for the glacier and ascended scree slopes to our left. By staying left we avoided using our crampons and also didn't feel the need to pull out the rope and glacier gear. The glacier was mostly bare ice and we have experience on Rockies glaciers therefore you should not just assume you don't need a rope for this glacier - you may have very different conditions and experience than us so please act accordingly.
[Kev comes up behind me as we leave Assiniboine Lake]
[Looking ahead to a nice scree grunt! We go right of the buttress right of center on light colored scree.]
[A pretty big fossil - this one was the size of my fist]
[Another glance back at Assiniboine Lake from near the buttress]
[It's a heckuva grunt to get up this slope - especially with alpine packs!]
[Looking back as we approach the glacier. We came from the lower left.]
[Kev jumps a small crevasse]
[Kev on the rather tame glacier - but still big enough holes to swallow you if snow covered. You can pretty much completely avoid the glacier on climber's left though.]
[The hulking mass of Assiniboine is hard to miss as we continue up the glacier.]
[Assiniboine on the left and Sturdee on the right. We access the Assiniboine / Strom col on the left.]
After crossing the glacier we had a horrible grunt on really ugly scree to the Strom / Assiniboine col. Our packs were starting to feel heavy at this point. As I glanced over at the enormous north face of big 'A' my pack felt even more weighty... The hut was nestled on a ledge beneath us and we both realized how awesome it was going to be to sleep on a nice mattress instead of a bivy. But there was something else calling my name first - Mount Strom was only about 500 feet above us on fairly benign terrain. I suggested we go bag it "while we're here anyway" and to my delight, Kev was all-in. I guess we are both peak baggers at heart...
[Grunting up the slope to the col]
[A hard way to gain height with a large pack]
[View from the Strom (left) and Assiniboine (right) col looking towards Lake Magog (center). The hut is just left of the lake, obviously much higher on the scree bench. ++]
20 minutes later and we were snapping photos from our impromptu summit and soon we were headed back down - we needed food and sleep! We reached the hut around supper time, a 5.5 hour approach not including the push for Strom. The hut was quiet and empty, we had the mighty Mount Assiniboine all to ourselves. This is not normal and is very rare - especially in the weather and conditions we were experiencing. The air was still and the north face was catching the warm afternoon sun and looked very snow and ice free. At this point I felt very confident of the climb and felt no nerves at all for the remainder of the night. I was excited but not at all nervous. I felt like I had a date with the mountain and was confident it would go very well.
[Looking over Lake Magog from near the Hind Hut. The Gmoser Highway route comes in from straight in front of me here - the opposite direction of our approach.]
[The Hind hut is an awesome way to spend the night before a climb - especially on the third weekend in September when it's completely empty!]
[The hut isn't huge but it worked rather well for the two of us...]
We woke at 05:00 and choked down some coffee and breakfast before heading out in the darkness with full packs and no idea where the approach trail was! ;) Once we were half way to the ridge I finally located the beaten trail (we were too far climbers left) and we followed that trail via headlamp to the ridge. What followed was the most delightful climb of my life. Under a brilliant rising sun and a clear, calm fall day we tackled the NE ridge head on. Up to the red band we found the route fairly benign - maybe moderate to difficult scrambling.
[Kev gets ready in the hut]
[Stumbling over boulders in the dark, trying to find the highway to the lower route, which we know has to be somewhere]
[Kev climbing via head lamp on the lower ridge]
[Looking up the northeast ridge - it looks steep!]
[Alpine glow over The Marshall, Mount Strom the Hind Hut and Wedgwood (L to R). ++]
[The sun starts to give us light]
[Early morning light on Lake Magog. ++]
[A beautiful morning dawns as we continue to climb. ++]
[Looking back as Kev climbs to the red band]
[You can start to see the red band now, on the upper part of this photo.]
[Kev and gorgeous morning lighting. ++]
[Still in shadow but the sun is rising on the Nub - far below at center.]
[Getting steeper just under the red band]
At the red band things got a bit more serious. Still mostly difficult scrambling I could see how any ice or snow could quickly make things very spicy on this steep section. We made our way up the north face more than the ridge at first and in order to break through the red band and then traversed immediately climbers left, back onto the ridge where the climbing was exhilarating. The east face exposure on our left took my breath away as I climbed higher and higher - I felt so alive, the exposure making it necessary to concentrate on nothing other than my immediate environment - the cool breeze on my skin, the call of a bird circling beneath and the still warmth of the sun on my face... awesome.
[The slope gets steeper around the red band]
[Kev coming up to the red band on steeper - but firmer, terrain]
[Closer to action]
[Lots of rappel stations start showing up around the red band. People must be up here in some nasty conditions to be rapping some of these sections because for us they were moderate to difficult scrambling.]
[Right after the red band we traversed climber's left (trail / cairns) to tackle the NE ridge head-on. This led to the most fun and most exposed climbing of the day.]
[Looking out over the east face and Lake Gloria and Marvel Lake. ++]
[The spectacular east face of Assiniboine as seen from the NE ridge. Note the excellent, blocky climbing on the ridge.]
[Looking back at Kev clearing the red band]
[Spectacular views across the east face. Lakes Gloria and Marvel on the bottom left. Forest fire smoke from the USA lingers over the ocean of peaks in the distance. ++]
[Getting much higher than all the surrounding peaks now. ++]
The grey band came too quickly but I wasn't even 100% sure I was in it until I was above it and looking over at the summit above. I still had some seriously exposed terrain left but it looked solid and fun. I think I may have found a way around the grey band 5.5 crux by traversing a slight overhang on climbers right before climbing through a nice chimney with good holds. Kev was behind me and didn't immediately find my alternate route. He wanted a belay up the other route but I convinced him to try mine and he solo'd it no problem. Kev doesn't think we did anything harder than 5.4 so maybe we somehow avoided the 5.5 crux or our perfect conditions just made it seem easier. I don't care either way. It was one of the best mornings of my life climbing that ridge in those delightful conditions.
[Kev approaches the grey band - you can see the terrain is much steeper and more exposed here.]
[Another shot showing how steep and exposed the ridge is getting]
[One of my favorite pano's from all my climbs - looking across the east face / ridge of Assiniboine at a smoky morning sunrise. ++]
[Not messing around anymore!]
[I think the grey band crux is just above here where the ridge steepens considerably. I went right of that bulge and found a way around it up a narrow gully.]
[Can you spot Kev on the ridge?]
[Fantastic exposure down the east face with Lake Magog far below.]
[Looking over the Wonder Pass area, including Terrapin, The Towers, Wonder Peak and Mount Cautley.]
[Kev tops out on the ridge in this view from the false summit - barely visible though in the huge terrain.]
[Lots of space up here! View from the false summit looking north and east. ++]
[The false summit affords great views of Lake Magog - note the bright red roof of Assiniboine Lodge just right of center top?]
[Kev on the ridge with brightly colored larches underneath]
It took us just under 4 hours to climb Assiniboine - with our not-so-light alpine packs. We had perfect conditions. We spent almost an hour at the summit with absolutely no wind and no extra clothing - I climbed in a single layer merino long sleeve tee and was almost too warm. The views in all directions were mind blowing and we were enjoying it all by ourselves. No snow or ice impeded our efforts on the ascent - what little there was could be easily avoided. We were so incredibly lucky to enjoy such a grand summit on an amazing fall day late in the climbing season. I'll never forget it.
[Looking over The Marshall and our approach route at lower left. ++]
[Kev comes to the summit on the right, looking north towards Lake Louise here. ++]
[Tele pano looking west towards the Bugs and Adamant Ranges in BC. ++]
[The summit register is falling apart - but I never thought I'd even get the opportunity to see this, much less sign it.]
[Amazing summit view over Wonder Pass, Marvel and Gloria Lakes. ++]
[Looking over Sturdee (right at the bottom) and The Marshall]
[Looking east over Wonder Meadow]
[Intimidating views over Lunette Peak (looking much closer than it is!) with Eon and Aye towering next to it.]
[Looking down the SW face of Assiniboine towards Lunette Lake. It's a LOT further than it appears here!]
[Views west off the summit.]
[Looking far west into BC at the Adamant Range.]
[For some reason the smoke started to clear as we were on the summit.]
[Looking towards the Goodsirs]
[Vern on the summit of Mount Assiniboine!]
[The Lake Louise group comes into view.]
After snapping many photographs of familiar and unfamiliar peaks all around the "big A", we turned our attention to our next objective - Lunette Peak. This would prove to be a much harder and longer day than we were expecting at this point. As it turned out, climbing the northeast ridge of Assiniboine is much more straight-forward and even 'easy' in good conditions, than descending the SW face with a side trip up Lunette, especially if you are descending it 'blind' - i.e. not ascending it first.
Don't underestimate this mountain! Many folks have and many have failed climbing her because of that.
Named by International Boundary Survey in 1916. The surveyors noted that there was, "near the skyline a colossal cave entrance." Official name. (info from peakfinder.com)
We descended a drainage system on the west side and rejoined the Og Pass trail after a very mild bushwhack before heading back to the warmth of our cabin. Unless you're a consummate peak-bagger, there are few reasons to ascend Cave Mountain other than to claim that you did it. Of course with nice weather it may be a different story, but then if you've got nice weather why aren't you on something a wee bit grander?
No difficulties in most conditions - slopes are gentle to the summit.
A high point on a west shoulder of Nub Peak above Elizabeth Lake.
After a long and tougher-than-expected approach the day before, I woke up on Saturday, September 24 after a night of rain and snow shower, with the plan to hike a local ridge I'd noticed on the map called "Chucks Ridge", followed by a scramble up Sunburst Peak. Both of these objectives are located near the Lake Magog campground and both of them could presumably be done with some snow.
After a breakfast of instant oatmeal and Starbucks instant coffee I packed my light day pack and headed off towards Sunburst and Cerulean Lakes along a good trail leading out of camp to the north. It was slowly developing into a nice day, especially compared to the gloomy weather the day previous. I was happy to see the weather forecast coming true with its prediction of clearing skies. I enjoyed some really nice scenes around Sunburst Lake and Elizabeth Rummel's cabin before continuing on towards Cerulean and Elizabeth Lakes (yes - everything in this area is named after Elizabeth, "Lizzie" Rummel).
[Another great trail - although pretty wet - leads towards Sunburst Lakes.]
[A dedication to Lizzie Rummel.]
[Lizzie Rummel's cabin at Sunburst Lake.]
[An old cellar, located just uphill from Lizzie's cabin.]
As usual, I was alone on the trail as I hiked past Cerulean Lake and up a small rise before finally hiking down towards a partially hidden Elizabeth Lake. As I hiked down to the lake, I tried to identify exactly where I was and where the summit of "Chucks Ridge" was. I figured out pretty quickly that I must be looking at part of the Nublet and Nub Peak to the east and north of Elizabeth Lake, with Chucks Ridge located somewhere to the NW. What made things slightly more confusing was that the trail labeled "Chucks Ridge" only traverses the lower ridge, not gaining a summit. As the trail dropped to Elizabeth Lake, I crossed a bridge and came to a junction. The left hand branch led to Lizzie Meadows and the less traveled one indicated Chucks Ridge. As usual, I followed the less traveled trail. :)
[A panorama of Cerulean Lake and Sunburst Peak. ++]
[Heading up a shallow draw between Cerulean and Elizabeth Lakes.]
[Heading down towards Elizabeth Lake. I didn't realize it at the time, but the summit of Chucks Ridge is at center here.]
[Elizabeth Lake at right with Chucks Ridge at left and the Nublet at right. Nub Peak is out of sight at center. At this point I suspected the summit was either the one at left or the one directly above the lake, which was certainly higher. Click to view a route line (red) that I briefly considered before moving on and doing the left hand ridge (green). ++]
Because I wasn't 100% sure of exactly where the summit of Chucks Ridge was, I decided to follow the official trail and see if things would become more clear. Surprisingly enough, this worked! As the trail wound it's way towards the west end of the ridge, I realized that it would not lead me to the summit. At an obvious clearing, just before a small dip in the trail, I turned back and started heading directly up scree slopes to what I assumed would be the summit. There were no signs of human tracks or trails as I scrambled up the lower ridge, which made me very nervous. If there's one thing I've learned in the Mount Assiniboine area, it's that every peak should have a trail beaten into the scree. Apparently Chucks Ridge is an exception. I worked my way up towards the first set of obstacles - low cliff bands and huge boulders blocking the ridge.
[The Chucks Ridge official trail is just in the trees at bottom right here and I've started back to the east, up the west end of the ridge to the summit.]
[The lower ridge is easy scrambling on scree and grass slopes - made a bit slick by the fresh snow.]
[Not as easy as expected!]
The scrambling from the first set of boulders / cliff bands to the summit was unexpectedly fun. I was expecting a pretty boring trudge to the top but I got interesting route finding and moderate scrambling instead. Every time I thought I might be up against an impassible barrier, I managed to find a way up, around or through it. The views in every direction improved with each meter of height gain until finally I grunted my way up the last, steep crux step and onto a surprisingly flat summit.
The views were unexpectedly nice from this insignificant peak and I spent some time enjoying them before deciding it was time to head back down.
[Excellent views over Elizabeth Lake. One unfortunate side effect of hiking west of the lakes was the bad reflection angle of the morning sun.]
[More interesting terrain.]
[This is getting fun!]
[This is why it's called a "ridge" - looking back down the west end of Chucks Ridge. The hiking trail goes along the spine of the ridge before dropping down to the right towards Nestor Creek.]
[Certainly beyond hiking or even easy scrambling.]
[The angle eases off a bit to the summit.]
[There is a trail in the scree leading up from Elizabeth Lake to Nub Peak with the Nublet at far right. Coming up Chucks Ridge from the col with Nub Peak looks like more than scrambling.]
[Telephoto of Wedgwood Lake beneath Mount Watson.]
[Looking west towards Indian Peak with Ferro Creek / Pass Trail leading up to the right in the valley on the east side of it.]
[Mount Sam is not climbed very often, I bet!]
[A great shot of Chucks Ridge in the foreground and The Marshall and Mount Watson on the left. Sam, Octopus and Indian Peak at center and right.]
[Lots of fresh snow on Wonder Peak, far to the SE.]
[Nice views over Cerulean, Sunburst and Magog Lakes towards The Towers, Naiset Point and Terrapin Mountain (L to R).]
[A wider view includes Elizabeth Lake in the foreground and Mount Magog and Sunburst Peaks at right.]
[A summit panorama looking east and south towards Nub Peak, the Nublet, Elizabeth Lake, Sunburst Peaks, The Marshall, Mount Watson and Indian Peak (L to R) with Chucks Ridge in the foreground at right. ++]
[It may be an insignificant peak but the drop north, down into the Nestor Creek Valley is precipitous.]
[The Marshall is an impressive peak located to the SW. Coney Lake is the tiny tarn visible at center bottom.]
My descent was easier than expected - I wasn't sure how tricky some of the steps I'd ascended would be. Being 6 feet tall certainly helps in these situations! As indicated on the map, I took a slight shortcut back to the trail on the south side of the ridge near my scrambling starting point. I was feeling pretty good after this very scenic and unexpectedly fun and challenging little scramble. I turned back to the Lake Magog Campground to grab some lunch before tackling my second objective for the day - Sunburst Peak.
[Coming down some of the ridge sections was 'interesting'.]
[Another steep, loose step on the ridge.]
[A fun keyhole section that I avoided on climber's right.]
[The keyhole on the left and my route on the right. Both are upper moderate scrambling.]
[Back on the official trail heading towards Elizabeth Lake. The snow is melting today.]
[Looking back at Chucks Ridge from the Elizabeth Lake outlet stream.]
[Wonderful trail scenery above Elizabeth Lake.]
[The Marshall looms ominously over Cerulean Lake.]
[The big "A" shows up over the shoulder of Sunburst Peak.]
A moderate scramble up loose, steep terrain from a well-defined trail. Some exposure. Certainly harder than Nub Peak.
Naming: Evans, Ely (Ely Evans was Sam Evan's sister. Sam was a well known packer and guide who worked in the Mount Assiniboine area in the 1930's) Unofficial name. (from peakfinder.com)
After being turned around on a traverse from Mount Cautley to Gibraltar Rock and somehow completely screwing up where Cascade Rock was, I started the traverse south from the summit of Cautley, heading towards Ely's Dome and what I thought was the traverse from it, to Cascade Rock. Confused yet? Apparently, so was I...
I should mention up front, that I'm still not 100% sure if I summitted Ely's Dome or not. Even though it's listed on peakfinder.com, the location is a bit vague and open to interpretation. Based on the fact that folks seem to ski to the summit and the fact that the summit cairn was clearly "dome shaped", I am going to assume I made the official, unofficial summit, but am open to correction. There was another higher point along the ridge to the east that I could not get to, that I was assuming was Cascade Rock at the time. This higher outlier is not a viable winter objective and the photos from the Ramblers page are not taken from it either.
The traverse between Cautley and what I assume is Ely's Dome was very straightforward. Most folks doing the Cautley Traverse probably don't even bother with this small out-of-the-way bump along the ridge, but the views down Bryant Creek and over Marvel Lake were worth it IMHO.
[Eon, Aye and Assiniboine are all buried in clouds.]
[Still descending from Cautley, looking ahead to Ely's Dome which is one of the three bumps ahead of me here. I'm assuming it's the middle bump based on several sources. At the time I was here, I thought Cascade Rock was at far left. It's about 2km behind me. :)]
[Looking back up at Cautley (L) and Gibraltar Rock. Beersheba and Allenby to the right of center. ++]
As I neared the summit of Ely's Dome, I still wasn't sure what was what. Due to my confusion on this particular day, I thought I had to traverse east from the dome to bag Cascade Rock. I soon realized that very similar terrain that had blocked my earlier attempt to traverse from Mount Cautley to Gibraltar Rock was going to block my traverse to "Cascade Rock" too. On hindsight I'm now glad I didn't push the envelope on snowy / icy terrain for what probably isn't a named summit at all! ;) I do realize however, that I may have missed the official summit of the unofficial, Ely's Dome, if it is the highest point to the east of where I made it. I snapped some pretty decent photos towards Mount Turner and Morrison and down the Bryant Creek valley before turning back towards Ely's Dome and Wonder Peak.
[Telephoto looking towards Mount Shark and Birdwood in Kananaskis Country.]
[The high point I reached on the ridge to the east of Ely's Dome has some great views. This is looking south over Marvel Lake with Mount Turner and Morrison at left, Marvel directly across the lake and Aurora, Gloria, Eon, Aye and Wonder to the right. ++]
[Looking north towards Cautley and Gibraltar Rock at left, Beersheba and Allenby at center and what I thought might be Cascade Rock at right. ++]
[Pretty good views over Gog Lake (L) and Lake Magog past Sunburst Peaks (L) towards Indian Peak.]
[An island of brightly colored larches amongst a sea of grey, foreboding peaks. This is looking over Marvel Peak (C) towards the Blue Range and Mount Currie (L).]
[Aurora Mountain doesn't look easy from here.]
[Looking towards Turner (C) and Morrison (R) with Tent Ridge, Shark, Smuts and Birdwood in the distance beyond.]
[Not worth it today... Looking down the drop-off that turned me around on the east ridge.]
[Eon is buried in clouds.]
[Looking across Marvel Lake towards Aurora (L) and Alcantara (R) in the distance.]
[Looking north past Gibraltar Rock with part of Cave Mountain, Beersheba and Allenby to the right.]
[Telephoto towards Indian Peak over Gog, Magog, Sunburst and Cerulean Lakes.]
[Tent Ridge over Watridge Lake.]
[The larch island on Marvel Peak.]
[Brussilof (L) and Alcantara (C) rise over Marvel Pass and Mount Gloria (R).]
[The distinctive Mount Allenby rises in front of Beersheba.]
[The summit of Ely's Dome included a dome shaped rock. I traversed further east to get to the higher point visible at left. I wanted to traverse all the way to the snowier high point just right of it, but was turned back due to tricky terrain.]
As I descended from Ely's Dome towards Wonder Peak, I wondered (!) how the Cautley Traverse dealt with obvious cliff bands blocking easy access to Wonder Peak. Thanks to my foggy brain, I hadn't read So's trip report in as much detail as I should have or I would have known that there was a 3rd class route to climber's right. I briefly thought about traversing the left cliff bands but considering the conditions and the simple fact that I'd already done Wonder Peak, I didn't bother looking much harder and descended straight down to the Cautley Meadows from the Wonder / Ely's Dome col. Ironically, on my way down I did briefly consider that the correct route to Wonder Peak probably went right where it does go. ;) The descent was easy and soon I was wandering towards the Wonder Pass trail and debating about adding The Towers to my day. I was feeling slightly miffed at missing both Gibraltar and Cascade Rock.
[It's a pretty intimidating view of the cliff bands blocking easy access to Wonder Peak from the Ely's Dome col. I briefly debated traversing left along the obvious cliff bands but settled on descending straight down to the meadows at right instead. The correct route is actually to climber's right and is only 3rd class in dry conditions. I didn't spot the trail leading there, thanks to fresh snow. ++]
[Looking over a shoulder of Wonder Peak towards The Towers.]
The partial Cautley Traverse is off trail hiking only. If you include Wonder Peak it might go up to 3rd class.
There are various approaches to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and I've now done a number of them, excepting the easiest (from the air) and some of the more obscure ones. This is a brief description of each of the four routes I've done, and two that I haven't, with a final comparison matrix at the end. These are also detailed at the Mount Assiniboine Lodge website. One short section of the climber's access route that I haven't done (yet) is the Gmoser Ledges from the Lake Magog Campground to the Hind Hut. You can find more details of that route here. My GPS route for that section is a guess at best.
[Hiking along a flat section of Bryant Creek, just past the Bryant Creek Shelter.]
This is probably the most popular inbound route (next to flying) into the Mount Assiniboine area. There are a few reasons for its popularity, most of which can be clearly seen on the elevation profile below. This approach is relatively easy with the least amount of total height gains / losses of any of the other options. It's straight forward to hike and is also the 2nd shortest route.
[The elevation profile for the Shark - Assiniboine Pass route to Lake Magog. ++]
[The long trudge up Bryant Creek through Assiniboine Pass to Lake Magog. But it's only a 15 minute chopper ride... ;) ++]
[There are better views than Bryant Creek when hiking out along Marvel Lake from Wonder Pass.]
This is the most popular egress route from the Mount Assiniboine area. Many folks fly in from the Shark Helipad and hike out via this route back to the Shark parking lot. Looking at the elevation profile below, you can see that it's slightly longer than the Bryant Creek / Assiniboine Pass route with slightly more elevation change. The reason most people egress this way is the simple fact that it's quite a bit more scenic than the Bryant Creek route. It obviously shares the first kilometers of trail to the Bryant Creek Shelter with the Bryant Creek / Assiniboine Pass route.
[The elevation profile for the Shark - Wonder Pass route to Lake Magog. ++]
[A less boring, more scenic route along Marvel Lake and up Wonder Pass to Lake Magog. ++]
[Hiking into the Mount Assiniboine area via the Sunshine Meadows grants you views like this. But you have to earn them. ++]
This the 'deluxe' backpacking route into the Mount Assiniboine area. It is well-known simply because it's unparalleled to the other routes in terms of views and landscape beauty, especially in late September when the larches across the Sunshine Meadows are stunning. This is the lengthiest and most tiring route, as can be seen from the elevation profile below. Take special note of the gains and losses before Citadel Pass and the rolling terrain through the Golden Valley and Valley of the Rocks past Og Lake. Add to this the fact that there's no fresh water easily accessible from before Citadel Pass to Lake Magog and you start to appreciate how tough this route can be.
Note: This route can be even longer with more height gain if you don't catch a ride to the Sunshine Meadows on the regular bus that drives up the ski-out road. Add another ~6km distance and 500m height gain if you forego the bus ride!
[The elevation profile for the Sunshine Meadows - Citadel Pass route to Lake Magog. ++]
[A long but scenic approach from Banff National Park to the north. ++]
[One of the perks of hiking in from Aurora Creek via Assiniboine Creek is this view of Assiniboine Lake. ++]
This the "backdoor" climber's route to the Mount Assiniboine Area! Despite being shorter than any of the other options except for the Mitchell River access route, it is used far less than most of them for accessing the general area and Lake Magog Campground for the simple reason that it is much more technical than the other approaches and involves a lot of off trail travel and height gain. This approach involves glacier hiking, steep, loose, off trail scree scrambling and a fairly serious alpine route down the headwall beneath the Hind Hut, known as the Gmoser Ledges. The shorter distance is also a bit misleading because the driving distance from Calgary or Banff is much further and involves many kilometers on a well-maintained, but gravel, mining / logging road.
This is the preferred approach (by FAR) for anyone wishing to ascend Mount Assiniboine, especially if you also want to traverse Lunette Peak and descend the SW face of Assiniboine on return like Kevin Barton and I did in late September, 2012.
[The elevation profile for the Aurora Creek - Hind Hut approach to Lake Magog. ++]
[One of the shortest routes, but it's a long drive to the trailhead and technical in nature. ++]
After posting this article on social media, I received a suggestion of a 5th route that has always been on my radar to try. I thought I'd stick it in here with the huge caveat that I haven't (yet) done this one! The rumors are that the Marvel Pass area is wonderfully remote and gorgeous but as you can see from the elevation profile below, the route isn't necessarily easier than any of the main backpacking routes just because it's shorter than any of them. According to this trip report, the section of trail from below Marvel Pass to the bottom of the Wonder Pass trail is pretty manky and not well maintained at all.
[Quite a bit shorter than the other 3 backpacking routes and rumored to be quite scenic, but this is no picnic on the total height gains and losses! ++]
[It better be nice with a long drive to the trailhead and some serious height gains and losses. ++]
A sixth and even less commonly traveled route into Lake Magog and the Mount Assiniboine area is via an old horse caravan route up the Mitchell River, that was very popular in the days before the Bryant Creek trail was constructed from the Spray Lakes and became the more common access. I could only find limited online information about this route, so take what I have written here with a huge grain of salt. The general route is accurate enough but I couldn't find any recent accounts confirming Rick Collier's posts from 2002 which mentioned a good road running 7km north, up the Mitchell River from the Baymag Mine near the confluence of the Mitchell River and Assiniboine Creek.
Based on the BC Parks general map of the area (note the parking lot north of the mine site along the Mitchell River) and the fact that a rustic cabin (Mitchell River Cabin) exists along the route, I think there is a very good chance that the road is drivable and that this is by far the easiest, shortest and most under-utilized approach to the Mount Assiniboine area, mostly due to the mining and logging road access and lack of reports. Following is the route, mapped out as if the logging road is drivable, subtracting 7km each way.
[By far the most gradual and consistent height gain of any of the other access routes as long as the Mitchell River FSR is indeed drivable for 7km north of the Baymag mine site. ++]
[Assuming the Mitchell River FSR is drivable 7km north of the Baymag Mine, this the most straight forward and shortest backpacking approach of all the non-technical options. There's a reason it used to be the most popular route back when horse caravans were more common than helicopters. ++]
Following is a summary and comparison table of the various hiking routes into the Mount Assiniboine area, with my subjective pros and cons listed for each one. Note that the distances are slightly higher than indicated in the elevation profiles above. This is due to the route files not containing every single track point, so they're slightly under-calculated there. My totals could be slightly off but for general information and comparison, they're closer than what's listed anywhere else.
Height Gain (m)
Height Loss (m)
|Bryant Creek - Assiniboine Pass||25||760||300||
This is the easiest route effort and navigation-wise. There is even a hut along the way (Bryant Creek) in case you want to break up the approach.
|This route is by far the least scenic of the four mentioned. There are long stretches of trail buried in dark forest - which is nice only if the weather isn't cooperating.|
|Bryant Creek - Wonder Pass||27||940||480||The easiest descent route from the area and wonderful views up to Wonder Pass and then down from the pass and along Marvel Lake.||After the Marvel Lake section, this trail is boring to the Shark Parking lot.|
|Sunshine Meadows - Citadel Pass||29||1140||1150||The most scenic of the 'easy' routes into the Mount Assiniboine area. Especially in the fall (late September), the scenery is stunning. There are options to camp along the way at several campgrounds.||The most height gains and losses compared to the other options. Lack of running water along the trail is another major con of this route.|
|Assiniboine Creek - Hind Hut||15||1500||740||The shortest route compared to all the other options. This is also a very scenic route with amazing views of Mount Assiniboine from the Strom col and the beautiful Assiniboine Lake.||This is a technical route. Most backpackers and hikers will not have the experience, gear or comfort to take on the glacier, steep, loose terrain and semi-technical route down the Gmoser Ledges to Lake Magog.|
|Aurora Creek - Marvel Pass||20||1480||720||Quite a bit shorter than the other 3 most popular backpacking options and rumored to be very scenic, especially around the Marvel and Wonder Pass sections.||A much longer and more involved drive to the trailhead via logging / mining roads offsets the hour or two less hiking distance. More height gain than any other route except the climber's one. The trail is also not nearly as well maintained as the other options (see this report) and is probably more of a route in sections.|
|Mitchell River - Wedgwood Lake||18||885||210||
This is a very short and simple approach compared to any of the other non-technical approaches, especially if the Mitchell River FSR can be driven 7km north of the Baymag mine near Aurora Creek.
(Add 7km and about 350m height gain if the FSR is not feasible.)
A much longer and more involved drive to the trailhead via logging / mining roads with the possibility of having to seek permission from the mine operator to either cross or park near their site. There is very little recent information on this access route. It's shown as a 'route' on the BC Park Map.
If the Mitchell River FSR cannot be driven, the Bryant Creek approach via Assiniboine Pass is probably much more practical.
So there you have it. I realize there are other options and variations of trails and routes that can be done, but I have done them, haven't seen recent information on them, and can't speak to them. Most of them involve at least portions of the above trails and are somewhat comparable (i.e. Using the Owl Lakes and Marvel Pass route to gain Wonder Pass).
Named by Interprovincial Boundary Survey in 1913. Unknown Official name. Other names Lost Peak (Outram). First ascended in 1901 by James Outram, guided by C. Bohren, Christian Hasler sr.. Journal reference App 10-47. (from peakfinder.com)
After enjoying our 4 hour ascent of the north ridge on Assiniboine we were feeling like we might just make it down to Lunette lake before dark. The only problem? Well, as it turns out - the SW face of the big 'A' is not quite as trivial as some might lead you to believe, especially if you didn't ascend that way! While nobody claims it's easy, there are some trip reports on the internet of folks so-called scrambling the SW face. I re-read these trip reports after descending it myself and have concluded that these were all free solo climbs and not really scrambling at all. I think people should not be misled into thinking the SW face of Assiniboine offers an 'easy' route to the summit - in my opinion it has more objective hazard than the North Ridge route due to loose rock, tough route finding and snow / ice on route. You've been warned! :-)
The shortest term I can use to describe the SW face is "harrowing". A few more? "Loose", "Exposed", "Loose"... It was quite nasty. By the time we finally got low enough to re-ascend Lunette we both knew that we weren't getting back quite as quickly as we thought. We had already rapped twice just to get here and although there were some cairns (thank goodness), they didn't avoid some pretty serious terrain.
[Kev on the first rapell down the SW face.]
[Great view down the SW face, looking at a very distant Lunette Lake and our exit valley. ++]
[The terrain on the SW face is continuously threatening to kick you off - very careful downclimbing is necessary. If you can't downclimb loose and exposed terrain without needing to rap it all you shouldn't even bother trying this face.]
[More careful down climbing on dinner plate slate]
[Little ledges are the key to working your way down the face, traversing back and forth breaks the many cliff bands.]
[Kev does his best to stick to the SW face of Assiniboine! ++]
[Kev works his way down along the gully separating Assiniboine and Lunette.]
[There was running water on route, thanks to melting snow]
[More careful steps]
On the second rap the terrain was so bloody loose I knocked a pretty big rock onto the rap route while setting up. The rocks crashed onto the coils of rope I'd thrown down and I was shocked to find the rope cut clean through at the ends when I rapped down!! If that rock fell while I was on rappel I wouldn't be here right now. Very scary stuff. It was so loose I knocked pretty big rocks down just walking PAST them. I carry some good bruises from this still.
Finding the 'scramble' route up Lunette wasn't trivial either. We started up climbers right of the gully separating Assiniboine and Lunette. Kev suggested we traverse a small scree ledge and there were some cairns so we followed those around the west face of Lunette. There were a few breaks in the cliffs but nothing resembling scrambling so we kept traversing climbers right. Eventually we started giving up.
[Working our way around the scree bench to access the summit block on Lunette]
In an effort to save some energy we had left our heavy packs and even climbing gear back at the point where we started up Lunette. We didn't think it would take long and we were sick of lugging those dang packs around! This was starting to feel like a mistake though - we needed to rappel every route I could see up... Finally I decided to traverse all the way right, pretty much as far right as possible before cliffing out. It worked. Barely. We had to ascend a tight chimney before traversing climbers left across some exposed terrain and another chimney. This gully has a huge chock stone in it and Kev went under it while I found a route around it on climbers right. A short exposed scramble and we were on top of our second 11000er of the day! Amazing views again - including the east face of Assiniboine and Marvel and Gloria Lakes. Eon and Aye were also amazing from this vantage.
[Vern on the summit of Lunette Peak. Assiniboine's SW face and east face to the right.]
[Panorama from the summit of Lunette Peak looking over Eon and Aye and Lunette Lake. Our approach valley is down the center and curving to the left. ++]
[Incredible scenery from the summit of Lunette. The views of Gloria and Marvel Lakes are better from Lunette than from Assiniboine. ++]
We had a long day still ahead of us descending the rest of the SW face and hiking back to the truck - not to mention the drive back. After a brief summit break we headed back down Lunette to our waiting gear. The down-climbing wasn't terrible but I got lucky finding that route because there was no evidence of prior parties on it and lots of rappel stations in other locations on Lunette. Like all the down climbing on the SW face of Assiniboine, it was very, very loose.
[A massive rock is pushed up the mountain by the mighty Kev Barton!!! :-) Actually he just came from underneath this chockstone that's wedged in a gully just before the summit of Lunette.]
[Kev on a shoulder of Lunette Peak underneath it's summit, Assiniboine's SW face rising behind him to the right. ++]
[There are many of these small but extremely loose cliff bands to negotiate coming down Lunette.]
[The key on Lunette Peak is a small climbing party and plenty of patience to work your way down. There are cairns and markings but they don't guarantee the best or easiest routes. We found our own route up Lunette Peak and it wasn't marked by any previous parties.]
[Kev descends the scree bench beneath Lunette's summit block - we're almost lower than Eon and Aye finally!]
We struggled slowly down the massive SW face inching ever so slowly towards Lunette lake and freedom. But freedom didn't come easily for us. We rapped a third time and still had to find routes down a seemingly endless line of cliff bands and loose gullies. We were thankful for cairns, orange flagging and even red paint on the rocks but even with all these route markers it was hard to navigate such a loose and complicated route that we didn't ascend. IMHO unless you are chasing the 11000ers I wouldn't bother with Lunette. It's views are nothing compared to Assiniboine and the ridge route is so much better than the manky crud on the SW face that I would suggest avoiding this face all together if possible. It's certainly easier to descend it if you scramble up it too, but you'll need at least one or two raps anyway on descent. It's not the 'scramble' that I've read it is. I've done many mangy, nasty scramble routes in my hundreds of peaks but this one takes the cake. I'm sure that I'm now ready for the Goodsirs and I'm debating now if I want them... :(
[Back at our packs after descending the summit block on Lunette, Kev adjusts his boots for the long and painful descent still ahead of us. Note the forest fire that has started up in a remote valley! Very dry conditions.]
[Kev descends beside the gully that separates Assiniboine and Lunette. You can follow this gully to the col but you will have to back track to find the scree bench from there - it's about 50-100 vertical meters beneath the col.]
[Our third rappel - with a slightly shorter rope. :( We probably could have downclimbed the 5.2'ish terrain but at this point we just didn't feel like it anymore.]
[Kev descends under a steep and convoluted section of the SW face]
After hours and hours of stressful and painfully slow down climbing we were finally in the last exit gully before the lake. Right? Wrong! As the sun set and we strapped on our headlamps we still weren't even at the lake yet! Wow. What followed was a nasty bushwhack in the dark - no trail that we could find! We tried desperately to get to the lake but even started to run into cliff bands in the forest! Finally we had a stroke of genius / luck and broke onto a hard scree slope on the south side of the lake that ran through the cliffs all the way to the lake shore. (We guessed because it was pitch black out by this time...)
[The shadows are slowly getting longer but we're way below Aye and Eon finally! ;-)]
[At this point we are almost home-free right? Wrong! A few more cliff bands on the SW face yet and then a few MORE to reach the lake since we couldn't find a trail in the pitch dark. We thought about an hour or so to the lake from here but it's hours away yet - a very foreshortened view. If you look carefully you can see a path through the trees heading to the lake. This is an avalanche path that took out about 100m wide path right through full grown trees! We followed this path on skier's left until it cliffed out. By then it was pitch black outside and we continued traversing cliffs in the forest on skier's left until we got right out of the trees onto the rocky scree slopes that you can see from here, left of the lake. We followed this slope right to the edge of the lake where we found a faint trail. It would probably be easier to simply traverse skier's left above treeline the whole way instead of going down through the trees but everything looks easy when it's hours away yet!]
[Our escape gully off the SW face]
[Looking back at Kev just past the escape gully]
[Interesting route finding by Kev! Why go over the cliffs when you can walk through them instead?]
[Finally off the SW face and descending lower scree slopes to Lunette Lake - much darker than this photo makes it appear.]
[It's much darker than this photo makes it appear here. I have no more photos after this one - a glace back at the massive SW slopes of the big "A" and Lunette...]
FINALLY we reached the trail going around the climbers right of the lake. We started following cairns only to lose them again. It was extremely frustrating to bushwhack around Lunette Lake when we knew there was a trail somewhere in all this mess. We eventually stumbled on the trail leading back to the truck and after 1.5 hours, at 23:00 we stumbled into the parking lot.
