Cirrus Mountain (Mount Huntington)


 

Trip Details
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, May 31, 2014 to Sunday, June 1, 2014
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,270
Summit Elevation (ft): 
10,729
Elevation Gain (m): 
2220
Round Trip Time: 
14.50
Total Distance (km): 
20.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Steep loose hike to base of glacier followed by exposed ridge to summit - snow makes this route much spicier.

Map

Trip Report

As another weekend approached, the familiar email chains started to fly once again. Weather reports and routes were scouted and by the time the dust had settled there were 2 options remaining on the table; Mount Joffre or Mount Cirrus. Joffre was higher on the list (being 600 feet higher) but the weather forecasts couldn't quite agree on how much rain each area was going to get or when it was going to arrive and in what fashion (i.e. snow, t-storms or just a sprinkle). Given our dislike of crappy summit views, especially on peaks with tough approaches, we settled on Cirrus and finalized our plans.

 

I've been interested in Cirrus ever since seeing it from Mount Coleman back in 2009 (my first trip with Eric). Mount Amery (yet another adventure with Eric) was also a trip that was inspired while ascending Coleman. Since then I've had a few friends do Cirrus and they all seemed impressed enough that it was bumped up in my priorities. Last year I spotted it yet again from Mount Cline and was determined to make it happen in 2014. My intent was always to do it in summer or fall since I wanted Coleman Lake to be melted for its views, but it didn't turn out that way. Reading Rick Collier's report on Bivouac.com made me realize how lucky we were to get the views we did from the summit, so maybe it's a better snow climb anyway! Snow certainly made it spicy on the upper ridge - but now I'm getting ahead of myself.

 

The group met at the small pull off across hwy 93 from the access drainage at 09:00. By 09:30 we were grunting up the steep gully. I know people have lugged their skis up here, but we had snowshoes strapped to our packs, which makes for a much more compact pack. We stayed climber's left of the stream and avoided most of the difficult terrain before continuing high above the creek and across several avalanche slopes to the first tarn. We were surprised that the first lake was almost ice-free. The views back towards Amery and Saskatchewan were impressive too! Don't underestimate this initial grunt to Coleman Lake - it's over 500 meters height gain and is quite steep in places. You'll also want a GPS track or some cairns for descent so that you don't get suckered onto cliff bands which are scattered all over the place.

 


[Looking across highway 93 from the pullout at our steep ascent gully.]


[Like I said, it's steep!]


[The bush isn't too bad if you choose your route carefully. We never got too close to the stream but you're either avoiding the stream on one side of cliffs on the other.]

 
[Staying high on climber's left as we cross avy slopes above the steep gully. This is looking back at Amery (L) and Saskatchewan (R).]


[We were surprised that the first lake (tarn) was already melting - an outlier of Coleman rises above.]

 
[Beautiful environs around Coleman Lake. ++]

 

Once we arrived at Coleman Lake we stayed high on climber's left, since it looked impossible to traverse right by the lake shore. Coleman lake was mostly frozen over, but signs of spring were everywhere near the alpine including about 6 varieties of flowers and even butterflies flitting around us occasionally. The smell of new growth was invigorating too! This would be a wonderful place for a summer hike / bivy, being only 1.5-2 hours from the hwy but feeling rather remote and not visited by many people due to the nature of its access.

 

 
[Still traversing the lake - note the cliff bands on the L that you must traverse above. Coleman at center here. ++]

 
[Coleman's north glacier doesn't get as many ascents as the scramble route which ascends from the other side.]

 

After traversing the lake (and getting soaked feet thanks to no more waterproofing on my mountaineering boots) we descended a bit before taking a gully to the pass that leads into the White Goat Wilderness and out of Banff National Park. I should note here that there are two route possibilities from the slopes north of the lake, just before the pass. There is the option of going straight north through an obvious pass (Rick Collier did this route) which involves more glacier crossing, or the option we did which was descending to Huntington Creek to bivy and approach on climber's right of the glacier rather than left.

 


[The purple line is the approach, the blue one is the first option (slightly more technical, more glacier / crevasse risks) and the red is the easier (safer) option. The routes join at the face and proceed to the summit from there.]

 

After descending on surprisingly firm snow (it was quite warm and already noon), we found a perfect place to set up camp. Steven and I had conversed already by the cars that if we had time and good weather we should attempt the peak already on day 1 and this is exactly what we ended up doing. Considering we were done in camp by 15:00 already, there was no way we were going to sit around for 7 hours in good weather with the summit staring us in the face! We strapped on the 'shoes and started up the moraines towards the rock fin that would guide us to the summit slopes.

 


[Heading up a snow gully to the pass.]

 
[Tuft Peak at left, looking down the Huntington Creek Valley towards the Cline River and Pinto Lake area. ++]


[Heading over the pass and descending to the Huntington Meadows below. Our first view of Cirrus rising in the far distance at left with Tuft rising right in front of us. ++]

 
[Beautiful Huntington flats, looking back at Coleman NE2 and Eric.]


