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Explor8ion's Top Ten Page

I've been asked many times for a list of my top 10 hikes, backpacking trips, scrambles, climbs and so forth. I thought about it for a bit and decided that it would be best to separate my top 10 lists into several categories, so here goes. Please note that I will update these lists as I continue to find "better" options. ;) These are obviously very subjective and are rated as much based on the weather and mood I was in at the time, as the actual trip itself.

 

Another thing to be aware of, as long time followers of this blog will already know, I am a bit weird when it comes to what types of trips I find especially satisfying. Some of the peaks on my top 10 lists will leave you scratching your head wondering, "is Vern sane?!". For example, I rate Recondite as a top 10 easy alpine climb. Most folks avoid that loose, distant peak until they 'have' to climb it to finish the list of summits over 11,000 feet. I apologize in advance for having a soft spot for long, off trail approaches and more distant and somewhat obscure summits than some folks would like to spend their weekends and free time chasing.

 

Top Ten Table of Contents

 

 

Top 10 Overall Scrambles

As you can imagine, it's very hard for me to choose just 10 scrambles as my overall favorites. I'm suspicious of the fact that two of them were done this year (2016) - it makes me think that maybe I'm biased towards more recent ones simply because I'm remembering them clearer. Another thing you'll notice is that my top favorite scrambles are either remote, difficult, or both. I think the reason for this is simply that I get the most satisfaction out of long trips that aren't done too often and aren't too easy or boring.

 

 
[This is one of the reasons Breaker Mountain appears on the overall top 10 scrambles list. And it's not even on this shot! This is looking back at Phil Richards as we hike towards Breaker alongside Capricorn Lake. ++]

 
[Mount French is not for the faint of heart but it is stunning summit and a great scramble. ++]

 
[You have to earn this view of the Lyell Icefield (L) and Valley of a Thousand Lakes (R) from the summit of Arctomys. ++]

 
[Even with clouds the summit ridge of Little Alberta presents some huge views towards the northern end of the Columbia Icefields. ++]

 
[How's that for a summit view? Thanks to a high bivy, this was a special morning on Mount Amery. ++]

 

Scramble Difficulty Rating Short Description
Molar Mountain Moderate Stunning views, not ascended often, very long day trip. Despite being in Nugara's guidebook, the elevation gains alone will keep traffic down to a minimum on this peak.
Mount French Difficult Amazing upper mountain scrambling with great Kananaskis views. Again, this one was very special to me as so few bothered doing it. Now that it's in Kane's new book I'm sure it'll get more attention. The views and scrambling are excellent.
Mount Vaux Difficult Huge mountain with huge views of the Yoho / Ottertail Ranges. This one was special for me because so few had documented it before Kane put it in his new Scrambles book.
Fortress Mountain Moderate Remote and difficult to access with stunning views of the Columbia and Hooker Icefields. Even if you make it to the shores of Fortress Lake, you still have much bushwhacking and loose groveling up Rockies choss to look forward to. It's worth it.
Arctomys Peak Moderate Remote, stunning views of the Lyell Icefield and into the Valley of a Thousand Lakes. A fairly easy mountain but getting to it isn't easy!
Little Alberta Difficult The mountain itself is quite easy, but accessing it requires a long and difficult route including river crossings, the Woolley Shoulder and even a glacier running along the south side of Mount Woolley.
Mount Drummond Moderate Remote and wild views of the Drummond Icefield and the Skoki / Red Deer Lakes area. Route finding is key on the lower mountain - as is good weather on the upper part.
Mount Amery Difficult This is a top scramble, despite having a short glacier crossing. Trust me, crossing the river, approaching up the untracked valley and then climbing through the cliff bands and the amphitheater will make the glacier look seem like a walk in the park. Which it literally is.
Breaker Mountain Difficult Long and demanding 100% off-trail with stunning views both on approach and from the summit. The long approach via Mistaya Lake, Capricorn Creek and the gorgeous Capricorn Lake make this mountain a winner in my books.
Mount Chephren Difficult A wonderfully huge peak with equally huge views over the Icefields Parkway. Lots of scrambling along the way to this summit and a gorgeous bivy if you choose to use it.

 

Top 10 Kane Scrambles

Just as I stated in the previous section, when I'm choosing only 10 out of 170+ peaks, it's very hard to choose a favorite! Again, most of these are difficult scrambles and make the list because they're more remote or in gorgeous areas or I just had a great time on them.

 

 
[Just one reason why Mount Temple is in the top 10 Kane peaks is this stunning view over Paradise Valley. ++]

 
[The summit view from Mount Ball looking over the Pharaoh Lakes towards Banff. ++]

 
[The view from Mount Daly redefines what "earning a photo" means. ++]

 
[The summit views from Mount Sarbach in late summer. ++]

 

Kane Scramble Rating Short Description
Mount Smuts Difficult A beautiful area and a fun hands-on scramble. I did this one feeling great and we combined it with The Fist for a memorable day out.
Mount Ball Moderate A beautiful peak with good scrambling on the upper mountain and a prime bivy location.
Mount Carnarvon Difficult Another beautiful Yoho peak with great views over Emerald Lake and the Yoho area.
Pilot Mountain / Mount Brett Difficult A great two peak solo trip in the fall. Excellent approach and tricky scrambling combined with a long day, a classic Rockies outing.
Mount Coleman Difficult Another gorgeous scramble on the Icefields Parkway. My first scramble with Eric Coulthard, which led to us falling in love with Mount Amery and another top 10 trip.
Fisher Peak Difficult Very fun, hands-on scrambling to one of the best views in the eastern Kananaskis peaks.
Mount Galatea Moderate / Difficult Fun scrambling on the upper mountain and it's height / central location provide great Kananaskis views.
Mount Temple Moderate There is very little not to love about Mount Temple - especially if you do it with fall colors.
Mount Daly Moderate / Difficult Views of the Wapta Icefield and a great scramble with my brother in crisp fall air. What could be better than that?
Mount Sarbach Difficult Fun scrambling down two chimneys and sublime views over the Saskatchewan crossing area along the Icefields Parkway.

 

Top 10 Nugara Scrambles

I haven't done a ton of Nugara scrambles, but enough of them to have a top 10 list. Many of these are from the southern Rockies, which is the area that Nugara specializes in.

 

 
[Eye popping views of the many Murchison Towers from the summit of Bison Peak. ++]

 
[Just a small sample of the views awaiting you if you tackle the Victoria Peak / Ridge traverse in the fall. ++]

 
[The scramble to the summit of Vimy Peak is just the start of an incredible high traverse over Waterton Lakes National Park. ++]

 
[The hands-on gully scrambling is just one of the reasons I love Drywood Mountain - another being the views of course. ++]

 

Scramble Rating Short Description
Bison Peak Moderate Another gorgeous view along the Icefields Parkway including views of Murchison's many towers.
Ribbon Peak Difficult Includes one of my favorite day hikes to Memorial Lakes and some fantastic scrambling on the upper mountain.
Vimy Ridge Traverse Moderate A long, gorgeous ridge including three peaks and great Waterton views.
Mount Lougheed II and III Traverse Moderate Beautiful approach valley and one of the most recognizable peaks in Kananaskis Country.
Mount Roche Difficult A great hands-on scramble with intricate route-finding and all the great Castle area colors.
Victoria Peak to Victoria Ridge Moderate A great scramble up Victoria Peak followed by a meandering ridge walk to Victoria Ridge. All followed by a mellow hike back to the car. An excellent outing.
Drywood Mountain Moderate Awesome gully scramble with a great alternate descent.
Gravenstafel / Haig Traverse Easy Gorgeous Castle area colors and fantastic scenery on Haig.
Pincher Ridge Difficult Great hands-on scrambling with amazing colors and views.
Mount Richards Difficult A great Waterton scramble with some route finding and stunning views. Full disclosure: the route I took wasn't Andrew's route but he is updating his latest guidebook to include the route I took.

 

Top 10 Easy Scrambles

For some less fierce options that many hikers will enjoy, these are my top 10 favorite easy scrambles that don't involve a ton of bushwhacking or exposure. You shouldn't feel like you're going to die on any of these or you're off route. :)

 

 
[Even your kids can do Boundary Peak and the views towards Mount Athabasca and the Columbia Icefield are certainly worth it. ++]

 
[McArthur Lake, Park Mountain and Odaray from Mount Schaffer. ++]

 
[The views from Eiffel rival those of Temple and it's much easier to get to this summit. ++]

 
[Just one of many panoramic views you'll get on the Tent Ridge traverse. ++]

 

Scramble Rating Short Description
Cirque Peak Easy / Moderate Incredible area and views in all directions with a great approach hike.
Dunwey Peak Easy A very easy scramble in Waterton Lakes National Park with stunning views already from near the parking lot.
Numa Mountain Easy / Moderate A longish approach but views of Floe Lake and the Rockwall are worth the effort on this one.
Wonder Peak Easy / Moderate A no-brainer for this list, but you have to somehow get into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park which makes this a wee bit harder than it appears.
Mount Schaffer Easy Another no-brainer, especially in the fall. I've done this peak 3 times - more than any other on my list of over 500. Do it in the fall.
Boundary Peak Easy Tucked in front of the Columbia Icefields, this peak is a no-brainer just for the views it offers. One of the best "bang for your buck" peaks out of all the peaks I've done.
Mount Jimmy Jr. Easy Another gem along the Icefields Parkway. Some bushwhacking on approach but short and easy otherwise.
Greater Pharaoh Peak Easy This peak is a long way for a day trip - but if you time it right your camera will overheat!
Mount Noyes Moderate A great scramble along the Icefields Parkway with excellent views.
Eiffel Peak Moderate A Lake Louise classic that's just a wee bit more involved than the other two easy scrambles / hikes in the area (Fairview and Piran) with great views of Paradise Valley and the Valley of Ten Peaks.

 

Top 10 Remote Scrambles

Wow - I didn't realize that so many of the more remote scrambles that I've done are only rated as 'moderate'. Most of these are well beyond a simple day trip from the parking lot, with the exception of maybe Breaker, Poboktan and Corona Ridge, all of which will have you pretty bagged by the time you drag your tired carcass back to your car! ;) These scrambles all left me with an impression of mostly untouched, undisturbed beauty, special alpine views and solitude. Most of these also come with a generous helping of alpine tarns, meadows, flowers and wildlife. All of my favorite things.

 

 
[Poboktan has some very special summit views so make sure you don't do it on a cloudy day. ++]

 
[Nearly at the top of the rarely ascended Fortress Mountain - even less now with the bridge across the Athabasca River gone. ++]

 
[Wild views over a couple of hidden tarns along the summit ridge of Mount Drummond. ++]

 
[Only determined peak baggers will experience this view from Mount Stewart. ++]

 
[Mount Prince George is not a big objective but it has a long, involved approach and it's views are huge. ++]

 

Scramble Rating Short Description
Poboktan Mountain Easy Incredible views of the Brazeau Range and buried behind the Waterfall Peaks in Jasper National Park. Doable as a 40km day trip with a great approach trail and no difficulties.
Mount Drummond Moderate Another peak buried behind a popular area (Skoki) with an amazing approach hike and views of the Drummond Icefield and some rarely ascended peaks along the east Banff boundary.
Mount Stewart Moderate Tucked deep within the special White Goat Wilderness Area nestled between Jasper and Banff National Parks, this summit is only for the determined peak bagger to ascend and enjoy.
Fortress Mountain Moderate  Speaking of determined... Especially now that the suspension bridge over the Athabasca River is out of commission, Fortress Mountain, looming over Fortress Lake in Hamber Provincial Park in BC is not going to see many ascents. The views from the top are spectacular though.
Corona Ridge Moderate Corona Ridge is visible from a lot of other peaks. Totem Lakes, seen on approach, are very special, as is the upper ridge. It's a long slog, but once again, it's a worthwhile one IMHO.
Arctomys Peak Moderate I've rated this one 'moderate' but it's easy once you get there. The issue is getting there. You can walk 20-30km from either the east or the west but either way, you earn some of the best views I've ever had on a scramble.
Little Alberta Moderate / Difficult Speaking of "best views". Little Alberta is ranked as one of my top 10 scrambles for a reason. Jaw-dropping views of the so-called "black hole" and some of the biggest, fiercest mountains in the Alberta Rockies. The issue? Reaching this peak isn't for the faint of heart and involves river crossings, glaciers and suffering the Woolley Col.
Mount Prince George Easy / Moderate As part of the Royal Group of peaks, Mount Prince George doesn't get too much attention, for the simple reason that he's a LONG way in the middle of nowhere and a pretty minor bump compared to all of his neighbors. The views of Mount King George and Prince Albert make this minor summit very worthwhile.
Mount Princess Mary Difficult As part of the Royal Group of peaks, Princess Mary doesn't see many ascents for the simple reason that she's outgunned by nearby King George and Prince Albert. It's a shame because she's worth the difficult and loose scrambling to experience her awesome summit views.
Breaker Mountain Difficult The approach up Capricorn Creek after slogging along Mistaya Lake rewards you with a spectacular hike along Capricorn Lake and then up Breaker's west slopes with stunning views of the Wapta, Mummery, Freshfield and Lyell Icefields.

 

Top 10 Day Hikes

I probably need more time with this list. I've just started to realize how many hundreds of day hikes I've done, mostly as part of approaches to either scrambles or climbs over the past 15 years. I plan on greatly expanding the list of hikes on explor8ion over the next 12 months so this list will change over time. The ratings here are based on hiking, not scrambling or climbing.

 

 
[Just one of the great views you'll get while hiking the Skoki Lakes area in Lake Louise. ++]

 
[This is why Loaf Mountain is on my top 10 favorite hikes. ++]

 
[These are the views that await you on the Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit. ++]


[The third Memorial Lake with Bogart Tower at left and Ribbon Peak towering at right. This is the reason I love this hike - but you have to persevere to the third lake!]

 

Hike Rating Short Description
Lake Agnes / Big Beehive / Valley of Six Glaciers Moderate A long day that involves hiking a good trail to Lake Agnes and great views from the Big Beehive before dropping down to the Valley of Six Glaciers before the long hike back along Lake Louise.
Victoria Ridge Easy If you forego Victoria Peak and follow the egress trail I used from Victoria Ridge as an approach, this hike will expose you to the fantastic Castle / Crown area's red / yellow and pink rocks. Do it in fall for the best scenery.
Loaf Mountain Easy Another Castle Wilderness Area gem. The hike is easy and passes a lake along the way.
Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit Moderate / Difficult This hike should not be underestimated - especially for the views. My top favorite hike in all the Rockies, especially in the late fall (October) when the crowds are gone and the larch needles are frozen into the many ponds and tarns along the way.
Memorial Lakes Moderate One of my most-visited hiking areas for a reason. Gorgeous views and a haunting reminder of nature's beauty and life's cruelty when it comes to plane crashes and losing the people we love.
Headwall Lakes / Chester Lake circuit Moderate / Difficult A long day trip, but the views and terrain will leave your jaw on the ground. Classic Kananaskis with some steep scree to the high col between Chester and Fortress peaks.
Sparrowhawk Tarns Easy A great hike along fantastic open alpine meadows with a myriad of Marmots serenading you.
Packer's Pass Peak / Skoki Lakes Easy A great Skoki area destination with huge views despite it's diminutive stature. Carrying on to the Skoki Lakes will induce serious overheating in your camera.
Iceline Trail Moderate / Difficult A very long day trip with pretty big elevation gains, best done as a loop that starts along the Yoho Valley and loops back to the parking lot over the Iceline Trail. Views are stunning.
Picklejar Lakes Easy This classic Kananaskis hike will leave your feet sore but your mind whirling with amazing views of sublime lakes and soaring peaks. Plus maybe a Grizzly bear or two. :)

 

Top 10 Fall Trips / Areas

These areas are among the very best to experience during the fall, which I generally consider to be September / October with the last two weeks of September being the best time of year for spectacular larch and alpine fall colors. The disadvantage of fall in the Rockies is the extremely unpredictable weather. But trust me. If you get lucky and experience one of those special days when the sky is blue and the sun is warm, you will not soon forget any of the following areas. The ratings here assume hiking, i.e. 'moderate' or 'difficult' is on a hiking scale, not scrambling or climbing.

 

 
[Some of the best views of my life have been in the fall from the All Souls Prospect along the Lake O'Hara Alpine Hiking Circuit. ++]

 
[It's very hard to beat Skoki Lakes and the Skoki area in general for fall colors in the Canadian Rockies. ++]

 
[It's not hard to see why Pocaterra Ridge and the Highwood Pass area in general is a fall color favorite. ++]

 
[Another gem from the All Souls Prospect looking over Schaffer Lake at Mount Odaray. ++]

 

Fall Trips / Areas Rating Short Description
Valley of the Ten Peaks / Sentinel Pass / Eiffel Lake Moderate The best bang for your fall color buck is the obvious and very popular Sentinel Pass / Eiffel Lake hikes in the Valley of Ten Peaks in Lake Louise. Come early to avoid crowds.
Lake O'Hara Region / Alpine Circuit Moderate Another Rockies classic fall hiking destination. You may have to walk the 11km approach road, but it's easily done in less than 2 hours and if you get there early you can still beat the bus. It's worth it.
Skoki Lakes and Skoki Area Moderate The views along the Skoki Lakes in the fall are pure landscape magic. I'll never tire of them.
Tent Ridge Moderate / Difficult Sublime Kananaskis fall colors and the Spray Lakes views make this a fall classic. Don't underestimate this one.
Pocaterra Basin / Ridge Moderate / Difficult Hiking into the basin beneath Pocaterra is already worth it for all the larch goodness. Extending this to include the ridge high above will leave your jaw on the ground. ;)
Rowe Lakes Easy Waterton is full of great fall colors, Rowe Lakes is just one option but there are many others such as Alderson Lakes and Vimy Peak.
Sunshine Meadows / Simpson Pass / Healy Pass Easy / Moderate I can't think of a more stunning day hike than heading into Healy Pass, up the Monarch Ramparts and then back along Eohippus Lake, Simpson Pass and / or Sunshine meadows in the fall. This is a long loop that will fill your camera's memory card!
Egypt Lakes via Healy Pass Easy / Moderate It's a long way in but the Egypt Lakes area will knock your socks off in the fall. If you hike in over Healy Pass you're in for a real treat.
Berg Lake - Robson Area Moderate Backpacking during the fall in Robson Provincial Park is pure bliss. When I went in late September there were no crowds and getting camp sites was easy - even at the popular Berg Lake area. Stunning views and many options for day hikes including Snowbird Pass / Titkana Peak. Note: There are no larches in Robson Provincial Park.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park Moderate I recommend approaching this Rockies area gem from Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park. Your camera will be smoking as you walk towards and through this mind-blowing landscape dressed in fall colors.

 

Top 10 Backpacking Trips

Strap on a backpack and give any of the following trips a shot - but only if you like adventure and some of the most in-your-face views in the Canadian Rockies. They range from more remote and difficult to access (Devon Lakes, Fortress Lake) to easy with good trails and established campgrounds (Berg Lake, Assiniboine Provincial Park). As with any Rockies trip, late August and September might be the best time of year, but these areas are good any time you might try them. These are rated using hikers in mind, not scrambling or climbing folks.

 

 
[Incredible views over Berg Lake and towards Mount Robson from the Mumm Basin hike in Robson Provincial Park. ++]

 
[The Northover Ridge backpacking route is a premier Rockies trip - one of my all time favorites. ++]

 
[Incredible view over the White Goat Wilderness from near Cataract Pass including Mount Stewart at right. ++]

 
[You have to earn this view on the Geraldine Lakes backpacking route - but what a view! And honestly - it gets even better than this. ++]

 
[It's hard to go wrong at Lake O'Hara. ++]

 

Backpacking Trip Rating Short Description
Berg Lake - Mount Robson Provincial Park Moderate It's a long way into Berg Lake but I can't think of more impressive views than Emperor Falls up close or the Milky Way and Mount Robson reflected in Berg Lake! Lots of top hikes around this area as well including Snowbird Pass.
Aster Lake, Northover Ridge Loop - Kananaskis Difficult A classic Alberta Rockies backpacking loop that will take you through some fairly remote country, high above treeline.
Skoki Region - Banff National Park Easy You can't go wrong with pretty much any backpacking trip through the Skoki region of Banff National Park. Beware of recent horse traffic on the trails - this is the only fly in the ointment. Mosquitoes can be bad at Baker Lake.
White Goat Wilderness Area Moderate The White Goat Wilderness is a random camping area that is tucked in behind Banff and west of the front ranges. It's not a huge area, but it is special. There are trails and you will likely be alone with the bears. ;)
Devon Lakes / Molar Pass Area - Siffleur Wilderness Moderate / Difficult There are different ways to access the Siffleur Wilderness Area but once you're there, it's a special place of sparkling tarns, rushing streams and jagged peaks.
Fortress Lake - Hamber Provincial Park, BC Moderate / Difficult Fortress Lake is huge but is hard to access thanks to a key suspension bridge across the Athabasca River collapsing in 2013. Camping along this lake provides some pretty special views and the Cutthroat Trout are world class so pack your rod!
Geraldine Lakes / Meadows - Jasper National Park Moderate / Difficult The Geraldine Lakes area is gorgeous but not for the faint of heart to get past the third lake. Accessing the Sydney Valance Hut via a high col west of Mount Fryatt won't be easy either, but the views and landscape are worth it. 
Lake O'Hara Region - Yoho National Park Easy / Moderate An excellent network of trails and sublime series of lakes, ponds and rushing streams overlooked by towering rocky peaks makes this area one of the premium backpacking destinations in the Rockies. It's busy though so late fall is best.
Iceline Trail / Yoho Valley - Yoho National Park Moderate A great network of trails in and around the Yoho Valley make for a wonderful backpacking destination. Another very popular area - best done outside of high tourist season if possible.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC Moderate There is no better backpack that Banff to Assiniboine through the Sunshine Meadows IMHO. Views to knock your socks off and great trails. 

 

Top 10 Bivies

There's nothing better than sleeping under the stars in a bivy sack, or near a rushing stream under my HMG Mid. The feelings of isolation and connecting with the landscape are heightened when you're not in an official campground or with anyone else around. Many of these bivy sites are the norm for climbing bigger or more remote peaks like the 11000ers and is one of the prime reasons I like chasing after these mountains in the first place.