On the way home at around 01:00 we had to slow down for a pack of wolves crossing highway 93. An amazing and rare sight! A great way to end an amazing trip - one I won't soon be forgetting. It took us roughly 36 hours truck-to-truck for Strom, Assiniboine and Lunette. It felt very, very good to be off the SW face but I miss the ridge already.
A great climb with great company. I look forward to more of these pesky 11000ers - they sure bring out some fresh challenges compared with the scrambles that I'm used to.
Lunette is steep and loose. So what's new right?
First ascended in 1913 by Conrad Kain with Interprovincial Boundary Survey. The Monarch lies on the boundary between Kootenay National Park and Assiniboine Provincial Park, just south of the Continental Divide, Banff National Park, and Alberta. It is separated from the Ball Range by East Verdant Creek, from Hawk Ridge by Verdant Creek, and from the Sunshine Meadows area by the North Simpson River. A ridge called the Monarch Ramparts connects the Monarch to Healy Pass to the north. (from Bivouac.com)
On Friday, August 19th I was joined by the indefatigable Phil Richards and Wietse Bylsma for another longish day trip in the Canadian Rockies. After two previous off-trail adventures to Breaker and Molar, Phil and I decided that it was time for a mostly on-trail objective. We settled on The Monarch, located between Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and Kootenay National Park in British Columbia. Wietse has had his eye on this peak for many years, since Ben Wards posted on the old RMB forum that his group found a scramble route on it. Since then, Alan Kane has come out with the 3rd edition of his infamous scramble guide and added the same route to it.
Interestingly, the best access to The Monarch isn't via either of the two parks it straddles but rather via a long trudge that starts in Banff National Park. We started bright and fairly early from the Sunshine parking lot, heading up the Healy Pass trail at around 07:30 in very crisp, clear mountain air. I have skied the approach to Healy Meadows / Pass many times but never hiked it. It's even more boring hiking it than skiing it! ;) We covered the first ~6km pretty quickly before taking the branch towards Simpson Pass where the trail starts gaining some real elevation.
[At least the trail allows for good conversation which dulls the pain.]
[Asters are still hanging on but many wild flowers are slowly giving up on life already.]
[Lovely hiking to Simpson Pass.]
[Note the frost at Simpson Pass! There are two border markers here as well. The Monarch is just barely visible over the trees.]
Once we finally got up to Simpson Pass the views started to open up a bit and there was even some frost nipping the low bushes beside the trail. Fall colors are just starting to come out. I knew that I'd be wishing it was larch season all day and this desire started already around Simpson Pass as there are many larches in the area. I already knew at this point that I'd be revisiting this area some nice fall day - it must be stunning in full color! We passed a couple of border markers at the pass and kept ascending towards Eohippus Lake as Kane describes. After a couple of hours of lovely hiking we finally saw our objective across rolling terrain and started towards it off trail, trying to shortcut between the ponds and tarns that dot the landscape around the North Simpson River valley and beneath the Monarch Ramparts. To be honest, I'm not sure the off-trail "shortcut" was worth it. The terrain dips and rolls in the area and we even ended up with some light bushwhacking. Going all the way to Eohippus Lake is a bit further but easier and not much longer.
[A border marker at Simpson Pass.]
[Taking the trail towards Eohippus Lake.]
[A great view of The Monarch (L) with the Ramparts stretching out towards Healy Pass to the right. ++]
[We followed the trail past this pond (L) before trying to shortcut towards The Ramparts and The Monarch. ++]
[Fall is definitely in the air as we continue off-trail towards The Ramparts.]
Eventually we ended up on a nice ramp leading up the Ramparts right under the east face of The Monarch on its north end and the extreme south end of the Ramparts. We found a nice trail here again too (coming from Eohippus Lake). Soon it was time to once again leave the trail and ascend right to the ridge top under the north ridge of The Monarch. It took us just under 3 hours to reach this point and we were feeling pretty good. The view over Eohippus Lake and the North Simpson River valley towards the Sunshine Meadows and Mount Assiniboine was already very respectable. We stopped for a bite to eat before scouting our route to the base of the lower access gully that is the key to scrambling The Monarch - located on the NW side of the mountain. You probably won't follow my advice because it looks like a waste of distance and elevation loss, but I wouldn't bother trying any sort of shortcut or sidehilling on scree slopes to gain the gully. It sucks, but you're much better off following our return route along treeline to skier's right of the debris field. This route is much easier on the feet and faster thanks to the much easier dirt / grass terrain over boulders and scree.
[Nearing the ramp leading up to the Ramparts now - and the trail from Eohippus Lake.]
[Looking back at Phil and Eohippus Lake as we follow the trail winding up The Ramparts.]
[Phil and Wietse head off trail, up the Ramparts. The north end of The Monarch at upper left.]
[Looking down the other side (west) of The Ramparts along the NW side of The Monarch (L) and towards Pharaoh Lakes and Mount Ball (R). I would recommend against trying to shortcut to the gully via scree / boulder slopes at left, and save your feet by descending along treeline at center to the bottom of the slide path which will be obvious once you're there. ++]
We descended much further than it first looked from the Ramparts and eventually found ourselves looking up at the obvious scree cone leading into a manky looking gully high above. I'd guestimate that the height loss is more than 150m - we were thinking it's closer to 200m elevation loss - certainly more than the 100m that Kane mentions. There wasn't much to do at this point but start the long grunt up the gully. In order to save weight, Phil and I both wore approach shoes for this scramble. On hindsight we got very lucky. I didn't even know about Ben's trip report on my own site (!!) or I would have worn boots and brought light crampons. The gully is very narrow and since it's north-facing the snow doesn't completely melt in it. When we hit the snow we were very relieved to find a narrow crossing that Wietse kindly kicked steps across for us. Any more snow - or even worse, ice - and Phil and I would have been very unhappy. I recommend crampons, ice ax and boots for this scramble. You don't want to hike all the way in here to be turned back by some icy slope!
[Again - I would recommend against 'shortcutting' - stick to treeline instead (R). Here we are working our way down loose, bouldery slopes to the scree cone / gully which is visible coming out of the cliff band at left.]
[Finally bottomed out and ascending towards the gully.]
[Starting up the manky gully. It's much steeper, looser and further than it appears here!]
Speaking of the access gully. It's manky. Lately I've been thinking that scrambles should have an exposure rating and an objective hazard rating! Exposure-wise The Monarch is a moderate scramble. Objective hazard from rock fall on the entire NW side is pretty bad. We had to stick close in the gully and even then we had some very close calls with large rocks / boulders crashing down at the lightest touch. I was relieved when we finally broke out of the gully - but the objective hazard isn't actually much less in the giant scree bowl under the upper mountain. There is a remnant glacier tucked right under the NW face of the upper mountain and that, combined with the horribly loose rock, regularly releases rock fall down the bowl. Put it this way - I wouldn't stop for lunch anywhere after starting the lower gully all the way to the upper ridge.
[Approaching the snow in the gully - again, the angle and distance are skewed in this photo.]
[This photo shows the angle and "mankiness" a bit better - Phil is just topping out of the narrowest lower section in the gully.]
[Another shot looking down at the top of the narrow access gully.]
[Looking up at the scree bowl to the summit block, we would follow the terrain as it curves left to meet the upper north ridge. What isn't obvious here is the huge boulders and loose rock that is ready to fall on top of you from every angle!]
[This stuff is as much fun as it looks! At least the scenery is gorgeous.]
For some reason I had lots of energy at this point and scrambled a bit ahead of Wietse and Phil, up the giant scree bowl, trending left to the north end of the upper ridge where the cliff bands clearly disintegrated. (Phil was rapidly getting sicker as the day progressed - by the end of it he could barely talk anymore.) Maybe I was just having an off day or something, but the upper mountain wasn't quite as straightforward as Kane implies. Kane says;
The route will be obvious as you angle left toward the summit, which lies near the left skyline. Expect no real challenges if snow-free...
Hmmm. The general route might be obvious, but the actual scrambling line from the north ridge up to the summit wasn't as obvious as I was expecting from the rating or the description. I started heading up the north ridge directly from the top of the scree slope I'd been on, but was soon blocked by very non-moderate terrain. The only way I could see around this loose, very exposed ridge was to traverse below it on climber's right (west) on more very loose, somewhat exposed terrain.
[Looking back at Phil and Wietse as I gain height on the loose scree slopes which are much bigger than they first appear. ++]
[Looking up at the terrain as it curves towards the north end of the summit ridge - the break through the cliffs is obvious at upper left.]
[Looking up the loose (!) break.]
[Stunning views over Eohippus Lake and towards Sunshine Meadows as I gain the north ridge of the summit block. ++]
I found a route that crossed a few loose gullies above low cliffs, but it wasn't that obvious - routefinding skills are necessary to avoid really manky climbing to the summit from the north ridge. Up to this point I was thinking the scrambling was more on the easy side of moderate but a few moves on the west face of the summit block to the north ridge were definitely moderate on extremely loose and somewhat exposed terrain. There were no cairns on the entire route - I think it's so loose that any cairns wouldn't last anyway. ;) I set up some small cairns for Wietse and Phil to follow and yelled down to them off the north ridge to traverse where I did.
[Looking up the very loose and steep north ridge of The Monarch from where I topped out from the scree bowl. I'll go to the right (west) around this section to find more moderate scrambling terrain.]
[Looking down at Wietse from the north ridge - letting him know that I've set up cairns to help guide them around (L) and up to my current position.]
[Looking up the north ridge leading to the summit.]
The views from the summit were absolutely stunning - as expected. Also, as expected, I found myself wishing it was a month later and the fall colors were out. Oh well! You can't wait for fall colors for EVERY objective! Soon Wietse and Phil joined me and we enjoyed a nice 30 minute summit break, taking in the views towards Assiniboine, the Rockwall, Sunshine Meadows and Mount Ball. I was surprised to see less than one ascent per year in the register but given the distance and effort required to attain this mountain I guess it makes sense. David P. Jones must really like this peak, as he ascended it twice since 2006 - via climbing routes of course! (And yes - of course many hundreds of people may have stood on the summit and not signed the register - I'm well aware! ;))
[Stunning views over Eohippus Lake to the east, over the North Simpson River valley and our approach route which comes from the left. ++]
[Looking over our ascent route / gully up the Pharaoh Creek Valley and towards the Egypt Lake and Mount Ball area with The Rockwall at far left. ++]
[Mount Assiniboine at left and Mount Shanks straight ahead in this view south from the summit. ++]
[Lovely lakes and tarns that we approached through.]
[Looking towards the Sunshine Ski Resort over the North Simpson River.]
[From C to R, Howard Douglas, Lookout Mountain and Brewster Rock are all part of the Sunshine Ski Resort.]
[Mount Bourgeau looks great from this angle. Our approach up Healy Creek comes from the lower right of this photo.]
[Tele shot of Temple (L), Pharaoh (C) and Storm (R).]
[The always impressive Goodsir Towers with Mount Vaux at right with the glacier.]
[Looking over Hawk Ridge and Hwy 93 (hidden) towards Foster Peak (L) and Numa Mountain (C) with Hewitt and Tumbling Peaks on the right.]
[The very impressive Mount Whitetail with the Bugaboos in the far distance.]
[Phil comes up to the summit with an amazing panorama opening up behind him. ++]
[The mighty and impressive Mount Assiniboine.]
[Maybe hundreds of people haven't left any sign of passing or bothered with signing the register on The Monarch? We'll never know. But silly, romantic me will continue to imagine that not many people - compared with say, Mount Temple, enjoy the views we had on this gorgeous day from this particular mountain apex.]
It took us less than 6 hours to the summit but we were moving pretty steady on approach. I would say that Kane's estimate of 7 hours isn't out of line. We descended the summit block very carefully and even though we'd just come up it we managed to get a bit off route on our way back to the north shoulder / top of the scree slope. We carefully descended the huge scree bowl, sticking close to avoid kicking rocks onto each other. In the lower gully we were even more cautious but I managed to release two basketball sized boulders straight down towards Phil and Wietse, missing Phil by only inches with one of them! Not cool. I'm sure his leg would have busted if it would have hit him. :( We breathed a sigh of relief as we exited the lower gully.
[Careful descent of the north ridge.]
[It's 'only' moderate terrain but horribly loose and there are low cliffs below (out of sight) so care is needed.]
[More down climbing on loose terrain as we bypass the north ridge on the west side.]
[The 'moderate' step where care is required to avoid falling out of sight to the right where there's low cliffs.]
[One last awkward step while trying not to hold too tightly to loose rocks - classic Rockies scrambling!]
[A wonderful day to be enjoying this beautiful view as we descend the giant scree bowl towards the lower access gully. ++]
[Sticking close together as we start down the loose access gully.]
[The view down the gully shows why care and a light foot are necessary!]
[The gully is fairly steep. With more snow or ice crampons and ax(es) would be needed to ascend it.]
Rather than retrace our "shortcut" up the scree / boulder field to the Ramparts, we decided to cross the boulders directly under the scree cone and ascend to the Ramparts via the edge of the treed slopes instead. This worked beautifully but it was a grunt and certainly felt like more than 100 vertical meters - we think it's more like 175-200.
[Phil observes the rest of our route from the bottom of the gully towards the trees and then following the treeline beside the rubble up to the Monarch Ramparts at upper right. ++]
[The scree cone leading to the gully looks pretty innocent now that we're a ways away from it, across the rubble field.]
[Easy hiking up to The Ramparts beside the rubble field just in treeline.]
[I highly recommend descending this route too - we traversed the rubble at upper left here but it's not a time-saver despite what it may look like from the Ramparts.]
From the Monarch Ramparts ridge we descended easy grass slopes to the trail which we followed to Eohippus Lake. The views of The Monarch over the lake were awesome, as were the sublime meadows that were filled with wild flowers and insects enjoying one of the nicest days of summer. There are smatterings of trails around Eohippus Lake but they're harder to connect than you'd think - we ended up following our noses on some sections of open meadow before finally finding the main trail again. The next few hours were mixed between lovely hiking to Simpson Pass and then a rather boring trudge back to the parking lot along Healy Creek in the forest. Our round trip time of 11 hours is moving pretty quickly all day, I would estimate that most parties should count on 12+ for planning purposes.
[Gorgeous view over Eohippus Lake from our descent of the Ramparts towards the lake. ++]
[An impressive view of Assiniboine and The Marshall down the Surprise Creek valley.]
[Eohippus Lake. ++]
[The Monarch massif rising over Eohippus Lake. ++]
[The hiking from Eohippus Lake to Simpson Pass is through open alpine meadows with countless wild flowers and little streams running through them. In another few weeks, with the larches all turned yellow, this landscape will be even nicer.]
[Back on a 'proper' trail.]
[Heading back to Simpson Pass - our last great view of The Monarch and the Ramparts. ++]
I highly recommend The Monarch for folks who want something a bit different with unique views of Assiniboine and the Pharaoh Peaks / Ball area. The only suggestion I would give is to travel as light as possible (still bring crampons / ax) and in a small group.
A long day. The access gully and summit block are extremely loose, only recommended for small, experienced parties.
Named in 1917. Cautley, Richard W. (A surveyor, R.W. Cautley was instrumental in defining the Alberta-BC border.) (see biog.) Official name. (from peakfinder.com)
I woke up on Sunday, September 25 2016 in the Lake Magog Campground and poked my head out of my tent only to be immediately disappointed. This was supposed to be the day of my long-awaited Mount Cautley Traverse - 4 new peaks in one stretch - all located along the same, fairly easy ridge and all with stunning views over the Mount Assiniboine area, including of course, the mighty Matterhorn of the Rockies.
So, why was I disappointed? What else would it be in 2016 but the weather? The reason I was in the Mount Assiniboine area was a forecast that had promised 4 or even 5 days of ZERO clouds and very warm temperatures. By the time I left the parking lot at Sunshine Village in Banff National Park, it must have changed to almost 100% cloud cover and cool temps. So far on my scrambles in late September 2016, I'd had pretty good luck with ignoring the forecasts and going out anyway. This day apparently, weather karma was trying to bite me back. Thankfully the clouds were high, so that the surrounding lower peaks were still visible. Mount Assiniboine, of course, wasn't. I ate breakfast, prepared my day pack and headed out anyway - hoping against hope that the clouds would clear yet again for me.
As I walked the trail from the Lake Magog Campground to the Naiset Cabins above the NW shores of Lake Magog, I pondered aloud how I was almost certainly going to see a Grizzly Bear sooner than later on this particular trip. While descending the steep valley south of Citadel Pass a few days earlier, I was similarly convinced I'd run into a feeding bear. Late September is a prime month for bear encounters in the Rockies, as they are desperately fattening themselves for a long, cold winter. I wasn't too concerned about it - but was aware that it was only a matter of time until it happened. I constantly yell out for bears when hiking and scrambling solo, so I very rarely run into them close up, but it has happened before. As I broke out of the thin trees above the lake and started across the low scrub, open meadows just to the west of Assiniboine Lodge, I noticed some photographers taking pictures of the lake about 500m to my right and ahead of me, but off the trail I was on by about 300m or so. I stopped my yelling out for bears as I didn't want to disturb the peaceful morning for others and thought they would have scared anything off by now anyway.
[A disappointingly gloomy day for my highline Cautley Traverse, but at least it's not raining or snowing as I start across the Magog Meadows towards the Assiniboine Lodge and Naiset Huts.]
It was about 08:15 when I spotted extremely fresh Grizzly diggings right next to the trail on my left. I've seen hundreds of diggings in my life and this was by far the freshest! As far as I was concerned, the dirt was still moving! I immediately looked up. Staring right back into my soul from about 15 meters away (45 feet) stood a large, well-muscled, male Grizzly Bear!
There are definitely moments in life when the fourth dimension (time) seems to take a break. This was one of those rare moments. Large objects can slow time down for nearby small objects, and in this case the bear was certainly large enough to have that effect on me. His small, round, black eyes were penetrating and clearly challenging me to back off or suffer the consequences. In a fraction of a second, I immediately turned my head and cast my eyes downward to the right. This was a perfect reaction. You should never challenge an aggressive animal by looking directly into their eyes unless you're looking for a fight. What I did next is *not* what you should do. Due to my nervousness and shock at running into the bear so close to the lodge and the other photographers, I turned to my right and just casually walked away, slowly moving down to the rocky shores of Lake Magog.
I didn't panic and I wasn't actually feeling any fear, but I knew I had to get away from the bear's feeding area, immediately. I kept walking slowly but steadily away, as I listened very carefully for the bear to follow. I walked around 100m before slowly turning back to see what was happening with the large bruin behind me. I was relieved to see him cheerfully tearing huge chunks of earth out of the ground and ignoring me. I spoke to the nearest photographer, warning her of the bear. She seemed noncommittal until I finally managed to get her to see him (he was very hard to see with his silver back and the silver-leafed shrubs in the meadow). Once she saw how close and how big the Grizzly was, the woman almost started panicking. Everyone on the beach was immediately summoned back to the lodge. I had no intentions of letting a "little" bear encounter ruin my day, so I started back up the trail towards the lodge. It was then that I noticed two more photographers, taking telephoto shots of the same bear that I'd just run into! I briefly wondered why the heck they didn't warn me as I tromped up the trail, but soon I realized that they didn't spot me until I wandered into the photos they were taking.
[Vern and the Grizzly. If you look carefully, I haven't even spotted the bear yet! My eyes are still focused on the trail in front of me. I actually walked about 5 steps closer before noticing I wasn't alone on the trail... Photo by Stefan Mitterwallner.]
Stefan Mitterwallner is a landscape photographer from Austria. A good one, judging by his online portfolio. As I chatted with him, he pointed to a photograph on his camera's LCD screen. It clearly showed me and the bear facing off! (I'm still waiting for him to send me the shot so I can post it here.) Stefan told me that he was photographing the bear when I walked into his line of sight, through the telephoto lens. He didn't have time to react before the bear and I were literally facing off, so he snapped a quick photo before looking to see what would happen next. What he saw was me turn around and casually walk away while the Grizzly false charged behind me! For whatever reason, I didn't hear this charge. Stefan told me he was convinced I was getting mauled at that moment. Thankfully the bear noticed my complete lack of concern and willingness to engage in any sort of challenge, and turned back to his breakfast. I'm sure turning my back was what prompted the charge. The correct thing to do would have been for me to get my bear spray ready and slowly back away from the animal. Next time. :) After exchanging emails with Stefan so he could send me the photo later, I continued on my way and him and his friend continued snapping shots of the bear who was still happily rotor tilling the meadow.
[Standing on his hind legs, staring directly into my eyes he was pretty darn big.]
[See how hard he is to spot?]
I surprised myself as I continued up the trail towards the Naiset Huts and on towards Wonder Pass. I was pretty calm and relaxed despite being all alone again in Grizzly country, after just encountering one face-to-face. Thanks to the cloud cover, I only met one other group as I ascended towards Wonder Pass. It wasn't until I was past Gog Lake and crossing the expansive Cautley Meadows towards Mount Cautley, off trail, that I started questioning if I was ready to be solo hiking in bear habitat so quickly after my encounter. I thought about it for a bit and then kept going. I figured that I still had a 30km hike out of the area in the next few days, so I was going to have to suck it up and deal with any residual anxiety. I always knew the chances of running into a Grizzly while hiking solo were pretty high, and I just proved that usually the bear isn't interested in attacking - even when confronted directly. The meadows were a bit larger than I expected but with some perseverance, I managed to start up the easy west scree slopes within about 30 minutes of leaving the Wonder Pass trail.
[The Wonder Pass trail near Gog Lake.]
[Looking back west as I ascend the Cautley Meadows. The Towers at left. ++]
[Nearing Cautley's west scree slopes (R) looking north with Lake Magog just visible under Sunburst Peaks at left. ++]
There were no difficulties as I groveled my way up the west scree slopes of Mount Cautley. I kept an eye to the north where a rock slide had recently occurred, prompting a warning from the park. It was at this point, as I plodded up easy slopes to the summit cairn on Cautley, that a combination of the weather, the bear encounter, and avoiding this part of the mountain all combined in a major brain fart on my part. For some reason, I became convinced that Cascade Rock was located to the east of Ely's Dome and south of Gibraltar Rock. I still can't believe I messed this easy extra peak up! I even remember looking over directly at it from Cautley's summit and thinking, "hmmm, I hope that's not a summit". I didn't realize my error until I got home and looked at the maps again. On hindsight I should have gone up Cautley further to the north. Now I have to go all the way back to do it - but truth be told I would have gone back regardless to summit Gibraltar Rock in better conditions. The views from the summit of Cautley were very good, but weren't quite what I wanted when I originally planned the trip. I snapped some shots and continued down an intimidating ridge to the northeast to summit Gibraltar Rock.
[Looking back over Cautley Meadows towards the main Mount Assiniboine area. From L to R, Wonder Peak, The Towers, Naiset Point, Magog, Assiniboine, Wedgwood Peak, Lake Magog, Sunburst and Nub Peak. ++]
[Great views towards Sunburst Peak with Octopus Mountain in the distance at right and Lake Magog in the foreground.]
[Eon (L) and Aye (R) are buried in the clouds with The Towers in the foreground at right.]
[The false summit of Gibraltar Rock at left with the Bryant Creek Valley coming in from Kananaskis Country at center. Ely's Dome at right. ++]
[A huge pano of the Mount Assiniboine area including (L to R), Wonder Peak, Wonder Pass, Eon, Aye The Towers, Terrapin, Naiset Point, Magog, Assiniboine, Wedgwood, Lake Magog, Sunburst Peaks, Octopus Mountain, Indian, Nestor, Chucks Ridge, Nub Peak. ++]
[A telephoto all the way back to Citadel Peak (L) with Fatigue rising at right and Citadel / Fatigue Passes between them.]
[Mount Bogart in Kananaskis Country. The cloud bank ends somewhere just east of that.]
[I'm bummed about the clouds - this is Sir Douglas.]
[Telephoto of Lake Magog with the Naiset Huts and Lodge visible at right. Mr. Grizzly Bear is also feeding somewhere down there...]
[Looking over Sunburst and Cerulean Lakes towards Octopus Mountain with Split Peak in clouds at left.]
I didn't know what to expect from the traverse to Gibraltar Rock. I had crampons and ice ax along and almost immediately put them on. There was about 6" of snow on the rocks, making for slippery terrain. It was also surprisingly exposed - I was expecting basically a walk-up with some elevation loss, considering Rick Collier's almost dismissive account of bagging it from Cautley. (Again, I still can't believe I missed Cascade Rock somehow!!!) What I got instead was a sudden drop-off along the narrow, loose, exposed and slippery ridge. I spent at least 20 minutes trying to find a reasonable way down this step but I simply couldn't. I have no doubt that if dry, this would probably only be moderate / difficult scrambling with exposure, but in the snowy conditions I had, it seemed foolish to push onward. I snapped some photos and reluctantly turned around, disappointed with this first 'failure' of the day (and trip).
[The false summit of Gibraltar Rock at left, Cautley at right and Bryant Creek Valley just left of center in this shot from the ridge to Gibraltar. For some bizarre reason I was convinced that Cascade Rock was located at center in the distance here, south of Cautley and Gibraltar when in reality it's north of them, behind me in this shot! ++]
[The extremely easy summit that I completely missed somehow - Cascade Rock - located at center, the false summit of Gibraltar Rock rising at right. ++]
[Yikes! Where did this come from?! Suddenly the ridge isn't so easy anymore... This is peering over the nose (L) and south (R) - a descent was possible here, but very exposed, obviously. The other side wasn't much better, thanks to the snow, but would probably go as difficult scrambling in dry conditions.]
I returned to the summit of Mount Cautley before continuing the traverse south towards Ely's Dome and what I thought was Cascade Rock, leaving what was really Cascade Rock in my rearview mirror. Sigh.
The partial Cautley Traverse is off trail hiking only. If you include Wonder Peak it might go up to 3rd class.
Named in 1924. Nub Peak is a small bump at the southeastern end of a long ridge. Official name. (info from peakfinder.com)
[Hanneke admires the view of the Mighty 'A' with Lake Magog in the foreground.]
[I can't believe I stood on her summit only four years later!]
[Vern and Hann]
[Fresh snow but the sun is warm and the trail is obvious and well marked. We aren't the first group up today.]
[Stunning views on the way up to the Nublet. And Mount Assiniboine too. :-)]
[Ascending scree / snow to the Nublet]
[Hanneke approaches the summit of the Nublet, Cerulean Lake below her.]
[Summit of The Nublet. Assiniboine and Magog on the right.]
[Jon, Yolande, Rod, Hanneke and Vern on the summit of The Nublet.]
[Heading for Nub Peak from the Nublet.]
[There is some avoidable scrambling, but why avoid good, clean fun?]
[We could have gone around to the left but decided that this was better. The girls decided to turn around here. Still quite a grunt to the peak from this location.]
[Looking back over the Nublet from near the scrambling section where Hann and Yolanda turned back.]
[The boys make their way to the summit of Nub Peak.]
[Rod, Jon and Vern on the summit of Nub Peak.]
[Rod at the summit with The Towers rising on the left]
[Mount Sir Douglas is an 11,000er that rises over Burstall Pass on the border of Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country to the SE.]
[Nestor Peak lies to the NW of Nub]
[Starting the descent. ++]
[Looking north off the summit of Nub Peak. Nestor Peak on the left, unnamed to the right of it.]
[Another mind-blowing view on the way down from Nub Peak. The foreground peak above Cerulean Lake is an outlier of Wedgewood Peak. Behind that from right to left is Strom (just visible), Assiniboine, Magog, Terrapin, Naiset Point, The Towers.]
[More views from the descent. ++]
[Partial panorama from the descent of Nub Peak (click to view full size). You can just see Wonder Peak, Wonder Pass and The Towers on the left side of the photo. Rod and I scrambled Wonder Peak the same day we hiked Nub Peak. ++]
There are no difficulties hiking up the Nublet and the Nub. You should be on trail the entire way up the Nublet with some easy scrambling to Nub Peak.
Named in 1966. The names Og, Gog, and Magog are all individuals mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. Both English and Celtic mythology also tells of Gog and Magog who were giants. Official name. (info from peakfinder.com)
[The rest of the group makes their way across the soggy Assiniboine Flats on the Og Pass trail. Og Mountain's four distinctive summits on the right.]
[Hiking towards Og Mountain from Og Pass. This is where the turn off to Cave Mountain is - OOS to the right.]
[Windy Ridge is straight ahead. The lookout is at the col.]
[Yolande and Jon hike up the trail to Windy Point Ridge - Lake Magog and Assiniboine in the bg]
[Windy Point Peak is obvious to the left - it's much warmer than it appears since we're in short sleeves here!]
[Dramatic views looking back towards Lake Magog and Assiniboine.]
[Hanneke and Vern pose on the Windy Ridge lookout.]
[Looking east from Windy Ridge - part of Nasswald on the left. ++]
Scrambling up loose rocks and snow up to our knees in drifts, we made it up to the first summit pretty quickly. There was a large cairn here and I assume that of the very few people who ascend this mountain, 99% of them probably pull out the map, look at the remaining 3 summits and promptly stop here. We pretty much tore apart the cairn looking for an official (or any) register (it was cold and I would have gladly stopped at this cairn if we found something semi-official) but all we found was a wooden mallet with someone's name carved on it. We left Rod to rebuild the cairn while Jon and I pressed on. I was absolutely determined to get to the actual summit of this mountain because I knew the odds of me coming all the way back here were slim.
[Jon at the first and lowest summit of Og Mountain - the next three summits are clearly much higher. Most folks are content to stop here.]
The first summit was descended easily before heading back up to the second. We had to lose a bit of height after the first so we tried skirting around the second instead of going all the way over it. It wasn't worth the effort - just go right over it. After the second summit there was some moderate scrambling to get down to the 2nd/3rd col. Once we got to the 3rd summit of Og we found ourselves staring down at some loose, steep, exposed terrain. Uh oh.
[Jon descends from the first summit]
[Looking back at Rod on the first summit from the second summit. As you can see, it's not much higher.]
[Jon approaches the 3rd summit]
[Jon downclimbing the first part of the third summit to fourth summit traverse. He bailed soon after this and waiting while I finished the traverse.]
We decided to poke around at the descent but after about 3 minutes, Jon decided that he'd had enough and would wait for me. I descended on very loose, sometimes exposed terrain - determined to make that fourth summit! It was the low end of difficult scrambling, but with the snow and the weather closing in it felt worse than that. Don't forget that you can easily access this 4th peak from the Og Valley to the south (if it's not closed for bear activity that is) but it was very cool to traverse all the distinctive summits. After the crux it was a 10 minute plod to the top where there was a small cairn buried in snow. I half-heartedly looked for a register but didn't find anything substantial (only a few bits of disintegrating paper) so I'm not sure what happened to the register that Rick Collier placed - I would've looked a bit harder if I knew at the time that he placed one, I didn't find that out till after the trip.
[Jon on the third summit. You can see that it's a wee bit exposed on this side, and part of the downclimb looks right over this precipice.]
[Jon stands on the third summit in this shot from near the fourth.]
After snapping some photos of the interesting terrain surrounding Og Mountain I rejoined Jon and we headed down to Og pass to hook up with Rod and the girls again. Not many people get up Og Mountain or do the traverse that we did, and this is reason enough to highly recommend it. The views are also steller and this should just convince you even more.
[Looking back at Jon on the third summit from the fourth. ++]
[Looking north at Nasswald Peak and Golden Mountain. ++]
[The Allenby Pass area with Mount Allenby on the right. ++]
[Jon on the third summit of Og on our way back]
[Hiking back towards Cave Mountain before ascending it via right hand slopes, rising left.]
Some delicate traverses and down climbs but nothing too extreme. Low difficult scrambling.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a magnificent place of shimmering lakes, glistening glaciers, sky scrapping peaks and sun-dappled alpine meadows. World renowned Mount Assiniboine, at an elevation of 3,618 meters, is situated along the continental divide near the south east corner of the park and has defined mountain splendor in the Canadian Rockies for over 100 years. (info from BC Parks web site)
[The Spray River]
[Rod and Hanneke take a break on one of the bridges along the road. At least the views open up in these places, allowing a slight distraction from the monotony.]
[Jon likes to get closer to the action than a bridge normally allows...]
[Cloudy weather can provide excellent mood photography]
[One of the breaks along the way. We had a few of these but kept them to a minimum because it got harder and harder to get going again.]
[These weird mushrooms kept me distracted from the first 20km of boring hiking. And no - not because I sampled them. ;)]
[Near the ranger's cabin in Bryant Creek Meadows, just past the Bryant Creek shelter. Assiniboine Pass is out of sight around the obvious mountain to the left.]
[Cave Mountain is straight ahead as we prepare to cross the Bryant Creek flats. Assiniboine Pass trail goes to the left of Cave Mountain. Og Pass trail goes to the right of Cave and Allenby Pass is even further to the right of Cave. The entire area to the right of Cave Mountain is closed due to sensitve grizzly bear habitat.]
[Taking a break at the camp just before the trail starts climbing up Assiniboine Pass]
[Told you there were lots of bears around!]
[Hiking up the Assiniboine Pass horse trail since the hiking trail is closed due to bear activity.]
[Hanneke taking a break near the top of the Assiniboine Pass. The hiking trail comes out here and is closed due to bear activity. Small amounts of snow are starting to show up here.]
[At the Assiniboine Park entrance. Snow and rain greet us - you can tell we just climbed 500 meters higher!]
[Some lovely meadows that we crossed on the way into the Assiniboine Lodge area]
[Lovely weather! Where are the dang huts?!]
[Finally at our hut and the weather is slowly improving]
[The excellent cook shelter]
[Awww. The cute couple...]
[A great early morning sunrise over Lake Magog with Mount Assiniboine hidden in cloud.]
[The mighty 'boine is clearing off as we pass it on our way to hike up the Nub after breakfast. ++]
[The morning dawns clear and frosty in this view of The Towers (L) and Naiset Point (R) from near our Naiset Hut.
[A great sun rise on the might 'A']
[Walking past Lake Magog a bit later, after breakfast]
[Delightful terrain on the way up to Og Pass, hiking through the gap along the Windy Ridge lookout (Og Pass) Trail. Og Mountain barely visible in the upper right of the photo]
[The rest of the group makes their way across the soggy Assiniboine Flats on the Og Pass trail. Og Mountain's four distinctive summits on the right.]
[Hiking towards Og Mountain from Og Pass.]
[Windy Ridge is straight ahead. The lookout is at the col.]
[Hanneke and Vern pose on the Windy Ridge lookout.]
[Hiking along the lonely shoreline of Lake Magog, looking back at Assiniboine Lodge]
[Looking towards Mount Assiniboine, which is shrouded in clouds]
[Looking across Lake Magog with the Nub in the bg]
[Enjoying the cook shelter to ourselves again. Think we have enough food?!]
[Mount Assiniboine catches the first rays of sunshine on a frosty morning. I still can't believe I free solo'd the NE ridge 4 years later.]
[The cook shelter with Mount Assiniboine in the bg]
[The group poses on the front porch of the cook shelter before leaving]
[Hanneke gets ready for the hike out on a very frosty morning]
[Hiking towards Wonder Pass - Wonder Peak on the right]
[Checking out a waterfall along the way]
[Looking back down from Wonder Pass.]
[Mount Cautley looks very snowy!]
[Group shot at Wonder Pass]
[Heading down from the pass]
[A gorgeous morning for hiking near Wonder Pass]
[Looking down at Lake Gloria from Wonder Pass]
[Part of Lake Gloria with Mount Gloria in the background.]
[The terrain is imposing as we hike down towards Marvel Lake]
[We break out into the open avi slopes above Marvel Lake. The clouds have pretty much lifted now.]
[Gorgeous hiking along Marvel Lake]
[We crossed many avy slopes on the way along Marvel Lake]
[Back into thicker trees before the final descent to Bryant Creek]
[The gang on the bridge over Bryant Creek in front of the warden's cabin.]
This is a backpacking trip that travels through different alpine zones from below tree line to above it. It is rugged in places and remote. There are bears too. :)
Named in 1960. Strom, Erling (A native of Oslo, Erling Strom played a major role in the introduction of skiing to western Canada after arriving in Banff in 1928. In 1932 he took over the management of Assiniboine Lodge from the CPR and operated it for many years. Official name. (from peakfinder.com)
We scrambled Mount Strom as part of our Assiniboine approach from Assiniboine Lake. On our way over the col, before we descended to the hut I mentioned to Kev that maybe we should bag Strom "since it's right there anyway". He agreed and we spent 20 minutes (easy) negotiating rubbly slopes to the summit. The views were amazing of course. If it were summer time and we had more daylight I would've trumbled up Wedgewood too but it wasn't and we didn't so I didn't. ;-)
[View of Strom from the col]
[View of Lake Magog and the Assiniboine huts from Strom's south ridge. The Hind hut is also visible in the shadows.]
[The very impressive (intimidating?) north face of Mount Assiniboine]
[Just a scree grunt!]
[An old register on Strom - in better shape than a lot of others around here.]
[Vern and Kev on the summit of Strom with Assiniboine looming over 600 meters (2000 feet) above us.]
[Looking east from the summit. Wedgewood at center ++]
[Kev heads down the slopes to the col, Assiniboine brooding above.]
This is a hike if you've already done the approach, which is 3rd class from any direction...
Named in 1953. The mountain takes its name from nearby Sunburst Lake which was named by the Interprovincial Boundary Survey. Official name. Other names Goat's Tower. (from peakfinder.com)
Ever since scrambling Nub Peak, Wonder Peak, Og Mountain and Cave Mountain back in 2008, I've wanted to go back to the Mount Assiniboine area and bag a few other scrambles. It took way longer than expected, but finally in 2016 I managed to get another trip into the area. After a long and tiring approach the day before via Sunshine Meadows and a morning ascent of the lowly Chucks Ridge, I was ready for Sunburst Peak in the afternoon.
Sunburst Peak has always interested me since first laying eyes on it in 2008, simply because it doesn't look nearly as easy as its reputation implies. There isn't a ton of trip reports available, but whatever is out there certainly doesn't make this objective sound very difficult - despite the appearance of impenetrable cliffs leading up to it's summit.