[The snow was pretty supportive except near rocks... ;) We didn't wear snowshoes on the approach either, which didn't help Ben in this situation.]


[Impressive views from my tent.]


[A great place to call home for a night! Looking over the pass to Coleman and Coleman NE2 from our bivy.]


[We're pretty small in the landscape.]

 

The snow was very stable as we climbed past the fin on climber's left. We may have strayed briefly onto the ice field, but it was fairly benign on the right hand side and we weren't concerned about crevasses there. After about 1.5 hours we found ourselves staring up at a 30-35 degree slope leading to the upper ridge. We hummed and hawed a bit about how safe it was, but things were locked up very solid and the snow pack was extremely dense on this slope - probably due to several slides over the winter season combined with a good melt-freeze cycle. Here's where the 'shoes were awesome! If we were on foot we'd have been sinking to our knees or even waists on the approach. With 'shoes we managed to go straight up the entire slope to the summit ridge without sliding or even having to switchback. I love skiing, but 'shoes were the perfect tools for this objective at this time of the year.

 


[Eric follows up the moraines above our bivy.]


[The rock fin that we go left of is just above and to the right of Steven and Ben.]


[Spectacular views, looking back at Coleman.]


[Impressive terrain as Ben climbs a snow slope in front of one of the south outlier peaks of Cirrus.]

 
[Looking back at the rolling moraines just off the Huntington Glacier. Tuft Peak at left.]


[Passing by the fin on Climber's left.]

 
[Looking back down on the moraines just off the Huntington Glacier which is to the right here. In this view you can spot our access col at center and the other approach's col on the far right. Tuft Peak at far left. ++]


[A nice view of the Huntington Glacier with the faint outline of the lateral moraine (covered in snow) that we followed alongside it.]


[The slope steepens as we gain height to the south shoulder of Cirrus.]


[Getting higher than the col between the south outlier fins and Cirrus, The Lyells show up in the distance.]


[Steep slopes to the upper south ridge.]


[Looking back at our ascent tracks. The snow was just soft enough to give our 'shoes good purchase but not too soft to be dangerous.]


[Some scree shows up on the south ridge.]


[Looking up the North Saskatchewan River towards Mount Columbia in the far distance.]

 
[Spectacular views as Eric comes up to the ridge where we switched to crampons. We are at the height of the two outliers and Coleman, about 500 feet to go. ++]

 

The shadows were lengthening but the weather was perfect and we had stunning views in all directions as we attained the final ridge before the summit bump. Here we dumped our snowshoes and put on crampons and grabbed axes. The ridge was exhilarating and tricky in spots, combined with some steep scrambling and exposure it was thrilling to be at 10,000 feet on a beautiful spring evening on the last day of May! The final slog to the top went without incident and within about 3.5 hours of leaving our bivy we found ourselves staring at a sea of peaks in a nice cool breeze.

 

 
[This is why we ditched the 'shoes. We're not quite there yet! Note the avalanche slopes to our right and the cornices to our left? This is why this isn't 'just' a scramble with snowy conditions. ++]

 
[Sidesloping our way along a cornice (see previous pic) towards the summit. One at a time. ++]


[Looking down at the Big Bend in Hwy 93 from a gap on the ridge.]


[This mountain is bloody big.]


[Eric follows us up the spicy ridge with precipitous drops off the west side.]


[Vern ascending a step in the ridge - photo by Steven Song.]

 
[Eric is pretty small on the ridge next to the giant terrain in all directions. ++]

 
[Another dramatic panorama of Eric coming up the south ridge of Cirrus with the two 'fins' behind him.]


[Vern on the ridge - photo by Steven Song.]


[Ben and Steven just about to break through to the summit.]

 

After snapping a million photos of familiar peaks in all directions it was time for descent. Going down the ridge required some delicate steps and careful down climbing but we all made it back to the 'shoes without issue. The snow pack held up wonderfully all the way back to camp where we still had at least an hour of daylight before turning in for the night.

 

 
[Looking towards Pinto Lake (bottom, center) past Tuft Peak in the foreground. Cirrus at right and Cline at distant center. ++]

 
[Looking north off the summit over the White Goat Wilderness towards Cirrus N3 just left of center, NW5 at far left with a double summit and Mount Stewart - even higher than Cirrus - at right. ++]

 
[The summit cap was small so we took turns with the photos. This is looking east (Stewart), south (Tuft, Cline) and west (Amery) from L to R. ++]

 
[Summit views west and north include the Big Bend in hwy 93 at center, the Columbia Icefield at distant center-left and many familiar summits including (L to R), The Lyells, Oppy, Alexandra, Saskatchewan, Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca, Twins, Snow Dome, Kitchener, Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Nigel, Brazeau, Poboktan, Willis. ++]


[Cirrus NW5 to the NW with Woolley / Diadem at far left and Sunwapta in the far distance.]


