Mountains

Assiniboine Provincial Park

 
 

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. Campinghikingmountain 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.]
 

Alcantara, Mount

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

HMS Alcantara was a liner that was referred to as an Armed Merchant Cruiser of 15,831 tons which was torpedoed and sunk in action with the German raider "Greif" during February of 1916. (from peakfinder.com)

 

Note: The officially listed height of around 9300 feet for this mountain is dead wrong. It looked higher than Brussilof and that peak is 9859 ft. 

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, July 20, 2018

There really wasn't a choice, was there? After a successful, and fun, ascent of Mount Brussilof we almost had to take advantage of good weather and a shared col to ascend Mount Alcantara's south ridge. Previous parties have used easy SW scree slopes to ascend Alcantara, but the south ridge looked absolutely fantastic from Brussilof and was a no-brainer for us to attempt, considering where we found ourselves late in the afternoon of July 20, 2018. My migraine had settled into a dull throb thanks to some Tylenol refreshments at the summit of Brussilof, so I was feeling pretty pumped to keep going. We carefully analyzed the transition from the col to the south ridge of Alcantara from Brussilof and decided it would likely go but might not. If it really didn't work out and we couldn't find options for ascent from the col, we agreed to descend to camp and nab Alcantara the follow morning via the easy SW scree gully. As we approached what would be the crux on the south ridge, it slowly broke down until it looked fairly straightforward. As we ascended the blocky (and extremely loose) terrain, it proved to be no more than moderate scrambling.

 


[From the shared col / ridge with Brussilof, this is looking up the south ridge of Alcantara. The crux is in dark shadow at mid right - just follow the ridge crest with your eyes from bottom right and you'll find it. wink]


[Views off the col into the core Assiniboine area including Wonder Peak at distant left, Marvel at center, Aurora and Byng at right.]


[Phil tackles the south ridge.]

 
[Looking back at Brussilof - it's sort of hard to believe that there's a scrambling route up this mountain from this side.]

 

The shadows were growing longer as we heaved and pulled our weary bodies up and over countless huge, shifting boulders and loose ledges along the south ridge towards the lofty summit of Alcantara, about 400 vertical meters above us. In an interesting note, Alcantara's official height listing of around 2840m is dead wrong. From Brussilof, Alcantara looked higher and from Alcantara, Brussilof looking a bit higher, so chances are they're around the same height of 3005m. We were pretty tired as we ascended the easy, but horribly loose, south ridge. The views were awesome and kept us somewhat distracted. As we got near the summit block, the terrain got easier and less blocky.

 


[Don't underestimate the looseness of the terrain on the larger Assiniboine peaks. IMHO this is more dangerous than any of the really exposed climbing. It's hard to stay focused and alert enough to avoid these terrain traps for hours and hours on end. I had some very close calls where huge boulders shifted underfoot as I scrambled over them.]


[We tried to stay on the ridge proper, which was fun scrambling with severe exposure to climber's right, but it wasn't the most convenient route the whole time.]


[Great views towards Aurora and Byng.]


[Find Phil in this giant's playground of rock and boulders.]

 
[A very rare, but welcome, solid(ish) section on the south ridge as the sun starts to drop in the west. ++]

 
[Sticking to the ridge crest provided the best scrambling and views - especially to our right over Aurora and Byng.]


[Soft, evening lighting as we finally get close to the final summit slopes. The south ridge just got easier and easier the higher we went.]

 

The final few steps to the summit of Alcantara were surprisingly exposed! We were tired but happy as we took in the lengthening shadows over the core Assiniboine area and surrounding peaks. The summit register was an old copper pipe and had about 6 other ascents in it making us possibly only the 7th recorded ascent since 1929 or at the very least one of very few ascents compared to Mount Assiniboine!

 

 
[Easy, but gorgeous slopes to the summit.]


[Not many ascents in this register.]

 
[Crikey! That's a great summit view! Shadows are long but the views don't suffer for it. From L to R summits include Aye, Assiniboine, Eon, Gloria, Terrapin, The Towers, Wonder, Marvel, Aurora, Byng, Currie, Red Man, White Man, Soderholm and Brussilof. ++]


[Looking past Eon at left and over Mount Gloria at center towards Terrapin and The Towers at center. Wonder Pass at mid right.]


[Looking over Marvel Pass towards Owl Lake (mid center) with Marvel Peak to the left of the lake and pass.]


[Aurora Peak at foreground right with Byng rising above. Familiar Spray Lakes peaks in the distance including Cone, Old Goat, Sparrowhawk and Bogart.]


[Hard to believe we made the summit of Brussilof hours earlier. Soderholm at distant left.]


[The Royal Group at distant center with Talon and Soderholm in front.]


[Looking over the Currie Creek valley at the triangular west face of Mount Currie.]


[Mount Sir Douglas with Red Man Mountain at right.]

 
[Looking back at the exposed (but very short) ridge to the summit. ++]

 
[The sun relentlessly sinks to the west, but we're not too concerned as we have a pretty quick and easy descent down a SW facing gully straight to our bivy.]

 

After snapping photos and taking a quick break we turned our attention to the huge, but easy, SW gully leading right to our bivy many hundreds of meters below. The scree wasn't quite as fast as we'd hoped, but the descent was pretty straightforward. As the sun continued to fall towards the horizon, we limped our tired bodies back into camp. This had been a very long and tiring day - especially for me with a migraine to complicate things.

 

 
[The long, easy SW gully heading straight down to our bivy site and straight towards the scary looking walls of Mount Brussilof.]

 
[Phil comes down the SW slopes of Alcantara (R) with the impressive west outlier of Brussilof at left. ++]


[Enjoying sunset and moonrise over Brussilof.]


[A nice way to end an exhausting, exhilarating day.]

 

We'd ascended over 2300m on the two summits but we felt content and satisfied with our experiences as we slowly and silently made our suppers and enjoyed the quiet evening. Eventually the mosquitoes drove us into the mid where I fell into a deep, uninterrupted and VERY welcome slumber. Mount Brussilof and Alcantara will always be special for me for two reasons. Firstly, I've dreamed about scrambling them for years and years and to finally experience them was very special for me. Secondly, I pushed myself harder than I ever have with a migraine and proved to myself that I can do far more than I thought in that condition - not that I'm going to do that again any time soon! cheeky

 

The next morning we awoke at around 05:00 to tackle the second day of our trip. Originally we'd planned on ascending to the Eon bivy before climbing this beast of a mountain on Sunday and exiting, but as we talked about it we changed our minds. Scrambling Mount Brussilof had alerted us to the difficult nature of the routes in this area and reminded me of the never ending SW face of Assiniboine that I'd downclimbed in 2012 after free soloing the north ridge. Eon's SW face was surely no quicker than that and deserved some healthy respect. We chose to save that peak for another day and approach Marvel Pass instead. If time / energy / weather allowed, we'd either scramble Byng and Aurora or Marvel Peak before exiting on Sunday.

 

 
[Sunrise from camp on Saturday morning.]

 

As we descended the ~900 vertical meters from our bivy to the Aurora Creek FSR on Saturday morning, Phil and I were both very grateful that we'd taken Eon Mountain off the list for this trip! To be frank, even though my migraine was completely gone and I'd had an excellent sleep the night before, I found the descent more tiring than the ascent for some strange reason. It makes no sense, but by the time we finally stumbled out onto the road, I felt like I'd already climbed a freaking mountain! The cold Coke I had waiting for me at the car never tasted so good as we took down the chicken wire and started driving to the Marvel Pass trailhead further down the FSR.

 


[The wildflowers in the alpine valley were vibrant and thriving.]

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,005
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,859
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Round Trip Time: 
15.00
Total Distance (km): 
15.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

The approach is through BC bush - so there's that. From alpine meadows the route is either easy or moderate depending on choice. The final few steps to the top are very exposed and loose.

Assiniboine, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

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)

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
9
YDS Class: 
5.5

YDS Grade: 
II
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, September 22, 2012

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 towards the Sturdee Glacier with the might "A" looking impressive rising on the right.]


[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...]


[Mount Assiniboine with the moon as the sun sets. Our route goes up the ridge trending to skyline left from bottom left.]

 

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 final few steps to the summit of the "BIG A"!]

 
[A smoky morning haze to the south. Nothing higher than us. Sir Douglas on the left, Joffre at center and King George at right. ++]


[Looking over the four peaks of Og Mountain and the tiny gray bump in the foreground, which is Cave Mountain.]


[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.

 

 
[Great views down Gloria and Marvel Lakes with Eon and Aye to the right. Lunette is at lower right. ++]

 
[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.

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,618
Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,871
Elevation Gain (m): 
2500
Round Trip Time: 
14.50
Total Distance (km): 
23.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 5 : you fall, you are dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Don't underestimate this mountain! Many folks have and many have failed climbing her because of that.

Brussilof, Mount

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

Named after Alexei Alexeivitch Brussilof a Russian General who served in World War I. He went on to hold key military positions under Josef Lenin. (from bivouac.com)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
4th Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, July 20, 2018

Somehow, despite planning a trip into the Lyell Icefield to climb the last of the Lyells (IV) that I have left, I ended up in the Mount Assiniboine area yet again this year, with Phil Richards of course! It's a long, convoluted story so I'll cut it short. It goes something like;

 

  • Plan Lyell trip
  • Check weather
  • Keep planning Lyell trip
  • Check weather
  • Start wavering on Lyell trip
  • Check weather
  • Bail on Lyell trip
  • Plan another trip

 

Isn't that typical for Rockies trip planning? The good thing is that it works remarkably well, provided you're very amenable to last minute changes. Even when Phil and I narrowed it down to the two of us going somewhere further south than hwy 1 to avoid the worst of the two weak cold fronts that would be moving through, we still ended up changing our final objective pretty much at the last minute and yet again once we were in the mountains. I think the key to enjoying long, difficult days in the hills is to keep an open mind and not to be too strict on your destinations. If you're willing to change your mind even part way through a trip, you can keep things fun and safe much easier than if you're bull headed about planning something and sticking to it at all costs.

 

I've had Mount Alcantara and Brussilof on my explor8ion list ever since reading about them in Rick Collier's trip report on Bivouac. They sounded huge, remote and challenging - especially Brussilof. Now that I've done them, I think Rick's categorization of Brussilof as a "moderate scramble" is a bit misleading. I've done many, many moderate scrambles and this was certainly not one of them! Also some of his details are confusing, i.e. he mentions a "broad scree back" and "mostly walking", I have no idea which section of mountain this could be referencing. To his credit, Rick did climb it in bad weather and didn't return the way he ascended so there is a chance things got "simplified" a bit in his memory. Alcantara had seen a few more ascents since it came on my radar (Andrew, Raf, Matt and Matt) but it clearly hadn't become a popular peak either. I was very excited to finally tackle these two mountains and it made sense to plan a bivy to give us two full days to tackle them both if necessary.

 

This trip started out more dubiously than most when I got a brutal migraine just as Phil drove out of Canmore towards the Banff-Windermere highway which would take us to Settler's Road. I've had migraines my whole life, but thankfully they're more about vision impairment (i.e. "auras") than the stabbing headaches that most people associate with migraines. Of course I say "thankfully", but when you're about to scramble some pretty big, remote mountains, losing a good chunk of your vision isn't ideal! To be honest, it really, really sucked. I wasn't too happy about it, but decided that it wasn't going to stop me this time - I was going to push things a bit and see what happened. Thankfully it was Phil's turn to drive so the vision loss didn't matter too much - I knew it would start coming back sooner or later. The only issue remaining was that usually I lie down and take it easy when a migraine sets in and this time I was going to do pretty much the exact opposite of that. I wasn't sure how my body would respond. As it turns out - it wasn't too happy about the new direction I was introducing. frown

 

After the dusty, but easy and straightforward drive down Setter's Road, we turned off onto the much smaller Aurora Creek FSR. A few kilometers of easy driving on this much smaller road brought us to the parking area and drainage leading up between Mount Alcantara and Brussilof, just before the first bridge on the Aurora Creek road. My vision was still quite wonky as we prepped our packs for a one night bivy and the dull headache and nausea that accompanies my migraines were fully settled in. We were surprised to see a truck drive up to the bridge right by our parking spot. Two guys got out and approached us, thanks to my loss of vision I couldn't really see their faces clearly (it's weird, but when I get migraines only spots of vision disappear, not the whole thing - but always people's faces). One of them said, "hey Vern, we met on the Columbia Icefields when I was with Fabrice and Josee". "I'm Jay", he continued. Ah yes! I remembered Jay now! Jay Lund has done many cool trips and I was wondering what he was up to. It turned out that him and his friend Glen were going in to scramble a few of the less popular peaks around Marvel Pass. They were very interested in our objectives too. After chatting a few minutes, they continued up the road and we continued wrapping Phil's SUV with chicken wire to prevent critters from destroying his brakes. Finally, we shrugged into our packs and set off across the bridge, aiming for an ascent line up climber's left of the outflow creek.

 


[Phil shrugs into his overnight pack with Brussilof and its outliers looming over us.]

 

We knew from Matt's trip report from Alcantara in 2016 that we were in for a bit of a thrash in good ol' BC bush. I wasn't feeling so positive about the day as we started up an overgrown approach path leading up towards the old clearcut before start of the real bushwhack. My vision was still spotty and the familiar dull headache and nausea were slowly setting in. I made sure that Phil was fully aware that I was considering a successful approach to the bivy as a huge bonus for this day. He assured me that this wasn't an issue, "we have time for these peaks, we're in no huge rush to get them done today". Once we ascended the relatively easy bushwhack on the clearcut things got interesting. The bushwhacking never did reach epic proportions (i.e. Nestor Peak or Alexandra) but some sections were grueling, slow and a bit frustrating. Thank goodness we have light overnight packs or this really could have sucked badly. As it was, after about an hour the bush started to calm down with more open avy slopes and even a streambed to assist us above the first lake.

 


[We enjoyed a very brief "trail" in the scrub just climber's left of the creek at the bottom of the old clearcut.]


[A glorious day to be bushwhacking up a clearcut! Aye and Eon at center and right behind us.]


[Although the bush was medium-bad in spots, overall I didn't find it too awful on ascent. On the other hand I was comparing it to Nestor Peak, so that's not fair. For most people the bush is going to be a pretty big issue here.]


[The bush calms down a bit near the first headwall.]

 

As our views slowly opened up, so did our moods. A waterfall in one of the upper valleys was particularly beautiful. I'm sure only a handful of people have walked past this spot and we felt privileged to be there. The outlier of Brussilof towered over this spot - making us feel pretty small as we gazed over the wilderness around us. As we approached the headwall that produces the waterfall, we stuck to climber's left and found the exact spot where Matt and Matt had broken through on a much smaller waterfall and series of wet ledges. After this we traversed some more forest before entering the suck officially, on an avalanche slope beneath the huge SW slopes of Alcantara. We avoided this area on our way back out of the valley! As we kept going and going, I was getting tired. My headache was a constant throb, I couldn't even yell "yo bear" without feeling a stab of pain run through my head and down my neck. We had ascended hundreds of vertical meters by this time, all in the bush and all off trail with overnight packs. As we finally broke into the alpine meadows between Alcantara and the towering NW cliffs of Brussilof, we started searching for a nice bivy spot. Alas, the small lake we were planning to camp by was more of a muddy pond than a premier destination alpine lake, and despite there being some suitable terrain for the mid, we didn't love what we were seeing. So we kept going. Thankfully after ascending an easy headwall above the small lake, we found a patch of level snow near some running water that worked perfectly. We stopped to set up camp, hydrate and eat. We were blown away when we realized we'd ascended over 900 vertical meters to this spot! That certainly explained the slight stiffness in my knees! I popped some Tylenol Cold to help with the headache and hoped for the best. My vision was mostly back to normal at this point - thank goodness.

 

 
[A lovely alpine bowl above the first lake with an outlier of Brussilof looming above and a waterfall plunging over the headwall guarding the head of the valley.]


[An interesting puddle that seems to be fairly permanent despite it's diminutive size, the Matt's also stumbled past it.]


[Wild hiking in a pristine backcountry setting in the Rockies. What could be better than this? Not much. Well, maybe not having a migraine would be nice...]


[We went climber's left on approach, hugging cliffbands coming off of Alcantara to avoid some of the bushwhacking. This sort of worked and sort of didn't. You can only avoid so much inconvenience on trackless approaches such as this one. At some point or another you have to embrace the challenges and go with the flow of the landscape.]


[Looking for the next break with Brussilof high above.]


[The interesting - and wet - break through the cliffbands that generate the nice waterfall and guard the upper bowls between Alcantara and Brussilof. There is another - drier - break a bit further to the center that we found on descent that animals have tracked out a bit more.]


[Looking back as Phil crests the cliffband. Note the first lake visible behind us here.]


[Looking up just one of the "easy" ascent gullies on Alcantara's SW face. This one would suck a bit because of the avy debris that we are now experiencing.]


[This sort of shenanigan is getting way too familiar for us. Time to start bagging Kane peaks again?!]

 
[The first place we were seriously tempted to set up camp. I think Rick's party camped here. Alcantara rising in the distance with Brussilof behind at upper right. We kept going.]


[Phil marches on towards the back of the bowl - you can see at least two or three more headwalls in front of us yet.]


[There's a good argument to be made that we should have camped here. This was a lovely meadow with a pretty good water source. But we pushed on...]


[Wildflowers and the impressive west outlier of Brussilof with Rick's descent couloir looking very foreshortened.]


[It was right around this point when we looked at our GPS and realized we were gaining a TON of height - over 850m already at this point!]

 
[Finally we found our campsite on the little snow patch at center. Alcantara is conveniently rising straight up the gully at left (we'd descend here) and the Brussilof col is out of sight above the next headwall at center right. ++]

 

After setting up camp there was way too much daylight remaining to not at least try for a peak or two. I mean, we couldn't just sit around camp and enjoy a lovely afternoon of peaceful meditation right?! cheeky Originally we were thinking we'd ascend Alcantara first and save Brussilof for Saturday morning, before exiting to our next objective, but I suggested that maybe we should do the more complicated and lesser known ascent first. Phil agreed, so we packed our bags and headed up yet another headwall behind our camp, aiming for some very ominous cliffs guarding the col between Alcantara and Brussilof to the east. At first we were thinking that we could break through the rock wall on far climber's right before traversing a ledge system back left to an obvious break in the upper cliffs to the col. As we approached it however, the climber's left walls started looking more and more broken and doable. We changed our minds and headed there instead. Sure enough! As we worked our way up the cliff, it kept getting easier and easier. No more than moderate scrambling on fun, blocky terrain to the obvious break. From there it was a steep moderate scramble and we were on a gorgeous ridge traverse leading towards a very intimidating north ridge of Brussilof. So far, so good. This was becoming a very enjoyable scramble already. My headache started to fade into the background a bit more.

 


[Above camp now, heading for the far line of cliffs.]


[Hmmm. Where can we break through this sucker? We initially thought climber's right via the snow before traversing way to the left and then up to the crest. As we got closer, however, the cliffs just left of center started appealing more.]

 
[Looking back over our approach route from just below the cliffs. Brussilof at left here. The mountains in this area are big and the valleys are deep, making them a challenge to ascend. Oh - and there's no Kane or Nugara "highways" out here either! ++]


[Dang it! Where do we go?! Up Phil. Just go up. It's not rocket science man. Don't overthink it! devil]

 
[Man - this sucker is starting to look a bit huge and a wee bit complicated too! The summit of Brussilof at center as we climb to the col.]


[Big terrain - and bloody loose as you can see. But we really enjoyed the blocky, ledged terrain. It reminded me of the SW face of Mount Assiniboine.]


[Phil comes up the blocky, moderate step to the ridge crest. It may look pretty loose - and it was - but this is as solid as these mountains get!]

 
[Nice views from the col looking east towards Mount Aurora and Byng at left and Red Man Mountain at center. The snow slope we used to access the NE ridge of Brussilof is just visible at far upper right - the lower line. ++]

 

In his report, Rick mentions "steep snow and scree with the odd scrambly bit" on the north ridge. While technically this is 100% correct, it's a bit of an understatement. From a mountaineering or alpine climber's point of view it's sufficient, but from a scrambler's point of view there's a bit more to it than that. As we approached the north ridge, we could clearly see the line of snow up a north gully on the west face that we needed to ascend. This already puts the mountain at more than "just a scramble", as many scramblers wouldn't be prepared for it or have the skills necessary to ascend snow like this. Phil told me later that normally he'd have turned back already at this point - he's simply not comfortable yet on steep, exposed snow / ice. I love snow and knew that this slope wasn't quite as bad as it looked from a distance, so I persuaded Phil to get our noses into it and see where things went from there. As usual, once we got under the slope I could see that we could work our way between the rocky cliffs and snow and would feel pretty protected in the shallow moat. I led up steep snow to the rock / snow line and from there it was a mix of steep, loose rock and snow until the gully got a bit icy for my taste and my light, aluminum crampons. We transitioned to some really steep and manky dirt / rock (kept my crampons on for this) before topping out on the gully. My headache was slowly fading at this point - likely because I was really enjoying the challenging terrain. I kept telling Phil how fun this was! My day was rapidly improving on Brussilof. Phil somewhat reluctantly agreed that this was, indeed, a lot of fun! laugh

 


[Phil marches along the col towards Brussilof and our ascent line - now clearly just above him to the right.]


[As you can see, the terrain is horribly loose here - nothing stayed where it was after you stepped or pulled on it. The two snow options are just above, looking much less steep than they were, but still showing why this is the obvious route choice.]


[Phil comes up the snow with Alcantara's impressive south ridge rising beyond. That's our next challenge but we won't think about now...]


[Now we're cooking with gas! Looking up the snow gully - some sections were quite steep where we used the rock wall at left to assist over vertical steps.]


[Looking down at Phil, who's clearly having a blast here.]


[A better representation of the steepness of the snow gullies - compare this with the photo above the previous one. Angles can be tricky to capture on camera while you're busy trying not to slide off a mountain while taking them. I love the colors of Alcantara's south ridge, which we'll be scrambling in a few more hours.]


[Phil transitions out of our ascent gully onto the really manky dirt / rock slope between the two snow gullies. On descent we just stayed in the snow gully from the top and avoided this dangerously loose section altogether.]


[Big terrain just above the snow gullies looking back towards Alcantara.]

 

From the top of the snow gully to the crux is impossible to describe in any detail which is maybe why Rick's report is so scarce of details. It certainly isn't "mostly walking" or a "broad back" though - that I can tell you! There's a lot of routefinding on loose, blocky terrain while traversing very steep ledges and wondering the whole time if the next section is going to be a dead end or not. We didn't build enough cairns on ascent and despite thinking we knew exactly where we went, the terrain tripped us up several times on return. As I gained a crest on the ridge and looked towards Rick's "moderate chimney" I figured our attempt might just be ending early after all. The crux crack is only "moderate" for a climber - it's certainly more than that for most scramblers, including myself. Again, I knew that we had to get our noses into it and so we did just that. There was no other option on the blank face of the wall blocking the ridge - steep walls fell off hundreds of meters on either side of the ridge. This makes the crack easy to find - it's literally your only option! Once I looked closer, I again figured we'd be able to make it up the first 10 feet or so. After that there was a slightly overhanging crux before the terrain got blocky and laid back a bit more.

 


[Phil follows me across the first steep ledges as we traverse to the NE ridge. A false summit rises behind him here. We came up from the other side of the ridge. Cairns are essential for guiding you back in this complicated terrain. Not quite a "walk on scree".]


[Whoa. Seriously? We're not in Kansas anymore kids. We will ascend right up this face, just climber's left of the nose. Exposure is down hundreds of meters on either side here.]

 

Phil went up the first section, a bit awkward but no biggie. I followed him up, as usual it was slightly harder than it looked from below but soon we were both sizing up the crux. Phil thought it looked pretty stiff, but I was feeling pretty great about it - it was my favorite "difficult" terrain, a chimney. I love chimneys, as they generally allow you to stem your way up or down while feeling pretty secure. In this case, it was a matter of using hands and feet to counterbalance my way over the lip and onto the less exposed face above the crack / chimney. Phil followed and admitted that it wasn't quite as bad as it looked - although obviously we both agreed it was still much more "difficult" than just "moderate" scrambling. I found myself really enjoying the more complicated terrain. Just as on Assiniboine, the steepest terrain is more solid with tons of huge holds and the ledges are a bit of a nightmare, liable to collapse under you or on top of you at any moment.