Thankfully, Sunburst Peak is located right near the Lake Magog Campground, so I only had to walk about 500m to the SW before heading up to its lower treed and rubble slopes. It's impossible to describe the exact route I took on ascent because I stumbled around a bit before finding the boulder field, but on descent I found one that was a bit less of a bushwhack. If you walk about 200m past the sign warning non-climbers about routes to the Hind Hut you should see a narrow drainage or slight opening in the treed slope up on your right (to the NW). A short stint in the bush should have you on or near a boulder field which can be followed up to the NW until topping out on a wide bench to the east of the upper bowl beneath the cliff bands.
[Overview of the scramble and approach on Sunburst Peak. ++]
[On ascent I went up this first, obvious valley / drainage but should have been more patient. I ended up bushwhacking a short distance to the left before hitting the boulder fields.]
[The boulder field is quite large but as long as it's dry, it's rather fun.]
[Incredible views over Lake Magog from near the upper bench above the boulder field. ++]
Once I was on the upper bench above the boulder field, I started following a faint trail into the upper bowl beneath the summit cliffs. At first I ascended steeply up a shallow ridge but soon noticed a break in the cliff band far to my left and wandered across the slopes to this break. Scrambling up the break was easy and I followed an obvious grassy ledge under the cliff bands, back towards the north until the slopes above me looked reasonable to ascend. It was here that I first noticed a magnificent white Mountain Goat high above me in the cliffs. I guess there's a reason for the alternate name of this peak. When I started up the next series of small ledges and steep terrain below the narrow upper gully that I also realized I shouldn't have left my helmet at the campground.
As I scrambled up the slopes I heard a low buzzing sound rip past my head! I knew that sound. I've heard it before and it's never a good thing. It turns out that thanks to the snowfall the week previous and the warm temperatures the day I was scrambling, icicles high up on the southeast cliffs above me were breaking off and hurtling down the mountain, directly down the fall line that I was climbing up! By the time I realized what was happening it was just as quick to get out of the way than retreat, so I did that. My heart rate was pretty high as I started up a rocky, icy, snowy gully towards the summit ridge. After the steep, narrow gully there was another series of snow ledges that were marked with cairns before I was finally on the bouldery summit plateau.
[I ended up traversing left here, out of the photo to a break in the cliff bands, but there was a trail leading straight up here too. I think there's a moderate direct route into the obvious grassy bands above me here, but I didn't go that way.]
[Great views towards Mount Cautley from the grassy ledge traverse under the cliffs on my left. My approach is on scree slopes below at center. ++]
[Despite appearances, the terrain up the cliffs is pretty mellow. Other than ice chunks trying to take me out!]
[Some of the nicest views of my trip, looking over Lake Magog towards Naiset Point, Terrapin, Magog and Assiniboine (L to R). ++]
[Easy scrambling on steep, blocky terrain but with ice chunks whizzing past my head...]
[Looking back down a steeper section on ascent.]
[Nearing the bottom of the gully that leads to the upper summit area.]
[Looking back down the snow-filled gully.]
[Note the icicles? This is the slope above the gully, leading to the summit boulder plateau.]
[The route is well marked where it needs to be - note the cairn.]
[Fun scrambling up ledges just under the summit.]
[A snowy, surprisingly expansive summit plateau. ++]
As expected for this ideally situated summit, the views in every direction were fantastic! I didn't know it at the time, but they would be my best summit views of the trip thanks to yet another confused weather forecast. I enjoyed the views for almost an hour before heading back down my ascent route.
[Looking over Cerulean Lake towards the other Sunburst Peaks, Mount Watson, Wedgwood Lake, Indian Peak, Moose Bath Pond, Ferro Pass, Nestor Peak, Simpson Ridge, Chucks Ridge, Elizabeth Lake, Nub Peak and the Nublet (L to R). ++]
[Wedgwood Lake sits under Mount Watson.]
[Looking over Wedgwood Lake towards Octopus Mountain over the Mitchell River. This isn't a very well known access route anymore, but apparently, it used to be the main access to the Lake Magog and Mount Assiniboine area when horse caravans would follow the Mitchell River up past Cerulean and Sunburst Lakes.]
[Looking over Nub Peak towards Golden Mountain.]
[Nasswald Peak rises over Og Lake, which isn't visible here.]
[I've often regretted not bagging Windy Point Ridge (L) while I was right there anyway. At the time I wasn't sure if it was named or not. Instead I traversed all of Og's lower summits to the fourth and highest one on the far right.]
[Nestor Peak doesn't sound very hard - Rick Collier did it on skies in the winter.]
[Indian Peak lies to the west of Sunburst and looms over Ferro Pass. Rick also skied it, but it sounds slightly more difficult than Nestor, especially in winter.]
[The strangely named Octopus Mountain with Split Peak in the distance to the left.]
[I think the foreground peak is probably Mount Sam, the one in the background just left of center is likely Mount Selkirk.]
[Looking over Ferro Pass towards the Ball Range.]
[The mighty Mount Assiniboine. Her NE ridge looking very fierce!]
[Looking over Windy Point Ridge to Nasswald Peak.]
[Lizzie Rummel's cabin sits comfortably on Sunburst Lake.]
[Brilliant colors of Cerulean Lake. Elizabeth Lake just visible at top.]
[Incredible views over Cerulean Lake (L) and Sunburst Lake (R) towards Nub Peak and the Og Meadows. ++]
[More views over Cerulean Lake with Moose Bath Pond and Wedgwood Lake to the left. ++]
[Wonderful panoramic views over Lake Magog, including the Cautley Traverse at left and Mount Assiniboine at right. ++]
[Views of Cerulean, Sunburst and Magog Lakes. ++]
[Looking towards Mount Assiniboine with Mount Magog to the left of it and Wedgwood and Sunburst Peaks to the right. ++]
Descent was quick, and thankfully most of the ice chunks were now melted off so I didn't have to worry as much about getting bombarded by those projectiles while downclimbing. I found a slightly easier exit than my bushwhack approach and made my way back to the Lake Magog Campground and picnic "shelter". It was neat to chat with some other folks from all over the place at the shelter. I was surprised how many people were only staying in the area to take photographs of Mount Assiniboine, thanks especially to social media such as 500px and Instagram. Apparently the Assiniboine area has featured prominently around the world on these platforms and everyone is now determined to get their own share of likes and shares with one or two good shots of their own.
[More great views on descent. ++]
[She is a majestic peak!]
[Once again, I found myself all alone once off the main tourist hotspots. I exited the boulder field to the trail at lower right. ++]
[Looking back at the big "A" as I walk back to the Lake Magog Campground.]
[The Lake Magog picnic "shelter" with Sunburst Peak rising beyond. This was by far the nicest weather I got while staying in the area.]
Moderate scrambling, especially in the conditions I had. Considering some of the routefinding and exposure, I would not rate this as "easy".
There are several approaches into the sublime Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park area, located off the grid in British Columbia. One of the lengthiest and toughest, but also the most scenic, is via the Sunshine Meadows and Banff National Park, over Citadel and Fatigue Passes and through Golden Valley and the Valley of Rocks, past Og Lake and finally, the Lake Magog campground.
Ever since I first backpacked into the Mount Assiniboine area in early September 2008 from Mount Shark, I've wanted to go back in larch season - sometime in the last two weeks of September. I did go back to the area on September 22, 2012 but avoided most of the larches by going in via Settler's Road and Assiniboine Lake before climbing Mount Assiniboine and Lunette Peak from the Hind Hut and returning via the same route. In 2015 I thought I'd be going back and for some reason or another it didn't pan out. In 2016 I was absolutely determined to make the hike and scramble trip work out. When the dust finally settled, it turned out that if I wanted to do this trip I was going to have to do it solo. Such is life. I've done many solo trips over the years and I was OK with it for this one too. I settled on some dates where the weather fx was looking pretty fine and reserved a seat on the earliest departing Sunshine Meadows Bus to save myself 500m of elevation gain and 6.5km of approach distance. Boy, am I glad that I did that!
Right up front I'll say that especially if you're not using the approach bus, you should seriously consider *not* doing the entire ~30km approach from Sunshine Village in one day. Despite me doing the approach in under 8 hours, I think most folks will find it pretty difficult - much harder than implied on the Assiniboine Lodge's web site which incorrectly states the distance as 27km and much more egregiously lists the total height gain as only being 400m. I'm sure I'm not the first experienced backpacker to arrive at Lake Magog swearing that we've never felt so exhausted doing 400m of height gain before! Also note that whether you're using Citadel Pass as an entry or exit to the Mount Assiniboine area, the total height gains are about the same - you will work just as hard going out as coming in. This is not the case for any of the other approach routes to the area. Do not underestimate the mental and physical effects of gaining and losing elevation repeatedly on this route - and at least 12-16km of it without a drop of easily accessible drinking water! One last thing to consider is that this route is fairly exposed to the elements compared to the other classic approaches (Assiniboine or Wonder Passes) and in my opinion has a much higher chance of seeing or disturbing bears. I've put together a summary page of all the Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park approach routes from my perspective here.
So. The Sunshine Meadows approach has much more height gain, more exposure to weather and animals than any other route, and has no water sources for at least half the route. Why the heck would anyone want to either approach or egress this route?! "Why" is always a good thing to ask - no matter the situation - but in this case it's also easily answered. Having done all the other approaches (other than the one from the air) to the Mount Assiniboine area, I can categorically state that the Sunshine Meadows route is by far the most scenic and rewarding one, especially during larch season. No doubt in my mind.
I thought long and hard about taking the bus from the Sunshine Ski Resort parking lot up to the upper Sunshine Village because I detest using motorized assistance when there's a perfectly good trail / route, but in the end I had put a lot of km's and elevation on my body over the past few weeks and I knew it would be prudent to save myself the 6.5km of distance and 500m of height gain. I was surprised by how empty the first bus of the day was. I was also surprised that you don't have to reserve online (as for the Lake O'Hara bus) but can do a walk-up reservation. $29 is pretty steep, but it did include a ride down too, so I kept the ticket tucked away in my pack to use on my return. After a short, bumpy ride we got a short speech about bears and weather before the driver finally let us go. I shrugged into my heavier-than-normal backpack and set off up the trail to the Sunshine Meadows. Yes, immediately I noticed that the trail went up at least 100m and I started questioning the 400m total height gain right from the start of my trek.
The meadows were shrouded in low cloud but the larches were stunning and I knew that I was in for a gorgeous, scenic day even if there would be very little sunshine or blue skies. I've crossed the Sunshine Meadows before, on skies, and I knew there was a number of ups and downs along the way to Citadel Pass and thought I was ready for them. Of course, I wasn't. With the number "400" meters stuck in my head for total height gain, I was again surprised by a significant height gain over the NE shoulder of Quartz Hill. I was already at 200m gain and wasn't even close to Citadel or Fatigue Pass yet! Hmmm. I slowed down slightly as I descended the steep and wet trail towards Howard Douglas Lake and campground.
[Finally up the first hill from the Sunshine Village and looking over the expansive Sunshine Meadows. ++]
[Looking back towards the resort as I start my trek.]
[Looking across the meadows. The route eventually climbs the shoulder directly above the foreground trail that comes off of Quartz Hill which is buried in clouds at right. ++]
[Brilliant fall colors as I work my way towards the Quartz Hill shoulder.]
[I was sweating already, early in the day. It was also raining on me intermittently as you can see from the water drops on the lens.]
After slipping and sliding my way around Howard Douglas Lake and past an empty and eerily silent campground, I was faced with another climb towards Citadel Pass. I was completely alone in the swirling mist and clouds. I have spent many hundreds of hours and kilometers in the backcountry by myself over the past 20 years and have learned to embrace the solitude. I grew up on a small farm and spent many hours alone as a boy. My mind tends to wander as I roam and I welcome the peaceful musing that solo travel affords. Our world is so connected nowadays that sometimes I feel we can't turn it off and need the constant buzz and opinions of others to fill any silent holes that might open up in our day. I find that for me, silence is a good companion, often leading to insights and moments of peace that I wouldn't otherwise have realized.
The Citadel Pass area is a pretty barren and windswept place located at the south end of Sunshine Meadows and under the east shoulder of Citadel Peak. Already at the pass, I had gone a few kilometers without any running water. It turns out I would do many more as Citadel Creek was my last source of running or clean water anywhere near the trail until Lake Magog! Hiking just a bit further I passed a dried up tarn and entered another thick larch forest, just west of Fatigue Pass, which is located south of Fatigue Mountain between it and Golden Mountain. The weather stayed moody as I prepared for the huge drop down to the Simpson River and Golden Valley.
[An intense larch forest as I work my way around the dried up tarn and towards the south end of Fatigue Mountain and an outlier of Golden Mountain. I wonder if this is where the name "Golden" comes from?]
[The larch forest before the big drop to the Simpson River and Golden Valley is pretty impressive.]
Soon after passing the dried up tarn the beautiful larch forest suddenly gave way to normal Rockies Evergreens and foliage and I found myself plunging very steeply down a major avalanche slope and narrow valley towards the Simpson River and Golden Valley to the south. It was here that I first realized there was absolutely no way the total height gain from the Sunshine Village to Mount Assiniboine Park was only 400m and I really began wondering what kind of day I was in for. The rain was still falling intermittently as I hiked down the steep, muddy trail past HUGE Grizzly diggings in the neighboring slopes. I've never seen such aggressive bear diggings before. The entire slope looked like a rotor tiller had been used to mulch everything to a messy tangle of roots, grasses and rocks. The combination of gloomy weather, fresh bear diggings and the fact that I was now at least 12km from any civilization emphasized my solitude as I made my way down the excellent trail.
It's places and times such as this that I think folks who use shortcuts into remote places miss out on the full experience of immersing oneself in the natural world. But each to their own! (I drove a car to the trailhead and used a damn BUS so who am I to talk right?! We're all hypocrites at the end of the day. ;))
[The entire slope was rotor tilled by a bear - and by the damage done, I would guess a pretty darn big one!]
Eventually I exited the narrow valley and started a high level traverse around the SW end of Golden Mountain. This was a highlight section of the trail and probably my favorite part. The combination of sun / cloud / rain on the surrounding peaks, along with the fantastic exposure down impossibly steep grassy slopes into the Simpson River valley on my right made for a short, magical hike. Near the start of this traverse there was a 1km option leading down to the Porcupine Campground which many folks use as a half way stopping point to Lake Magog. I assume there's running water located somewhere near this camp but I can't confirm as I didn't go there. (It doesn't sound as if most folks think much of it, based on what I've found online.)
[One of the highlights of the Sunshine approach is this section of about 1-2km where the trail cuts across a very steep, grassy slope high above the Simpson River (R) along the SW slopes of Golden Mountain (L).]
[The trail contours around Golden Mountain heading southeast until is plunges south directly into Golden Valley below.]
After the awesome highline traverse, the trail dropped quickly to the right (south) into Golden Valley and I continued along it towards Og Lake and the Valley of the Rocks. As I mentioned earlier, my last water source of any kind was below Citadel Pass where Citadel Creek crosses the trail on the Sunshine Meadows side and this situation continued for the entire length of trail to Og Lake - at least 13.5km with absolutely no water sources of any kind. The map shows many little creeks intersecting the trail - these were all bone dry for me in late September. I've heard many stories of folks getting dehydrated on this stretch even in July and August so beware of this when you go. I actually went all the way to Magog without any water after that stream, so at least 18km! I am used to hiking with very little water as I hate carrying it and generally drink directly from water sources as I hike over or through them. Thankfully I had cool weather or I might have had hydration issues. On return, I made sure to carry about 1 liter of water on this section, which is a lot for me. I only used 500ml of it on a warm sunny day, which really ticked me off because I carried 500ml for nothing. ;)
[Entering Golden Valley on a good trail that is obviously well maintained. This section through to the Valley of the Rocks is quite lengthy and has a ton of elevation gains and losses which add up after awhile.]
[Interesting terrain in Golden Valley.]
[The trail branches to Police Meadows (L), running along the Simpson River and coming up from Porcupine Campground.]
[The trail through Golden Valley is very well maintained.]
[More evidence of good trail maintenance.]
[Mist and rain comes in towards me as I hike along an open section of trail coming into the Valley of the Rocks. But there's a sucker hole in the clouds!]
As I continued to gain and lose height through extremely scenic and interesting little valleys and passes through Golden Valley, I started to spot some familiar terrain. It's not that I'd seen it before, but it matched what I was expecting and soon I realized I was looking at Golden Mountain and Nasswald Peak. This was great news as I knew that Og Lake was somewhere just past Nasswald. After what seemed like a long time and a lot of elevation change, thankfully through gorgeous landscapes, I spotted some familiar peaks. Windy Point Ridge and Og Mountain slowly came into view. I passed through the stunning Valley of the Rocks and eventually I found myself at a very empty and lonely Og Lake Campground and a shockingly low Og Lake. I thought I'd be able to easily get water at Og Lake, but I didn't feel like hiking all the way down to the water, so I decided to have a quick bite to eat and push on the remaining 6.5km to Lake Magog. Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see any other water sources around the campground at Og.
[The trail stayed pretty solid even with the rain, thanks to a firm base and obviously very rocky terrain.]
[A rare moment of pure sunshine.]
[The Valley of the Rocks is aptly named and another highlight of the trail. The one downer is the elevation gains and losses as the trail tries to make up its mind... and fails miserably!]
[More Valley of the Rocks landscape.]
[The clouds are starting to lift as the trail winds it's way towards Og Lake.]
[One of my favorite images from the approach shows the Valley of the Rocks just before Og Lake, Mount Assiniboine looming in clouds beyond at center. Nub Peak at right.]
I'm not gonna lie. The 6.5km from Og Lake to the Lake Magog campground were long. Really long. My pack was basically a complete alpine pack with everything from ice ax to crampons to tent, stove, fuel and I was even carrying mountaineering boots (hiking in approach shoes)! It all fit in a 70 liter pack, but it wasn't as light as I am used to carrying. I had food and supplies for 5 or even 6 days so I was feeling it by the time I started seeing signs for the Assiniboine Lodge, Naiset Huts and finally the Lake Magog backcountry campground. The campground was a bit different than I was expecting. Rather than having the tent pads close together and views of its namesake, the sites are scattered throughout the forest and aren't close to the lake at all. You can't even see Lake Magog from the majority of the tent pads. Some of the sites are right beside each other. I picked an empty site near the cook shelter. The shelter was a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for a covered shelter like the Hargreaves at Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park, but the shelter at Magog is wide open to the elements. All it really offers is a roof and 4 picnic tables, but absolutely no protection from wind or blowing snow - both of which I experienced in it. Oh well.
[Leaving Og Lake, looking ahead towards The Nub.]
[Looking back at Windy Point Ridge (L) and Og Mountain (R).]
[The Og Meadows are big and prime Grizzly habitat. Other hikers spotted a mother bear and cub in this area and I made sure to be very careful hiking through it. Cave Mountain at left and Cautley at center. ++]
[Nice afternoon lighting looking past Cascade Rock (R) towards Mount Mercer.]
[Looking back at Og Meadows with the trail towards Windy Point Ridge and Og Mountain going right and the approach from Og Lake at left.]
[Looking back through "the gap" between Assiniboine and Og Meadows, where I've come from, towards Golden Mountain (C) and Nasswald Peak (R).]
[Still a ways to go, but a sight for sore eyes (and legs!), the main Mount Assiniboine area comes into view with The Towers, Naiset Point, Terrapin, Magog, Assiniboine, Wedgewood and Sunburst Peaks on the horizon (L to R). ++]
[Made it. Finally. Now I just have to find a campsite in the bush somewhere... ;)]
I was surprised by the number of fellow campers at the Lake Magog Campground. At least half the sites were booked. Apparently the Mount Assiniboine area larch season has been well documented on social media, mainly 500px and Instagram. Most of the folks I met were foreign tourists from around the globe including the US, Belgium, Austria and China, attracted by the idea of getting that one "winning shot" of Mount Assiniboine from the Nub. Many folks made multiple trips up the Nub each day to get that one iconic shot. The poor Chinese party of at least 8, spent 7 days camping out, shivering in snow and waiting for the weather to finally clear enough to see Mount Assiniboine!
It made me a little bit sad to see this beautiful area reduced to an IG moment or 500px hit. Of the tens of people I ran into in the next 3 or 4 days, only a couple were there to primarily spend time in the wild, hiking, scrambling and enjoying the outdoors for its own sake. I didn't see anyone else scrambling peaks, and a lot of people spent the majority of their time just sitting around or walking between the many lakes in the area, waiting for the clouds to clear. Maybe that's the normal life of a photographer and I just don't understand it. Seems a bit boring to me. But again, to each their own!
[My home for a few days. It's basic, but it works pretty well. And even though they won't make me a gear ambassador, I'll plug once again for the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltraMid shelter. It's da bomb.]
[Another view of my cozy campsite.]
After a few days of peak bagging and hiking around the Mount Assiniboine area, I was ready to leave. On hindsight I could have stayed another day but the weather wasn't cooperating quite how it was supposed to (not a surprise in 2016!) and I was tired of being cold all the time in the afternoons and evenings, so I decided to take advantage of a beautiful day to egress back up Citadel Pass and out to civilization via the Sunshine Meadows. Waiting another day might have resulted in another cloudy, cool hike on return, and I wanted sunshine for my exit so I could really enjoy the larches and views around the meadows. As a side note - this is why a covered picnic shelter would be so much nicer at Lake Magog - it wouldn't be so dang chilly sitting around for 4 or 5 hours each evening in late fall! I had a full 3 layers on, including Gore-Tex and winter down and was still shivering after reading my book for a couple of hours.
Once again, I was surprised how many of the folks around me weren't there primarily for the wilderness or the hiking experience, but mainly for the chance to get a winning photograph. There were only two others, who I met, who both hiked in and out of the area. They were two Dutch backpackers who were on holiday in Canada and were hitting up many of the iconic Rockies trails including the Rockwall, the Tonquin Valley and others. They hiked in via Mount Shark / Bryant Creek and were hiking out via Sunshine Meadows the same day I was. Everyone else that I met either flew in and hiked out or hiked in and flew out or flew in and flew out. I did meet a few other two-way hikers at the Og Lake campground as I hiked back along it.
My exit day started out on a great note, with a beautiful sunrise on Mount Assiniboine. The photographers who'd made their way up the Nub at 03:00 (!!) were very satisfied, I'm sure! I got up at around 05:30 and spent a few hours slowly packing up camp, eating breakfast and loading up on coffee. Just after sunrise, I walked out of camp, ready for the long day and another ~1000m of height gain.
[A pink glow over the Lake Magog picnic shelter at sunrise on my day of departure. Mount Assiniboine at left and Sunburst Peaks at right.]
[The gorgeous Matterhorn of the Rockies rises over the surrounding area like a king. Every time I look at Mount Assiniboine's NE ridge, I can't believe I free soloed the whole thing!]
The biggest drawback of both approaching and departing the Mount Assiniboine area via Sunshine Meadows is that the height gains and losses are almost identical whether you're coming or going. I didn't fully realize this until I did it myself. All the other approaches are mainly gaining height on approach and losing it on egress, which is much more in line with what you'd expect. As I wandered back through the Og Meadows I was hyper-alert for Grizzlies in the area. Of course, this was partly due to my face-to-face encounter the day previous. I wasn't nervous, but I was very alert and did a fair amount of warning yells on my way to Og Lake. As expected, the first 6.5km went by pretty quickly and I didn't see a single Grizzly.
[Heading back through "the gap" to the Og Meadows with Nasswald almost completed melted off now.]
[Looking back at The Towers, Naiset Point, Terrapin, Magog and Mount Assiniboine (L to R).]
[A wonderful view over the Valley of the Rocks back towards the mighty Mount Assiniboine.]
Back at Og Lake, I was surprised to see a number of tents. On my approach the campground was completely deserted and it looked like there was no easy way to get water there, as the lake was half dried up and the water line was far below the campground. I chatted briefly with a group having breakfast and almost delayed my exit by a day for a chance to bag Windy Point with another solo hiker. I figured I'd be back some day for Nasswald and Golden anyway and Og Lake is the perfect base for those peaks. When I found out that there were two hikers about 30 minutes in front of me (the two Dutch backpackers), I figured I'd continue on by myself and see if they needed a ride back to their vehicle at the end of the day. (They were parked at the Shark Mountain lot and would need a lift from Sunshine to their rental car.) I was prepared for the long Valley of the Rocks and Golden Valley rollercoaster so that section of trail no longer wore me down as much as it did on approach. Spotting mountain goats high above the highline trail was a bonus. The traverse across the steep SW slopes of Golden Mountain was very nice in the warm, morning sunshine, with great views of Simpson Ridge and towards Mount Shanks.
[A much different day than my approach as I continue past Og Lake.]
[In Golden Valley, trees grow straight off the top of some of the boulders along the trail. How many years does that take? Of course, this one's now dead, so that was a wasted effort.]
[Spot the goats?]
[There they are! Happily grazing high above the high line trail on the SW slopes of Golden Mountain.]
[The highline traverse along the southwest slopes of Golden Mountain is just as nice as I remembered it from the approach. Visible peaks include Simpson Ridge and Mount Shanks. ++]
[Looking back along the traverse, peaks visible include Indian and Nestor. ++]
The steep grunt up past Fatigue Pass and towards Citadel Pass via the Grizzly Bear Heaven Valley was just as much work as I expected. Under a warm sun and with tired legs, it was a bit of effort, but I made pretty short work of it and was delighted to spot larches again - which meant I was near the top! The highlight of the day for me was from Citadel Pass and across the Sunshine Meadows. The larches were absolutely brilliant under the clear, blue skies and the warm weather made hiking very pleasant compared to what I'd done the three days previous. This is the weather I was expecting the entire time in the Mount Assiniboine area! It sure would have been nice for the Cautley traverse, but oh well. Sometimes you just don't get lucky with the weather in the mountains and in 2016 this was par for the course rather than the exception.
[The rotor tilled Grizzly Bear slope was just as intimidating as I remembered. Lots of yelling through this section... It was also much hotter going up in sunshine than down in rain showers.]
[Wow! Larch brilliance from near Citadel Pass, looking back towards Mount Assiniboine in the far distance and Golden Mountain rising at left. ++]
[The mighty "A" and a larch forest.]
[Fatigue Mountain looms over Citadel Pass.]
[Mount Shanks on the left with Verendrye on the right.]
[What a gorgeous place to be on this perfect fall day. Quartz Hill just right of center - the trail goes up the high shoulder to the right of it. ++]
[Howard Douglas Lake. ++]
My trip concluded with an interesting side story. I was surprised all day that I wasn't catching up to the two Dutch backpackers. Not to brag, but after hundreds of kilometers of hiking and scrambling over the last half of the summer, and a TON of elevation gains, I was in pretty darn good shape. I really thought I'd catch two "flat landers" from The Netherlands pretty easily, considering they were only 30 minutes in front of me from Og Lake. As it turns out, I was literally trying to catch up with an Olympic athlete!! OOPS. :) I met the two just in time to catch the 15:30 bus to the parking lot from the Sunshine Village. They were super happy when I offered them a ride back to their vehicle which was parked at the Mount Shark trailhead.
We had to stand on the bus, thanks to a capacity crowd, and after conversing for a few minutes I realized that the woman I was talking to - Inge Janssen - had just won a silver medal in rowing at the Rio Olympics - not more than a month earlier! I enjoyed a great conversation with Inge and her friend as I drove them to the Mount Shark trailhead. It turned out that she was taking a break in the Canadian wilderness to rest after a busy Olympics and decide what to do for the next four years. It was a great way to end another great solo outing in the great, Canadian Rockies.
This is a long, difficult hike through remote and rugged terrain but the trail is excellent and the views should keep you entertained enough to forget about your sore shoulders and feet.
Named by Arthur O. Wheeler in 1917. The mountain features large, tower-like spires. Official name. First ascended in 1916 by Interprovincial Boundary Commission. (from peakfinder.com)
After completing a truncated version of the Cautley Traverse (missing Cascade Rock and Wonder Peak), I found myself a bit dissatisfied with the idea of simply heading back to my camp at Lake Magog. I was feeling disappointed with being turned back on Gibraltar Rock as well. It felt like I had over-complicated what should have been an easy traverse and on hindsight, I had indeed done just that! Cascade Rock was easy hiking on the north end of the traverse (not the south), and Wonder Peak could be accessed via a hidden chimney on climber's right of the seemingly impenetrable cliffs blocking the route from Ely's Dome.
I blame three things on my lapse of route-finding skills on this particular day. First of all, running into a male Grizzly first thing in the morning threw me off my game a bit. Secondly, I was bummed about the bad weather forecast, which had promised sun and delivered nothing but clouds. Thirdly, I underestimated the clarity of the route in the snowy conditions that I had. I thought I'd be following an obvious trail in scree all day, but the snow obscured some parts of it, especially around Wonder Peak. Oh well. These things happen in the mountains - and usually when least expected.
[The Towers loom in the distance as I complete my traverse to Wonder Pass after summiting Ely's Dome.]
To make up for my partial failure on the Cautley Traverse, I decided to go for the summit of The Towers. Originally I was going to stay in the area another day and attempt both The Towers and Naiset Point in one go, but based on the conditions I'd had on the Cautley Traverse, I didn't want to push the traverse from The Towers to Naiset Point anyway, so I decided to attempt The Towers and save Naiset Point for another day and another trip. I hiked up a shallow draw immediately north of Wonder Peak, towards Wonder Pass and was soon scouting the lower route up The Towers. Something I didn't realize at first, was that the skyline east ridge is not the scramble route. I followed a faint trail in scree to the east ridge. After scrambling up this ridge, I immediately noticed that the trail crossed a scree bowl to gain the south ridge which obviously led up to the summit.
[A great shot of The Towers from just east of Wonder Pass as I cross the lower NW ridge of Wonder Peak. The scramble route does not go up the skyline east ridge at left but rather the south ridge which is out of sight behind it.]
[The snow makes the faint trail in the scree easier to spot as I traverse to the lower east right.]
I broke trail to the south ridge, including a short stretch of fresh snow about 2 feet deep on the lee side where the winds had deposited it. I was cautious about any slides that would occur, but the snow seemed fairly stable. From the south ridge, I followed bits of trail and eventually cairns up towards a seemingly impenetrable line of cliffs high up on the summit block. It was here that I had the most fun of my trip, following cairns and even ribbons embedded in cairns up seemingly impassible terrain. Every time I couldn't figure out where a moderate scrambling route could possibly go, it would appear next to a line of cairns. I really enjoyed The Towers upper scrambling route. Eventually I crossed a final gully and scrambled my way up to the summit cairn and some pretty decent views considering the clouds. On a clear day, I think this would be an excellent summit view - probably one of the best in the area.
[Looking towards hidden Eon and Aye with Terrapin at center and The Towers at upper right. ++]
[Marvel Pass and Cabin Lake in the foreground with Aurora Mountain rising beyond.]
[The larch island on Marvel Peak from a different angle.]
[There was a TON of helicopter traffic in the area this particular day. A popular thing to do seemed to be flying over the upper reaches of Lake Gloria under Eon and Aye's east faces before looping back again.]
[Looking down a snowy gully on the lower summit block where the scrambling starts to get interesting.]
[Higher on the summit block now, looking back along the south ridge towards Marvel (L) and Gloria (R) lakes. ++]
[More interesting scrambling.]
[Every time I thought I was hooped, there was another cairn beckoning me forward.]
[One more gully to cross before the last cliffs under the summit.]
[I didn't linger under this cliff very long!]
[The final defense of the summit is the strongest one but there is a clearly marked route that picks its way through the towers with only moderate scrambling required.]
[Looking down the steep, moderate scrambling step on the upper cliff band.]
[Great views from just below the summit (note the ribbon on the cairn in the foreground). ++]
[The final plod to the summit of The Towers.]
I enjoyed the summit of The Towers for about 30 minutes before heading back down, following my footprints in the snow and the lines of cairns back down the various crux sections on the south ridge.
[Summit views are once again, excellent, but obscured by low clouds. Assiniboine is buried in clouds at left. Naiset Point, Sunburst, Nestor, Nub Peak, Citadel, Fatigue, Golden, Nasswald, Windy Point, Og, Cave, Beersheba, Cautley, Allenby, Ely's Dome and Wonder Peak (L to R). ++ ]
[Looking over the Nublet at Nub Peak.]
[Looking over Lake Gloria to Marvel Pass at center left. Eon and Aye are buried in clouds right of center with Terrapin at right. ++]
[Golden Mountain to the north.]
[Looking back at one of the crux sections.]
[Don't get lose up here - it's tricky terrain without the cairns / ribbons.]
[Great views of Terrapin (L) and Gloria Lakes beneath Marvel Pass.]
[More helicopter traffic over Lake Gloria - at one point there were three choppers thundering through this valley at the same time!]
[Great views over Marvel Lake (L), Terrapin Lake (C) and Lake Gloria (R). ++]
[A cool ramp on the east ridge at right, looking back over Wonder Pass.]
From Wonder Pass it was a pleasant hike back to my campsite at Lake Magog. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous due to my morning Grizzly encounter near the Assiniboine Lodge but I didn't see the bear.
In an interesting sidebar, I wasn't sure how I would sleep that night, knowing that there was a Grizzly nearby that had false charged me just that morning. I was fully prepared to be up the whole night, but to my surprise (and pride), I managed to squash any feelings of fear by simply being logical about the whole thing. Despite a very empty campground (many people had left), and being entirely alone in my section and my tent, I slept pretty well. Rather than make me more nervous about bears, having an encounter like the one I did turn out the way it did, only reinforces my opinion on Grizzlies. In normal circumstances, unless protecting a kill or their cubs, most bears simply don't want any trouble with humans and will go out of their way to avoid a confrontation. The feeling, for my part, is 100% mutual! ;)
[Back at Wonder Pass.]
[An amazing 'dwarf' larch forest on the way back towards Gog Lake. Naiset Point at left and Cautley at right. ++]
[A thin waterfall along Magog Creek on return to my campsite at Lake Magog along the Wonder Pass trail.]
[Amazing larch forest on descent.]
[Just past Gog Lake.]
[The Wonder Pass trail snakes alongside the forest as it winds its way back to Lake Magog.]
Mostly easy to moderate scrambling if on route. There are a lot of cairns and flagging but tricky terrain and exposure awaits you if you miss these markers.
Named by Arthur O. Wheeler and Conrad Kain in 1913. The view from the summit of this mountain inspires "wonder." Official name. (info from peakfinder.com)
Mostly an easy scramble on a scree trail - some steep bits just under the summit.
In the fall of 1883, three Canadian Pacific Railway construction workers stumbled across a cave containing hot springs on the eastern slopes of Alberta's Rocky Mountains. From that humble beginning was born Banff National Park, Canada's first national park and the world's third. Spanning 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles) of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers, Banff National Park is one of the world's premier destination spots - from Parks Canada.
[A location map for Banff National Park.]
Named by J.J. McArthur in 1897. Gordon, Lord John Campbell (Lord Gordon was the Marquis of Aberdeen and the Governor General of Canada from 1893 to 1898. He visited Lake Louise in 1893.) Official name. Other names Hazel Peak
First ascended in 1894 by Samuel E.S. Allen, L.F. Frissel, Walter D. WilcoxJournal reference CAJ 1-330; AJ 18-109.
It seems that every time someone posts a trip report about climbing Mount Aberdeen (and Haddo), folks inquire about an easy ascent via the south slopes - the alternate descent route. While this probably seems anathema to most climbers, it makes perfect sense for folks who simply want to enjoy stunning views from the top of a very well placed peak in the heart of the Lake Louise group without all the messing around with ice climbing and usually taking 2 or 3 attempts to get up the darn mountain since everyone seems to under estimate the 'short' approach the first time around!
I had a slightly different plan for Aberdeen. Ever since I skied into Paradise Valley with Bill and Wietse a few years ago, I wanted to ascend (and possibly ski down) the massive avalanche gully coming off Aberdeen's summit, splitting her south face. Why this route over the normal one? At this point in my climbing life, I prefer snow climbing to ice climbing. I also liked the idea of a fast ski out rather than a long, boring walk in the summer. There were some very obvious problems with this plan. The first being that the south face / gully system on Aberdeen is probably among the biggest and most complex avalanche terrain in the park and the other being that if avy conditions would allow safe ascending, they would probably suck for the descent. I knew I'd probably have to wait for spring to make this plan happen. Or would I?
The last few weeks in the Rockies have seen avalanche conditions at "low" hazard ratings at all levels from valley bottom to high in the alpine. While this has allowed almost all the big lines to be skied and / or climbed, it has also meant really crappy snow conditions. Even Roger's Pass had bad snow when we did the Young's Peak traverse last weekend! Naturally, however, when ideas for the weekend of March 8 were being floated, I brought up my idea for skiing Aberdeen and Haddo. Steven and Ben were foolish enough to buy into my enthusiasm and we agreed to give it a shot.
At this point I must confess to underestimating the endeavor a "wee bit". I guess that's the theme for Aberdeen so why should I be any different right? :) This explains why we got back to Calgary at 11:30pm and why I'm freaking tired today as I write up the trip report! (The Daylight Savings Time switch on Sunday morning didn't help matters...) Steven, to his credit, was much more realistic in his thoughts on the objective. I'm glad I was so optimistic or I wouldn't have even tried, but Steven immediately cautioned that this day would be much longer and bigger than I was planning. My thinking went as follows;
I stubbornly maintain that my thinking was not totally out of line - my issue was the assumption in the first bullet. Given the right conditions... We arrived at the parking area, in the dark at 07:15 thanks to DST. We were a bit surprised to see a guy on the highway, waving us down. This bright member of humanity had decided to follow his rental car's GPS up the Moraine Lake road in winter! He only made it about 1.5 feet past the end of the parking lot, where he almost ran into the barrier (trying to get around it on the groomed xcountry ski track!!!!) and got himself hopelessly stuck. We half heartedly tried to push him out but he was really stuck and we only had my car - no way to pull him out. He had cell reception and was calling for a tow as we skinned up the Moraine Lake road on a slick sheet of icy snow.