 

The ratings here assume hiking, i.e. 'moderate' or 'difficult' is on a hiking scale, not a scrambling or climbing one. If you're a hiker / backpacker trying any of these, please don't underestimate them. Most of them involve river crossings, possible flirtations with glaciers, ice or snow, steep slopes, untracked wilderness and / or heinous bushwhacking. You've been warned. ;)

 

 
[The best bivy views I've ever had were from high on Amery's east shoulder. Forbes at left and the Lyells at right. ++]

 
[The views from the Mount Fryatt bivy above Iceberg Lake isn't shabby either. ++]

 
[A sublime evening in the Catacombs Meadows with an outlier of Fortress Mountain rising at right and Mount Alberta at center in the distance, after a successful, possible only 2nd summit of the peak. ++]

 
[Despite horrendous bushwhacking to get to Warre Pond, it was worth it for this sublime bivy. ++]

 
[Sunset views towards Narao, Victoria and Huber from the Cathedral Mountain bivy. ++]

 

Bivy Location Rating Short Description
Mount Fryatt (Iceberg Lake) Bivy Moderate / Difficult This is one of the nicest bivies I've stayed at in the Rockies. Perched about 30' above Iceberg Lake, beneath the hulking SW face of Fryatt with waterfalls plunging down all around, you will feel privileged to fall asleep here.
King George (SW Glacier) Bivy Moderate / Difficult Another top bivy location. Getting here is hellish (especially in the dark!) but when you wake up the next morning it's like you're living in a dream.
Catacombs Meadows Moderate / Difficult I can't begin to describe the beauty and remoteness of these meadows. Tucked between the imposing east face of Fortress and the west slopes of Catacombs near a couple of peaceful tarns, this is another special Rockies bed and breakfast that only costs you sore legs.
Warre Pond Moderate / Difficult I didn't expect this one to be so delightful. Many years pass between visits to this gorgeous backcountry tarn, mainly due to its obscurity and the bushwhacking required to attain it's shores. And the bears. Lots of bears in this area!
Woolley / Diadem Bivy Moderate / Difficult A classic 11000er bivy site with views of Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom Peak. The biggest challenge is crossing the North Saskatchewan River. BEWARE THE PACK RATS. (Shudder...)
Mount Alexandra Bivy Difficult You will earn this delightful rest - trust me. Unless you chopper in with an ACC group. Then you won't quite enjoy it as much as taking the jaw-dropping highline traverse through the area.
Mount Forbes Bivy Difficult Another well-earned bivy site with views of Banff's highest peak. The approach for many 11000ers turns my crank as much as the summit - Forbes was no exception.
Mount Amery - East Shoulder Difficult Bivying at well over 10,000 feet on the east shoulder of Mount Amery is a highlight of my scrambling career. Views of Forbes, the Lyells and so many other giant Rockies peaks will keep you up late - as will the chilly temps if you don't pack a warm enough sleeping bag. :P
Mount Cathedral Bivy Moderate One of the easiest bivy sites to attain on this list, Mount Cathedral can be done as a day trip, but why do that when you can watch the sun set on Narao, Victoria and Huber from the comfort of a bivy sack?
Northern Columbia Icefields Bivy Difficult I've spend quite a few nights bivying on the north end of the Columbia Icefields in everything from full-on blizzard conditions to t-shirt weather. I can honestly say that I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Obviously there is a long process involved with getting to this area and setting up a safe winter camp.

 

Top 10 Alpine Climbs - Non Winter

The cream of the crop are on this list. Mountains that I've dreamed about for years before ascending them. Mountains that I never thought I'd stand on top of. At heart I'm nothing other than a hiker / scrambler, so any alpine climbing I've done is a gigantic bonus for me and I've managed to grovel up a few beauties, including the ones on this list! Of course, I owe the folks who are more climber-oriented than me, who have been willing to drag me along on most of these trips. Ratings here include the approach and the climb itself in alpine climbing terms as rated by guidebooks / real climbers (i.e. not me).

 

 
[Dramatic views across the east face of Mount Assiniboine, looking over Marvel Lake. ++]

 
[Descending the SW face of Mount Fryatt. ++]

 
[Most of Recondite is 3rd and 4th class scrambling. The loose nature and remote location make it a tougher objective than it's rating might suggest. Spot Eric traversing some exposed terrain at far right here. ++]

 
[A great climb on Woolley / Diadem - look at these views and we're not half way up yet. ++]

 

Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Mount Victoria / North Victoria Alpine II, 5.3 I'm cheating a bit with this one by linking two trips on the same mountain, but honestly, North Victoria should not be considered a separate summit from the main South Peak. Both are classic Lake Louise climbs - I found the north summit to be more involved than the main one which was pretty much just a scramble, even with snow and ice on the rocks.
Mount Fryatt Alpine II, 5.4 Another of my all-time favorite trips in the Rockies. Mount Fryatt has everything that makes Rockies alpine climbing so great. A myriad of lakes on the approach. Bushwhacking. Open alpine meadows. Acres and acres of wild flowers. A world class bivy site. Some chossy scrambling followed by 1 pitch of real climbing (!). Jaw dropping summit views. Repeat on descent.
Mount Edith Cavell Alpine II, 5.3 Edith Cavell is easy as far as climbing goes, but it absolutely makes the top 10 list simply because the quartzite rock holds are pretty bomber for Rockies choss! ;) The views down to Cavell Lake and the north face and into the Verdant Pass and Tonquin Valley areas are also awesome.
Recondite Peak Alpine II, 5.3 The fact that this peak is on this list should tell you something about me. I'm much more of a hiker / backpacker at heart than a hardcore climber. Recondite has some of the crappiest rock you'll ever find, but the remoteness, wild beauty and experience of it all vault it into one of my favorite trips and peaks.
Mount Sir Douglas Alpine II, 5.3 I am the only person on earth who would put Sir Douglas on any kind of "favorites" list. :) Seriously. I'm not kidding. It's a chossy, icy, nasty peak and most people feel lucky just to survive it, no matter which route they take. I have to say that I loved it. The approach via Burstall Meadows. The bivy - even through I forgot my sleeping pad. The climb itself and the feeling of accomplishment. It's what Rockies climbing is all about.
Mount Assiniboine Alpine II, 5.5 Duh. Mount Assiniboine is a world class climb. The fact that I did it with a good friend in perfect conditions, soloing and with the entire massif all to ourselves is a huge bonus that the universe conspired to grant us. I will never take this peak off my favorites list. A top 5 summit by any means for me, and that will very likely never change.
Mount Alexandra Alpine II, 5.2 Another glimpse at what I love about the Rockies - Alexandra isn't on too many favorites lists either! I dreamt about this one for many, many years before finally standing on her apex. With a high line traverse granting stunning views of Mounts Bryce and Columbia along with a remote and gorgeous bivy site and beautiful day in the mountains with friends - there's many reasons for this summit to be on my top 10 list.
Mount Warren Alpine II The challenging nature of our ascent up Warren puts it on my top 10 list - for now. I'm not sure if it'll stay here long but we had challenging conditions with more ice than expected and still managed to top out to some of the best views of Maligne Lake that I've ever seen. I really enjoyed this mountain despite its challenges.
Mount Woolley Alpine II This is another peak that might not be on many folks top 10 lists, but the views of Mount Alberta and the gorgeous weather we had put it ahead of many others. Some challenging conditions and the fact that we managed to bag both Diadem and Mushroom Peak on the same day make this another fond memory. The bivy site is also prime now that the pack rat king is dead. ;)
Mount Cline Alpine II, 5.4 Cline isn't considered a very difficult ascent by hardcore climbers, but trust me, the notches were enough to give me some pause! I had a lot of fun on this peak and we did it in one day return from the parking area. The approach is quite nice, especially around the tarns.

 

Top 10 Easy Alpine Climbs

The following is a list of my top 10 easy alpine climbs - either not requiring special climbing gear, or a very minimal amount of it (i.e. short rappel or easy glacier crossings). Again - a very challenging list to settle on only 10, since this is my favorite type of activity! I'm rating this somewhat subjectively as easy, medium or hard from what I think a confident scrambler or novice alpinist would think.

 

 
[Coming up the summit ridge on Mount Cirrus. ++]

 
[A gorgeous early morning ascent of Cathedral Mountain. ++]

 
[The view from near the summit of Mount Athabasca doesn't disappoint++]

 
[Gorgeous early morning views from an ascent of Des Poilus in Yoho National Park. ++]

 

Easy Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Cirrus Mountain Easy / Moderate Cirrus Mountain was on my list for many years before I finally managed to stand on its impressive summit. I like pretty much everything about this mountain, including the approach past Coleman Lake and the excellent bivy site.
Mount Murchison Difficult (5.2) Murchison was another very special peak for me. After Rick Collier pretty much proved that the SE summit was up to 20m higher than the previous 'official' NW one and Andrew Nugara measured it at 3353m (11,000 feet), I've wanted to climb it. Raf and I became some of the first folks to summit the SE summit and sign the register there.
Devil's Head Moderate (5.2) A fairly straightforward climb in the Ghost Wilderness Area. This is a mountain that is very recognizable from the east and it was pretty cool to stand on its summit after years of looking at it.
Catacombs Mountain Easy / Moderate Possibly the second ascent party to summit this gorgeous, remote peak in Jasper National Park. This trip was good for all sorts of reasons, but mostly the remote terrain and unknown nature of the mountain climb itself is what makes this one stand out.
Cathedral Mountain Easy Another classic, easy alpine ascent in Yoho National Park. Cathedral is a gorgeous peak, especially the upper mountain as it curves off the easy glacier approach.
Ernest Peak (Lyell III) Moderate (Alpine II) The Lyells aren't difficult for the most part (Lyell IV being the exception) but getting all the way into them without using a helicopter can be the crux! The excellent approach via Icefall Brook and views from Ernest combine to make this a favorite easy alpine climb.
The Presidents Easy (Alpine II) Two more classic Rockies ascents in Yoho National Park, the President and Vice President were among my first alpine climbs and very enjoyable.
Mount Athabasca Easy (Alpine II) I waited many years for the right conditions to align with my schedule for this Jasper classic 11,000er - possibly the most popular 11,000er next to Mount Temple. The views and the classic nature of this mountain combine to put it on my top 10 easy climbs.
Mont Des Poilus Easy This is one of the more beautiful looking and hard-to-access peaks on the infamous Wapta Icefield. Before the addition of another hut on the western edge of the icefield, Des Poilus was much harder to climb in the winter than it is now. I enjoyed the hike and the easy glacial ascent in summer conditions.
Mount King George Moderate (Alpine II) I had a ton of fun on this peak. Not too difficult but the approach and the SW glacier was great fun to crampon up - as was the final gully to the summit ridge. A fairly old register and the fact that I dreamed of climbing this mountain ever since spotting it from the Northover Ridge route combine to put it in my top 10.
Mistaya Peak Easy I combined both Mistaya and Cauldron into one long day trip from the Peyto Lake lookout. This is a gorgeous area and is a highly recommended peak.

 

Top 10 Winter Alpine Climbs

These mountains will make you work for their summits. The hardest part on most of them is simply surviving the approach and the winter camping that's usually required! Many of these have pretty severe avalanche slopes and / or crevasses and should not be underestimated. Ratings are the generally accepted alpine ratings from guidebooks or experienced climbers.

 

Most of these are rated difficult simply because of the effort required to get to them and then the exposure to avalanche risk / crevasses to ascend them and get back to camp safely. From a technical climbing perspective, none of these are especially hard (i.e. a Mount Robson level of commitment).

 

 
[The giant of the Columbia Icefields beckons us ever closer as we cross the endless expanse of snow towards her east ridge. ++]

 
[Unbelievable exposure and wild beauty as we traverse the super-exposed summit ridge of South Twin Peak. ++]

 
[The summit ridge of Mount Balfour on a perfect winter ascent day. ++]

 
[The North Twin (L) / Twin's Tower (R) col is a wild and crazy place! It's also one of my favorite memories from all my Columbia Icefields trips. ++]

 
[Downclimbing the upper ridge on Mount Forbes.]

 
[Great views of the mighty Mount Robson from the descent ridge of Resplendent. ++]

 

Winter Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Mount Columbia Alpine II Of course the highest peak in Alberta has to be on this list! I waited many years for the right conditions to climb this beauty. We ascended it in the evening on the same day as our approach, getting some great lighting on the surrounding peaks - all of which were lower than us. Although technically a fairly easy ascent, don't get too casual about it, as the final 600 vertical meters are steep enough to slide and there are some big holes hidden throughout the slope - we found some of them.
South Twin Peak Alpine II Probably my hardest won peak of all the peaks on my summit list. It took three trips to the northern Columbia Icefields before I finally topped out on this beautiful and esthetic mountain. It was a great climb and made much easier by perfect snow conditions which aren't guaranteed each year.
Twin's Tower Alpine II You will earn this one. 90% of you will experience some "tightening" as you glance up at the gorgeous, exposed arete leading to the tiny summit from the North Twin col. Depending on conditions, your nerves might be already a bit frazzled thanks to navigating huge slots and tricky snow conditions on the descent from North Twin Peak which must be traversed before arriving at the Twin's Tower arete.
Trapper Peak Alpine II Trapper is one of the more difficult snow climbs on the Wapta. Most people think the Columbia Icefields has harder peaks than the Wapta due to the much bigger terrain, but in reality some of the Wapta peaks give most of the Columbia peaks a run for their money when the objective hazards of the larger icefield aren't factored in.
Peyto Peak Alpine II / 5.3 Admittedly we probably overestimated the difficulty on this peak when we first did it. It can feel exposed and tricky when covered in fresh snow and ice. Compared to the "ski summit", the real summit of Peyto isn't nearly as straight forward and is ascended far less often. I was super stoked to complete this climb.
Mount Collie Alpine II The summit ridge of Mount Collie has a fierce reputation and it's well deserved! Everything else about the mountain is fairly easy - although the approach isn't short from Bow Lake. A cornice the size of several school buses with terrific exposure, that must be traversed to the summit, is one of the scariest objective hazards you'll face on the Wapta Icefield.
Mount Ayesha Alpine II / 5.0 Another difficult Wapta ascent, Ayesha will test several of your alpine skills including perseverance (it's a long way), snow climbing (it's bloody steep) and snowy rock scrambling (loose and exposed) to the summit. The classic, beautiful snow arete was very fun.
Mount Balfour Alpine II The king of the Wapta Icefields! There's nothing about my climb of Balfour that I didn't like. We had perfect weather conditions and a great team. Honestly, one of my favorite winter climbs to date. A majestic peak that should be on every Alberta winter alpinist's hit list.
Mount Forbes Alpine II / III I waited many years to ascend Mount Forbes. I've been dreaming of standing on its summit so long that when I finally did it didn't feel real. In some ways it still doesn't. Banff's highest peak is well-earned with a long approach and steep snow slopes but it's technically not that hard if conditions are solid.
Resplendent Mountain Alpine II Another well-earned peak, especially if you ski it in the spring like we did. The approach via Berg Lake is long and usually by the time spring rolls around the lower half is completely melted out so you're carrying your snow sticks a long way. The upper mountain is very crevassed and there are steep snow slopes and exposure to seracs.

 

Top 10 Easy Winter Alpine Trips

The following are easier winter alpine trips, many are snowshoe trips in some pretty big alpine terrain. As with the harder winter trips, these should only be attempted by alpinists who have some training and experience on an Alberta snow pack and are well versed in traveling safely through avalanche terrain and on glaciers.

 

 
[Huge terrain while heading up Mount Wilson. ++]

 
[Looking ahead to the summit of Big Bend Peak from an outlier. ++]

 
[The highest peak I've snowshoed - Mount Athabasca. ++]

 
[Mount Joffre is a perfect candidate for snowshoes in the spring with a variable snow pack. ++]

 

Alpine Trip Rating Short Description
Mount Hector Moderate My favorite ski summit in the Rockies. 1600 vertical meters of skiing from the summit of an 11,000 foot peak. What could be better than that? Beware of crevasses though - people have died skiing down this one.
Mount Baker Moderate The approach via Peyto Lake and the steep slopes to the summit ridge are what make this a moderate winter objective. If you're lucky with conditions you can even exit via Peyto Canyon.
Mount Wilson Moderate It was tough for me to "give in" and snowshoe Wilson rather than ski it. The reality is that with good conditions in the steep shortcut gully, you are likely NOT to have good ski conditions there. Only you can decide if it's worth carrying skis on your back half way up this mountain. The glacier is definitely great ski terrain. The slopes under the summit are steeper and more exposed than I expected and there's crevasses there.

Cirrus Mountain

Easy Cirrus Mountain was on my list for many years before I finally managed to stand on its impressive summit. I like pretty much everything about this mountain, including the approach past Coleman Lake and the excellent bivy site.

Mount Habel

Difficult Except for the final section to the true summit, Habel is as easy as Rhondda and a very pleasant Wapta peak. Unfortunately for those who care about reaching summits - there is the final section that must be dealt with. Not hard for serious alpinists, but hard enough for me!
Mount Olive / St. Nicholas Moderate A classic Wapta winter climb. We did it in February on a beautiful, clear and warm day in the Rockies. Our views went on for kilometers and the group was a blast to climb with. Combining both summits of Olive with St. Nicholas makes for a longish day trip from Bow Lake but it's well worth the tired legs.
Mount Athabasca Moderate Another toss-up for me between skis and 'shoes. Skis would have been great on the glacier but shoes were good everywhere else. We cramponed up to the main summit, leaving the 'shoes lower down.
Mount Patterson Moderate / Difficult Don't underestimate this peak on the northern end of the Wapta Icefield. The views are stunning but there is some pretty severe avalanche terrain on the lower canyon section.
Mount Joffre Easy Joffre was a perfect snowshoe alpine trip. Skis would have been a PITA to lug all the way up there and the snowshoes worked all the way to the summit. Having heel-lifts on the 35-40 degree roll was excellent!
Mount Gordon Easy Mount Gordon is one of the very few peaks I've repeated. The reason? What other peak can you easily ski to the very summit and then ski 15km downhill back to your car? Yes - it's that good in the right conditions. As one of the highest Wapta summits, it also sports a pretty nice 360 degree panorama.

 

Top 10 Ski Summits

One of the best feelings in the world has to be pointing the snow sticks downhill after completing a winter or spring climb and swooping down on stable snow, covering hundreds of meters of terrain in mere minutes, all while taking in the stunning scenery around you. Some of my favorite moments in the Rockies have been spent like this. I am not an extreme skier by any stretch of the imagination so most of these are rated "easy". This doesn't mean there's no hazards in getting there though - consider a mountain like Resplendent which has a long winter approach and a ton of crevasse and avalanche exposure but only "moderate" skiing terrain.

 

I'm assuming you are at least a novice alpine climber and a competent snow evaluator and are familiar with a Rockies snow pack in rating these. By definition they are all exposed to avalanche risks and other objective winter mountain hazards.

 

 
[A great ski outing on Chickadee Peak. ++]

 
[Boot packing to the summit of Androlumbia with the Columbia Icefield stretched out below. ++]

 
[Some wild views off the ascent ridge of Mount Cromwell. ++]

 
["Little" Crowfoot sports some pretty darn BIG views! ++]

 

Ski Summit Rating Short Description
Castleguard Peak Easy Although this is a longish day trip, Castleguard Peak is one of the easiest summits to attain on the Columbia Icefield. It's also definitely the lowest. But the views from the summit and the excellent ski down from high on the summit ridge more than make up for it's diminutive stature.
North Twin Peak Difficult The skiing is fairly benign on this Rockies giant, but it is remote and hard to get to and the slope hides some pretty big crevasses which is the only reason it's rated this way.
Hector Moderate My favorite ski summit in the Rockies. 1600 vertical meters of skiing from the summit of an 11,000 foot peak. What could be better than that? Beware of crevasses though - people have died skiing down this one.
Mount Cromwell Moderate Cromwell probably isn't quite 11,000 feet but if you get lucky you can ski all the way to it's summit before realizing that you're a LONG way from your vehicle and standing in a pretty wild place with some pretty wild views!
Rhondda Easy Another easy Wapta day trip with great views and skiing right off the summit.
Ramp Peak Easy I really enjoyed Ramp Peak. An easy approach via Mosquito Creek combined with an excellent slope and fun terrain make this another peak I'll probably repeat some day.
Chickadee Peak Moderate This unofficial summit near Boom Lake is a wonderful skiing destination. Big avalanche terrain but fairly mellow as far as backcountry skiing goes and usually has pretty good coverage.
Mount Androlumbia Difficult The same issue as North Twin Peak. Access is via the Athabasca Glacier which is very crevassed and exposed to objective winter hazards. There are crevasses on the main peak too but this is one of the easiest and quickest ski summits on the Columbia Icefields and can be day tripped.
Little Crowfoot Easy An easy day out but does involve some complex avalanche terrain. Views of the Wapta are great from here!
Emerald Peak Easy Another favorite, this ski ascent goes right up (and down) a massive avalanche gully near Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. If you get good snow, you will want to go back!

 

Top 10 Ski Tours

A ski tour might still involve a peak but is more focused on the "tour" part of the ski rather than full-on snow climbing. Obviously all the winter ski ascents in the previous section also included tours, but in general the following trips are more benign and less exposed to serious avalanche risk and / or crevasse hazards, but obviously still somewhat exposed in several cases.

 

Ratings are somewhat subjective but assume you are familiar with Avalanche risks and how to mitigate them and are an intermediate level of experience traveling on an Alberta Rockies snow pack - which is vastly different than a BC one! :)

 

 
[The terrain around Healy Pass is pretty darn mellow but it does have some nice views and is a very low avy risk option for those days you just want to chill in the mountains. ++]

 
[The Young's Peak traverse near Roger's Pass is a spectacular high line ski tour. ++]

 
[Citadel Peak (C) is a long way from the Sunshine parking lot, but the ski tour across the Sunshine Meadows is pretty sublime. ++]

 
[If you do the Wapta Traverse you might get lucky enough with this view of the king of the Wapta - Mount Balfour - as you leave the Balfour hut and head for the high col. ++]

 
[Looking back at the Bow Hut as we start up the headwall to the main Wapta Icefield. A view I've seen many times over the years and never tire of. ++]

 

Ski Tour Rating Short Description
Little Temple / Paradise Valley Moderate Ski touring throughout the Paradise Valley is pretty mellow. To challenge yourself a bit, head up Little Temple. This tour is exposed to some avalanche terrain and even serac fall off Mount Temple.
Sunshine Meadows / Citadel Peak Easy This is a long tour but a lovely one. There is some limited avalanche exposure on Citadel's summit ridge but it's quickly passed over. Save it for spring and enjoy beautiful temperatures and a feeling of solitude - once you're out of the resort area anyway.
French / Haig / Robertson Traverse Moderate One of my favorite ski tours. Big terrain and great turns down the Robertson Glacier. There is some route finding up French Creek if you're not lucky enough to have a skin track to follow and severe avalanche terrain up to the Sir Douglas / Robertson col. The Robertson Glacier has some crevasse and serac exposure.
Youngs Peak Traverse Moderate My first ski tour in Roger's Pass. I got crappy snow conditions, but was still impressed. This classic tour covers some big terrain so don't underestimate it.
Healy Pass / Monarch Ramparts Easy One of the easiest and lowest key ski tours you can do and still have fun doing it. Very minor avalanche exposure and some great views but don't expect any epic skiing because without avalanche terrain you're on pretty mellow angles. ;)
Burstall Pass / Burstall Pass Peak / Snow Peak Moderate Burstall Pass and surrounding peaks are a classic Kananaskis ski tour that I've done more than any other in the Rockies. Views are stunning and the skiing around the pass is usually pretty decent. People have died in avalanches on this terrain so do not treat it too casually.
Wapta Traverses (Peyto Hut, Bow Hut, Balfour Hut) Moderate / Difficult Another classic ski touring area of the Alberta Rockies. The Wapta Icefield has two classic traverses with variations. The Classic or Extended Wapta Traverse goes from either Bow or Peyto Lake to Sherbrooke Lake via Peyto, Bow, Balfour and Scott-Duncan huts. There is another traverse of the Wapta known as the Bow-Yoho Traverse that will become more popular with the addition of the new Richard Guy Hut on the western edge of the icefield.
Sunshine Meadows / Twin Cairns / Wawa Ridge Easy / Moderate Sunshine meadows are quite benign ski touring for the most part. If you want to spice it up a wee bit you can either ascend Wawa Ridge or Twin Cairns and get some limited turns in before either repeating or skiing back out of the resort.
The Dolomite Ski Circuit Easy / Moderate The Dolomite circuit takes you up Dolomite Creek and around the entire Dolomite Peak massif. There is some big terrain in here that has the potential to slide so be aware of your surroundings. The views from the pass are very respectable and this is a good option for a quick tour.
Spray Traverse Moderate / Difficult The Spray Ski Traverse is a serious undertaking in Kananaskis Country, mostly due to the unstable nature of the snow in that area. Waiting for a spring snow pack isn't a bad idea. I've only done part of the traverse and will be going back for more.