 

 
[Sweet views off the ridge crest back towards Mount Alcantara.]


[Phil starts up the bottom of the crux crack.]


[Phil stems over the crux just before the "crack" becomes a "chimney".]


[Much easier terrain after the crux, but a slip here would suck badly. Don't slip here.]

 

The terrain above the crux wasn't trivial either. Very loose rock was a common theme, as were exposed ledge traverses, small cliff bands to circumvent and views that knocked our socks off as we got higher and higher. Generally the ledges were on climber's left (SE) and firmer terrain was on the ridge crest. Everything we touched was suspect and no hold could be completely trusted, slowing us down and making us feel a bit frazzled at times. Finally we found ourselves blocked by one more steep snow arete that was bypassed on yet another ledge traverse below the summit block on the SE face before contouring back up and towards the summit which was conveniently located right on the middle of the ridge. I was super excited to see a register and opened it to see we were only the 5th recorded ascent since 1929 and first in almost a decade since Colin Jones ascended it in 1999.

 

 
[Apparently the first ascent party approach up this valley from the east to the Alcantara / Brussilof col and then followed the same route we did to the summit. A false summit visible at upper right. The Royal Group visible at distant center. ++]


[It's all steep, loose, blocky and ledged terrain. Just don't trust ANYTHING to your full body weight and make sure you are ready for slippage at any moment. It's pretty slow and mentally tiring to be on this terrain - I clearly had flashbacks to the interminable SW face of Mount Assiniboine as we ascended and descended Brussilof.]

 
[It's a beauty of a day to be out here! Peaks such as Byng, Red Man, Currie, Sir Douglas and King George all visible.]

 
[Looking back along a shoulder on the ridge below the summit at Alcantara with Eon, Aye and Assiniboine just peeking out now. Our approach from mid right and lower approach from the road at mid left - you can see one of the lakes here. ++]

 
[Scrambling up to the ridge just before the summit with our approach valley far below us now. ++]

 
[Dang it! Nothing's ever easy is it?! To avoid unnecessary exposed snow climbing along the obvious arete ahead, we chose to dip down to the left and ascend to the summit that way. It worked fine. ++]


[The last few steps to the top!]


[A regular "who's who" of local climbing legends.]


[Now that's a bloody sweet view! The Marshall, Aye, Assiniboine and Eon (L to R) are even "huger" than Brussilof and all are likely harder and for sure longer to ascend. Originally we were planning on an ascent of Eon to cap off our weekend.]

 
[Enjoying the summit views looking north (L) and east (C,R) including peaks such as Alcantara, Marvel, Byng, Currie, Joffre, Sir Douglas, Red Man, White Man, Talon, Soderholm and the Royal Group. ++]

 
[Joffre in the distance left of center with the Royal Group and King George at right. Smuts and Birdwood over Warre and Vavasour at mid left and White Man Mountain in the foreground in sunlight with Talon and Soderholm at right foreground. ++]


[Aurora, Byng and Morrison at center left with Red Man and Sir Douglas at right. Currie at center.]


[The always impressive and majestic Mount Assiniboine towers over the Aye / Eon col.]


[The Monarch looms in front of a distant Mount Ball and even Mount Temple is visible far to the NW.]


[Talon just out of sight to the left with Soderholm at right. The Royal Group including Queen Mary, Prince John, and King George rising impressively beyond.]

 
[Phil checks out the views from the SW end of the summit block - note the impressive rock wall of the west outlier at right. ++]

 
[Views off the SW end of the summit ridge are impressive. Soderholm and Talon at left with unnamed outlier and tarn at foreground left. ++]

 
[How the heck did I do this with a bloody migraine?! Jeez. Looking way down around 1700 meters to the Aurora Creek FSR and our approach route with the Baymag Mine site at left and the Assiniboine Lake approach to Mount Assiniboine at center going right up the Assiniboine Creek drainage. The Mitchell River Valley at center heading towards strange sounding mountains such as "Centurion" and "Octopus". The valley at left branches off the Mitchell River and leads towards peaks such as Daer, Harkin and Selkirk. ++]


[A better photo of the Mitchell Group over the Baymag Mine. Selkirk at center with Daer and Harkin to the left with Mount Sam and Octopus splitting the valley with the Mitchell River Valley at right.]

 
[A great view of the giants of the Assiniboine area including (L to R), Octopus, Centurion, The Marshall, Aye, Assiniboine, Eon and Alcantara++]

 

After enjoying  a break on the summit and taking our usual plethora of summit photos, Phil and I turned our attention to the complicated descent towards Alcantara. My throbbing headache was under control at this point, and we were talking about heading up the south ridge of Alcantara from the col with Brussilof. The descent to the col was, as expected, slow and a bit involved. Most of the technical bits weren't too hard to reverse - especially the chimneys weren't horrible to downclimb.

 

 
[This is the only "walk on scree" which doesn't last very long. Another special place to be in the Rockies with some excellent views over the core Assiniboine area. Marvel Pass at center distance. ++]


[Careful to press down on rocks rather than pull on them!]

 
[Looking back up the crux wall / crack / chimney.]


[Continuing the loose descent past the crux which rises above Phil. What you can't see on the photos is that the exposure on the other side of the crux is just as severe as the one you see at right here.]


[There is some airy views on Brussilof. They are invigorating to say the least.]


[Another view back at the crux wall.]

 
[We had some spectacular positions and views on this scramble. Looking back at Phil traversing some ledges with the end of the summit ridge high above. ++]

 

The snow gully was slow, but fairly easy as well - it certainly helped to have kicked steps and the confidence that it already worked fine on ascent. As the afternoon shadows lengthened and the day shifted into evening we set our sights on the magnificent looking south ridge of Alcantara, rising impressively to its lofty summit hundreds of meters above us.

 


[Working our way carefully down the snow gully. We had to be extra careful about pulling huge rocks down on ourselves or each other on this scramble. Everything moved and nothing was truly "solid".]


[Phil downclimbs the last steep bit of snow in fine form.]


[Exiting the mountain back to the Alcantara col via steep, loose scree.]


[Our next objective - Mount Alcantara and its south ridge - invites us forward.]

 

I have to say that Brussilof might sneak onto one of my "favorites" lists. It ticked a lot of boxes for me. First I ignored and overcame a brutal migraine. Then we had the fun snow climb followed by intricate routefinding and steep, blocky climbing including a neat chimney / crack feature. Then there's the summit itself, which has only been visited a handful of times over the past 100 years. That's a lot of positives for any mountain!

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,005
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,859
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Round Trip Time: 
15.00
Total Distance (km): 
15.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead
Difficulty Notes: 

A difficult approach through medium BC bush followed by snow climbing, 4th class loose rock and routefinding up ledges and cliffs to the summit.

Byng, Mount

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

Named in 1918; Byng, Viscount Julian H.G. Byng was a frequent visitor to Jasper National Park, Lord Byng of Vimy served in the Boer War and as a general in WW I where he commanded the Canadian Corps. He served as Governor General from 1921 until 1926. (from peakfinder.com

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, July 21, 2018

After a ~900m descent from our Alcantara / Brussilof bivy, I was feeling pretty bagged for some reason. I think Phil was too. It sure felt good to down the cool pop we had waiting for ourselves in Phil's SUV! Technically we had two days in front of us still at this point. We knew that Saturday was supposed to be almost 100% cloudy with no rain and Sunday was supposed to improve to sun again. We felt a wee bit burned out after our monster approach and scramble of both Brussilof and Alcantara the day before and we both wanted to turn off our brains and do something a bit easier than our originally planned 1.5 days on Mount Eon. We decided pretty quickly to do the hike into Marvel Pass and check out some of the scrambles around there. Neither of us had ever done this hike, so why not? Being on a trail again would be awesome!

 

We briefly considered not bothering to drive any further up the Aurora Creek FSR. We figured the SUV was nicely wrapped in chicken wire so why bother with fussing around when the trailhead was only 1km distant? Boy am I glad we didn't make that particular brain fart. surprise As we drove past the Assiniboine approach parking area (two vehicles) we realized that the Marvel Pass trailhead is further along the road and very drivable. It's also very much uphill! Walking this road would have been very demoralizing and silly! I didn't realize it but this road goes at least 1-1.5km past the parking area for Assiniboine Creek. We arrived at the parking area to see Jay's truck and thankfully some more chicken wire that we used after repacking our gear for the 2nd phase of our trip. The trailhead was marked by an old sign and we headed down a short embankment following a faint trail in the grass.

 


[The trailhead for Marvel Pass is not Moraine Lake - put it this way!]

 

Two things stand out about the approach trail to Marvel Pass. Firstly, the trail is excellent - albeit a bit overgrown and faint in spots. It's graded nicely, it's routed nicely and it grants some great views once you get up a bit higher in the valley. Secondly, it's way more height gain than I thought it would be! By the time we ascended two headwalls and through some lovely meadows that reminded me of the Valley of Rocks along the Citadel Pass approach, we'd ascended over 600 vertical meters already! By the time we finally stumbled onto the shores of Aurora Lake we'd done almost 7km and 650 vertical meters from the car. In the fall I think this area would be on fire with larches and shrubs with turning leaves. We felt pretty good considering the days efforts - hiking along such a lovely trail had re-energized us.

 


[Although fairly well maintained, the trail is a bit overgrown and rustic in spots. There are bridges over an energetic Aurora Creek where needed.]


[The trail starts out in a surprisingly open matchstick forest that resembles Alberta bush more than BC bush.]


[The trail is obvious but you'd get pretty soaked from all the bushes and shrubs lining it if they were wet.]


[We ascend to the first headwall crossing some nice open avy / shale slopes.]


[It's a lot of uphill!]

 
[Once above the headwall the terrain is fairly interesting.]

 
[The lovely alpine meadows under the pass. Alcantara at left with Eon / Gloria at right. ++]


[Brilliant displays of wildflowers all throughout these meadows.]


[Chewed up sign showing different trails from the pass area including the traverse to Marvel Lake, Wonder Pass and Owl Lake.]

 
[The lovely Aurora Lake with Byng and Aurora Mountain at distant right. ++]

 

Once we'd taken a break at Aurora Lake it was time to narrow down our objectives for the day. The clouds had indeed been building and some of them looked quite threatening but we'd had no rain so far. Our options were somewhat limited due to energy levels and our location. Marvel Peak, Mount Byng and Aurora Mountain were the front runners. We didn't love the sounds of Rick's convoluted route on Marvel, so we decided to head for Byng and decide later if it was worth tagging Aurora too. We screwed up a bit on our approach to Mount Byng by trying to follow Rick's description;

 

We descended Marvel Pass and skirted the pretty little lake just E of the pass (See Aurora), and boulder-hopped up the valley to the SE, which forms the headwaters of Owl Creek. The NW shoulder of Mt. Byng (See Byng)is easily accessed from this valley...

 

By going up and over Marvel Pass from Aurora Lake, we ended up on a trail much further to the north (left) than we wanted to be. My base map has the wrong trail marked so I'm not sure if the trail from Marvel Pass towards Owl Lake has been rerouted over the years or what, but to make a long story short, we ended up going about 100 vertical meters too low on the trail before realizing we had to bushwhack towards the mountain across a shallow valley or we were going to miss it. It wasn't as bad as we thought and soon we were back on track, grunting up some forested gullies north of the valley between Byng and Aurora. It didn't take long and we were cheering up again - walking through lovely larch forests and exiting treeline on open alpine terrain between Byng and Aurora.

 


[On return we found a much more efficient approach to Byng, but on approach we followed the Marvel Pass trail down towards Owl Lake for a bit.]

 
[It's beautiful and all, but we're supposed to be on that bloody mountain - not wherever the heck we are now! Byng at center here. We descended a bit more before bushwhacking directly for the gullies right of center and ascended them to treeline between Byng and Aurora (R).]


[Holy FLOWERS in the area! A view of Marvel Peak from our descent into the valley.]


[The valley was pretty - we just didn't have the mental energy to deal with more bushwhacking at this point. There were some mutterings happening here.]


[The mutterings stopped as we exited trees and started back on course for the mountain.]

 

As expected from Rick's report and our own views from Mount Currie earlier this year, the NW slopes of Mount Byng were ridiculously easy compared to the routefinding, shifting blocks of rock, exposure and scrambling we'd had the day previous on Brussilof and even on Alcantara's south ridge. We were tired, but this was easy terrain where just putting one foot in front of the other (and slightly higher) results in a summit. But not the true summit, unfortunately...

 


[For some reason the clouds didn't impact our views for most of the day. Phil comes up to the meadows with some pretty sweet views opening up behind him.]

 
[The easy, but scenic, NW ridge of Byng stretches out at left with the more impressive, but quite a bit lower, NE face of Aurora loom at right. ++]

 
[We're feeling pretty good about our choice of mountain for today with these kinds of views! We're also asking ourselves why we didn't just traverse into the valley between Aurora and Byng directly from Aurora Lake! Click to see the much better approach line and our crappy one.]


[The walls on Aurora provide some nice scenery on ascent.]

 
[On the NW ridge proper, looking out to the east over Owl Lake with Marvel Peak at left and "Owl Peak" at center. ++]

 
[Sweet views opening up over the core Assiniboine park behind us including (L to R) Aurora, Eon, Aye, Gloria with Aurora Lake and Marvel Pass underneath. Mount Assiniboine, Magog, Terrapin, The Towers, Wonder and Marvel with Owl Lake at right.  ++]

 
[Starting to feel a bit like Golden Mountain where the summit ridge drags on a bit. Looking at the two false summits along the ridge.]

 
[Byng is pretty high - which is why we targeted it. We're now higher than Owl, Turner and even Morrison and distant peaks are familiar Kananaskis / Spray Lakes ones now. ++]


[Gaining on the easy false summit.]

 

From the false summit there is no debating the fact that the true summit to the east is higher - it's not even close. We knew, from Rick's report, that getting to the true summit was going to require some tricky, moderate scrambling and he was bang on. I have to admit that we were a bit nervous approaching this traverse after experiencing firsthand what Rick called "moderate" scrambling on Brussilof the day before! We needn't have worried on hindsight. Although beginner scramblers or hikers would be terrified on the terrain, compared to what we were on the day previous, this was pretty basic stuff. I didn't even hesitate, instead plunging down on climber's right and following faint trails in the scree and even cairns indicating where the best traverse was to be found. (At the time we assumed the cairns were from Jay / Glen who we knew were on this mountain just before us, but later found out that they were already set up for them as well.) Byng is a much more popular mountain than the Brussilof's of the world, perhaps seeing 1 or 2 ascents most years. After a few tricky ledge traverses on exposed and VERY loose terrain we scrambled easily to the summit and enjoyed the views from the third peak of our trip.

 

 
[Looking to the true summit from the false one. We dropped down to the right and traversed steep, loose terrain following cairns. ++]


[Phil passes another conveniently placed cairn showing us the route.]


[Unfortunately the summit register is yet another soaked Collier one. I'm not sure why, but I've encountered a TON of these this year. Which is a shame because they're illegible and pretty much ruined.]


[A legible page from 1994.]

 
[Great views over the core Assiniboine area include (L to R), Eon, Aye, Gloria, Assiniboine, Magog, Terrapin, The Towers, Wonder Pass, Wonder, Marvel, Cautley, Cone, Owl Lake, Owl, Turner and Morrison is sort of hidden behind the unnamed summit at right. ++]

 
[Looking over the Currie Creek drainage at center includes peaks such as (L to R), Morrison, Sir Douglas, Currie, Cross Ridge, White Man, King George, Talon, Soderholm, Red Man, Alcantara and Brussilof. ++]


[Looking over Mount Currie towards Sir Douglas and Joffre at distant right.]


[Looking past White Man towards the Royal Group.]


[Red Man in front of Talon and Soderholm.]

 
[Looking back over the false summit with Brussilof, Alcantara and Aurora at left and Eon, Aye, Gloria and Assiniboine at right.]


[Brussilof and Alcantara aren't small mountains. Hard to believe we were on both of those only about 24 hours earlier.]


[Mount Assiniboine looms over Marvel Pass.]


[Despite the threat of rain, our views aren't bad! Looking over Wonder Pass with Marvel Peak in the foreground right, The Towers and Wonder Peak at mid distance and Lake Magog, The Nub, Nestor Peak, Mount Ball and even Citadel Peak, Citadel Pass, Golden Mountain and Mount Nasswald visible in the distance.]


[Looking over Marvel Peak towards Wonder Peak and Mount Cautley.]


[Mount Joffre.]


[Mount Sir Douglas with its two north glaciers.]

 

The wind was getting quite cool and the clouds were thickening as we turned our attention towards Aurora Mountain. Rick combined these two peaks, so naturally we wanted to do the same. In a shocking development for us, however, we were not feeling at all motivated to bag Aurora! Well, to be honest I was quite motivated but Phil was talking some sense into me. cheeky Aurora is quite a bit lower than Byng and especially with the increasing clouds, our views would certainly not be improving. We could clearly see the route and it involved losing elevation from the Byng / Aurora col to the SE towards Currie Creek before reascending easy slopes to the summit. It was around this time that we also noticed that we could simply hike back out to the car and drive back to Canmore / Calgary without dealing with the Sunday traffic nightmare that is the Trans Canada Highway nowadays. Hmmm. We decided that a fall trip was in the cards anyway to Aurora Lake, so why not save Aurora for then?

 

 
[Heading back, we'll drop down to our left before traversing under the silly bits of summit ridge and then back up to the false summit.]


[It's not difficult, but it's certainly not "easy" terrain either.]


[An awkward move on the traverse.]


[Phil reascends to the false summit.]

 

The decision made to egress all the way to our houses, we focused on the more efficient line back to Aurora Lake that we'd spotted earlier. The descent down the NW slopes was very quick on great scree and snow patches followed by soft, grassy alpine meadows. We were surprised to run into Glen as we traversed boulders / scree towards the traverse. He was waiting patiently for Jay who had combined Aurora with Byng and was feeling pretty good about his decision to skip Aurora considering the dark clouds that were now much lower than before. We chatted for a bit and Glen mentioned that he and Jay had managed to bag Marvel Peak via a much better route than Ricks - beta I'm looking forward to seeing! From the old moraine we followed the obvious traverse line which worked out well despite being a bit more bouldery and undulating than we first expected.

 


[Looking back at Byng's NW slopes from alongside the interesting moraine feature.]


[A bit more elevation loss than we were hoping for - followed by more gains to the traverse to Aurora Lake via obvious slopes above Phil's head here.]

 
[Looking back as we ascend to the traverse. Marvel at left, Byng at right.]


[Traversing to Aurora Lake - a few more rubble piles than expected but not bad.]


[Looking past Marvel Peak towards Owl Lake and over the valley we approached Byng from - no need to lose that much height from Aurora Lake!]

 
[An old cabin sits along the shores of Aurora Lake - the views from it aren't too shabby! Aurora at left and Alcantara in the distance.]

 

After packing up camp at Aurora Lake (BTW - camping isn't technically allowed there as we found out later - you have to go about 50-100m back into BC apparently), we marched back down the Aurora Creek trail. The weather held up nicely and the walking was pretty easy despite our tired legs. We arrived back at the parking lot by around 20:00 and made the drive back to Canmore with no traffic issues. Needless to say, my drive from Canmore to YYC was also uneventful, but I have to say it was much busier than I expected even at midnight!

 


[Hiking back out! Mount Alcantara beckoning in the distance.]


[A weirdly angled hiker looks ready to fall off this little sign.]


[The rain / clouds clear off and we're left with a lovely hike back to the parking lot.]

 

I enjoyed the low key nature of the hike into Marvel Pass and the relatively simple scramble on Byng Mountain. I think this whole area deserves a fall trip when the larches are out and the bushes are probably bright red, orange and yellow but of course it's lovely any time of the year.

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,940
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,646
Elevation Gain (m): 
1700
Round Trip Time: 
10.00
Total Distance (km): 
22.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Easy hiking and scrambling to the false summit. A moderate, exposed, loose traverse to the true summit.

Cave Mountain

Interesting Facts: 

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

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Technical Difficulty Level: 
5
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
Hiking

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 5, 2008
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,651
Unless you paid close attention on your hike into the Assiniboine area via Assiniboine Pass, you will likely never know first hand where Cave Mountain gets its name from. Obviously there are caves somewhere on this hunk of rock, but it's so gently angled from the west that it seems doubtful they are of any substantial quality. Since we knew the name of the mountain before we headed up Assiniboine Pass on our trek into the park, we were actually looking for caves on it's much steeper south and eastern aspects. We spotted more than one deep cave and I wonder how far in they go? Would be interesting to explore but since I'm very claustrophobic you won't catch me attempting that any time soon.
 

Cave Mountain could just as easily be called 'Bump Mountain' or 'Slog Mountain' or 'Easy Mountain' but 'Cave' has a nicer ring to it - I admit! We didn't encounter any problems at all with the ascent, just the snow made it a bit more work than usual. There are some massive cairns near the top and interestingly enough the biggest cairn is not on the high point. Either that ascent party had more of a whiteout than we did or they just didn't care. Probably the latter.
 
 

[Jon heads towards Cave Mountain after completing an ascent of Windy Ridge and Og Mountain earlier in the day.]
 

[Vern and Hann at the junction between Allenby Pass (bg) and Windy Point Ridge (L).]
 

[Rod and Jon head for the weakness we spotted on the Northwest end of Cave Mountain.]
 

[It's a bit of a slog to get up Cave, especially in the dreary weather we had.]
 

[Cairns mark the way up along the ridge - this mountain is pretty popular]
 

[Into the grey! The summit slopes are gentle but foreshortened a bit.]
 

[Jon stands at a giant cairn along the way - the true summit is still up to the right.]
 

[Jon nears the true summit of Cave]
 
 
I'm sure the views are stunning off this mountain but we didn't get very many. The most we managed was a dramatic glimpse of the sheer cliffs on the north side and a few pictures illustrating them.

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?

 
 

[Rod follows along the impressive east cliff face on Cave Mountain]
 
 
[The summit of Cave Mountain. ++]
 

[Heading back down snowy slopes from the summit looking towards Sunshine Meadows in the far distance.]
 

[Hiking back to the Naiset Hut with Og Mountain and Windy Point Ridge in the background.]
 

[This is a cool section of trail, looking back at Rod with Nasswald Peak and Windy Point Ridge in the bg]
 

[More of the trail, again looking back]
Summit Elevation (ft): 
8,698
Elevation Gain (m): 
1500
Total Distance (km): 
23.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

No difficulties in most conditions - slopes are gentle to the summit.

Chucks Ridge

Interesting Facts: 

A high point on a west shoulder of Nub Peak above Elizabeth Lake.

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Low
YDS Class: 
3rd Class

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,425

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.]

 
[Great views of Sunburst Peak and Sunburst Lake.]


[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.

 
[Views north off the summit include Nub Peak at right and Nestor Peak at left. Interestingly, the nice large peak at center seems to be unnamed. ++]


[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 great view of Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Peak from the shoreline of Cerulean Lake.]

Elevation Gain (m): 
430
Round Trip Time: 
3.50
Total Distance (km): 
7.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

A moderate scramble up loose, steep terrain from a well-defined trail. Some exposure. Certainly harder than Nub Peak.

Citadel Peak

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Arthur O. Wheeler in 1913. The mountain was named for its fortress-like shape. Official name. (from peakfinder.com

Trip Category: 
OT - Off-Trail Skiing
Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
High
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, June 29, 2018
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,610

On a beautiful sunny, wintry May 1, 2011 I was joined by Raff and Mel on a ski trip through Sunshine Meadows to Citadel Pass and up Citadel peak. Our original plan (as per Raff) was to do a winter ascent of Fatigue Mountain but due to an unusually snowy winter we ended up on Citadel instead due to an extremely wind loaded west slope on Fatigue. I repeated the peak again on a much less wintry, but also much cloudier day on June 29, 2018 as part of a three peak extravaganza with Phil Richards that included Fatigue, Citadel and Golden Mountain. For the winter account, please click here to jump down this page.