We ascended some very icy xcountry ski tracks before starting up the Paradise Valley approach. Every time I do this trail, I get confused for some reason. Steven rightly asserted that we should simply follow tracks up Paradise Creek just as we did for our Little Temple trip, but I insisted on following the signs and official trail up on climber's right instead. This wasted a bit of time and eventually I had to admit my navigation error. For some reason I always forget that the decommissioned trail that leads to Sheol and the avy path on Aberdeen doesn't branch off the main trail until the turnoff to Annette Lake - also the ski route for Little Temple. This is many kilometers (~8) into the valley and takes some time to reach. We followed the decommissioned trail under the Sheol ascent slopes and headed deeper into the valley with stunning views already opening up around us. On hindsight we could have stayed in the creek on a good skin track but the snow pack was fairly supportive early in the day and we made quick time to the lower avy slopes under Aberdeen's south face.
[Skiing the icy Moraine Lake road]
[Skiing the icy xcountry ski trail - sensing a theme here yet?]
[The Paradise Creek approach valley is quite lovely. Mount Temple looms on the left. We saw a massive serac failure on its upper north face which was kind of awe inspiring to watch and listen to first thing in the morning!]
[Ben on the lower avy slopes under Aberdeen - Mount Temple in the background.]
At this point we were feeling optimistic about our snow conditions. They weren't quite as solid as we were expecting, but this meant a nicer ski down. We started up the steep avy gully and entered a massive terrain trap in short order. This is not a place to linger! I can't even say I recommend anyone ever go up this terrain in the winter. If you insist on it, make sure you trust the conditions both above and below you. The trap doesn't seem like much until you ski above it and notice all the terrain that funnels from the unnamed summit to the west. There are thousands of feet of steep snow slopes and overhanging cornices all funneling into this narrow rock canyon. It makes the Bow Hut approach look like child's play - trust me. After ascending above the terrain trap we found ourselves in the huge bowl below Aberdeen's summit. This is another type of terrain trap, as all the snow shedding down Aberdeen's south face will end up here. Again - I can't recommend you venture here in winter under normal circumstances. We observed that only very steep, thin slopes were shedding snow, but were starting to feel the hot sun on our necks and wondered about spending time under cornices.
[Vern and Ben skin up the steep terrain trap at the bottom of Aberdeen's south face. Photo by Steven Song.]
[Apologies for the slightly mis-focused shot, but it does show the cool terrain we ascended from valley bottom.]
[And here's the massive bowl on the lower face. It's extremely foreshortened in this view. You'd be forgiven for wondering why the heck we didn't just go straight up to the col in the distance. There are several reasons, although this was my original plan. Firstly, it's much, much further than it looks. We'd be spending hours in extreme avy terrain with many overhanging cornices above steep snow slopes. Secondly, the ridge to our right seemed more wind blown and safer from this vantage point.]
We had a decision to make at the bottom of the huge bowl. Do we tempt fate and trust conditions enough to skin (or crampon) all the way up Aberdeen's descent gully to her summit, or do we take what appeared to be slightly safer terrain up on climber's right and hope it works out? We basically threw the virtual dice and ended up on the ridge to climber's right of the avy basin. I was a bit conflicted about this choice because we knew we wouldn't be skiing much of this route and I was really hoping to possibly ski off Aberdeen's summit. But I also had to admit that the huge avy terrain around the bowl was scary. Very exposed and very foreshortened. Cornices hung hundreds of meters above the bowl, off the unnamed summit between Aberdeen and the Mitre and there was some evidence of these failing in the warm sun.
There was another issue that was becoming apparent at this point. Our snow pack was collapsing. :( It was much warmer than forecast (a predicted high of -6 but Ben's thermometer already showed +6) and the snow was becoming very punchy. This meant a horrible ski down and not great ascent conditions either. Steven's idea to lug snowshoes in was started to look brilliant at this point. Oh well. Nothing to do about it now. We headed up the ridge until it was too steep to skin and proceeded on foot.
[This photo should convince you of the seriousness of the avy terrain in the bowl! These are only a tiny fraction of the slopes leading to the terrain trap and bowl beneath this unnamed peak that lies between Aberdeen and The Mitre]
[Steven grunts up to the ridge while Ben and I take a slightly more conservative line on skis. You can see there's more rock on the ridge - and slightly less avy hazards, at least from this angle. While there is some evidence of sluffing, the overall snow pack was solid all day - no whumping or collapsing anywhere around us.]
[Everything is foreshortened on the approach, even small slopes are big once you're on them. Ben and Vern are breaking onto the ridge after negotiating the terrain trap. Photo by Steven Song.]
Good thing we had views to distract us because from this point on life sucked for a while. Even Steven, on snowshoes, was wallowing around. Avy conditions were still OK, but a punchy crust with no support meant wallowing and swimming uphill every time we hit a snow patch. Which was often on the lower ridge. I was already feeling quite tired thanks to a head cold and tooth pain. The wallowing in unsupportive snow, while ascending a route that was looking more and more like it might not work out was conspiring to dampen my spirits a little bit. Good thing the views were stunning and good thing the weather was brilliant.
[The skis are left behind and the hundreds of vertical meters of boot packing begin!]
[This is the reason we're on the ridge. It's tough but contains less objective hazards under a sun that's much stronger and warmer than the forecasts implied. The only issue is that we have no idea if this route will go...]
[Notice how huge the terrain gets, the closer you're to it? The south face of Aberdeen is very foreshortened from the valley floor! Once again, you can see how exposed to avy hazards the terrain near the bottom of the ascent slope is.]
[The ridge wasn't as wind blown as we were hoping. Due to the foreshortening, many of the 'small' snow patches were really snow fields and were knee to waist deep, thanks to the collapsing crust. :(]
We ended up on some pretty complex avy terrain despite trying to avoid it by ascending the ridge. The snow didn't seem interested in sliding or releasing so we doggedly pressed upwards despite the difficulties. Near the top of the ridge we were forced to traverse climber's left, across several steep and exposed avy gullies that reminded Steven and I of our adventure on Ayesha. This terrain is not for the faint of heart - and you'd better trust the snow pack if you ever end up here! Finally, after hours of working our way up complex winter terrain, Steven kicked the last steps up a very steep and thankfully very hard snow slope to the upper ridge, just above the Aberdeen / Haddo col. Home free right? Nope.
[The terrain just keeps getting bigger and the views better! Mount Temple is majestic across Paradise Valley. ++]
[At this point we are finally slogging to the more complex terrain near the summit ice field. We originally were hoping to bypass this terrain on climber's right but that wasn't possible so we ended up traversing climber's left instead.]
[Stunning views towards Lefroy and Victoria as we look ahead to more serious terrain that we'll have to traverse to break the upper cliff bands on the south face. ++]
[This photo exaggerates the terrain a bit, but it was "one-at-a-time" across these gullies! There were cornices high above us here, so we crossed quickly and efficiently to limit our exposure.]
[These are the cornices hanging over some of the narrow couloirs we crossed. Some of this terrain reminded us of Woolley and Diadem's couloirs.]
[Looking across the cliffs that blocked our progress and forced us climber's left.]
[Steven breaks trail across a slope that reminded both of us of Ayesha's key summit block access avy slope.]
[Ben follows us across the upper avy slopes on the south face. ++]
Winter climbing is always a bit extra spicy (as we discovered on Peyto a few weeks ago) and Aberdeen's summit block was no different. Even though nobody mentions difficult scrambling to attain her summit, we found ourselves scrambling up a very steep rock step with a loose, overhanging boulder at the top, before delicately balancing along a knife-edge ridge and ascending a final section of loose snow to the apex. On hindsight we all agreed that it was a good thing we didn't ascend the normal descent route, because one look at what we climbed up to get to the summit would have convinced us not to bother with Haddo! It was already much later in the day than we wished, so after snapping photos of our incredible summit view and signing the register (first since October 2014), we made our way carefully down the exposed summit block and started the easy traverse to Haddo Peak.
[Ben ascends the snow slope to Aberdeen's summit block. Haddo at center left. We came up from the south face near the rock outcrop directly behind Ben.]
[Steven comes up the crux on Aberdeen's summit block. It was bloody steep but short and not very exposed on the climbing side. The main issue was a very shaky boulder, balanced right at the top of the climb which had to be clambered over to get up!]
[Ben traverses the summit ridge]
[Ben on the far right, Fairview on the far left with Haddo, Little Temple and Temple in between. ++]
[The impressive north face of Mount Temple]
[I can't get enough of this view over Paradise Valley. The easy descent slope off Aberdeen's summit is on the right and leads to the col that we avoided. We briefly considered not bothering with Haddo and just going down this route but the idea of endless wallowing to our skis and the lure of a second summit ended that thought pretty quick.]
[Hey! Barry was up here last July! :)]
None of us felt like bothering with Haddo. We were exhausted from the challenging snow conditions on ascent, the wind was howling and quite chilly, we were hungry and thirsty and we were going to be home a lot later than planned. But there was no bloody way we were coming back for that tiny bump on the end of a gentle ridge either! So we sucked it up and did the traverse, descending over 100 meters to the col and then re-ascending to the summit of Haddo. The wind was almost knocking us over at this point so we didn't linger. On the way back up to our packs on Aberdeen I started feeling light headed and entered the fantastic "zombie zone", which usually means I've pushed it a bit too far and should probably eat something! ;) The last time I felt like this was while descending Edith Cavell on a hot afternoon when I imagined someone with a black dog was on the trail in front of me. It took half an hour before I realized I was imagining the whole thing - I was alone on the trail.
[Descending the summit ridge. Good thing we came up this way or we wouldn't have bothered with Haddo, I'm sure.]
[The crux looks worse than it was. It was super exposed on the south side, but a fall down the short side would probably not kill you. Although it might sting a little. ;)]
[Steven descends the crux]
[Down climbing the steepish snow / glacier slope back to our packs before traversing to Haddo. This slope wasn't that steep but you didn't want to slip!]
[Steven kicks steps down from Aberdeen's summit block - the crux crack just above him on the left.]
[Despite some clouds pouring in over the divide, still great summit views on Haddo Peak. ++]
[A surprising amount of bare glacial ice on the regular route up Aberdeen. Victoria in the distance.]
[Little Temple (L) looks very "little" next to "Big" Temple (R)! The funny part is that it's still a 1000m vertical height gain on skis to its lowly summit...]
[Great views into Paradise Valley and towards Aberdeen (R) from the summit of Haddo Peak. ++]
[Looking ahead to our partial re-ascent of Aberdeen to our waiting packs which are sitting to the right of the intermediate summit near a small rock outcrop.]
Thanks to the lateness of the hour and the fact that clouds were now pouring in over Lefroy, the snow conditions were still relatively safe on descent. We carefully crossed the avy gullies and plunge stepped the ridge to our waiting skis. The ski down the lower avy gully / terrain trap was horrible. A punchy crust with bottomless crap underneath made skiing almost impossible. At least the terrain trap was rock hard so we could sort of get some turns in there. Conditions for skiing didn't improve until we hit the main ski track going down Paradise Creek. With head lamps on, it was fun zipping down the rolling terrain. The occasional side plunge into tight trees was interesting too, especially in the dark! The final section of trail above the xcountry track was almost suicidal in the dark, but we ripped it anyway. It was fast!!
[Back across the exposed gullies]
[You can barely spot Ben in the flat light - a tiny dot up on the lower ridge. Skiing really sucked here - a punchy crust with no support underneath.]
[Very 'skis' out of the lower terrain trap. Photo by Steven Song.]
[A lovely sunset over Little Temple from Paradise Creek.]
[Speed skiing in the dark! Lots of fun - definitely way more fun than walking out would be! ;)]
Finally, after 13.5 hours of moving almost constantly, we arrived back at the car.
I have to say that while I'm delighted we attained these fantastic peaks, via a rarely (ever?!) ascended winter route, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Aberdeen's south face / ridge / gully as a winter objective. The summit views are stunning and the snow climbing near the top is a ton of fun but the terrain hazards are very extensive and almost impossible to manage properly. This is a case of the rewards probably not justifying the risks.
Very complex avalanche terrain when done in winter! Do NOT attempt unless you are very confident in the conditions. And even then, give it a second and third thought.
Named by James Outram in 1902. Alexandra, Queen (Queen Alexandra was the consort of King Edward VII.) Official name. First ascended in 1902 by James Outram, guided by Christian Kaufmann. Journal reference AJ 35-182; APP 10-147; CAJ 25-25. Other reference Outram 400. (from peakfinder.com)
This trip report is longer than usual, just like the approach for Alexandra. If you want to skip to different sections, (sort of like taking a chopper to the bivy site! :)), here's some links to different sections of my report;
While I was writing this trip report, I realized that I don't want to poach guidebook sales just because I'm keeping online diaries of my adventures. So don't be cheap! Go out and buy the latest revisions of Alan Kane and Andrew Nugara's scrambling books and Bill Corbett's 11,000er guide. These books have details in them I've left out and Bill's book has the history of each 11,000er, and other fascinating details that everyone climbing these big peaks should learn and respect. You spend $300 on a sleeping bag without blinking so go spend another $30 on a book and support your local authors.
Every once in a while I do a mountain trip that feels like it redefines my approach to climbing, skiing or hiking or whatever activity I happen to be doing at the time. This past weekend I experienced such an event on Mount Alexandra, deep in the heart of the Alexandra River Valley near the headwaters of the Saskatchewan and Columbia Rivers. Here's some words that come to mind from the past few days; bushwhack, lost, confused, rain, sun, clouds, snow, cold, warm, blue sky, crevasses, snow, ice, rock, streams, lakes, boulders, exposure, waterfalls, mountain goat, exhaustion, blisters, bruises, alders, devil's club, slabs, fall colors, bear, rough roads.
Nick Bullock is a climber from the UK who recently climbed the North Face of Mount Alberta with his friend, Will Sim. Because I only ever hike and climb around the Rockies, it's nice to get the perspective of someone from outside Canada once in a while, someone who's used to climbing all over the world. I like what Nick writes in his blog about climbing in Canada;
For some reason, no not for some reason, but because of the stories, the characters, the wildness and the size of the rubbly faces, Canadian Alpine climbing has always struck me as being ‘more out there’ than alpine climbing in many other countries, lets face it, for starters it has bears that may eat you.
Alexandra has been calling me for many years. I'm not sure exactly when the attraction started but I know it's been rekindled over the years, first when Rafal, Chester and Marta did it via South Rice Brook and again last year when Jason Wilcox and Anton Baser alder-thrashed their way up Lyell Creek and summitted from the South Alexandra glacier. Both routes sounded very 'involved', but the one thing that kept me interested was the remoteness of the location, the beauty of the surrounding peaks and the fact that most people don't bother with the tough approach and settle for a very short 20 minute chopper ride from Golden to get to the upper South Rice Brook bivy. If you summitted Alexandra via a heli-approach, you should know that you put in less than half the effort of a regular approach - maybe even less! The Alpine Club of Canada also likes to host camps at the South Rice Brook bivy because it's not in the park and they can chopper people and supplies in and set up massive base camp facilities easily. There's also a ton of objectives right around that bivy location so it's ideal for section camps where people are there to learn mountaineering skills. This makes 100% sense to me, but you still get an asterisk from me if this is how you climbed Alexandra. :)
(FYI - I really don't care how you get to a summit, you can chopper all the way up and land on the damn cairn if that makes you happy. You have to be OK with your methods of bagging and claiming summits and I have to be OK with mine. I just like to make a point every once in a while that flying into an objective does save a lot of time and more importantly, energy. I know this rankles people who fly into base camps, but I don't really care about that either...)
[Alexandra from the summit ridge of Mount Amery, Queen's Peak to the right.]
I've had some incredible views of Alexandra over the years, some of the best were from high up on Mount Amery, Monchy and Hooge in 2012. Most of my views were from the east, showing the steep walls of her summit with Queen's Peak, a very near 11,000er, right beside her to the north. September 2014 has been an incredible month for mountaineers around Alberta and British Columbia. After a brief taste of winter left everyone in a tizzy, the weather stabilized as it usually does, and the mountains dried off. Every weekend had spectacular smoke-free views for at least some of the days and this got Steven, Ben and I thinking about big objectives even though it was the last weekend of the month.
I have to admit that we flip-flopped a lot on this one. First it was Alexandra. Then it was Brazeau / Warren. Then it was Saskatchewan. Then it was scrambling in the south Highwood. Then it was back to Alexandra! The weather forecast improved enough by Thursday that we made a final decision that afternoon to attempt Alexandra via the South Rice Brook high line approach. Because we've planned it a few times already this year, we had most of the available beta already - it wasn't much.
Bill Corbett had done the Lyell Creek approach (and hated it) but he'd also written about the South Rice Brook approach. His words were correct (on hindsight) but also extremely brief. Basically he recommends driving up long switchbacks up the ridge past the last river crossing before parking at the crest of the road across from Mount Bryce. From there follow logging roads up the other side of the ridge on foot, go up a nasty cut block to ridge top and avoid heading into the bush while doing a highline traverse to the bivy. He's 100% correct, but a bit vague on the details! And there's a lot of details you need to complete this traverse in a timely manner and not get off route along the way.
I emailed Raf and got a photograph from him, with a route line drawn on it. Again, on hindsight it's kind of useful, but to be fair to Raf, he'd done the trip years ago and some of his route line went across some major cliff bands and is much lower than the highline traverse. Which was also the problem with Eric Coulthard's proposed route. Again, to be fair, Eric only proposed this route and it was close, just not quite close enough. Gravsports-ice.com also has a thread on Alexandra with some brief information on the highline approach. We tried to factor all of this this different beta into our memory banks beforehand and came armed with printouts and maps.
Armed with just enough route beta to be dangerous (!!) we set off from the Petro Canada on hwy 1 at around 03:45 on Friday morning for the long drive to Golden and 100 kilometers up the Bush River Forestry Service Road (FSR).
Sometimes the biggest struggle in climbing a mountain is simply getting to it. Clemenceau and Tusk are two 11,000ers that are remarkably difficult to get to, thanks to forestry roads and bridges deteriorating, decommissioned or completely gone. There are other 11,000ers in the wider area that are also in danger of becoming horribly difficult to access. These include King Edward, Bryce, Alexandra and the 5 Lyells. Any decommissioning of any of the bridges on the Bush River FSR would mean a logistical nightmare just to get to the start of the approach for these big peaks - never mind climbing them! Knowing this makes me a little more interested in these particular 11,000ers over the next few years. There's other logistical problems with these mountains. Due to the few people who do these peaks each year and even fewer who post beta, there is a very good chance a 5 or 6 hour drive could be a complete waste of time due to washouts or any other road changes that occur year to year. It's all part of the grand adventure that is mountaineering in the heart of the Rockies - just be prepared.
[An overview map - not accurate - gives an idea of the forestry service roads around Kinbasket Lake and some notes that are current as of September 2014. Conditions change yearly - usually not for the better...Note: the collapsed bridge to the Lyells can be driven around in a high clearance vehicle. ++]
None of us had ever driven the Bush River FSR and we were excited to be finally doing it. We made good time to Golden and proceeded 22km west to the old town site of Donald, turning up Donald Road, just past the weigh scale on hwy 1. We followed signs past the Chatter Creek base of operations and shortly afterwards turned left onto the main Bush River FSR. I've been on a LOT of back country roads from northern Ontario to north Saskatchewan to British Columbia this year and the Bush River FSR is probably my favorite. We cruised the first 44km pretty quickly at 80km/h up to Kinbasket Lake. This reservoir was formed in 1973 with the completion of the Mica hydro electric dam (one of the largest earth-filled dams in the world) which blocks the mighty Columbia River and flooded an immense area first known as McNaughton Lake and then changed to Kinbasket Lake in 1980.
Kinbasket Lake is huge. Really, really huge. It goes from just north of Golden almost all the way to Valemount which is west of Jasper National Park. Some of the more fanciful approaches for Clemenceau and Tusk involve canoeing stretches of Kinbasket before biking, thrashing and bashing many kilometers of wilderness to the mountain bases. Better make sure there's no wind in the forecast before crossing this expanse of water... ;) From a campground on the lake we followed the road as it took a sharp turn to the east, along what's known as the 'Bush Arm' because the Bush River drains into it at the end of a long, narrow valley. The road kept getting narrower and rougher as we drove around the arm. I came around one sharp corner and found myself staring right into the grill of a logging truck coming down the other way! I think I should get a 2-way radio if I'm going to keep driving these roads. I managed to yank the steering wheel to the right and avoid a collision but from that moment on I was hyper-alert to more trucks. I also switched into 4x4 because the road was narrow and pulling over meant going into a shallow ditch that was usually flowing with water or very wet.
The next 20km or so were a bit nerve-wracking. There simply wasn't room for me and a logging truck in many spots along the steep mountain on one side and hundreds of feet straight down to the lake on the other. There's pull-outs along the road so that when you hear a logging truck announcing itself on his radio (that I don't have) you can pull over and wait. Downhill (loaded) trucks always get right-of-way. It's quite simple. There are kilometer signs all along the bush roads. When you're between km 56 and 57 and you hear a trucker call "59 down", you'd better pull over at the next wider section of road and wait for him to pass or risk getting crushed like an insignificant bug. We had some good fortune to meet a pickup whose driver waved us down. I expected a bit of a lecture on not having a radio, but he was very friendly and asked where we were headed. When we said we were climbing Alexandra his face stayed blank. Then we said we were heading up the Bush River FSR and he nodded - "That's good, there's a lot of trucks coming down the Sullivan River Road today". He radioed the trucks in the area to let them know we were on the road and where we were going. It must have worked because the next truck we met was going a bit slower than the first one.
It was a relief when we finally passed the turnoff for the Sullivan River FSR - this road goes towards Clemenceau and Tusk. A critical bridge has been removed from across the Sullivan River Gorge and the road decommissioned at an earlier point on the lake, making for very difficult access to those peaks. We were essentially on our own now, and I could relax a bit more. Soon after crossing the end of the arm and heading north up the Bush River we passed a rustic campground on our right and the road leading to the Icefall Lodge and the approaches to the 5 Lyells.
With low clouds hanging over the surrounding peaks and valleys and fall colors everywhere, the scenery got wilder and more intense the further we drove. The mood was quiet in the truck as we approached km 89. Why the mood? Right at the start of the Bush River FSR there was a yellow sign stating that the road was not open past km 89 by order of the BC ministry of transportation. This made us a bit nervous the whole ride up. Was there a bridge out? Landslide? Logs across the road? The gentleman we met earlier didn't know when we asked him. The joys of 11,000er approaches - you never know if you'll actually get there at all! As we passed the 88th km marker sign the mood in the truck grew palatably tense. We knew we could turn back to km 73 and do the Lyell Creek approach-from-hell if we had to, but in the rain and damp weather nobody wanted to be thrashing through 8 ft alders and Devil's Club! We drove past km 89 and kept going. And going... Apparently the road must be no longer actively maintained after this point, but still remains drivable for now. There were no more km marker signs after 89 but the road was in fine shape.
[We drove 100km up the Bush River FSR through cloud, sun and rain with fall colors lining most of the route.]
Right after crossing the Bush River around km 94 there was a road going right. For some reason I ignored that road and the faint sign posted on it and kept driving. Soon we realized our mistake and turned back before going up the road which was signed (very faded), "Rice Brook". From here on the drive got much more technical. The road changed almost immediately from gravel to grass and small rocks / boulders. We gained height quickly up long switchbacks lined with brilliant fall colors, until the approach valley was spread out far below us. We stopped for photos before continuing, never quite sure if we should keep driving or stop and start our approach hike.
[High above the approach valley after taking the long switchbacks up the west side of the approach ridge. Click on the photo to enlarge and find the last critical bridge crossing the Bush River. ++]
[The road disappears into the clouds ahead of us. This is still the easy part of the Rice Brook Road.]
Eventually we got to the high point on the road and starting inching around the nose of the ridge we were on, just south of the mighty Mount Bryce which was looming thousands of feet above us across a steep, narrow gorge, it's upper slopes and summits buried in cloud and mist far above a raging Rice Brook. The road narrowed until it was barely wide enough for my xTerra. Impossibly steep scree and boulder slopes loomed above us on the right and equally precipitous slopes plunged hundreds of feet down to the raging torrent far below, to our left. To be honest, I have no idea why this road is still passable if it's not being actively maintained. One good rain or snow event and the road will be covered in a rock slide or simply vanish into the deeply chiseled canyon below. On hindsight it was a bit of a gamble to drive further than the initial switchbacks because if a slide happened while we were climbing, we'd have been completely stranded. Even calling for a rescue wouldn't get my xTerra back to civilization. Trust me - you are WAY out there on your own when you drive as far as we did. Especially being late September, there was nobody coming up that road behind us to thumb a ride from if we ran into any kind of car trouble. I wonder if we took enough precautions for our drive or if we just got lucky?
After crossing the narrow, sketchy traverse across the nose of the ridge, we were back on a more 'normal' decommissioned road - rough but safe. We passed a rock cairn that marked the parking spot for Bryce, but we didn't stop there. The road kept going up the other side of the ridge and we followed it. Why walk further than you have to right? So, up we went! The road was rougher now. Small streams cut channels across it and more and more rocks and debris lay across our path until we were very obviously past the end of the drivable section. And the truck was overheating... :( It was a few tense moments of backing down the very rough section of road we were on and turning around (not easily done on the narrow, slick and steep terrain) before we could finally park and I could pop the hood and let the engine cool down! I think I under-rev'd on the ascent and should have dropped into a lower gear. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief when the temperature gage started dropping quickly in the cool mountain air. Once it cooled sufficiently, I turned off the engine and we sat there for a few minutes just listening to the ticking of cooling metal and breathing out the stress of the approach drive. It felt like we were already climbing and we weren't even out of the vehicle yet! ;)
[Final section of the drive - the sketchiest by far. I think stopping at the 'sensible' spot before the traverse is the wise thing to do, but it does mean more hiking and more elevation gain / loss. ++]
Some days feel longer than others. Most of my work days feel pretty long compared to play days. Friday, September 26th 2014 was one of the longest 'play' days I've experienced in the mountains - not by the hour, but by the feel. 2+ hours after leaving the truck parked on the rough track, high above Rice Brook, we found ourselves at the rock cairn (far below the truck) marking the parking area for Bryce. At the same level as Rice Brook. About 1km from the truck. Barely started. With 350 meters of height gain already behind us, and obviously some serious height loss too. And already soaking wet.
Oh my, this was NOT GOOD. On hindsight there's a simple explanation of our predicaments on the approach to the Alexandra bivy. We were too paranoid about the route, had too many conflicting bits of route beta and were thwarted by the clouds, rain and poor visibility to make sensible route choices.
After the intense drive, we left the truck and continued up a rough, overgrown road cutting up the ridge in thick, swirling mist and cloud with the occasional bit of rain. Brief gaps in the clouds revealed the lurking hulk of Mount Bryce across the steep valley, it's lower flanks covered in bright fall colors and it's upper rock, snow and ice covered in thick fog. We ran into lots of bear sign almost immediately. Shortly after leaving the truck we arrived at the cut block mentioned in Bill's book. As I mentioned earlier, Bill's route description is 100% correct, just a bit vague. This is not a diss on Bill as he climbed Alexandra via another route and can't be expected to know every route in great detail. Bill does say go up the cut block to the ridge crest, but we weren't clear on exactly which ridge or from which road, because he also mentions parking a lot earlier than we did. In this case, driving further than the Bryce parking spot screwed us. We thought maybe there was a road further down, on the other side of obvious wall of rock blocking our progress in the distance. Remember, we couldn't see where the Bryce approach went due to cloud and fog. Eric's route line went right along the cliffs - that wasn't going to work either. So when we passed a faint animal trail going up the cut block with some blue ribbons laying on the ground in front of it (cut blocks are full of random ribbons from the logging process so you can't just follow ribbons and assume they mean anything...), we decided to keep following the obvious wide road, rather than start ascending a narrow goat trail into the ominous clouds above. BIG MISTAKE number 1!
[Into the wild... Shortly after leaving the truck we continue up the old logging road, into thick cloud and light rain.]
[Apparently there's bears here too. Right by the truck. ;)]
[Looking back along the upper 'road'. The cut block is now above us and we should be ascending the faint trail along the edge of it. But we're not.]
[Yes - that's a blue ribbon. Why didn't we follow it? Cutblocks in BC are full of blue ribbons. You can't follow them all.]
At the end of the track we bushwhacked up the cut block. We were now externally soaked - at least our rain gear was still effective at this point. We cut across several slick boulder fields before a disagreement broke out as we faced cliffs directly ahead, rising into the clouds above and going almost to the valley bottom below. Steven argued that we should ascend into the clouds, up the line of cliffs. Ben and I weren't so sure. It was obvious that Eric's planned route line was right along impossible terrain and our GPS's were showing very close contour lines all the way around the false summit high above us, hinting strongly at impenetrable cliffs. I knew that Corbett mentioned a 'ridge top' and 'go up', and there was that animal track back on the cut block that we didn't follow... In one of the most frustrating hours I've spent in the mountains we kept changing our minds. We descended over 100 meters to see if there was a highline around the north end of the cliffs, only to turn back up the steep scree slope in favor of Steven's idea to ascend to the west of them and hope a route went around the south side of the peak we couldn't see above. We seemed incapable of making a firm decision - this is not normal for us!
[Crossing scree and boulder fields. Part of our confusion was due to the weather - we couldn't see very far except for very brief moments of clearing. We should have gone straight up here but eventually we went down due to cliff bands above that worried us.]
[The cliff bands loom ahead - coming off the first unnamed summit on the approach ridge. We're not nearly high enough for the highline approach here. We should be at least 200 vertical meters higher to our right.]
[A wonderful view of Mount Bryce across from the boulder / scree field. This was by far the best view we got on our approach. You can see the cliff bands that we descended along on the far right. We drove up the obvious road on the left. And then ended up descending all the way to the valley bottom on the right about 2 hours later... :( ++]
As we climbed into the mist on muddy scree, Steven suddenly turned around and exclaimed, "But what if I'm completely wrong?!". We broke into a heated discussion which ended only when Ben and I finally convinced Steven that the only thing we knew for 100% from our current vantage point, was that going down to Rice Brook would work. It wouldn't be pretty if there were no other roads, but we could bushwhack for a while before going above tree line further on. Bill mentions that approach too, and Raf also used it on descent. The gravsports thread also mentioned doing some bushwhacking. So we turned back downslope and descended all the way to the road we drove in on! How depressing it was to be within sight of the truck (high above us!) after more than 2 hours of bushwhacking, slipping across boulder fields and descending and ascending the same damn scree gully. We already had 350 vertical meters of height gain on our legs, we were soaking wet and hopelessly confused by the route ahead. Honestly, I was almost ready to give up at this point. Other than a few very impressive views of Bryce through gaps in the clouds, we were feeling trapped by the terrain, the weather and the route. But nobody said anything about giving up so we trudged silently forward on the decommissioned Rice Brook road. We were now left with only 8 hours to make our bivy before dark. We could have slept in 'til 06:00 and we would have been just as far as we were now...
[That's depressing. Over two hours later and we're right at valley bottom looking at the approach for Bryce. This is where the decommissioned bridge across Rice Brook used to be. At this point we plunged into the bush on our right.]
[It's always a bit depressing when the components of a perfectly good bridge aren't assembled anymore.]
Soon we arrived at the old bridge that was disassembled on the decommissioning of the road. At this point the Bryce route crosses Rice Brook and continues on the overgrown road before ascending (a long way) to the south glacier. We weren't lucky enough to have a road and instead, plunged into the bush on our right. The first hour wasn't too bad. Late September is actually a good time to bushwhack in the BC Rockies. The Devil's Club (Oplopanax Horridus) was mostly dead and soaking wet which calmed it down a lot. The alders had lost most of their leaves, meaning we could wade through them easier. Don't get me wrong - the bushwhack was still absolutely horrible. It just wasn't as horrible as it could have been. Within 5 minutes of bushwhacking I knew I was getting wet. Thankfully it wasn't too cold, but if rain wasn't being forced into any available opening in my gear, I was sweating enough to generate moisture from the inside.
[Good ol' BC bush!]
[Hours of this.]
As we contoured towards the South Rice Brook valley some of the route beta started to make more sense. The main valley you drive in on is not the valley you follow to Alexandra. Almost immediately upon bushwhacking up Rice Brook you have to contour slopes on climber's right before continuing up a drainage heading SE - the South Rice Brook. Traversing in the bush took forever. At one point I mentioned that according to the GPS, we should hit a stream in about 500 meters. 1.5 hours later we were still not across that stream. It was a very, very frustrating and demoralizing experience. We struggled on and on in the rain, over fallen trees, under fallen trees, through thick stands of alder and Devil's Club and across slippery stream beds. Pants ripped on stubborn logs and protruding branches, hands got shredded from lingering Devil's Club, clothing got soaked and heavy alpine packs slipped around on our sweating backs, throwing us off balance at the most inopportune moments - usually while trying to balance on slick rocks or logs. We tried ascending and traversing steep, loose and muddy cliff bands before getting cliffed out and back tracking back down into the bush. We even managed to piss off a huge Billy Goat - a magnificent white beast that wasn't too pleased when we kept climbing towards him on a cliff traverse (that didn't pan out). At one point I knew I was done with climbing mountains for a while. DONE.
[A magnificent Billy Goat - he's not happy with us though! Photo by Ben Nearingburg.]
[It took us over 1.5 hours to go 500 meters to this stream! Yikes. As you can see, we're thoroughly soaked at this point. Ben may look warm in his tshirt but he admitted later that he almost had hypothermia and was pretty worried when we stopped - he couldn't feel his own temperature!]
[Not as easy as it looks. ;)]
After hours of struggling and wading through the dense BC forest, we could finally spot an opening ahead - we were free!
We weren't free. Not even close. We went from tall hell, to short hell. Alders and Devil's Club transitioned to a vast forested slope of Krommholtz. Foolishly (we were getting a little desperate at this point, due to our incredibly slow progress), we assumed the slope would get better and charged headlong into the tangled mess. BIG MISTAKE number 2! About 5 seconds in we already knew we were not going to like our new version of hell. But we didn't care anymore. We stubbornly continued traversing the slope until we were so tangled in the thick of things there was no turning back - we had to continue on. After realizing the slope was much bigger and nastier than anticipated, we engaged in the new sport of krommholtz-swimming uphill towards a line of cliffs we could spot through gaps - high above us. After way too much time wasted in the gnarly, twisted, stunted krommholtz-crap we finally burst free and found ourselves above tree line and free of the forest for the first time in over 4 hours - still kilometers from our bivy and still under a rainy, gray sky.
[FINALLY above tree line! We came out of a dense Krummholtz field at lower left and are traversing right - out of the picture. The main Rice Brook valley is on the left, we've turned the corner south - up the valley directly in front of us here.]
I'm not sure about the other guys, but I was feeling the hard approach at this point. I'd done a lot of weekend trips in September and I'm not 20 years old anymore. My knees were not happy with the abuse I insisted on heaping upon them. We agreed to never enter that forest again (well, maybe on descent...) but rather we were going to make the highline work from this point forward, no matter what. So, up we went. The next 4 hours were spent racing the clock, trying to make our bivy before dark at around 20:00. We scrambled across a high alpine bowl and then up a steep scree gully, side-hilling on exposed muddy terrain to a high col where we got our first nice views since looking at Bryce hours earlier. The clouds were still low but the rain was sporadic and light as we descended a loose, muddy scree slope and crossed a large alpine meadow to the far side where we ascended yet another ridge to avoid the bush. After this ridge we crossed another meadow and the grassy nose of our 3rd ridge. It was getting dark as we rushed our descent into the final valley above the steep headwall in South Rice Brook and our gorgeous bivy near a rushing stream.
[Ben isn't sure how much fun he's having today.]
[Finally at camp.]
[Four hours later we're finally at our bivy. None of us can believe we made it by dark.]
We couldn't believe we made it by dark! It only took us just over 8 hours from the Bryce parking spot to our bivy. We pushed ourselves very hard to make this time. In good weather, with more daylight we would have easily taken 9-10 hours. (Counting our wasted time up front, we did take almost 11 hours total.) The rain stopped long enough to make supper and set up tents and sort gear. Just as we began to eat supper it started raining again and we all bailed into our tents for the night. We were soaked, our gear was soaked, our boots, packs and socks were all damp or sopping wet. We looked and felt like drowned rats! I fell asleep at 21:00, not sure I'd even be in the mood to climb Alexandra the next day. I was wiped! And we do this for fun. Right?! ;)
[Overview of our approach and egress route from the truck to the summit of Alexandra. Where the two lines deviate, the northerly one is the approach and the southerly one is egress. You should never follow the northerly route. EVER. :) ++]
[Satellite image of the same routes clearly showing the treed approach and the highline route that avoids most of the bush. ++]
[Close up of the first part of the route from the top of the approach road. ++]
[Close up of the route to the summit. ++]
After a long and brutal approach, half of it spent in the thick bush along South Rice Brook, we awoke at 06:00 on Saturday intending to be pumped about climbing Alexandra. It was made a little harder by the thick fog rolling through our camp. We slowly got ready, hoping the clouds would dissipate and eventually, by around 07:15 they were thinned out and it was light enough to start our climb. (More than one non-repeatable comment about heli-approaches was made as our poor bodies struggled to adjust to yet another day of significant elevation gain. ;))
We followed cairns across both streams coming out of the nearby lakes, including one set of nice stepping stones and one very slippery double-log bridge. After this there were more cairns until the lower headwall next to the obvious square island of trees that Bill mentions in his book. On ascent, we lost the trail and cairns for a while and picked our own route up the steep lower headwall. The rock was very grippy and pocketed on this section so climbing it was fairly easy. I didn't think descending it would be as trivial - some parts were fairly steep and exposed. Above this section we came on the scree cone leading to the 5.2 crux.
[Fog and clouds on the morning of our ascent. This is looking up at Coral Peak. The ascent line goes up the right side of the 'tree island' just to the right of the stream on the left. Then it goes climber's right and starts near the other, smaller stream on the right. Then it traverses left up the gray slabs / cliffs. If you're not following cairns or trail you're not on the easiest terrain.]
