Silverhorn Mountain

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

The mountain has a snow-covered summit which was seen by Noyes from Cirque Peak and was thus named, "Silverhorn" in 1899. No details on its first ascent which may have been Rick Collier in 1992 but even he doubted it was.

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Med
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, July 13, 2018

Long before Andrew Nugara made Silverhorn Mountain much more popular than previously with his new guidebook, I'd been interested in it after reading Rick Colliers report years beforehand. Funnily enough, before I asked Brandon Boulier about his recent ascent and for a possible GPX track, I didn't even realize this peak was in Nugara's guidebook, but it certainly explained its recent popularity for me! Friday the 13th would be a solo outing for me and I was really looking forward to it. There's nothing quite like enjoying a whole mountain all to yourself. Canada must be a bit unique in this sense. You can park in the ditch along a busy highway and within 10 minutes of the road you're on your own. All alone. For hours and hours it's just you and the mountain and a few song birds for company. I love it.

 

I started up the ditch and did some very light bushwhacking before arriving in the main stream - oddly enough, this is not Silverhorn Creek, which is further north and flows out past Mount Weed. I was focused on how gorgeous the morning was as I followed Brandon's GPS track up beside the waterfall on climber's left, that Nugara also mentions. The views behind me quickly improved and it didn't take long before Peyto Lake was showing up on my photos.

 


[In the drainage, looking far up at Silverhorn Mountain at upper right.]


[The waterfall in the drainage that is avoided on steep slopes to the north - on climber's left of the creek.]


[Gorgeous early morning views towards Peyto Lake with Caldron rising at right and Thompson and Jimmy Simpson at left.]


[In a theme for my day, the by-pass slope is steep but not nearly as much of a grind as it appears, thanks to Brandon's recent tracks in the dirt.]

 

Being solo, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible, so when Brandon's GPS track and footprints kept going up on the north side of the stream and curving left rather than going right as Nugara describes, I naturally kept following them until I knew I was way too far above the creek and should be traversing back into it to be even close to Nugara's ascent line. But then I reconsidered. Why bother? I was having a glorious morning in a beautiful setting with amazing views and even foot prints and steps kicked into the steep dirt to follow. I couldn't think of one good reason to lose all the height I'd gained or to deviate in any way from what looked like a perfectly efficient ascent line. So I didn't. I just kept going up and up, following tracks in the dirt / scree as if they were kicked in snow. I owe Brandon for this easy and very quick ascent. Without tracks / steps I wouldn't have had nearly so much fun!

 


[Looking back down the steep by-pass slope to the stream and even the highway. At this point I'm too high for Nugara's route, but don't feel like changing course either.]

 
[Why would I want to change my route with views like this behind me? Mount Patterson at center, Peyto Lake at left. ++]

 
[The peak is at upper center here and Nugara's route goes up, or on climber's left of the obvious gully. I just kept following obvious tracks to the left which ascended that gully instead. ++]

 
[Nugara's route is the red lines with arrows while mine (and Brandon's) is the orange line. Note that Nugara's alternate descent isn't the route we took. Our tracks stay high above any creeks / canyons after avoiding the very first waterfall until in the final bowl beneath the north ridge. ++]


[The left hand gully was full of old snow that looked ready to collapse. I kept following the tracks above it on the left. Despite appearances it wasn't horrible side-hilling or bad scree in most places.]

 
[Looking back down the main gully now that I've started the traverse above the left hand one. Note the small group of trees at mid right - this is where I traversed from here.]


[Looking up the lefthand gully. This was the worst terrain of the ascent as there were hard dirt sections which make for tricky footing. They were short-lived, however, and soon I was following good steps in dirt / scree again. You can see the north ridge high above me here in light brown.]

 

After following tracks and kick steps up dirt and scree left and above the lefthand drainage, I continued on even steeper ground towards the upper bowl beneath the ridge joining Weed and Silverhorn together. I kept thinking the scree would turn terrible but other than a few short sections of hard dirt or miserable scree, it wasn't bad at all. As a matter of fact it only took me around 2 hours before I was ascending more tracks in the scree bowl towards the ridge crest - much quicker than I was expecting. About 2.5 hours after leaving the car I was on the north ridge of Silverhorn looking at fantastic views in every direction and up some interesting terrain to the first of two false summits.