 

Top 10 Honorable Mentions

The following are trips that were memorable and fun and just didn't squeak into any of the above categories for whatever reason. Some of these are easy snowshoeing or scrambling trips and some are full-on alpine climbs.

 

 
[Evening views from the summit of Mount Brazeau. ++]

 
[Seldom seen views from the summit of Mount Farbus with Oppy and Alexandra at center right. ++]

 
[Views from the descent of Portal Peak. ++]

 
[Views from Yoho Peak include Des Poilus (L) and Mount Collie (R). ++]

 
[It's easy to see why Mount Andromeda stands out as a "top 10" in this photo from the summit. ++]

 

Trip Rating Short Description
Mount McArthur Difficult This scramble can be combined with several other peaks (Pollinger, Kiwetinok, Kerr, Isolated) for a fantastic views-overload in some of the nicest Rockies terrain.
Mount Andromeda Alpine II I really enjoyed this peak on the Columbia Icefields. We ascended the easy west ridge and approached on skis as a day trip from the parking lot.
Big Bend Peak / Saskatchewan Junior Difficult Big terrain along the Icefields Parkway - there's no way to go wrong here on a clear day, except for again - avalanche terrain. Be careful.
Mount Brazeau Alpine II An easy, classic 11000er with a gorgeous bivy and approach.
Farbus Mountain Alpine II Difficult to access with very good views of distant giants such as the north side of the Lyells, Oppy and Alexandra.
Portal Peak Difficult This peak is very loose and steep but the views along the way and from the top are well worth the effort expended to get there.
Titkana Peak Easy This easy scramble in the Berg Lake area is a no-brainer if you're in the area anyway. Views of Mount Robson, Rearguard and Resplendent are in your face the whole time.
Mount Willingdon / Crown / Tower Alpine II, 5.0 The Devon Lakes area is gorgeous. Climbing three of the highest peaks in the area, including two 11000ers, in one day will make you a very tired and a very happy alpinist!
Yoho Peak Easy Yoho Peak is easy but it's location along the Wapta Icefield and it's views of Des Poilus and other peaks such as Collie and Gordon make it a top peak. The approach via Waterfall Valley is also very nice.
Mount Ishbel Difficult One of the more difficult scrambles around the town of Banff, this peak offers excellent hands-on scrambling and great views. Just don't pick a really hot day as water sources are lacking.

 

Top 10 Least Favorite Mountain Trips

By popular demand - some of my readers thought it was only fair that since I posted so many awesome and favorable trips, I should include at least 10 of my least favorite outings in the Rockies. I agree. Following are some mighty fine, crappy days spent wasting my time in the hills. ;) Looking at them, I realize a pretty common thread going on. A good number of these are snowshoe trips. That's no big surprise. I also notice that they're all fairly easy trips - probably chosen because of crappy conditions / weather when I really didn't actually feel like being anywhere other than my warm, comfortable couch.

 


[Good times on the Cockscomb approach.]


[Wading through crappy snow on Fortune.]


[Views on Festubert.]

 

Trip Rating Short Description
Cockscomb Mountain Easy / Moderate A long, dumb approach via choked up creekbed with no good trail and miserable ascent slopes. This mountain should be unnamed and taken off of all maps - it's that crappy. I'm not kidding around here.
Middle Sister Easy Guess what? Another long dumb approach via a creekbed with miserable ascent slopes. Doing it in unfavorable weather is like punching yourself in the face. It's a complete waste of time and it hurts afterwards.
Mount Kidd Junior Easy A horrible bushwhack on unconsolidated, crappy snow on snowshoes with a recent cougar kill to keep me feeling panicky all the way down. Why do it when there's already TWO other summits of Kidd offering much better views and more fun?!
Mount Bell (via Boom Lake) Moderate A long, boring approach to Boom Lake followed by a long, loose, boring ascent, all accompanied by a painful, boring stomach flu. Good times all around.
North Castle Peak Easy Oy. Bushwhacking over Alders with our ice axes to assist in the task. Need I say more? Oh yeah - the summit is buried in thick, gnarly, twisted trees with no views.
Horseshoe Ridge Easy There is no good reason on this Earth to do this ridge other than you're "nearby" and want to increase your summit stats. That's it. That's literally it. 
S.O. Isola Easy This little bit of Rockies magic isn't even a "real" summit. How's that for crappy? We invented the name so that a miserable day on snowshoes in bad conditions wouldn't feel like such a complete waste of time.
Mount Fortune Easy The gem is anything but "fortune". On snowshoes, during winter, it's a crapfest of unconsolidated sugar snow combined with steep slopes that had us swimming uphill at about 1km per 3 hours. This was some of the least fun I've ever had in my LIFE. Never mind in the Rockies!
Mount McNab Easy Why? Why would anyone feel the need to do this insignificant bump that requires crossing an un-bridged river on snowshoes in winter to no views whatsoever?! The drive to the trailhead is infinitely more interesting. Just do that and go home and you'll have a more productive day. I promise.
Festubert Mountain Easy / Moderate What a crappy day this was! Another terrible idea with Phil Richards. Almost like we're suckers for punishment or something. Jeez. This snooze-fest of a mountain only ever offered us hours of painful slipping and sliding on boulders and rocks while following a grumpy Grizzly Bear's tracks, and then summiting in a total whiteout with cold winds. A terrible, terrible idea. Who's was it again?

Going Light - Gear and Thoughts

I don't like to advertise my age, but suffice it to say that I'm getting to that point in life where I no longer throw things in my pack "just in case" I might need them. ;) My knees / back and shoulders have taken quite the beating over the past decade and after hundreds of Rocky Mountain summits, many canoe trips and thousands of kilometers of walking and skiing with everything from light day packs to huge expedition sized (90+ litre) back packs overflowing with gear.

 

After completing some very grueling trips over the past few years in some of the more remote and beautiful terrain in the Rockies and in Canadian Shield country, I realized a couple of things;

 

  1. I love those areas and the difficulties getting into them almost as much as climbing the peaks they protect so well or paddling the lakes that are hidden amongst their ancient routes.
  2. I want to keep doing these trips as I get older - I don't want the fun to end until it has to.

 

In order to fulfill my dream of continuing to plan and participate in many more tough trips as I get older, I've had to do a serious analysis of my outdoor gear and my philosophy towards living and traveling in the back country. I've always been a big believer in going as light and 'bare-bones' as I thought possible, but now I have to get serious about it. Really serious. I've lost weight on my body a number of times over the years and losing weight from my gear had to follow the same basic process. At first glance the losses are so small they seem inconsequential. It's only after adding up a large number of small weight savings that the numbers become impressive.

 

  1. I need to know how much my current gear weighs so I can focus on certain areas.
  2. I should eliminate the heaviest stuff first - the best "bang for my buck" so-to-speak.
  3. I have to constantly re-evaluate my gear, plan trips more carefully and possibly take slightly more risks around what to put in my pack.

 

There is a great article on Hyperlite Mountain Gear's (HMG) web site on the going light philosophy as it applies to adventuring and outdoor travel. The article specifies what is generally accepted as light (20lbs), ultralight (10lbs) and super-ultralight (5lbs) weights for base packs (not including food, fuel or water). I am somewhere between light and ultralight at a base pack weight of less than 20lbs. This includes all basic camping gear such as a tent, sleeping matt / bag, warm clothing and even photography and climbing gear such as extra lenses, batteries, climbing helmet, crampons and even a crevasse rescue device, ATC, harness and an ice screw! I'm pretty sure I could get my base pack for just a few days of scrambling / hiking to around 12lbs if I tried hard to eliminate any unnecessary gear.

 

NOTE: The easiest, most obvious and least-fun way to save your knees / back and go light, is to lose body weight. :) I can speak to this unpopular topic because I've always struggled with my own weight and am often a good 10lbs over my optimal weight for hiking / climbing. Obviously 10lbs adds up over kilometers of hiking and climbing. Working out and maintaining a good fitness level is the best way to have fun and be safe in the back country - at any age. There are no shortcuts to these two obvious first steps to going light and having fun. Just lots of hard work!

 

Prioritizing Gear

The first task was easy. I bought a $25 digital kitchen scale from my local grocery store and proceeded to weigh my gear. This included everything from mosquito spray to bear spray to sunscreen to toilet paper. At the end of the day I knew what my top heaviest gear was going to be but some items in the top 12 surprised me. Here's some of the biggest weight savings that I targeted first, roughly ordered by the amount of weight saved;

 

Category Old Gear Old Gear Weight New Gear New Gear Weight Weight Savings
Tent BD Hilite (no pegs) w/ Groundsheet 1582g HMG 2-Person Ultra Mid 499g 1083g
Sleeping Bag MEC Raven (-7) 1150g FF Vireo UL (74") 474g 676g
Backpack BD Mission 55L 1660g HMG 3400 Ice Pack 55L 980g 680g
Sleeping Matt Exped 7 Down 888g Neoair xlite Regular 350g 538g
Down Booties MEC Regular 346g Goosefeet socks w/ over-liners 111g 235g
Crampons Grivel Full Steel 980g Grivel Aluminum 580g 400g
Hiking Poles BD Regular 490g BD Ultra Distance CF 290g 200g
SPOT Beacon Gen1 300g Gen3 114g 186g
Water Bottle Nalgene Regular 1L 175g Vapur Element 1L 40g 135g
Mountaineering Ax BD Raven w/ Leash 408g Camp Corsa Nanotech 278g 130g
Ice Screw BD Regular 170g Petzl Laser Speed Light 100g 70g
Headlamp BD Storm 114g BD Ion 48g 63g
TOTAL WEIGHT   8355g   3959g 4396g or 9.69lbs

 

Notice that total weight saved on just these 12 items is almost 10 lbs! There are other tricks and tips that I've learned over the years that save me pounds of weight compared to a lot of trekkers and climbers without compromising too much on safety or even comfort;

 

  • Don't carry water unless you have to. I carry a cup on my pack waist loop and drink straight from streams / rivers as I cross them during the day. Obviously there's risk of illness from water borne bugs but I have yet to get sick in 17 years of drinking from Rockies' streams. On canoe trips I do carry 1L of treated water, but rather than bring a filter, I use the chlorine solution drops - much lighter and easier to use.
  • Don't get fancy with cooking / eating. Some people love to eat in the outdoors and I totally get this. There's nothing like fresh bread or some wine with fresh veggies or fruit after a hard day of hiking, but it'll cost you extra energy / wear 'n tear to carry that extra weight in your pack. Is it really worth it? (Sometimes the answer is 'yes' BTW...)
  • One pot solutions for cooking. I use titanium cup / pot to save weight.
  • Dehydrated food is your friend. Much healthier to make your own (less crap like salt and MSG in it) but I still buy mine usually as it's more convenient.
  • Don't carry too much clothing. Either learn to like your own smell or better yet, invest in fabric that doesn't smell, like Merino wool products. On multi-day trips, simply do laundry once in a while (i.e. when your tent mate starts dry heaving every time you come close).
  • Extras like water filtration pumps, air mattress pumps, camera tripods etc are all not necessary and often don't even get used much.
  • Instead of bringing a really warm jacket and a warm sleeping bag, bring a warm (down) jacket and a lighter sleeping bag. Wear your jacket to bed and you'll be toasty! Wear your down socks to bed and you'll be too hot half the time! ;)
  • Climbing gear is generally really, really heavy. If you must bring a rope (better yet, learn to scramble low fifth class! ;)), bring one or two 30m 8mm singles if at all possible. You spread the load between two people, can still rap 15 or 30m at a time and can even do easy climbing where the odds of actually falling are very low. I know of people that travel glaciers with only a 7mm rope or one 30m 8mm travel rope, and one 30m 7mm rescue rope. It's not for everyone, but it saves a TON of weight! Know how to use a skinny rope - i.e. make sure your rap device works with thinner ropes and know how to rap on a munter hitch which works well with thinner ropes (although rope twist can be an issue). 
  • Do lots of research before traveling so you know what to expect and can plan for it ahead of time rather than bringing everything you might need. For example, if your route is well traveled it might have bolted anchors or lots of solid tat. You may not need those 8 pitons or that full rack of nuts or cams. On Mount Assiniboine and Mount Alexandra we brought too much gear for just-in-case scenarios. Especially on Assiniboine, which is climbed many times per season by experienced mountain guides, you know there's going to be lots of (recent) tat, tons of gear on-route and very little need to build your own anchors. At most you should only need a moderate rock rack. If you time it right you should have a dry mountain and may only need to protect a couple of pitches and rappel a few times on descent. For Alexandra, we knew the rock section was short and the rap bolted, so pitons were complete over kill.

 

Some readers are probably wondering if trekking without all the extras is even 'fun' anymore! Only you can decide what you need to make life in the back country worth getting to and staying in. Contrary to what you may think, I will still carry the following extras some times - depending on the type of trip of course!

 

  • e-reader (I managed to get a tiny kindle when they still sold them)
  • extra camera lenses (for astro or macro photography)
  • flower ID cards or even books
  • ultra light fishing rod w/ tackle
  • good food
  • wine

 

The Costs of going Light

Nothing in life is free. Saving 10-20lbs on basic gear weight is far from free! Even though I can still use most of my old gear (i.e. my sleeping bag for car camping, my heavy crampons for ice or my large head lamp for canoe trips), I still spent hundreds of $$$ switching over to lighter gear. The biggest expenses by far were on the shelter, pack and sleeping gear.

 

But the cost of going light has to be weighed in terms besides just the money. According to me, the benefits of enjoying tough mountaineering, hiking and canoe trips into middle and hopefully old age are far more important than a few hundred bucks invested now. My knees were weak when I started climbing mountains almost two decades ago. Through careful training and using poles and light'ish gear, I've managed to keep them reasonably functional so far. Now I have to invest some more in them to keep the rest of me going another 10, or 20, or 40 years!

 

There is another cost to going light. I might lose the occasional summit or end goal due to compromising on equipment to save weight. South Twin is a good example of where this already occurred for me. Thinking there'd be plenty of snow on the climb, a bunch of us left our full steel crampons at home. This meant we weren't confident climbing the 35-40 degree hard glacial ice on our flimsy (and light) aluminum crampons. When one of our party tried going around the bare ice to make tracks for the rest of us, he fell in a crevasse and our trip was over for the day. To this day, I still don't have South Twin... I've been pushed to the edge a few times thanks to crampon issues. On Mount Fryatt my aluminum crampons felt skimpy too, and I really wanted a second ice axe for one of the icy gully moves.

 

As I mentioned earlier already, on Mount Alexandra we carried way too much rock gear. We should have realized that the route is done fairly often (thanks to ACC camps) and would be bolted and fairly easy. The approach on Alexandra is long and brutal so we didn't want to fail, but carrying the extra weight cost too - just in more subtle ways, like wear on our knees and muscles. The cost of going light can be a missed route. If you count on Mount Assiniboine being dry and are very confident in your free climbing abilities you might leave too much gear behind and miss out on the summit of one of the Rockies most majestic mountain peaks.

 

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another potential cost of going (too?) light. Unlike hiking where leaving that extra coat behind might mean a cold night or two, leaving climbing gear behind to save weight can either leave you stranded (best case) or even injured or dead. I've done ski trips on the Columbia Icefield in May when it was +15 degrees at the parkway and we all got frost bite while skiing in a blizzard above - I'm talking small areas of black skin on my face. :( Leaving warm gear or climbing pro behind can do much more than cost you a summit if you're not extremely confident in your abilities, the weather and your ability to adapt to changing scenarios, which only comes with experience.

 

I want to end this section with a strong caution to beginner hikers / climbers / skiers that it's still safer to pack a few too many items than not enough. As you gain experience you'll discover what "too few" and "enough" means for you - everyone has different definitions!

 

Going Light - Going Miserable?

 

Many folks assume that because I'm in a 499g tent instead of a 1500g one, I'm less comfortable or compromising on space. In this case, the opposite is true! The HMG 2-person UltraMid is a wonder of new materials and manufacturing abilities. It provides 63 square feet of space under a completely water / storm proof pyramid that is just as comfortable hanging from a tree branch or set up on an icefield in a howling blizzard. I've only ever stayed in a tent once in winter, every other time has been in a 'mid' of some sort. They are delightful for winter camping. Cuben Fiber is the miracle material that Hyperlite Mountain Gear uses for their gear. I also have their ice pack, which not only weighs much less than other 55 liter mountaineering packs, but is completely waterproof! No need for a pack cover. Excellent. I also use their stuff sacks for organizing gear in my pack. Due to it's very limited manufacture and distribution, Cuben Fiber is not cheap! I managed to score some good prices on Black Friday and sold some of my gear, or I never would have afforded the UltraMid.

 

As mentioned earlier, you don't have to freeze either, just because you're carrying a smaller / lighter sleeping bag than before. If you carry a warm down jacket and booties, just wear those to bed if it's cold! Voila! Nobody is cold when wearing a 900 fill down jacket to bed... ;)

 

In a strange way, I find going light to be more enjoyable than carrying everything and the kitchen sink. For example I like carrying only a few camera lenses. I find when I carry too much gear (usually on canoe trips where you can get away with carrying a lot of extra crap) I just end up not using it or always debating about which piece of gear to use. When I am 'forced' to live simply I spend less time worrying about my gear and more time enjoying the natural world that I'm part of. And for me that's the entire point of it all in the first place! I've used camera's with only one fixed lens before and really enjoyed the experience (and still got some fantastic images).

 

Another benefit to using lighter gear is that it's usually smaller - it takes up less bulk. This means you carry a physically smaller back pack (in my case a 55L instead of a 85L) which has all sorts of side benefits from being easier to climb with, easier to bushwhack with and more balanced. You can also use the same pack for day trips from a base camp - you don't need to lug your huge pack around or pack a separate day pack.

 

'Go Light' in Everything!

Finally, I would like to stress that discovering what works for you in the 'go light' philosophy is a personal journey and is unique to each individual. It should not be a contest to see how extreme everyone can go relative to each other. I've seen that script and I know how it ends. :(

 

I am trying to 'go light' in my personal life too. I live in a small house, drive smaller vehicles and try to leave a 'light' foot print on the environment both at home in Calgary and when I live in the wild. Going light in life is a huge relief and a huge stress-saver.

 

I'm a big believer in letting people go their own journey rather than dictate what everyone 'should' do but I do think we need to live responsibly with our environment wherever and however we can. There are over 7 billion of us and we all have unique needs, ideas and dreams. Let's try to be responsible with our big, beautiful planet and leave it a better place than we found it, so our kids can enjoy the same wild places we do!

 

Invest now in good, light gear for the future and you will be able to use the same equipment for many adventures while saving your body for even more trips in the future.

Happy New Year & Updates to Explor8ion

Happy new year 2016 to all my friends and explor8ion.com visitors! Normally I don't give a shout out to the new year, but I am reworking and rejuvenating much of explor8ion and would like to call your attention to all my hard work. So what am I up to? Several initiatives are underway that will be developing over the next few months to possibly a year on this site.

 

GPS Tracks on Explor8ion.com

 

I'm finally announcing that I will start providing GPS tracks for viewing and download on many of my old trip reports and most of my new ones. You probably didn't even realize it, but in the past, I've been against providing GPS tracks in most of my trip reports. I know that many of my good hiking / climbing friends such as Marko Stavrik, So Nakagawa, Sonny Bou and of course, Bob Spirko have been providing you with GPS tracks for years already but I still debate the practice, even though I'm going to follow it going forward.

 

What is my hang-up with freely passing out all my GPS tracks? Well, there's a few reasons;

 

  • There is so much beta available nowadays in the form of multiple online trip reports, route lines on maps / photographs and of course guide books that I wonder what sense of adventure is being lost while scores of people follow a blinking arrow on a screen through rugged terrain and up peak after peak after peak.
  • What impact does providing free GPS tracks have on guide books and the need for them? I've always struggled with how my free beta impacts the good guide book authors, all of whom I greatly respect, including but not limited to Chic Scott, Bill Corbett, David P. Jones, Alan Kane, Tony and Gillean Daffern and Andrew Nugara. I think that freely available GPS tracks can't help but hurt local authors. On the other hand, I recognize that change isn't always bad and usually hurts someone.
  • I am of the humble opinion that I'm already providing an incredible service to the folks who visit explor8ion.com. I have spent countless hours, a lot of hard earned money and countless kilometers of both distance and height gain to provide all of my beta at zero cost to the public. Do I really need to add my very hard-won GPS tracks too? Sometimes I feel like I might as well just sign the damn register for everyone too! (Kidding of course...)

 

I think it's already pretty darn easy for the modern scrambler / climber / hiker given all the freely available beta. Yes, I know that makes me an old curmudgeon, but I don't care because that's how I roll. :) IMHO, there's already too much information, too many worn paths / trails and way too damn much plastic flagging (!) on routes all over the Rockies and Canadian wilderness. Is the only reason to stand on a peak or pass through some remote place, the social media brag, that "I've bagged another one - look at me!"? That thought makes me very sad and I sincerely hope that it's not the motivation for most of you. Exploring (i.e. following a compass and your gut) and route finding used to be a necessary wilderness skill in order to navigate off trail and up remote peaks. I wonder how many people miss all of the excitement and adventure that I've had over the years, struggling to make sense of the damn guidebook or the complex micro-terrain that doesn't show up on the map? It's always surprising how many PITA cliff bands fit between contour lines! ;)

 

Now, after that little rant I have to be 100% fair and honest. I always download and take a GPS track if I have one available to me. Like everyone else, I use all the beta available to me when planning and executing a trip. It would be silly not to. Just because technology makes something easier, doesn't make it necessarily bad. I use an avalanche transceiver and SPOT devices too - both of which make backcountry travel safer and arguably easier. I have a family that I love and that is looking for me to come home safely after each trip. Anything that can make my wilderness outings safer is something I have to seriously consider - and that definitely includes GPS technology. I've been using a GPS with built-in maps for quite a few years already, and on many trips it's come in extremely handy. Try navigating through Canadian Shield country with only a map and compass some time! There are so many little islands and rivers that you can very quickly get lost. A GPS device can literally be a life saver in that terrain.

 

I also recognize that it's way too late to make any sort of meaningful stand on a anti-GPS high horse. There are free GPS tracks for most common hikes, scrambles and climbs already, so I'm not providing you with anything you can't get elsewhere anyway. I might as well make explor8ion more usable and help you avoid having to click on multiple trip reports to get other people's GPS tracks when I have perfectly usable ones myself. If I can assist in getting more people out of the concrete jungles and into real ones, safely, than I've accomplished the goal of my site. If I have a GPS track available for a trip, you'll find the link as follows;

 


[The GPS Track / Route has been added to the Trip Details section and will show with a link to the file. If there's no GPS track available, the link will not show on the trip report.]