[Crossing a pretty fast-flowing outlet stream from the Alexandra Glacier that becomes South Rice Brook. These logs were very treacherous!]
[Ben is ready to start the scramble to the crux.]
[Steven on the grippy scramble beside the stream.]
[On ascent we pretty much went straight up and didn't bother with trails or cairns.]
[The lower cliffs aren't difficult, but they're exposed enough to urge some caution. Slippery when wet!]
[Grinding up the scree pile above the lower cliffs.]
[View from the top of the scree cone looking back along our approach valley and over our bivy at the lakes on lower left. Includes from L to R, Rose Petal, Whirlwind, Osprey, Fried Rice and on the upper right is the unofficial Rice Brook Peak. ++]
There was a highway worn into the scree, which we gratefully ascended. ACC camps have their benefits! We were worried about snow or rime on the crux rock step but it looked clean. Even better - it looked pretty easy for 5.2. We could clearly see a viable ascent route to climber's left of the rap route and Ben proceeded up it with little hesitation. Steven and I followed and other than some exposure and friction moves, it wasn't much more than difficult scrambling. We all agreed that we were happy to rappel on descent - especially given the bolted chains making it safer than down climbing the exposed slab that we ascended. We were delighted that our 30m rope would be (just) enough for the rappel. Fresh snow and rime coated the rocks right about the crux, once again we had lucked out big-time on conditions. I can save you a lot of pack weight at this point. You shouldn't need 2 axes or any rock or ice pro other than crevasse rescue gear and a 30m rope / rap gear to climb Alexandra. We brought way too much climbing gear. I hate carrying extra weight when it's not needed, especially as much extra weight as we did. It's good to be prepared but too much preparation works against you in the form of weight.
[Great views back towards Rice Brook Peak and along the headwall that forms the 5.2 crux, just out of sight on the right here. ++]
[Ben tackles the terrain around the 5.2 crux. It didn't feel like 5.2 on ascent but we were glad for a rappel on the way back.]
[Vern climbs the crux. Photo by Steven Song]
[Great views back from above the crux now showing Rice Brook Peak, Queant with the Cowboy Couloir and Spring-Rice at far right in the distance.]
From the crux it was a pleasant traverse up and down ledges crossing the cliffs on Coral peak's south face. It's a simple route, but you would never know it was there from a distance. Our views of Whiterose, Rose Petal, Whirlwind, Osprey, Fried Rice and Fool's Gold across the South Rice Brook valley were getting better and better as the fog slowly lifted and we were left with friendlier, puffy clouds. When we got our first view of the West Alexandra glacier we noticed it was heavily crevassed. We donned crampons and started up the left side, eventually weaving our way around some massive holes as we worked higher to the col. I don't like crevasses. They scare me. I've punched through a few bridges in my adventures over the years, and the feeling you get when you look behind and see a hole descending into the cold icy blackness, is not something I enjoy. The snow was frozen rock hard and we knew any bridges were stable enough to last the summer, but some of the narrow icy lips we traversed over led us to don the rope before continuing above the neve, where fresh snow could be hiding a deep, icy trap.
[Traversing Coral Peak with great views. ++]
[Traversing the trail on fresh snow. Whiterose still in cloud.]
[First glimpses of Alexandra (L)]
[From the traverse we dropped down almost 100 meters to the glacier which we ascended from the left side and then over and around a myriad of crevasses. It may be possible to swing very wide around the left side but it looked like crappy rock on that side.]
[Lots of holes to avoid as we start up the glacier. Our approach valley at right. ++]
[Steven on the glacier.]
[We stayed unroped on the section of glacier where the holes were obvious, but on return we kept the rope on here thanks to deteriorating snow conditions. Even a slip or trip could be fatal without a rope on.]
[I think maybe he's contemplating jumping in rather than bushwhack back out tomorrow! ;)]
[Above the worst of the holes now, looking back at Coral to the right and the Alexandra / Whiterose col at left. ++]
[On the neve, the rope is now on in case of hidden holes]
[Ben and Steven crest the Whiterose / Alexandra col.]
The climbing from the col was vastly different than I was expecting. For some reason, I expected a short snow / ice gully leading to an upper 35 degree glacier which we would easily climb up to the summit block before cutting right and then back left, up to the summit. Reality was nothing like that! (We did climb in very late season conditions, so it may be different for most folks...)
I led up a scree gully on climber's right from the col - almost on the edge of the SW ridge where it drops off sharply to the valley and glacier on Alexandra's SE side. No trip reports mention this start - they all go up either a steep snow gully (snow covered rocks for us) or ledges to the left (snow covered and slick for us) of this gully. Our route was easier. We ascended about 100-150 vertical meters on steep scree before cutting across the slopes to our left, across the 'snow' gully and on top of the slab section which was now transitioning to more blocky, and much easier terrain. We ascended this blocky terrain for another few hundred vertical meters in another shallow, gully before finally getting enough snow in a gully to our right to utilize properly. From here we scrambled up to an upper plateau on hard snow (max 35 degrees).
[Looking back at Ben and Steven as we climb up from the col - on a scree slope.]
[Great scenery off the right hand ascent ridge. The Lyell Creek approach comes in from the left. ++]
[Ben on the blocky terrain.]
[Steven traverses left on blocky terrain, looking for the easiest route up.]
The next section of the climb was also much different than expected. I thought we'd see a nice 35 degree snow-covered slope rising to a summit block. Nope. Directly above us was a pretty easy looking steep, snow covered rocky slope. To the right was an obvious snow slope but accessing it looked a bit complicated and it looked fairly steep. It also topped out to more rocks - but not 'nice ones' like the left slope. Needless to say, we didn't complicate things and ascended the snow covered rocky slope on the left. It was a good climb in crampons, weaving around and over large boulders and small bands of rock, using the snow wherever we could. At the top of the slope we continued straight up a snow hump. I noticed Ben and Steven were stopping ahead of me and wondered if they were cold or something. I yelled ahead, asking if the remaining terrain looked good. They laughed and said, "No! We're on the summit!". Weird. I really expected another 100+ meters of height gain yet. But I was pretty happy to be done the climb - that's a fact.
[The snow climb route is on the right, we took easier snow-covered rock on the left.]
[The terrain was snowy, but it didn't really make it any harder.]
[We're far above most of the surrounding peaks now. This is looking back towards Whiterose and our approach valley on the right. The Lyell Creek approach comes in from the left. ++]
[It was a bit scrambly in places.]
[A steep, narrow gully on the SW face.]
[Steven leads the way up into the clouds along the west ridge and above the steep north face.]
[Views off the west ridge looking down the Alexandra Glacier into South Rice Brook. Whiterose at left, Coral, Rice Brook Peak and Fresnoy on the right. ++]
[Wild scenes over Lyell Creek.]
[Warm enough for t-shirts at 10,500' in late September. Not bad.]
[Steep, slick, exposed scrambling on the west ridge. Queen's Peak now visible to the right of Fresnoy and left of the west ridge. ++]
[Finding another chimney to ascend along the west ridge.]
[Looking over our tracks off the west ridge and down the South Rice Brook valley over a small Coral Peak.]
[Spectacular scenery as we climb into the clouds. ++]
[Our track disappear down the west ridge from near the summit.]
Thanks to the clouds, it was much colder on the summit than during the climb (we did most of it in short sleeves) and the views were mostly a whiteout. We got incredibly lucky with some brief, amazing views down the Alexandra River valley to the east and over to the Columbia Icefield to the north. These views included giants such as Amery, the Lyells, Saskatchewan and Andromeda. We tried to linger on the summit in case the clouds cleared off, but soon it was obvious that they were thickening instead.
[Looking directly over Queen's Peak and Fresnoy (L) towards the cloud covered Columbia Icefields. The Alexandra River valley marches off to the NE at right. ++]
[Views down the east face to the Alexandra River lying far below.]
[Very nice views looking down the Alexandra River. Terrace Mountain and the Castlets are to the left of the valley and Willerval and Amery lie to the right of it, all buried in clouds. ++]
[Summit views down the Alexandra River valley. This was as clear as it got - but it was a pretty cool experience nonetheless. Amery, Willerval on the right, Columbia Icefield on the left. The peak in the foreground is Queen's Peak - very near 11,000 feet. To the east of Queen's is Terrace Mountain and the Castlets. ++]
[Mount Saskatchewan over the Castlets and a ridge on Terrace Mountain]
[Cloud prevents from seeing the summit of Mount Amery - but she's hidden in there somewhere and I have some fine memories of that day.]
[Mount Andromeda just shows up to the north of Alexandra. ++]
[A telephoto looking far to the NE down the Alexandra River towards Mount Coleman across hwy 93.]
[Descending in thick cloud]
On our descent we got glimpses of the Lyells, Whiterose and other peaks to the south such as Arras, Valenciennes, Icefall, Kemmel and Lens. A surprising number of peaks around Alexandra are over 10,000 feet and with the clouds, snow, rock and ice the scenes were very dramatic and changed rapidly as we descended. We managed to get a good look at the Lyell Creek approach, which looked fairly manky this late in the season. Queen's Peak, at 10,971 feet and right beside Alexandra, looks larger than it's more popular neighbor from certain angles. It doesn't sound like an easy climb either.
[Great views on descent looking over Whiterose on the left, the approach valley at center, and over Coral, Spring Brook Peak and Spring-Rice on the right buried in clouds. ++]
[La Clytte is another impressive peak lying to the south of Alexandra.]
[Careful steps next to the north face - you don't want to slip here!]
[Descending in front of Whiterose.]
[Lens Mountain is very impressive to the SE. Part of the Lyell Glacier plunges down its NW face. ++]
[Ben descends under the distant gaze of Lens Peak.]
[Looking over Coral Peak at the unofficially named 'Rice Brook Peak' that Rick Collier et. al. summitted via a new 5.8 route in 2011.]
[Vern descends the rocky upper slopes - photo by Steven Song]
[The beautiful Whiterose Mountain tempts you the whole time you descend Alexandra, luring you into strange thoughts that maybe if you rushed you could combine the two summits... ;)]
[Ben and Steven look small in the big terrain - we are now lower than Whiterose again. ++]
[The Lyell Creek approach doesn't look bad from 3000 feet higher... In reality it's at least 10 hours of alder-bashing and Devil's Club hell! ++]
[Looking towards Lens Mountain again, with the Lyell Icefield hidden behind it at left.]
[Descending the upper part of the first slope from the col]
[Lots of slipping and sliding on rock / snow but not too bad. The views helped...]
[Ben crosses the top of the slabby section from the col, coming back to our initial scree ascent slope which was easy and fast on descent. ++]
From the col we again roped up, very aware of the huge holes we navigated around and over on ascent. The snow was noticeably softer and presumably weaker as we navigated down the broken glacier. I punched through one bridge as I stepped off of it, which was enough to make me nervous for the next hour as we slowly negotiated our way back along our tracks. We wanted to keep the rope as tight as possible but with the three of us winding comically down the mountain, it was a pretty slow process! Oh well. Better safe than sorry in this case. Some of the ice bridges between holes were less than 12 inches wide, so we had to be very careful when balancing along these. You really don't want to snag your crampons on your pants when you're staring down into dark abyss on either side!! The views of Coral, Fresnoy, Queens and Whiterose kept us distracted from our painful blisters caused by wet boots the day before. Queens looks to be the hardest of these ascents, the others looked fairly straight forward depending on route choice of course.
[The west glacier just under the col. Fresnoy, Queen's and Alexandra from L to R. ++]
[Descending the upper west Alexandra Glacier with the awesome bowl from Coral to Fresnoy in front of us. ++]
[It was a few hours of delicate travel through the heavily crevassed lower west Alexandra Glacier. Bridges that were bomber in the morning were significantly "less bomber" now.]
[Not a lot of room for error here.]
Once we finally got back on rock our pace quickened. Soon we were back at the rock step where we set up a rappel and quickly got down the crux. 30 meters of rope was just enough for this section, I wouldn't want to try with less. Down climbing the headwall section was interesting. Mostly it was easy to moderate scrambling, always looking for the easier way down - usually following bits of trail or even cairns. Towards the bottom we descended some steeper terrain but managed to get down reasonably. We found the main approach trail on descent (that always happens!) and noted that it went right through the 'tree island' on climber's right, before following cairns back to the creek crossings. It felt good to be down safely from Alexandra and we enjoyed a few hours of day light eating supper, talking about the various objectives in the area and already planning a much longer return trip to the area (5 days at least) before night once again settled over our bivy. We were tired and I wondered how the next day would go. We talked about traversing the highline to the mythical "four lakes" before taking to the bush, but we still didn't really know where exactly the highline route went after the point we gained it on ascent. And there was no bloody way we were going back in that Krommholtz mess...
[Pano from the traverse along Coral looking back at Alexandra (l), Whiterose, Rose Petal, Whirlwind, Osprey and other peaks that lie along the highline traverse back out to our truck which seems a million miles away at this point! ++]
[The destiny of every glacier... ++]
[Cockscomb Mountain is another impressive peak in the area, lying to the south through a gap between Whiterose and Rose Petal.]
[What an incredible place! We are so lucky to experience views like this almost every weekend. I can't imagine life without this kind of peace.]
[Pano off the traverse along Coral. Ridiculous views to the south over base camp and South Rice Brook along the entire highline traverse back to the truck. ++]
[Heading down to the rap.]
[Spot Ben and Steven in the lower left, they are preparing the rap. The prominent peak is unofficially called "Rice Brook Peak" or Spring Rice S2. The so-called 'Cowboy Couloir' on Queant is to the right of it and Spring Rice is the snowy summit far in the distance on the right.]
[Ben on the short 5.2 rap]
[Having fun on the rap - photo by Steven Song]
[The headwall isn't 'easy' but if you're careful it's only scrambling. Photo by Steven Song.]
[Getting down the headwall to our bivy]
[It always feels so good to be off the tricky stuff and back in a warm valley bottom, knowing that you've accomplished something that certainly didn't seem possible only 8, 10 or 12 hours earlier.]
[The log bridge isn't so slick anymore thanks to the warm sunshine during the day.]
[Stepping stones across the smaller creek with Coral in the background.]
[Feels so good to be back at our sublime bivy camp. Bryce looms far in the distance down valley.]
[Our beautiful valley includes (l to r) Bryce, Rice Brook Peak, Coral Peak, Queen's Peak and Mount Alexandra. ++]
[Fading light on the Alexandra Glacier headwall.]
[Tele shot of the main summit of Mount Bryce in the dying daylight.]
[Compressed telephoto of Queen's Peak (l) and Mount Alexandra (r) with their melting glacier and the evening sun.]
[Tons of fossils around camp]
I awoke at 04:00 and took some photos of a spectacularly clear Milky Way directly above my tent. These are the moments that live on in memory, long after the bushwhacking scars have faded.
[The night sky was obviously quite impressive in this remote location. It's hard to motivate yourself out of a warm tent at crazy hours after two days of hard work, but it's worth it when you get shots like this!]
As we sat eating breakfast in the early morning light I think we were all wondering what our third day on Alexandra was going to be like. It felt like we'd already spent a week in this isolated place and it was only around 45 hours from the truck! We agreed that we should come back for a week some time. There are a lot of sexy peaks around the upper South Rice Brook bivy location including, Spring Rice, Spring Brook, Queant, Coral, Fresnoy, Whiterose and others.
We struggled back into our heavy approach packs and set off from camp, up the moraines to the south, towards the trees on a faint trail hammered into scree. We couldn't help but sneak glances over at the now-familiar peaks behind us. When would we be back? This is a special place and it was going to be hard to forget about it. It was going to be hard not to come back sooner rather than later.
[Mighty Mount Bryce catches the early morning sun.]
Our original plan for egress was to retrace our approach across the first three ridges using GPS and our memories before groveling up and over yet another ridge, by-passing the Krommholtz forest and descending to the rumored lakes that we'd read about in several trip reports. From these lakes we'd hit the bush rather than risk getting cliffed out further on. At least we'd by-pass a large amount of the worst bush we encountered on approach. And unlike the approach, everything was relatively dry this time - other than a hard frost in shaded areas.
The day was gloriously sunny and the breezes were gentle and cool. As we gained height over successive each ridge, the views kept improving in all directions. It almost made up for the height gain / loss on my poor knees! We crossed the first few ridges, no problems. When we ascended the third one on loose scree we topped out to a frozen solid descent gully on the other side.
[Heading up a moraine above camp and under Rose Petal and Whirlwind.]
[Steven grunts up our first ridge - the grass is frozen solid. Bryce catches the sun in the far distance. That's where we gotta go today!]
[Looking back at the entire ascent route up Coral, the traverse and of course, Alexandra herself.]
[Hiking up frozen grassy slopes with Bryce stealing the morning sunshine.]
[Mounts Rose Petal and Whirlwind reflecting in a small tarn.]
[Mighty Mount Bryce with it's south gully looking huge compared to the upper face. King Edward just peeking over the shoulder of Bryce at left.]
[...and back down the other side! This is a very common theme on the highline route. Rice Brook Peak is now catching morning sunlight.]
[Looking ahead to another shoulder we have to ascend on the traverse.]
[Traversing on frozen terrain but high above the nasty creek below.]
[Whirlwind (L) and Osprey (R).]
[A beautiful morning for a hike.]
[Looking back over the grassy meadow towards Alexandra.]
[Across the first ridge, looking at the first major valley and col we have to gain in the far distance between the two summits in the sun light. We will traverse as high as feasible to keep the height gain / loss more reasonable. ++]
[Great views of Queen's Peak and Mount Alexandra from the traverse.]
[Traversing on loose slabs.]
[A brilliant, sunny morning as we finally exit the shadows and I glance back towards Alexandra.]
[This is the always impressive Cockscomb Mountain.]
[We come up some lovely alpine meadows in beautiful sunshine - so much better than clouds and rain for this route!! Mounts Spring-Rice, Queant, Rice Brook, Fresnoy, Coral, Queen's, Alexandra and Whiterose are visible in the distance behind us. ++]
[Ben grunts uphill with his large alpine pack - but nobody's complaining about the warm sunshine.]
[The huge 'Bush Mountain' through gaps in the mountains to the south of our route. Sounds like a really fun approach! ;)]
[To the north is Mount Spring-Rice.]
[Not for the faint of heart with large alpine packs - you have to cross at least 3 of these high cols and a number of smaller ones. We gained over 1100 meters on DESCENT... ;)]
[The scree is more mud than rock.]
[View from the top of our first big col - the third ridge from the bivy. You can see all three route choices from here. The obvious 'red' col at the center left, the not-as-obvious 'steep' col to the right of the peak which is right of the red col and finally the lower traverse to the right of the slabby terrain, just above tree line. Mount King Edward, Columbia and Bryce are also showing up now. ++]
Now we had choices. There was two couloirs to choose from and a traverse above tree line. The 'red' south couloir to our left was easy but further, and we had no idea what the other side looked like. The north couloir (on our right) was closer but looked steep and slabby near the top. Again, we had no idea if the other side (where the lakes were supposed to be) would go or not. We decided to traverse the slopes above the Krommholtz field instead. We knew this route would work and were planning to bushwhack down from the end of that traverse - maybe after at getting a glimpse of the lakes. First we had to descend from our col - and this proved interesting! On ascent we'd traversed sketchy muddy cliffs up to this col - there was no way to do this on frozen mud! We tried to descend anyway until Ben lost his grip and narrowly avoided serious injury. We plodded back up to the sunny col and decided to go up and around a small summit on the north end of the ridge. I remembered that there was a large ledge we could probably descend from there, that I'd spotted on ascent. Thankfully this worked and we managed to work our way into the alpine bowl just above the Krommholtz field.
The traverse above the Krommholtz and beneath slabby cliffs, worked well. We found ourselves at a pretty steep drop off into a gully coming out of the 4-lakes area. We scrambled to the edge and were delighted to see two sparkling tarns beneath us - the lakes weren't just a myth after all! As we looked down at the unappealing forest below us, someone wondered out loud why we couldn't just ascend the ridge we were on and then descend back to the lakes and try the entire highline route back to the truck?
[The south glacier route on Bryce doesn't look so 'easy' now does it?! Mount Columbia and King Edward lie to the left. ++]
[Steven enjoys the views towards Bryce.]
[I'm just guessing here, but I assume the Lyell Creek route doesn't have views like this! We enjoyed these views all day on egress which helped distract sore and tired muscles. Peaks include King Edward and Columbia on the far right and the Chess Group at center and left. ++]
[Views from the summit at the north end of the ridge were stunning! These are clearer views than we had from Alexandra. ++]
[The huge bulk of Mount Bryce with the south couloir clearly visible at left and the east ridge at right. ++]
[Big and beautiful Mount Alexandra.]
[Heading down to tree line beneath the hulk of Bryce. The South Rice Brook valley exit is visible under Bryce but don't be tempted to go there! It's NOT a nice place...]
[Grunting up and down shale / mud slopes near tree line. You can clearly see our icy descent slopes from the high col behind us here.]
[Our first glimpse of the two lower pocket lakes. From here we could have dropped into the horrendous forest on the right but we chose to try ascending the sharp ridge to our left instead. ++]
So, up the ridge we went! ;) The scrambling here was moderate / difficult on steep scree-covered slabs and required some intricate route finding. I'm not sure I'd recommend it for descent - I'd take the 'red' couloir instead. Soon we were traversing onto a ridge running between the two cols from the two couloirs. This ridge looked worse than it was up close, and when we got to the end of it we were treated to stunning views of the lakes below - there were three obvious ones, the largest one situated in a upper alpine bowl separated by a steep drop down to the other two smaller pocket lakes. (Some people drop down to these two lakes on ascent and then go back up to tree line to avoid either of the two afore-mentioned cols and the scrambling we did.) We traversed the larger, upper lake on it's southeast shoreline following a nice goat path before taking a well deserved break along a small stream feeding into the west end of the pond. The warm sun and cool breeze, combined with the sparkling surface of the lake and fresh water from the stream was the complete opposite of what we experienced on our difficult approach. It was a lovely few moments in a lovely setting. We all commented how nice it would be to bivy at this spot.
[Ben and Steven on the steep ridge above the pocket lakes.]
[The ridge wasn't easy but we managed to find a route up it by traversing left and then back up right.]
[Now we can see the upper lakes too. Wow. ++]
[An amazing high alpine paradise. ++]
[Bryce reflects in the upper lake as we traverse along its shoreline. ++]
We still had a long drive ahead of us (assuming the truck started and the road wasn't washed out...) and soon we were trudging up the final easy slopes to the col just south of the minor summit that stands above the ridge we drove up on approach. Without clouds obscuring it's summit, we could see that the peak was entirely surrounded by steep cliffs. We crossed our fingers and hoped for a ramp leading through on the opposite side, presumably to the ridge and eventually back to the truck. First things first - we ascended to the col and proceeded down a lovely, wide high alpine meadow to an even lovelier high alpine tarn. This is the mythical "first lake". Mount Columbia and King Edward reflected off it's still surface and the views we got from it's west end were stunning! Our views the entire egress were stunning. This makes the highline approach a no-brainer compared to any other approach to Alexandra, IMHO. At least on a clear day you are distracted from your suffering by amazing views in every direction.
[Trudging towards what we hoped was our "col to freedom" - all we needed was a ramp through the cliffs guarding the summit on the upper right lower down.]
[Not done gaining height on loose terrain just yet.]
[Looking back at the upper lake from the col. There are a few choices on ascent, you can go left and work your way across tree line beneath the two lower lakes (ugly) or take our route (may have tricky route finding) or take either of two cols, the one on the left or the one on the right. Both will work.]
[Another amazing sight - the high mountain pass with the cliffy summit on the right.]
[WOW! What a view! The first small lake comes into view along with many peaks, including King Edward and Columbia on the right and the Chess Group to the left. ++]
[Mount Columbia looks very different from this angle.]
[Mount King Edward is very high on my list - before the road is gone permanently. ++]
[Amazing day in an amazing place. ++]
[This tarn is shallow and muddy - we crossed at the very mouth of it before it plunges down to our approach road on the other side.]
[Looking over the Bush River FSR and our hopeful escape route on the right. We hope this scree bench leads to our ridge where the truck is parked. This view goes right up the King Edward approach valley. This view also shows how much elevation gain you must do immediately on the highline traverse. ++]
[Giants in the area include King Edward just right of center and Pawn Peak (L) and the rest of the Chess Group including King, Bishop, Knight and Queen Peak to Pawn's right and left of King Edward. Columbia and the Twins on the far right. ++]
We nervously traversed to our left (north) along a wide scree ramp, hoping against hope that it wouldn't cliff out. It didn't! Hallelujah!! We were absolutely delighted to see a clear route to the ridge we drove up from the scree ramp we were on! Further down the ridge we passed a large rock cairn - the first human sign we saw on the whole highline traverse (don't expect any trails or cairns from the ridge onwards until the bivy). We were so relieved to have made it down to the ridge, we forgot to look for an easier way down and simply took the ridge crest through the bush to the top of the clear cut. I think we could have cut down near the cairn to our right and avoided the bush almost completely, if not completely. When we finally waded out of the thick bush on the ridge to the top of the cut block there was a faint animal trail running along the top of it. I was sure that this was the trail we ignored on ascent. It was. When we arrived back at the approach road, we built a cairn and made the flagging more obvious. Take this trail on ascent! Follow it up and then along the top of the cut block until you hit scree / boulder slopes. Follow this slope up to ridge top and then the ramp to the first lake.
[Giants of the Chess Group include The Pawn at left and King Mountain at right. ++]
[We begin a nervous traverse, fully expecting to be cliffed out at some point. ++]
[Now we're laughing! Our final ridge is directly below! Easy scree ramp access. You can't ask for better. The highline is officially going to work for us.]
[Terrace Mountain is remarkably free of snow this late in September. Won't be skiing it any time soon! ;)]
[A grand view of Mount King Edward has me itching to stand on it's summit soon.]
[Looking back up the scree ramp that skirts the upper cliffs and starts the highline route.]
[One of the only cairns we spotted the entire traverse is right at treeline. The scree ramp at right and the cliffs that forced us to go too low on ascent at center. The key is that bloody scree ramp that you don't see until you're here. ++]
[Back in the suck - thank goodness only temporarily this time!]
[We break out of the bush and onto the cut block]
[From the road, without clouds the access to the highline route is obvious at upper right. The cliffs that forced us to the lower valley are obvious too. Dang it.]
[Looking up at the cut block and the large cairn we built to show the way initially. This is about all the help you're going to get on route though. It's goat tracks and land marks from here!]
[Arriving at the truck after our bear encounter. Now let's hope it starts...]
[The lower cutblock that we drove up with the upper scree ramp access just out of sight at left - to the right of the obvious rock wall.]
Just before arriving back at the truck we spotted a large black bear on the road! Thankfully it slowly moved out of our way and even more thankfully, the truck started no problem and didn't have any flat tires. :) The ride home went smoothly and pretty quick. Needless to say, Alexandra was an amazing adventure and not one that will fade any time soon.
We're already planning our next trip to the area.
[My truck meets Mount Bryce - we'll be back.]
[Just past the sketchy traverse along the nose of the ridge, notice the unstable slopes above? It's much narrower about 100 meter behind us and the slope to the left plunges down hundreds of feet.]
[This bridge is critical for access to Alexandra, Bryce and King Edward. Bryce in the background.]
[Looking back along the Bush River arm of Kinbasket Lake. This is just a tiny little inlet compared to the size of the lake! You can see the type of drop off the road traverses on the right. ++]
Long, complicated approach via South Rice Brook. Scrambling up cliffs to 5.2 crux rock step. Glacier travel with huge crevasses and snow, ice or rock scramble to summit.
Named in 1927. Amery, Leopold C.M.S. (Leopold Amery was a British politician who twice visited the Canadian Rockies. He was the author of, "In the Rain and the Sun." a book that described his travels in the Rockies. (see biog.)) Official name. First ascended in 1929 by Leopold Amery, B. Meredith, guided by Edward Feuz jr.. Journal reference CAJ 18-3.(from peakfinder.com)
Wow. That 3 letter word pretty much sums up this trip. Don't bother reading further unless you're interested in more detail. :-)
Wow. There - I just said it again. This was one of those trips that'll stick with me for the rest of my life - or at least while I have a reasonably intact memory. Eric Coulthard is one of those people who dreams up trips while looking at his extensive online library of photos and possible routes. While climbing Mount Fryatt a couple of weekends ago with him, he suggested that he might be giving Mount Amery and some other peaks in the area a shot this fall. I quickly picked up on his comments and volunteered to join him. One week later we were planning the trip. (Actually we were already planning Amery on the Fryatt trip - but don't tell my wife that! ;-))
[After getting home and writing up this trip report, Raf sent me a link from another party who did pretty much exactly the same route we did. Amazingly they did not make any of the summits (that wasn't their goal) and because they bivied low down in SE Amery Creek they didn't have time either. They got the route from the 1995 version of the Canadian Alpine Journal (page 97) from a trip report that Jason Thompson published. They mention a lot of crevasses and that they were only "100 meters" from the summit of Hooge but this is inaccurate since Hooge is more than 100 meters from the confluence point that they were on. NOTE: Peakfinder.com doesn't reference the correct high point for Hooge.]
Mount Amery is a gorgeous and engaging peak that can be viewed from the Banff-Jasper highway. I first became enchanted with the mountain when scrambling Mount Coleman (my first trip with Eric, ironically) and have been interested in climbing it every since. It's only been summited a few times in the past and has no obvious or simple route to the top. The first ascent was up broken cliff bands via Amery Creek, with loose rock and crappy weather. Subsequent ascents weren't much better until someone (Jason Thompson and Eric Geppert) found a route up the south side via the SE unnamed valley that brakes through the upper two cliff bands via hidden couloirs. It took Jason and Eric three tries up that unnamed and untracked SE valley to finally break through to the summit! We are indebted to this ascent party and to Rick Collier for publishing his trip report - without this we would never have managed this ascent without multiple efforts and even then probably not.
With the promise of a delightful bushwhack, river crossings and hidden ascent routes through cliff bands how could I NOT be interested in this mountain?! The bushwhack up the unnamed SE valley and the river crossings of both the Alexandra and Saskatchewan Rivers continues to thwart most attempts at this mountain and I suspect it will never see many ascents unless it's officially declared an "11,000er" and even then it will remain somewhat obscure for all but the most determined peakbaggers.
I met Eric at 07:30 at the Sunset Pass parking lot along highway 93 on Friday morning. I was tired already before starting thanks to a 04:00 wake up time but was eager to get started. I had the fortune of being a fly fisherman in a previous life so my river crossings were made pleasant with the aid of waterproof / breathable waders and even felt-bottomed and hobnailed boots to help with slick rocks! Eric only had thick socks to keep his feet warm in his sandals... We managed to cross both the Saskatchewan and Alexandra Rivers without incident - but there was some strong currents in several of the channels. You wouldn't want too much more water than what we had or the river crossings would be the most difficult and dangerous part of the ascent. We found an old raft made from logs and wire on the river flats which was kind of neat - it looked pretty old. Eventually we finished our water crossing with a short bushwhack to the unnamed stream coming down the SE drainage of Amery ("SE Amery Creek").
[Eric is just visible crossing a braid of the Alexandra River with the SE shoulder of Amery visible in the upper left - this is where we ended up 9 hours later and spent the night. ++]
[He's smiling but that doesn't mean he's enjoying himself - it's more of a grimace of pain due to glacial riverwater and bare legs at 07:30 in the morning!]
After ditching our river crossing gear (my feet were still warm and dry while Eric's were frozen numb, which I kindly pointed out to him several times on the crossing) at the mouth of SE Amery Creek we started our main approach. Obviously there were no trails or markings of any kind anywhere on the approach and we paid dearly for our prize. We picked climber's left of the stream thanks to Eric's keen Google Earth nose - he noticed more scree beds coming down to the south side of the creek than the north and figured it would be a nice break from bushwhacking. He was right on the money with his hunch and it probably saved us a lot of time and effort.
First we bushwhacked up steep forested hills past an impressive series of waterfalls in the creek. Eventually we worked our way back to the creek and spent the next 4 hours boulder-hopping alongside it, scrambling up and around waterfalls, over deadfall, up rock-hard scree slopes, through snow tunnels (!), avalanche debris, gnarly scrub and through head-high alders and bushes that were out to trip us up any way they could! Eric kept tempting fate by saying things like "at least it's not head high alders like Jasper bushwhacking". (Two minutes later we were in alders over our heads... ;-)) I enjoyed the bushwhacking for some odd reason - or at least I didn't hate it. I "became one with the bushes" and tried not to fight against the barriers but rather work through them systematically and methodically - it worked because after 5 hours of heading upstream hundreds of vertical meters with overnight packs we found ourselves staring up at an impenetrable curtain wall, thinking "now what?!".
[SE Amery Creek is rarely visited by two-legged creatures such as ourselves and has some gorgeous stream waterfalls alongside.]
[Sometimes we got little breaks were we could walk alongside the creek]
[SE Amery Creek is feed by many beautiful feeder streams coming off the glaciated unnamed summits to the south.]
[When travelling off-trail with an alpine pack you have to concentrate on every step or you'll find yourself flat on your face faster than greased lightning. I'm speaking from experience here... ;-)]
[Note the two snow tunnels ahead.]
[Big enough to drive a hummer through!]
[You won't be driving a hummer through here though...]
[A fire ring at the only good bivy site along the approach - near a small lake. This is probably from Thompson's ascent party who took 3 efforts to find the route Rick Collier and we followed. We bivied here on the Saturday night when we ran out of daylight on the depproach.]
[The small lake near the approach bivy site. And outlier of Amery on upper right. ++]
[Interesting colors and terrain at the tiny lake]
[Looking back across the lake at the small stand of spruce which surround the fire ring and bivy site.]
[Above the lake the terrain tightened into thick scrub before gradually opening up on the south side of the creek to scree avalanche slopes.]
[The route steepened considerably at a nice series of waterfalls towards the end of the valley.]
[Looking back at our approach from near the top of the steeper section. You can just make out the small lake at the far end of the valley before the terrain drops off again.]
[Fall colors are starting to show - note the hanging glaciers above - we'd traverse those the next day on our way to Hooge and Monchy.]
The sun glistened off the dark walls of the cliff band while high above us on every side, huge hanging sheets of snow and ice balanced precariously on the rock beneath. Loud cracks echoed through the cirque as the sun warmed the ice and we witnessed some impressive serac collapses and icefalls while we approached the end of the valley. The curtain wall was not a scramble - not even close. Even from a distance it was obviously not our route up. Thankfully I had Rick's route desciption along and we put it to good use - without it we'd have been done at this point. We started up directly north of the first glacial lake on hard scree slopes heading to a line of cliffs with steep couloirs the only possible breaks through them. We didn't even know about the two glacial lakes back in the cirque until we got part way up this slope and looked down on them.
[Eric is dwarfed by the terrain]
[Nearing the end of the SE drainage. The first glacial lake is on top of the morraine on the left and Amery's ascent slopes are on the left of the right hand mountain visible here. ++]
[Looking at the wall we broke through - you can spot the 'amphitheater' just right of center top.]
[The peaceful cirque was periodically woken up by thundering serac falls from the hanging glaciers all around it.]
[The curtain wall that foils easy access to the upper mountain is visible in the center of this photo. We ascended hard scree slopes to the right (out of sight here).]
[Hoping we can crack through the cliffs on this side!]
[Kind of like Chephren - this slope is much larger than it looks from the bottom! Note the glacial lakes below (the left one is hidden in shadow.]
[Eric tops out on the scree slope. The cairn you see here is built for our return - it indicates an easy route through the upper scree slope cliff band before the couloir.]
With overnight packs we weren't moving quickly, but considering we still had at least 7 hours of daylight we figured we'd move slowly up the mountain and get as high as possible - assisting us in our long summit day on Saturday. When we finally got to the cliffs we could barely make out easier terrain in the steep, curving couloirs that didn't require roped climbing. We headed into the leftmost couloir and were delighted to find dry rock (south facing) and little ledges and tight chimneys that made the scrambling delightful. This couloir is only one of the well hidden cracks in Amery's armor but without it there would be no hope of clambering up Amery without a lot more rock climbing skills than I currently have.
[Looking up the couloir - notice how it curves nicely to the right? This hides the route from casual observers below and is the first 'crack' in the armor guarding Amery's summit.]
[Eric starts up the couloir on nice rock steps.]
[Don't be fooled though - there's plenty of hands-on scrambling and in rain or with snow / ice this wouldn't be a scramble anymore.]
[Fantastic, hands-on staircase scrambling]
[Steep and loose, looking down our ascent route. You don't want snow or ice in here!]
Once we topped out of the couloir we were getting a wee bit winded (remember - overnight packs with glacier-travel gear) but we pressed on anyway. We traversed a broad scree slope heading west (climber's left) until we could make out another chink in Amery's armor - the enormous "Greek Amphitheater" that Rick references in his report. Again, impossible looking terrain proved non-technical once our noses were in it and we continued to inch our way up the immense south flank of Amery. The weather was incredible - warm with no wind - and we put the waterfalls in the amphitheater to very good use! The scrambling in this section was upper moderate to low difficult and very steep and exposed in spots - but really good fun on fairly solid (for the Rockies) rock.
[Eric tops out of the couloir.]
[Eric traverses over to the amphitheater.]
[Looking back from near the bottom of the amphitheater]
[Looking up the amphitheater. The waterfalls are splendid in warm, sunny weather but in colder temps they would make sections of this climb very treacherous. Rick had to scramble up pretty steep terrain on the right side to avoid verglass and water ice.]
[Loose and exposed terrain at the bottom of the amphitheater]
[The two glacial lakes are now in full sun as we struggle our way up the amphitheater on loose rocky ledges and small cliff bands.]
[The scrambling was fun on the ascent but got old fast on descent. Each one of these cliff bands is just high enough to be a PITA while trying to descend safely. Terribly loose rubble is scattered all over the place here.]
Kingly white mountain goats gazed down on us from high cliffs, birds soared over our heads, thundering ice falls echoed off rock walls, warm sunshine kissed the backs of our necks and refreshing waterfalls trickled down around us as we climbed higher and higher on a glorious fall day. The weight of our packs and the scratches on our bodies from the approach were fading as we took in our majestic surroundings and realized how privileged we were to be in this special place enjoyed by so few humans in it's long history.