 


[Looking back at the worst section I crossed - hard scrabble dirt with no grip. On return I descended a bit lower here where the main tracks were.]


[More terrain that looks so much worse than it was for me. I stayed on climber's left until reaching the light brown colored scree bowl high above me here where the track took a 90 degree turn to my right and headed up towards the ridge.]


[Near the light brown colored scree and taking the 90 degree turn to my right, up to the ridge crest at upper left here. The summit at distant right with the false summit at upper center.]

 
[My ascent gully at lower right. Views are opening up again with the false summit and ridge at upper left.]

 
[The ridge crest, looking north towards Mount Weed with the Silverhorn Creek drainage at right and hwy 93 and my approach at lower left. ++]

 
[Interesting terrain to the first false summit with some nice color sneaking into the frame. ++]

 

I easily and quickly ascended the ridge to the first false summit. From there the next false and true summits looked a bit intense but as usual, once I got my nose into things they tamed a bit. There were certainly some exposed sections on the ridge and I would rate this section as "moderate" scrambling. Looking down Nugara's ascent line it certainly looked more difficult than anything I'd come up to the ridge on! It's rated "moderate" too, so it can't be that terrible. The gully itself looked a bit manky with old snow and some ice in it.

 


[Interesting patterns on the ridge to the first false summit.]

 
[Cresting the ridge just before the first false summit - the true one now visible to the right. Observation Peak looks impressive from the north at left.]


[The ridge to the false and true summits looks a bit intimidating from the first false summit.]

 
[Thankfully the ridge to the 2nd false summit is less intense than it appears. There is some exposure in places. ++]


[Shale ramp to the next false summit.]

 
[Another small drop before the final slopes to the summit with Peyto Lake showing up nicely now.]


[Nice! A Rick Collier register from 1992 with several dozen ascents since then. In 2017 the mountain got quite popular, likely thanks to Nugara's guidebook.]

 

I greatly enjoyed the views from Silverhorn - no surprise given that it's in the "Murchison Group" of mountain ranges. I can't think of a single peak in that group that I've done with crappy views - except maybe Quill / Porcupine which were quite smoky but still had interesting views. Looking over at Quill now though, I want to redo it. The weather was so perfect for me on Silverhorn, I can't think of a nicer day in the hills for quite some time. There was a cool breeze but views forever. I spent about 30 minutes on top, eating, hydrating and taking too many summit photos.

 

 
[Now we're cooking with gasoline! Great views from Silverhorn looking south (L), west (C) and north (R) along the Icefields Parkway including Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Mistaya Lake and part of Waterfowl Lake (L to R). Peaks include (L to R), Observation, Bow, Crowfoot, Balfour, Olive, Gordon, Jimmy Simpson, Thompson, Rhondda, Habel, Peyto, Baker, Caldron, Mistaya, Patterson, Breaker, Forbes, Howse, Lyells, White Pyramid, Chephren, Weed, Noyes, Porcupine and Quill and many, many others. ++]

 
[Now looking to the north (L), east (C) and south (R) including peaks such as (L to R), Weed, Noyes, Corona Ridge, Marmota, Quill, Conical, Abstruse, Recondite, Augusta, Marmot, Willingdon and Observation along with many others of course. ++]


[A tighter panorama towards Bow and Peyto Lakes.]


[Looking north over the false summits to Mount Weed and Noyes (L) with Quill Peak at distant right.]


[Mount Weed.]


[Quill Peak.]

 
[Looking over Marmot Peak towards the Willingdon Group at distant left and Bobac / Watermelon at distant right. ++]


[Lovely views over Bow Lake towards Crowfoot Mountain with Balfour rising at right and Temple at distant left.]


[The green valley at foreground bottom is used to access a the Delta Creek drainage and Mount Patterson (R). This is still one of my favorite ski trips.]

 
[Looking past Mount Weed (R) towards the recognizable forms of Howse, White Pyramid and Chephren across Mistaya and Waterfowl Lakes. ++]


[Bobac Mountain.]


[Watermelon Peak.]


[Mount Balfour.]


[Mount Olive's twin summits with St. Nicholas in front.]


[Looking up the shrinking Peyto Glacier towards Mount Rhondda (L) and Habel (R).]


[Mount Baker.]


[Mistaya.]


[Mount Forbes.]


[Four of the five Lyells in the far distance.]