 

Summer Scramble Ascent

 

After a cloudy but pleasant ascent of Fatigue Mountain, Phil Richards and I found ourselves with plenty of daylight left (days are long in June) and enough energy and decent weather to tackle the much smaller Citadel Peak. We knew from Fatigue that we'd likely get a good dose of cloudy views from the summit, but we were currently experiencing some rare sunshine and didn't want to squander the opportunity! Considering the fact that any peak today was a bonus with the weather conditions, we were quickly converting a "meh" day into a very successful one.

 

From Citadel Pass the route is obvious. Just head up to breaks in the obvious cliffs on the east face of Citadel and scramble through them to the summit. On ascent we did a very short moderate scramble while on descent we went a bit further south and it was no more than steep, off trail hiking.

 


[Staring up at the east face of Citadel. We ended up traversing left to an obvious break in the cliffs.]


[Great views towards Golden Mountain which would become the third peak of the day for us, many hours later.]


[Phil ascends steep grassy slopes with the summit of Fatigue Mountain still in the clouds behind him.]

 
[More great views from the ascent showing Fatigue at left and Golden Mountain at center distance with Fatigue Pass in between. Most hikers descend past these peaks at lower center-right on their way towards Og and Magog Lakes in the heart of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. Nobody has the time or energy to be peak bagging while they do this long approach! ++]


[Our ascent line is obvious above.]

 
[Looking past the eastern cliffs of Citadel towards Golden Mountain (L) and an outlier of Nub Peak at distant right.]


[Telephoto of the outlier of Nub Peak with the core Assiniboine area covered in clouds and rain.]


[The slope gets quite steep - hikers probably won't appreciate it.]


[Phil breaks through the easy cliffs - note that if you aren't on the easiest line, there are difficult options through here.]

 

Above the cliff band there was still about 100m vertical to the summit on very steep vegetated slopes. This slope, although easy enough, would be very slick with rain and presents an obvious avalanche hazard with snow. Views from the surprisingly rounded and spacious summit were some of the best we'd get all weekend thanks to the diminutive stature of the peak and our lucky timing. Just as we made the top, the clouds cleared and gave us some beautiful views in all directions. About 10 minutes later we spotted a storm heading directly at us and started to bolt back down the east face!

 


[Very steep vegetated slopes to the summit above the cliff band.]

 
[Gorgeous views over the Simpson River Valley towards Simpson Ridge (C). Golden Mountain at far left and Nestor Peak left of Simpson Ridge. Mount Shanks at right of center distance with Quartz Hill and Little Fatigue at right. ++]


[Simpson Ridge is very difficult to access - especially after the Verdant Creek wildfires of 2017 which are pretty obvious here.]


[Looking across the recent burn area towards The Monarch which is buried in clouds.]


[Looking north over Quartz Hill towards the Egypt Lakes with Pharaoh Peak visible and Mount Ball in clouds beyond.]


[Telephoto over the Sunshine Meadows towards Wawa Ridge.]


[Looking north towards Mount Howard Douglas.]

 
[Fantastic views down the south ridge of Citadel, deep into the Simpson River Valley at right with Policeman's Meadows brilliant green at center. Golden Mountain and Mount Nasswald visible at distant left and Nestor Peak and Simpson Ridge at right in clouds. ++]

 
[Citadel Lake sneaks into view as I walk towards the north end of the summit block. There's also a fast moving storm approaching at left here - time to bail!]


[Fatigue Mountain refuses to shed its summit clouds!]


[Golden Mountain and Mount Nasswald loom over an unnamed tarn at the head of Citadel Pass. Considering how prominently these peaks area and how accessible, it's amazing how rarely they're ascended.]


[Nestor Peak looms above Policeman's Meadow to the south.]


[A telephoto into the Policeman's Meadow shows the rustic hunter's cabin on it's western edge.]


["Little" Fatigue's summit comes into view as we descend.]

 

As the weather chased us down the east face of Citadel, I noticed an attractive looking break in the cliffs a bit further south from our ascent line. We plunge stepped quickly and easily down this steep break on a mix of scree and dirt which was delightful. From the bottom of the break we side-hilled back to our heavy packs near Citadel Pass and continued on towards our planned bivy site somewhere near Fatigue Pass.

 


[Steep vegetated slopes from the summit with "Little" Fatigue in the background.]

 

Winter Ski Ascent

 

The morning started out well, with a ski up the ski-out at Sunshine Ski Resort. Raff was hoping to take the gondola up but both Mel and I considered that 'cheating' and we kind of wanted the workout of skinning up the ski-out due to a planned ski trip to Castleguard the following weekend (which is a brutally long day trip). Because we arrived at the parking lot at 07:00 we didn't have another option anyway, the lifts weren't running yet!

 

Once at the top of the strawberry ski lift, we had our first glimpse of Sunshine Meadows and our destination. It didn't look that far, but looks are deceiving in a world of white. And it was certainly a world of white. We couldn't believe how much snow was in the meadows and plastering the peaks all around. Fatigue looked very snowy and Mel right away stated that the west / south slopes looked dangerously wind-loaded. Raff and I weren't ready to admit 'defeat' yet so we began our trek to Citadel Pass. The snow was extremely supportive and this didn't change all day, even with a strong sun. The temps stayed cool (for May 1st!) so that helped. We couldn't help but notice that nothing had slid on any of the surrounding peaks as we skied through the meadows and this was starting to make us a bit concerned, especially with a warm sun baking the slopes.

 

 
[Our first glimpse of the Sunshine Meadows area with Fatigue, Golden and Citadel in the far distance left of center and Quartz Hill and Ridge at right of center. ++]

 

The trail to Citadel Pass runs along the west (right) side of the meadows, close to Quartz Hill before making a turn for the pass. This is to avoid unnecessary height loss, but doesn't avoid all height loss. From just under Quartz Hill you lose quite a bit of elevation before gaining it all back to the pass. This section takes a lot longer than you'd think. We ended up swapping our skins on and off 3 or 4 times because of the rolling terrain. I think some kick wax would help tremendously here.

 

 
[Mel follows the skin track as I glance back at Sunshine and The Monarch at left.]


[Sunshine Meadows is a big, beautiful place!]


[Raf and Mel follow me up one of many 'dips' in the terrain around Sunshine Meadows.]

 
[Looking down down Howard Douglas Creek as we go through another dip (heading right of this photo). ++]


[Speaking of the devil - looking back at Mount Howard Douglas.]

 
[Howard Douglas Lake in the foreground with Fatigue, Golden and Nasswald at left and Citadel at center in the bg. ++]

 
[Pano from near Howard Douglas Lake towards Citadel Pass and Peak. ++]

 
[Looking back at our long approach - Quartz Hill at center, Howard Douglas at extreme right. ++]


[Mel heads up yet another small slope above Howard Douglas Lake.]

 
[Mel skis towards Citadel Pass - Fatigue above her on the left. ++]

 
[Citadel Pass views are incredible. Golden and Nasswald on upper left, Assiniboine just right of center and Citadel out of sight to the right. We will trend to the right before turning sharply up the south ridge of Citadel. ++]

 

At the pass we determined that there was no way we were attempting Fatigue! The west slope was baking in the sun, sections had already slid and most of it was still plastered with wind loaded snow. Our attention turned to the other side of the pass - Citadel Peak. We knew that TJ and JW had ascended right from the pass but again, south / east facing snow gullies were loaded with fresh snow and already starting to sluff off the mountain so we weren't going to subject ourselves to them. We decided to descend from the pass, traverse around the south side of Citadel and attempt the summit on skis up the gentle south facing slopes - hopefully they would be gentle enough not to slide.

 

The theory worked well until the summit block where we were forced to take off our skis. My skins were balling up like crazy so I knew I'd need some ski wax on the way out. Skiing uphill with an extra 10lbs on each foot is hard work... ;-) A short cliff made this little peak as technical as Hector or White Pyramid but wasn't a huge problem to get up.

 


[Golden Mountain from near Citadel Pass.]


[Looking up gentle slopes on the south ridge of Citadel.]

 
[Fatigue on the left and Golden / Nasswald on the right as we start up the south ridge of Citadel.]

 
[The cliff band up ahead as we ski up the south ridge of Citadel - Fatigue to the right. ++]


[Almost at the end of our ski approach - just before the summit ridge / cliff band.]


[View from just under the cliff band looking SW at Simpson Ridge.]


[Mel breaks trail up the cliff band.]

 

Once on top of Citadel we had to traverse some snowy terrain over to the summit, trying hard to avoid steep west slopes and a massive cornice on the east. Mel heard a loud 'whump' on one section which sent us much closer to those west slopes, back from the cornice! It's probable that this 'whump' triggered the slides we noticed later on the east face when we descended back around the mountain.

 

 
[On to the summit! But we have to be careful for cornices and steep snow slopes. Raff ascends the final tricky slope just before topping out at the summit of Citadel Peak. The slope to our right has slid while we were ascending the south end of the mountain, we just don't realize it yet... ++]

 

The final section to the summit was probably not a great place to be on this particular day. Raff led the way and we smoked up it as fast as humanly possible, one at a time. Once on top of this short section we could see that about 30 meters below it there was a very fresh fracture line and avalanche that had obviously broken off while we were coming up the south end of the mountain, since we didn't see or hear anything earlier while traversing under the east face. This was sobering and we rushed to the summit and didn't linger long before cruising down this same section as quickly as possible. 

 

 
[Views from the summit include (L to R), Howard Douglas, "Little Fatigue", Fatigue, Nasswald and Golden Mountain. ++]

 
[Incredible views west and north include (L to R), Shanks, Verdant Creek Valley, The Monarch, Ball, Quartz Hill, Sunshine Meadows and Howard Douglas. ++]


[Golden Mountain in front of Nasswald. It's hard to believe but Rick Collier may have had a first (recorded) ascent of Golden and I might have had the fourth.]

 
[Incredible panorama view towards Mount Assiniboine includes (L to R), Nub, Naiset Point, Terrapin, Magog, Assiniboine, Sturdee, Wedgewood, Strom, The Marshall, Nestor Peak and Simpson Ridge. ++]


[Telephoto of the Assiniboine region includes (L to R), Towers, Nub, Naiset, Terrapin, Magog, Eon, Assiniboine and Sturdee.]

 

The ski down the south ridge was great - heavy corn skiing with some tricky crusts through the trees. The slog back to the car was uneventful but long. A great day out in great weather with great company!

 

 
[Descending the south ridge with mind blowing views towards Mount Assiniboine. Familiar peaks at left include Cave and Wonder peaks. ++]


[Raf descends to the small cliff on the south ridge.]

 
[The terrain here is huge! Simpson Ridge in the fg at right is impressive from this angle. ++]


[Raf descends the short, tricky cliff band back to our skis.]


[The best backcountry skiing we got all day was down the south ridge of Citadel.]

 
[Looking ahead to a long slog back! Fatigue at right.]

 
[Looking back at our skin track and route to the south ridge of Citadel.]

 
[The east face of Citadel. The summer route goes straight up this face through the upper cliff bands (easy scrambling). Note the recent avalanches that we kicked off from the summit ridge! ++]

 
[Skiing past a very buried trail sign!]


[Impressive views of Quartz Hill (R) with the Monarch beyond.]

 
[Panorama of Sunshine Meadows. ++]


[Quartz Hill]


[Looking back at a major dip in the route.]


[Mel tops out of yet another dip.]


[Mount Howard Douglas with Brewster Rock at left.]


[Kite skiing would make Citadel or Fatigue much easier! Watching this guy float over the snowy meadow in late afternoon sunshine was surreal. I was jealous.]

 
[One more glance back at the Sunshine Meadow area before dropping down the Sunshine ski resort - which is devoid of skiers at this late evening hour.]

 

 

Summit Elevation (ft): 
8,563
Elevation Gain (m): 
1550
Round Trip Time: 
11.00
Total Distance (km): 
33.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

While the summer ascent is fairly short and easy from Citadel Pass, the winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks. Learn how to manage these risks and perform avalanche burial rescues before attempting this trip.

Ely's Dome (Cautley Traverse)

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

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)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
5
Endurance Level: 
Med
YDS Class: 
Hiking

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,830

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.

 

 
[I'd much rather it was sunny and clear, but the views are still decent over the larch meadows towards Lake Magog from the traverse.]


[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. ++]

 
[A wonderful view of Gibraltar Rock at left and Beersheba / Allenby at right.]

 
[Looking over the Assiniboine Meadows from near Ely's Dome towards Wonder Peak at left, Lake Magog at center and Cautley Peak at right.]

 

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).]

 
[Marvel Peak in the foreground at right with Currie in the background.]


[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.]

 
[Pano of the east ridge at my turn-around point due to another exposed, snowy, icy drop-off. Cautley on the left and Marvel Lake on the right.]


[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.]

 
[Panorama of the Assiniboine Meadows area looking towards Nub Peak (C) with Citadel and Fatigue in the distance and Cautley at right.]


[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. ++]

 
[Great views down to Marvel Lake from the col. Ely's Dome at left out of sight and Wonder Peak at right, out of sight.]

 
[Easy descent slopes to the meadows. Cautley at upper right, The Towers at left.]


[Looking over a shoulder of Wonder Peak towards The Towers.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,285
Elevation Gain (m): 
900
Round Trip Time: 
8.00
Total Distance (km): 
17.00
Difficulty Notes: 

The partial Cautley Traverse is off trail hiking only. If you include Wonder Peak it might go up to 3rd class.

Fatigue Mountain

Interesting Facts: 

The mountain was named after Mr. Drewry, a surveyor, became quite tired while completing the first ascent in 1888. (from peakfinder.com)

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Technical Difficulty Level: 
5
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, June 29, 2018

For some reason, Fatigue Mountain had been on my radar for many years by the time 2018 rolled around. I don't remember when or where I first heard about it, but it intrigued me as it sounded like a fairly easy ascent that wasn't done very often due to its location far from any parking lots. When I skied to the summit of its tiny neighbor, Citadel Peak, back in 2011, I was even more intrigued. I also remember mixing up what was "Golden" Mountain and what was "Fatigue" Mountain. They both look so close from the Sunshine Meadows and Citadel Pass areas, that they're very easy to confuse with one another. Now I knowlaugh

 

I always wanted to ski Fatigue rather than scramble it. I'm running out of easy ski ascents and Fatigue seems like an easier ski than Citadel Peak, so it just seemed like a great candidate. Alas, after many years on my ski objectives list, it just wasn't happening for some or another reason so when the opportunity came knocking for Phil and I to spend a few days bagging peaks in less-than-ideal weather around the Citadel and Fatigue Passes, Fatigue Mountain moved to the "scramble" list. Unfortunately for me, since I'd first wanted to ascend this peak, it had become very slightly more popular, thanks to Mr. Andrew Nugara adding it to one of his scrambles guidebooks. (It can't be that popular however, since there's still no register at the peak and no trip reports published in the usual places as I write up this one.)

 

Originally Phil Richards and I had a pretty aggressive plan for the July holiday weekend. We needed at least 4 days and 3 nights for our original plan, but we also needed decent weather. Already a week out we could see our plan collapsing. By the Wednesday before our trip we had changed objectives at least twice and considered many others. The issue? A series of weak low pressure systems were moving in from the Pacific, across BC and into AB via their usual channels. What was really buggering up the forecast models was the presence of a weak high pressure system in between all the lows! This provided just enough clearing to keep peak baggers like us planning a trip, but also enough possibility of thunder storms and even snow to keep our ambitions in check. Eventually we settled on the Fatigue and Citadel Pass areas for two reasons. Firstly, we could bivy at Fatigue Pass (as it's outside Banff National Park) and secondly, we've seen Mount Assiniboine enough times already that while we would be disappointed with no views, we'd be OK with somewhat limited ones. We planned and packed for a 3 day, 2 night trip just in case of weather delays and made sure to have plenty of reading material if we were tent-bound for hours at a time.

 

The plan finally in place, we met early at Phil's house in Canmore on Friday, June 29th before driving to the empty Sunshine Ski Village parking lot and struggling into heavier-than-normal packs. We were missing the summer opening of the Gondola / Sunshine Meadows Bus (by 24 hours), thereby increasing the distance and height gain of our trip by at least 10km and 500m! Oh well. There'd be no "cheating" on this trip! We marched up the rather dull and boring road to Sunshine Village at a pretty good pace in the cool morning air. The skies weren't exactly clear, but the temperature was perfect for hiking uphill with an overnight pack. My knees let me know pretty quickly that they weren't impressed with the additional weight but I gave them a stern talking to and they settled down fairly quick. We chatted our way through the resort and up to the Sunshine Meadows before realizing that we'd already come quite a way at a good pace. Stopping for a bite to eat and some water, we also realized that the clouds were thickening over the Continental Divide and our mountains were covered in clouds. Oh well. That's the risk we took by not sitting on the couch this weekend! We struggled back into our packs and continued marching through the lovely alpine meadows toward Howard Douglas Lake.

 


[Marching up the Sunshine Village road.]


[New signage along the paths at Sunshine Village. Phil checks to make sure we're on route. 3 of our 4 summits are visible at left, Quartz Peak, Fatigue and Golden Mountain.]

 

I've hiked through the lovely Sunshine Meadows before - on a 1 day approach to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in the fall. This time through the meadows was a bit different, although the weather was surprisingly similar. It was, of course, vastly different than my previous ski approach through the meadows in 2011 while on a mission to ski Citadel Peak! One thing to note about the meadows trail, is that it certainly isn't flat. It gains height from the village, than slowly loses height before gaining it back. Then it gains a whole bunch of height to the Quartz Hill shoulder just before Howard Douglas Lake and campground before losing it to the lake. Then it gains back some of the height to Citadel Pass. Sound exhausting? If you're not prepared for it, it can be. We were mostly prepared (mentally) and before long we found ourselves at the soggy shorelines of Howard Douglas Lake. I was amused at the fact that Phil packed a large can of aerosol bug spray on the outside of his pack like he was loaded for a bug battle. Of course given the damp and cool conditions we were in, there wasn't even a single fly to be found! I would continue to point out this extra bit of weight to Phil throughout the next day or so - much to his amusement - or maybe it was only mine? cheeky

 


[A lovely day for hiking the meadows. All four summits now visible with Citadel just peeking out above Phil's head. I skied Quartz Ridge and Hill at right, earlier this year.]


[Looking back along our approach trail as we grind up the Quartz Hill shoulder. Twin Cairns in the distance at left.]

 
[Looking down at Howard Douglas Lake. Fatigue and Golden in clouds at left with Citadel still underneath them.]

 

There were some hardy campers at the Howard Douglas campground, but we weren't even done our approach for the day and marched onwards without delay. The clouds continued to swirl overhead as we ascended to Citadel Pass but I found the weather perfect for hiking and the scenery was quite stunning despite not being larch season and the lack of sun. Sunshine Meadows is known for its incredible displays of wildflowers and even though we were about 2 weeks early for peak bloom, we were treated to some large patches of Alpine Buttercup, early Indian Paintbrushes and copious amounts of dying Pasqueflowers. As we crested Citadel Pass, we started looking for obvious places to diverge off the trail and start our ascent of the easy angled west face of Fatigue Mountain. We hiked a ways off the trail before leaving most of our camping gear behind and continuing on with smaller day packs. It was strange to feel no weight on our backs and we ascended fairly quickly!

 


[It's wet and early for wildflowers, but they're starting to flourish.]


[As we approach Citadel Pass the weather isn't looking great. The mountain visible here is Golden Mountain - our 3rd peak of the day.]


[Ugh. That doesn't look too inviting to be honest. But we're here now and we did expect some clouds so up we go!]

 

We had great views behind us as we ascended - but we knew our summit views would be a bit disappointing thanks to heavy cloud refusing to leave the summit ridge above. As we ascended into the clouds we entered that strange atmosphere that climbers know - where the world condenses into mere feet in every direction and your gut feels the exposure rather than your eyes seeing it. We got enough glimpses to the east to realize there was a substantial drop on that side!

 

 
[We're not likely to get any summit views but that doesn't mean we won't get views while ascending. This is looking back at Quartz Hill (R) with The Monarch in clouds beyond. ++]


[Phil on the lower west slope of Fatigue with Citadel Peak in the background.]

 
[Quartz Hill and Shoulder rise above another unexpected pond. There was fire fighting equipment still lining this pond which was obviously used as a water source for the Verdant Creek wildfire in 2017. You can see the burn area at distant left. ++]

 
[Now we're much higher than Citadel and entering the clouds. Simpson Ridge and Nestor Peak in clouds beyond with the evidence of wildfire clear at distant right. Citadel Lake at lower right. ++]


[The photo pretty much summarizes the scrambling on Fatigue. The scree is actually not that bad - I've been on far worse in the Rockies.]

 
[Trying to get as many views / photos as possible before entering the clouds! Looking back over the Sunshine Meadows at right and Citadel Pass at left.]


[Entering a world of gray.]


[On the summit ridge.]

 

As we approached the summit we could also see a very surprising little tarn tucked against the eastern aspect of the mountain, draining into Fatigue Creek and eventually into Brewster Creek. The summit cairn had no register. As we sat there, we got lucky with a break in the cloud cover! The break only lasted about 5 minutes but was enough to snap some photos and lift our spirits a bit before heading back down.

 


[A break in the clouds gives us a surprising little lake tucked against the eastern walls of the mountain.]


[Phil stands just off the summit gazing towards a very hidden Golden Mountain across Fatigue Pass.]

 
[A break in the clouds! Summit panorama from the eastern outlier of Fatigue at left over Golden Mountain at center and Citadel Peak at lower right. ++]


[Looking out of Fatigue Creek Valley towards Brewster Creek and the rarely explored peaks of the Sundance Range.]


[I bet this lovely tarn sees very few human visitors!]

 
[The outlier at right now with "Little" Fatigue in clouds at left.]


[Views all the way to Townsend and Mythic Tower with Cougar Peak at right distance.]


[Sundance Peak is one of the only named summits in the entire Sundance Range and doesn't sound easy. Mount Rundle rises beyond.]


[Paradise awaits at the Policeman's Meadows hunters cabin which is free to stay at if you bother with the long approach to the middle of nowhere.]


[Descending back out of the clouds with Golden Mountain at left. The route down from Citadel Pass towards the Porcupine Campground and approach to Og Lake is at bottom right. Policeman's Meadows is visible as a spot of lighter colored green at mid-right.]


[Looking over the Sunshine Meadows and Ski Resort. Brewster Rock at right.]


[A telephoto of Golden Mountain's long summit ridge - much further than it appears here.]


[Golden Mountain is clearer now with Fatigue Pass showing up above Phil's head here.]

 
[Storms continue to roll towards and over us from the west, but none of them are severe enough to stop us yet.]

 
[Our next summit of the day would be my 2nd ascent of Citadel Peak.]

 

We briefly considered combining this summit with its neighbor to the north - Quartz Peak (or "Little" Fatigue) but given the thick clouds we thought we'd save that summit for our last one if it worked out. Citadel Peak would be our next objective as it was low enough to give good views despite the weather.

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,959
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,708
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Total Distance (km): 
35.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

Easy hiking and scrambling with some exposure on the summit ridge but mostly avoidable. A long day from the Sunshine parking lot!

Golden Mountain (Fatigue Pass)

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

The most interesting fact about Golden Mountain is how little it's apparently ascended. Rick Collier thought he might have had a first (recorded) ascent back in 1993 which is remarkable for a peak that is visible from a very long way off and from both Banff and Assiniboine parks. Nasswald was first ascended around 1913 by Conrad Kain and the Boundary Commission but there is no record of them traversing to Golden Mountain.

Technical Difficulty Level: 
5
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, June 29, 2018

After successfully completing my second ascent of the diminutive Citadel Peak (with it's not-so-small views), Phil and I returned to our waiting overnight packs at Citadel Pass and prepared for the uphill trudge towards Fatigue Pass. I'd often wondered what this pass looked like and Phil also remembers wondering about it on his way to Mount Assiniboine years previous. We were about to find out. I had no idea if there'd be decent bivy sites at, or near the pass but as part of our July long weekend peak bagging adventure in the area, finding a bivy site was key. We had to stay out of Banff National Park to avoid fines, and Fatigue Pass was really our only option, being just across the border in British Columbia's lovely Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

 

Unfortunately for me, I'd been "scooped" on Golden Mountain, simply due to not being able to prioritize it over the years since I first came across Rick Collier's likely first ascent trip report on Bivouac.com. I knew Rob Schnell and Chris Moneypenny had skied / scrambled up Golden Mountain a few years previous in a brutally long day from the Sunshine Meadows and an even more brutal return via Brewster Creek. Rob reported back that the terrain was easy, so I had no concerns about it. Our only concern on this particular weekend was the weather. We planned to bivy at the pass right under the north end of Golden in order to give ourselves as many shots at it as we'd need in the iffy weather. As it turns out, we only really needed one.