After the amphitheater we traversed again to climber's left on really loose and exhausting scree - trying to escape the vertical cliff walls of the summit block that were looming eerily over us. As we rounded the cliff band we were treated to our first summit views. Again, having Rick's report was invaluable as we traversed under more cliff bands looking for yet another friendly couloir. And we found it. A steep, loose, hot and somewhat exposed scramble brought us through the last remaining obstacle to the upper scree bench under the glaciated summit of Amery. It was tempting to just go "bag it" but we were feeling pretty bagged ourselves at this point and decided to search for a good place to spend the night rather than push our luck too far. We ended up gaining some more height onto the snow and scree covered southeast shoulder of Amery, just under the summit cap of ice and snow.
[Man, those alpine packs are starting to get heavy! We're now above the amphitheater and gaining the shoulder under the upper cliff band guarding the summit plateau.]
[Phew! We've made the upper shoulder just below the cliffs guarding the summit plateau. Mount Wilson is visible as the glaciated peak on the far left and Erasmus is just visible in the center distance between the two unnamed peaks on the Monchy Icefield across the approach valley. ++]
[Eric traverses beneath the upper cliff band headed for a notch / couloir that will help us break through it. Mount Amery's summit is visible as the triangle of snow above. ++]
[Eric starts up the final gully breaking through the upper cliff band.]
[The upper cliff band is pretty much impenetrable accept for a few steep gullies / couloirs. ++]
[Eric comes up the rock rib beside the gully that offered a bypass to the cliff blocking it higher up near the summit plateau.]
Bivying up at over 10,500 feet was pretty cool. We ate supper and watched a subtle sunset in warm temps and very light winds. We could already see many 11,000er's and other giant peaks including Cline, Wilson, Murchison, Hector, Balfour, Erasmus, Forbes and the Lyells. We looked forward to our views the following day on Amery and on the grand traverse to Hooge and Monchy! The traverse looked LONG from our bivy site but it also looked fairly easy with the only heavily crevassed section being near one particular bump along the way. We agreed to get up at 05:30 to get a early start via head lamp and hopefully witness sunrise from the summit of Amery.
[Eric stands at our chosen bivy location, high on the SE shoulder of Amery's summit plateau - over 10,500 feet high.]
[Distant view of the Lyells.]
[Amery is so close...]
[Forbes is a beauty. And the highest peak in Banff National Park]
[Corona Ridge at left in the distance, Murchison at right.]
[Wilson on the right, Cline rising behind.]
[What a bedroom for the night!!]
[Vern takes in the awesome views from his bivy site. Murchison, Wilson, Sarbach, Chephren, White Pyramid, Howse and Erasmus are all visible here.]
[Murchison and Totem Tower over Erasmus]
[Sunset on Mount Cline.]
[Sunset on Mount Wilson.]
[Sunset on Erasmus.]
[Mount Forbes catches the last remaining rays of sunshine.]
[The Lyells are also high enough to catch the last rays.]
[Darkness comes in from the east as the sun flees in the west. ++]
[Darkness settles in to the east over Cline and Wilson]
I spent a pretty good night in the bivy and woke up at 05:15 to the sound of my alarm. The wind had picked up from the day before but the barometric pressure was steady and the sky was clear so bad weather wasn't blowing in or anything. Eric also got up and by 06:00 we were roping up and picking our way across the Amery glacier on firm, fresh snow (just enough to cover the cracks!). We decided to angle to the col just south of the peak rather than climb all the way to the summit via the north glacier. That way we could simply bag Amery and then come back down and continue on to Hooge and Monchy via the Monchy Icefield.
[Early morning crossing the Amery Glacier, looking back east. ++]
[Roping up for the glacier walk. We angled up easy slopes to the col just left of center and then dumped our gear and scrambled to the summit on the right.]
[Still pretty dark]
[Looking back as we cross the glacier - the sun is rising in the east. ++]
[Looking back over our approach tracks]
[Eric at the col - Amery rising behind him.]
[Looking east from the col]
Our idea worked just fine. We dumped our gear at the col and unroped for the scree scramble up to Amery's summit. We witnessed sunrise kissing the surrounding peaks just before topping out to a wonderful view that according to one of the few registry entries included 22 11,000ers! We found two summit registers, which is sort of odd considering we were about the 8th (recorded) summit party ever to stand on Amery's apex... We had forgotten to bring extra registers so we borrowed one and left the other on top after filling in our names. We were the 3rd or 4th party up the SE route. It felt extremely rewarding to finally be standing on the summit after so much effort went into our approach the day before!
[Just before sunrise - a view off the summit ridge towards the Columbia Icefields.]
[The sun kisses the peaks of the Lyells.]
[Mount Columbia catches the first rays on the ice fields.]
[Eric on the ridge]
[Mount Bryce's turn!]
[Looking back over our bivy site as the sun rises over Mount Cline.]
[The Lyells (L), Willerval and Alexandra catch the morning rays.]
[Eric goes for the summit]
[Vern on the summit of Mount Amery]
[The Lyells with more light.]
[Mount Willerval on the left (lower) and Mount Alexandra just right of center.]
[Bryce, Tsar, King Edward and Columbia (L to R)]
[We owe these guys for scouting the route 18 years ago for us!]
[We owe these guys (and Rick in particular) for publishing the route.]
[Looking across the Monchy Icefield at Mount Forbes and the Lyells. Our entire traverse is visible, ending just before Willerval on the right. ++]
[Mount Oppy rises over Willerval on the left, Alexandra on the right.]
[The sun is now officially up and if you expand this pano you will count a TON of 11,000ers! ++]
After checking out the incredible views and confirming on my altitude watch that the peak is indeed very close to 11,000 feet (a few feet of snowfall would like push it over) we started our descent. We knew we had a long day ahead of us after scoping out the long traverse we had to take across the Monchy Icefield from Amery. I don't think we realized quite how much work was still ahead of us...
[Eric descends the south summit ridge as our long traverse spreads out in front of him and the day dawns clear and calm.]
Glacier route includes crevasse issues and steep snow slopes. Don't minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.
Named by Alpine Club of Canada in 1948. Andromache was a woman in Greek mythology who was the wife of Hector. This mountain stands to the north of Mount Hector. Unofficial name. First ascended in 1887 by James J. McArthurJournal reference AAJ 7-354; CAJ 33-147. (info from peakfinder.com)
After summiting Little Hector, Wietse and I began our descent and traverse over to the rubble ascent slopes to the unnamed peak and Andromache's summit. We chose to keep as much elevation as possible and thankfully passed over some snow patches on our traverse. The sun was really hot and with the cold snow we could have very refreshing Gatorade slushies for the remainder of the day!
The traverse from Hector Pass to the base of the ascent to the unnamed peak was no problem. About 1 hour and 20 minutes after leaving Little Hector's summit we were staring up at a depressingly large pile of loose rock again! ;-) The 'Chossies' were once again living up to their reputation of loose, crappy rubble. We both tackled the slope head on to get it done and over with. We came over the edge of the first rise only to discover another rubble slope ahead. After replenishing our Gatorade slushies with slightly pink snow (does anyone know if that stuff is bad for you?) we continued on. Wietse was operating on about 4 hours of sleep and by the time we arrived on the summit of the unnamed peak he was looking a little tired. After a quick break we pushed on to the slightly lower summit of Mount Andromache.
[Descending a snow bank between Little Hector and Andromache.]
[Wietse grunts up Andromache's south rubble slope with Little Hector rising dramatically behind him.]
[Hiking up Unnamed with Hector and Little Hector in the background.]
[Wietse is getting tired on this HOT summer day. Maybe two peaks was pushing it a bit!]
[The summit ridge of Andromache.]
It didn't take long before we were going back up rubble slopes to Mount Andromache's summit. The summit view was less spectacular than Little Hector's, mainly because of the afternoon cloud. It took us about 3 hours and 40 minutes to go from the summit of Little Hector to the summit of Andromache. Wietse started to feel better again after relaxing for a bit at the summit and we started down the Northwest ridge to complete the traverse of Andromache.
[More views to the north over Noseeum's ridge towards Bobac Mountain.]
[Vern on the summit of Andromache.]
The northwest ridge looks pretty daunting from the summit but you should not be intimidated by the snow and rock. The ridge is actually some of the best scrambling you're going to get in an 11+ hour day so don't ruin it by going all the way back down through Hector Pass! This is the only part of the day that deserved the 'Moderate' rating in my estimation and it was rather fun. The snow (glacier?) can be avoided easily on the left and we never actually had to touch the snow for the remainder of the trip. Every time you think there's no way to avoid the snow a new route possibility opens up.
[Wietse comes down the interesting ridge.]
My advice would be to simply follow the ridge as far as reasonable (there's a large cliff / block to stop you eventually) and then traverse around that block on skiers left and continue back down the spine of the ridge. Trying to shortcut down to skier's left will only result in side-hilling some of the nastiest slopes I've ever encountered. As a matter of fact I would highly recommend that if you HAVE to traverse this mountain you should ASCEND the descent route and descend over the unnamed peak and back down through Hector Pass.
The scree slopes off the Northwest ridge look so inviting from the road but trust me, they are HELL. The scree is a special brand of Rockies rubble that I've only encountered a few times. When you view the slope you think you're in for an awesome scree run but once you're on it you realize that it's rock-hard aggregate! The rock just didn't break up under our feet. It was like running down a cheese grater - and that wasn't fun at all. I will take tricky cliff bands over this stuff any day. Once in a while the rock would be loose and then you'd be the cheese on the grater and you know what shredded cheddar looks like - well know I know what it feels like as it's being shredded!
[Looking down a mild looking ridge to Noseeum Creek that is actually hellish concrete-hard scree!]
[Looking over Noseeum Mountain.]
[Looking back up the innocent looking ridge.]
[You can see Wietse is struggling to maintain his footing here!]
Wietse was started to feel cold by the time we neared the bottom of the rubble heap and considering it was about 30 degrees in the blazing afternoon sun, that was not a good thing. We took another short break just before tree line where we noticed that something big had been tearing up our slope in search of something to eat. The bear spray was re-holstered to my belt as I led the way off Andromache, down toward the refreshingly cold waters of Noseeum Creek.
I walked back along the Parkway 2km to the parked car while Wietse took a well deserved break at the creek. A nervous looking guy was waiting by the pullout near our car and after chatting with him for a few moments I knew why he was nervous. Apparently he was with two other guys who were supposed to be scrambling up (and presumably down) Andromache. He had turned around shortly after starting the scramble but his two friends continued. Now, 9 hours later they still weren't back and when I told him that we had not seen anyone else all day he was really nervous. There was nothing I could do for him at that point so I wished him good luck and drove back to Noseeum Creek to pick up Wietse. (I've been looking for accident reports on Andromache but haven't seen anything so I trust they made it off the mountain safely.)
[Impressive looking Little Hector from the walk back along hwy #93.]
Once back at the Noseeum pullout we chatted for a short while with an older gentlemen who I think was named 'George'. (I now think this was George Brybycin, a well known local Rockies landscape photographer.) He was considering going for Noseeum Peak but didn't know if he could navigate through the canyon created by the creek. He told us that he'd been climbing for about 40 years and how every year he climbs Mount Hector from Little Hector. I asked him if he used an axe or crampons and he kind of laughed. He just scrambles up there! I mentioned the glacier and snow but he dismissed it as 'not a big deal'. It reminded me how sometimes we can make everything a big adventure requiring all sorts of fancy gear but for some experienced mountain travelers even a glacier can be crossed without fancy equipment, using experience and a cool head.
After bidding George "good luck" we headed home.
Other than concrete-hard scree there are no major difficulties on Andromache.
Named in 1925. A fossilized coral known as anthozoan is found in the Devonian limestone of the mountain. Official name. (info from peakfinder.com)
A moderate scramble, made only slightly more difficult by doing a complete traverse of the summit ridge.
Named by Arthur O. Wheeler in 1919. Arctomys is the Latin name for the whistling marmots which are a widespread and popular animal in the Canadian Rockies. Official name.
First ascended in 1918 by Interprovincial Boundary Commission Journal reference AJ 39-62.
Once we descended from Christian Peak and looped back to our traverse tracks from the day before, we decided to give Arctomys Peak a try. I think we all underestimated the amount of effort required to get all the way over to the eastern edge of the Lyell Icefield from the south ridge of Christian Peak, never mind the effort to then descend 400 vertical meters, cross another small icefield and then re-ascend to the summit of Arctomys. Now reverse it all the way back to the Lyell Hut!! Sometimes we are just suckers for punishment.
[It's a long bloody way from Christian to Arctomys - and a LOT of height loss / gains too!]
As we labored across the Lyell Icefield, further and further from our cozy hut, under a blazing and relentless fireball overhead we engaged in vigorous debates about if we should continue or not. It was a bit comical. At different times, different people were motivated to keep going. Steven initially suggested we try for Arctomys. Then, while he and Ben started leaning away from the effort, I encouraged them to try it. Then I started backing off once I saw the incredible amount of height loss we had to do and Steven was back encouraging us to continue. Ben was right in the middle - sort of wishing he wasn't there and sort of wishing we'd get to the summit already! :) Eventually we arrived on the eastern edge of the Lyell Glacier and found ourselves negotiating some sagging bridges to a small icefield leading to the lower west ridge of Arctomys. It was funny, standing at the same height as the peak, looking across all that elevation loss / gain and wondering why the hell we were doing this?!
[After descending to the main Lyell Glacier, we can't even SEE Arctomys anymore! It's far beyond the distant rise...]
[Cresting the rise on the eastern edge of the Lyell Glacier, Arctomys is finally visible again, and below us at this point. Don't think Ben is wearing his jacket because it's cold - he's trying to shelter his skin from the relentless fireball above us!]
[Ben and I really wanted to turn around at this point. We figured we already got a great view so why not? Steven thankfully pushed us onwards... ;) There's at least 400 vertical meters of loss and regain at this point. Note that we are higher than Arctomys at this point. ++]
[Losing hundreds of meters of height into the baking hot bowl just west of Arctomys ascent ridge. The sun was focused here and there was no wind - it was relentless and we were all sick of the heat and sun already at this point.]
It felt good to take the 'shoes off for the west ridge ascent of Arctomys, but it also felt bad. It felt good because 'shoes are heavy and somewhat unbalanced, but it felt bad because we were so far from the hut and truly committed to this diminutive peak and I was wondering WHY? Well - I soon found out. There is a very good reason to scramble Arctomys Peak, if you have the opportunity. The view from it's summit ridge is probably among the top 10 I've had on any mountain, anywhere in the Rockies. It was that good! As we slowly gained height on the ridge, we glimpsed views into the Arctomys Creek valley far below on the north side of the peak.
[Working our way up the rubbly west ridge of Arctomys, looking back at Ben and the Lyell Glacier. Accessing the Lyells from Glacier Lake is via slopes on the left, working through the cliff bands somewhere just below us here and then upwards. Doesn't look that pleasant to be honest!]
[The views are improving, but guess what? Even more height gain / loss once we're on the west ridge! That was a theme for our weekend. You could never count on simply climbing and descending. Everything involved long traverses and many hundreds of meters of height gain / loss in each direction.]
The views improved until we could see the incredible plunge of the Lyell Glacier hundreds of meters down to Arctomys Lake with a crashing waterfall and a thin ribbon of water wandering off down the green valley far below, accumulating in many distant, sparkling lakes along the way. Honestly, I've seen some good views in my hundreds of summits, but Arctomys was extra impressive. We spent almost an hour at the windless summit, enjoying the sublime views in all directions and catching a few moments of shuteye in the very hot sun. Even the westerly winds were warm on the summit.
[Now we're talking! VIEWS. Still not at the summit but Arctomys Creek is a lovely paradise far below. ++]
[Looking down the Valley of Lakes and past Arctomys' summit at right.]
[Ben is now glad we push on to this diminutive peak with its grand views.]
[The Lyell Glacier plunges hundreds of meters to Arctomys Lake in a series of impressive waterfalls]
[Stunning views of Arctomys Lake.]
[Probably my favorite view from the entire weekend is this one, looking north off the summit of Arctomys at the Lyell Glacier draining into Arctomys Lake and Creek before running off down a lush valley (Valley of Lakes) towards 10's of sparkling lakes in the far distance beneath the brooding hulks of Erasmus and Amery. Not many people are even aware this valley exists and it's very rarely visited as there are no official trails through it. ++]
[Ben sits at the summit with the lush Valley of Lakes and Arctomys Creek running towards hwy #93 behind him.]
[A shot over the Lyell Meadows and the impressive ice fall from the Lyell Glacier towards Mount Forbes. The original access route for the Lyell Glacier was right up this ice fall when it was much less broken! The long route from Glacier Lake is now up broken moraines in the foreground and through chossy cliffs out of sight to the right.]
[Looking straight down off Arctomys' summit]
[A gorgeous head-on view of the mighty 11,851 ft Mount Forbes - which I would climb in 2016, in perfect conditions.]
[The amount of vertical relief between the summit of Edward Peak and Arctomys Lake is around 1800 meters or 6,000 feet!]
After our break on the summit we all agreed that doing Arctomys was a great idea. The experience was much better than we expected it to be and this gem of a peak probably doesn't see very many visitors either - it's way out there and doesn't look impressive from below. The views that its summit offers, are not obvious when looking down on it from the Lyell Glacier. Of course, now we had a long, hot slog across the icefield to the Lyell Hut ahead of us. And it was a long slog! My eyes were so irritated by the glare that I wore my gaiters under my cap as huge peripheral blockers - it worked surprisingly well. Finally, after ascending the icefield, ascending up and then down the south ridge of Christian Peak and then reascending to the Lyell Hut we were finished another long day with incredible views. We could spot smoke from a new forest fire just west of our area from the hut and knew that the next day would be another scorcher with no over night freeze. Our chances of summiting Walter Peak were extremely thin and we started thinking about other options for our last day.
[Steven tackles "the crux" on Arctomys' west ridge - a moderate low cliff band]
[Starting the long 'shoe back up the Lyell Glacier!]
[Hours later we are now descending the south ridge of Christian Peak to the bowl under the Lyell Hut which is on the rock shoulder above Steven's head. From this bowl we have to ascend back up to the hut.]
[Another nice sunset - this one 'helped' by forest fires starting to the west. ++]
NOTE: Distances and elevation gains are from the Lyell Hut.
Remote glacier travel with some crevasse hazards depending on the time of year.
Also known as the "North End of Protection" - this peak lies at the north end of a long ridge running from North Castle to Bulwark.
Spurred on by a recent trip report on ClubTread from Jose and Fabrice, I decided that Armor Peak would be a nice objective for the first day of June 2013. Raff and Wietse agreed and we settled on an 06:30 departure from the Petro Canada on Hwy 1 on Saturday morning.
The sky got cloudier the further we drove and by the time we had finally figured out where the trailhead was (haven't we ALL done this hike already at least once?!) it was almost raining. We were surprised to find the Bow Valley Parkway chalk full of runners too! Apparently the Banff --> Jasper relay race was going on. Good thing we arrived early enough to avoid too much gong show.
The trail was as pleasant as I remembered - maybe a bit wetter, but that was for obvious reasons. I needed the peace and quite of the forest and between the green leaves, lady's slippers and chirping birds I was enjoying the ascent very much.
[The trail is well traveled and obvious as it winds through the lush spring forest.]
[One of my favorite flowers - the Ladies Slipper]
[As we ascended into the clouds the atmosphere of the forest became surreal. We also started to wonder if we'd ever break out of the cloud / mist!]
Raff wasn't totally convinced that we would break out of the clouds but I was sure that we would. As we worked our way higher I started to have my doubts, and when we started wading through isothermal snow up to crotch deep I was thoroughly demoralized! Raff and I took a break near tree line and started a conversation about turning around. We were 2 hours into the trip at this point and my feet were soaked from the wet snow. Raff wasn't feeling it either. Wietse had been feeling a bit under the weather and we decided to wait for him to catch up and then make a group decision.
When Wietse caught up to us I think he was surprised to hear the suggestion that we turn back. He surprised us in return by getting a burst of energy and breaking trail to above tree line. And then a miracle occurred! The sun finally broke through the thick cloud and we could see our upper ascent slopes to the ridge of Protection Mountain.
[Wietse gets a burst of energy and charges up the trail in deep snow. All it took was 5 minutes and we finally broke above the cloud and saw the sun and our ascent slopes.]
Once we saw the sun our energy levels increased by quite a bit. We took turns leading the way directly up the west face face to a break in the cliff band high above. This slope was covered in quite a bit of new snow but had already slid and felt pretty safe to us. We avoided the deeper pockets that hadn't slid yet and were thankful when the cloud cover thickened a bit and prevented direct sunlight on the slope. Finally we broke through the cliff band and were treated to some very acceptable views of the Castle and Protection Mountain massif's.
[The west slopes of Protection Mountain, looking south. TV peak (or more correctly, Protection Mountain) is accessed by traversing this slope and then ascending climber's left to the long summit ridge.]
[Wietse breaks trail.]
[The clouds provided good cover from the intense early summer sun.]
[The slope was steep but not crazy steep.]
[Looking back over hwy 1 - the clouds thickened but got higher too.]
[There were a few smaller cliff bands before the top.]
[Raff kicks steps for a while as the slope steepens considerably at the top.]
[The final section to the ridge was fun - steeper with firmer snow and interesting terrain.]
[Pano from just inside the cliff band looking back over hwy 1. ++]
[Raff collapses from exhaustion as we hit the ridge. :)]
[Taking a break on the ridge. Armor is the peak on the left, Protection (TV) on the right with Pulsatilla in the middle. ++]
Once we started traversing the ridge north to the summit we thought it looked very close. It's not really that close. :) Like all ridge traverses (especially ones that are covered in copious amounts of fresh snow), it took more time and energy than we expected to get to the true summit. Good thing the views were pretty good. The terrain between Protection and Pulsatilla is impressive.
Eventually, after gaining and losing at least 100m of height, we came to the final summit block. Raff led the way up a steep snow slope and we were on top of Armor Peak. I was amazed we made it - we needed positive thoughts from different team members throughout the day to make this one happen! The views were nice all around and I enjoyed reliving my crazy 72 hour peak bagging fest in the Skoki area as I gazed over the summits in that area.
[Armor Peak may look close, but it's further than you think!]
[Raff descends a section of the ridge. There's some elevation loss before you reach the summit block.]
[Getting closer. The light was really flat and fooled with our vision because of all the fresh snow.]
[Pulsatilla Mountain stole the show the whole time we were on the ridge because the Lake Louise peaks were covered in thick cloud.]
[Looking into the Skoki area, Douglas and St Bride on the right.]
[Daly was a very pleasant trip.]
[Bulwark Peak looks impressive from this angle.]
[Vern on the summit of Armor Peak.]
[Pano looking north to south over Bulwark Peak and Hwy 1. Too bad all the Lake Louise peaks are buried in cloud. ++]
After enjoying a brief summit stay we decided to head back before the forecasted rain started up. We almost made it off the ridge before dark clouds and snow showers moved in. The descent of the west face was a very wet affair due to a melting snow pack and by the time I was at tree line I had to stop and literally wring water out of my socks!
The rest of the descent was very pleasant in the great Protection Mine trail. There are a few remaining cabin structures along the route if you keep your eyes open. I love thinking about all the workers who used to see these views every day as part of their job. I wonder if they marveled at them the same way we do today or if it was just a hard days work for them? Probably a bit of both. Just like it was for us! :)
Armor Peak is certainly worth the trouble but make sure you 're going to get some views because it is fairly big day. We completed it quicker than I though we would have in 8.5 hours but most parties take closer to 10.
[Pano of Pulsatilla Mountain from just below the summit of Armor Peak. ++]
[Heading back down the ridge.]
[Like I said, there's some ups and downs on the ridge. But they make for great photos at least.]
[Wietse poses just before the sleet started.]
[Looking back at the peak and the threatening skies.]
[The snow was considerably softer and wetter on the way down.]
[The sleet didn't last long and wasn't too bad.]
[Back under tree line, I spotted this old cabin beside the trail.]
[Despite all the snow, signs of spring are everywhere.]
Hiking and easy scrambling if dry. Severe avalanche slope if there's snow on it.
Naming: Astley, Charles D'Oyley (Together with his brother Willoughby, Charles D'Oyley Astley operated the CPR boat concession on Lake Minnewanka in the late 1800's. The name is no longer official for some reason.) Unofficial name.
Mount Astley is interesting for a number of reasons. I wasn't even aware of this peak before I found out that Raf and Eric were planning to ascend it on Sunday, June 7th and invited me along. I did absolutely no research and for some reason Raf convinced me that it was a short day out. I blew off Phil Richards (we were planning Threepoint Mountain) because of a later start on Astley and a feeling of laziness induced by a long drive and ascent of Wildhorse Ridge with my family the day before. Sorry Phil!! ;)
So back to interesting Mount Astley. The reasons I find this peak interesting;
[Screen shot from peakfinder.com. The pink dot is the high summit, the green one is the west summit. Both visible on each shot so which do you choose? Normally it would certainly be the highest one!]
[Our route on Google Earth - Note that the NE summit isn't even drawn correctly, it should be clearly higher than the SW one! ++]
Now that I've cleared that mess up, I'll proceed to talk about the actual scramble of Mount Astley. In short? It reminded all of us who have done Mount Girouard of that approach / scramble. A lot. The initial hike from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot, up Stewart Canyon is a pleasant stroll through thinly forested slopes with a raging Cascade River far below. I was delighted to find large groups of my favorite flowers along the trail - Ladies Slippers. After the pleasant walk along Stewart Canyon, we arrived at the drainage coming down from Astley. This is where the approach reminded us of Girouard. The next few hours were spent navigating up a wonderful drainage, hoping over rocks and boulders and gazing up at a tight, steep walled canyon with bolted climbing routes and even two stuck ropes still dangling from high above!
[The lovely Cascade River as it makes its way down to Lake Minnewanka]
[A favorite flower of mine - the Ladies Slipper]
[Usually Clematis are difficult to photograph but these ones were short for some reason]
[The Stewart Canyon hike is good, albeit with limited views down to the river. Apparently there is a decommissioned trail that runs a bit closer to the edge.]
[This is where the Stewart Canyon trail is washed out by the drainage that we wish to ascend. I'm not sure if the trail continues past this point or not.]
[The debris was fairly easy to navigate around considering how bad it could have been! I think the flood in 2013 flushed the creek out for the most part.]
[I can only imagine what a hellish place this was in June of 2013! Fun to walk through now though!]
[Bolted routes go up the walls on our left]
[This rope was partially pulled down - the other end is dangling high on the face.]
These types of approaches are always more fun on approach and this one was no different. It's nice not to be bushwhacking and climbing up the rocky creek bed was like climbing stairs. This terrain gets very hard on the knees on descent though. Eventually the narrow canyon widened and there was more debris from the brutal 2013 June floods scattered around. We could navigate through most of it easily. Some of it was a PITA but nothing serious. To our surprise there was no running water in this drainage until the split, where we wanted to go climber's left. We gratefully drank cup fulls of fresh, cold water and refilled our bottles before continuing up a steep side drainage towards the upper hanging valley under Astley's summits.
[Another stuck rope was a bit higher up the drainage! Not sure if folks are still working on routes here or why there's so many ropes left behind. This one didn't look stuck - except in the top of a tree...]
[Looking back down the drainage you can see that these bolted climbs aren't easy (on the right)]
[Getting higher the drainage opens up again]
[It's surprising how much height we gained in the main creek bed - this is looking back]
[It's not all fun and games - there is more debris above the choke point / narrow canyon]
[Almost at the split now - notice the drainage going left just ahead, this is the one to take.]
Once we finally broke out of all drainages, we had already gained almost 1000 meters of height gain! The upper hanging valley is one of those typical alpine meadows that are my favorite Rockies destinations. They always make me want to bivy... The group had a passionate debate about which peak we were going to go for. Steven desperately wanted to go immediately left, to the likely originally named summit. He reasoned that nobody we knew had ascended it and he liked the look of it. I didn't know that So had called it a 'moderate' scramble or I likely would have agreed with Steven. At this point, we still thought the summits were the same height. Raf, Eric and I reasoned that no matter what else, the east summit had better views and we knew the route would go. We made a strange decision to split up - we're all confident scramblers so this wasn't a horrible idea. Nobody was angry - we just wanted different things. Three of us were more concerned about great views and Steven really wanted to see if the west summit was truly a scramble or not.
[Looking back at the others as we keep following the left branch of the drainage up. Unfortunately this was the branch with no water...]
[Raf thought Mount Astley was that peak that's already far behind us. This is why he promised me a short / easy day out... ;)]
[Finally above tree line and nearing the lovely alpine bowl, obviously this is looking back.]
[Looking ahead at the alpine bowl and Mount Astley at the end of it.]
[Steven worked his way up these cliff bands and then out of sight to the summit on upper right]
Raf, Eric and I started towards the easternmost peak on loose scree and some very handy snow patches. Eventually we found a moderate gully which led on scree and slabs to the col between Steven's peak and ours. Some folks won't like coming down this stuff - slabs can be tricky especially when wet. From the ridge, the summit block looked impressive! I was hoping it would stay 'moderate' and it did. As we climbed the final slopes it was also very obvious that our peak was higher than the one that Steven was now standing on top of. This was a surprise, but made me satisfied with our decision to bag this summit rather than the other one.
[We made our way over to an obvious scree / slab gully leading to the west ridge high above.]
[IMHO you don't want a large group on this terrain for obvious reasons]
[Note Eric at lower right? The terrain is much steeper than it looks on this wide angle photo]
[Plenty of scree to keep Rockies peak baggers happy!]
[Eric looks small in the terrain as we gain a ridge beside the gully - we traversed climber's right when the strata through a cliff band and some steep slabs at us.]
[Wonderful views off the ridge, looking back at Raf and the SW summit. You can't see him, but Steven is already up there! You can already tell at this point that we will be higher than the SW summit - we still have a few hundred meters to gain. ++]
[Now we're as high as the SW summit]
As we walked the final stretch to the summit, we immediately noticed that there was a slightly higher summit immediately to the east. It was also very obvious that we were quite a bit higher than the west summit that Steven climbed. I didn't waste any time and started the scramble over to the high point. I quickly realized that this wasn't going to be as moderate as the previous sections! The rock is extremely friable on this traverse, and the exposure is pretty severe on both sides. Great care must be taken here. I eventually did make it over and indeed, the summit was slightly higher, maybe 1 or 2 meters. The views to the south, east and north were very nice. Inglismaldie, Girouard, Peechee, Costigan, Saddle, Orient Point, Blackrock, Devil's Head and of course Mount Aylmer were all very prominent. Further away, Mount Assiniboine and other summits west and north were also looking fine under the clear, hot June sky.
[Photo from the highest point on Astley, Lake Minnewanka on the left. ++]
[Looking back at Raf on the slightly lower summit before the difficult traverse. The obviously lower SW summit lies beyond.]
[A lovely and unique view of Lake Minnewanka. Saddle Peak to the left at the far end.]
[Looking north and west of the summit. Brocks Peak at far right. The summit in the foreground is unnamed. ++]
[Spectral Peak is beyond the unnamed peak to the north]
[Vern is going to leap off the mountain! Raf took this photo as I navigated to summit pose position... :)]
[Some of the terrain on the short, difficult traverse between summits on the NE summit block of Astley]
[Mount Costigan is very high on my to-do list - apparently there's a 4th class route to the summit.]
[Raf with Aylmer looming on the left - now that was a long day trip!]
[Brocks Ridge / Peak is the brown colored one in the foreground - Revenant Mountain looms above in the background. It wasn't climbed before 1968 and probably not much since!]
[Looking far up valley to the NW at Flints Peak]
[Looking west at some unfamiliar sounding peaks including Sira and Elaphus]
[The unmistakable form of Assiniboine - the "Matterhorn of the Rockies" and one of my all time favorite climbs]
[Girouard (L), Peechee (C) and Inglismaldie (R)]
[Lovely environs of Brocks Ridge / Peak with Revenant Mountain looming above, notice the small tarn? That would be a great bivy spot!]
After taking many photos and at least 45 to 60 minutes on the summit we started our descent. I'm impressed that the Ramblers managed this with a large group and no injuries - the descent is very loose and we kicked many rocks down despite trying hard not to. We met up with Steven before proceeding back down the long approach drainages. He verified that his summit was basically a moderate scramble with route finding. He also found some evidence of a register (unreadable), which we didn't have on ours. We all agreed that while his summit was most likely the previously named one, ours was higher and had better views. It's up to you which is more important! ;) The hike out was long and very hot, but easy and pleasant enough for the most part. It certainly wasn't the 'easy, short' day out that I was expecting but 9.5 hours wasn't too bad.
[Time for a steep and loose descent]
[The summit block on Astley is impressive and thankfully not as hard as it first looks!]
[Plenty of scrambling on descent]
[Can't get enough of Inglismaldie from this angle - it has a horn shaped summit which surprised me a bit]
[Ugh! This was a bit loose and caution was needed not to kick rocks on each other while descending.]
[Taking advantage of snow on descent]
[Back in a scorching hot canyon! Remember - no water here until the branch to the left and this might dry up soon. A lot less water on route than I was expecting and this is a HOT canyon when the sun is out.]
[A long but interesting hike back down the drainage]
[Back through the narrows]
I highly recommend Astley as a scramble for fit parties who are tired of beaten trails to their summits. The absolute high point is a difficult and exposed scramble, so it's up to you which of the options you choose to call 'Astley'. In the end - it really doesn't matter does it? ;)
The final summit ridge to the highest point is very exposed and loose, other than that it's a moderate scramble on scree and slabs.
Named by J.J. McArthur in 1890. J.J. McArthur, who completed the first ascent, was from Aylmer, Quebec. Official name. First ascended in 1889 by J.J. McArthur. Journal reference CAJ 10-32. (from peakfinder.com)
After scrambling up Commonwealth Peak the day before, Keith and I found ourselves driving to the Mount Aylmer trailhead at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park on Saturday morning, June 27 2009.
I should point out that we were fairly tired. And it wasn't because we did Commonwealth Peak in 3.45 hours the night before. It was because of the rude neighbors we had at the Spray Lakes campground! Keith and I are both very tolerant guys. We were fine with the youthful antics of our 20 year old neighbors till about midnight. After that the games of 'truth or dare', 'jackpot' and other drunken distractions got a little bit old. Our neighbors on the other side were actually pretty good till they started up a BONGO DRUM at 1AM!!!!!! I'm disappointed in the campground management, who should develop a sense of responsibility and courage to at least drive around at midnight and out of courtesy, shut down these inconsiderate people...
Ah well. Who needs sleep before doing a 30+ km day right? And that vertical mile of height gain? You don't need more than around 5 hours of shut-eye for that right? ;-) I was a bit concerned about the bike ride since the ride in and out of Commonwealth the previous evening had been my first time on a bike for the year. My butt was definitely not happy with me for the first few minutes of the Minnewanka trail!
We met Heather and Parry in the parking lot just before heading out. They were waiting for a couple of friends before embarking on the same trip so we bid them a "cya later" and sped off down the trail.
I've always enjoyed the Lake Minnewanka single track and this was no exception. My legs were surprisingly cooperative and Keith and I enjoyed the 8km ride to LM8 - the campsite where we ditched the bikes and prepared for our 15km hike into Mount Aylmer. After a paranoid Keith (he thinks everyone is out to steal his bike... ;-)) walked our bikes into the middle of the bush and locked them to a massive tree, we started up the steep Aylmer pass trail at around 09:00, an hour after leaving the parking lot.
The trail from here to the turn off gully is set at an unrelenting angle - UP. This is a good thing because even though the bike ride has gained you about 100-150 vertical meters you have also lost all that height gain and are looking at over a vertical mile from the bike stash to the summit! Trust me. It feels like a vertical mile too.
[The Aylmer Pass trail is inviting and relentlessly takes you up from the lake shore.]
After 2.3km we came across the trail branching to our right to the Aylmer Lookout. About 10 or 15 minutes past this spot we finally took our first real break of the day on some rocks near the trail. This was the first time we really had any good views since the bike ride as well. A cute Pika kept us entertained and the warm sun almost made us regret the fact that we still had so far to go.
A bit further and we were at the drainage where scramblers must leave the trail to gain the ridge that runs from Aylmer's upper slopes to the lookout. The drainage and the slopes above were riddled with Grizzly diggings. As we hiked up the slope we were amazed at how aggressive this bear was! S/he was on the hunt for gophers and must have been pretty hungry judging from the size of the holes! I would not hike this area alone during it's restricted season (July 15th to September) judging by the looks of these slopes this is one very active bear area.
After finally topping out on the ridge we could hear the voices of Parry and Heather's party down on the trail below. We caught a quick glimpse of them before tramping on up the ridge. We chose the moderate / difficult scramble route over the scree bashing hiking route to the high col from the ridge. It turns out that this was a great decision because the quality of rock on the ridge was much more enjoyable than the loose, wet scree on the hiking route.
[Pika's are extremely curious and very cute. They will also eat all your snacks if you let them! (Sounds like my kids...)]
[Here we've just left the Aylmer Pass trail and are going climber's right up the steep gully that Kane mentions. This whole area was riddled with Grizzly diggings all the way up to the col around the corner to the right.]
[What a glorious morning to be out in the hills!]
[Great scenery back down our approach valley - you can see why Grizzlies love this area.]
[At the ridge. You have two choices here. You can contour up the ridge, following either the brown scree or the snow gully which will eventually lead to some difficult down climbing or you can contour around the gray colored scree to climber's left, eventually bypassing the crux but spending a long time side hilling on loose scree. Aylmer's summit is a really long way from here, even though it doesn't look it. Trust me. Trust your altimeter watch. ++]
[Keith heads up the brown shale, we decided to stick to the ridge.]
[Awesome scenery continues on the brown shale. This is looking towards the Palliser Range which only has one named summit and many unnamed ones.]