[Mount Amery in the distance.]


[Mount Cline (L) with Resolute to the right.]


[Corona Ridge at right.]


[Marmota Peak where we found an original 1976 ascent register from Tony and Gillian Daffern.]


[I'm really wishing now that Phil and I didn't have all that smoke when we did Quill Peak - it's a very interesting and unique looking mountain.]


[Abstruse ("Perren") Peak is 3267m high and located north of Recondite.]


[Simpson ("Profound") Peak is 3275m high and to the north of Recondite.]


[Recondite always looks fierce from the west. The peak behind Recondite here is 3215m high and unnamed.]


[The Willingdon Group just barely shows up over Clearwater Mountain and it's north ridge.]

 
[The views south towards Observation Peak and along the Murchison Group towards Bow and Peyto Lakes are keeping me highly entertained. ++]


[Marmot Mountain is the small one in the foreground. Bobac at distant right.]

 
[An unusual view of Peyto Lake with the Peyto Glacier draining into it. ++]

 

Since it was my daughter, Kaycie's, 19th birthday BBQ that afternoon, I had to tear myself away from the summit and start heading back down and this is where I hit a peakbagging conundrum of epic proportions. Marmot Mountain is nothing grand - it's only 2606m high and sits well below anything else in the Murchison Group, but it's a named summit and I knew it was possible to tag it along with Silverhorn. BUT. I also knew that if I was late for the BBQ that would make me an ass. I wanted the bonus peak, I didn't want the label of "ass". What to do?! devil After thinking on it for a while, I decided that I would give the extra peak a pass for two reasons. Firstly, I didn't want to be an ass. Secondly, it would push my stats for the day to well over 2200m elevation as I'd lose about 550m into the valley towards Marmot and then gain another 400 to its summit. Then I'd have to regain the 550m back. It was tiring just thinking about it - and all to nab a pretty insignificant peak. I figured I could nab it from the Dolomite Creek Valley some day - I'm sure I'll be wandering through there again some time.

 

 
[Starting a very pleasant descent towards Mount Weed. You can see the easy descent slopes into the valley at right which would lead to Marmot Peak. ++]


[Looking back at the interesting scrambling to the summit.]


[The easy descent slope towards Marmot Mountain goes down the left off the false summit and into the distant valley at left. Silverhorn at distant right here.]

 

After deciding that I would descend my ascent route rather than mess about with other options, the day just kept getting nicer and the terrain could not have been better for descending either! The dirt and scree that held steps for me on ascent were mostly soft enough to scree-ski on descent too. The best kind of terrain - fast and easy on both the ups and downs. Pretty rare in the Rockies. I tried taking my time, but the slopes were steep and my exit was pretty efficient. I was surprised to come back to the car on a now busy Icefields Parkway under 6 hours after leaving it.

 

 
[Phil and I wondered about ascending Silverhorn from the lovely valley that is the source for Silverhorn Creek. This would work well, but is a lot longer. This is the valley that is used to access the gully leading up to Porcupine, Quill and Conical Peak++]

 
[My descent slope curves nicely down from the ridge. Nugara mentions a side trip to the high point between Silverhorn and Weed and I considered it, but since it's not a separate peak and wouldn't have the same great views I didn't bother.]


[Looking up at the false (L) and true (R) summits from the fast exit slope. The surprising thing is how easy it was to grind my way up here - it looks like it should have been awful but with a track it wasn't bad at all.]

 
[Gorgeous views towards Peyto Lake on my way down.]


[I would traverse out to just right of mid-center here, staying high above the drainage below.]


[Looking up Nugara's ascent gully towards the summit.]


[The gorgeous falls on approach, looking to the summit high above now.]


[Another view of the falls.]

 
[Avalanche debris on the lower part of the waterfall by-pass with Patterson rising in the background across hwy 93.]

 

Overall, Silverhorn Mountain lived up to my expectations as a moderate scramble with stupendous views. I certainly chose the right summer day to ascend it and I could not have timed it better with Brandon Boulier kicking steps all the way up to the summit ridge. This mountain just might be replacing something on my "favorites" list soon.

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,911
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,550
Elevation Gain (m): 
1200
Round Trip Time: 
6.00
Total Distance (km): 
9.50
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Pretty simple approach and easy terrain if following the route I did, until the summit ridge where the scrambling becomes "moderate".