 

Updating old Trip Reports

 

Something much more near-and-dear to me than providing GPS beta, is the updating / refreshing / renewing of old trip reports that I've written and published over the many years that I've been tramping around the Rockies and canoeing in Shield country. Basically, any trip report that's more than 2 years old needs to be updated and refreshed;

 

  • More photographs - many more for each trip report now that everyone is on high speed internet.
  • Larger photographs - 665 pixels displayed on the long edge, 600+ pixels on the short edges of panoramas, more panoramas with more peaks identified and linked in the captions.
  • Revamped formatting - includes putting captions under photos in italics, a consistent zoom using the '++' hyperlink, breaking each report into multiple paragraphs, with photos in between (blog style), formatting photos to display nicely on high resolution devices (i.e. Retina displays) and providing more trip information such as total distance, GPS tracks, route map images and more links to other trip reports on both explor8ion and on the web in general.

 

This is a lot of work, as you can imagine. I am going into old photo archives and reprocessing hundreds of images before uploading them into newly formatted trip reports. I find this 'work' to be very satisfying, as it allows me to essentially re-live the trips as I update the reports. Many of my best memories come flooding back as I read my blogs from years ago, which validates why I have my site in the first place - as a diary for myself to remember trips without repeating trips. Some examples of reworked trip reports;

 

 

I will be prioritizing popular trips and trips that I have enjoyed for updating. (You can sort trips by the last updated date in this view). Hopefully you will enjoy old trip reports all over again as I update them and I sincerely hope that by providing as much information as I can, I am assisting you in your adventures, whatever they might be. Here's to an excellent and exciting 2016!

Happy New Year 2017!

Climbing Mount Alexandra

Happy new year! 2017 holds some pretty nice adventures for me, I hope you are busy planning (or doing) your own adventures too this year. There's nothing quite like dreaming about green alpine meadows with sparkling lakes and blooming wildflowers while freezing your a__ off walking to work in January is there? What I want more than anything for this new year is to focus on simply living by living simply.

 

The older I get, the crazier the world seems to get around me. I know this isn't the case. I am just getting less naive about the realities of life, while also getting less patient to deal with these realities in a constructive manner. Younger folks seem to have an innate ability to overlook or ignore much of the darker side of humanity and life in general, while older folks seem to gravitate towards cynicism or withdrawal from it in order to cope. I have always had a natural ability to see things for what they really are, which is both a good thing and a terrible thing, depending on where I happen to be looking.

 

I've found that for me, the easiest way to get down about my life, is to buy into the fantasies that social media and advertising are propagating on humanity in fine form. These lies include the time-worn myth that humans can be happy and relevant, only when we are heavily in debt - both socially and monetarily. We are hounded from all sides, constantly reminded that we can only be popular and relevant when we own the very best "stuff" that our lenders are willing to let us borrow for. We must live in the nicest possible house, drive the nicest possible vehicle, hang out with the hottest and most popular people, have the most important, high paying job and do the most extreme vacationing, or be at risk of total and devastating irrelevance. We are reminded again and again that as long as we can afford the minimum payment, there is no downside. The person to die with the most toys and the most "likes", wins.

 

We push ourselves at work and play to be that one person who everyone else is jealous of. Explor8ion is a bit of a challenge for me, because the nature of having a blog on the Internet is that it can serve to mount pressure on oneself to do things that garner more attention and approval, thereby stoking the fires of ego. I've considered making this site private, but that seems selfish when so many people seem to get enjoyment out of sharing my adventures or dreaming of their own as a result of my photos and stories. A conundrum to be sure, and one that I continue to struggle with.

 

I'm hoping to make this year more about doing things that really make me and my family happy rather than what I think I should be doing. Selfish? Perhaps. Boring? Probably. Normal? You bet! Maybe I'll do 5 hiking trips and spend the rest of my year on the golf course. Maybe I'll only chase a few 11,000ers. Maybe I'll go canoeing instead. Maybe I'll practice my climbing skills and become a more serious alpinist. Maybe I'll ski more. Maybe I'll quit social media. I'm not sure, because I usually don't know precisely what I'm doing until I'm actually doing it and even then I'm often not sure. ;)

 

I know one thing with absolute certainty. I'm not going to do any of it for you. ;) Don't take it personally. I wish all of you a very Happy New Year and hope you all find the motivation and adventure in life that you are seeking.

How many 11,000er's are there?

I'll state up front that while I love climbing the 11,000er's and plan on climbing most of them if my health stays reasonable, I have no desire to pursue the "list" of 54 (58?!) that several people have completed and more are currently working on. If I ever do complete this list it will be more by accident than with any intent. I'm done with climbing 'lists' and simply want to get out and enjoy the Rockies as much as I can. Lists are good in that they give us something to focus on but I also love getting out and climbing stuff that nobody else cares about - or most have never even heard of!

While browsing the web I recently came across a four part series on the topic of the 11,000 foot (and higher) peaks in the Rockies which I thought were interesting enough to share here.

  1. Part I
  2. Part II
  3. Part III
  4. Part IV

These links are all taken from here. Enjoy!

Kananaskis Flood Damage

[Update July 12 2013]
Many areas are now opening in Kananaskis thanks to an incredible effort by many. Many trails still remain closed, however. Please visit the Kananaskis Trails report page for updates.

[Update July 04 2013]
Volunteer to repair this valuable and loved area by filling out this form and submitting it.

As you probably know by now, our beloved Kananaskis Country has suffered extensive damage in the floods of June 2013. Here's an image of the damages, you can download a PDF here and go to the Alberta Parks website for more details as they assess and repair all the damage. Thankfully no lives were lost in the mountains over this dramatic event.

For a more private look at the flooding of Cougar Creek in Canmore, take a look at Photographer John E. Marriott's YouTube channel.

My Battle of the Bulge

My Weight Battle

I've struggled with my weight for most of my life. I grew up on a farm and had unlimited access to cookies and milk (whole milk - not skim) while I was growing up. We ate very big meals and even though I was a very active kid, I was always known as 'big guy'. I was also made to believe by my family that my extra fat meant that I was 'big boned' - even though my natural body type is very slim and tall. I have an addictive personality and to this day milk and cookies are what I turn to when I'm having a rough day or week.

 

Growing up I would hear comments about my weight. I was always jealous of my cousins who were slim and muscular with no big love handles. The comments about my weight hurt and to this day I have body image issues because of comments made to me when I was young. I don't believe people were trying to be mean to me, they just commented on what they saw and made jokes about it. I will never joke with anyone over their weight because I know how much hurt it causes. Many fat people joke about their own weight in order to get the comments 'over and done with' on their own terms. This way they don't have to hear it from other people. If you know someone who regularly jokes about their own weight you know that they have problems with their weight.

 

When I was in my early 20's I found myself addicted to cigarettes and weighing over 230 lbs. I was 6ft tall with a puffy stomach, no energy and a really bad body image - no confidence at all. I was getting married to a beautifully slim girl who had a lot more self control than me. Finally one day, when I stood on a medical scale and saw the numbers '235' I knew that I had to do something about this problem. I quit smoking (took about 10 tries over 2 years) and because I couldn't bear the thought of gaining even more weight, I started running. I remember driving out of Winnipeg to surrounding dirt roads so that I could run without people I knew commenting on it. I remember being chased by farm dogs down the road too! :)

 

Over the last 15 years I've continued to struggle with my weight. Only a couple of times have I been completely satisfied with my weight and then most people thought I was way too skinny. They weren't used to me being a healthy weight! My weight continues to fluctuate as I struggle with the same issues you have. This qualifies me to write about what works and doesn't work for me and how I think you can lose weight.

 

I've been there. I AM there.

 

It's Tough!

Let me state up front that losing weight is harder than quitting smoking. Yeah, I know - motivating isn't it? But it's true. Losing weight and maintaining the loss is one of the hardest things anyone can do. It's harder than quitting most other addictions. Yes, food is an addiction, especially for most people who are over weight.

 

The problem with a food addiction is that you can never completely stop eating! With smoking, drugs or drinking you can completely stop the activity. With food, you have to force yourself to do less of it while still doing some of it. It's like an alcoholic trying to limit herself to a couple drinks a day, every day, and no more than that!  :(

 

The statistics are also against you. Something like only 5% of people who lose weight, keep it off. My friend, you are in for a long, hard battle but I am going to offer you some advice that can greatly assist you and turn the odds in your favor. Once you feel in control of your weight you will feel in control of your life. This can translate into many other benefits such as exercise, health and confidence.

 

Unfortunately there is no easy way to lose weight and keep it off. Every single diet or weight loss program will have one thing in common. You have to follow them strictly and they will restrict your calorie intake. You will have to fight tooth and nail for your healthy weight and then you'll have to keep fighting for the rest of your life to keep it where it should be. I could sugarcoat (pun intended) it but that's the facts.

 

It's tough.

 

Running and Exercise

When I first started running I would drive outside the city and run on dirt roads. This was for two reasons. First of all, I grew up in the country and loved the fresh air. Secondly, I didn't want people to stare at me while I ran! I started off running pretty slow and was soon running 2-4 miles. 

 

I've been running regularly for about 16 years now and there are some things I've learned about using running as a weight control mechanism:

 

  1. Running or exercising consistently is TOUGH. I love it when people say, "running comes more easily to you than me". Yeah right! Do you have any idea how hard it is to motivate yourself to run in -15 weather with blowing snow and ice? That part of it doesn't get any easier. Or it hasn't for me. Notice that I used the word consistently. Anyone can run or bike in nice weather. It's what you do in bad weather that either makes you an exerciser or simply someone who gets out on a bike once-in-while when it's sunny.
  2. Exercise doesn't make you slim. I know that's not what you wanted to read but it's ultimately true. I've actually gained weight many times while running fairly consistently. You burn about 100 calories for each 1.5km you run. So if you run 10km you burn 600 calories. This is only one burger or one milkshake. If you ate a burger AND a milkshake after the run, your total calorie intake would be positive and you would be gaining weight! The only reason you don't see very many fat runners is because if you have the discipline to exercise regularly, you probably also have the discipline to watch your calorie intake (i.e. eating) and therefore the combination of less calories and more exercise keeps most active people slim.
  3. Exercise can hurt you. If you run or exercise consistently you will feel it. There's no way around this simple fact. Learn to run properly by attended a running clinic, that will go a long way to mitigating running injuries but you will have to learn an alternative sport for those pesky knees, ankles and backs!
  4. Running is better for weight loss than almost anything else. I know a lot of people try to convince themselves (and others) than walking or swimming burns just as many calories as running but quite simply put, it doesn't. Walking is a great way to spend your injured days or to fill in for days when you can't run and swimming is a great way to tone but running elevates your metabolism and heart rate much higher than walking or running does. Most people simply don't do enough other exercise to burn the equivalent number of calories that a good run can cook off.
  5. Exercise is addictive. If you do manage to get into a regular exercise routine you will find that it's also addictive, even though it's not easy to do consistently. You'll miss it when you can't get out and you'll find yourself working exercise into your holidays because it's so relaxing and feels so good. This is a good thing kind of addiction.

 

Barriers to Weight Loss

There are many barriers to losing weight. Some of them are obvious, some not so obvious. One of the biggest barriers is the people around you. When you turn down that ice cream cone or that piece of birthday cake people around you will not like it. Generally people like to suffer communally and don't want you to lose weight, it's like smokers. When I quite smoking my smoking friends kept telling me that "you'll never last". They felt guilty because I managed to quit and they were still killing themselves with a bad habit. Count on others ridiculing you and trying to make you lose your resolve. Use the negative energy of your friends and family to spur yourself on with even more resolve. You know you're doing something right when the people around you are grumpy about it. It's their problem, not yours, so don't be guilted into falling off the wagon!

 

Another barrier that may be particular to certain cultures or religious groups has to do with providing meals for the family and eating a communal meal with family or friends. These cultural practices simply have to change. A simple meal of soup or salad and raw veggies can be just as harmonious, cheaper and far healthier for the evening meal.

 

Other barriers are the very reasons why we eat. Especially in North America, we eat for many reasons other than hunger. As a matter of fact, most of the time we are eating for reasons other than hunger. It's all these other reasons that make us fat including;

 

  • Social eating (including drinking - a calorie is a calorie!)
  • Polite eating (related to above)
  • Mood eating - this is a bad one for me, especially chocolate when I'm depressed!
  • Habit eating - includes my coffee / muffin every morning.
  • Weekend eating (most people assume they can eat anything on the weekend without gaining weight...)
  • Hormonal eating (do I have to expand on this one? :-) Gain too much in your pregnancy and you will suffer for it afterwards.)
  • Worth or Religious eating - you think that you have to supply big meals to support your family and show that you're worthy. You're hurting them and yourself instead.

 

It's actually pretty sad that the main reason North Americans (and Europeans) are so fat is because we have too much money and can afford to eat when we don't have to be eating. Someone with very little money can't afford to eat even if they are depressed and craving chocolate.

 

Three Laws of Weight Management

There are three laws of weight loss and weight management. Until you agree with (and understand how they apply to you) these three laws you will never manage your weight and whether you are slim or fat will be more luck than anything else.

 

I didn't invent these laws, they are universal laws of living organisms and are true for anything that eats to sustain life, whether it's plants, animals or YOU. Interestingly enough, these laws also apply to your bank account.

 

  1. Extra credits are saved. Usually in your stomach, thighs or love handles.
  2. Extra debits are taken out of your credits. Usually the thighs, stomach and love handles are the very last areas of debit!
  3. Balancing credits and debits results in no savings and no debt. I.e. you don't gain weight.

 

Of course a credit is a calorie gained and a debit is a calorie burned in this scenario. You don't have to like these laws but they're true - that's why they're laws. You don't have to like the law of gravity or death either, but both happen on a regular basis.

 

Everyone credits and debits their calories in different ways and at different rates but the universal truth is that the more you eat and the less you burn, the more you gain. Lately I've read and watched various articles and programs that claim that everyone responds differently to different foods (i.e. Glycemic Index). I read of one case where the author seems to be implying that she gains weight while eating grapes, while her slim friend can eat chocolate and ice cream without gaining a pound. This is pure poppycock. Sure! GI might affect everyone differently for different food groups, but I guarantee that if you eat nothing but grapes for a week, you will lose weight. And if you eat nothing but chocolate and ice cream for a week guess what? You'll gain weight. Sorry - but that's the way it is! 

 

What you need to do

There are a few things you need to do before you can lose weight. The most obvious and hardest thing to do is to admit that you need to lose it in the first place and agree with the three laws as stated above.

 

While it's true that our society (North American) is far too obsessed with weight and looks, it's also somewhat ironic that we are in the middle of a fat crisis. The reason a slim body is considered fashionable is because it's so hard to obtain and maintain that relatively few people over the age of 35 manage to do it! When something is hard to do and only accomplished by a few it becomes a pinnacle to strive for (think Mount Everest or being very wealthy).

 

The reason you should want to be thin shouldn't be primarily because it's fashionable, but rather because it's healthy and it feels good. If you're married, your partner will appreciate it too! You can't expect to maintain energy and libido if you're 20, 30 or 50 lbs over-weight.

 

Here's a list of things you must do in order to lose weight. You will find all kinds of reasons why you don't want to do them or why you shouldn't have to count calories or limit your food intake. I guarantee if you don't do all of the following things you will NOT lose weight or manage a healthy weight. It's up to you how serious you are about this. No one can force you to lose weight. Make up your mind and then dedicate yourself to the following principals:

 

  1. Quit blaming your glands! I will admit that there are a very small number of people who can't medically lose weight. If they stopped eating they'd die and they can't stop gaining weight when they do eat, but this is a VERY SMALL MINORITY AND IT ISN'T YOU.
  2. Quit blaming your body. It isn't your body's fault that you are over-weight. It's your fault. I don't mean to be harsh or unkind but your body is built a certain way and even though some people are more naturally slim than others, it's probably because they aren't as depressive or addicted to food or drinking as you are. Usually the people we consider "naturally slim", simply don't eat or drink as much as we do. It's that simple.
  3. Find out who and what to blame! In my case I had to realize that I eat when I'm depressed and the reason I do this is because since I was a little kid I used food to deal with stress. In your case it may be the same thing, or maybe you eat too much for other reasons (see the 'barrior' section above). The bottom line is tough to admit but unless someone is literally cramming food down your throat YOU are ultimately the one to blame for being over weight and YOU are the only one who can fix it.
  4. Deal with the fact that you eat too much. I know you want a quick fix. I know that you don't think you eat too much. You do. Even if you only drink one extra glass of milk a day for a year, you will gain 1 pound  a month or 12 pounds a year! I didn't say you were a pig or a slob, I simply said you eat too much. You don't have to like this reality but you do have to admit it in order to lose and maintain your weight. This is related to the three laws of weight management as stated above.
  5. There is only one way to gain weight. Too much intake of calories for your body. That's it. Confront and acknowledge this reality or you will never lose it. Don't even keep reading until you agree with this statement (law #1).
  6. There's only one way to lose weight. I know that you don't want to 'starve' to lose weight. I know that you don't want to slow down your eating. I know that you don't want to change your lifestyle. I know that you want to take a pill that will make you slim. IT AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN IF YOU DON'T CHANGE. END OF STORY. The only way to lose weight is by taking in less calories than your body needs on a daily basis, otherwise known as starving. Deal with this reality and you're a long way towards losing weight. Until you deal with it you will never lose and keep weight off. I know this sounds harsh but I didn't make the rule, it simply is this way.
  7. Discover who you are. So who are you exactly? What I mean by this is, how exactly does your particular body deal with calories? For example I have two main problems with weight. First of all, I am an emotional eater. I eat to feel good. The biggest problem though, is that I never seem to feel full! My body doesn't tell me when I've had enough till I've had way too much calories. Interesting eh? This sucks because it means that when I'm trying to maintain my weight I basically always feel hungry.
  8. Monitor yourself. A lot of crappy advise is out there on "throwing away your weight scale"! How is that going to help?! You must pick at least one day a week (not more than two) and one time of the day to weigh yourself on a digital scale. Mornings are best (weight fluctuates a lot through the day thanks to fluid intake) and you should be naked for consistency. I do Thursday and Sunday. If you're not monitoring your weight how do you really know if you're maintaining, losing or gaining? You don't. It can be very scary to weight yourself, especially if you know you've had a particularly bad week. Don't be afraid to skip the occasional weight-in but if you find yourself not weighing in for more than 2 weeks you've probably regressed to old habits and you should immediately take stock of your situation and get back into it.
  9. Use anything that works. Don't limit yourself in how you cut back calories (law #2)! Any diet (that works), does it based on the three laws of weight management. Any diet that works for you is good enough. You can lose weight on a chocolate bar diet. Of course you should consult with your physician or nutritionist at some point and should always maintain healthy eating of fruits and veggies but let's not kid ourselves. Losing weight is hard and any way that works is good enough for me! ;-)
  10. Find a supporter! I've lost weight many times over the years, and only one person seems to notice on a regular basis. That's my wife and I love her for it. I understand that people don't want to admit that they may have a weight problem but why is it that when you gain 5 lbs everyone comments and when you lose 20 no one says anything? You need a supporter or you won't make it.

 

What your new life looks like

So what will your new life look like when you've done the impossible and managed to lose weight? Well, you probably don't want to read this but it will look quite a bit different and the hard part has just begun.

 

If your new life doesn't look different then you will not be able to maintain your healthy weight. If you regularly partake of the following types of food you will not keep your weight down, you WILL GAIN WEIGHT, no matter how much exercise you do.

 

  • Fast food. Yes, even salads from fast food restaurants are quite unhealthy, especially if you use the dressing.
  • Cheeze
  • Butter
  • Red meat
  • Chips
  • Soft drink
  • Beer or any other Alcoholic beverage (I know, it sucks but...)
  • Sugary snacks
  • Starches

 

 The following types of food should regularly show up on your diet:

 

  • Grains
  • Veggies
  • Fruit
  • Low fat milk
  • Lean meat
  • Unprocessed food

 

Another habit you should get into is eating smaller meals, more often. Instead of a huge breakfast, where you consume more than half of your daily required intake of calories, eat some oatmeal with coffee and have another snack at coffee time.

 

Do I have to count Calories?

Yes you do. You're currently over-weight because you didn't count calories in the first place. Don't make the same mistake again and risk getting very despondent over weight loss efforts that don't produce any results. I know people who regularly exercise but are quite over weight. They are constantly depressed about this situation and wonder aloud why they're not losing any weight even though they're so active. The answer is because they aren't monitoring their calorie intake (or out-take for that matter). They don't realize that even though they're burning a lot of calories once or twice a week, they are consuming way more than they're burning. Therefore they're gaining weight, not losing it.

 

How are you going to keep a healthy bank account if you never count your money? It's impossible. Can't be done.

 

The problem with most people is that when we're young we tend to be more physically active. Our young bodies were growing and needed way more calories than our older bodies do, so we're not used to counting calories. We want things to be the same as when we could eat anything and stay slim and healthy. Wanting something to be a certain way doesn't make it so. You're not 18 anymore. C'est la vie my friend, c'est la vie!

 

Counting calories is not as hard as you probably think. It requires some discipline but becomes as natural as eating once you're used to it. You learn to be a good 'guestimator' of food calories and this is usually enough for most people. Learning that a glass of skim milk is 100 calories is not that hard to remember. Most people gravitate towards the same types of food so eventually you will learn what your favorite foods cost in terms of fat. You will be very surprised how little you actually need to eat to maintain a healthy weight.

 

For most men who aren't active, 2200 calories a day is more than enough. For most women it's far less, somewhere around 1500 calories a day. Considering that a Tim Horton's breakfast sandwich + coffee with cream is probably around 800 calories or more, 2200 calories is not as much food as you'd think, especially if it's unhealthy food you have a penchant for!

 

This doesn't sound like FUN!

No it doesn't. And it isn't. In our culture we expect to get everything for nothing, but life doesn't usually work that way. You don't get a big bank account without working hard and saving every penny, and you don't get a slim body without sacrificing some pleasure out of eating. Diet companies try to say that you can have it all without sacrificing anything but they're lying to you. The only way you can eat more and lose weight is if the food you're eating has less calories than your body needs for energy.

 

Just like you have to sacrifice the pleasure of smoking in exchange for a longer life when you quit that habit, you have to sacrifice the pleasure of unhealthy eating in order to live a longer and healthier life. If you can't face the fact that other people will be enjoying a big hunk of chocolate birthday cake and you'll be drinking a glass of water and nibbling on a carrot stick instead, or others will be eating two hamburgers and you'll be only eating one, then you won't lose or maintain your weight.

 

Nothing comes for free. That includes a healthy body.

 

Does everyone have to be skinny?

Nope. No one 'has' to be anything. But this article is about losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, whatever that means to you. You may be skinny at the end of this or moderately over weight. It's up to you how far you want to take it.

 

Do I have to starve myself to lose weight?

Yep. It's a strong and surprisingly unpopular way to put it, but technically if your body is eating itself (i.e. losing weight - it doesn't just melt off you know!), you are starving. That's why it's so hard to do. We are surrounding by tantalizing food and cultural situations where we're expected to eat and you have to voluntarily starve yourself amidst all this temptation. That's exactly why most people can't lose and maintain their weight.