 

From the signed turnoff on the main Citadel Pass / Assiniboine trail the Fatigue Pass trail quickly faded. Thank goodness for cairns or it would be completely gone. The only place with a defined trail (still faded and slowly disintegrating however) was on the switchbacks up to the pass. The views were awesome as we ascended the old switchbacks with obvious damage from a Grizzly bear who'd used the flatter trail to stand on as s/he ripped the uphill slopes to shreds! Our tired legs were rejuvenated with the view as we crested the trail and continued across to the pass, now following cairns again as the trail vanished under our feet under the wide expanse of the large alpine meadow. We wandered slowly across the rolling terrain, looking carefully for an appropriate bivy site. Our patience paid off in the form of a perfect bivy site located just off a large snow bank on soft grass, protected by west winds and tucked under the interesting looking south ridge of Fatigue Mountain.

 


[From the Citadel Pass meadows there is barely a defined trail up to Fatigue Pass. Thankfully there's cairns marking the way.]


[Looking back towards Citadel Pass from the faint trail.]


[The trail becomes more defined temporarily at the switchbacks. Great views over Citadel Pass at right.]

 
[Views off the switchbacks over Citadel Pass to Citadel Peak which we've just ascended. Phil at lower right approaching the switchbacks. ++]

 
[Note how faint the trail is in this shot looking back over Citadel Pass. Soon after this shot it disappeared completely again.]

 
[Golden Mountain stretches out from Fatigue Pass. We'll go out of sight to our left before finding an ideal bivy site.]


[Despite the somewhat gloomy weather, this place is gorgeous.]

 

We set up camp and enjoyed re-hydrating and re-energizing our tired bodies in surprisingly warm and sunny weather. Even Mount Assiniboine's summit was visible off and on from our camp. After an hour or so we started thinking that maybe we should take advantage of the current weather and bag our third summit of the day. Why oh why do we get bored so fast?! We tidied up camp and set off for the north end of Golden Mountain only to turn back almost immediately with very threatening skies appearing to the NW and headed straight for us. The weather hit us and we dove into the mid for a while. I fell asleep reading my book, only to be woken up by Phil muttering about the tent being "bloody hot" - the sun was shining again.

 

 
[An ideal bivy site. Golden's north end at left and Assiniboine just showing up at distant center.]

 
[A great view of Fatigue Pass with Golden Mountain's north end and our bivy.]


[There are worse ways to spend a Friday afternoon.]


[The Matterhorn of the Rockies peeks out from the clouds.]

 

The second attempt was the charm. Upon receiving a note (via Phil's InReach) with news of mainly cloudy skies the next day, we decided to make a late day charge up Golden Mountain while the clouds were pulling back a bit in the evening. I'm not gonna lie - my legs were feeling fairly tired as we ground our way up the scree slopes on the north end of the ridge to the first false summit.

 

 
[Looking towards the north end of Golden Mountain at left. Nestor Peak and Simpson Ridge at center and distant right. The way up the north end of Golden's ridge is pretty obvious. We went just to the right of Phil here, but you could also go left (out of sight) to hit the ridge and then follow it all the way up. ++]

 
[Sublime views back over Fatigue Pass towards Citadel Peak (L) and Fatigue Mountain (R). ++]


[As we ascended and slowly made our way further south along the ridge, Mount Assiniboine finally came into full view granting us some wild scenes.]

 
[Surreal lighting as we continue to work our way along the never ending summit ridge of Golden Mountain - Assiniboine still showing at center distance.]

 
[As the cloud cap thickened over Assiniboine, I snapped this last shot of her summit before it socked in again. The Marshall at distant right here. ++]

 

By the time we were staggering over the third false summit I was a bit grumpy, but extremely happy to see the real summit not far away. We had brief views of Mount Assiniboine from along the summit ridge but by the time we made the summit she was firmly entrenched in clouds again. Yet another surprising tarn under Golden's east cliffs entertained us, as did the stunning views of Nasswald and the Assiniboine meadows over Og Lake. It was neat to see the many familiar summits of the area that I've stood on over the years. I was happy to see a register in the summit cairn, but I have to admit it was a bit deflating to see three entries in it rather than just Rick's and Rob's. The peak also had an ascent in 2017, indicating that possibly it's ascended much more often than the records would indicate or that I just waited too long for my ascent. Oh well. A fourth recorded ascent isn't too bad for such a prominent peak! It beats the pair of 6th recorded ascents Phil and I have had recently on Mount Morrison and Mount Currie. At least we're going the right direction here.

 

 
[Surprising views of yet another tarn tucked under a steep east face. We came from the left and are going right here. The summit is still several bumps away but finally within our grasp. Nasswald is the pointy peak at right - it's higher than Golden and the highest mountain in the North Assiniboine Crest Range. ++]


[Closeup of the tarn.]

 
[Yeah! Only two more false summits... Nasswald at center here, with the summit of Golden Mountain to its right.]


[An exposed view of Nasswald Peak. The name refers to the village of Nasswald, the birthplace of Konrad Kain in Aug 10, 1883. Kain climbed Nasswald around August of 1913 but there's no evidence that he followed the ridge to Golden Mountain thereby leading Rick Collier to wonder if his ascent in 1993 might have been an FA.]


[Finally we trudge up to the highest point on Golden Mountain. Nasswald at left here.]

 
[A panorama over the Assiniboine area includes many summits that I've been on and many more that I haven't. Unfortunately one of my favorites to day, Mount Assiniboine, is now buried in thick clouds at right of center. Peaks visible include (but aren't limited to), Beersheba, Windy Point, Allenby, Og, Cascade Rock, Cave, Cautley, Wonder, Towers, Naiset Point, Terrapin, Magog, Nub, Assiniboine (in cloud), Sunburst, The Marshall, Nestor, Indian (in cloud) and many others.  ++]

 
[Uh oh. Looking back to the north where we came from, another storm front is quickly moving towards us in the fading light. Summits visible include (L to R), Simpson Ridge, Citadel and Fatigue Mountain++]


[Setting sun on Nasswald Peak. There is a difficult scrambling traverse between Nasswald and Golden which Rick Collier did in 1993.]


[Og Lake is looking very calm this evening. I wonder how many folks are camped there tonight?]


[Mount Allenby.]


[Wonder Peak with Byng and Aurora in the bg.]


[Looking over The Towers and Naiset Point (R).]


[Sundance Peak (C) is the highest peak in that range.]

 

Likely because we were tired, we made the dubious choice to sit out an approaching storm at the summit of Golden - hoping against hope for the Matterhorn of the Rockies to clear of clouds. We found comfortable seats and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait. Hmmm. The storm looked very threatening but wasn't moving quickly enough. We changed our minds and were now in a race against the setting sun to make our camp before nightfall!

 

 
[Phil awaits the storm just under the summit of Golden Mountain. ++]

 

As we stumbled and bumbled our tired legs back across and over the false summits of Golden Mountain's long ridge we were slammed by the approaching storm. Thankfully it wasn't an electrical one! We got some very interesting views through the storm front to the setting sun before it started to sleet and even snow on us. As the weather moved on I got some of the best photos of the trip with humid clouds swirling over the Great Divide in front of us on the ridge. There are advantages to hiking / scrambling in bad weather - you get some pretty unique views!

 

 
[It's a race against darkness as we start the long egress to our bivy. It's much darker then this photo suggests and of course we have a storm approaching.]


[Dramatic back lighting on the storm from the setting sun over Citadel Peak.]


[The storm moves up the Simpson River Valley beside us.]


[Uh oh. Don't think we're missing this sucker anymore...]


[Nope! We're not avoiding this! Phil is all smiles despite a snow storm at the end of June at 21:30 high on the Continental Divide.]


[Contrasts.]


[Setting sun highlights the jagged ridges on peaks in the Sundance Range. Good thing not too many of these peaks are named because they don't look easy! :)]


[These are some might hardy alpine flowers (Golden Draba)! ]

 
[Very dramatic scenery as we continue to navigate the ridge to Fatigue Pass after the storm. ++]


[Navigating yet another false summit along the ridge.]

 
[Gorgeous late day lighting and drama over Fatigue Pass with Fatigue Mountain showing a cloud cap. ++]

 

It was almost dark as we finally approached the north end of the ridge and decided to try a slightly more eastward descent to Fatigue Pass and our camp. This was a bad idea on hindsight, but it worked out OK. We stumbled into camp about 3:45 hours after leaving it, but remember we had a pretty long summit break. I didn't even bother eating anything more when we got back to camp - choosing instead to crawl into my half bag and fall asleep. We didn't even bother setting an alarm as most of our peaks were done on the first day already! A quick estimate puts our day at around 31km of distance and 2400m of total height gain. Not terrible, but hiking much of that with an overnight pack (packed for 2 nights and 3 days of food and gear) did add up to a fairly strenuous outing.

 

 
[Scrambling in bad weather can have its positives, including scenes like this.]


[Still a long way to camp and the slopes to Fatigue Pass from here are a bit slow going.]


[Glancing back along Nasswald (R) towards Kananaskis Country.]

 
[The last hints of a dying day come to a brilliant close as we continue down slope to Fatigue Pass with Fatigue Mountain and its eastern summit in front of us. ++]

 

Despite the weather and my tired legs, I enjoyed Golden Mountain more than I thought I would. The passing storm made for some pretty incredible views on descent and the fact that we were the 4th recorded ascent party puts it way up my list of enjoyable ascents. Where else in the developed world can you ascend a peak this visible, accessible and relatively easy and be only one of a small handful of humans over the past century (and for that matter, ever) to stand on its summit?

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,911
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,550
Elevation Gain (m): 
600
Round Trip Time: 
3.50
Total Distance (km): 
7.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

Easy scrambling from Fatigue Pass with some exposure on the ridge that is mostly avoidable. Very long day from the Sunshine parking lot if approaching and returning on the same day.

Hiking Trails into Mount Assiniboine

 

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.

 

Mount Shark - Bryant Creek - Assiniboine Pass - Lake Magog

 


[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... ;) ++]

 

Mount Shark - Wonder Pass - Lake Magog

 


[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. ++]

 

Sunshine Meadows - Citadel Pass - Lake Magog

 

 
[Hiking into the Mount Assiniboine area via the Sunshine Meadows grants you views like this. But you have to earn them. ++]

 

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. ++]

 

Assiniboine Creek - Hind Hut - Lake Magog

 

 
[One of the perks of hiking in from Aurora Creek via Assiniboine Creek is this view of Assiniboine Lake. ++]

 

This is 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. ++]

 

Aurora Creek - Marvel Pass - Wonder Pass - Lake Magog

 

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. ++]

 

Mitchell River - Wedgwood Lake - Lake Magog

 

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. ++]

 

Comparison and Summary of Routes

 

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. 

 

Route Distance (km)

Height Gain (m)

Height Loss (m)

Pros Cons
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).

Lunette Peak

Interesting Facts: 

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

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
9
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
5.0-5.2

YDS Grade: 
I
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, September 22, 2012

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.

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,398
Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,150
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Total Distance (km): 
23.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 5 : you fall, you are dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Lunette is steep and loose. So what's new right?

Monarch, The

Interesting Facts: 

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

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
3rd Class

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, August 19, 2016

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. ++]

 
[Cutting across the outflow of another pond on our 'shortcut' route.]


[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 along the impressive east face of The Monarch (R) towards Eohippus Lake and the Mount Assiniboine area.]

 
[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.]

 
[Another look back as I gain the north ridge - Phil just visible at the base of the scree slope breaking the cliffs at lower left.]

 
[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.]


[Eagle Mountain with Lake Minnewanka just visible at lower left and Inglismaldie and Girouard looming above it in the distance.]


[The long NW ridge of Mount Brett (C) stretches out in from of Pilot (C) and Ishbel (L).]


[Mount Bourgeau looks great from this angle. Our approach up Healy Creek comes from the lower right of this photo.]


[Mount Ball and Temple rise high above the Pharaoh Lakes and Pharaoh Peaks. The small lake in the foreground is Talc Lake and the bump to its right, in front of Pharaoh Peaks is Scarab Peak.]


[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.]


[Mount Sir Douglas.]


[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.]


[Almost free!]

 

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.

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,895
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,498
Elevation Gain (m): 
1700
Round Trip Time: 
11.00
Total Distance (km): 
27.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

A long day. The access gully and summit block are extremely loose, only recommended for small, experienced parties.

Mount Cautley (Cautley Traverse)

Trip Category: 
OT - Off-Trail Hiking
Interesting Facts: 

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

Technical Difficulty Level: 
4
Endurance Level: 
Med
YDS Class: 
Hiking

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,880

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!

 

Oy.

 

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.]


[Looking south to Ely's Dome and Wonder Peak - the continuation of the Cautley Traverse.]

 
[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.

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,450
Elevation Gain (m): 
900
Round Trip Time: 
8.00
Total Distance (km): 
17.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

The partial Cautley Traverse is off trail hiking only. If you include Wonder Peak it might go up to 3rd class.

Nestor Peak

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

First ascended in 1912 and subsequently named by The Interprovincial Boundary Survey. Not to be confused with Mount Nestor near the Spray Lakes.

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
4th Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, July 8, 2018

On July 8th, 2018, Phil Richards, Eric Coulthard and I spent one of the longer days I've had in the Rockies scrambling and route finding a very likely new route via the north and east ridges of Nestor Peak to its summit. After spending a pretty exhausting 15 hours the day before, approaching the Police Meadows and scrambling both Simpson Ridge and Peak, getting back to the cabin at 22:45, we were quite groggy when my alarm went off at around 04:50 on Sunday morning. There was nothing to do but roll out of my creaky bunk and stumble around in the dim morning light trying to make some coffee and choke down some breakfast. The absolute worst part of the entire day was struggling back into my SOAKING wet approach shoes. That was brutal. Brrrr!

 

We were all well aware of how difficult and long this day was going to be but we tried to stay positive and focus on the tasks right in front of us rather than the ones further out. Immediate tasks after breakfast were deciding on a route and a strategy for attack. Nestor Peak is not normally a very technical mountain. It's fairly easily ascended from the south - Rick Collier even skied the peak in February, 1991. Due to forest fires and missing bridges, Rick's approach via Surprise Creek and Rock Lake is pretty much no longer feasible, so we were left with our approach over Citadel Pass and Police Meadows to attempt the peak. Only having one day to climb the peak and exit all the way back over Citadel Pass and Sunshine Meadows (a 15-21km, 870m elevation gain on its own) limited our options even further. Option 1 would have us repeating our bushwhack from the previous day up valley from Police Meadows and extending it much further to the head of the valley before ascending either steep snow or the north glacier to the summit. The problem with this option was the horrible bushwhacking and unknown glacier (Google Earth showed some big holes) and the fact that we were in light footwear so cramponing up ice or very steep snow slopes wasn't a very safe option.  The day before, while on Simpson Ridge and Peak, we'd spotted a potential "option 2" route that would not only avoid the horrendous bushwhack, but would offer a spectacular ridge approach to Nestor that was also almost certainly a FKR (first known route). Why an FKR? Because nobody would normally do this route considering how far and complicated it was from the easy south side of the mountain! 

 

 
[The lower route options for Nestor Peak seen from Simpson Peak the evening before. The lower route (X) is horrendous bushwhacking. The cabin is circled. We'd ascend the north end of the ridge from Police Meadows and attempt to traverse it all the way to Nestor. ++]


[A view of our approach ridge from the day before on Citadel Pass - smack dab at center here. Nestor in clouds to its right and Simpson Peak at far right.]

 

As we drank our morning coffees and glanced sideways at the north end of the ridge we decided that this was going to be our option. We could clearly see that this ridge was not only very steep, but it was also very bushy to treeline with cliff bands sprinkled in just for kicks. Eric commented rather dryly that he'd spotted this ridge from our descent of Citadel Pass the day before and remembered thinking, "thank goodness we don't go up there"! We finished packing our day packs and bid the guys in the cabin a good day. They'd be choppering out later and wished us "good luck" before rolling over in their bunks. I sort of wished I was them before pushing the door closed and tramping off after Phil and Eric across the swampy meadows towards the end of the ridge. I have to admit the morning atmosphere in the meadows was very nice. The level of noise coming from the local bird population was almost like a jungle and the soft light from the rising sun on the peaks surrounding us was sublime. Too bad this tranquil mood didn't last long.

 


[Phil preps his pack as sunlight hits our peak far up valley from the Police Meadows cabin.]


[Yes. This is exactly how our day began!! Why not use the log? It was horribly slick from morning dew and we knew our feet were getting wet in the swamp immediately after the crossing anyway. My feet were going to be soaked for another 18 hours this day... Note Nestor Peak lit up far in the distance above our heads.]

 

Right from the start our day proved more difficult than most. First of all there was getting 2-4 hours of restless sleep after a 31km, 1900m day before. Than there was the knee deep wade across the creek followed by a shin deep wade across the swamp to exit the meadows before the start of the ridge. And then there was the ridge itself. We knew there'd be bushwhacking and we knew the first hour or two of our day was going to suck, but I think we underestimated a just how much it would suck. We found ourselves once again in thick bush and alders, literally having to pull our tired bodies up steep mossy and rock covered slopes with slick wet dirt underneath it all. To make things even more fun, we kept running into impossibly steep cliff bands which necessitated guessing which way to try finding scramble routes around or through them. In a common theme for the trip, we seemed to make the right guesses very consistently. We encouraged each other more than once that soon enough we'd break treeline and life would be grand again but the trees just kept going and going and going!

 


[O.M.G. That's all I got for this one.]


[One of many cliffs that we had to routefind around.]


[A glorious mix of moss, mud, cliffs, rocks and of course lots and lots of alders.]


[He's smiling but Eric is NOT having that much fun. Trust me. None of us are at this point.]

 

Of course, eventually, we were right. We did finally break treeline. It started with a trickle of larch trees and soon we were in a small forest of them. That forest began to thin and we whooped aloud as we took in the views of the surrounding area from the north end of our approach ridge. The whooping was a bit contained, because it was only now that we realized we were in for a much longer day than we originally thought - there was no way we were going to be back at the cabin 8 hours after leaving it. We used our mental boost to propel ourselves upwards - aiming for a high point on the ridge above where I declared I'd, "take a break".

 

 
[Finally breaking treeline. Nestor Peak at far left, Simpson Peak and Simpson Ridge to the right of it. The Monarch at center distance up the Simpson River Valley and Citadel Pass area at right. Our approach valley to the Simpsons the day before at mid-left - note the waterfall. ++]

 

As we crested the high point I immediately saw we likely had an issue. The day before already, while scouting the ridge, Phil and noticed a notch that could prove difficult. I thought the east side of the ridge would be fairly angled but I was proved wrong and Phil was proved right. We did have a problem at the notch - it was not scrambling terrain around it. This is part of what made Nestor Peak such an interesting and memorable day. There was no straightforward or obvious route - we were forced to make many decisions on the "fly" and hope to heck we weren't wasting our day. Any one of half a dozen route choices could have easily ended our attempt at this peak, but each time we made a choice it worked out including this time. As Phil waited a bit nervously behind me on the ridge, I tiptoed out onto the very steep and exposed east face of the ridge, looking for a possible traverse around the notch. I was surprised and delighted to find a possible traverse line and yelled back to the Phil that I was going to keep going. I kept finding and following small scree ledges - terrifically exposed and definitely "no slip zones" - all the way to easier terrain well past the notch! So far so good. Nestor was behaving today.

 

 
[Oh oh. A steep wall along the ridge might prove problematic. There's a notch you can't see here that has overhanging rock on the other side of it.]


[This isn't even the exposed part of the traverse yet, but you get the idea. There were very many "no slip" zones and some very delicate steps across exposed gullies that required focus and attention.]


[What a glorious day! Note the green meadow at lower right? The Porcupine / Simpson River trail goes through it.]


[Steeper and more exposed than it appears. There's a reason we didn't want to traverse this on return when we were tired - there were some tricky steps on this face.]

 

I didn't take a ton of photos of the east face traverse as I was too focused on always finding a way forward. I fully expected to run into impassible terrain but each time I thought our day was done, I'd look up or down and find another little ledge or gully. Before I knew it, I was on easier terrain and back on the ridge crest! Life was very good as we took in the wonderfully clear morning dawning around us in every direction. It was nice to have views for once, after several trips recently with a lot of clouds. We noted that time was passing much too quickly and after waiting for Eric to catch up, we motored on towards the east ridge of Nestor, wondering where the next crux would be.

 

 
[Eric finishes up the traverse in this view back down the ridge. Police Meadows at left, Eric at right.]


[Telephoto showing the two cabins at Police Meadows. The trail snaking off to the right leads to the Simpson River Trail.]


[Looking ahead to the rest of the ridge and Nestor Peak with its north pocket glacier.]

 
[We had some mighty fine positions on the north ridge! Phil is gazing over the Valley of Rocks which is out of sight from my vantage, to the left.]


[The ridge was everything we'd hoped for and more. It was narrow in spots but a terrific scramble above wonderful scenery.]

 
[Looking back along the ridge at another section we bypassed - this time on our right. Police Meadows catching the morning sun at lower center.]


[One of the hidden tarns lying east of Simpson Peak and north of Nestor.]

 
[For a while we wondered if this would be our next crux section, but it was remarkably straightforward with great exposure and views. ++]


[Eric follows us along the ridge.]

 
[Sublime views off the ridge with Nestor at center and Simpson Peak at right with a tarn sparkling beneath. ++]


[A spectacular position on the ridge - note Eric below. In the distance is The Monarch, Mount Ball and peaks around Egypt Lakes.]

 

Despite some tense moments of wondering what was ahead, the rest of the north ridge went fine. Spectacularly fine, actually! The positions on the ridge crest, the exposure, the cool morning breezes, the views in every direction - it all conspired to really keep the energy levels up and the explor8ion blood running through our veins. Phil and I both felt that our last month of long, remote and rarely traveled ascents had prepared us well for this adventure. Eric was doing his best to keep up to us, but was lagging behind at this point in the day already. He'd had a huge day, the day before already, considering he hadn't been out since December 2017! To be perfectly honest, I was surprised he even got up for Nestor, much less made it this far! I knew that Eric was a tough hombre though and wasn't seeing anything I hadn't seen before from him. As we started the descent to the north / east ridge col, we were delighted to see more sparkling lakes in a hanging valley to the south of us. Mount Assiniboine was busy stealing the show again - as usual for this area. Something interesting happened to my mood as we descended the loose, blocky terrain towards the east ridge - I lost hope.

 

I'm not sure how it even happened, but suddenly I found myself doubting that the route would go and seeing nothing but impossible obstacles in front of us. It was strange - not something that happens often to me. I even told Phil to "go ahead" because I honestly just didn't feel like dealing with the disappointment of being turned back this far into things. Thankfully the despair only lasted about 30 minutes, after which I realized I was an idiot and the terrain was much easier and much more fun than it appeared from a distance. We scrambled up and over rock ribs and through little terrain holes in the ridge - all while taking in the awesome views of familiar and new peaks in the Assiniboine area.

 

 
[Getting closer to the transition from the north ridge to the east ridge of Nestor Peak and wondering if it'll go. Simpson Peak at center with Simpson Ridge to its right. ++]


[Descending to the east ridge from the north one.]


[Find Eric. He's in there somewhere, descending from the north ridge.]


[Phil adds some sense of scale to the terrain on the east ridge of Nestor Peak.]


[Once again we are reminded why the suffering of a new route is worth it. I certainly haven't seen this photo before! Nub peak at left with The Towers, Terrapin, Magog, Assiniboine from L to R in the background.]


[More spectacular scenery on the east ridge looking towards the north glacier and summit above.]


[There were lots of angled little cliffs on the ridge crest, providing hands on, easy scrambling and distracting us from how tired we were and how long this day would be.]

 
[A flat area on the east ridge with views back towards the core Assiniboine area and an outlier of Nestor.]