[Keith nears the first (and hardest) down climb. The summit looks so close but it's still over 400 vertical meters away from this point!]
[Looking at the impressive valleys and summits of the Palliser Range to the north / west.]
[Looking west to Astley Peak]
[Mount Assiniboine looks very cool from this angle.]
After reaching the down climb we could see why it's rated moderate / difficult. The exposure isn't too bad (you probably won't die if you fall here), but it's very steep and over-hanging at the bottom. I was very happy with my 6ft frame as I stretched through the bottom move and exited the difficult down climb. Keith breezed down the climb in short order and after another moderate down climb we joined up with the easy route and trudged up to the high col.
Did I mention how long this scramble is?! From the high col I new we still had about 350 vertical meters to go (thanks to my altimeter watch I didn't get lulled into thinking we were closer than we were). The final section is nothing but a scree slog but thankfully we had a well-defined trail and some firm (fresh) snow to assist our ascent.
[Keith approaches the crux down climb.]
[Keith on the top of the difficult / moderate down climb. It had great (and fairly solid) holds but was over hanging at the bottom which made for some awkwardness.]
[Keith at the top of the second moderate down climb.]
[From a bit further on Aylmer's ridge you can see the entire difficult / moderate section of the ridge behind us and the impressive valleys to the north, including the impressive unnamed peaks of the Palliser Range. ++]
[Incredible views over our descent ridge and towards Lake Minnewanka. ++]
[Can you believe it?! Still not there.]
The summit sported an impressive view, although the thickening cloud cover was a bit disappointing - as was the cold breeze. We didn't spend a lot of time at the summit, choosing to do our relaxing on the way down in a warm spot out of the wind.
[Looking east and south off the summit of Aylmer. Costigan and Orient Point in the distance. ++]
[Summit panorama ++]
[This is a great view of Devil's Head in the Ghost area]
[Mount Hector at left.]
[Looking north towards Poltergeist.]
[Girouard and Inglismaldie]
Back near the high col we ran into Heather and Parry's party and after a brief chat continued down. We also encountered another couple who must have thought our packs looked immense compared with their small ones! They were in shorts and runners but were (sort of) enjoying themselves nonetheless. We could see them earlier on the crux section and it took them a while to navigate down it but to their credit they looked determined to make the summit they did!
[On the way down we spot two other people on the crux down climb section of the ridge]
[More scenery on the way down showing our ridge that we descended at center. ++]
[Looking back at the summit from the scree traverse that bypasses the crux. We wished we went back up and over the crux to avoid this section on the way down.]
All the way up we were debating taking the ridge descent to the Aylmer Lookout. My legs were feeling tired and sore and I wasn't sure about but it looked so pleasant and the day was so nice we decided to do it. It was a great decision! The ridge walk to the lookout is very pleasant. You have much better views than the hike on the Aylmer Pass trail and for much longer too. The only key to finding the lookout (despite what the Gemtrek map shows) is to stick on the sheep track all the way along the ridge. The few times we dipped off it to skier's right we almost got in trouble. You will eventually come to a very steep drop off into a rocky drainage, just after the weird burnt area. If you go on the skier's left of the ridge there is an easy trail around the drainage on the east side of the ridge. Follow this trail another 10 minutes and you'll see the obvious lookout.
[Starting the pleasant ridge hike back.]
[More of the ridge and views down Lake Minnewanka.]
[Where now?! There is a bit of route finding on the ridge.]
[A pleasant stroll through dead forest - an old burn site.]
[The fire lookout is just ahead with Peechee looming above.]
[Looking back at Aylmer from the lookout.]
I was expecting a fire lookout building but only the stone foundation remains. We hiked up to the lookout and spent about 2 minutes taking in the excellent views before heading down the trail again. The 'endless switchbacks' actually aren't too bad - there's only around 4 or 5 of them. It's the walking back towards Aylmer Pass up hill that's the issue! I'm not sure why there's a section of the lookout trail that goes in the wrong direction and up hill but it's a bit disconcerting. We eventually did reach the main trail and hoofed it back to our bikes.
[Great views up Lake Minnewanka towards Banff from the fire lookout.]
[Indian Paintbrush on the hike back out.]
The bike ride out was fast and furious. We passed two other bikers who had packs about the size of my scrambling boots - I think they were quite surprised to be passed by two guys wearing climbing helmets with alpine packs on! That was fun though.
A great trip, nice mountain to have done but I won't be back for more of this one.
The crux can be bypassed making this a simple mountain hike 'n bike.
Named by C.L. Noyes, H.P. Nicholls, C.S. Thompson, G.M. Weed, Ralph Edwards in 1899. Baker, G.P. (A memer of the Alpine Club (London) who accompanied members of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the Rockies in 1897) Official name. First ascended in 1923 by Walter D. Wilcox, guided by Rudolph Aemmer. Journal reference App 9-21. (from peakfinder.com)
The Ravens originally had a trip planned for the Asulkan Hut in Rogers Pass for the weekend of April 19-23rd. Due to poor conditions the objective was changed at the last hour to Peyto Hut on the Wapta Ice field instead. Some of us could only make it for Friday night while a group went in on Thursday already and left on Sunday.
Wietse, Scott, Kelly and Robin all headed in on Thursday. They initially had intentions of climbing Mount Habel after getting to the Peyto hut but the warmth of the hut combined with deteriorating conditions led them to drink beer and eat good food instead! J Unfortunately the weather continued to deteriorate on Thursday night and by the time Bill, Kevin and I left the parking area on Friday morning we were in clouds, moderate to heavy snow flurries and wind. The best part was that Bill and I both left our GPS units at home! Ooops. Neither of us had been up the Peyto Glacier either…
As we approached the canyon / moraine on the approach, I had a decision to make. I knew from recent MCR guide reports that the canyon approach was in shape – which is sort of rare. I had no idea where this route went or what condition it would be in with the fresh snow loading. I was willing to follow obvious tracks if they existed, but the fresh snow had erased an previous sign of ascent so I reluctantly chose a line up the moraine instead. I’ve been up this moraine a couple of times, once on skis when we attempted Jimmy Simpson and another time in the summer when Raff and I did our crazy one day trip of Mistaya and Caldron. Both times the moraine managed to suck a lot of energy out of me but this time was different for some reason. I ascended rather effortlessly to the research station with only one short avy slope that made me pause. Old ski tracks were visible going right up the slope but I chose a more conservative line and still felt a bit exposed on it.
After Bill and Kevin caught up to me at the research station (which seems to be falling apart), we all headed for the Peyto Glacier. The whiteout conditions made navigation a bit tricky but we managed to ascend the glacier no problem and did a wide contour to skier’s right before heading towards the hut which was visible in between snow squalls. It was a bit disappointing to realize that there would probably be no summits this day. We were originally planning to ascend Baker on Friday afternoon and Trapper early on Saturday. We even thought we’d be following the previous groups track up Baker – making it a fairly benign trip. Considering our tracks were disappearing behind us almost as quickly as we were making them, we doubted very much that Scott, Kelly, Wietse and Robin had ascended anything yet. We were right.
[Looking back at Bill and Kevin starting the ascent of the morainne bypass to the canyon on the right side of the photo.]
[The research station comes into sight. Peyto Glacier is beyond it in a near white out.]
After making it to the hut (I was surprised how much height gain there is to the hut from the glacier) we discovered some slightly disappointed faces from the other guys. They were making the most of the situation (it’s all about the journey right Wietse?!) but two days with no summits was wearing on the more peak bagger types in the group (i.e. Wietse J). The group had attempted Baker earlier but with whiteout conditions and strong winds they turned around.
[OK - THIS is a complete white out! Ascending Peyto Glacier.]
[The Ravens inside Peyto Hut.]
[We had a full hut! For some reason people were urinating in the snow around the hut which confused me a bit because that's where the drinking snow was supposed to come from! (Not to mention, the biffy is right there...)]
[See? The biffy is close by and even has a line of wands in case of white outs. It has a great view too! Peyto Peak rises right above with Trapper and Tilly Point off to the left.]
After a 20 minute break I still felt like at least attempting something. I hate sitting around too long with nothing to do. Wietse and I gamely tried another attempt of Baker. Again, we were turned back by intense snow flurries and whiteout conditions. Better safe than sorry! At least we got a few more hours of exercise… The hut was booked right full. After some good laughs and discussion we turned in to the sounds of people doing dishes until midnight. We got pay back the next morning.
At 0400 on Saturday things weren’t looking real good. The wind was still howling and clouds were still out. After a couple more hours of sleep there were a few anxious questions, “How does it look?”. It looked great. We got up in good spirits and after a nice cup of coffee and some breakfast we were ready to rock ‘n roll Mount Baker. We were a bit cautious in our enthusiasm due to the last 36 hours of wind and snow but at least the weather was good! While everyone else skinned up for the ascent, I decided to try my kick wax and forego skins as high as possible since the wax seemed to be holding up so well. I know from my x-country skiing how well wax can work in certain conditions.
[Robin breaks trail up to the Baker col.]
[Looking back at the rest of the team with Habel in the background. Scott pointed out that it looks very feasible to ascend Habel from this side via the obvious snow ridge.]
Robin is in fantastic shape and he broke trail most of the way to the Baker / Tilly col. I managed to break for about 5 minutes before he got tired of my slow pace and passed me. Hey – I had the 50 meter rope in my pack and he does yoga.The wind was howling pretty good at the col. I knew from TJ that it’s possible to ascend the north east face to the ridge on skis in the right conditions. We had a mix of hard slab and soft snow drifts – not the best skiing conditions, so we took off the skis and put on crampons at the col. I led the way up the steep face, trying to stay clear of the freshly corniced ridge, yet close enough to it that we’d be on top of any sliding. The higher we got on the face, the more exposed the situation became. Near the top of the face Robin and I took turns bashing through knee to waist deep soft drift on top of rock hard slab – not the most encouraging of avy situations! It didn’t help when we looked down and the rest of the group was waiting it out to see if we made it. :| (Obviously that was the right thing for them to do, but it does add to the drama of being the first one across a freshly loaded, steep snow slope!) Robin and I were both very relieved when we finally made it to the top of the face and onto the north east ridge where things felt more stable.
[Another shot of the group coming up to the col. Mount Thompson in the background with Peyto Hut underneath it.]
[Looking out over the Wapta Ice field from the lower North east face of Baker.]
[The team follows me up with Tilly Point and Peyto Peak in the background.]
[It looks easy once there's a track but when you're the first one up a "blank slate" it's kind of intimidating, especially with fresh snow, large cornices and not being 100% sure of the best line. It also makes you slightly nervous when the guys below are waiting to see if you make it before they start across. And are strapping their avalung on! :-)]
[I have a built-in level in my camera, so this is the exact angle of the upper Northeast face. I'd heard it's only 20 degrees but either we're off route or 20 degrees has gotten steeper since I took geometry! :-) It's possible that other teams have gained the ridge faster than we did, but we couldn't because of a large and fresh cornice from the recent wind and snow event.]
[Happy to be off the face!]
Kevin and I led the way up the final ridge to the summit. This was a fantastic snow climb! The ridge was quite exposed with fantastic drops on both sides and a freshly formed cornice to our left just to keep things spicy. The final little face to the summit was tricky with 1-2 feet of sugar snow on top of rock hard slab. The sugar snow provided very little support for our steps and the slab underneath was so hard you could barely get your ax into it for any sort of anchor point. A slip here would not have been pretty. The summit view was pretty though.
[Robin with the remaining ridge climb to the summit - looks fun!]
[Kevin comes off the face and onto the ridge.]
[Looking over the corniced ridge to Mount Habel. It looks really accessible from this side but I've never read of anyone doing it that way. Mount Collie is on the right.]
[Kev follows me up. Looking at this picture it looks much easier than it felt but again, the trail certainly helps once it's there!]
Views were fantastic in all directions and we thoroughly enjoyed the accomplishment of this summit. Bill Kerr enjoyed a very special birthday on a very nice peak – we all congratulated him on a nice achievement at his (young) age. Nobody (except maybe Robin) wanted to hang out too long on the summit due to the steep and loaded slopes we still had to descend. The descent went well, other than the steep little face under the summit which felt kind of exposed with the loose sugary snow offering very little support on the steep angle.
[Vern on the summit of Mount Baker.]
[Happy birthday Bill!]
[Looking over at Mount Habel from the summit.]
[Summit panorama looking south, west and north. ++]
[Mount Collie, Des Poilus and Ayesha.]
[Summits for Seniors gets another peak! (And a senior?!)]
At the col we decided that since we probably wouldn’t be back any time soon and we still had tons of time we might as well bag Tilly Point too. There was some debate about whether or not it’s a real peak but what the heck is a “real peak” anyway?! If it has a name it goes on my summit log! It only took about 20 minutes to get on top of Tilly and the views were much better than you’d think. It’s almost the same height as the neighboring Trapper Peak and the view of Baker is impressive from this angle. Robin and I sat down for a few minutes to soak in the awesome views of the Wapta while the others started heading down. Bill, Kelly and Scott were cold at the col so they decided to forgo Tilly and headed down on skis, trying to stay as high as possible on the bench between Habel and Baker in order to coast all the way to the tripod device on the Wapta where we had dumped our extra gear in the morning.
[Descending in sugary snow just underneath the summit was the trickiest part of the day. No way to self arrest if your foothold broke and you'd plummet a long ways left and down.]
[Descending the upper ridge with the gorgeous environs of the Wapta beneath us. A group from the hut skied the snout of Habel that's peeking into the picture from the right.]
[Looking back at other team members descending.]
[Almost back at the north east face.]
[Looking back at Scott and Kelly coming down the face as I ascend Tilly Point.]
[Vern on the summit of Tilly Point. Complete with a burning barrell!]
[Summits for Seniors on the summit of Tilly Point.]
[Mount Baker looks gorgeous from Tilly Point!]
[Panorama including Trapper, Peyto, Jimmy Simpson, Thompson, St. Nicholas, Olive and Habel. ++]
Robin and I were the last to leave the col and we managed to stay very high on skier’s right and coasted all the way to the tripod. As an interesting side note – it seems entirely possible to do Mount Habel and Baker in one day by gaining the north end of Habel from the Watpa between Habel and Baker. I don’t know if this is feasible every year but it certainly looked easily feasible this year. Once at the tripod Wietse, Bill, Kev and I packed up our extra hut gear and parted from the other three who made their way over to Peyto.
[Robin skis beneath Mount Habel on the way down. The other hut team skied down the nose of the ridge right above him.]
[Skier tracks off Mount Habel along with the three team members heading off to Peyto Hut for one last night. The other four of us are heading back out.]
Our exit from the Peyto Glacier went without a hitch. We coasted easily down the ramp on the glacier and pretty much glided all the way to the toe. From there Wietse led us down the canyon route, which his group took on ascent. I must admit that I wasn’t 100% confident in our decision to exit via the canyon. There was talk of a few “no slip” zones where a slip would sent you plummeting into the canyon below and with the warming trend I was also concerned about avalanches in the confines of the canyon where there is no room to avoid the run outs (i.e. typical terrain trap).
The canyon lived up to my expectation. It was gorgeous, somewhat exposed and a terrific terrain trap! It was also a very fast exit. I’m really glad we took the canyon so that I know what it involves, but I don’t know if I’ll be taking it again anytime soon. Avy conditions will have to be bomber for me to consider going up it (in the trap longer on ascent) and I wouldn’t exit it unless I knew someone else did it before me. There were sections of waterfall ice where we had to descend into the creek which would only work in low water / high snow conditions. There were huge rock faces on both sides of the creek that definitely hold snow and threatened to avalanche at least half the route or more. There was also a tricky down climb that was crazy exposed to skier’s left for 3 or 4 moves – probably the most dangerous thing we did all weekend! (We could have avoided this by looking further to skiers right but we blindly followed someone else’s up track here…) All-in-all the route went and went quickly which was nice, but my feeling is that the moraine (canyon bypass route) is much safer and more practical for most people in most conditions.
[Wietse leads us towards the canyon at the end of the Peyto Glacier depproach. The morainne exit is to the left side of this picture.]
[Kevin takes off his skis to cross a small section of rocks. Many years there isn't enough snow on this route to attempt it.]
[Bill and Kevin lead the way into the creekbed. This is the only spot we actually got into the creek itself, everywhere else you have to stay above the creek on skiers right. In this spot there is waterfall ice to our right - almost impossible to cross without full-on ice gear.]
[Looking back at our tracks descending into the creekbed. Note the steep walls of the creekbed, all holding snow. These snow slopes slide regularly and are the reason this route is dangerous.]
[This last section was the most risky for us - but partly due to dumb route choice! We should have gone up to our right to get over a steep snow drift but instead we exposed ourselves to some extreme dropoff...]
[Hard to tell, but if Wietse slips to his right, he's a gonner! Not the smartest route choice I've ever made.]
The ski out of Peyto Lake was long but pleasant (I burnt my arms from rolling up my sleeves!) and the exit to the parking area was better than I expected. For all the grouching over the Peyto approach I didn’t find it that bad. It was much more pleasant than I remembered from my first two versions – so maybe a high snow pack helps ease the pain! I also can’t figure out the initial approach route to the fire road that people take from highway 93. Did you know that there’s a perfectly easy route that descends 30 feet down an open slope directly onto this road? Just follow Chic’s guidebook description exactly the way he writes it and save yourself a nasty first and last few minutes through trees on this route.
[Back on Peyto Lake with the Peyto Glacier and Mount Habel just barely visible in the far distance. Caldron Peak towers on the right.]
[I don't know why everyone misses this easy descent onto the old road from hwy 93, but if you simply follow Chic's route description you have no excuse! This shot is taken right from the shoulder of hwy 93. Note - there is no trees or steep, crappy snow slope to descend here!! :-)]
A great mountain and most importantly a great outing with friends in the back country. What more do you need?
Glacier route includes crevasse issues and steep snow slopes. Don't minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.
Named by James Hector in 1859. Balfour, Professor John Hutton MD (Professor Balfour was a professor of botany at Glasgow University and Dean of the medical school at the University of Edinburgh. He provided much encouragement to the Palliser Expedition.) Official name.
First ascended in 1899 by C.L. Noyes, Charles S. Thompson, G.M. WeedJournal reference CAJ 1-151; App 9-20; 92. Other reference Trail to the Charmed Land-Ralph Edwards.
Day 2 - Balfour Hut -> Ben's Detour (!) -> Mount Balfour -> Balfour Hut
TJ's alarm woke up the hut by going off repeatedly every 2 minutes for half an hour as TJ slept blissfully unaware of the annoyance with his industrial strength ear plugs. By 07:00 Ben had the lights on and the water boiling and we reluctantly left our warm sleeping bags for breakfast. TJ FINALLY decided it was time to wake up too and shut his watch up! :-)
I barely managed to choke down some Nutri-grain cereal bars and some instant coffee while TJ and Ben stuffed themselves with as much oatmeal as humanly possible. Even though there was some hurricane force gusts of wind and some clouds moving over the glacier we decided that we should go for Balfour and hoped the weather forecast would hold and the weather would improve over the day. We also decided to rope up for the ascent to the Balfour high col, even though there was a clear ski track all the way up. There are some snow bridges to cross and roping up just seemed like a good idea. (Considering the terrain I would not recommend a rope-less ascent here - even though skiing with a rope is a bit of a PITA at times.)
We ascended about 120 vertical meters before getting the rope out and getting it rigged for crevasse rescue. Ben led at a sustainable pace and soon we were passing by the impressive seracs on Balfour's east face. The track we followed went up the lower route (climber's left) which is a good ascent route IMHO. The upper route looks exposed to a very active hanging glacier and we noticed fresh debris and small avalanches from cornice failure along the upper route. Balfour looks big from the hut but much bigger when you're struggling up to the high col. As we passed over some gaping holes near the top of the route we were glad we roped up and surprised by the size of a couple of the slots. This is not an area I would like to be in a white out! On our right side was massive blocks of hanging glacial ice, looking ready to peel off at any second and on our left was a rock face with black holes of blue ice waiting to swallow unsuspecting skiers. Good visibility or very keen route-finding is necessary on this route.
[TJ skis towards Mount Balfour in great early morning lighting. It looks fairly intimidating with high clouds swirling and heavily crevassed hanging glaciers on the east face. ++]
[Our route will go up the left hand side of the lower moraines before cutting up under the east face.]
[Looking back at Ben and our approach trail. You can see the terrain is fairly steep already here. The Vulture Glacier in the background with Olive on the left and Vulture on the right.]
[TJ and Ben come up behind me - we have already gained a few hundred meters here.]
[We're roped up now, heading up to the col at upper right.]
[Ben skis up under the heavily crevassed east face of Mount Balfour. This is where we started crossing bridged crevasses. ++]
[Beautiful view over the Vulture Glacier from high up near the Balfour Col. In good weather, this is a special place.]
[Ben stops for a breather. Here you can see the objective dangers of traversing under the east face - hanging serac regularly calve off and plunge onto the bench below.]
[The upper col is much flatter - there are crevasses here and people have gotten lost in white out conditions and even died by wandering too far to the left. The possible shortcut to the upper ridge of Balfour lies to the right, just out of sight in the shaded bowl in front of Ben here.]
You may have noticed the Ben's Detour leg of the title for Day 2 - here's an explanation. As we approached the Balfour high col, TJ pointed to a steep snow route up to the South ridge from our (the east) side and commented that the snow was probably stable enough to head up it. Ben and I made some discouraging remarks and ended that suggestion but upon returning home and doing some research I realize that this is a route that some folks take on Balfour. This shortcut would certainly save a lot of time, provided you managed to stay out of the obvious schrund and didn't get avalanched off the east face on your ascent!
[Ben tries to figure out where the heck we're supposed to go! We ended up descending down the ridge (opposite of this photo) before realizing that we were originally close to the correct descent slope which is about 200m up the ridge in the foreground and bails off to climber's left in front of the obvious rock rib.]
In our case, if we took the shortcut route we would have missed out on a deluxe detour, personally guided by our fearless rope leader - Ben. I suggested we follow obvious ski tracks up the southeast ridge from the high col. I remembered reading about a party that looked for the descent notch too far south, so I wanted to avoid that mistake by staying high on the south ridge from the col. We gained another 100 meters of elevation before stopping for an energy boost. At this point we still hadn't found a way down to the glacial bench on the west side of Balfour that was supposed to give us access to the upper mountain. Everywhere we looked off the ridge was hundreds of feet of rocky cliff bands plunging vertically to the glacier below.
Ben pulled out his map.
Then Ben confidently stated that we should be further south and much lower to find the notch. TJ and I assumed that Ben was the master of his map and promptly followed him down the south ridge and onto the lower glacier of the Waputik ice field below the Balfour high col. OOOOPS. After unsuccessfully searching for a feasible way down, TJ finally glanced at the map and ordered us back UP the ridge. We were way too far south. My legs weren't happy as we retraced our route back to our break spot and about 1 minute further up the ridge to the notch! Oh well. We got to experience even more of the Waputik on our Ben Detour. :-)
I'm not as used to steep, snowy terrain as Ben and TJ and was more intimidated by the steep, snowy, rubbly route down from the notch to the glacial bench then they were. Technically you actually go down just south of the notch, anyway we did. The route looks very steep from above but isn't that bad once you're on it. I wouldn't want too much snow clinging to this slope - it's exposed to the sun and definitely steep enough to slide. It's probably a good thing it's so steep - loose snow won't stick to it! After descending about 100 meters we decided to put our skis back on for the traverse and re-ascent of the south ridge. We left our skins on since we had already decided to gain the south ridge as soon as possible. Our other option was to ski much further up the glacial bench before ascending the south west face of Balfour under the summit block but given the very strong sun and the exposure and run-out of this slope we didn't feel comfortable doing it on this particular day.
[Skiing back to the descent slopes, we will descend left just ahead of this spot before contouring around the rock rib in front of Ben and regaining the upper snowy ridge of Balfour.]
[Looking back at the steep descent slopes down the SW slopes from the upper ridge to the lower Balfour Glacier.]
Ben led us up a short but very steep and sun-exposed slope to gain the ridge. This was probably the diciest snow slope we were on all weekend. The snow pack was shallow and crusty with typical Rockies sugar underneath. We didn't linger any longer than necessary on it.
Once on the south ridge we ditched our skis and proceeded on crampons to the summit. Ben broke trail for us all the to the top. There were a few thoughtful moments along the way when we traversed (climber's left) onto steep snow or probed carefully for cornices to make sure we were still on rock but the views kept us entertained the whole way. What a gorgeous, gorgeous day in the hills!! It's been a long time since I've experienced anything quite like this day. Blue skies, cool breezes and peaks and glaciers falling away from us like waves on a white ocean of snow and ice gave us an incredible day of climbing.
[This was the diciest slope we climbed on Balfour. You can see that it's already very sun exposed and definitely steep enough to slide. We didn't take our time up this section either on ascent or skiing down it later.]
[TJ looks down the slope we just came up - the ridge we avoided behind him.]
[Ben leads up the steep ridge - Mount Olive and Vulture glacier far beneath us now to the right.]
[Looking down the steep snow face we ascended (L) and the Balfour Glacial Bench / Rock wall with Daly and Niles in the distance and the approximate route line drawn in.]
[Great views over the south face of Balfour towards The Presidents. ++]
[Towering over other Yoho summits now, looking towards Lake Louise over the Daly / Niles col with Temple, Lefroy and Victoria clearly visible.]
[What a gorgeous summit panorama from the Wapta's highest peak! We were privileged to take in these views in every direction. ++]
[Looking down the ascent ridge over the Balfour col and Lilliput, which looks like a mere bump on the ice field below. The route we took the next day up Lilliput and down the Balfour Glacier marked in red.]
[Vern on the loftiest summit of the Wapta - Mount Balfour! I waited many years to stand on this summit and it was worth the wait.]
The summit view did not disappoint. Countless peaks in every direction greeted us, including distant ones like Sir Sandford and the Bugaboos. We spent some time relaxing and drinking in the views before descending back down the ridge.
[Looking far to the north over Collie (out of sight to the left) towards Rostrum Peak.]
[More distant Freshfield summits including Trutch, Gligit, Helmer and Barlow.]
[Looking over Arete Peak deep into British Columbia.]
[Mount Sir Sanford is impressive from this angle! At 11,545 feet high, it is the loftiest peak in the Selkirk Mountain Range.]
[Mount Vaux is still a favorite summit of mine.]
[Looking over Mount Stephen with the huge Goodsirs looming beyond.]
[Cathedral on the left with Owen at center.]
[Biddle, Niles, Hungabee, Victoria and Lefroy]
[A slightly wider view of the Glacial bench running down to Niles with Temple in the bg at left and Vaux on the right.]
[Looking down the ascent ridge with tiny Lilliput at center.]
[Looking over the tiny Balfour Hut (lower right) up the Vulture Glacier.]
[Mount Hector was another great summit with TJ, Little Hector on the left.]
[The distinctive forms of Douglas and St. Bride at the left.]
[Our exit the next day will be via the flats at lower left to Hector Lake.]
On our way down we met a couple from Revelstoke ascending our tracks with skis on their backs. They were intending to ski down the south face from the summit ridge but as we got lower we looked back and they were coming back down the ridge. Probably a good choice given the exposure of that slope, although on hindsight it probably would've held up fine. I'm pretty sure they didn't make the summit either which is too bad since they got awfully close.
[A wide spot on the descent ridge.]
[Descent was quick]
The ski back down the south facing slope off the ridge was better than expected. I messed it up but Ben and TJ made short work of it. I was sucking wind getting back up to the notch but eventually I huffed, puffed and wheezed my way to the top and we were ready to ski back to the hut. We descended the glacier unroped but carefully and slowly around the snow bridged holes and soon were back at the hut - about 1:45 minutes after leaving the summit of Balfour.
[The upper ridge looks intimidating from lower down.]
[Careful down climbing on the ridge.]
[Prepping for the steep ski down to the glacial bench.]
[Climbing back up the steep slope to the Balfour high col.]
[The couple from Revelstoke are barely visible on the massive ridge (right near the top).]
[Descending to the Balfour Hut.]
[Ben and TJ are skiing quickly back down to the hut.]
Apparently an ACC group was planning on visiting the Balfour Hut for our second night there. Since all three of us are very shy, we were distraught over this news and a bit wary about the imminent shattering of our peace and quiet! TJ got all excited as we neared the hut. "There's no skis!", he said - "maybe they aren't coming after all!". I told him he was dreaming but we enjoyed a nice hour of quietly unpacking our stuff and making supper before Ben announced that he could see people approaching from the Vulture Glacier.
We had some pleasant conversation over supper and afterward TJ, Ben and I had a 3 man game of crib. I let them win again because they were doing such a good job of breaking trail for me. Next time - watch out boys! After gazing at the map for a few minutes, TJ suggested a very interesting trip possibility for the next day. It involved climbing back up to the Balfour high col before ascending little-known Lilliput Mountain and then exiting the Waputik via the Balfour Glacier and Hector Lake. This was an intriguing route because none of us knew anyone personally who'd done it before. I wrote our plans in the hut log book and from that point on we were committed to trying it. One interesting side effect of our route off the Balfour Glacier was that we were going to end up 27km from our vehicle. We talked to the group that was sharing the hut with us and asked them to stop for us if they saw us hitching at the end of the day on their way home.
Later in the evening I spent some time outside trying to photograph the hut with the brilliant display of stars and sliver of moon lighting up Mount Balfour in the background. I got some decent shots but nothing spectacular. I learned some stuff though, so next time I'll do a better job. When I got back inside I was very surprised to find everyone in bed already! By 21:30 the lights were out. One of the best days I've had in the Rockies yet.
[A cheery hut under a star-filled cold winter sky.]
Glacier route includes crevasse issues and steep snow slopes. Don't minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.
Named by James Hector in 1858. Ball, John (John Ball was Under-secretary of State for the Colonies and was influential in obtaining funding for the Palliser Expedition; first president of the Alpine Club (London)) Official name. First ascended in 1904 by J.D. Patterson, guided by Christian Kaufmann, Hans Kaufmann. (from peakfinder.com)
I woke up at 0315 on Saturday morning, August 14 2010 eager to drive to the Marble Canyon camp ground and a bushwhack up Haffner Creek. OK, I wasn't exactly eager, but I did wake up! I arrived at the parking lot around 06:00 and by 06:30 our party of four was starting up Haffner Creek. I was joined by So, Andrea and Eric for this adventure.
Ironically for such a remote peak and difficult access, we met quite a few other people on this trip. It started right at the parking lot. Two guys with light day packs and runners followed up behind us as we set off up the creek. About 5 minutes into the hike, just at the end of the road where the route goes above the canyon I spotted a rather large grizzly bear!
[This is where we started our trip. You can either bushwhack right away (just go straight past this water tower and trend to climber's right until you hit the stream) or go straight south (right) here and walk a short way on a road before being forced by cliffs along the stream to go up to climber's left. We saw the bear at the end of this short road.]
At first I thought it was a small black bear. Then it moved much closer to us and I realized quickly that this was no small black bear! This was a good sized grizzly and it wasn't too scared of us. We weren't scared either since we had So with us and he knows karate. ;-) The two guys following us didn't realize the bear was approaching and unintentionally they started to box it in by going up a side slope behind us! The bear was getting a bit confused and agitated. We yelled loudly and the two guys suddenly noticed the grizzly coming right at them and quickly gave it more room to get past. That was a close call. There's nothing like some trail head adventure to wake you up in the morning!
We were a little bit apprehensive about the Haffner Creek bushwhack. Existing trip reports use words like, "hell", "worse than hell", "hellish", "wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy" - you get the idea. Only one friend (Raf) had commented on the bushwhack being better than he expected. Raf does a lot of BC climbing so he had some perspective on the matter. I also remembered Inglismaldie, which was much better than I was expecting based on existing reports.
[Just after encountering the bear, we continue on slopes above the stream to the left.]
[The going was pretty easy at first.]
After leaving the creek bed and climbing above the canyon on climber's left for a while we started to notice bright orange flags marking a faint trail through the forest. This was encouraging! After a short stint high above the canyon the orange flagging guided us back to the stream. We followed the stream for quite a while, traveling much quicker than time spent side-hilling the burnt forest would have been. There was a very faint trail on the left side that disappeared and appeared somewhat randomly. As long as it was possible to stay in the stream we did. It was only when the bush got thick that we would look for other routes above the stream on climber's left. After about 1-1.5 hours we still hadn't done any real bushwhacking and wondered when it was going to start. Naturally, the bushwhacking started soon after this point!
[Starting to get into some heavy fireweed whacking.]
[I've never encountered such deep fireweed before! The fact that it was soaking wet didn't help either.]
Again, orange flagging saved the day for us. I led the way through the bush and across boulder fields, always looking intently for the next piece of flagging and following a very faint track through the waist-to-shoulder high fire weed. Sections of the upper route were quite tough but after 'only' 3 hours we were through the worst of the bush and feeling very good about our progress. The two guys behind us were nowhere to be seen as we started up the right-hand side of the headwall.
[We spot another party whacking their way up the climber's right side of the stream. Not sure if they had ribbons though...]
[The area is beautiful and punishing at the same time!]
[Approaching the headwall that will take us above tree line and into the hanging valley west of Mount Ball.]
The terrain immediately above the headwall was very cool. Thin stands of trees with glacier-worn rock and soft beds of moss had us thinking maybe we should bivy here already! A lack of running water kept us from making this decision - the water is mostly underground at this point. We ditched our bivy gear at one of the last stands of pine trees before breaking into the upper valley with the intent of choosing a site later. After a quick break we continued up to Mount Ball.
[The worst of the approach is now over, looking back from the lower headwall down Haffner Creek.]
[Looking up the headwall terrain and taking a break now that the worst bushwhacking is done.]
[Another look down Haffner Creek from higher up the headwall. We descended Stanley the next day via the slope on the right.]
[Above the headwall. We thought of camping here but you should go past tree line towards Ball (center) to find a really good bivy spot. There's no running water right here anyway.]
[Really interesting terrain as we approach tree line on the upper hanging Ball Valley.]
[So makes his way slightly down hill from the top of the head wall before finding a good bivy site.]
The karst pavement area was very neat. Marmots and Pika abound in this area due to little human traffic and almost complete lack of natural predators and a huge variety of cracks and caves in the pavement to call home. We hiked through a series of marmot whistles before the ascent route for Ball became visible. It's a very fore-shortened view! We eyed an obvious gully coming off of Beatrice and stored it away as a possible alternate descent route at the end of the day before proceeding up the regular Kane route. The waterfall was quite subdued as we crossed it.
[Andrea and So on the cool Karst Pavement that is prevalent in Ball Valley.]
[We bivied near here.]
[Looking back down valley towards Haffner (L) and Vermillion (R). ++]
[Great views looking up valley towards Ball. ++]
[Our access to Ball / Beatrice in red and descent from Beatrice in green.]
[The pavement layers were fascinating.]
[Grunting on scree towards the waterfall / gully access to the Beatrice / Ball col just right of center.]
[The views looking back are starting to get impressive too.]
[So scrambles the waterfall section.]
[Looking down the waterfall - don't want to slip here!]
The slope above the waterfall to the Beatrice / Ball col was more work than it looked from below but eventually we were at the col looking over at Mount Ball which seemed to be a fair distance away yet! Thankfully the route looked clear and we started over to it. We could still see the two guys following us and So even remarked that now there was 3 of them! We scoffed at him since there was only 2 guys the whole trek in but he insisted he saw a 3rd. We just assumed he was crazy.
[The terrain here is huge - it's further than it looks to the col from the waterfall.]
[It's a heckuva slope above the waterfall!]
The bump on the ridge was no problem, we went up on climber's right and over it. I led us up the snow field, we didn't need crampons with 2-4 inches of snow on the ice and a relatively low angled slope. We finally summitted Mount Ball 7 hours after leaving the parking lot (including all breaks).
[Great views from the Beatrice / Ball col. Ball at upper left, Beatrice just oos to the right. ++]
[Lots of airy exposure up here!]
[The bump on the ridge is easily passed en route to the summit at left.]
[Incredible views already, looking back at the Beatrice col with Beatrice in the bg and Stanley at left. ++]
[Big and exposed terrain - crampons are a good idea for the snow.]
[The rest of the group follows me to the summit of Mount Ball.]
[A massive summit panorama. ++]
The views from the top of Mount Ball are mind-blowing! Totally worth the suffering needed to attain them. I really pity people who didn't get any views from this summit. We spent a good 1.5 hours on the warm and windless peak taking photos, sleeping and munching on snacks. The two other guys came up and joined us after about 1 hour and told us there was another party of 3 that were probably not going to make the summit. So got his revenge on us at that point! I guess he's still crazy but not as crazy as I first thought... We all commented on how popular this mountain was considering the approach. I think it was because this was one of the first nice weekends this summer and nobody in their right mind wants to do this mountain unless the weather is good. Right Ferenc? We never did see the party of 3 so they suffered the approach in vain I guess. At least the views are good already above the headwall.
[Foster Peak looms over Boom Lake.]
[Shadow Lake Lodge is somewhere down there - just visible at around center.]
[Looking over Pharaoh Peaks towards Healy Pass and Sunshine Meadows. ++]
[Telephoto looking over Copper Mountain at the distinctive ridge on Ishbel which I also climbed with So.]
[Sneaking a glance at the hanging glacier between Stanley and Ball.]
[One more look at Pilot and Brett, one of my favorite pair of Kane scrambles.]
[Pharaoh Lake just visible at low center with Pharaoh Peaks around it. Beyond lie The Monarch and the Matterhorn of the Rockies - Mount Assiniboine.]
[Huber and Victoria]
[Hungabee and Deltaform]
[Even the Bugaboos show up!]
[Douglas and St. Bride in Skoki.]
[Vern, Eric, Andrea and So on the summit of Mount Ball.]
[Mighty Mount Assiniboine with Joffre in the far distance at left.]
After a good snooze on the summit we were ready to tackle the return to the col and the short trudge up Beatrice Peak. Eric refused to consider such a minor bump his 100th peak, so Beatrice became his 101st summit and Stanley would become his 100th the following day. Confused? Don't think about it too much.