 


UPDATE - July 2010

So here we are, 1 year later. I thought I'd write an update to this blog entry to let you know how my last year has gone. Hopefully yours is going well and you are on your way to weight loss and a healthy body!

 

I lost it again this past year.

 

Isn't it funny? Last year I SWORE up and down that I would never weight over 180lbs again. I would maintain my weight at around 175lbs for GOOD. Yeah well that didn't work out so good.

 

After taking the summer of 2009 off, I started looking for work in a depressed market in September. By October I still didn't even have an interview! Guess what happened? Yep. I started doing more and more sitting around (after a very active summer of climbing 47 mountains!) and resorted to what I do when I'm bored and depressed. I ate. And ate some more. Many chocolate chip cookies were sacrificed before I finally got a job in late October. The damage had already started and mentally I just didn't have what it took to stop snacking and eating. I kept exercising vigorously through the fall and winter but the eating kept me from maintaining or losing the extra flab. By the end of November 2009 I was back up to 187lbs! GRRRRRRR.

 

Depressed with my weight situation AGAIN, I decided in January 2010 that something radical had to happen or I was doomed to simply be over weight. After much resolve I decided that starting on February 01 2010 I would stop eating chocolate. This would be a permanent thing, like quitting smoking or drinking. Because chocolate is the one snack that I was really addicted to (whether chocolate milk, cookies, bars, candy - they were all a major problem for me), that was the one food I would never eat again.

 

Six months later and I'm still chocolate free! The first three months of my withdrawal were very tough because I only lost 2 lbs / month while exercising insane amounts (like 80km / week running & walking)! The reason I didn't lose more weight was because I replaced chocolate with other fats such as chips and cake. Starting in May and June I dedicated myself to eating much less and still exercising quite a bit. I'm now around 170lbs and still losing. Since February I've lost 17lbs.

 

Did I mention that this is a LIFELONG struggle? :-|

 

The New Plan

So the new plan is to stay off chocolate forever. This is a sacrifice that I think is worth it. I still crave it like crazy but nothing is free and this is the cost of me staying slim. It's also teaching me self control in other areas of my life which is something I've always struggled with.

 

The new plan is that I will have to drop to (and try to maintain) a weight of around 165lbs to be slim and healthy. This is much lower than I thought I had to be. I thought 175 was a good weight for me but it's simply too easy for me to balloon over 180lbs from this place. I am going to try for 165lbs this summer and maintain this weight through the winter. It'll be the first time in 15-20  years that I'll be this weight if I manage to pull it off.

 

Wish me luck!

 

Update - November 2010

I'm still off chocolate but due to a major stretch of slight depression I am again over 175lbs (but under 180). Today I read about a guy who lost 27 pounds while eating twinkies! It's all about calories in and calories out.

 

edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/index.html

 

The battle continues...

 

Update December 2015

Wow! I can't believe it's been over 5 years since I updated this blog. Time flies... Long story short? I'm in the best cardio shape of my life at 40 years old. I'm running between 20 and 40km / week and getting averages of 12,000 to 20,000 steps per day. I climbed more mountains than any other year of my life and had some incredibly long days in the hills this year including a 3,500m height gain day

 

So I must be really slim and trim right? WRONG! I must still be done with eating chocolate right? WRONG!!

 

So why am I still over weight? Good damn question. This is more than frustrating - it's down right depressing some days. :( I'm not super over weight, but definitely still 15-20lbs heavier than I'd like to be and nowhere near as lean as I like. Even though I'm eating much more fruit, veggies and lean meats than ever before, I'm still eating too much sugar. I'm no longer off chocolate which is a major source of caloric intake for me. Over the years I have weaned myself off chocolate occasionally, but keep coming back to it's cocaine-like, dopamine boosting goodness. Goddammit.

 

I'm still quite bored at work in a Calgary high-rise office building, which encourages eating. I took two weeks off in September and lost almost 10 lbs simply by not sitting around bored all day. I've said this numerous times and I think it's still true - working in an office at a job I find boring and unfulfilling is literally killing me slowly, one day at a time. Oh well. I need to provide for my family and some days I actually enjoy it, so I will soldier on. There are things we all need to do in life that we'd rather not if we didn't have to. I'm delighted with my cardio and exercise, but once again I'm reminded that it's all about EATING. Exercise is merely to help me get up and down mountains and do the activities I enjoy, it does not make me slim and trim physically. Goddammit. (I swear a lot more now, in my 40's because I no longer care what folks think of me... ;))

 

At the end of the day, if I can't control the calories in, no matter how much I work out each day, they won't go out fast enough to prevent fat build up. Of course, getting older doesn't help either. My body simply loves to store calories and whether I like it or not, most days I seem perfectly content to feed it more than it needs.

 

All I can say to the many people reading this that might also struggle with their weight, is to KEEP ON, KEEPING ON. I know it's a struggle and a depressing one at that, but you are much more than your weight! Your value as a person and your ability to tackle life with all its wondrous challenges is much more important than a few numbers on a scale or looking how Hollywood says you should.

 

Update Feb 2016

So here I am, only a few months after the last update. I think blogging about my struggles must have helped motivate me because starting in January 2016 I once again gave up chocolate, snacking and eating (!!) and have lost about 10 lbs in one month. Currently, I'm still going strong but I have a long ways to go.

 

Something I'm trying this time around, is taking weekly photographs of myself so that I can see the physical changes in my body as I lose the weight. Yesterday was my 5th photo session and I can finally notice a real physical difference in the way my body looks. I will keep going strong for another month and update in March.

 

Update March 2016

Well, I'm still going strong. My previous record for very strict dieting (around 1200-1800 calories intake at most every day, 7 days a week, plus daily 1-2 hours of exercise) was 6 weeks and I'm now approaching 9 full weeks of very intensive dieting - along with lots of exercise of course.

 

I am in the stage where some days I don't have enough energy to do my usual 10-15km of walking but I have managed to keep hiking and doing easier stuff while I try to maintain dieting long enough to reach my goal weight. I still haven't weighed myself - that's coming on April 1 - but I have stopped wearing certain clothing that doesn't fit anymore and my photos are showing a remarkable physical difference since I started this endeavor in January. I get angry when I look at them because they show how much weight I gained at the end of last year, even with all the exercise I was doing. It doesn't seem fair. :(

 

This will be a tough month as I seem to have entered the stage of weight loss where every pound is an epic battle of the will versus the body. I'm delighted with my progress but I'm scared of how much longer it'll take to finally lose the amount of weight I need to be satisfied. I'm thinking I will have to continue this current diet for at least the month of April too. Losing weight becomes almost impossible in your 40's - I'm going to have to figure out a way to never gain it back...

 

Update April 2016

Believe it or not, I am still dieting almost 14 full weeks after starting this journey way back in January of this year. I just had an unbelievably rough month in March. :( Even though I managed to continue my strict caloric intake, I am now so depleted that I got majorly ill, not once, but twice! And I mean, MAJORLY! I was so sick this past week that I had a high fever for over 48 hours before it finally broke. I don't think this is directly related to my weight loss, but I'm sure my body has much less energy to fight illness now than a few months ago.

 

I have now finally lost a significant amount of weight. I bought some pants while on a weekend away with my wife in Banff this past weekend and was surprised that I'm down over 2 inches in my waist now from 13+ weeks ago! Pants that fit me only 4 or 5 weeks ago are now falling off. :) This is VERY ENCOURAGING.

 

I was going to weigh myself on April 1, but I've decided to wait at least another month before stepping on a scale. I suspect the numbers still won't impress me much at this point, and I'm really, really worried about losing momentum. At all costs, I must continue this effort! I don't have the will or energy to do something like this again any time soon. It's hard to explain to folks who've never struggled with their weight or who have never lost significant weight, but doing what I'm doing takes an incredible toll on both the body and mind. I am still shocked to look at photos from January and realize how f'ing over weight I somehow got again at the end of last year, despite all the exercise I was doing. This bothers me a great deal and worries me for the future. How can I prevent this from happening again? I don't think I can handle this type of weight loss effort again in my life. It's simply too hard and takes too much out of me. :(

 

Every single day for almost 100 days now, I've struggled with eating enough food to function and keep from falling over, but only that much and not much more. Every day I worry about whether or not today is the day I "fall off the wagon". Every single damn day is a fight against my body (which is getting weak from all the dieting) and my mind (which tells me to simply "give up"). I am reminded every single day that truly losing weight is so much harder than the pretty lady on TV promises. She tells me that I don't have to give up anything in order to "have it all". To go from so-called "normal" North American eating patterns which involves at least 3 full meals plus snacks and drinks every day to my current regimen of 1.5 meals and maybe a couple of granola bars and an apple a day, has been extremely difficult for me.

 

Here's what a normal day used to look like compared to what I try to eat nowadays;

 

Meal Before Current
Breakfast Coffee with muffin or breakfast sandwich Coffee with home made banana bread or fibre 1 bar
Snack Something unhealthy like candy from coworkers Apple
Lunch Something unhealthy with a coffee Coffee with high fiber chicken sandwich and an apple
After Work Couple of cookies with milk N/A
Dinner 1-3 helpings of home cooked meal or frozen pizza with milk, bread, cheese etc. 1/2 helping of dinner, no milk, no bread
Evening Couple of cookies (or more) with milk, crackers, chips or whatever is around to eat N/A
Exercise

Run or walk every day, climb, ski, hike, bike on weekends and holidays

 

Eat as needed to cover energy needs will exercising on weekends

Run or walk every day (at least 10-15,000 steps). Climb, ski, hike, bike on weekends and holidays

 

Eat as needed to cover energy needs will exercising on weekends

 

As you can see, this is a pretty significant change! As I move forward in life and slowly transition from a weight loss model to a weight maintenance one, I am probably only adding another 0.5 to my evening meal or something like that. It is very shocking to me how little food the human adult over 40 years old needs! I was reminded of this in Banff this past weekend. My wife and I did a lot of people watching and of course we went out for dinner a few times. Firstly, we noticed that (most) people are ALWAYS EATING. Most folks are also significantly overweight - including a disturbing number of younger people (i.e. teenagers). From beavertails to ice cream cones to fudge snacks to bars, restaurants and coffee shops - folks seem to be eating from sun up until sun down. I certainly hope these people aren't shocked that they're over weight! I'm surprised that most of them aren't MORE overweight, to be perfectly honest!

 

Another thing we noticed, is that serving sizes are way too big. We only had a light breakfast, barely any lunch and then dinner, and we both ended up over or very close to over our needed caloric intake for the day. This is without drinking, eating or snacking AT ALL during the day. I didn't want to finish my dinner because I could feel myself overeating as my plate emptied. I know what some of you might be thinking; "can't I just enjoy life and eat freely on holiday"? Yep. You can. But you'll gain weight doing it! Your choice I guess. ;)

 

As I continue to transition (very slowly and carefully) off a strict diet and onto a more sustainable eating pattern, I'm realizing that my eating life is going to look very different in the future than it did in the past. Essentially, my eating patterns going forward need to more closely resemble a strict caloric deficient diet than a 'normal' one. I don't get to eat "normally" anymore because I can't handle it when I do. "Normal eating", for me, doesn't exist. I am either eating too much or not enough - there isn't an easy middle ground ahead. This isn't an easy pill for me to swallow - remember I've been this way for over 40 years now! Changing fundamental life habits at 40 isn't easy. But I'll continue to try...

Of Peaks and Peakbagging

After completing the so-called "Kane List" in 2012 and now continuing to scramble and climb bigger and even more remote peaks, I find myself entering a somewhat reflective phase of my peak bagging career and my life in general. (I also turned 40 this year!!) Other friends also started completing (competing?) summit lists. Between us we have all stood on hundreds and hundreds of Canadian Rockies summits. Allow me to be honest for a bit, about why I climb mountains and enjoy the wilderness and why I will never again chase after a "list" of things to do, whether it's for summits, life goals or the latest fad of chasing a "bucket" list.

 

First some background. When I first started climbing mountains I never even knew there was a 'list'. I just loved the views, loved the exercise and loved getting out with friends. As I made my career in the bustling concrete jungles of Calgary the peace that comes with a solo trip on a beautiful summer day is what kept me sane. When Dave Stephens and the RMBooks web board came to my attention I lost a little bit of that innocence. I believe it started fairly benign but soon the atmosphere around the web board became competitive. Dave even started a spreadsheet to track everyone's progress on the list compared with each other. If you know anything about Dave, he could turn any occasion into a competition - I think it's his American blood! :-) Since I'm of Dutch heritage, I stupidly agree to take on any challenge so I can't blame this all on Dave either. For about 4 years I still climbed many of my peaks because I loved them, but many were tackled also because I wanted to accomplish something. I wanted to summit more mountains than anyone else. I wanted my accomplishments to matter to others. This was ultimately, a huge mistake that I have vowed never to repeat.

 

 

Over the years I noticed that the mountains were becoming too much of a checklist for me. Sure! I still loved getting out and enjoyed standing summits and hiking along the beautiful valleys, but there was always a lurking compulsion to be on a summit at every opportunity possible. When you're a family person such as myself, with a full time job and many other responsibilities outside of the mountains, it can get discouraging to see friends and acquaintance's successes in the mountains, when compared with your own. My most "accomplished" year was 2009 when I took four months off and managed to ascend 47 peaks in between all my family commitments. I know more than one person who has done over 120 summits in one year! Next to that even my best year looks rather tame! 

 

I began to notice something about myself that I didn't like very much. I would be in a bad mood if the weather was perfect for climbing and I felt stuck at home. I have a beautiful family and to feel stuck when I was at home with them was not cool. It certainly caused tension in my marriage too! My wife went through a phase where she absolutely hated (and I mean really hated) mountains and anything even remotely related to mountains. There was a few years where I don't think she even knew which mountain I was planning to do the next day or which one I did the day afterwards. :( In order to make things work with my family, job and love of the wild, I completely revamped my world view and lifestyle. I started working for myself so I could be my own boss. I worked 4 day weeks for many years so I could go out on Fridays rather than impact the family on weekends. My wife started to enjoy hiking, backpacking and easy scrambling and my kids got older and stronger and started joining me too. We live in a small house, drive older vehicles and don't travel abroad very much (yet). We live simply for many reasons besides my climbing, but it was certainly one factor in making many simpler choices in our lives. I still struggle with balancing my love of mountains and my love for my family. The best way to explain it is this;
 

 

When I'm with my family;

I miss the mountains.

When I'm with the mountains;

I miss my family.

 

 

I think most people who hike, scramble or climb, understand that there's a very delicate balance between climbing for the enjoyment of it and climbing for the accomplishment of it. For many climbers the two are very tightly coupled - and this is what drives them to some pretty amazing feats. For some very keen climbers the two are the exact same thing - there can be no enjoyment without accomplishment. Personally, I stop enjoying the mountains when my goal becomes bagging as many summits as possible within a set amount of time, without regard to how or why I'm summitting them or who I'm climbing them with. When my only focus is to stand on as many summits as possible, at every opportunity possible, I begin to view unclimbed mountains and unexplored landscapes as obstacles that must be conquered and figured out, rather than natural phenomena that offer me health, peace, tranquility and purpose.

 

 

I have come to realize that it is not only the accomplishment of reaching a peak that truly matters most to me. What matters most to me, is the personal enjoyment of planning a journey and wandering through the wildnerness on the way to the peaks above, experiencing the mood and character of the landscape as I move through it. I've had to remind myself of this many times over the past decade. Apparently I'm a slow learner... ;) It's so easy to be influenced by our goal and record obsessed culture! Lists are all about accomplishment and they can very quickly turn majestic and truly wonderful wilderness excursions into nothing more than a checkmark on the back page of a dog-eared book on a nightstand somewhere. Lists are great for focusing attention on certain areas or for ideas of what to do next weekend, but they have a hidden curse that I have personally experienced more than once. Lists can take the ultimate enjoyment out of climbing mountains when the focus becomes "getting the next summit on the list to make me feel accomplished" rather than, "doing the next trip on the list that gives me real enjoyment".

 

 

I am not a great climber or a mountain hard man by any stretch of the imagination - this is why I still don't climb difficult rock or ice. I simply haven't had the time or desire to put in the necessary training on rock or ice to be very good at it. I climb and hike and scramble because I like the wide open spaces. I like the smell of fresh mountain air and the freedom of balancing across a sharp ridge with birds flying overhead and nothing holding me back. I like the sound of a rushing stream as I hike next to it and the apprehension of coming across grizzly tracks in the sand as I hike up a remote valley with puffy white clouds floating overhead. I live for the smell of the pine forests and the sight of wild flowers blooming in harsh conditions where nothing should thrive at all. I love photographing the landscape as I wander through it. I can never drink enough fresh water out of the rushing mountain streams. This is why I spend time away from other responsibilities in my life. This is what gives me enjoyment. I do love the feeling of accomplishment after a long and challenging trip - Mount Assiniboine is one of my favorite trips for this reason. That was a trip that gave me the exact balance between enjoyment and accomplishment that I seek. It took me many years to work up to this mountain and this added to my feelings of satisfaction when I finally managed to ascend it. 

 

 

I do not get great pleasure out of taking a lot of risk - and alpine / rock climbing in the chossy Rockies has plenty of that! :) As I continue to climb more technically difficult mountains (i.e. the 11,000ers - and no, I am NOT chasing that list!) I have to remind myself that there is a balance between what I actually enjoy and what I sometimes think I should enjoy. Here is where I come to the crux of the matter. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own unique "sweet spot" between accomplishment and enjoyment. I found myself sacrificing personal enjoyment with some of my recent summits, because I was comparing myself to what others were accomplishing at the same time. I should have known better - but life is all about learning new things and relearning old ones I guess. 

 

Personal enjoyment should never depend on others' victories - this is the surest way to diminish the moments in your life that most deserve to be celebrated - no matter what they might mean when others do them or even do them better. Each of us is different and although the media loves to tell us that we should all love the same types of adventure and the same things in life, this is pure bullshit. So I will celebrate my moments on the summit because they're mine and I earned them. I will bask in the enjoyment of finally standing on certain peaks after dreaming about them for many years and spending many moments anticipating what it would finally feel like to travel there. 

 

 

Even though climbing mountains is something that most folks simply couldn't care less about, doing so has done wonderful things for me. It has helped me lose about 30 pounds and keep it (mostly) off for over a decade. It has kept me mentally in balance. It has helped me avoid depression that tends to run in my family. It has boosted my knowledge and appreciation for the natural world and the important role we humans have in it. It has given me perspective on life and provided me with an escape from the ho-hum of the office career I feel stuck in. It has provided me with friends. It has provided me with art forms that I love - photography and writing. 

 

I can't be truly proud of climbing mountains since I'm neither especially good at it or doing anything special with it, but it is a big part of who I am now. When I look at my life there are other things that I'm more proud of than the peaks I've stood on;

 

  • Family. (Although this has little to do with me - they're just great people!)
  • Humanism. (Gives me perspective on the meaning and value of human life.)
  • Generosity. (Taught me that to be selfish is to be angry, stressed and depressed.)
  • Fitness. (My running, walking and biking is what keeps me feeling forever young.)
  • Marriage. (18 years with the same beautiful woman and growing in our understanding of each other every day!)
  • Escape from Indoctrination. (Opened up a new world / life for me and my family. We are now completely free of tired old ideas of morality and purpose and are truly free to explore many areas of life including science, cognition, spirituality and humanity.)

 

I challenge all my readers to reflect and meditate on why you do the things you do and believe the things you believe. In this day and age of extreme narcissism in social media, there is a very fine line between sharing our experiences and bragging about them. We all owe it to ourselves and our friends and neighbors to consider our own motivations that are driving our pursuits in life. We should all carefully consider and meditate on the reasons we obsess and prioritize certain things and experiences in our lives. Are we really enjoying our accomplishments or are they simply checkmarks on our "Bucket List", with no consideration of true happiness, passion and contentment to back them up?

 

Live on friends! And may you truly enjoy your next adventure - whatever that might be! ;)

Ratings on Explor8ion - Thoughts on Scrambling

Every year the same topics start creeping up on climbing and hiking forums across the internet or in my email inbox. It usually starts with someone free soloing a low 5th class rock route like Edith Cavell or Willingdon or something like that. The comment or question goes like this;

I read that you went up the north ridge of Mount Assiniboine without roping up or using pro. This must mean it's just a scramble right?

or

The east ridge of Edith Cavell is just a glorified scramble - nothing more.

 

I think I understand where these assumptions, discussions and questions come from and I want to address the issue of rating hikes / scrambles / climbs here so that I can refer to it when folks ask me. 

 

Downgrading Climbs

First I want to address why I think folks (including myself) like to downgrade climbs to scrambles. and then I'll go into the different formal ratings for rock and alpine routes. I think there's a few reasons to downgrade climbs;

 

  1. To be macho. :) Let's face it. It sounds cool to say you "free soloed" something. It just does. And the bigger the number after it, the better right? For example to say you "free soloed 5.1" is a bit lame. To say you "free soloed 5.8" is way cooler. You rather call a free solo of 5.1 a "scramble" than a "climb".
  2. To be humble. The opposite of number 1 but you basically don't want to hype a route or trip. You don't consider yourself a formal or trained climber so you'd rather just call everything you do a scramble, no matter how difficult it may be. If you read the book on Don Forest (excellent read BTW), you will laugh at the routes he did without a rope in order to avoid being a "climber". He didn't think he qualified! :)
  3. To keep loved ones happy. My wife still calls almost everything I do a "hike". I had to laugh when she called Twin's Tower a "hike" to someone else. If I tell my wife that I scrambled Mount Edith Cavell she doesn't worry. If I tell her that I'm climbing Mount Assiniboine, she worries. I've tried telling her that roped climbing is much safer than free soloing and she's finally coming around after years of convincing.
  4. To keep ourselves happy. This is sort of related to number 2 but with a twist. If we can convince ourselves that the east ridge of Edith Cavell is nothing but a "scramble" than we can do it without a rope or an experienced rock climber or training. This opens up way more terrain! We know deep down that it's also opening up risk, but it's "only scrambling" right? So we keep ourselves happy thinking that we aren't pushing the risk factor when we certainly are.
  5. Being naive. There is, of course, a naive component to downgrading climbs - you don't realize you're doing it. After scrambling and climbing for a while you get more and more comfortable on rock and eventually a "difficult" scramble is so easy for you, you honestly don't think it's very "difficult" anymore and start calling anything up to 5.5 a "scramble". I would argue that if you're publishing comments like this in trip reports or blogs or online forums you should try to consider others and start using formal rating systems as I doing on explor8ion. It keeps the playing field level and safe - which is exactly what it's supposed to do!

 

Alpine / Mountain Rating Systems

Alpine rating systems are designed to avoid exactly the issues I'm describing above. Rather than relying on the climber or scrambler's personal comfort level and experience to rate a route subjectively, the rating systems are supposed to add an element of formality and objectivity to the difficulty and hazards of any particular route.