 

Finally we found ourselves nearing the last crux of the day - the notch and glacier just before the summit. Phil raced ahead and peered over the edge of the ridge. He wasn't saying much, so I asked him what was wrong. He very tentatively said that it "might go" directly beneath where he was standing. I caught up to him and peered over the edge. GULP. I mean, yes, it could go, but it looked pretty darn desperate to me! There was very steep, loose downclimbing to a tricky looking transition to the glacier below. I didn't love it. But I knew there was an easy way! I'm not sure how, but I very confidently told Phil to simply keep going to the end of the ridge and there'd be a good route directly into the notch. He was very doubtful - and let me know it - but he kept going. Sure enough! No issues. Easy scrambling down ledges and scree to the col below. YES! I also looked ahead at the glacier / snow slopes to the summit ridge and was pretty confident we'd make it with our axes and crampons. There was very little runout even if we did slip and the terrain looked pretty easy for a short snow climb. We cramponed up at the col and I led up and around a cliff in the ridge before regaining rock off the steep snow. I was very careful to probe the deep moat / crevasse between the snow and the rock, but thankfully found a reasonable spot to cross. The snow was short, fast and fun and now we were looking at easy terrain to the top, which we tackled rather enthusiastically. Nothing feels better than realizing 6 hours into a pretty long day that your unknown, unplanned and on-sight route is going to result in a successful summit!

 


[Looking at our final crux to the summit - the north pocket glacier over the notch.]


[Phil follows me up the snow / glacier to the summit ridge. It's steep - but very low consequence here.]


[Eric puts on his crampons at the col - note the easy scree bypass on the other side of the notch. Originally Phil thought we had to descend to the glacier on the left side of this photo!]

 
[Feeling pretty good about life now! Our entire approach ridge at left running to center with Simpson Ridge ending at Nub Peak to the right. Eric is coming up the glacier behind us. ++]


[A great shot of Eric on the north pocket glacier of Nestor with the east ridge stretching out behind him.]

 

Within minutes we were headed for the summit cairn - placed just under a rather permanent patch of snow at the summit. I instantly noticed a register but was very disappointed to open it and find it thoroughly soaked and pretty much unreadable. frown I could just make out that it was Rick's February ascent in 1991 and there was about 2 pages with 10 other entries after that. Many more entries than I was expecting but this is a pretty easy objective from Ferro Pass with great views of Assiniboine so I guess being one of a dozen or so ascents in a popular area over 27 years isn't so bad. The last entry was written in pen so I could see the "2012" date. We took some time on the summit, eating, hydrating and snapping too many photos. We also started planning our route back to the Police Meadows.

 

 
[Our approach ridge at mid-left to mid-center where it joins Simpson Ridge and heads west to the summit of Nestor Peak. Golden Mountain, Nasswald, Cautley, Nub, The Towers, Terrapin, Magog, Assiniboine and The Marshall L to R in the distance. ++]

 
[Mount Watson at right with Wedgewood Lake beneath.]

 
[Looking north off the summit towards the rest of Simpson Ridge and towards Banff (C) and Kootenay (L). Kananaskis at distant right. ++]


[Golden Mountain (L) and Nasswald Peak rise across Golden Valley and the Valley of Rocks.]


["Little" and "Big" Fatigue Mountain lie across Citadel Pass.]


[Great views over the partially burned slopes towards the Sunshine Meadows.]


[Gazing down the Simpson River Valley towards Mount Ball (L) with Hector visible at distant center. Simpson Ridge / Mount Edmonton at foreground left.]


[Looking over Citadel Peak towards Lookout Mountain and Mount Howard Douglas.]


[Mount Ball.]


[The burned Verdant Creek Valley with Hawk Ridge lining it at left. The Rockwall visible at left.]

 
[A panorama of the core Assiniboine area with many familiar Kananaskis peaks in the far distance. ++]

 
[Our two summits from the previous day visible at left, Simpson Peak in the foreground and Ridge beyond. Police Meadows at mid center right as a patch of light colored green.]


[More nice scenery just beneath the summit. :)]

 
[Looking over Ferro Pass and the Rock Lake / Upper Surprise Creek valley towards Indian Peak to the west. It's surprising how close the Verdant Creek fire got to the core Assiniboine area - almost cresting Ferro Pass. The Mitchell River drainage between Mount Watson and Indian Peak at mid left - this was the standard approach to Assiniboine for many years but is now mostly only used by outfitters traveling by horseback. ++]


[Rock Lake and the fire damage from the Verdant Creek fire of 2017.]

 
[The Matterhorn of the Rockies rises over the Mitchell River and Wedgewood Lake to the south of Nestor Peak. The Marshall and Mount Watson to its right are MUCH less often ascended. Mounts Strom and Wedgewood are easy ascents from the Hind Hut and are done quite often - they sit in front of Assiniboine here. ++]

 

As we discussed our descent route we had two thoughts in mind. Firstly, taking our ascent route would certainly work, but it would take up to 5 or even 6 more hours. Descending the ridge wouldn't be much quicker than the ascent had been, especially on the north end where the cliffs would be problematic. Being tired, we were also cautious about the very exposed "goat traverse" of the east face I'd found on ascent. There were about 4 or 5 "no slip" zones on that traverse and I mean no slip. Not even a slight shuffle  or unplanned sneeze would be good on that exposed dirt / pebble / ledge terrain! Our other options were to take the tempting direct line down into the valley we'd used the day before - heading straight to the Police Meadows and cabin. As tempting as this option was, we knew it would be exhausting and horrible bushwhacking in the very heat of the day and we had another 21km hike with 870m of height gain after getting back to the cabin yet! (We knew we'd miss the Sunshine gondola ride and would have to walk the extra 5.5km road to the parking lot.) With that option off the table there was only one more left. We decided to descend the unknown east side of the north ridge where it becomes "Simpson Ridge" and try to find friendly terrain to the main trail running out of the core area through Golden Valley towards Citadel Pass or the Porcupine Campground / Simpson River.

 

 
[Phil is back at the col and preparing to re-ascend the notch on the east ridge.]

 
[Eric descends the pocket glacier to the bottom of the notch behind us.]


[Views over Sunburst Lake and Lake Magog towards The Towers with Mount Sir Douglas rising beyond.]


[Phil climbs a bump along the east ridge.]


[The small unnamed tarns just south of us were beautiful shades of green / blue. Game Lake is just downstream here and this is the Nestor Creek drainage.]


[Yet another bump on the ridge, but we're getting closer to the north ridge again.]


[Starting our descent down the east side of the ridge into the Valley of Rocks with Golden Mountain at right. Find Phil, relaxing and taking in the scenery - we do sit down for a few minutes when we're forced to!]

 

Once again, we got very lucky with our chosen route. Snow was a huge asset as we broke through several cliff bands on the NE side of the ridge we'd used for ascent. Several times we couldn't see over steep rolls ahead and were relieved to find snow slopes leading over slabs every time. Eventually we spotted what looked like a clear descent line on mostly open terrain (as indicated on my topo map) that would lead right into the heart of Golden Valley and the main trail. At this point Eric was seriously bagged. We felt sorry for him, as Phil and I were still charging along pretty quickly. We didn't want to lose him, so we had a few long breaks which wasn't a horrible thing of course!

 

  
[We had two options here. Left looks nice here but leads to dense bushwhacking lower down and possible cliffs. The notch to the right of Phil here leads down open terrain to the Golden Valley and main trail but could also have slabby cliffs. We chose the right hand notch and it worked perfectly thanks to the snow.]


[The trail is just visible at bottom center. Citadel and Fatigue Passes at mid center.


[Looking down towards our escape ridge at lower right - note the bare rock at the edge of the forest. This ridge trends down to the left and leads directly to the main trail below.]


[Find Eric. We took full advantage of steep snow slopes to avoid slabby cliffs in the terrain behind us here.]

 
[Looking down the gorgeously green and lush Golden Valley and Simpson River drainage before it's a "river". Our descent ridge sneaks into view at right, trending down and left.]


[Telephoto looking down the Simpson River Valley towards Verdant Creek and showing fire damage. The Monarch and Mount Ball looming over everything else.]

 

Finally, in the heat of the day, we were back on the main trail running along our ascent ridge to the NE and back towards the turnoff to the Police Meadows. On hindsight I'm not sure we made the best choice of return routes. Sure, our route worked out in the end but it was HOT and LONG and the amount of elevation gains on return were definitely more than we were counting on. I think we focused too much on the fact that we'd be on easy trails, rather than the distance and elevations. Oh well, it worked and we did manage to push our tired bodies along a pretty good clip despite gaining elevation in the heat of the day. We'd agreed with Eric that he'd be staying at the Police Meadows cabin one more night. There was no way he could push his poor body any harder and it was getting a bit risky to try.

 

Phil and I left Eric at the main trail and started back to the cabin at our own pace - hoping to meet him once more as we came out from the cabin with all our gear on route to a long exit trek. As usual for us, we chatted to pass the time and grumbled every once in a while at the elevation gains, but generally we were pretty darn cheerful considering what was still ahead of us. I had no idea how the heck I was going to push my poor body another 21km and almost 900m of elevation gain! I tried not to think about it as we turned off the trail to Citadel Pass and took the less traveled one toward the Porcupine Campground. Once again we had a lot of elevation changes, but at least the terrain was new. This trail was surprisingly scenic but it was a bit depressing how long it took to finally arrive at the junction to the Police Meadows. I got grumpy again here as we were going all the way back to the cabin only to turn around and hike back out again! The cabin was silent and Greg and his friend had left us a bunch of food and even some fresh, cold Ginger Ale!! I've never tasted pop so refreshing and well timed! It was very nice of them to leave us the food, as Eric didn't have any extra and needed supper and breakfast now that he was staying another night. Talk about good timing!

 


[On the main trail and going uphill. We vastly underestimated the amount of uphill on this trail.]


[Looking back over a gorgeous waterfall that is one of the sources for the Simpson River.]


[So. Many. Uphill sections!]


[It's hard to believe we ascended this ridge hours and hours earlier as we arrive back in the Police Meadows.]

 

It was pretty tough to leave the cabin, especially with all the fresh food but after a cup of coffee and the refreshing pop it was time to go. We packed our overnight packs and set off across the meadows one last time, including the "delightful" knee deep stream and swamp crossings! Thankfully we met Eric on our way back down the trail and gave him the good news of fresh food awaiting his arrival. He perked up noticeably at that. As we made our way through the Porcupine Campground, a gentleman asked us where we'd come from and where we were going. We pointed disinterestedly behind us, "from there" and in front of us, "to there". cheeky He grinned back, "I understand" and we kept marching on. The climb back up the steep trail to Citadel Pass went better than either of us thought it would. We simply slowed things down and focused on one foot in front of the other. Slowly we crept along and eventually we were looking back and realizing how high we were again.

 

 
[A last look back at the cabin as we exit the Police Meadows. Nestor at distant center here.]


[Leaving the meadows as the shadows already start to lengthen.]


[Back across the Simpson River - more of a bubbling brook at this point.]


[Many hundreds of meters up Citadel Pass, looking back at our ascent ridge on Nestor with the peak at right distance. Man have we gained a LOT of height today already!]

 

The rest of our exit was a bit of a blur - each of us lost increasingly in our own thoughts as our bodies slowly went numb from exhaustion and exercise. The grunt up and over the Quartz Hill shoulder was pretty tiring but nothing compared to the unending sufferfest that was the Sunshine road to the parking lot! We were walking zombies at this point and walked into the parking lot right at midnight. My "Move Ring" on the iWatch spun around 5 times - a new record for me! Apparently I burned around 7,500 calories and did over 66,000 steps in this 18 hour marathon. That explains the slight stiffness in my left knee the next day anyway... wink

 


[Grunting up the Quartz Hill shoulder from the Howard Douglas Lake Campground as the sun sets.]

 
[A great view back from the shoulder, looking past Citadel Peak at the left towards Assiniboine and Nestor Peak at right. ++]


[The sun sets but we have many hours to go yet.]

 

Overall, Nestor Peak and the entire weekend was a great experience in the Rockies for me. We pioneered at least one and probably two new routes to three peaks with stunning views in all directions. We hiked over 75km and 4400m of elevation gain in 2 marathon days, pushing ourselves mentally and physically in every way with bushwhacking and route finding. Sure - it was exhausting too. We certainly can't do these types of trips every weekend without doing permanent damage to ourselves. But doing it this once proved that we are capable of even more and once again we got to realize our potential for suffering while also greatly enjoying the incredible backcountry of the Rockies.

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,965
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,728
Elevation Gain (m): 
2400
Round Trip Time: 
18.00
Total Distance (km): 
42.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead
Difficulty Notes: 

A very long and tiring day including remote BC bushwhacking, routefinding, exposed ridges and steep snow with possible ice.

Nub Peak

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

Named in 1924. Nub Peak is a small bump at the southeastern end of a long ridge. Official name. (info from peakfinder.com

Technical Difficulty Level: 
5
Endurance Level: 
Med
YDS Class: 
Hiking

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,755
I was pleasantly surprised when Yolande and Hanneke both said they would try hiking Nub Peak with us, I thought they might want a break after Wednesday's grind into camp. It was later than I would have preferred for a morning start, but by 10:00 we were on the trail. The day was clearing up beautifully and I couldn't resist some more pictures across Lake Magog on our way past it. As we climbed up the Nublet the views behind us only improved. We quickly realized that there was a very large group from the lodge being guided up 'our' peak ahead of us and we passed them at the first viewpoint below the summit of the Nublet.

 


[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.]

 

As we got higher on The Nublet and Nub Peak we started hiking in more and more fresh snow. By the time we were on Nub Peak we had snow past our ankles and drifts half way up to our knees! The snow generally made the pictures better but the trail was very muddy lower down. The Nublet has superb views of Mount Assiniboine and the lakes around it and unless you have a perfectly clear day or want to bag a more official peak, or take pictures of other peaks in the area, I would suggest that you don't even bother with the trudge to Nub Peak's summit. I got the best pictures from the Nublet, but that was partly because the weather was closing in more and more as we got higher. The scrambling from the Nublet to the lower slopes of Nub Peak is surprisingly entertaining - if you want it to be. The one place where the girls turned around turned out to be bypassed easily on climber's left but we didn't figure that out till the way down. The trudge up the scree slopes to the summit is admittedly boring, but short.

 

[The first good view point is jokingly called "The Niblet". The Nublet rises beyond.]


[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.]

 

I was a bit disappointed in the views of Mount Assiniboine from the summit of Nub Peak but only because the weather had been moving in. Otherwise they were stunning and these views are a very good bang for your effort since this is a very short / easy mountain to get up. The pleasant surprise was the views of the other mountains all around the Assiniboine Park area. They are all lower than Mount Assiniboine so they were still under the clouds and there was no end to the great vista in all directions. After an hour at the summit we headed back down to The Nublet and from there went back to the cabin for some soup and some lunch.
 
 

[Stunning summit view. Too bad about the heavy cloud cover but you get the idea. ++]


[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. ++]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,039
Elevation Gain (m): 
850
Round Trip Time: 
5.50
Total Distance (km): 
10.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

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.

Og Mountain

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

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

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
3rd Class

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 5, 2008
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,874
To get to Og Mountain, we first had to hike along the Windy Ridge trail from the Assiniboine Lodge area and our Naiset hut. After getting some sublime morning sunrise shots of Mount Assiniboine early in the day, it was nice to walk past it again in full day light. With a plume of snow peeling off it's lofty 11,871 foot summit it looked incredibly huge and intimidating. I would stand on her summit almost exactly four years after staring up at it on this trip - sure that I would NEVER have the skills or the courage to climb her steep NE ridge! We got on the trail by 09:00 and began the march north of Assiniboine Lodge. The Og Pass trail is very well marked but a lot muddier than we expected! Overall, on this trip, there was far more mud than I'm used to in the Rockies. Usually all you get is scree with the odd bit of grass and we would have preferred that to the sticky, slippery muck that we got. Oh well. When we finally got to the lower slopes of Cave Mountain (about 4-5km) we quickly started climbing and left the muddy soup behind.
 
 
 
[Gorgeous sunrise on the might "A". ++]
 

[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. This is where the turn off to Cave Mountain is - OOS to the right.]

 

The trail up to Og Pass through the trees on the lower part of Cave Mountain is well marked and obvious. When we reached the crest of this trail, between Og Mountain and Cave Mountain another sign told us that Windy Ridge was up to the left. We continued on an excellent, switch backing trail over and around the lower west end of Og Mountain and proceeded up a low angled trail to the Windy Ridge lookout. The lookout was actually located on the col between Windy Ridge and Og Mountain. Windy Ridge is marked on the map and I regret not spending the 15 minutes it would have taken to get up (and down!) it. An easier summit chance could not be dreamed of. But I wasn't sure the ridge was officially named, the weather was closing in, the air was cold and there was a lot of snow on Og that we had to get up so we left Hann and Yolande to attempt Windy Ridge while Rod, Jon and I headed up the northwest slopes of Og Mountain.

 

 
[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. ++]

 
There are four summits on Og Mountain. Og is a very cool looking mountain from the approach on the Og Pass Trail and with 1 foot of fresh snow it was also literally a very cool mountain when we climbed it! I was a bit chaffed because the map clearly labels the lowest, easiest west summit as the official one but the fourth and highest east summit is attainable and obviously higher so was it actually the real summit? I wasn't going to take any chances - not after my amusing (to everyone but me) Mount Kerr experience! Rick Collier had the same question when he summited Og and he went for the fourth summit. He had an easier ascent line because he ascended straight up the south facing scree slopes. We couldn't access these slopes even if we wanted to because of a bear closure around Allenby Pass / Valley with an accompanying huge fine if caught in the area. We had to traverse the three lower peaks before we'd get to stand on the highest one!
 
 

[Looking up at the first (and lowest) summit of Og from the pass]
 

[The snow is getting deeper as we ascend - Windy Point Peak is now lower than us.]

 


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.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,429
Elevation Gain (m): 
1500
Total Distance (km): 
23.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Some delicate traverses and down climbs but nothing too extreme. Low difficult scrambling.

Shark - Assiniboine - Wonder Pass Backpacking Route

Interesting Facts: 

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

YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
No
Trip Date: 
Wednesday, September 3, 2008 to Saturday, September 6, 2008
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,365
My annual fall scrambling / hiking trip took place from September 3rd to the 6th in 2008. Along for the ride was my brother Rod, cousin Jon and his wife Yolande (also known as George for some reason) and Hanneke, my wife. We were all pretty excited to be trying another new area (for us) of the Rockies - the Mount Assiniboine area of British Columbia.
 
 
The Mount Assiniboine area has a rich history in the relatively short mountaineering saga of the Canadian Rockies. James Outram first ascended it successfully in 1901, just over 100 years ago, and since then many more have followed. Numerous alpine camps have been run out of this area and many of the local peaks have a colorful history and interesting stories of ascent. Mount Assiniboine, its namesake, can be seen from 100km away and shows up on almost all my previous summit photos from all around Banff, Kananaskis and Yoho. Reaching up into the clouds at 11,781 feet it stands out clearly from the surrounding terrain like a pyramidal giant among normal folk. Often called the Matterhorn of the Rockies, it's easy to see why when you get close to it's sharply angled east face and summit towering above Lake Magog.
 
 
This trip report will cover the basic hike in and out of Assiniboine Provincial Park and the hiking we did while there. The individual scrambles will be documented on their own pages with links off of this main trip report.
 
 
While researching the trip I was amazed at the lack of information 'out there' on hiking and lodging around Mount Assiniboine. This is a very popular destination for hikers and climbers from around the world but I guess most people who visit don't have web sites or something! Try finding a good picture of the Naisett Huts and you'll know what I mean. So with that in mind, I'm going to try to detail my impressions of the hike into the Mount Assiniboine area via Assiniboine Pass and the hikes we did while there. I'll also share my impressions (and photos, of course) of our exit via Wonder Pass back to the Mount Shark parking lot. The best site that I found (by far) is the Assiniboine Lodge site at http://www.canadianrockies.net/assiniboine/index.html.
 
 

September 03 2008 - Mount Shark parking lot to Assiniboine via Assiniboine Pass

 

Originally I had planned that we would go into Assiniboine via Sunshine Meadows and out via Wonder Pass. With clear, sunny, warm weather this would give us the best views and hiking opportunity that the approach and exit from this area has to offer. Because Hanneke and Yolande weren't so sure about the long hike in (32km via Sunshine Meadows and 28km via Assiniboine Pass ) we planned on choppering in about 40-50 pounds of gear and saving their backs / feet the weight on the approach / exit trails. The plan was to drop one vehicle off at the exit trail head at Mount Shark and then drive through Canmore where we would drop off the gear to be flown in. Than we would drive to the Sunshine parking lot where we would catch a bus at 09:00 to the Sunshine Meadows trail head.
 
 
Unfortunately the weather didn't agree with my well-laid plans! The forecast for Wednesday was nasty even a week before the day arrived and it never improved. By the time Tuesday came around we had changed our plans. Now we would hike in from Mount Shark via Assiniboine Pass and out to Mount Shark again via Wonder Pass. We would drop the gear off in Canmore on the way to the Shark trail head and would not need a car shuttle. This approach is much more sheltered than the Sunshine Meadows approach and was the better option given the rain / snow in the forecast. Later we talked to a fellow who hiked in via Sunshine on Wednesday in snow and rain - we made the right choice. There are two main problems with the Shark - Assiniboine Pass approach. The first is that the trail is so sheltered for the first 14km that it's incredibly boring. There is no entertainment other than strange mushrooms and trying to avoid all the horse by-product on the trail. Avoiding horse poo is fun but 14km of it is excessive! The trail is a road (hard pack and did I mention boring?) all the way till the Bryant Creek hut after which it's half a road (half boring?) till Assiniboine Pass. The other main problem is that there is quite a bit of elevation gain via Assiniboine Pass (520m or 1700ft) and that the gain doesn't really start until you're ready to pass out from the boredom of the first 20km.
 

[Packing up at the trailhead. Weather is gloomy but spirits are still high at this point!]
 

[It's a road. A long, long road ahead. You used to be able to bike the first 14km of it but signs at the trail head and along the road indicate that this is no longer allowed. It's either a horse, your feet or a chopper.]


[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...]


[Rod hiding from the bears. Seriously, there are a lot of bears once you get around the Bryant Creek cabin area to the Assiniboine area. We saw lots of sign and people have been attacked and seriously injured in the area. Hiking with 4 or more people is a good way to stay safe from these giants of the Rockies.]


[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.]

 
All is innocent and exciting on the first day, so we joked and talked our way through the boredom and were soon huffing and puffing our way up the horse trail to Assiniboine Pass. The sound of the choppers was a bit distracting at first, until we realized that all our food was on one of them - then we didn't mind the noise so much. (By the way, the choppers don't fly on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays so those are good days to hike in if you want some peace and quiet on the approach or exit from that area - they are quite noisy and persistent on the flight days.) So, why were we on the horse trail and not the hiking trail to Assiniboine Pass? There is a bear closure covering the hiker trail up to the Pass as part of the Allenby Pass bear closure initiative so the hikers are re-routed up the steeper, muddier and presumably safer horse trail during the main bear 'problem' season (August-October). I'm not sure how much safer our route really was because we saw the biggest patch of bluebeary jam I've seen in a while on the horse trail! We were yodeling all the way up the trail so every bear within a 30km radius was probably covering their ears in pain anyway - but better safe than sorry I guess. There was certainly a lot of bear sign around almost everywhere we hiked in the Assiniboine area.
 

[Heading across the flats towards Assiniboine Pass
 
 
The steep grunt up the horse trail went by fairly quickly. The trail was muddy and deeply rutted, as you'd expect from a horse trail. The views kept improving as we got higher. Yolande's feet were giving her problems but being the tough girl she is, she didn't let it stop her. We patiently waited a few times while her and Jon sorted out bandages and socks before plodding on. Once we reached the sign for Assiniboine Park we were more than ready for the hike to be done. 27km is so easy to say and think about than to actually hike! The last 3km to the hut was covered quickly, unfortunately we didn't have any good views of Mount Assiniboine because of the cloud cover, but we could sense her lurking across the lake as we covered the last bit of trail to the Jones cabin (Naiset cabin # 1).