[Descending the bump along the ridge to the Beatrice col. ++]
A long approach through heavy burn involves route finding. Snow and ice on route will complicate the upper mountain - ice ax and crampons highly recommended.
Named by Alpine Club of Canada in 1912. Schultz, Beatrice (Beatrice Schultz climbed this mountain in 1912.) Official name. First ascended by J.P. Forde and party which probably included Beatrice Schultz. (from peakfinder.com)
After ascending Mount Ball we decided to give Beatrice Peak a go. It seems very minor compared with the bulk of Ball, but it's an impressive height on it's own. It's only 25 meters lower than Stanley Peak.
From the col it only took us a few minutes and we were on the second windless peak of the day. Our two followers soon joined us but since they were going all the way back to the parking lot they bailed off the summit very quickly. I'm sure they had an interesting descent considering one of them was cramping up already on Mount Ball! We encouraged them to give the alternate descent gully a shot. We figured if it didn't go we would probably find out this way! Aren't we nice people? Based on Dave Stephen's trip report that Andrea had printed out we were pretty certain it would go (Dave did it when it was full of snow.)
[Descending from Ball to the Beatrice col. ++]
[Stanley Peak is impressive beside Beatrice.]
[Looking back at Mount Ball. ++]
[Massive summit pano with Ball at center. ++]
[Bob and Sonny's entries.]
[Sayin' it like it is!]
[Vern on the summit of Mount Beatrice with Stanley in the bg.]
[Looking towards Storm Mountain.]
[Gorgeous views of the glacier between Stanley and Ball. ++]
The views from Beatrice were still very good, but not quite the quality of Mount Ball. After another relaxing summit stay we decided that since the other two guys hadn't come back they were either stuck in the gully or they made it out already. We proceeded down the west side of Beatrice to the col above the gully and scoped out the route. It looked fabulous, but rather loose.
We scree-skied down the gully until hitting a snow patch which we glissaded and boot-skied before resuming on large scree. This descent gully is much quicker than retracing your ascent route through the waterfall and probably safer too - assuming you have a brain bucket on. The gully is full of very loose rock and rock fall is a hazard here. The good news is that it's a short exposure to any hazards.
[The steep and loose exit gully under the summit of Beatrice.]
[Yep - steep and loose!]
[Putting the little bit of snow in the gully to good use.]
[Trying to maintain control on descent.]
[The team fans out on exiting the steep gully.]
We leisurely made our way back to our bivy drop before lugging our gear back up to a perfect bivy site about .5km past the tree line where there was a rock kitchen set up, complete with chair, table and cooking area! A small stream briefly surfaced just under a nearby rock wall before plunging back into the rock - this is possibly the best bivy site you'll find in the area, but it's wide open so maybe not so good if it's windy or raining.
[Hiking back to camp on Karst Pavement.]
[I think this was some of the most interesting terrain I've hiked through in the Rockies.]
[A glance back at Ball.]
[Life meets limestone.]
Supper never tasted so good! I found the perfect little depression in the ground to sleep in and couldn't wait to get into my warm sleeping bag! After supper I spent a couple of hours wandering around the karst pavement above our camp, trying to get some video and pictures of the marmot population. One little guy was not very smart. Every time he poked his head out I would scare him. Each time he would get too curious and come back out! I did this 20 times and he kept coming back for another peek. Small minds are easily amused I guess (I'm not referring to the marmot here).
[What a bivy spot!!]
[Saxifrage is a beautiful and tiny alpine flower that only thrives near water.]
[A noisy (cute!) neighbor.]
Sunset was amazing. The whole world turned pink for about 5 minutes. So and I stayed up late to get some star pictures. I should have done some research on how to do this better. Next time I'll be better prepared with more batteries. While we were climbing Ball / Beatrice, two other guys came up and set up their bivy next to ours. They were going after Mount Ball on Sunday and had taken over 6.5 hours to get through the approach. Mount Ball was becoming a pretty popular place!
[Prayer flags on the approach to Ball.]
[The sun sets over camp.]
[The moon rises to the west.]
After getting into my warm sleeping bag around 2230 I was mesmerized by the incredible night sky. A few meteors only added to the incredible view of the Milky Way and stars that seemed so close I could touch them. I have never seen a sky quite like that. Absolutely incredible - it made the trip worth it right there. I fell asleep and slept like a baby until 0600 when my alarm told me it was time to pack camp and head over to ascend Stanley Peak.
[Sunset from my sleeping bag.]
[Full on darkness settles over the Rockies.]
A steep, loose gully to exit the peak could be problematic with a large party or snow / ice.
Named by J. Willoughby Astley in 1890. The mountain resembles a beehive. Official name. First ascended in 1891 by Samuel Allen. (from peakfinder.com)
On Friday, September 25 2010 Hanneke and I did a nice hiking circuit in Lake Louise. Our route took us to Lake Agnes, over The Beehive and down to the Plain of Six Glaciers trail back to the parking lot. The Beehive is not a tough scramble by any means, but it does involve some elevation gain and consequently some very sublime views.
[Hanneke walks up the trail to Lake Agnes - The Beehive looms above.]
[The headwall up to Lake Agnes.]
[Lake Agnes with Whyte and Niblock.]
[Fall scenery as we hike around Lake Agnes. Mount Whyte in the background.]
[Hanneke navigates the switchbacks to The Beehive / Devil's Thumb col.]
[Larches and blue sky - does it get better?]
[Yes it does! Add a blue lake to the mix!]
[View from the 'shelter' on The Beehive. ++]
[Mirror Lake and Lake Louise - ski runs in the background.]
[From left to right, Little Beehive, Lake Louise and Mount Fairview. ++]
[Larches and Mount Hector.]
[Vern on the summit of The Beehive.]
[Lake Louise castle from the summit.]
[The canoe hut.]
[Hanneke on the summit.]
[Great views looking towards Lefroy (left) and Victoria (right).]
[Lefroy and Victoria.]
[More great views.]
[Descending to the Plain of Six Glaciers trail.]
Hiking on trail - some minor exposure and loose scree.
Named by Alpine Club of Canada in 1910. Bell, Nora (Miss Bell was a member of an ACC party which made the first ascent of Mount Bell during the club's 1910 Annual Camp held at Consolation Lakes.) Official name. Other names Mount Bellevue. First ascended in 1910 by N. Bell and others. (info from peakfinder.com)
On Saturday, October 14 2006, I scrambled Mount Bell with Sonny, Calvin and Jeff. The weather was very acceptable for mid-October with some high cloud and temperatures anywhere from around 10 degrees at the base of the mountain to around 0 at the summit. There are no real route-finding issues on this scramble. We chose to do the 'alternate' approach, going up the scrubby, steep slope above Boom Lake rather than all the way to Taylor Lake and then to the col.
There are two things that may color my perception of this scramble a bit more negative than it would otherwise be. The first is that I was sick already before the trip (I was sick on Yukness already the week before!) and it only got worse as the day wore on. By the time I was done I had a good fever going. This made the whole outing quite unpleasant for me, physically. The second is that I really, really, really HATE rock-hard scree slopes. Even worse is that I forgot my trekking poles for the first time in over 2 years - bad timing! So with those two disclaimer statements up front let me continue my report...
After getting up to Boom Lake, we took some pictures in the morning mist. After enjoying the stillness of the morning, we headed around the lake on the North side, following a trail right by the shoreline. We followed this till we came to a large pile of rocks, settled between a small pond and Boom Lake. We started up the avi slope coming down to the pond. If we wanted to avoid losing elevation later we should have started traversing climber's left after getting to tree line to gain the col directly. We didn't know this though, so we went straight up to the ridge above us before realizing our route error. But Jeff made a much worse choice!
[Calvin and Sonny tramp up the highway to Boom Lake.]
[The highlight of the day was a gorgeous Boom Lake vista with early morning fog and complete silence. I should have stayed here a few hours and headed back.]
[A gorgeous place to meditate life.]
[Hard to be grumpy with views like this towards Chickadee and Chimney Peaks across Boom Lake!]
[Now the fun begins... Looking back down the steep avy slope above the lake that we ascended.]
The lower slope above the lake was nasty, hard dirt / scree but the views opening up to the south towards Boom Mountain and west to Chickadee and Chimney Peaks made up for it (almost). Jeff out-paced us quite quickly and was soon headed up to the wrong summit! He didn't realize that we had to go left at the ridge. I wish he had it right because our day would've been a lot easier! Once he was half way up the wrong slope we yelled at him but Jeff decided to bag the nub anyway - a decision that probably cost him the summit in the end but Linda would be proud! ;-)
[Calvin and Sonny start working their way slightly left, we could have gone even more. Stunning views!]
[Apparently Jeff didn't read the guidebook! He's busy ascending the wrong summit here... He should have turned the opposite direction.]
[Pretty good rock on the ridge, starting up to the main summit now.]
Once reaching the ridge we realized we were high above the col and reluctantly set off down the ridge about 100m vertical to reach the col. I was feeling quite dizzy by this time but the weather was great, the views were only getting better and the ridge started getting exciting so there was really no good reason to turn back. My favorite part of the day was scrambling up this ridge. Too bad I was so dizzy or I would have stuck to the ridge even more than I did. If you don't like ridges there's lots of nasty, big, loose scree to keep you company on climber's left.
[On the summit ridge looking back at our ascent route from Boom Lake at lower right and Jeff's false summit to the east.]
[Fantastic views off the blocky ridge towards Chimney Peak and the glaciers lining it's east face.]
Speaking of loose rock, don't climb Bell with lots of other people because you'll probably kill one of them with large rock fall. (or one of them will kill you) I found the rock disturbingly loose in places, even on the cliff bands where rocks the size of a small car would shift with your weight sometimes. Good thing I left my helmet in the car to save weight eh?!
[I have to admit the views from Bell are pretty spectacular on a nice day. This is the view towards Castle Mountain.]
After an eternity of false summits we were finally on top. I couldn't believe that I was actually stubborn enough to make it to the top in my condition and even Sonny professed to feeling lethargic on this particular outing. Jeff was feeling exhausted too and turned back well before the summit. (We never did see him again till the parking lot at the end of the day.) Calvin seemed unaffected so I guess the rest of us just need to exercise more or something!
[Looking across the gorgeous Consolation Meadows to Bident, Quadra and Mount Fay on the left and Temple on the right.]
[Closer shot of Bident, Quadra, Fay and Consolation Pass at lower right.]
[Looking over the "Chick-a-boom" col (R) and Chickadee Peak.]
[The always-impressive Castle Mountain massif across the Bow Valley and the TCH.]
[Mount Fay with Deltaform in the background.]
[Sonny approaches the summit with Whymper in the background.]
[Deltaform is an impressive beast!]
[Calvin, Vern and Sonny on the summit.]
[Heading back down to Boom Lake - Storm Mountain in the distance just right of center.]
The views were incredible but the wind was biting. Soon we were headed back down. Here's where the negative feelings towards Bell start for me. The loose, hard, shifting, solid, big, small rocky terrain was not that much fun. Since the views were basically done the only thing to look forward to was a 5km march on steep, unstable terrain to get back to the lake and then another 5km plod on a concrete-hard trail in the trees that seems to go up more than down. Don't say I didn't warn you either! Pick a nice clear day to do this one or you may be disappointed.
No major difficulties if scrambling the Kane route in dry conditions. This is a longish day trip.
The guide book is obviously out-of-date on these climbs, or at least the access to these climbs but in doing some research on the internet on Thursday night I was a bit more prepared for the actual difficulty. Both Rick Collier (bivouac.com) and Alan Kane indicated quite clearly that they consider these two mountains difficult. If Collier considers something "difficult", I won't take it too lightly! :-)
I don't have too much to add to JW's account except that our trip even started out on a sour note when we were an hour late getting to Morraine Lake because of a shut down on the trans Canada highway. Some trips are over before they even start and this one definitely had that feel to it for some reason!
I should point out that I think JW would have been keen to at least give Bident a try but I was having second thoughts considering the cold, wet weather and my inexperience at traversing steep snow/ice above a gaping crevasse (!) and Kev wasn't too excited about down climbing into the schrund in a whiteout so that's how we came to the decision to back off the route.
There were some successes though. We managed to bivy (no tents) at 9,000 feet in pouring rain and not get cold. We managed to climb some very loose / slippery 5.4 terrain (JW was once again the hero on a basically unprotected lead) in the rain. The terrain was so loose that rocks would come down either on their own or with the slightest nudge. Both Kev and I got some damage from rockfall and there were a bunch of very close misses.
We also learned to make sure our rappel anchor was hanging well over the lip of the rappel. JW climbed back up the rope twice after our rappel to unstick the ropes. The first time it was just caught on something (the terrain was really broken up) but the second time the rope couldn't even get through the rappel anchor (tied off cord) because it was caught between the anchor and the edge of the rappel terrain. We pulled on that rope with three guys and couldn't get it down! JW climbed all the way up our rappel route, again basically unprotected because of the horrible rock, and rescued the rope!
It was a great alpine experience for me, even though it was disappointing to come up so short on our objectives.
A big, beautifully situated peak along the icefields parkway that is easily accessed from the road.
On Sunday, April 21 2013 I joined Steven, Ben and Eric on a two peak day in which we snow shoed Big Bend Peak (BBP) and Mount Saskatchewan Junior (MSJ).
Our plans for this weekend were originally to have an easy day out on Sunday with an ascent of BBP followed by some relaxation at the Rampart Creek Hostel and then a huge one day ascent of Mount Wilson on Monday. The weather forecast for Sunday was a mix of sun and cloud with the weather on Monday looking perfect for an ascent of Wilson - notorious for white out conditions on the summit with any cloud cover.
We planned two nights at the hostel in order to give us an early start on Sunday morning. In a pretty funny twist I ended up at the Mosquito Creek Hostel and was shocked to discover it was closed until May 3! Not cool! I spent 5 minutes stewing about the situation in my truck before realizing that staying at Mosquito Creek made no sense and that it was Rampart Creek!
The hostel at Rampart Creek is a really good one. The manager is friendly and the facilities are really good for $25/night. We even had WIFI - not something we were counting on! The hostel was also completely empty, the benefits of going out in shoulder season. Sunday morning we woke up around 05:30 and by 06:30 we were tramping across the river near the Big Bend parking lot on a pretty thin little snow bridge - it won't last long!
We followed Nugara's instructions and some old tracks up the lower route until finally breaking into thinner trees on the shoulder of BBP. I have to say that this is not a peak I'd recommend for skis. The trees are tight and it's very steep in sections between the road and the shoulder. Maybe in fresh snow it wouldn't be as bad but then the severe avy terrain would probably turn you around anyway. Based on some experience with Andrew's snowshoe routes this year I can confidently say that they aren't great for skiing - they're winter scrambles / mountaineering on terrain that simply isn't the best suited for skiing. There's a reason these summits aren't in Chic's book.
[Leaving the parking lot before sunrise. BBP false summit is the obvious one - true summit is just visible behind it.]
[A beautiful morning - the snow bridge is almost gone at the crossing]
[The steep treed section with crusty snow. Not a nice ski area.]
[Our first views are into the Saskatchewan River valley of Mount Andromeda.]
[We finally start breaking out of the trees and look ahead to the steep snow slopes of the false summit.]
We'd heard of an ascent party turning back below the false summit of BBP the week previous due to avy concerns and not finding a safe route up. I can understand why. There are no safe routes to the summit of the false peak in winter. You must understand the snow pack and be able to assess for yourself if it's worth the risk. We had cool temperatures and a cloudy sky, but ascending sections of the south east slopes still felt a bit dicey to me. There was about 2cm of fresh snow on a punch slab which was sitting on pure sugar. Without the cold (-10ish) temps and cloud cover I would not have ascended BBP. I knew right away that the descent would be tricky later in the day but we did have cool temps forecast which was why we were here in the first place. The snow didn't show any signs of wanting to slide so we inched our way up to the false summit, enjoying fantastic views the higher we went.
(NOTE: A HUGE KUDOS to Ben and Steven. Those young guys have a lot of energy! They took turns breaking trail all weekend and did a fantastic job of it.)
[Looking down at our approach - note the Big Bend on the left.]
[I'm not sure how Eric does it but he's in a t-shirt in -10! He looks plenty happy to be here though...]
[Steep slopes to the false summit - care is needed to ensure they won't avalanche you far into the valley below.]
[More steepness - running out of snow so we have to be careful. Most slides are triggered around rocky points like this.]
Once at the false summit we could see the easier route to the main one. We knew at this point that we were going to be descending a safer route (if we could find one) so we spent some time checking the views off the false summit before continuing on.
[We ascended the false peak for views. This is looking back at Steven coming up to the false summit with the main summit of BBP in the background. As you can see, our views were improving. ++]
[Ben on the false summit of BBP. Our approach route from the Big Bend is lower right.]
[Pano from the false summit of BBP. ++]
[The boys traverse back to the col before we head up to the true summit.]
The ascent to the true summit of BBP went fairly easily. The views all around us were opening up dramatically and by the time we summitted the sun was shining and there was no wind. We enjoyed tremendous views in each direction with Mount Saskatchewan stealing the show.
[Tackling the summit slope.]
[Steven and Eric coming up the summit ridge on BBP.]
[Ben nears the summit. ++]
[I love this shot of Nigel peeking through the clouds.]
[From left to right, Cirrus, Spine, Saskatchewan and North Towers. ++]
[Clearing skies. Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca and Nigel. ++]
[One more pano looking west as the skies clear out a bit. Cirrus Mountain on the right. ++]
[Looking back at our ascent track. Cirrus Mountain looms on the left and Spine Peak on the right.]
[Mount "Totally Awesome View" and Bryce peaking over the clouds.]
[Bryce on the left and Castleguard on the right.]
[Vern on the summit of Big Bend Peak. Saskatchewan and North Towers in the background.]
[Now there's Bryce!]
[Castleguard looks awesome from almost any angle.]
[Mount Columbia! I have a date with her soon...]
[Cleopatra's Needle on the east side of Mount Saskatchewan.]
[Steven looks for a way off the west slopes of BBP. Mount Totally Awesome View rises above him with Bryce and Mount Saskatchewan Junior in the foreground.]
Another mountain stealing the show was immediately to our west - Mount Saskatchewan Junior. Since we wanted to avoid descending the steep south slopes of BBP we decided to try to descent west slopes and bag MSJ since we were "so close anyway". So much for an easier day out before tackling Mount Wilson! Oh well. Such is the habits of peak baggers... ;)
I highly recommend BBP either in winter (be very careful of avy danger) for spectacular winter scenery or a fall trip would be very nice too.
Winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks. Learn how to manage these risks and perform avalanche burial rescues before attempting this trip.
This peak was first climbed in 1988 by Graeme Pole and named "Bison Peak". This makes perfect sense since Bison Creek is just to the north and "Bison Tower" lies to the northeast. For some reason the name was dropped and changed to "Peak MU1" - presumably for "Murchison" which lies north. I'm maintaining the original (unofficial) first name of the peak since I think it make sense and sounds better than "MU1". Note that Google Maps also names this peak, "Bison".
On Friday, July 12 2013 I was joined by Wietse for an attempt up a relatively unknown peak along the icefields parkway - Bison Peak (see the interesting facts above for a discussion on the naming of this peak). All we had to go on was a terse description by Graeme Pole on Bivouac.com. Well, as it turns out this terse description is pretty much all you need to summit this mountain! :)
The day started out nice enough from the pull out along the parkway (roughly across from Epaulette Lake, just north of Chephren / White Pyramid and south of Bison Creek). It was a cool morning and we were surprised to see fresh snow high up on the surrounding peaks, including our ascent slopes. This wasn't a huge concern but we knew that part of our route ascended steep cliff bands and this could present a problem if there was too much ice. We shrugged our shoulders and started off.
The first part through the forest was easy. Alberta bushwhacking is so simple compared to BC! Basically we went up and trended left until we got into some thicker bush and eventually broke out into a stream bed. This stream descends from the upper slopes of Bison and joins Bison Creek down low. Theoretically you could probably just follow Bison Creek and then go climber's right up the creek we found. Our way is shorter and pretty easy - just see the route photo for details. At this point we were SOAKING WET from the short bushwhack and heavy morning dew and a bit cold but climbing in the creek bed kept the chills down.
Eventually the creek split. We chose the climber's left branch for a few reasons. Graeme mentions "north end" of buttress once you get higher up and there was less water flowing in the left branch! Our choice was perfect and we quickly gained height in the tight confines of a small creek that had a trickle coming down the middle.
[The route in Google Earth. Three things to note: 1. The lower access to the creek. 2. The cliff bands about half way up that we went up rather than the gullies beside it. 3. The upper break in the buttress before the scree slog to the summit. Click for full size.]
[Looking up Bison from the parking area on hwy 93. The trick is stay left and access the upper scree slopes via the gully / notch visible here, high up and on the left.]
[Starting off in a damp, light forest.]
[Breaking into an avy path with views already behind us.]
[Through the bushwhack and we found the stream! Eventually the stream splits and we took the left branch.]
[Great views of Kaufman Peaks and Epaulette Mountain looking back down the main creek bed.]
[The creek bed steepens and curves climber's left.]
[Just before the split in the creek - take the left hand branch.]
[The left branch is narrow and loose.]
[Very narrow and loose!]
[In the left hand creek. Note the slopes above the creek on the left - we came down that way rather than mess with loose and wet rocks in the creek.]
[Higher up the creek gets wider.]
[At the top of the left-hand creek we came across this cliff band. Traversing left and then back and forth up the band was the best route we found and was only moderate difficulty.]
After topping out of the left-hand branch of the creek we were faced with a wall of rock. No problem! We traversed left and then back and forth up ledges until breaking out on a buttress, looking up at steep cliffs and gullies to the summit area. We left small cairns along our route for the way down but we never encountered anything above a 'moderate' level of scrambling on the ledges. If you take your time you should have no issues here. The terrain looks much worse than it is when you put your nose in it and it's good fun. We really enjoyed the hands-on section.
Once on the upper bench above the ledge traverses we had another route choice. I kind of wanted to trend climber's left up an obvious gully and then follow the northwest ridge up higher but Wietse wasn't convinced. He wanted to head straight up the larger gully on the west face. It looked bloody steep to me but eventually I saw his logic and we set off. Wietse's choice was perfect. Once again, we made the right call. Good fun scrambling (some loose scree / rock) brought us up to the final 250 vertical meter scree cone to the summit.
This final gully is the only way to easily break through to the summit block and it is essential that you find it. Study the pics / route and you'll have no problem - it's pretty bloody obvious! It's also very loose, so don't bother scrambling this peak with large groups of people. Rocks were coming down gullies all day and we kicked off a fair number ourselves. This is a rarely ascended peak and there is no trails / markings / scree paths and everything is LOOSE if it ain't still part of the mountain.
[Looking down the ledges. You can see our access creek on the left - NOT the right hand one.]
[Traversing climber's left to find a weakness.]
[See the fresh snow?! Wietse is having fun picking a line up the ledges.]
[Wietse is close to finishing the ledges.]
[On the upper bench looking at our route through the top cliff bands to the summit scree cone. This gully is the only way up - so make sure you find it!!]
[Wietse starts up through the final 'gate' to the summit slopes.]
Like every other section on this mountain, the upper access gully is less steep and intimidating once your nose is in it. It's loose and steep, but never more than moderate scrambling if you choose your route carefully. We climbed fairly quickly up this section because the melting snow was causing some rock fall here. Definitely bring a brain bucket on this scramble as you'll wear it most of the day!
[Looking down (notice the fresh snow again?!) at the upper bench above the ledges and down the upper access gully.]
[A great panorama is opened behind us as we climb the gully. Includes Chephren, White Pyramid, Epaulette, Kaufmann and Sarbach (L to R). ++]
[Wietse comes up to the buttress area after topping out of the steep final gully.]
[We found our first cairn here - above the buttress with great views of Murchison (R) and the Epaulette Group across hwy #93. ++]
When we finally broke through the upper buttress we found ourselves looking at our first cairn on the route (it was on the buttress itself) and also at the final scree slog to the summit. It looked far to me, but there was no way but up! We slogged easily up the steep scree to the summit and managed to set foot on top about 3 hours after leaving the car. Not a huge or long summit but the views were awesome and the scrambling was fun so this is top mountain for me - I don't care that it's "little"! The wind was cold at the summit but we found a little spot where we could hunker down and enjoy the incredible views of the Murchison massif and it's many towers.
[Heading up the final scree cone to the summit.]
[When we first climbed Bison, I thought that these two summits were the main peaks of Murchison. I found out about a month later, after climbing Murchison, that these are actually towers to the south of the main peak - probably Feuz Tower, Bison Tower and Gest Tower. ++]
[An incredible panorama of peaks and variety / color of lakes and rivers is the reward for breaking through the cliff bands guarding Bison's summit.]
[Admiring the views to the west from just beneath the summit, which include Chephren Lake, Howse, Chephren, White Pyramid, Epaulette, Kaufmann. ++]
[The scree gets steep near the summit.]
Disappointingly, we couldn't determine if we were the second ascent party as there was no register in the summit cairn, but given the cairn on the upper buttress and the summit cairn I'm guessing not. I'm sure there's not many human feet that have tramped up this peak before us though - and that was fine with us!
[L to R, Kaufmann Peaks, Sarbach and the Lyells in the clouds.]
[The many towers of Mount Murchison - but not its main two summits - including Feuz, Bison, Gest, Engelhard, Cromwell, SE Tower, Totem and South Totem (L to R) along with Mount Wilson, Sarbach, Kaufmann Peaks, Epaulette, White Pyramid and Chephren (C to L). ++]
[Try to count all the lakes! From L to R, Peyto, Waterfowl Lakes, Chephren Lake, Epaulette Lake. Mountains include Wapta summits, Chephren, White Pyramid, Epaulette, Kaufmann, Sarbach, Amery, Wilson and many, many others. This is probably one of my favorite areas of the Canadian Rockies - I love the scenery here and Bison is one of the best "bang for buck" peaks along the parkway. Other comparable summits would be Weed, Observation and Noyes. ++]
[Vern on the summit of Bison Peak (MU1)]
[Gorgeous views east, south and west of the peak include Totem and South Totem Towers, Spreading Peak and many others. ++]
[Some of the many lakes along hwy #93 including (L to R), Bow, Peyto, Mistaya and Waterfowl Lakes.]
[I love this compressed landscape of Chephren Lake with Howse Peak towering over it. Chephren is one of my all time favorite scrambles and I have fond memories of traversing that lake... :)]
[Epaulette Lake with Epaulette Peak towering above.]
[Mount Wilson is another favorite of mine.]
[Peskett (L) and Loudon (R) are very large peaks in the eastern front ranges of the Siffleur Wilderness that are very rarely ascended.]
[Looking towards Corona Ridge from the summit of Bison.]
The descent was surprisingly fun, easy and fast. We had excellent scree runs in many places, and could avoid most loose gully sections by descending small ledges to the sides of the gully when needed. We thanked ourselves for leaving cairns up the ledges and once we were back down at the left-hand creek we decided to stay on the shoulder to the north of the creek and descend on dirt / scree instead of the loose creek bed. This was genius and worked very well.
[Descent was fast on this mountain!]
[We checked out the highest buttress before continuing down the upper (steep) access gully.]
[Descending the upper gully]
[Looking back up at the buttresses and the upper access gully from the shoulder before going down the ledges. The morning snow is almost all gone already.]
[Can't get enough of these views!!]
[Sarbach was an awesome peak too.]
[Almost done the ledges, we descended the shoulder in the center of the photo rather than the ascent creek to the left.]
[Some of the terrain is steep and loose.]
[Yellow Columbine with some cross polination from an Indian Paintbrush.]
Eventually we descended into the main creek, cut across it and bushwhacked back to hwy 93. Our round trip time of 6 hours included at least 45 minutes of breaks. I highly recommend this rarely ascended peak for any competent scrambler with some route finding skills. The views, hands-on scrambling and fast descent all combine for a nice little 'punch peak'!
[The soft shoulder was much better than the creekbed for descent!]
[Finis! This is reminiscant of JW's saunter after doing White Pyramid...]
Steep, loose gullies to the summit could be an issue with large groups or snow / ice. Caution is advised.
Named by James Hector in 1860. Bourgeau, Eugene (Eugene Bourgeau was the botanist with the Palliser Expedition.) Official name. First ascended in 1890 by J.J. McArthur, guided by Tom Wilson. (info from peakfinder.com)
On Friday, June 02 2006, Wietse and I hiked to the summit of Mount Bourgeau in Banff National Park. I have wanted to do this one for a while already and even though it was a bit early in the year I figured with the dry spring we should be ok.
The only reason I've wanted to this one for a while already is because I suspected that it contained beautiful scenery and I wasn't disappointed in that regard! We started out from a mosquito-infested parking lot at around 07:30 under partly sunny skies. The trail is obviously very well traveled and we made quick time till coming to a raging Wolverine creek with no obvious crossing. We went a bit downstream and found a makeshift bridge of branches and logs that we used to keep our feet dry.
[A good bridge lower down on the approach trail.]
[A raging Bourgeau Creek that no longer has a bridge where we want to cross!]
[After the waterfalls the trail steepens considerably and we started encountering snow and mud due to early season conditions.]
After the creek the trail rises quite a bit steeper as it gains the headwall where the waterfalls tumble down. It was here that we started to encounter snow and mud and our travel speed started to decrease a bit. We pushed on as the views continued to improve and the trail continued to dis-improve!
[More of the raging creek.]
After getting briefly lost in the open marsh / meadows just before Bourgeau Lake, due to a flooded trail and large amounts of snow, we found some footprints and followed them up into the forest around Bourgeau Lake. We couldn't follow the lake shore because the water level was too high. Due to avalanche debris and winter blow-down, the trail above the lake to tree line was not in good condition. We ended up losing the trail several times but finally we came out on a scree slope and climbed up to the second lake. The views continued to improve as we got higher.
[Near Bourgeau Lake the trail started deteriorating more - mostly due to winter avalanches and the fact that Parks didn't have a chance to clear the very popular trail yet for the summer season.]
[The second lake, above Bourgeau Lake and getting above tree line. Harvey Pass is ahead and to the left.]
[Harvey Pass, looking up at a large slope leading eventually to the summit which is out of sight here.]
Once we got up to Harvey Pass we could see that we still had a long way to go. We struggled through some patches of waist deep snow but overall the route was clear. After summiting we had to rush down because of very rapidly changing (for the worse) weather. (NOTE: I was still very paranoid about bad weather at this point in my scrambling career. Now I realize that the clouds were harmless and I was freaking out for no reason!)
[Big terrain as we start up the easy slopes to the summit.]
[Looking back over the Healy Meadows towards The Monarch. ++]
[Even an innocent looking snow patch can be problematic in June!]
[A wider view.]
[Looking back over our ascent slopes and towards the Ball Range.]
[Impressive view of Pilot Mountain which I would scramble solo 3 years later in 2009.]
[Lovely summit view of a man-made structure! :)]
[An impressive panorama to the west. ++]
[Mount Ball is a big peak!]
[Wietse starts back down.]
[The Monarch at Healy Creek to the left. ++]
[It's a long way back down to the approach trail!]
[A close-up of Bourgeau Lake with it's ice breakup.]
[Can't get enough of these views! Black Brett at right. ++]
[Back down at Harvey Pass.]
Of course as soon as we got down to Harvey Pass everything pushed north and the weather was good the rest of the day. Because I was wearing a pedometer for a contest at work, I know that this is a long hike - 40,000 steps to be exact! Recommended as an early (but not too early) season objective when other, tougher mountains aren't in season yet.
[A coffee break near Harvey Pass.]
[A stream runs down from Harvey Pass to one of the small tarns above Bourgeau Lake.]
[Great scenery near Harvey Pass.]
[The section of trail above Bourgeau Lake is really cool hiking.]
[Warm spring hiking is the best!]
[Descending to Bourgeau Lake.]
[A sure sign of spring!]
[The big melt is going on everywhere.]
[Another sure sign of spring - my favorite wild flower - the Lady's Slipper.]
Mostly a hike - should be on trail most of the way, even past Harvey Pass. A long day, but easy scrambling.
Named in 1922. The mountain is very near the headwaters of the Bow River which was referred by the Cree Indians as "The place from which bows are taken." Official name. Other names Goat Mountain (from peakfinder.com).
On Saturday, April 09 2011 So and I did the Bow Peak winter slog. This was my third attempt at this diminutive peak. In 2010 I made it all the way to the summit ridge before noticing my partners weren't following me, but rather were leaving me behind! :-) On hindsight I'm glad I turned back that day when I did because I wasn't quite as close to the summit as I thought at the time. Earlier this year we made another attempt but didn't even make it halfway to the pass due to high winds and avalanche concerns.
The weather forecast was interesting for Saturday. One site was predicting clouds and another was hinting at some nicer weather. http://www.mountain-forecast.com proved to be the most accurate - and it's been impressive for the past few trips. I'll be using them more often.
We finally managed to cut about 1km off the approach to Crowfoot Pass by parking about 750 meters south of the Crowfoot lookout on highway 93. Another car pulled in right behind us. After lending them some batteries for their avi beacon (you gotta hate it when you buy the wrong batteries!) So and I followed old tracks down the embankment and across the ponds towards Crowfoot Pass. The ski up to the pass was without difficulties, we passed another group of skiers just before the grind up through the trees. We followed old tracks all the way to the pass, avoiding any terrain that would expose us to cornice collapses off either Crowfoot Mountain or BowCrow Peak.
[The day starts out rather dreary, but it's warm at least. Bow Peak in the bg.]
[Crossing Bow Lake heading towards the moraines to Bow Pass.]
[So struggles up the steep access gully to the pass. Some people go left of this gully on a treed ridge but the gully is relatively safe. If conditions were sketchy enough to avoid this gully I think staying home would be a good option...]
[It's flat light as we work above tree line.]
[Looking back over our approach and Bow Lake.]
[Lovely rolling terrain over the moraines to the pass.]
[There are some steepish rolls on the terrain to the pass which you must be cautious on - they are definitely wind loaded and could involve some small sluffs or avalanches.]
[Nice view of Dolomite behind us, across hwy #93.]
[We are tiny in this terrain.]
[So struggles up the last steep obstacle before the pass. The slope in front of us (coming off BowCrow) slides regularly and you should avoid getting near it.]
[So skis across Crowfoot Pass - looking back at our approach and Bow Lake. ++]
It took us 2 hours to reach the pass under a clearing sky and very little wind. The slope up to the ridge of Bow Peak looked quite snowy so I decided to keep skiing as far as we could. I knew what awaited us once the skis came off... :-(
I led the way and after a while So took the lead. We managed to get about 2/3 up the west face to the ridge. We could have gone higher and on hindsight we probably should have but the slope gets pretty steep up high on the face and we didn't want to be hitting rocks all the way down. The coverage was about as good as it ever gets on that slope. Like Crowfoot Mountain a couple of weeks earlier, there seemed to be more snow than 'normal' in this area. Eventually we ditched the skis and kept going on foot to gain the ridge.
[So follows me up the wind swept west face of Bow Peak, the south ridge of Crowfoot Mountain forming an impressive backdrop. ++]
[So breaks trail for a while.]
[Looking back across Crowfoot Pass to Crowfoot Mountain. Note the two skiers approaching the pass far below.]
[The going gets tougher as we get higher, thanks to a thin snow pack and crusty conditions.]
[Off the skis and heading for the NW ridge.]
I led the way up steep snow and rock that seemed to conspire against us each and every step of the way! The trick to Bow Peak is realizing that you are only half way when you reach Crowfoot Pass. Yes, the mountain looks small and the west face looks easy and short but it's all one huge deception for suckers who attempt this peak, especially in the winter. The issue with Bow Peak, especially in the winter on ski boots, is that the west face is scree and the ridge is composed of larger rocks covered in rime, snow and lichen. I'm sure in the summer you can merrily skip your way up the ridge from rock to rock but in the winter it's a bit of a nightmare.
[View north over Bow Lake and up Hwy #93. from near the nw ridge. ++]
Once I hit the ridge I was hoping that the snow would be fairly solid. It wasn't. Loose, unconsolidated powder with icy drifts and huge cornices along with deep pockets of snow among the loose rocks made the going pretty tough. We slogged up the ridge which never seemed to end. Each 'summit' was simply a high point with more ridge ahead. The weather didn't help the mood any either. Clouds had started to pour in off the Wapta as soon as we got on the ridge and our views were nil.
[Almost there right? Nope! Still a lot of boulder dancing and avoiding rock crevasses to go before the apex of Bow Peak. ++]
[So comes up behind me.]
After finally making the summit I stood there and looked around at a world of white, no views! The sun was poking through the clouds and it wasn't cold so I decided maybe the clouds would dissipate as quickly as they had formed. So joined me at the summit and we spent over an hour waiting for the sky to clear. And believe it or not, it did! We were treated to the promised views and it was worth waiting and freezing for.
[Nice summit views looking north and east, after waiting for quite a while for the clouds to clear. For once, patience paid off... ++]
[Looking east at Noseeum Mountain with Dip Slope at left.]
[Dolomite Peak is an impressive looking mountain which I climbed after work with Sonny Bou in 2004.]
[Cirque Peak at left with Kentigern and Marmot to the right.]
The trip down was fun and fast. We skied down the west face, only hitting a few rocks on the way. The snow further down was extremely wet and heavy but the ski to the car was quick and warm. Our round trip time was 7 hours including an hour at the summit waiting for better views. We could have done the trip in 6 hours but I'm sure glad we waited! I'm not sure if this is a good winter objective or not. Normally you can't even ski the west face like we did. I'm sure the views are great in the summer too. Either way, this is a nice outing.
[So follows me done the PITA ridge.]
[Looking back and east off the nw ridge. Noseeum just left of center. ++]
[Skiing back from the pass - Bow Peak on the left.]
[Skiing back down to Bow Lake.]
Winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks. Learn how to manage these risks and perform avalanche burial rescues before attempting this trip.
Named by James F. Porter (a surveyor and alpinist from Chicago) in 1911. Brachiopods and other fossils of the Devonian Period cover the west slopes of this mountain.) Official name. (info from peakfinder.com)