 

Recently I added a couple of fields to my trip reports.I added a YDS rating and an Alpine rating to the 'Trip Details' section. There are other rating systems (i.e. the French system) that are also suited to the task but I want to keep things as simple as I can without compromising too much on usefulness of the ratings. I've also been intrigued for a few years in the Rocky Mountain Rambler Association's rating system. With their permission, I've now added it to explor8ion as well. There is a risk that things get too confusing but better too much information than not enough I suppose! You are free to ignore any or all of my ratings. A summary of the RMRA ratings is given below, after the YDS section.

 

YDS Rating System

 

Marko Stavrik sent me a very interesting link to an article about the YDS system. Since it is often used, I will still reference it in my trip reports. There are actually 3 components to a YDS rating and they apply to the crux, the overall route and the level of protection on route as follows;

 

Class - 1 to 5 from hiking to climbing. There are sub-classes when talking about 5th class climbing.

  • 1 : Walking.
  • 2 : Simple scrambling, occasional use of hands and low chance of injury.
  • 3 : Scrambling with increased exposure. Falling on the crux won't always kill you on class 3, but could.
    • ​Easy to Moderate scrambling
  • 4 : Simple climbing with exposure. Rope can be carried but isn't always used. Falls will likely kill or injure badly on cruxes.
    • Difficult scrambling
  • 5 : Technical climbing with rope and pro usually carried. Unroped falls on crux will kill or severely injure. Subclassed as follows (this is up for some debate and / or sandbagging but you get the gist...);
    • 5.1-5.4 : There are roughly 2 hand and 2 footholds for each move, the holds getting smaller as the grade increases.
    • 5.5-5.6 : The 2 hand and 2 footholds are still there somewhere - but not obvious to the inexperienced climber.
    • 5.7 : The move is missing 1 handhold or 1 foothold.
    • 5.8 : The move is missing 2 of the 4 holds - or missing only 1 but very strenuous.
    • 5.9 : The move has only 1 reasonable hold for either foot or hand.
    • 5.10 : No hand or footholds. Pretend a hold is there, pray a lot or go home. :)

 

Grade - I call this the Alpine Rating, basically from Grade I to Grade VII, indicating the length and seriousness of the route and usually applies to mountaineering routes. This rating doesn't apply to class 3 sections or the approach / egress but only to the exposed climbing / scrambling sections with the most risk.

  • I : 1 to 2 hours of climbing
  • II : Less than half a day
  • III : Half a day
  • IV : Full day
  • V : Two day
  • VI : Multi day
  • VII : A week or more

 

Protection - I ain't good enough to use this rating yet. :) It indicates the level of protection the route offers, from "good" to "no protection".

  • G - Good protection
  • PG - Pretty good
  • PG13 - Not bad but falls will result in minor injury due to length between pro
  • R - Runout. Falls could injure due to distance between good pro placements
  • X - No protection and extremely dangerous. Don't ever fall!

 

If you're still confused, here's a quote I love from RJ Secor;

  • Class 1 : you fall, you're stupid.
  • Class 2 : you fall, you break your arm.
  • Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg.
  • Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead (i.e., you can't breath and move your arms, legs, and head).
  • Class 5 : you fall, you are dead.

 

RMRA Rating System

The following is a summary of the Rocky Mountain Rambler Association's rating system (used with permission).

 

Trip Category - What type of trip is it? Technical Difficulty Levels (1-9) - How technically difficult is the most difficult section of the trip (note: it might be short or long)?

 

TL - Trail Hiking (non-winter ratings)

  • 1 - Well maintained, easy terrain suitable for running shoes (i.e. Upper Kananaskis Lakes circuit)
  • 2 - Purpose-built, graded with switchbacks if necessary (i.e. Healy Pass)
  • 3 - Sections of trail, few purpose-built sections, non-bridged streams (i.e. Prairie Mountain)
  • 4 - Hiking poles are a definite asset, rougher sections of trail that could be slightly overgrown (i.e. Memorial Lakes)

OT - Off-Trail Hiking (non-winter ratings)

  • 1 - Flat, easy gradients on firm, open ground (i.e. Alpine Lakes with no trails but a good shoreline, West Coast Trail - beach sections)
  • 2 - Moderate slopes, pretty easy terrain with some stream hopping possible (i.e. Alpine meadows with no trails and little bush)
  • 3 - Steeper slopes, rougher terrain, hiking poles an asset (i.e. Whaleback)
  • 4 - Sustained steep grassy or wooden slopes, hiking poles required for balance (i.e. Kent Ridge)
  • 5 - Steep slopes including grass, wood and scree. Little use of hands required but some exposure on route (i.e. Opal Ridge)

SC - Scrambling (rated for dry or optimal conditions)

  • 5 - Kane "easy" - YDS 1 - rocky gradients slightly more serious than OT5 (i.e. Grotto Mountain)
  • 6 - Kane "moderate" - YDS 2 - steep, exposed sections with moderately loose rocks and exposure, route-finding (i.e. Mount Temple)
  • 7 - Kane "difficult" - YDS 3/4 - very steep, exposed sections with slabby or loose rocks and lots of exposure and/or tricky route-finding in an alpine setting (i.e. Mount Chephren, Smuts, Northover)

MN - Mountaineering (in dry or optimal conditions)

  • 6 - Low angle glaciers, under 20 degrees with minimal crevasses (i.e. Saskatchewan Glacier)
  • 7 - An SC7 scramble with simply glacier terrain or snow slopes added to the mix (i.e. Mount Patterson)
  • 8 - An SC7 scramble with slightly more complex glacier travel and steeper snow slopes or extreme exposure where most folks would find a rope reasonable (i.e. Mount Victoria)
  • 9 - YDS 5.0 to 5.4 - equipment to protect the leader from falls is good practice, extreme exposure on steep but easily climbed rock, possible snow and / or ice couloirs used on route (i.e. Mount Assiniboine north ridge, Mount King George south glacier, Mount Harrison ice couloirs)

TS - Track-Set Skiing

  • 1 - Easy
  • 2 - Easy / Moderate
  • 3 - Moderate
  • 4 - Moderate / Difficult
  • 5 - Difficult

TL - Trail Skiing

  • - Easy
  • - Easy / Moderate
  • - Moderate
  • - Moderate / Difficult
  • - Difficult (Elk Lakes via Elk Pass)

OT - Off-Trail Skiing

  • - Easy - Low angle slopes with minimal avalanche hazards, on partial approach roads or easy summer hiking trails (i.e. Elephant Rocks, Healy Pass)
  • - Easy / Moderate - Low to moderate angle slopes, some avalanche hazards, partial trail on approach (Burstall Pass, Bow Summit, Parker Ridge, Simpson Pass)
  • - Moderate - Follows established winter routes with avalanche terrain and possible navigation issues in certain conditions (Crowfoot Glades, Dolomite Circuit) 
  • - Moderate / Difficult - Proceeds a bit further off-trail than a moderate route, requires more stable snow and more exposure to avalanche hazards, may require boot packing to the summit (Bow Peak, Citadel Peak, Ramp Peak)
  • - Difficult - Completely off-trail in severe avalanche terrain, requires very stable snow conditions and good weather (Spray Traverse, Crowfoot Mountain, Jimmy Junior, Snow Peak)

MN - Ski Mountaineering

  • - Fairly low angle approach on established winter routes, avalanche hazards and easy glacier travel requiring crevasse and avalanche rescue gear (Mount Rhondda, Gordon, Thompson, French / Haig / Robertson)
  • - Moderately hazardous approach through crevassed and avalanche or serac-exposed terrain, usually requires overnight winter gear along with crevasse and avalanche rescue gear (North Twin, Mount Baker)
  • - Hazardous approach, severely crevassed terrain, large avalanche slopes, usually requires overnight winter camping (Mount Balfour, Mount Columbia, Mount Resplendent)
  • - Hazardous approach, hazardous winter, cornices and/or glaciated terrain to the summit, severely crevassed and avalanche-exposed slopes on route and usually requires overnight winter camping (Mount Collie, Twin's Tower, South Twin, The Helmet)

TL - Trail Snowshoeing

  • - Easy (Kananaskis Village area)
  • - Easy / Moderate (Rummel Lake)
  • - Moderate (Rawson Lake, Elk Pass)
  • - Moderate / Difficult (Chester Lake)
  • - Difficult (Elk Lakes via Elk Pass)

OT - Off-Trail Snowshoeing

  • - Moderate angle slopes with some avalanche terrain (Mount Fortune)
  • - Moderate to steep snow slopes with avalanche terrain (Big Bend Peak)
  • - Steep snow slopes with avalanche terrain and possible glacier travel (Castleguard Peak, Commonwealth Ridge)
  • - Extremely steep snow slopes with severe avalanche terrain and / or glacier travel with crevasses and / or cornices (Mount Wilson, Mount Olive - both summits)

 

Conclusion

Notice one thing about the ratings above? They never include whether or not someone actually uses a rope or not. They might talk about using a rope, or the need for using one - but whether or not a climber actually takes out the rope and places pro doesn't impact the rating of the route at all. The RISK and SERIOUSNESS of the route determine its rating. The experience, naivety or cockiness of the CLIMBER determines whether or not he or she actually pulls a rope on the route.

 

So, when you're describing a weekend outing for others to read and possibly emulate, I would argue that the safest, most reliable method of rating what you did would be to learn the basic rating system used in North America and apply it to your description to avoid confusion or misunderstanding. If the route you're on already has a rating, make sure you highlight it with a comment like, "due to the great rock quality and conditions we soloed the 5.3 climbing sections..." or something like that. Obviously there is still some subjectivity when rating 4th class terrain (scrambles) as "easy", "moderate" or "difficult" but I think it should be fairly obvious when you are on 4th or 5th class terrain.

 

  • If a fall will almost certainly kill you, you are NOT scrambling anymore and should use 5th class ratings. Don't be a sandbagger
  • If a fall will likely kill you but not certainly, you might be scrambling and should use descriptors like "easy" or "difficult" to relay the seriousness and length of the scramble.

 

​YMMV of course, but this is how I'm rating my outings from now on and will be going back over old trip reports to modify them as needed.

 

Sisyphean Life Lessons - King Edward II

 

Mountain Dukkha

 

Buddha says that most of life's suffering is caused by an endless cycle of human craving for impermanent things and states of being, which is dukkha - incapable of satisfying and painful. By trapping ourselves in this continuous state of craving things that don't last, we are caught in an endless cycle of rebirth, dukkha and dying, or samsara. Only by attaining nirvana can we be liberated from this path of suffering.

 

I'm considering the possibility that Mount King Edward - or likely all mountains in general - is my samsara. Might I be caught in an endless cycle of craving something on the next mountain top that the last one didn't fully satisfy - for whatever reason? I am cognizant that often the most satisfying adventures might not be "successful" in the classically defined sense of reaching the original goal, such as a summit. Some successes might be born of traditionally defined failures. Sometimes coming out on top may mean not even getting to the top at all! Case in point - this past weekend on Ben and my second attempt and second failure at our goal to stand tall on the summit of Mount King Edward, a Canadian Rockies 11,000er. Was this trip a failure or a success for us? Making the question much more interesting is the fact that a third member of our party - Steven Song - did make the summit, while we watched him do it from far below. Intrigued? Read on.

 

Last year around the exact same time period, Ben and I made our first attempt at this gorgeous peak. Due to minimal overnight freeze (i.e. none), we packed up and headed home, disappointed to put all of that time and effort into a "failure". I remember feeling pretty bummed about it for a few weeks. Over the years I've managed a pretty strong success rate when it comes to standing on the top of mountains that I'd set out to do. This is much easier in hiking and scrambling than mountaineering simply because the objectives are usually much easier to plan for and be flexible on. Much of my high success rate was due to extreme flexibility and planning around weather and conditions. I've also gotten very lucky on many of the larger objectives and I've taken some chances that on hindsight weren't very smart either.

 

Lately, I've slowly gotten more and more disillusioned and disheartened over attaining peaks just for the sake of it. It can be such a selfish, empty and ultimately meaningless enterprise when it's pretty much all you focus on in life. And it's not without costs either! Mountains have cost me incalculable amounts of family time, personal expense and even relationships. More and more often, I catch myself feeling like Sisyphus, except my boulder is a backpack and instead of a Greek god forcing me into an endless cycle of pointless toil, my Zeus is either lists of summits defined by others, or a self imposed correlation between summits, self-worth and meaning in my life. I know from talking with other mountain enthusiasts that I am not alone in this particular dukkha. I suppose nirvana isn't easy. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way - life lessons are rarely attained through easy, and possibly lucky, success.

 

Learning the Hard Way

 

The Plan

 

The last week of May, 2017 was shaping up to be a pretty darn nice one. Long term forecasts just kept getting better and better until not planning something big, seemed like a waste of the weather god's generous and rare gift. After the usual emails and Facebook messages finished swirling and bouncing around the globe, it was a regrouping of the little adventure group of Ben Nearingburg, Steven Song and myself that decided a King Edward redux was in order. As mentioned earlier, in 2016 Ben and I were part of another attempt at this remote 11,000er at much the same time (early June). Most folks do King Edward in late summer or early fall to take advantage of a lower Bryce Creek and a clear glacier to avoid the many crevasses on route to the SW face. In these conditions it's usually a rock route with a few low-fifth sections. After seeing Trevor Sexsmith and Ian Button's east face ascent and ski descent in 2015, Ben decided that skiing the SW face would be an ideal and interesting way to climb Kind Eddy. Obviously, I agreed.

 

The challenge with climbing King Eddy safely, in late May or early June, is that five things that normally don't line up, must align or you will be forced to take high-consequence risks. The five things are;

 

  1. Good weather (i.e. clear)
  2. Cold (i.e. hard overnight freeze)
  3. Low Bryce Creek
  4. Dry and drivable Bush River FSR
  5. Lots of snow (i.e. good coverage on glacier and SW face)

 

The problem is that some of the 5 things above don't align with each other very easily. In order for the road to be in good shape, it must be dry. This implies hot weather to melt snow and release avalanches early so that they can be cleared off the road. Lots of snow means that the road might not be cleared to the end. Lots of snow implies a high Bryce Creek, especially if it's warm weather. Low snow melt implies less coverage on the glacier and more chance of thin snow bridges or crappy weather, preventing a melt. Cold temperatures imply bad weather at the end of May. Clear skies, implies warm or hot weather. The incongruities go on and on. But since we're all pretty optimistic, we decided to go for it anyway. Sometimes you just have to put the analysis and predictions to the side and tackle an adventure with enthusiasm. It rarely works out but it can produce a heckuva tale!

 

The Approach

 

Ben and I met at around 15:00 at the Lake O'Hara parking lot before continuing on to Golden where we'd be meeting Steven at Josee's place around 16:00 or so. Steven stopped by Ian Button's place in Golden to grab a chainsaw in case of deadfall on the Bush River FSR before proceeding to Josee's house. Ben and I had a delightful hour or so visiting with Josee who was a very gracious host along with her three energetic dogs. The weather was very warm down in the valley and honestly we talked about the fact that it was very likely too bloody warm to be planning a SW face snow climb for the weekend. Eventually Steven showed up and it was nice to visit after a couple of years since we last saw each other. We transferred all our gear to Steven's truck and soon we were bombing along the TCH for the turnoff to the Bush River FSR near Donald, BC.

 

It was a hot, dusty evening but the road was largely clear of traffic by the time we started the long drive to the King Eddy parking area. We noticed some fresh road work around the Sullivan River Road intersection - a good sign of the road being actively maintained, likely in preparation for the 2017 logging season. We drove quite a few more pleasant KM's before Steven suddenly exclaimed that our good luck was ending. Sure enough! Just ahead of us was an obvious, fairly fresh avalanche blocking the entire road. As we got out to examine it closer, it was obvious that our second serious attempt of King Edward was going to be over long before it even started. Unfortunately for us, we required a bulldozer to get rid of this obstacle and Ian didn't own one of those to lend us. Huh.

 

But wait a dang minute! I quickly blurted out the question,

 

How far are we from the end of the road?

 

GPS units were deployed and brows furrowed over the question. Soon the answers starting coming in. Ben thought we were around 15km or so and I quickly agreed that it was around that far (I actually thought it was slightly further at close to 17km, but who's counting). Fifteen kilometers isn't that far is it? With a road to walk on, we could easily maintain a 4km/h pace and could even dampen the pain by wearing our running shoes and carrying our heavy mountaineering boots. Navigation in the dark wouldn't be an issue as we had head lamps and the road is pretty bloody obvious anyway. It was only when I slightly adjusted the wording that we had second thoughts. 

 

This means we're adding 30+ kms to our trip total.

 

GULP. Thirty extra kilometers sounded a wee bit crazy. Remember - this is full-on winter mountaineering. We were packing skis, snowshoes, large boots, crampons, axes, ropes, glacier safety gear, rock gear, tents, stoves, fuel and warm clothing including down jackets, fleece and other glacier camping necessities. This wasn't a day hike with Aunt Edna to Three Isle Lake. This was a full backcountry expedition. Sure! It was only a few days but that only changes the amount of fuel and food we carried - everything else we needed to pack was pretty standard whether it was a week, or a 3 day long trip. We stood outside the truck looking forlornly at the pile of avalanche debris while the early evening sun shone brightly down on us and the sounds of the Bush River and it's many local inhabitants wafted through the dry air and took over our senses. What the heck. Why not? Let's do it! Life is short and we're here now. Nobody really felt like any of our alternate plans and what's 15km between friends? Four hours of walking? Meh. No problem.

 

Twenty minutes later, after hurriedly stuffing our large packs with the requisite gear (we were expecting lots of time to do this at the end of the road later that evening) we were tramping off down the Bush River road. It was around 20:30 - we would be getting to sleep well after midnight. Our ideas of a leisurely camp with lots of time to eat, load gear and prepare for our trip were gone. We were into things much earlier than expected - but this is the nature of trips like this. You can't be too rigid or you might as well stay home. Nature doesn't give a crap about your emails or schedules. She just does her thing and you either have to accept and adapt or go home. Your choice. She doesn't care one bit either way. Steven and I both decided to absorb the extra kilometers in our running shoes to try save our feet on the hard surface of the gravel road. Ben decided to walk in his ski boots. This sounds crazy, but he also walked all the way to Mount Forbes via Glacier Lake this way so he'd done it before. (It's still a bit crazy though. :)) Ben also decided to bring his skis instead of snowshoes. I had my skis along in the truck, but once the extra 34 kilometers got added to the itinerary, I quickly chose the 'shoes over the snow sticks. I'm a sucker for punishment, but even I have my limits! Ben was just coming off a 27 day ski traverse along the Great Divide route so he was still firmly in ski mode. Thank goodness he has short and very light skis - this detail will become crucial later in this tome.

 


[A last glance back at the truck as we cross the avy debris and start our 17km march down the Bush River FSR.]

 

Tramping down the Bush River road was quite pleasant for the first few hours. Birds were chirping in the BC forest next to the road. The sun was warm, but not too warm. There was a slight breeze carrying the intoxicating scent of spring. Views were intermittent but very impressive, as usual for this area of the Rockies. Cockscomb and Bryce stole the show across a roaring Bush River while the Chess Group and other unnamed peaks loomed over us to the west. We chatted about all the many exciting trips we'd been on since last going out together and as the shadows grew longer and our feet grew hot spots from the concrete-hard road surface we slowly grew quiet and let the monotony of long distance hiking with a heavy pack take over our senses. Running into a large black bear and a huge (think grizzly bear cub size) porcupine broke the monotony a bit and reminded us why we wrapped the truck with chicken wire. There were three large trees downed over the road - that chainsaw we borrowed from Ian certainly would have been very handy for these if we'd managed to drive further. Finally, after three hours or so we reached the bridge over a roaring Bush River, just before the Bush River FSR intersects the much smaller South Rice Brook road, which leads to the Bryce and Alexandra approaches. We took a break here. Originally Ben had us excited that we only had 2km to the end of the road. That didn't sound right, however, so I pulled out my GPS and confirmed that it was closer to 5.5km. Darn. Nothing to do at this point but shoulder the packs and push onwards - and as it turns out - upwards. As night settled in we donned our headlamps and slowly continued up the narrowing road. We were all done with the "easy" approach by the time Bryce Creek stopped our progress and marked the end of the Bush River FSR. Our stats for the evening stroll were over 17kms of distance and around 450m of height gain with 300m of height loss. We tried to ignore our sore feet and shoulders as we set up camp on the road. It was bloody warm as we got into our sleeping bags. Alarms were set for 04:00 to allow an early crossing of the creek, which looked higher than a year previous to me.

 


[Evening settles in as we continue on the road with Mount Bryce looming over us now.]


[The chainsaw would have been put to good use.]

 

Sunday morning dawned very early! Already at 04:30 it was light enough for no headlamps as we packed up camp and prepared to cross what looked like a fairly deep and fast Bryce Creek. By 05:00 we were dipping our toes into the fast flowing water and taking tentative steps across. The water felt as deep and fast as on the return a year previous when we all felt like we didn't want it to be any higher. This was at the back of my mind for the next few days as the temperatures soared and the creek inevitably would rise further. By 05:30 we were tramping up the road to the cutblock - a familiar trek for Ben and I. I am always struck by the beauty in this area. I'm not sure if it's my imagination or not, but the birds seem to chirp louder and the environment itself seems more pervasive than many other areas of the Rockies. Everything is bigger somehow. I'm not gonna lie. I was feeling the previous night's 17km death march as we ground our way up the overgrown road. Our packs were heavy but our spirits soared, as we enjoyed another gorgeous day in the Rockies. We introduced Steven to the alders on the road - not something you see every day and a bit of a bummer considering how easy the road is above and below this section. The same stream was still running on another section of the road, making us hop, skip and jump around to avoid sopping wet feet. What was vastly different this year compared to the previous, was the snow line. We encountered our first snow much lower on the road and soon Ben could finally don his skis and start skinning which brought a huge smile to his face after carrying the boards around 20km and over 700m vertical to this point! Steven and I were also happy to take the weight of our snowshoes off our packs.

 


[Steven and I have already crossed Bryce Creek and are waiting for Ben.]


[A familiar trudge now.]


[Alder-thrashing on the road.]


[We reach snow much earlier and lower down than on our last trip.]

 

From the snow line on the road, travel was excellent. The temperature got low enough on Saturday night to give us fairly supportive snow all the way to the top corner of the cutblock before entering the forested slopes to the alpine meadows above. Instead of running water and easy bushwhacking, we had at least 3 or 4 feet of snow in the forest. Travel was very easy and fast as we knew the route. Old snowmobile tracks also helped keep us aligned - as the gullies in this section can make you wander off in random directions if you're not paying attention.

 

Once the trees started thinning we followed a slightly different route than the year before and as it turns out a slightly more direct route to the tarns and our intended glacier access point from the alpine meadows. Our access was east of an obvious rock buttress that we ascended the year before - GR660745 via a nice uniform snowy ramp. There were no visible crevasses as we finally crested the ramp and took in views of the icefield between us and King Edward. Once again, I was impressed by the view of Mount Columbia's west face and Cockscomb and Bryce rising behind us. The Chess Group to the west looked fantastic too - with avalanches thundering off it's steep east aspects. There was some debate about where we should stop for the day but there were pros and cons either way. Going right to the bottom of the SW face was better for an early alpine start the next day but meant traveling across the glacier with heavy packs on rapidly softening snow bridges. Falling in a crevasse would suck anyway - but falling in a slot with a fully loaded backpack is even worse! Also, we were only about 1.5km from the SW face anyway - not a long distance to travel with lighter packs the next day. With great snow coverage we knew we'd find a way through the crevasse field to the face. There was also the simple fact that we'd traveled over 28 kilometers and almost 2000 vertical meters with heavy winter mountaineering packs over the past 12 hours and did not feel like continuing further with them on.