 


[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 hike in took us about 7 hours of leisurely paced walking with lots of breaks for eating and resting. I'm sure that a fast, fit party could do it in closer to 6 hours. We had lots of time on the first day to simply eat, play cards and enjoy the brand new cook shelter. Unless you really need to stay in a tent, the Naiset cabins are a great experience, especially now with the cook shelter. I enjoyed them much more than the traditional ACC huts since you don't have to share sleeping quarters with 20+ people. The shelter was never very crowded either, although it did get awfully humid from all the cooking. We went to bed at 21:30, ready to bag The Nub the next day.

 


[The excellent cook shelter]


[Awww. The cute couple...

 

September 04 2008 - Nub Peak and Wonder Peak

 

I woke up bright and early on Thursday, September 4, ready to head out with my cameras to take photos of the mighty Mount Assiniboine. Once out near the lodge (where there are some great views of the 'boine across Lake Magog), I scouted around for the best place to set up my tripod. I found a good spot (which was kind of hard to find and had an old, broken bench for me to sit on - no other photographers found this spot in the 3 mornings that I used it) and waited for the sun to start coming up. Unfortunately the skies were not totally clear but I managed to spend over an hour snapping photos before I returned to the hut to wake everyone else up and get the breakfast water boiling.

 


[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

 
 
After hiking The Nublet and Nub Peak, most of our group were content to dive into the mountain of food we had left and relax for the rest of the day. Since we left around 10ish, it was now about 15:00 and it seemed like we were running out of time to do anything else before dark. Rod and I didn't feel like sitting around for 6 or 7 hours so after lunch we decided to try scrambling either The Towers or Wonder Peak, both peaks being on either side of Wonder Pass which was only about 2.5km from the Naiset huts.
 
 
After our two peak day on Nub Peak and Wonder Peak, Rod and I ate a hearty meal (ok, believe it or not Rod can pack away a LOT of food when he has to!) and the group played cards till around 21:30 before retiring to our (very) warm sleeping bags. A warning - do not burn a whole fire log, even if it's very cold outside. You will be in a sauna, rather you should break the log in half and open the windows a bit.  Even then the huts are plenty warm if you have a decent sleeping bag. On the subject of sleeping and the Naiset Huts, I will bring my own padding next time, to supplement the provided mats. We all found the mats on the bunks pretty skimpy. Maybe we're just too fussy! 
 

September 05 2008 - Windy Ridge, Og Mountain and Cave Mountain

 

To my amazement everyone still wanted to hike on Friday! I thought for sure some folks would be ready for a break but obviously I had underestimated my group and so we decided to do the 6.5km hike to Windy Ridge and back. Originally I had planned to haul us all up Cave Mountain but a park ranger convinced us that Windy Ridge had great views and I secretly had plans to bag Og Mountain too and since Windy Ridge and Og Mountain share some real estate this worked out very nicely indeed! There are advantages to being a trip organizer. You get to manipulate a group of people for your climbing pleasure. But don't tell them that.
 
 
After freezing myself in order to get some sunrise shots of Mount Assiniboine and feeding the gang some pancakes, bacon and way too much syrup for breakfast we got on the trail by 09:00 and began the march north of Assiniboine Lodge. The Og Pass trail is very well marked but a lot muddier than we expected! Overall, on this trip, there was far more mud than I'm used to in the Rockies. Usually all you get is scree with the odd bit of grass and we would have preferred that to the sticky, slippery muck that we got. Oh well. When we finally got to the lower slopes of Cave Mountain (about 4-5km) we quickly started climbing and left the muddy soup behind.

 


[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.]

 
 
The trail up to Og Pass through the trees on the lower part of Cave Mountain is well marked and obvious. When we reached the crest of this trail, between Og Mountain and Cave Mountain another sign told us that Windy Ridge was up to the left. We continued on an excellent, switch backing trail over and around the lower west end of Og Mountain and proceeded up a low angled trail to the Windy Ridge lookout. The lookout was actually located on the col between Windy Ridge and Og Mountain. Windy Ridge is marked on the map and I regret not spending the 15 minutes it would have taken to get up (and down!) it. An easier summit chance could not be dreamed of. But I wasn't sure the ridge was officially named, the weather was closing in, the air was cold and there was a lot of snow on Og that we had to get up so we left Hann and George to attempt Windy Ridge while Rod, Jon and I headed up the northwest slopes of Og Mountain.

 

 
[Windy Ridge is straight ahead. The lookout is at the col.]


[Hanneke and Vern pose on the Windy Ridge lookout.]

 
 
After scrambling Og Mountain Jon and I decided that Cave Mountain looked too easy not to try. We were slightly tempted to get up Windy Ridge on the way past, and now I really wish we had because it's officially marked on the map. Oh well, maybe another time. We met Rod, Hanneke and Yolande back at Og Pass where we re-hydrated and ate some late lunch. I had spotted a weakness on the north side of Cave Mountain which would allow us to access it right from Og Pass. Numerous other options existed on the west side but this would be the easiest way for us so we headed for the mountain while Hanneke and George started the 6km trek back to the cabins.
 
 
After another productive two peak day we relaxed on Friday evening and packed up our stuff for the next day's slog out to the car. There was an amusing moment when I went to the lodge to drop off our extra granola bars. When I barged into the kitchen during supper time (the lodge was packed full of cheerful guests) I got some strange looks. When I dumped about 100 granola bars into the small container they provided, I got some good laughs! At $2 / lb to fly those bars to the lodge, I figure we probably wasted about 20 bucks on all the extras! Oh well. At least we didn't starve right? On our Northover trip I barely brought enough food so this time we overdid it by a wee bit...
 
 
One of the guides that we had run into over the previous few days was curious where we had gone. When I told her that I had done the traverse of Og Mountain and then done Cave she was intrigued. When I explained my pathological need to bag peaks she quickly understood and began giving my route ideas for some of the peaks surrounding Lake Magog. When she mentioned a route up Naiset Point from the lake that could be done in around 2.5 hours I decided to go check out the approach on my own as an evening hike. It was 19:30 when I left the lodge and the clouds where settling in over the surrounding mountains lending a very eerie feeling to the evening. Nobody else was out and with fresh grizzly diggings and two known bears in the area I was a wee bit apprehensive about a solo hike around the less traveled south shores of Magog Lake. My peak bagging desires were stronger than my bear-phobia so I tramped around the lake on a well marked track. This side of the lake is a magical place, especially with the atmosphere of the late evening and the clouds and misty rain. I couldn't find a clear track to the summit of Naiset Point but I'm sure there is a route around that side that would go. Since I would like to do The Towers and Naiset in the same push, it's very unlikely that I would be coming up this side anyway, but it would make for a great alternate descent back to the cabins or the Magog campground.

 


[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?!

 
 
I returned to the cabin just before dark and we had another night of good fun playing cards and reading.
 

September 06 2008 - Wonder Pass Trail to Bryant Creek Trail and Home

 

We were determined to get an early start on Saturday (OK, really I was the only determined one but everyone else liked the idea of an early start) so instead of waking everyone up after my early morning photography session I made sure they were out of bed before I left for some sunrise shots of Mount Assiniboine. This was the clearest morning we'd had yet and I got some very good alpine glow on the Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies. I think the best part about fall photography is that the sun is rising nice a late (between 06:30 and 07:30) so you don't have to be up at 04:00 like in the spring to get some decent alpine glow!

 


[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]

 
 
After a nice breakfast of granola and oatmeal with coffee and hot chocolate we headed out for Wonder Pass on a very frosty morning. My one big regret of this trip is that we didn't do it 2 weeks later. The larches combined with the snow and frost would be mind blowing scenery! Oh well, maybe next time.
 
 
The grunt up to the pass was a good way to warm up. I was really looking forward to the views from the pass after getting a cloudy glimpse of them from our Wonder Peak attempt 2 days earlier. Since there's a lookout clearly marked on my Gemtrek map, I thought we could easily walk the 600 meters to the lookout and get some amazing photos. So when we dropped in over the pass to see thick rising clouds over the whole area it was a big disappointment. Refusing to accept defeat we tried finding the lookout but after traversing around the lower slopes of Wonder Peak on a clear trail (branched left off the Wonder Pass Trail) we lost hope and backtracked to the Wonder Pass Trail without getting our killer views.

 


[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]

 
As so often happens with clouds and mountain valleys, as we descended from Wonder Pass the views started to improve dramatically. Soon we could spot glimpses of the emerald green waters of Marvel Lake and the looming masses of Eon and Aye mountains. For the next 4 or 5 kilometers we forgot about our heavy packs and the pressure points of our boots while soaking in the incredible scenery of the Wonder Pass Trail and Marvel Lake area. I will definitely be back to explore this area some day - it's truly amazing. Rod spotted something rather large swimming in Marvel Lake, but even with my 200mm zoom we could not figure out what it was! It could have been rocks but Rod swears that it was moving, relative to the shore line. Is there a monster living in Marvel Lake? It definitely had 3 distinct bumps, or it was a group of 3 swimming together. It kept us occupied for a few minutes anyway.
 

[The snow gives way to greenery as we descend steeply 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.]

 

[Looking back at Mount Gloria (L) and Eon (R)]


[Gorgeous hiking along Marvel Lake]


[We crossed many avy slopes on the way along Marvel Lake]


[Mount Gloria]


[Back into thicker trees before the final descent to Bryant Creek]

 
 
After a nice break on a bridge crossing Bryant Creek, just across the meadows from the warden cabin we reluctantly agreed that it was time for the 14km slog to the car. (I would recommend bypassing this part of the trail by going to the Marvel Lake camp and then back to the Bryant Creek trail below the headwall to Bryant Creek Cabin.)

 


[The gang on the bridge over Bryant Creek in front of the warden's cabin.

 
 
What a slog it was! With 6km to go George's feet and legs were crying "Uncle!". Any slight downhill section in the trail would stop her dead in her track for a few minutes before she could continue. Even the 4 or more Advil that she took stopped working at this point (!!). She's a nurse so I assumed she knew what she was doing! :-) At this point Hanneke could not stop all the time or she would also be at peril of not making the parking lot. So I led Rod and Hanneke on a mechanical, robotic trudge all the way back to the parking lot with full intentions of turning back (without my pack) to help Jon and George if they needed it. After a 15-20 minute break at the car, just when I was ready to head back up the trail, Jon and George came striding out of the trail head! George actually hiked the last 5km in her flip-flops which was just enough of a relief for her feet (killed her knees though) that she made it out. I'll say this much, Yolande is tough.
 
 
After a greasy burger in Canmore we were ready (not really but...) to face the normal rigors of life again. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is my new favorite hiking and scrambling destination. It's a slog getting to it but it's chalk-full of amazing views, towering summits and scrambles all over the place. It even has semi-private cabins and a brand new cooking shelter! What more could a peak bagger possibly want?!
Summit Elevation (ft): 
7,762
Elevation Gain (m): 
1045
Total Distance (km): 
46.00
Difficulty Notes: 

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. :)

Simpson Peak

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

Peakfinder calls "Simpson Ridge", "Simpson Peak". Everyone else calls the ridge, "Simpson Ridge" (even though the first ascent party wanted it called, "Mount Edmonton") and don't mention the separate high point between Nestor Peak and Simpson Ridge as a named peak at all! I can't find "Simpson Peak" on any official record for the Assiniboine area (there's a Simpson Peak in the Siffluer Wilderness too). Confused yet? So were we. We saved ourselves any extra confusion by simply combining this high point with our Simpson Ridge / Mount Edmonton trip and calling it "Simpson Peak".

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, July 7, 2018

As you can read in the "interesting facts" note above, Simpson Peak is, well, interesting. Maybe not as interesting as it's neighbor, Simpson Ridge, or "Mount Edmonton", but it has its own charms including the fact, of course, that its officially unnamed and I'm sure we're one of maybe two or three parties at most who've bothered standing on its summit.

 

 
[The entire length of Simpson Ridge is around 20km from the Nublet in the SE to Mount Edmonton / Simpson Ridge in the NW. I think it makes sense to label the peaks along it as indicated on this topo and just call the entire ridge "Simpson". Easy peasy. ++]

 

As we were ascending Simpson Ridge to the NW of Simpson Peak, we kept looking for possible routes that would save us time and effort in a traverse between the two. The immediate obvious one sucked as it involved losing hundreds of meters of elevation from the ridge before following a steep snow line up to the peak. Since it was 18:00 when we were finally done with the ridge, we no longer had time or energy for this option anyway. That's when I spotted another potential route that would be much quicker if it worked. In a route-finding theme for the weekend my mountain goat senses were tingling quite accurately for once! I figured we could descend to the col between the ridge and peak and from there traverse under obvious cliffs on the west face of Simpson Peak. From these scree slopes it looked like there might be an escape up to the north ridge. The big unknown was whether or not we could find a route from the north ridge to the summit as it was clearly blocked by technical terrain near the summit. Phil and Eric agreed to try this route - so off we went!

 


[Looking from Simpson Ridge to the Peak with our planned route. Note the "X" just under the summit ("O"). We had our finders crossed that we could find a route along the east face under the summit block that we allow us to break the summit on it's SE end.]

 

Amazingly, the planned route worked about as good as an on-sight scramble can. We descended to the col and started the slog up the west face scree to the north ridge. Phil led the way and before long we were on the ridge. From here the summit block looked inaccessible (for a scrambler) and we were once again faced with finding a route with our noses already into it. Once again we got lucky.

 


[We get our first views of Rock Lake beneath Indian Peak as we traverse.]

 
[Great views of our peak, showing that it is, indeed, worthy of a separate name. I mean, c'mon! If "The Nublet" is named, surely this one deserves more than just another contour line?!]


[Phil on the traverse of the west scree slopes towards the break which is located at the two snow patches above him here.]

 
[Eric follows on the traverse with Simpson Ridge in the background and our descent route visible along the ridge.]


[The terrain is steep and bloody loose. We have no idea if there's going to be a reasonable route or not.]


[Phil is happy to be on the north ridge, looking back at Simpson Ridge.]


[On the north ridge looking towards the summit block.]

 
[Find Eric - he's in there somewhere! Looking back down the north ridge towards Simpson Ridge and even at the Police Meadows at mid-right down the bushwhack valley. ++]

 

As we approached the summit block it became overhanging and very loose. I sussed out a reasonable route across the east face of the block before leading up steep, blocky terrain to the SE end and finally up to the summit itself! A very sad looking cairn (3 rocks loosely stacked) greeted us, so we weren't an FA on this one. There was no register and no other signs of human activity. It was already around 20:00 as we stood on our second peak of the day and took in some great evening views of the Assiniboine / Ferro Pass area. 

 

 
[Phil heads for the summit as the shadows grow long. Nestor Peak in front of him here. Note the two small lakes at bottom left? These are mentioned in the Simpson Ridge / Edmonton first ascent party's trip report from their descent route. ++]


[Large, blocky and terribly loose terrain under the summit.]


[Eric follows us onto the traverse. Black Brett and Mount Bourgeau in the distance at right.]

 
[This is why we beat ourselves up so badly to get to these rarely ascended peaks! Nestor Lake is stunning in the late day lighting as is its namesake peak in this view over Ferro Pass towards Nestor Peak, Assiniboine, The Marshall, Watson and Indian Peak (L to R). ++]


[Nestor Lake is a real backcountry gem.]


[Mount Assiniboine at left and The Marshall at right.]

 
[Looking north over our traverse route from Simpson Ridge. Rock Lake is at mid-left here. Rick Collier and the Edmonton ACC group both ascended Simpson Ridge from the left - the easiest route by far when the Surprise Creek trail wasn't burned to a crisp and there was a bridge over the Simpson River at Surprise Creek. ++]


[The late day lighting is sublime in the view over Nestor Lake and Ferro Pass. Note how far up valley and close to the Mitchell River Valley the Verdant Creek fire got! Mount Watson rises over the Mitchell River Valley at left and Indian Peak rises over Ferro Pass at right.]

 
[Views down our approach valley towards the Police Meadows. Citadel Pass at distant center with Simpson Ridge at left.]


[Nasswald Peak is named after Conrad Kain's birthplace in Austria. Golden Mountain in shadow at left.]


[A great shot looking far north towards Storm Mountain with Castle Mountain looking short! Bonnet Peak rising at distant right.]


[Mount Beersheba rises over Og Mountain.]


[Looking over Ferro Pass down the Mitchell River Valley. This valley was the original popular horse access route to the Assiniboine area but is rarely used to access the core anymore. I'm reasonably certain that the two snowy peaks on this photo are unnamed.]

 

After enjoying the summit views in the early evening lighting, we quickly turned our attention to the descent. We essentially had two options and both involved going over unknown terrain while very rapidly running out of both daylight and energy. We knew the descent past three small tarns would work well on the upper part, but we were quite concerned about the potential for waterfalls along the exit canyon. We preferred our original planned ascent line for Simpson Peak that would take us back down our ascent route. As horrible as the bushwhacking was, we knew it would work and going downhill is always much easier and quicker than up - even in Krummholtz forests. The big unknown here was the potential for steep slabs and some pretty steep snow slopes. We rolled the dice and went with the preferred route.

 


[Phil descends dinner plates on the summit block.]


[Looking out over our escape valley. We'll descend the slopes at center bottom here before going to war once again with the nasty bushwhacking out to the lovely Police Meadows visible at mid left here.]


[Loose, muddy, steep. What can go wrong?]


[We used snow as much as possible. At this point my feet had been soaking wet since our marshy approach to the Police Meadows and I was shivering from the cold and the exertion of the day.]


[A magnificent Billy Goat.]

 
[Once again we got a bit lucky with the route. Steep, slabby terrain and snow forced us down a choke point that actually worked very well! Simpson Ridge at center here. ++]


[Getting lucky with a break in the lower cliffs.]

 
[Looking back at Simpson Peak from the alpine bowl on its NE side. Click here for our approx route.]

 

Although it was certainly a relief to be in the alpine valley beneath Simpson Ridge and Peak again, it was also time to keep hurrying along. It was now 21:00 and we were quickly running out of extra time! With tired minds and bodies (we'd done about 28km and 1900m of elevation gain already), we had to face the somewhat daunting task of racing darkness out of the beautiful-but-hellish approach valley. The first order of business was descending past the waterfall. Again, we had two choices. Again, we chose the known route through the Krummholtz rather than take the more open, but technically more difficult and unknown route. Although this worked, once again we were surprised by the difficulties through a lower cliff band that certainly involved a move or two of difficult scrambling to get down. Once down this last technical obstacle we were faced with a straightforward, but physically exhausting bushwhack back to the cabin.

 


[Uh. This feel familiar - but not in a good way.]


[Steep, choked up, bushy and wet. This terrain isn't as easy as it looks from afar.]


[Sneaking off the last technical obstacle.]


[Sunset over the falls.]

 

Despite our best efforts, we did not beat sunset. It was 22:45 when we finally got back to the cabin. Greg and his friend were already in bed but were very accommodating as we had to make supper and set up our bunks. We knew we had an even longer day the next day on Nestor Peak which was almost certainly going to be over 2100m of height gain and involve more bushwhacking and unknown routes. As I passed out in my bunk, I reflected that there was no way we were going back up that valley for Nestor! We'd have to find another way...

 


[Bushwhacking as darkness falls around us - still about an hour left to get to the cabin. Simpson Peak at upper right here.]


[One final photo before the world goes completely dark - Eric enjoys a brief moment of peace in a clearing in the forest. It was short-lived.]

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,874
Elevation Gain (m): 
1900
Round Trip Time: 
14.00
Total Distance (km): 
31.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

A long approach on good trails until Police Meadows. Remote BC bushwhack followed by scrambling with possible snow / ice on route.

Simpson Ridge (Mount Edmonton)

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

All maps, books and online sources, name this peak, "Simpson Ridge" or "Simpson Peak" without going into much detail on who exactly gave it this name or when. After doing some serious sleuthing based on a hunch from Eric Coulthard, we realized that this mountain was first climbed in 1920 by H.C. Bulyea, C.G. Wates and Miss M. Gold from the Edmonton ACC and they dubbed it, "Mount Edmonton" which was apparently not accepted by the Geographical Board of Canada at the time. 

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, July 7, 2018
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,874

As of July 2018, Simpson Ridge had been on Phil and my peak hit list for more than a few years already. The main reason was an enticing comment from the indomitable Rick Collier about his second ascent of the mountain in 1996 (76 years after the first ascent in 1920!);

 

At the high point on the NE edge, there was a large summit cairn, with - and what a wonderful surprise! -- the original 1920 record by Bulyea, Wates, and Gold, handwritten on ACC stationery. I took a photo of the record, rewrapped this original along with my own note, and placed both in the canister and the canister in cairn.

 

Reading that there might still be an original 1920 summit register waiting to be rediscovered put our imaginations into overdrive. We didn't yet know about the naming confusion or the difficult and multiple attempts at the original ascent - and didn't realize this very interesting part of the mountain's history until after returning from our trip days later. 

 

Originally, while planning our ascent Phil and I were planning to use the same straightforward route that Rick had used up the SW aspect from the Surprise Creek / Rock Lake / Ferro Pass approach. Thanks to a decommissioned trail from the Porcupine Campground along the Simpson River, and a removed bridge over the Simpson River to Surprise Creek in 2015, combined with the large Verdant Creek wildfire in 2017, our hopes to access this mountain "easily" were dashed. But we don't give up very quickly, and after viewing the mountain from the north from the summits of Citadel, Fatigue and Golden, we were confident that there was a scramble route up a somewhat remote and inaccessible bowl on the eastern side of the mountain. The bonus of this route was twofold, firstly we could finally see what the Police Meadows and cabin were all about and secondly we could approach and exit on good trails from the Sunshine Meadows, through Citadel Pass and via the Simpson River Trail.

 

 
[Rick's route from Hwy 93 is still around 1900m height gain and over 22km one way to the summit, but it's less height gain on exit and could be biked part of the way. Also, there is essentially no major bushwhacking - unlike our route! That's all changed with the Verdant Creek fire and a washed out bridge. ++]

 

There were a few "gotchas" with our plan. The first huge PITA was the sheer distance and elevation changes it involved. By accessing the mountain from the Alberta side of the Rockies via Sunshine Meadows, we would have to travel at least 22.5km and up to 28km each way, if we didn't catch the gondola / bus at Sunshine Village. Even with the lift, we were looking at around 1900m of total height gain and at least 870m of height loss on approach, all of which would be regained on exit when we'd be tired and sore from our ascents. Then there was the route itself. Despite how viable it looked from many kilometers away, I've dealt with BC bush more than once and it is NOT easy or pleasurable terrain! I remember one particular case on Mount Alexandra where it took us an hour to travel about 500m! My cardinal rule is to never, ever, ever underestimate BC bushwhacking for its level of intense suckiness. Despite this rule, I was still positive about the planned route for some reason. Sometimes I wonder about my sanity, to be honest. Phil, of course, was his usual bubbly self about the entire plan. He was still a BC bushwhacking virgin and didn't know what he was signing up for - he'd realize it a few days later while crawling through a vast field of Krummholtz in the rain on a 40 degree slope! surprise

 

Thinking about it now, days later, I'm surprised we had the desire to re-hike the Sunshine Meadows trail to Citadel Pass, so soon after doing it with big packs only a week earlier! But we were both bitten by the explor8ion bug - wanting to be a third recorded ascent and to find an original ascent register from the 1920's. We didn't even think about the fact that we were also almost certainly forging a new route by tackling the peak from its east aspect via a largely untraveled and unexplored valley.

 

This is a long trip report - just like the trip itself. Feel free to skip directly to the scramble of Simpson Ridge, or continue reading about our approach to, and impressions of the Police Meadows below.

 

The Police Meadows / Cabin

 

For years now I've wondered what the Police Meadows were like. There isn't very much written about this place online and the few reports I could find that even mentioned it were quite vague. Now that I've been there, I seriously considered not doing a report on this area. I had to ask myself if better beta is going to ruin this place? Are hordes and hordes of backpackers now going to follow my GPS track in there, bringing all the trouble that humans bring when too many of us visit the same place? After thinking about it a while, I decided that the type of folks who bother to visit the Police Meadows after reading my description of it, will likely be the same sort of people that do their best to maintain and upkeep special places like this, rather than take advantage of them and do harm.