 


[Easy travel up the final cutblock (travel to upper left) with Mount Columbia visible.]


[Easy and fast travel in the trees too.]


[The gullies work against you a bit on the traverse as you always want to follow them while the route mostly cuts across.]

 
[Now that's a view! King Eddy at left and Columbia with Steven and Ben in the foreground at right. ++]

 
[Ben and Steven look pretty small with Columbia rising dramatically over them in the distance. ++]


[The last stand of trees before reaching a world of complete white.]

 
[Looking back at our approach including Bryce, Cockscomb and Pawn (L to R). ++]


[The handrail ridge at left with our ramp onto the glacier just ahead. KE in the distance, obviously.]


[The terrain is bigger than it appears.]


[Mount Columbia with a tarn in the foreground.]


[Made it!]

 

We set up a cozy camp in decent snow conditions and settled in for hours of lounging and resting at camp - all the while staring at Mount King Edward and it's snow covered SW face and upper gullies. The afternoon sun was relentless and we found ourselves wishing for some cloud cover which never did show up. The snow was obviously very soft around our camp - even on the glacier, but we did a lot of probing to ensure we weren't on top of any hidden holes.

 

There were some concerning hints of instability in the snow, that were pretty obvious from our camp on the glacier. First of all, the east aspects of the Chess Group were avalanching constantly throughout the afternoon as temperatures soared and the sun beat down on them relentlessly. These are very steep aspects and include overhanging cornices, glaciers and seracs so this wasn't 100% relevant to our route. Our intended route was quite a bit tamer and on a SW aspect which wouldn't get sunlight until around 08:00. A much more concerning thing for me, when I peered through my 300mm lens towards King Eddy, was evidence of a recent, big slab avalanche on the same SW aspect and as a matter of fact, the very same slope that we intended to climb the next day. The slab ripped out at an obvious shallow rock outcrop and ran right to ground. It was a big one too - propagating at least 350 vertical meters over steep cliffs and running another few hundred meters across the glacier below. It was at least 300m wide too. The thing that bothered me as I studied it was why the heck our slope, immediately to the south of the slide, hadn't triggered at the same time? How much was our slope disturbed by the neighboring one's demise? Why didn't the obvious shallow rocks and convexity about halfway up our slope set off a similar slide? What the heck was our slope waiting for? I would have felt much better if the whole SW face had slid rather than just a random part of it. I also noted how black the exposed rock on KE is. That strong spring sun had to be heating those black rocks like coals in a fire - setting off instabilities deep in the snow pack. At least a glacial base won't heat up the same way a rock one does. The exposed rock was in some interesting places along our intended line of ascent including a couple of visible cracks and couloirs that were showing signs of releasing rockfall and sluffing. I secretly hoped that our slope would rip out that afternoon or even overnight and solve the problem of assessing whether or not it would remain stable long enough for us to finish our climb the next day before finally giving up and just letting go.

 


[Catching some zzz's and drying out gear.]


[Ben's tent at camp.]


[The giant north face of Mount Bryce. This has been skied!]


[Pawn Peak is impressive in the Chess Group to the west.]


[Not too many souls climb the equally impressive Cockscomb Mountain to the south.]


[Looking over GR660745 that we ascended a year previous when it was a scree summit.]


[Almost 9:30pm and still this light! Note the avalanche on the SW face right next to our slope?]

 

We discussed setting tracks to the bottom of the SW face for the next morning but nobody really felt like crossing the glacier in the nuclear conditions we were experiencing, so we held off. On hindsight setting some tracks to the face might have been a good idea as there was plenty of coverage on the glacier to keep any snow bridges pretty safe despite the heat. Again - 28km and 2000 meters height gain with heavy packs didn't help our motivation. After lounging around for hours, we tried turning in early with an 03:00 wakeup time. We wanted to give the snow enough time to set up - if not from a good hard freeze (which we vastly preferred), at least from re-radiation provided we had a clear overnight sky. Trying to fall asleep in the hot tent wasn't easy but eventually I drifted off with my toque pulled low over my eyes to block the seemingly never sleeping sun.

 

The Climb

 

I woke up and my first thought was how warm I felt. This wasn't a good thing. I'm always cold sleeping on glaciers - especially in the morning. And usually I'm wearing my big down jacket, while on this occasion I was in a t-shirt and my thin Gore-tex jacket. Uh oh. Ben confirmed that the temperature was at around 4 degrees outside as I got out and tramped around camp to see if the snow had set up overnight. It had - marginally. I sunk through a thin crust every fifth step or so. The slight north breeze felt warm! Well, we were here now and there was some firming of the snow, so we decided to eat breakfast and wander over towards King Eddy to check it out.

 

By 04:15 Steven was leading us over and around some broken up sections of the glacier. Coverage was excellent and by 05:00 we were approaching the bottom of the SW face, which looked to have excellent snow coverage right to the edge of the glacier and covering the rocky access to the SW face proper. As we transitioned to crampons for the climb, things weren't looking too bad. The snow seemed more supportive at the base of the slope than it was at camp, although it was still 2 degrees and felt very warm. I was pretty much on Steven's heels as he started kicking steps up the steep snow to an obvious moat about 100 vertical meters above. Right away, as I followed him up, I knew that our 2nd attempt at this peak was likely over. 

 


[Approaching King Edward's SW face.]


[Waiting for Steven to clear the first convexity around the moat at the top of the first slope to see if the slope holds. Note how deep the tracks are already? Pure slush at this point.]

 

I was using one alpine ax and a pole with no basket so that I could assess the snowpack as I climbed (this also works as a handy crevasse probe when crossing glaciers). My ax was pretty much useless in the soft snow but what really concerned me was that my 125cm hiking pole sank easily right to the handle without hitting any resistance in the snow pack whatsoever. When I pulled it out, the snow in the hole it left behind was very blue - i.e. wet. I doggedly kept going and as Steven approached the moat I stiffened once again as another sign of instability made itself known. The sound of a small waterfall running out from under our slope onto the rocks beside me on my left disturbed the still morning air. Yikes! Even worse? When I stopped to listen further, I noticed another gurgling stream of water running out of the slope on the other side of our slope to my right! Jeez. To summarize the conditions I noted on the first 50 vertical meters of climbing to the SW face that morning;

 

  1. No overnight freeze at this elevation.
  2. A large to-ground slide at the very same elevation, aspect and even the same slope that we were on, just to our left.
  3. An open moat above us where the slope is convex as it rolls over from the SW face and down steep slabby cliffs to the glacier below (this slope can apparently be quite challenging to climb when dry - it's pretty steep).
  4. Another section of exposed rock, higher up the slope with another crack opening up on yet another convex roll - this is the exact line that the other half of the SW face had already ripped out along.
  5. No stability in the snowpack - slushy right to ground and I was sinking knee deep when I wasn't tip-toeing in Steven's tracks.
  6. Running water under the snow - on both sides of our slope, which was sitting on steep, slabby rock - not glacial ice and which had already slid pretty large just off to our left over similar slabby terrain.

 

Honestly, at this point we all should have turned around and gone home. We knew the forecast wasn't improving over the next few days for snow travel. We had plenty of warning that the slope we wanted to climb was on a hair-trigger to slide, and had many good reasons to let go, nevermind three people climbing on it and encouraging it even further! We knew that even if the lower slope held us on ascent, the sun would be hitting it by the time we descended sometime after 08:00. Initially we had given ourselves until around 10:00 to exit - hoping for a freeze to stabilize things - but this didn't happen. I yelled up several times at Steven, asking him about conditions where he was and inquiring how the moat looked as he looked to be struggling a bit with the snow over it. He replied that the snow was very "loose" and he was looking for a way over it. I replied that conditions were looking dicey and it wasn't safe. He didn't reply as I turned around and descended a bit towards Ben who was getting ready to ascend just below. I knew that Steven would keep pushing on - such is his modus operandi. But it's not mine.

 

The One Who Speaks First

 

I would like to state at this point, that there is a method to my madness in the next bit of writing, besides personal angst or feelings of defeat. When Steven posted his trip online almost immediately after the trip was finished, the reaction from certain people was to congratulate him on "pushing through difficult conditions" and "successfully bagging the summit" while presumably Ben and I didn't have the energy or stones to follow. There is much more to this tale than a hard-won summit and two people left waiting far below, without the requisite gonads. It's the other parts of the story that are especially relevant for any aspiring mountaineers reading it, who might not understand some of the subtleties of ethics and safety that (should) exist within alpine climbing. I am reminded of one of my favorite life quotes that is found in Proverbs 18:17:

 

The first person to speak always seems right until someone comes and asks the right questions.

 

As the first to very quickly (and very publicly I might point out) write and post about our trip, Steven talks a lot about speed and soloing difficult winter objectives on his own. Speed is an essential skill in alpinism as often conditions are changing fast and speed is one way to mitigate risks that might be increasing all around you (i.e. sun on snow slopes, rockfall, thunderstorms etc.). Soloing winter objectives is a risky business - there's no one to dig you out if you get buried - but I couldn't care less about anyone risking their own lives and suffering the consequences of making their own choices to travel or climb solo. I love traveling solo in the mountains and do it all the time. Trust me - I get the "solo thing". The problem in this case is that this was not a solo trip and conditions weren't deteriorating, necessitating speed above all else - they were already deteriorated before we even started out that morning. I'm a fairly laid back guy and on many of my scrambling or hiking trips I have no problem if the people I'm with separate for stretches of time while we each go our own pace or even pick our own routes and get lost in our own thoughts. But alpine climbing in a group is a different game than hiking or scrambling with others - and for a lot of reasons. Taking off on your own isn't just selfish when you're part of an alpine climbing group - it's very dangerous for all the parties involved and here's just some of the reasons why:

 

  1. The person going ahead could (and will) knock down rocks / ice / avalanches on the party he's left below.
  2. The group loses it's ability to make safe and wise decisions regarding everything from current conditions to route choices to turn-around times. More people means more discussion, which can certainly be annoying at times, but nobody is immune to having bad ideas and a group can more easily call each other's bad ideas out when they're within talking distance of each other. Nobody likes to turn around - this is why group communication and decision making is essential in mountaineering.
  3. Half of the group safety and shared climbing gear is in a backpack that is nowhere nearby most of the group members. Not really that useful!
  4. There is one less member of the group to assist in case of an emergency with any of the other members of the group. 
  5. The soloist uses the group when it suits them (i.e. crossing a glacier or belaying up a cliff) and then quickly abandons them when they become a perceived "burden" - i.e. too slow or too safety conscious.
  6. The soloist could easily get into serious trouble themselves (i.e. avalanche, serious fall, getting off-route, dislocating a shoulder, medical emergency) which would be difficult for the others to notice, much less assist with. This increases the stress of the people left behind and puts them in an awkward situation when they have no idea what's going on or how long they should sit and wait below before assuming something bad has happened.
  7. I've been on many easier trips where the person ahead, or behind, gets on a completely different route than the rest of the group. Now what? Many frustrating hours have been spent trying to find each other on easy terrain - never mind difficult and exposed alpine climbs.

 

Also, it's just plain rude to assume that the rest of the group wants to sit there for hours watching the soloist risk his or her life playing Russian roulette with conditions that have just been assessed as too hazardous for anyone else to climb. There's nothing "hardcore" about pushing ahead in this scenario. It's a shitty attitude. Plain and simple. Don't do group trips if you aren't willing to respect the others in the group over your own glory.

 

Consider the very real possibility that Steven got caught in a wet slab avalanche half way up the lower third of the SW face, or dislocated his shoulder while in the final steep couloir just below the summit? His shoulder dislocated on Sir Douglas - so it's happened to him before. And what if he couldn't pop it back in this time? Ben and I would be forced to climb the lower part of the face, over the moats, cracks and convexities on the slope to try to rescue him - exposing ourselves to the very objective hazards that we avoided by turning around in the first place! This is just one example of why it's so disturbing that some folks are applauding his individual "success" when it came at such an obvious cost to Ben and I who had the mental courage to ignore our own selfish desires for a peak at all costs, for the sake of our families and loved ones back home. The way I stated it later to my wife, was that there were two outcomes that Ben and I were forced into as we sat out of the reach of any potential avalanches beneath the SW face for over an hour as Steven completed his summit bid high above. Both potential outcomes were not ideal for us, and we didn't have a choice but to wait it out and see which one would come to pass;

 

  1. Our assessment of the risks was correct and happened in front of us, with Steven getting caught in a slide or a bad situation, which we then would have to deal with somehow.
  2. Steven successfully bags a peak that we've spent two attempts and untold amounts of physical and mental currency on and makes it back to individual glory - getting lucky once again considering the conditions and leaving us to wonder why we didn't take the same risky path he did and question our decision to be safe.

 

In his account, Steven implies that Ben and I were so far behind him due to our "slow gear transition", that we basically screwed ourselves out of the summit. This is complete nonsense. First of all, Steven was kicking the steps. Ben and I are in fantastic physical shape. We easily would have caught up to him if we didn't have long discussions about the conditions and express severe doubts in the snow slope's stability. Secondly - I was literally right behind Steven as we started up the first slope to the first moat. Literally on his heels. I stopped, turned back, and waited at the bottom of the slope as soon as I heard running water under the 3+ feet of slush that we were on, just in case it slid. I was waiting to see if Steven would survive getting over the first convex roll and obvious weakness at the first moat before starting up myself. This is another group strategy on questionable snow slopes. You cross or climb them one at a time. This is very basic safety protocol that everyone learns in their first avalanche awareness course. If the slope did let go, there would have been two of us to rescue Steven instead of just Ben trying to dig out both Steven and myself.

 

 
[A gorgeous morning pano as I wait for Steven to clear the first moat, looking south to Bryce, Cockscomb and Pawn. ++]


[Ben briefly climbs ahead of me to see if that'll help him not sink knee deep in the tracks! It didn't help any so I took over again and tried setting better tracks.]

 

If he would have bothered sticking around to participate in the discussion, Steven would have realized that Ben and I were agonizing over what all the signs around us were saying and what our hearts and minds were saying. Does anyone reading these accounts really think that the easy thing, in this case, was for Ben and I to turn our backs on the mountain and go back home without the summit for a second year in a row? Really?! Hundreds of kilometers of driving. Many days off. Hours of approach and egress, including crossing Bryce Creek multiple times. Slogging up overgrown logging roads and struggling up many hundreds of vertical meters on soft snow for nothing? C'mon! This wasn't our first rodeo in the mountains! Ben has climbed many difficult and challenging 11,000ers and literally just came back from a 27 day ski traverse on the same snowpack (Rockies, Great Divide) - does anyone really believe that Ben turned around just because he wasn't "hardcore" enough to suck it up on a relatively easy angled snow slope and a few couloirs?! That's a bit insulting to be honest. I've done a few climbs on snow myself and even if my cojones aren't the macho size and heft of the latest batch of younger, bolder, stronger and more confident climbers, I still do "have a pair" - so to speak. ;)

 

The Luck Jar and the Experience Jar

 

Despite all the signs yelling at me to turn around and descend back to the glacier and go home, I was too caught up in wanting the peak myself to listen properly. After I waited for Steven to survive the first convexity on the face, I started up again. That's when I heard the second waterfall on my right. Yes - there were two running waterfalls at 05:30 in the morning, at the base of a loaded slope of slushy snow, sitting on top of black rocks angled at around 30-40 degrees - the most perfectly angled avalanche slopes you'll ever find. As a matter of fact, since the water was running on each side of the slope, logic dictated that it was also likely running underneath our feet on the same slope - we just couldn't hear or see it there yet! Dang it. I was getting less and less happy by the second.

 

Ben, to his credit, was ready to turn back already as I yelled down the latest beta of the second running waterfall down to him. He was sinking knee deep in the tracks and was clearly alarmed at the many signs of danger all around us. Ben was by far the most experienced snow stability assessor in our group, having just completed the Avalanche Operations Level 1 certification this past winter, not to mention his recent 27 day ski traverse on a Rockies snowpack along the Great Divide. Another of my favorite human quirks was quickly coming to pass in front of our eyes - the Dunning-Kruger effect. In short, the DK effect states that the less people know about something, the more confident they are that they are deeply knowledgeable about it or that it won't affect them personally. Ben, having the most knowledge about avalanches and their danger signs, was by far the most worried about one occurring in the conditions we were experiencing. I was definitely worried, but trying to ignore my own warning bells due to a deep desire to summit King Edward. Steven was obviously willing to silence all the warning bells in his mind - despite admitting later that they were going off like crazy.

 

I was absolutely loathe to turn around at this point. My gut was screaming at me to turn around before the slope slid and it was too late, but my heart was screaming even louder. All that work to get here for a second year in a row! Steven is doing it! Keep going! Push harder! You'll be fine! Stop over thinking things! Go on! A few more steps - it might get better.

 


[Looking down over the convexity at our gear far below already. Note the blue snow left in our tracks? This is wet snow.]

 

Ben was reluctantly following me up the steep lower slope, and even passed me for a bit as I coaxed him to try ascending a bit higher. We crossed the scary lower moat, which was bound on top and bottom by unconsolidated snow and in the center by a gaping, open maw with soft edges. It looked bottomless as I quickly navigated over it, trying not to think about the consequences of a sluff, slip or slide into its dark depths. We pushed on, heading up towards another convexity around two rocks at midslope - where the slide beside us had ripped out a hundred meters or so to our left. We stopped a few times to discuss how uncomfortable we both were. We were so desperate to attain the summit this time, that we even talked ourselves into staying up high above all the avalanche terrain until midnight (this would mean hours of waiting) for the snow to harden again for descent. I got a bit higher than Ben and just below the second open crack and convexity on the slope I experienced a small settlement beneath my feet and yelled down to Ben that I was getting the f__k out of there. He quickly agreed and we both turned around to get off that loaded suicide slope as quickly and safely as humanly possible. The descent was scary. We didn't want to trigger the slope with huge, plunging steps but we both felt we didn't have time to lose. The moat was more threatening on descent. Easy enough to slither carefully across - but with high consequence of either slipping into its depths, or more likely triggering the bottom of the slope under it to slide, which would almost certainly propagate to the whole SW face above. Which would suck for all of us. Big time.

 


[More blue snow and Steven up ahead, pulling away as Ben and I discuss the safety of our situation. Note the two rocks above me here? This was another convexity in the slope and directly left of them is a line to the slab avalanche that ripped out to our left (the top of it is visible at upper left). When I got closer to the rocks the slope settled a bit and this was my final warning shot - we got the hell off this slope!]


[Ben following me up the slope.]


[Ben following me down the slope - note how steep it is around the lower convexity / moat?]

 

I want to take a brief detour at this point to write about the Luck Jar and the Experience Jar. This metaphor has been used before and applies to many things besides climbing. It goes something like this. Every hiker, scrambler, skier, climber or enthusiast of any kind, starts out their chosen hobby with a full jar of lucky coins and an empty jar of experience coins. Every time they get away with something that could have hurt or killed them (i.e. lightening storm, rockfall, crevasses, avalanches, injuries, bad planning) they use up one of their lucky coins, which gets transferred from their Luck Jar to their Experience Jar. When folks get some experience and gain wisdom, they start to use coins from their Experience Jar and they keep some coins in their Luck Jar for another time (i.e. they avoid the thunderstorm, keep away from rockfall, avoid avalanche terrain, protect against crevasses and do better planning). People who don't have the patience to gain proper experience, burn through their lucky coins too quickly and eventually they run out of them. This is when accidents happen. The kicker? None of us knows just how big our Luck Jar is and nobody knows before it runs out either. Eventually we are only left with our Experience Jar to keep us safe and get us back home to our loved ones.

 

On this trip I used a coin from my Luck Jar because I stubbornly followed up a very questionable snow slope, depending 100% on luck to keep me alive while ignoring my experience that was yelling at me to turn back. I added a coin to my Experience Jar too - by turning around and not pushing my luck too far. I learned from my mistake. But I still used up a valuable luck coin when I didn't have to. I had all the necessary experience to read the signs all around me and use them to avoid that slope altogether and yet I still stubbornly took the risk of ascending the most dangerous part of it. That pisses me off. Mountain dukkha strikes again, I suppose.

 

Learning about Dukkha

 

I was relieved to survive my stupid little spending spree of lucky coins before briskly swapping back into my snowshoes and getting the heck out of the way of any possible slide paths that could come off the huge SW slope above. On a small rise on the glacier, Ben and I set up to watch and see which of two things would happen to Steven, now that he was tackling the first steep snow gully on the face. For the next 1-2 hours Ben and I were destined to sit there and hope that the third member of our group would survive his decision to abandon the group and successfully bag a summit that was obviously very important to both of us. Not the hardest thing I've done in the mountains, but among the most unpleasant - if I'm honest.

 

 
[Watching Steven descend the SW face - now in full sun. Note the sluffing, the slab avalanche to the left of our route and the two obvious convexities both near shallow rocks on the face. The next day a slide came down part of this face, originating with rockfall from above. It is around 700 vertical meters to the summit from the bottom of the face - much higher than it first appears. ++]

 

After watching Steven successfully bag the summit and come back down the slope (which was now fully exposed to the sun), it took everything we had to remain civil and upbeat as we worked our way back to camp. I thought it was telling when I asked Steven how he felt about making the summit;

 

Not that good about it.

 

 
[Sigh. A beautiful peak and a beautiful area but I sure would have preferred to get the peak this time rather than come back yet again. Especially on such a gorgeously clear day! ++]

 

For the rest of the day we lounged around in nuclear conditions as the east faces of the Chess Group really started going off - avalanching every 10 minutes or so and sometimes pretty hugely. Towards the end of the day I noticed a fresh river of rock and snow debris had run down from the first gully on King Edward, all the way to the cliffs down below over our route - but most of the snow remained stubbornly stuck to the SW face. Ben and I half heartedly planned for a midnight second chance at the face but I think we both knew that it wasn't going to be cold enough for a safe attempt. The day went by pretty slowly. I grew more and more frustrated by the failure of Ben and I to summit and Steven's success. Why the f__k didn't I just suck it up and follow him to the top? I would have made it! I'd be so happy if only I'd made it.

 

It was while I was feeling sorry for myself and questioning my courage that I read a section in my ebook on dukkha and the endless craving for more that we all get caught up in. Slowly I started adjusting my attitude until I realized that coming back for King Eddy wasn't the worst thing in the world. I realized that it took courage to turn around and ignore my cravings for a summit too. Despite the adjustment in my attitude, I still wanted to bag the peak - provided we got a safe freeze that night. Ben and I set the alarms for 12:30 and once again tried to sleep in our too-warm and too-bright tents. At 12:30, when Ben got up, it was obvious that there was no freeze once again and we would be going home empty handed once again. I wasn't surprised and turned over in my sleeping bag to drift off until our wake-up time of 04:30.

 

Meditation in the Bush

 

After packing up camp in warm temperatures at 04:30, it was time to rush back to Bryce Creek and hope-to-heck that we would be able to cross it without drowning. Then there was the "little" 17km slog up the road to look forward to. The best part? No summit for Ben and I. Things were a bit melancholy but less so than I expected, as we set out from camp. My dukkha revelation and Ben's good attitude about turning back on King Eddy was helping me deal with "failure" better this time than last. The snow was punchy but we managed to get down to the approach road fairly easily and quickly. 

 


[Sunrise on The Pawn.]


[Early morning sun on Bryce as we race towards the creek.]

 

Steven and I were a few minutes ahead of Ben as we approached a roaring Bryce Creek. I knew it wasn't good the minute I saw it. The water wasn't only looking deeper than 48 hours earlier, but much faster. I had scouted a section just downstream before, and thought it looked a bit wider than the section we crossed earlier. Steven and I got ready at this section and nervously started across. 

 

The current was very strong. Anyone who's crossed mountain streams before knows that there is a hypnotic presence to the water as you cross. You have to force yourself not to look at the swirling, rushing water or you instantly get dizzy and start losing your footing! It's very hard not to stare at that which is trying its best to drown you but you have to force yourself to look up and feel the bottom with your feet. I could barely jam my poles in the river bottom firmly enough to prevent a slip on the smooth rocks and boulders beneath my feet as we crossed into even deeper and stronger currents towards the far shore. Steven was a man on a mission - nothing was turning him back. As he approach the far shore the current was so strong that if he stopped moving he would have been pushed over. Even though we were 'only' waist deep, the water was soaking our chests due to the strength of the current as it desperately tried to swallow us whole. I watched, horrified, as Steven suddenly began to lose control and go down in the current right in front of me! He would have been swept into a log jam just downstream if he succumbed to it. Somehow, as he twisted and fell in the strong current, Steven managed to reach out and grab a rock along the calmer far shore - just out of the main current. He hauled himself out of the water - clearly shaken and relieved to be alive.

 


[Hard to tell from a photo but this is a no go! We tried further downstream and although Steven survived, he almost didn't. We had to find another way...]

 

I was left standing there with mesmerizing water flowing hard around me, trying to assess if I could survive the same move that Steven had just been forced to make. I turned back - not easy to do either in that roaring river - and hastily beat a retreat to assess other options. Ben was now ready to cross as well, and we tried a few places, including retrying the widest spot again, but to no avail. People have asked me about using our ropes to make the crossing. While a hand line is a good idea to assist crossing on a log or deep water, tying into a rope with a strong, cold current such as the one we were dealing with is a horrible idea. If you lose your footing and are tied in, you will drown in about 8 seconds or less. Because Steven's truck was 17km away, we couldn't use the chainsaw or axes we'd brought to make a tree bridge either.

 

We had to find another way. I suggested - only half seriously - that we should cross the much larger, but shallower and wider, Bush River and bushwhack to the bridge near Rice Brook and Mount Bryce. This was approximately 5.5km downstream, not a horrendous distance but we're talking about BC bush here! The idea seemed less and less ridiculous as we looked at our options. Staying another full day to see if the water would drop wasn't really a great option. I needed to be back at work, and it was unlikely the river would drop enough to make a real difference. We had an idea of the terrain on the west side of the Bush River, it was going to be bad, but we didn't think there was any terrain that would stop us (i.e. canyons etc). Eventually we had to make a decision. We chose the bush.

 

After letting Steven know our plans (he started off up the road to meet us at the bridge), Ben and I crossed the Bush River and plunged into the bush alongside it under a blazingly hot sun. The next hours were difficult. With our winter mountaineering packs including snowshoes and skis (!!), we had to traverse kilometers of BC bush. This included niceties we'd encountered before, such as Devil's Club, Alders, steep terrain, creeks and fallen trees that were so big we had to climb over them. My shoulders were aching as we kept going on and on under the hot sun. The huge packs would shuffle around as we stumbled over the steep and rough terrain. I was worried we'd end up snapping an ankle or breaking an arm if we weren't careful. Eventually we started carrying Ben's skis as it was impossible to navigate large stretches of Alders with them sticking up on his pack. We used the InReach to communicate with Steven, letting him know that our pace was about 500m / hour and telling him to continue to the truck from the bridge. We were hoping the road was cleared but weren't counting on it.

 


[And into the BC bush we go...]


[A relentlessly hot sun beats down on us as we bushwhack. Find Ben in the photo. Note the skis?]

 

When faced with challenges like 5.5km of BC bush, it's important that you're with the right partners. Everyone has to remain calm and focused and a sense of humor is essential. We had many low moments in that bush traverse, but enough good ones to keep going. Every time we saw either little white flowers or fresh bear scat, we knew we were on a decent route that would open up a bit. When we saw open forest ahead we knew that we were in for a very intense hour of alder-thrashing. "Open" slopes don't really exist in the Bush River valley unless they've been logged recently. As we slogged our way slowly towards freedom, we slowly encountered more and more Devil's Club. Despite crossing many streams we were getting dehydrated due to the effort of lugging our packs and gear up and down the slopes and over obstacles. One stream in particular, was pretty nasty. It was a deep gorge and climbing into and out of it was "challenging". I hoped we wouldn't run into too many of those or we'd be coming out the next day. In one funny moment, I told Ben that if he wanted to be depressed he should look left at the clearly visible Bush River road running along the opposite side of the valley - clear and open and obviously much easier to walk then where we were. Ben casually glanced left and asked, "what about the bear"? I took another look over and was startled to see a large black bear ambling slowly down the road! We were glad Steven didn't have a bad encounter while walking that section! (He confirmed later that he hadn't seen a bear while walking the road, only later while driving it.)

 


[Hours and hours of this. And worse. Way worse.]


[Devil's Club rises from the forest floor like dancing cobras. They have fangs too. And the fangs come out in your skin when you touch them! At one point I counted 5 barbs in one finger tip.]


[Doesn't look too bad right? Find Ben just starting another Alder thrash in the distance. ;)]


[This is the really nasty stuff. Acres and acres of Alders and no way around it. Bear down and slowly weave, dodge, crawl and swear your way across. That's the only way to make it.]


[Mount Columbia is a distant dream at this point in the thrash. Small patches of snow were heaven-sent and I liberally ate the snow and put it under my cap to cool off.]


[White Trilliums were a sign of more open travel and we started getting excited every time we saw some.]


[Deep in the suck. With a ski. Glorious fun... These alder stands weren't just a few meters across either. Most of them were huge avalanche slopes at least a few hundred meters wide, some closer to 500m. It would take up to an hour to cross through some of them!]


[Uprooted giant trees combined with Devil's Club and undergrowth made for some interesting language every once in a while.]


[Tricky terrain into a deep gully with a nice cool stream.]


[This stream provided temporary relief from the blistering sun. It was like air conditioning and after 10 minutes I had goose bumps sitting next to it. It was so good, I drank about a liter from it.]


[The price we paid for the stream was a very deep gorge and tough exit back to the forest above.]


[Not Alberta trees! This is a small one compared to many we crossed over.]


[Despite the difficulties, the forest was gorgeous too.]


[We came across evidence of old logging efforts on massive trees that for the most part don't exist in this valley anymore.]


[Could this be the start of an old logging road?!]

 

An InReach message from Steven lifted our spirits immensely. He'd gotten a ride back to his truck - the road was cleared! This boosted us huge. Now we knew that after the bushwhack we were truly done, rather than facing another 12km hike to the truck. We took a few short breaks throughout the rest of the day and by the time we were about 1.5km from the end, we knew we'd make it. Our arms and legs were full of spines from the Devil's Club and our bodies were bleeding from the thick and relentless branches and undergrowth in our path. And then we got a small miracle. All of a sudden, as we passed yet another pile of bear scat, we were on a human, motorized track of some kind! After fading out a few times as it passed through an old logging clearcut, we found ourselves on an obvious bush road. A few hundred meters further and we were on a very new bush road - graveled and traveled recently and headed towards the Bush River FSR.

 

FREEDOM!

 


[This new logging road saved us about 2-3 hours of bushwhacking to the Bush River FSR.]


[A glance back along our escape road with King Eddy still taunting us far in the distance. Don't be fooled! This road doesn't go far before disappearing.]

 

We hobbled the last 1km at a pace that felt ridiculously fast but I'm sure was very slow, until finally we spotted the Bush River Road and the end of our ordeal. Ben dumped his backpack and walked back to the bridge a few hundred meters up the road to fetch Steven, who was patiently waiting for us. I sat there on the side of the road in the hot sun, not quite believing what had just happened and deliriously happy that this trip was finally done.

 


[Walking out to the Bush River FSR.]


[Ben walks past some logging debris as we approach the Bush River FSR.]

 

Closing Thoughts

 

Phew. This trip report is feeling as long as the trip itself did. Oh well. Lots to think about on this one, I suppose. On the long drive back to Golden there was some discussion on what had happened and on some of the decisions and happenstance on the trip. It seemed like everyone was on board but I guess there are always things that go unsaid until later. There were a few awkward moments when meeting Ian and Josee before continuing our separate ways - both congratulated all of us on a successful summit. Apparently Steven told the world that he was successful from the summit - leaving out the fact that only he was "successful". Ben and I were left to explain why we didn't share in his summit. The experienced mountaineers understood the situation right away and agreed that a safe choice was the only choice. Ian recounted to us that he had many attempts at Mount Forbes already, without a successful summit yet. I don't think anyone who knows Ian (or knew Trevor) would accuse him of being either too slow or not having the guts to climb gnarly snow lines! Ian regularly skis terrain that I wouldn't dare go up - nevermind down!

 

 

I hope that by being as honest as I have been in this tale, I can impart a bit of wisdom to a new generation of aggressive and bold climbers in the Rockies. I'm no ace climber or mountaineer - and I never have been, but I've spent some time in the Rockies under many different conditions and scenarios. The main takeaway from this experience, for me, was that group trips should be thought of differently than simply 2 or 3 soloists sharing the same route. A group alpine trip is a group of people for many reasons and for the safety and sanity of all involved, the participants should remain together as much as feasible and make decisions and route choices as a group rather than as selfishly motivated individuals. This isn't to bring down the vibe or to be so safety conscious that nobody ever makes a summit - it's to prevent individuals from taking needless and unnecessary risks to their own safety and even the safety of the rest of the group. Lord knows, I've taken many risks myself in the mountains! We all want to make the summit above all else, especially if we've put so much time and energy into it as Ben and I have for King Edward and it's this drive that gives us hundreds of peaks between us.

 

My pursuit of Mount King Edward has taught me the hard truth that sometimes the most spectacular "failures" turn out to be among our greatest "successes" and for that realization, I'm grateful for this mountain and for this latest trip. I'm especially grateful that we all returned safely at the end of another grand adventure up the Bush River FSR.

 

Trip Statistics

 

Total Distance: 53km

Total Elevation Gain: 2400m

Total Time: 68 hours

Smart Phone Navigation (iPhone 6s)

Recently, I wrote an article on using your smart phone for photography, especially as it relates to the back country. In this article I want to explore the ability of the smart phone (the iPhone 6s in particular) to navigate in the Canadian Rockies and just about anywhere else. Just as with photography, the modern smart phone's capabilities with navigation are often confusing and misunderstood. There's a lot of misinformation out there due to the rapidly changing technology that these amazing machines contain.

 

NOTE: I would be remiss if I didn't add a warning up front that there is some good evidence that cell phones interfere with avalanche transceivers - obviously something you should be aware of during winter when you take an electronic device with you, including your phone. There are solutions such as keeping the two devices separated by at least 20 inches.

 

I read a great article recently that outlines a bunch of the things I'm going to talk about too. It's nice to see I'm not the only one who wants to use my phone for more than just social media and texting. :) Just like using the camera in your phone, you might be wondering if it's worth using the GPS / Altimeter in your phone, when you can buy dedicated devices that supposedly do the same job. Only you can determine how far to take the whole phone-as-everything-motto, but I'm continuously amazed at the technology I'm discovering in mine! For example, just a few weeks ago I learned that the altimeter in my iPhone is an actual barometric sensor. I had no idea and was under the impression that it only used a GPS altimeter. I was lugging my Garmin 62st up any peak close to 11,000 feet because I didn't think my phone was accurate enough. Apparently, it's pretty much as accurate as any other non-professional device with a barometric sensor. No more need to lug the Garmin 62st along - and that's a good thing because it's not light or small.

 


[The Pro Altimeter works pretty slick and even allows calibration with several data points from automatically discovering nearby airports to manually entering altitude.]

 

ViewRanger App

First let me talk about the app that I use. Wietse tried to get me to use this one already for a year and a few months ago I finally broke down and tried it when I got my new iPhone 6s. The app is called ViewRanger and is attached to an online presence as well. I'm sure there are many other decent GPS applications out there - ViewRanger works for me and has been around for awhile. The best part is that you can reasonably use it for free - including free maps if you wish.

 


[Using the free OpenCycle maps gives you many tracks that have been uploaded into the ViewRanger system. For example, these tracks around Mount Lougheed were already on the map - I didn't do anything special to put them there. Lots of cool trip ideas just from browsing an area!]

 

There are a few things I like about ViewRanger in particular. I like that there's an online component that backs up all my tracks and allows me to embed any GPS track in my trip reports (scroll to the bottom). I also appreciate the ability to follow a myriad of tracks and even discover hikes / ski tours on the free OpenCycle map that comes by default with the iPhone application. Just by navigating to an area of the map (i.e. Lake Louise), I can see many other tracks / routes to use as ideas. I'm not sure where ViewRanger gets all these tracks, but they are pretty darn handy.

 


[I like that all my routes are synced with the cloud and stored under my account in the ViewRanger app online. I can choose to make them public or not.]

 

Here are some of my personal notes about using ViewRanger, I'm still evolving my techniques so bear this in mind and take these suggestions with a grain of salt;

 

  1. Don't forget to download your map and any tracks you wish to follow BEFORE getting out of cell phone / WIFI coverage! You can still follow a downloaded track with no map, but it's not pleasant. I've done it several times. ;)


    [Don't forget to download the area that you are going to be navigating - BEFORE your trip!]
     

  2. Always put your phone in 'Airplane Mode' before heading out into the wilderness with it. You don't need WIFI or cell and if you do, you can always reactivate. These things will burn through your battery quickly! Remember to turn the location services back on in the ViewRanger app when you start it up.


    [When you put your phone in Airplane mode - the GPS will be Off. You also don't need to be 'Online'.]


    [Here I've turned the GPS on and made the application go Offline.]
     

  3. I use the following GPS settings for tracks and the GPS itself, in order to maintain a decent balance between accuracy and battery life. On Poboktan Mountain we were out for 15 hours and I had my iPhone GPS on the entire day. By the end of the day I still had over 70% battery, which I thought was pretty darn good. There are some complex and interesting ways to save even more battery power if you're doing multi-day trips - see this article for ideas or simply Google for many suggestions.


     

  4. This is going to same strange, but do *not* follow a route when navigating unless you feel this is really necessary (i.e. navigating in a whiteout). Instead of following a route, simply download the track or map that you're interested in. For example, in the Mount Lougheed map that I showed earlier, if I download the maps around Spray Lakes, all those route lines will be on the map. I don't even have to download tracks or routes or anything! To go up "Little Lougheed", I simply turn on my GPS and start "Recording a track without following directions". By following the line on-screen and checking my position against it, I can reasonably follow the route manually. Why do this? To save battery. If you choose to follow a route, the application will not follow your GPS settings, but will chew through the battery extremely quickly by maintaining constant communication with the GPS satellites in order to ensure you stay exactly on the route line.
     
  5. I bought the Canadian topo map for a more accurate and widely-named map set. To be honest, the OpenCycle map is pretty darn good. I'm not sure it's worth buying the alternate maps, because you lose all the great route ideas if you do as they are all stored on the OpenCycle free map. I switch back and forth and use the Canadian topo for detailed navigation and if I have a downloaded track to follow.
     
  6. I linked my ViewRanger with Apple Health. This is a handy way of tracking your stats and calories burned. Another bonus of carrying my phone with me while I hike is that all those yummy steps get recorded and boost my average step count way up! ;)
     
  7. Experiment with the app and your phone in a non-stress setting to determine how / if it'll work for you. The OpenCycle map is free so there's no risk in trying it. Go for walks around your neighborhood or try it on a trail where you're not going to get lost anyway. Some people insist that they cannot realistically replace their GPS unit with a phone and you could be one of these people.

 

Myth Busting

There are a few myths regarding phones and their capabilities floating around, that I used to believe myself until I researched them a bit more. Remember - these apply mainly to the iPhone 6s since that's the unit I'm using. If you have a relatively new smart phone, it probably shares or exceeds these specs but you should double check yourself.

 

One myth that's critical to using the iPhone 6s for navigation is the one that states you need cell coverage to use the GPS. This is not true. The GPS in the iPhone is a true GPS and only needs satellite reception to work properly. Cell coverage can improve accuracy but not by much. Of course, just like any consumer grade GPS unit, the iPhone doesn't work great in canyons or really heavy tree cover (i.e. the jungle). I've used my phone in Alberta "trees" no problem. ;)

 

Another myth that I used to believe was that a dedicated consumer grade GPS unit (i.e. Garmin 62st) would be much more capable and accurate than the GPS unit in my iPhone. This is no longer an issue for most users, according to some sources. For increased GPS accuracy with your phone, there are devices available to make it extremely accurate while still offering all the benefits of a phone such as large screen, tons of apps and ease of use. The add-on device that I've linked (Dual XGPS150A) is only 51 grams and attaches easily to a pack or even your arm - and again, this is only if you need increased GPS accuracy due to the type of terrain or criticality of application (i.e. you're navigating around the North Pole in a blizzard, alone).

 

Using your expensive and delicate smart phone outdoors seems like a really bad idea at first. Is it durable enough to handle the rough housing? Of course, this is a non-issue once you look into rugged cases that are much more durable than any consumer grade GPS unit. The LifeProof cases have always worked pretty good for me.

 

Phone vs. GPS Unit

Only you can decide if you are willing to either completely or partially replace your dedicated GPS unit with your smart phone. I'm going to borrow some pros and cons for each from the Gaia blog to help you make your decision.

 

Smart Phone Pros;

  • More / better maps
  • Bigger screen
  • Better software
  • Cheaper (since you own it already and apps / add-on GPS receivers are cheap)
  • Multi-use device (can also easily be your camera)

 

GPS Unit Pros;

  • Battery life - not really though, as you can use battery cases or charging devices for your phone, plus I find that my phone will last just as long as my Garmin 62st does (about 2-3 days)
  • Precision - true, but with add-on units costing less than a GPS and being much lighter and smaller, this is a non-issue if you really need the extra precision of a dedicated GPS unit.

 

Hopefully I've introduced a helpful addition to your outdoor gear pile, by using a smart phone that you already pay for. As I wrote earlier in this blog, it doesn't have to cost much (anything!) so what's the harm in trying it? Let me know if I've overlooked anything obvious or have misrepresented anything in this article.

Trad Climbing Course

For my 2014 Father's day gift my family gave me the best present ever - a privately guided trad climbing course from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures. Our guide for the weekend was Cian Brinker, an affable and very knowledgeable local rock climbing guide from Canmore.

There are many different ways to learn new skills in the mountains. The most important one, by far, is the skill that only comes through experience. It's only when you put boots to rock that you really start learning. But every once in a while you realize that you're getting into territory where you could probably stand to "sit in the classroom" for a bit. After climbing 1/3 of the 11000ers, with half an eye on at least another 1/3, I started thinking that maybe it was time to learn some good trad climbing techniques including;

  • Building anchors
  • Placing pro
  • General techniques for setting up belays, cleaning routes etc
  • Rope management techniques
  • Gear lists (i.e. what do I need)

My three amigos from Edmonton, Ben, Eric and Steven were all keen on sharing the guide so when the weather forecast looked dismal on Father's day weekend 2014, we decided to give Yamnuska a call.

The weather wasn't perfect but Cian figured a good place to go would be under a large roof at the back of Lake Louise. This was a good choice and we spent both days there. It wasn't as busy as usual, thanks to cool weather and some light rain on Sunday. Over the two days we progressed from building anchors to lead climbing a pretty stiff 5.6/5.7 trad route - definitely more challenging than most mountains I'll be climbing in the next short while! We also learned some cragging techniques such as cleaning anchors after setting up a top rope etc. 

Some pics from the weekend;


[A gorgeous Saturday morning along Lake Louise]


[Lefroy - soon!!]


[Back of the Lake!]


[We started with some pretty easy lines - learning the basics. To be honest - this is about as hard as it gets on most of our large alpine climbs so far. Most 11000ers can be climbed at or under 5.5.]


[Vern hard at work belaying...]


[Steven placing pro]


[On Sunday we moved to a different location. The holds were different than what we're used to - crack climbing techniques were required.]


[Still a nice enough day at the crag]


[Ben cleaning his route on the way down.]


[Vern's turn - Cian is giving me hands-on instruction and teaching me to climb cracks!]


[Learning to trust the rock shoes and reverse hand jams... (pic by Steven Song)]


[Steven's turn]

We still have a long ways to go before we're anywhere close to rock / trad experts but this was an important safety step before putting more boots to rock as we go for more beautiful Rockies summits.

Wapta Icefields & Bow Summit Map

Mark Klassen, TJ Neault and Chic Scott just completed an update to the old Murray Toft Wapta & Bow Summit ski map. I have received my copy and it's a great resource for anyone planning to ski or climb any of the Wapta peaks or Bow Summit area mountains including (but not limited to),

  • The Wapta Traverse
  • Detailed Balfour High col route
  • Wapta peaks including Balfour, Olive, St. Nicholas, Gordon, Thompson, Rhondda, Habel, Peyto, Trapper, Jimmy Simpson, Mistaya, Patterson, Observation Peak and sub Peaks, Cirque Peak, Dolomite circuit, Hector, Ayesha, Collie and many more!

Get a copy today here.

Welcome to Explor8ion!

Hey folks - welcome to my tiny little corner of the internet. This web site is mainly an online journal of my hiking, backpacking, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, camping, biking and canoeing activities. Every once in a while I go off on some tangent or another just to keep things interesting.

 

The trip reports are pretty standard with basic stats, stories and photos. Older trip reports will have to be fixed up because the JavaScript I used from 1999-2003 doesn't work anymore with the new site tech. Thankfully I didn't go out very much back then so I should be able to eventually fix up those reports.

 

I've tried making the site simple to navigate and explore - unlike many parts of my beloved Rockies. Tags are the most useful thing on the site. All content has tags and the tags are clickable. If you see a tag for "Highwood Pass" on a TR, simply click the tag to get all my "Highwood Pass" area content including blogs, articles, photos and trip reports. I've also tried to make the two summary report pages a bit more useful. The summit log is simple - a list in reverse chronological order of all my summits. The trips log can be sorted by different criteria and I'm going to add some more to it over time (i.e. it would be nice to show only peaks over a certain height or only peaks with certain tags etc).

 

Feel free to leave feedback - in order to leave comments you have to register or enter annoying Captcha's in order to stop spammers from wrecking this site like they were busy doing with my previous one. (I get around 20-50 spam messages per day that make it through the captcha's that I have set up!)

 

Remember that this is just a personal journal - there is nothing on my site that you should necessarily agree with or follow. It's just part of my journey and exists as much for me to remember my many trips as for you to gain inspiration from them. As always - be safe and see you sometime in the hills or on the water.