 

With the introduction of reservation-only camping in the core Assiniboine area in 2018, places like the Police Meadows, Mitchell River and Surprise Creek cabins are bound to see more attention from hikers. We saw evidence of this ourselves, as the cabin ended up being so full that two hikers had to go back to the free Porcupine Campground after hiking all the way in to check it out. Whether folks like it or not, the days of secret cabins tucked into hidden valleys going unnoticed and unused is long over. C'est la vie. Rather than horde these special places to a few people, let's open them up a bit, to relieve some of the intense pressure on the few key areas that everyone else focuses on. This improves the overall wilderness experience for everyone rather than limiting it to just a few. Especially in Canada, we have plenty of wilderness to go around and only a very small subset of hikers will bother venturing into the little remote corners of it anyway - freeing up the easier-to-access spots for others.

 


[In this photo, taken the week previous from Citadel Peak, you can see the Police Meadows at center bottom across the Simpson River Valley, with Nestor Peak rising high above.]

 

The weekend before our Police Meadows adventure, Phil Richards and I spent a night at Fatigue Pass and two days bagging some peaks around there. After seeing Simpson Ridge repeatedly the weekend before, it crept up the priority list and after taking some photographs over the Police Meadows that hinted at a pretty lovely spot to spend the night, it was bumped to the very top of the list and became our destination for the very next weekend! Eric Coulthard decided to join us - I'm not sure he realized what he was signing up for though as he hadn't been on a mountainous adventure since December 2017! devil

 


[A telephoto from Fatigue Mountain showing the Police Meadows with the two rustic cabins visible.]

 

Unlike the weekend before when we missed the chance at a gondola ride up to the Sunshine Meadows by one day (!), we decided to take full advantage of the ride, saving ourselves over 5km of hiking uphill around 500m with overnight packs. We also decided to pack much lighter - leaving all extras behind. I did pack my mid, however, just in case the cabin was overrun with mice or not otherwise a good option. I've seen outfitter cabins before and the fact that this one was free didn't inspire a ton of confidence in its condition! We were expecting a bit of a mixed weather day and ended up getting exactly that on our approach from Sunshine Village through the meadows towards Howard Douglas Lake. I had mixed feelings about hiking the very same trail as a week before, in similarly dreary weather, but soon I was more into it, enjoying the moody landscapes and the fact that at least the clouds were high enough that we could see the peaks we had recently been on top of.

 


[Sunshine Meadows awaits. We'll take the much smaller left hand trail towards Citadel Pass from here.]


[Interesting lighting and cloud over Fatigue Mountain. Nasswald to its right.]


[Clouds billowing over the shoulder of Quartz Hill.]

 
[Looking over Howard Douglas Lake towards Fatigue, Nasswald, Golden, Citadel and Nestor in the distance at far right. ++]


[A moody hike towards Citadel Pass and Peak.]


[Wildflowers are now blooming ferociously in the meadows.]

 

Once we finally reached Citadel Pass, I became more interested and engaged. This was now "new" territory as we hadn't hiked beyond the pass the weekend before. The last time I hiked through Citadel Pass and down into the Simpson River Valley was in September of 2016 on a solo backpacking / scrambling trip into the core Mount Assiniboine area. As we hiked down the very steep switchbacks I noticed one thing certainly hadn't changed since I'd been here last - the Grizzlies still obviously love these slopes! Huge chunks of dirt and sod were ripped from the ground all the way down the upper part of the trail. Some of the tears in the earth looked pretty darn fresh too. We took the right hand branch around 3km down from Citadel Pass, marked as "Porcupine" and descended an even steeper part of the trail to the campground. I've heard not-so-positive things about this free, first-come-first-serve campground, but honestly I didn't see any issues with it. Unlike the main trail leading through Golden Valley and Valley of the Rocks, at least there's fresh, running water here! There was also mosquitoes - something I've noticed a lot of this summer so far in the backcountry.

 


[That looks a bit ominous! Another weather front moves over our destination as we start the steep descent from Citadel Pass to the Porcupine Campground and the Simpson River Valley.]


[You know you're in BC when the bush is so tangled and avalanche paths so prevalent and steep.]


[Nestor Peak (L) and Simpson Peak (R) lie many kilometers and many hundreds of meters of height loss / gains across the Simpson River Valley. Hours later we would find ourselves hiking up beside the waterfall at mid-center on route to Simpson Ridge which is out of sight to the right here.]


[Looking back at Eric as we pass through the fairly rustic Porcupine Campground.]

 

After passing through the campground we continued on trail towards the Mount Assiniboine core area, noting the dire warning on the signpost regarding the Simpson River Trail to the Surprise Creek cabin which is likely an extreme understatement after the Verdant Creek wildfires of 2017. Only about 500m up the trail we came on another sign marking our right hand turnoff towards Police Meadows. Now things were finally getting exciting! We turned onto the much smaller trail leading south. It didn't take long for us to figure out that our destination is not part of the "core" park when we got to the Simpson River and realized that there's no bridge over it! Thank goodness the river is a tiny little stream at this point and someone had cut and partially trimmed a tree just upstream of the trail that we put to good use. From this crossing to the meadows, we were on a good trail again.

 


[Just past the Porcupine Campground at a fork in the Simpson River Trail.]


[The lovely, well forested Simpson River Trail.]


[The trail gets even smaller with the junction towards Police Meadows.]


[You know you're on the trail less traveled when this is your bridge! Note how tiny the Simpson River is at this point.]


[The trail to the meadows is maintained and in excellent shape. It also gains some height from valley bottom.]

 

Soon we were done the forested section of trail and found ourselves facing a pretty daunting wall of shrubs and scrub at the start of what we assumed must be the Police Meadows. From a distance the meadows looked like a golf course, but of course being the BC backcountry, this could mean anything from grass to Krummholtz to shrubs or even dense avalanche debris. We entered the overgrown area with caution - our feet were still dry at this point. The trail was obvious for about another 150m before we arrived at a grassy, swampy area and the trail pretty much vanished underfoot. Hmmm. This was not entirely unexpected but was a bit more rustic than we were hoping for! We danced around and looked for other options but eventually we simply started wading the marsh towards where we hoped the cabin was. We knew it was off to our right from the photos the week previous but there was still no sign of it as we waded through knee deep water and wet vegetation. Soon we found ourselves at yet another obstacle - a deep flowing creek cut a channel in front of us, blocking further travel towards the west side of the meadows and the cabin we assumed was somewhere there. In what was to be a bit of a theme for the weekend, we got lucky with navigation and happened to find another log bridge. This one was substantially smaller than the one across the Simpson River but was carved flat on top so obviously manmade. We very cautiously made our way across it - a slip would mean total submersion in the deep stream running under it, not a death sentence, but it would certainly soak all the gear on our backs.

 


[Our first impression of the meadows isn't great. Believe it or not, we're still on "trail" here! It gets much worse before it gets better.]

 
[There's a very faint outline of a trail at the start of the meadows which soon pretty much disappeared. The cabins are nowhere visible yet.]


[A bit of "suck" as we are forced to wade up to knee-deep in a marshy swamp.]


[This might look easy - but when it's your turn to balance across with a waist-deep stream underneath it becomes a bit more of a challenge.]

 

After the stream crossing, we followed a very faint track through drier meadows until finally we spotted our prize! To our great astonishment, and if I'm honest about it, disappointment, we saw smoke curling out of the very rustic cabin's chimney stack and realized we were not going to be alone in this lovely place. I shouldn't have been so surprised on hindsight. Nothing is "hidden" anymore with all the online beta and information available. On hindsight the shocking thing about the Police Meadows is that there's been no clear beta on it up to this point. We slowly walked across the meadows, noting that some of the plants looked to be recently dying. The view of the homestead era cabins with Simpson Ridge and Nestor Peak looming over them up a deep wild mountain valley was pretty spectacular and got the explor8ion juices flowing pretty fierce!

 

 
[Looking back at Eric (R) from the expansive and beautiful Police Meadows. Citadel Pass at center distance with Golden Mountain above at right. ++]


[Looking past the main cabin to the extremely rustic second one and further up valley towards Nestor Peak. This is the valley we're going to use to tackle Simpson Ridge and Peak. ++]

 

As we approached the cabin, the front door swung open and we were greeted by a surprised but very friendly guide-outfitter (Greg) who happened to be in the area to treat the invasive Tall Buttercup plants that we'd seen dying in the meadows. Apparently as part of the deal to operate his hunts and operate the cabin in the park he has to treat the area for this plant which animals will not eat due to its toxicity. The outfitter had a friend along to assist him and they were flying out via chopper the next day. I think they were quite surprised to see us, but were extremely gracious and nice about us interrupting the very peaceful week they'd been enjoying in this little corner of paradise. Now before you pack your backpack and race off to spend a week at this cabin, I must infuse this report with some bits of reality which you should carefully consider before traveling and spending time here;

 

  1. This cabin is very rustic. The bunks are handmade from trees and the padding is worn and full of holes that have been chewed by animals. The chimney leaks. The floor is full of holes and very dusty / dirty. There are mice. There are pack rats. There are other animals. The door doesn't lock and doesn't even close all the way. Did I mention mice and pack rats? 
  2. There are a ton of biting flies and mosquitoes in this wet and marshy landscape and remember - the door doesn't shut all the way! I'll let you imagine what that means for sleeping or even just sitting in the cabin.
  3. There are definitely bears around - and remember there's no way to lock that door from the inside! To be honest, I'm a bit surprised that the place hasn't been destroyed by bears or other animals yet.
  4. There's no guarantee that you won't come to a full cabin. It only sleeps 5 or 6. This means turning back through the swamp and camping at the Porcupine Campground back down the valley - in other words you can not count on staying at the cabin and must pack a tent and all camping gear anyway.
  5. The second cabin is a surprise as all park material only mentions the one. There's a reason for this. Unless you're really, really desperate you will not sleep in the second cabin. The two hikers that approached while we were on Simpson Ridge apparently took one look and hiked all the way back to the Porcupine Campground rather than stay in the second cabin. It's a hole-in-the-ground - you can't even stand upright in it and it is overrun with critters and not at all "patched up" like the main cabin is.

 


[Fresh water runs continuously out of this hose which runs up the mountainside behind the cabin to a freshwater spring.]


[The cabin is cozy enough, but very rustic compared to many backcountry cabins you might be used to. The bunks are handmade and don't inspire a lot of confidence. The mice / rats have done a lot of chewing and there are holes everywhere including the walls. Phil slept with one eye open on the large hole right by his face! surprise]


[There is a certain homestead "charm" here which harkens back to a previous time but when the mosquitoes and flies start coming through the door at night, the "charm" disappears pretty quickly and is replaced by reality.]


[The outhouse. Oh yeah, this door doesn't lock anymore either...]

 
[The main cabin with the ridge we used to access Nestor Peak rising beyond and Golden Mountain at distant left. ++]

 

After the 15.5km, 500m height gain and over 850m of height loss involved with our 4 hour approach, it wasn't easy to tear ourselves away from the comfort at the cabin and the very interesting conversations we were having with Greg and his friend. By now it was around 13:00 and the sun was quite warm. The mosquitoes around the meadows were also getting bad which helped us move on. When we told the outfitters what we were planning, we got a bit of a blank stare. "I'm tired just thinking about it", was one of the responses. Another was, "we don't hunt up that valley", negating our odds of finding a nice trail up there! There wasn't much else to do except strap our packs on and head south.

 

Simpson Ridge / "Mount Edmonton"

 

As we headed south, up valley from the Police Meadows, I was struck by how Phil Richards and myself plan and carry out these sorts of adventures. It's a little bit nuts if I really think about it! Simply by looking at a distant valley and estimating the angle of slopes from topo maps and Google Earth, we were willing to hiking many kilometers and many hundreds of meters of elevation to "get our noses into it", despite have no clue about whether or not any of the routes we were planning would actually work or not. I love it, but this sort of thing is not for the faint of heart. Even being conservative had us doing ~2,000m of height gain two days in a row, with at least 35km each day, including BC bushwhacking, possible glacier or steep snow ascents and certainly having to deal with unknown terrain issues along the way. Phil and I have been on some long trips already in 2018, including a 42km bike 'n scramble into Mount Currie / White Man Pass but Eric hadn't been on a mountain trip since December 2017! I think he might have underestimated the effort a bit. cheeky But Eric is Eric and I've known him a long time. He is a very mentally tough hombre and doesn't give up easily as he would clearly demonstrate on this trip.

 


[Oh my! This is the very start of the valley south of Police Meadows. Not much of a trail going on here.]

 

Immediately upon hiking past the dilapidated second cabin, we realized that there was really no trail or even path leading up valley towards our planned ascent routes for Nestor and Simpson Ridge. We were in for it. Big time. Us, being us, this didn't really phase us or even slow us down for some reason. Instead we got excited about the notion of adventuring and exploring a valley that obviously hadn't seen very many creatures of our ilk. The first avalanche slope wasn't too bad but by the time we hit the second or third one we were deep in the "suck" and starting to wonder how much adventuring we were really in for!

 


[The first few avalanche slopes aren't horrible.]


[Things ratchet up a bit.]


[The stream running down the center of the valley is energetic and wide in places.]

 

We realized pretty quickly that our feet would continue to be soaked as we navigated up and through the stream running down the middle of our approach valley. It simply wasn't feasible to keep them dry or avoid water up to shin deep. We could see the terrain narrowing ahead and started to worry about steep canyons and waterfalls that could prove very difficult to navigate around. There was a strange route line on my Gaia base map which certainly didn't correspond to a trail or even a track, but it did make some sense to try following it up to climber's right to get around the steep, narrowing terrain ahead of us in the valley bottom. I led up a small but lively stream coming down a steep avy slope leading up to our right (west) a short way, before starting a long and challenging traverse in the forest towards the drainage we were planning to use to access the upper part of the mountain. This is where the difficulties ratcheted up a notch.

 


[Deviating out of the main valley below and heading for a traverse above it to avoid possible terrain issues.]


[The terrain is steep, covered in alders and shrubs up to 7 feet tall and full of old and new avalanche debris.]


[Not everyone is cut out for this type II fun. It's not easy and remember - there's absolutely ZERO guarantees that our planned route will even result in a summit at the end of all the suffering.]

 

Our traverse above the valley floor was a lesson in BC bushwhacking and route finding patience and grit. Phil did an admirable job with his first real BC bushwhack and Eric and I settled into the familiar routine of crawling up and over avalanche debris, scratching shins, arms and faces on sharp, random branches and wading uphill and side-hill through, over and across dense shrubs, alders and Krummholtz trees - we've done this more than once. Bushwhacking in BC is a lesson that teaches you a lot about yourself and can be used later in life. You learn to be one with the bush, moving carefully, slowly and deliberately and not trying to brute force your way through. If you don't force yourself to slow down and get very patient and deliberate with your movements, you will spike your heart rate way over 160bpm and will burn out almost immediately. If your heart doesn't explode, your mind will. Everything is about s l o w i n g  d o w n

 


[Learning once again to slow down and be "one with the bushes".]


[Finding small open areas is like finding precious treasure - the pace quickens and smiles appear.]

 

After an hour and a half of bushwhacking we finally turned up a side valley to the west, heading for a distant waterfall and drainage that would hopefully give us easy access to the peak from the SE. So far our route was as good as it could have been but I think we might have made life harder on ourselves than necessary as we scouted out the best way around the beautiful waterfall we were slowly approaching. It took a while but soon enough we were under the falls, a lovely atmosphere of sparkling water, backlit by the summer sun and surrounded by steep walls of rock and Krummholtz trees plastered on impossibly steep avalanche slopes.

 


[The waterfall beckons from afar. There's a lot more hardship to go before we get to enjoy it though.]


[The problem with avalanche debris and trees on avalanche slopes is that they all lean downhill. This means when you're going uphill, you not only have to clamber up and over and through the tangled mess, but it's actually conspiring against you - literally acting as a medieval spike defense.]


[Remnant patches of avalanche snow helped on some sections.]


[The lovely waterfall and its charming atmosphere made us forget our predicament and tired bodies and minds for a few minutes.]


[It's moments like this that keep me exploring the Rockies lesser known peaks and valleys.]

 

As we gazed at the terrain around the waterfall, we noted two options. The first was the most attractive - a series of steep slabs and loose rock along it's left hand side. Yes - that was the more attractive side! The right hand side didn't look very inviting thanks to a thick field of Krummholtz and some barely visible rocky cliffs embedded within. So why did we choose the right hand option? I'm not 100% sure, to be honest. Slabs are always tricky to gage from below for difficulty, often looking much easier than they are. The weather was starting to turn a bit ugly and with pending rain or sleet we thought the loose rock / slab could quickly escalate beyond scrambling so we chose the slope we knew would work technically, even though it was going to be a bit hellish. It was indeed, not a very heavenly slog from the bottom of the waterfall to treeline! Firstly we scrambled difficult cliffs to get into the bottom of the messy, stunted, hellish forest and then we waded, pushed, struggled, sweated, swore and stumbled our way up to treeline. Did I mention that it started to sleet and rain about half way up? Not cool folks. Not cool at all. These are the moments that make you wonder what the hell you're doing.

 


[There are no signs of the pending weather moving in as we ascend beside the falls and look back over our approach valley.]


[We started with a rising traverse along a lower cliff band to access the upper Krummholtz forest.]


[Entering the suck now. Big time. But it's not raining yet!!]


[Eric comes up the slope behind me in the rain. I had to put my camera away as the thick Krummholtz forest was damaging it so I used my iPhone for these shots.]


[Great rejoicing by everyone, as we finally clear the hellish forest of stunted devil trees and gaze up at our distant summit looking fairly accessible from this angle!]

 

As we broke treeline and desperately peered towards the distant apex of our objective, we were extremely happy to note that all of our suffering and efforts to this point would very likely not be in vain. There were several route options that looked reasonable, so naturally we chose the most direct and difficult one. :rolleyes: Instead of the easiest route which headed to the Simpson Peak / Ridge col, we chose to access steep scree and snow slopes directly under the summit to the SE. We wandered through a larch forest towards our ascent slope, very happy that the rain was clearing off and the sun was peeking back out between the clouds. We took advantage of snow before starting a bit of a scree slog to the summit block above. As we worked our way higher and higher, the views behind us started dimming the bad memories formed on approach. Of course, we were also making sideways glances towards "Simpson Peak" - an unnamed summit between Nestor and Simpson Ridge that is named "Simpson Peak" on some maps.

 

 
[Looking back at our approach (L) and towards our next objective - Simpson Peak - rising at right. ++]

 
[Looking back down a snow slope that we took full advantage of.]


[It's a bit of a grind to gain that summit block! The only reasonable way to crack the summit that we could see from below was a traverse to climber's left (west) along the upper cliffs and snow field.]

 
[Eric and Phil with Nestor Peak at center right and "Simpson Peak" in the foreground right of it.]


[As usual in the Rockies, as we approach the summit block the terrain lays back a bit. It was still at least moderate scrambling to get around the snow on the lefthand side of the summit block but not too hard.]

 

As Phil and I approached the summit block, we could see two viable options. Option 1 was a steep, difficult line straight up to the summit (Eric took this line behind us apparently) and option 2 was a tricky snowfield / rock traverse where we'd tiptoe on top of a pretty deep moat next to the cliffs and on top of a steepish patch of snow. We chose option 2 as it looked easier but either option obviously works. From the tricky traverse we turned right on a wide expanse of scree and excitedly marched up towards the huge summit cairn that is probably shorter now than when it was first built at apparently around 7 or 8 feet tall!

 


[Eric took the obvious split in the summit block with some snow in it. Phil and I traversed around the lefthand side.]


[Incredible colors on the summit ridge of Simpson / Edmonton looking over some of the terrain that the first ascent party took.]


[Looking back over Citadel Pass (C) where we descended from much earlier today.]


[Phil comes up the cliffs behind me as we exit the snow traverse and finish off the moderate section. Our approach at lower right.]

 
[Onto the summit ridge, looking back over our approach at bottom left and over towards Nestor and Simpson Peak at center. Assiniboine rising in the distance and Indian Peak at right.]

 

Right away I noticed a white plastic container in the giant summit cairn. I tried to wiggle it free, but whoever buried it had done an impressive job and I couldn't free it. As yet another passing storm dumped some hard frozen rain pellets on us, Phil and I dismantled the cairn, rock by rock, placing them beside us so we could rebuild it again. As I opened the container I was in for a wee bit of disappointment - it was not Ricks and there was no original 1920 register inside either. Instead we were looking at a multi-page entry from an Edmonton ACC trip from Rock Lake in 2010, who'd apparently also been searching for the elusive original register that Rick had left behind. To skip the following sidebar on the first, second and third ascents of the mountain, click here.

 


Sidebar: A Brief History of Simpson Ridge / "Mount Edmonton"

It was only when we arrived back home and did some research based on a hunch from Eric, that we started uncovering more of the mystery surrounding the first ascent of this peak and the possible third ascent almost 100 years later by the Edmonton chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada. If we would have looked a bit closer at the trip report from Rick we would have noticed that he starts the report as follows (emphasis mine);

 

The Simpson/Edmonton Ridge (9430' or 2874m) runs for 18-20 km from the crook in the Simpson River, where it bends from NE to SE and S, to the final SE slopes of Nub Peak that run down toward Lake Magog.

 

Obviously Rick knew, most likely from the original summit register itself, that the mountain had been dubbed "Mount Edmonton" by the first ascenders, which is why he labels it thus in his online report. By the time he climbed it, however, "Simpson Ridge" was the accepted name and its original moniker was somehow lost to history, buried in a 1921 Alpine Club of Canada Journal for us to rediscover nearly 100 years after it was first published! The name is noted in the article as "not being accepted by the Geographical Board" for whatever reason. Since people nowadays are naming random peaks after their kids or their uncles, I think I'm OK with naming this ridge, "Mount Edmonton" as the first ascentionists wanted. wink The original ascent party ascended a very difficult and complicated route up the NE face of the mountain from the Simpson River Valley and exited back to the Simpson River via almost the exact same line that we used for our approach and exit. 

 

 
[An overview map of the entire length of Simpson Ridge. It makes sense to me to name the entire thing "Simpson Ridge" with the individual peaks named as indicated. Of course this is just MHO but it makes sense to me. The only real change from current maps is to add "Simpson Peak" and "Mount Edmonton" as indicated. Both are separate high points separated by the requisite distance and elevation for a peak and worth scrambling / climbing. ++]

 
[Our route map with the original ascent parties estimated climb (from the North) and exit (to the East). They mention a "lake" on exit so this narrows their exit route down quite a bit. ++]

 
[First ascent trip report - Page 1. ++]

 
[First ascent trip report - Page 2. Note that this photo clearly shows Nestor Peak and Mount Assiniboine in the distance and the summit ridge looking remarkably like ours. ++]

 
[First ascent trip report - Page 3. ++]

 
[First ascent trip report - Page 4. ++]

 

The Edmonton trip is best described by its leader, Ernst M. Bergmann, who wrote up a detailed account of their reasons for doing the trip and the outcome. Mr Bergmann was kind enough to share that trip report and other details of their trip with me, which I have permission to share - so here it is! And despite the very poor photo resolution, I still find the following picture, provided to Mr Bergmann from Rick Collier back in 2010 pretty darn cool.

 


[The original 1920 summit register that Rick Collier found in the giant cairn on top of Simpson Ridge. It's hard to read, but clearly the date is "July 27 1920" and the climbers are from "Edmonton Alberta". In a nice touch, it's written on ACC letterhead and dedicated to "A.O. Wheeler".]


I have to admit that we were a bit disappointed in finding a newer register in the cairn, but we didn't give up hope of also finding Rick's. We continued to look around and peer carefully into all the nooks and crannies and dissemble the cairn further but to no avail. We found out later that the Edmonton team did the same thing as we did. There's two possibilities here. Either someone else came along and took the register (likely) or it vanished (unlikely) or it simply disintegrated (possible). Our disappointment was pretty short-lived when the sun came out again and we realized that we were the 4th or 5th recorded ascent party in the past 100 years to stand on this summit. That realization got us snapping way too many photos again, as we gave nervous glances at our watches and wondered aloud if Simpson Peak was still a possibility. We had some time to roam to the NW summit where there was another, smaller cairn (no register) before trundling all the way back to the SE cairn for a quick break.

 


[Interesting weather as we pop over the summit plateau to great views of Assiniboine (L) to Indian Peak (C) and towards Selkirk and Split Peak (R). ++]

 
[Dreary weather as we crack the summit - but thankfully it's short lived. Looking NW to the lower summit across the very broad summit plateau. Split Peak and Selkirk Mountain at extreme left here. ++]


[Brewster Rock, Lookout Mountain and Mount Howard Douglas (L to R).]


[Hard to believe last weekend we were on both Citadel Peak (foreground) and Quartz Peak / Little Fatigue.]


[Fatigue Mountain.]


[Phil is enjoying himself immensely (!!) as we traverse to the NW summit with the storm racing to the east above us.]


[Verendrye at right with White Tail at center.]


[Mount Shanks with Floe Peak in the distance.]

 
[Wild scenery from the NW summit looking over the colorful north end of Simpson Ridge at left and over the Citadel Pass area at right. ++]


[An outlier of Octopus Mountain - named in 1913 by Robert Daniel McCaw but nobodies sure why he named it that? :)]

 
[Wonderful views as the sky clears again, looking down the face that the 1920 ascent party used and down into the fried Simpson River Valley below.]

 
[Eric on the summit plateau with Mount Ball in the distance. ++]


[Mount Assiniboine looms over Nestor Peak (L) and Simpson Peak (C).]

 
[Views over the Golden Valley towards Golden Mountain and Mount Nasswald at center with Fatigue and Citadel at left. ++]

 
[Views to the south include Nestor, Assiniboine, The Marshall, Watson and Indian Peak (L to R). ++]


[Looking towards Beersheba, Og and Allenby (L to R).]


[Looking over Cave Mountain towards Mount Mercer.]


[Cautley Mountain with Cascade and Gibraltar Rock.]

 
[An interesting view of Mount Sir Douglas rising over The Towers. Also visible is Mount Morrison (L) and Currie (R). ++]


[Nice lighting over Fatigue Pass looking at the Sundance Range.]


[It's getting late so if we're going to nab our second peak of the day, it's time to start heading over to it! "Simpson Peak" is barely visible in front of Nestor Peak at left. Assiniboine and The Marshall continue to steal the show as usual.]

 

The wind was getting quite cold and the day was fading quickly (it was now after 18:00) as we set our sights on the next objective that we'd been scouting a route for since first ascending into the alpine bowl beneath - "Simpson Peak".

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,430
Elevation Gain (m): 
1900
Round Trip Time: 
15.00
Total Distance (km): 
31.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

A long approach on good trails until Police Meadows. Remote BC bushwhack followed by scrambling with possible snow / ice on route.

Strom, Mount

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

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)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
3rd Class

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 21, 2012
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,023

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.]
 


[Mount Sturdee]


[Looking east from the summit. Wedgewood at center ++]


[Mount Assiniboine is ready for us! The north face is getting lots of warm, late day sun and we like that - it's melting lingering snow off. ++]


[Kev heads down the slopes to the col, Assiniboine brooding above.]
 

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,918
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

This is a hike if you've already done the approach, which is 3rd class from any direction...

Sunburst Peak (Goat's Tower)

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

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

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Med
YDS Class: 
3rd Class

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,830

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.

 


[Mount Assiniboine.]


[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!]

 
[Beautiful views over Cautley Meadows to the Cautley Traverse including Cascade Rock, Gibraltar Rock, Mount Cautley, Ely's Dome and Wonder Peak (L to R). ++]


[Looking over Windy Point Ridge to Nasswald Peak.]


[Sunburst Lake.]


[Lizzie Rummel's cabin sits comfortably on Sunburst Lake.]


[Assiniboine Lodge.]


[Brilliant colors of Cerulean Lake. Elizabeth Lake just visible at top.]


[Elizabeth Lake.]

 
[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. ++]

 
[Nice views of Mount Assiniboine through larch trees as I descend along the boulder field.]


[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.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,285
Elevation Gain (m): 
620
Round Trip Time: 
3.50
Total Distance (km): 
4.10
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Moderate scrambling, especially in the conditions I had. Considering some of the routefinding and exposure, I would not rate this as "easy".

Sunshine Meadows - Mount Assiniboine

Trip Category: 
TL - Trail Hiking
Interesting Facts: 

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.

Technical Difficulty Level: 
4
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
No
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 23, 2016

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!

 

The Approach

 

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. They also seem to encourage helicopter access which is disappointing. 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.

 

 
[Elevation profile of the approach with approximate locations marked. See all the elevation profiles for the different approaches 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 most of the other popular 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.]

 
[The clouds rolled in and out as I crossed the meadows. This is looking back towards the ski resort which is now pretty much out of sight.]

 
[Sublime views over Howard Douglas Lake towards Citadel Peak. The pass is just left of the peak with Fatigue Mountain hidden in clouds to the left of that. ++]

 

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.

 

 
[At Citadel Pass with Citadel Peak rising above. ++]


[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. ;))

 

 
[Looking down the tight valley running south of Citadel Pass and west of Golden Mountain down to the Simpson River and Golden Valley - about 3km from here.]


[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 towards Og Lake with Golden Mountain at far left just showing up and Nasswald left of center. Windy Point and Og Mountain are at center. ++]

 
[Looking forward through "the gap" into the Assiniboine Meadows. The Towers are rising in the far distance through the gap.]


[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. ++]

 
[The weather started clearing as I hiked across Og Meadows. This is looking back towards Og Mountain on the right with Golden and Nasswald at left.]

 
[Great views ahead to Cascade Rock and Mount Cautley on the left, Ely's Dome and Wonder Peak at center and The Towers at right. ++]


[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). ++]


[Almost there!]


[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 UltaMid shelter. It's da bomb.]


[Another view of my cozy campsite.]

 

The Egress

 

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).]

 
[Golden Mountain, Nasswald, Windy Point and Og (L to R) as I approach the Og Lake area.]


[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.]

 
[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.]

 
[From near Citadel Pass, looking over Citadel Lake towards the Ball Range with The Monarch and Quartz Hill on the right. ++]


[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. ++]


[Mount Assiniboine.]

 
[Howard Douglas Lake. ++]

 
[Now that's a view! Looking back over Howard Douglas Lake towards Fatigue (L), Citadel Peak (C) and Mount Assiniboine (R). ++]


[Mount Ball looms over Greater Pharaoh Peak and Healy Pass.]


[The Monarch.]

 

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 Janssenhad 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.

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,373
Elevation Gain (m): 
1000
Round Trip Time: 
8.00
Total Distance (km): 
28.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

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.

Towers, The

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

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

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Med
YDS Class: 
3rd Class

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, September 25, 2016

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.]

 
[The trail continues to show - leading from my current position on the lower east ridge towards the south ridge at far left.]

 

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.

 

 
[Breaking trail in fresh snow up to the south ridge (R), looking back at the east ridge (L) with Wonder Peak in the background across Wonder Pass.]

 
[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.]

 
[Looking east (L) and south (R) down the south ridge of The Towers. Wonder Peak at left and Marvel / Currie at right.]


[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.]

 
[It's a long way down the north face of The Towers!]

 
[Good thing The Towers is a really fun scramble because the view towards Terrapin and Assiniboine would be stunning on a clear day - and I did NOT have that. ++]

 
[Looking east (L) south (C) and west (R). The Cautley Traverse at left, Gloria Lake area at center and Terrapin Mountain at right. ++]

 
[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.]


[Nasswald Peak at left with Windy Point and Og Mountain to the right and the lower part of Cave Mountain in the foreground.]

 
[Looking down the south ridge as I start my descent.]


[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! ;)

 

 
[Looking back from Wonder Pass with Wonder Peak at left and The Towers rising on the right.]


[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.]

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,846
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,338
Elevation Gain (m): 
800
Round Trip Time: 
6.00
Total Distance (km): 
13.50
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

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.

Wonder Peak

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

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

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Med
YDS Class: 
3rd Class

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Thursday, September 4, 2008
 
Rod and I set off from the Jones Naiset Cabin around 16:00 on Thursday, September 4th under a mostly cloudy sky. There was very little wind and quite a bit of snow on the surrounding peaks but we were confident we could either scramble up Wonder Peak or The Towers and return before dark. The trail up to Wonder Pass went by quickly and was an easy 200 meters of height gain out of the way.
 

[Rod starts out the hike from the Naiset Cabins to Wonder Pass. The Towers rise above him, Wonder Peak is out of sight to the left.]
 

[Looking back at Nub Peak, which we've done earlier in the day]
 

[The larches are so close to turning! The trail to Wonder Pass is excellent.]
 

[Rod at Wonder Pass with Wonder Peak to the left.]
 
 
At the pass we made the decision to go up Wonder Peak because we could spot an obvious trail snaking up it's lower slopes and The Towers would require a bit more route-finding (basically a side hill bash) before grinding on scree to the top. I would also love to combine Naiset Point with The Towers if I'm going up there anyway and we didn't have time to do both. Wonder Peak is not rocket science to ascend. Simply go climbers left at the pass, descend slightly to the north before skirting some small cliffs and getting onto the mountain proper. Once on the mountain, simply follow trails to the summit mass, or stick to the ridge and go around any obstacles on climber's right. Every time it looks like things are going to be tricky they aren't. I love this about mountains - usually there's a way around the difficulties and that's half the fun of climbing them! The only moderate bit of scrambling is after you contour around the summit block (on the right) and have to get up the last 15 or 20 meters. I actually missed the first opportunity to go up a small gully and ended up coming back to the peak on a small ridge. There was a cool window in this little section, which was fun to discover. When I got to the last 10 vertical meters of the summit block there was only a small, narrow crack to work my way up. It was great fun with pretty solid holds and didn't feel as exposed as it actually was.
 
 
[Excellent views to the north of Og Mountain - which we'd do the next day. ++]
 

[Rod follows me up from Wonder Pass]
 

[Looking over Wonder Pass at the lower slopes of The Towers - ascent slope rising to the right - with Eon (L) and Aye (R) towering in the bg.]
 

[Another view north - Nub Peak on the left, Og Mountain on the right]
 
 
[Incredible views over Wonder Pass to Gloria, Eon and Aye (L to R) ++]
 

[The Towers ascent slope looks like only easy scrambling from lower L to upper R]
 
 
[The landscape to the north of Wonder looks like a painting! ++]
 

[The terrain gets snowy - luckily for us, our route is to the right, on southerly slopes which have dried off a bit more]
 
 
[Mount Assiniboine's east face looms threateningly over The Towers and Mount Magog.]
 

[A trail in the scree guides us upwards to the summit.]
 

[A view towards the Bryant Creek approach with Marvel Peak on the right.]
 

[Rod comes up behind me as we start to contour around the south side of the summit block.]
 

[Tele shot of the Royal Group with Mount King George being the most prominent (2nd from left) at 11,228 feet.]
 

[Lake Magog catches some sun at far left.]
 
 

[A window on the ridge just before the summit.]
 
Rod joined me after only a slight hesitation! The summit view was great but without clouds it would have been mind-blowing. You could see all the way to the big K-Country peaks like Sir Douglas and Joffre and Eon, Aye and Assiniboine were right in our faces. Marvel Lake and Lake Gloria were glittering far beneath and all around us was a plethora of peaks just begging to be summited! I think this area will keep me busy for a while... After clicking a bunch of pics we turned back and descended the crack carefully before plunge-stepping easily down the snowy ridge to the foot of the mountain. Once off of Wonder Peak we came on some very fresh and rather large grizzly tracks in the snow. We cautiously yelled and yodeled our way all the way back to the hut.
 

[Rod is hidden at the bottom of the crux! Just a wee bit of exposure there... :-)]
 

[Rod pops onto the small summit of Wonder Peak.]
 

[The traverse to Cautley looks snowy today.]
 

[I found a similar register on Mount Assiniboine's summit four years later. Alas - the bottle wasn't in it though... ;)]
 

[Assiniboine, Rod, Vern (L to R)]
 

[Mount Joffre catches some sun in the far distance, I climbed it in June of 2014. It's height is 11,319 feet.]
 

[Mount Sir Douglas is another 11,000er easily visible from Wonder Peak. I climbed it in July 2015. It's height is 11,174 feet.]
 
 
[Looking down the Bryant Creek approach valley over Marvel and Turner Mountains on the right. ++]
 
 
[An excellent panorama from the summit of Wonder Peak including (L to R), Cautley, Mercer, Cone, Turner, Marvel, Byng, Aurora, Sir Douglas, King George, Joffre, Gloria, Eon, Aye and Lunette on the far right - among many others of course! ++]
 

[Heading back down with Eon and Aye looming over Lake Gloria in the bg.]
 
 
[Gorgeous panorama over Assiniboine Meadows with The Towers at left and Cautley at right. Nub Peak at center left. ++]
 

[Fresh Grizzly diggings at Wonder Pass]
 

[Rod walks back to our hut - the cook shelter visible here.]
 
 
A ranger came by a bit later and confirmed that there were two grizzlies up in the Wonder Pass area, a young, unafraid male and a very large but cautious sow. If you're in the Assiniboine area, Wonder Peak is truly wonderful and only took us just over 3 hours round-trip from the Naiset huts. If you have more energy you can do Wonder Peak, Cascade and Gibralter Rocks and Mount Cautley in one loop of moderate scrambling. You can bet I'll be back to give that a shot sometime soon!
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,852
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,357
Elevation Gain (m): 
500
Round Trip Time: 
4.00
Total Distance (km): 
10.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Mostly an easy scramble on a scree trail - some steep bits just under the summit.

Banff National Park

 
 

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.]

Aberdeen, Mount (Hazel Peak)

Trip Category: 
MN - Ski Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

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. (from peakfinder.com)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,150

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; 

 

  • Given the right conditions (which I assumed we'd have), we should be able to ski up the main avy gully almost right to the upper slopes of Aberdeen on hard avy debris. 
  • Worst case scenario, we'd ditch the skis and don crampons - simply climbing to the summit on rock-hard snow - conditions that were common all over the Rockies lately. Steven had ascended Cathedral Mountain three days previous in the same general area and aspect, and had rock hard and very stable snow the whole day.
  • Little Temple only took us 6.5 hours RT. The way up was slow, but descent was pretty quick, especially on rock hard / icy tracks.
  • Given all of the above, I figured a RT time of around 10 hours would be sufficient.

 

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.

 


[The views open up behind us as we ascend the avy slopes under Aberdeen. From L to R, Pinnacle, Eiffel, Deltaform and Wastach.]


[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 whumfing 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. ++]

 
[Summit pano looking north over Mount Fairview and Haddo Peak across the Trans Canada hwy at the Lake Louise ski hill. Piran at far left, Little Temple at far right.]

 
[Looking south and west from Aberdeen's summit. From L to R, Little Temple, Temple, Babel, Eiffel, Allen, Wastach, Deltaform, Hungabee, The Mitre, Lefroy and Victoria++]


[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 on it either.]


[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.

Summit Elevation (ft): 
10,342
Elevation Gain (m): 
1820
Round Trip Time: 
13.50
Total Distance (km): 
25.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg

Difficulty Notes: 

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.

Alexandra, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

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)

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
8
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
5.0-5.2

YDS Grade: 
II
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 26, 2014 to Sunday, September 28, 2014

Preamble

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;

 

  1. Dreams of a Mountain!
  2. Flip-flopping and Planning
  3. The Drive
  4. Approach to Upper Rice Brook Bivy or Giving up on Mountains
  5. Climbing Alexandra
  6. Finding the highline Route or Inspired by Mountains

 

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.

 

Dreaming of a Mountain

 

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.

 

Flip-flopping and Planning

 

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 enoughGravsports-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).

 

The Drive

 

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. ++]

 

Approach to Upper Rice Brook Bivy or Giving up on Mountains

 

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!

 

Nope.

 

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. ++]

 

The Climb

 

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.]


[Ever upwards...]


[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.]

 
[Vern on the summit of Mount Alexandra.]

 
[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.

 


[The Alexandra Glacier lies far below as we walk in the clouds down the west ridge.]

 
[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. ++]

 
[Wild scenery as we follow our tracks back down.]


[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!]


[More downclimbing.]


[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...

 

 
[Just off the west glacier, looking back one more time at this special place.]

 
[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.]

 
[Late afternoon sun reflects Alexandra and Whiterose in one of the small tarns near our bivy.]


[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 Milky Way rising above Queen's and Alexandra at 04:00 makes even 11,000ers seem pretty darn insignificant. The Andromeda galaxy is obvious about halfway up the night sky here.]


[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!]

 
[Coral Peak at left with Queen's and Alexandra at right and the night sky making everything underneath look small.]

 

Finding the Highline Route or Inspired by Mountains

 

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.]

 
[Gorgeous views down the South Rice Brook valley.]


[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.]


[Fall color.]

 
[The terrain is always trickier when you're in in than it looks from afar. We had to cross many rushing streams on our exit.]


[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?

 

 
[One last look back at the Alexandra area.]


[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. ++]

 
[Looking back over the highline traverse from where we came, towards the Alexandra area. South Rice Brook at lower 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.]


[Mount Spring-Rice.]


[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...]

 
[More traversing - now we're headed for the four lakes.]


[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.]

 
[South Rice Brook marches off to the right, branching from the Rice Brook at lower left.]

 
[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. ++]

 
[Descending the ridge to the upper lake that would be consider two tarns in low water.]

 
[An amazing high alpine paradise. ++]

 
[The route you want to take, avoids any of the lower bushy hassles. ++]

 
[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 was very high on my list after seeing it from this angle - it took me three attempts to finally stand on its summit in late August, 2017++]

 
[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. ++]


[Mount Columbia in all her glory. Even South Twin, Twin's Tower and North Twin show up in this shot.]

 
[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! ;)]


[Another grand view of Mount King Edward.]

 
[Nearing treeline again and bailing off the highline route.]


[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. ++]

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,388
Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,116
Elevation Gain (m): 
3900
Total Distance (km): 
32.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead
Difficulty Notes: 

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.

Amery, Mount

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

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

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
4th Class
YDS Grade: 
I

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 7, 2012

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.]


[The incredible "Greek Amphitheater" is the 2nd chink in the armor guarding Amery's summit.]


[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.

 

 
[Looking back at our tracks with Amery rising on the right and the Lyells in the far distance over Monchy / Hooge at center. ++]


[Eric stands at our chosen bivy location, high on the SE shoulder of Amery's summit plateau - over 10,500 feet high.]


[Looking over Erasmus to Murchison, Wilson on the left.]


[Distant view of the Lyells.]


[Amery is so close...]

 
[Looking across hwy 93 to Cline and Wilson (R). ++]


[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.]

 
[Sun setting on peaks across hwy 93.]


[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!]

 
[Mount ColumbiaNorth Twin and Saskatchewan gets some rays. ++]

 
[Incredible sunrise on many 11,000ers including (L to R), Lyell V, Lyell I, Lyell III, Alexandra, Bryce, Columbia, South Twin, North Twin and Athabasca. ++


[Looking back over our bivy site as the sun rises over Mount Cline.]


[The Lyells (L), Willerval and Alexandra catch the morning rays.]

 
[Looking over the Monchy Ice Field to Forbes++]


[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)]


[Brazeau, Warren at center-right and Poboktan on the right.]


[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.]

 

After our ascent of Amery we traversed to Hooge Peak and Monchy Mountain before continuing a long, tiring day down to the access creek.

 


[Finally back at the Amery col - our bivy is across this small glacier on the far shoulder. ++]


[Re-crossing the Amery Glacier]

 

We trudged across the Amery glacier to our bivy (I stepped in a crevasse part way across - so be forewarned, they do exist!) for a round trip time of just over 10 hours for the trip. We were moving steadily all day and both of us don't require as much food as most on these types of trips (fat reserves for me! :-)) so I would expect most parties would need at least 16+ hours to bag Amery, Monchy and Hooge via our route from the SE Amery valley where Rick bivied. I think if you want to bag these summits via our route, you're going to have to bivy somewhere high in order to do it.

 

By 16:30 we were leaving the SE shoulder of Amery and heading back down the mountain. The way up didn't seem so bad, but due to our heavy packs and tired bodies the way down was more difficult than I expected. It took time and energy to slowly pick our way down the gullies and couloirs because everything cliffs out from above. It's easier to climb up the small cliff bands because you can spot the breaks from below. There's so many of these cliff bands we couldn't possible cairn our ascent route on the way up either.

 

At one point I was so sick of marginal hand / foot holds and the big pack getting in the way of my downclimbing in the amphitheater that I nearly commited the dumbest act of my climbing career. I got frustrated and decided to drop my pack down the small band and climb after it. Eric watched in disbelief as I threw my pack down. It didn't drop and stop - of course! It started to careen down the amphitheater. Arg!!! I felt pretty stupid as I watched all my gear (including my camera!!) bounce down the mountain. Thank GOODNESS it somehow came to rest about 100 feet lower with nothing broken. I'm such an idiot... ;-) I didn't repeat that mistake even though the down climbing remained somewhat tedious all the way down the amphitheater.

 


[The scree slope / crumbly cliff bands above the amphitheater just below the upper mountain.]


[Eric makes his way down the theater above me.]


[The theater is steeper in some sections than others. With a big pack it was a PITA working our way through all the cliff bands on the way down.]


[Some sections are very loose too.]


[The amphitheater is big!]

 

One back at the hidden couloir we again took our time and slowly negotiated the steep downclimbs with heavy, unwieldy packs. The scrambling sections on Amery would certainly be much easier with day packs. Finally we broke out of the couloir and started down the long scree / cement slope to the upper SE Amery Creek valley below.

 


[Looking down the hidden couloir.]


[Down climbing the steep couloir.]


[The scree slope is hard - not nice to run down.]

 

The sun was starting to set as we took off (or 'stumbled') down the SE Amery Creek. We really wanted to make the nice bivy that the Thompson party used, near the small lake about half way down the approach valley. We didn't like the fact that the temps were so warm all night (4 degrees at 10,500 feet when we woke up) because this meant the melting wouldn't slow down enough to have a big effect on the water levels in the Alexandra and Saskatchewan rivers for our crossing the next morning. These rivers are big enough - they don't need a strong melt cycle to make them bigger!! The thrash through the deadfall, over boulders and scree and up and down along the creek was tiring after walking 30km already this day but we managed to find some energy and made the bivy site just as darkness moved in.

 


[We start the long trudge down SE Amery Creek - looking back where we came from.]


[Fall colors and a nice stream start off our descent.]


[Beautiful fall colors]


[A calm, beautiful lake to camp nearby on exit]

 

It never felt so good to just sit and eat. It felt really, really good - what a day it'd been! The temps stayed very warm all night again and we decided to take off at first light to catch the lowest river levels possible. By 07:00 there was enough light to start our bushwhacking again and off we went! We both had more energy than I though possible - I actually felt enough energy to spend a few more days out - I felt really good. We made it to our river crossing gear in about 2.5 hours from the lake and geared up for the crossings.

 

The crossings went very well, we managed to find the slowest (shallowest) braids to cross and managed to keep the water under waist deep for the most part and usually knee deep. I think some tourists taking photos from the highway must have wondered what the heck we were up to as we finally gained the road and the parking lot.

 


[The stream isn't exactly easy to walk down.]

 


[The route is directed high above the creek before rejoining it near the Alexandra River junction at the end.


[Amery on the upper left as we arrive back at the river flats. Saskatchewan in the far distance left of center and Coleman on the right. ++]


[Eric crosses the last of the river flats with Amery rising on the right. ++]

 

Mount Amery, Monchy and Hooge was a special trip for me. It was the very best that the Canadian Rockies has to offer and has only been matched by a few trips since - trips like Alexandra, Fortress, Catacombs and possibly Recondite, Stewart and other lesser traveled areas of the Rockies' back country. Amery will never be popular since it's almost certainly below the 'magical' 11,000 foot mark and is simply too much work for most people to bother with. Which is exactly how I hope it remains.

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,329
Summit Elevation (ft): 
10,922
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Total Distance (km): 
25.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Glacier route includes crevasse issues and steep snow slopes. Don't minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.

Andromache, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

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)

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Med
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,996

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.

 


[Sublime views of Mount Hector and Little Hector.]


[Cataract Peak looms over Molar Creek meadows.]


[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.

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,830
Total Distance (km): 
15.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

Other than concrete-hard scree there are no major difficulties on Andromache.

Anthozoan Mountain

Interesting Facts: 

Named in 1925. A fossilized coral known as anthozoan is found in the Devonian limestone of the mountain. Official name. (info from pe