[Looking over the Big Bend towards Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca, South, North and Twins Tower, Kitchener and the Stutfields (L to R).]

 
[A gorgeous shot to the west over the two outlier "fins" towards Mount Forbes, Amery, Monchy, Willerval, Rudolph, Edward, Ernest, Farbus and Oppy (L to R). ++]


[Looking over our ascent route at Mount Coleman which I scrambled with Eric back in 2009.]


[Looking past Tuft Peak (L) and over Pinto Lake towards Mount Cline.]


[Tuft Peak in the foreground has a difficult looking summit block. Sibbald, Harlan, Minster, Horse and Colt are just beyond, with the White Goat Peaks in the far distance.]


[Mount Stewart - the highest peak in the White Goat Wilderness - isn't as difficult as it appears. Instead of ascending the cliffy foreground slopes, the trick is to traverse to the right (out of photo) and then ascend to the left up easy angled scree.]


[Looking towards the Malign Lake area to the north including Replica, Charlton / Unwin, Mary Vaux and Brazeau (L to R).]


[Mounts Warren and Brazeau (L) are 11,000ers that I climbed with Ben in 2015. Poboktan is a near-11,000er  (C) that I also scrambled in 2015.]


[Looking past Nigel Peak at Mount Smythe's distinct double summit. Diadem and Mushroom at left.]


[Some familiar Columbia Icefields peak including South Twin, North Twin, Twin's Tower and Kitchener. Hilda Peak in the foreground.]


[Mount Columbia looms over Andromeda and the Saskatchewan Glacier approach valley.]


[Castleguard is a lovely shaped peak.]


[Mount Bryce is huge from any angle.]


[Mount Alexandra is one of my favorite 11,000ers. Queens peak always looks 'sharp' too.]


[From L to R, Rudolph, Edward, Walter, Ernest.]


[Mount Forbes is a very gorgeous peak and also very high - the highest summit in Banff National Park at 11,852'. One of my top 5 summits for sure.]


[I really enjoyed my one day ascent of Cline with Ben in 2013.]


[Another near-11,000er - Mount Amery with Hooge Mountain at far right.]


[Mounts Alberta, Engelhard, Woolley and Diadem (L to R).]


[Chillin' at the summit while Eric takes billions of photos. ;)]


[As evening settles in, we leave the summit.]


[On descent, looking across the hwy 93 valley towards Amery, Hooge, Monchy and Willerval - another great memory from a trip I did with Eric in 2011.]


[Exposure? Nah.]


[Some delicate down climbing along the ridge.]

 
[Ben waits for Steven while taking in the wondrous views off the descent ridge.]


[Vern and Ben descending the ridge - photo by Steven Song.]


[Careful steps! Photo by Steven Song.]


[Eric follows down the ridge - you can spot one of the rock bands we had to scramble either over or around.]


[This section was frozen rock hard already and care was needed to negotiate it safely - no slip zone. ++]

 
[The late evening light was nice - there was also no wind and the sun was still warm as we carefully descended the upper mountain.]


[Back at the snowshoes and ready to descend off the south ridge to the glacier.]


[Lower than the two outliers now.]


[A steep and fast descent down the 30 degree face to the Huntington Glacier.]


[It's a fairly steep slope - especially near the top.]


[Tuft Peak looks fierce from this angle.]


[A last look back at Cirrus as the sun dips beneath the south ridge.]


[Gorgeous evening lighting on the upper moraines and Mount Coleman.]


[Looking back as we descend past the rock fin.]

 

The next day we slept in 'til 06:00 and by 07:00 camp was packed up and we were hiking out under a lovely morning sky. The snow was nice a frozen (would have been front pointing on Cirrus!) and we took advantage of this as much as we could. The descent back to the cars down the manky approach gully was steep and hot but we made it without too many scars. What a great trip! The four of us always seem to have a good time when we head into the hills and this time was no different. I highly recommend Cirrus as a spring ascent on snowshoes if you're comfortable on exposed snow ridges. Otherwise wait 'til summer and it's basically a scramble.

 


[Camp the next day - feels good to be done already! Cirrus in the far distance at right.]


[Eating breakfast with Cirrus looming above.]


[Leaving again - too soon.]


[Re-ascending to the col.]


[A lovely panorama of Coleman Lake. ++]


[Descending to the steep access gully with Saskatchewan stealing the show.]


[Back in the bush! I had a wood tick from here - but only one. I think.]


[Steep waterfalls in the access gully that you have to avoid on climber's left.]


[You want to avoid the cliff bands as much as possible.]


[Another adventure comes to a close at hwy #93!]

 

Our round trip time, including an hour break in camp was 14.5 hours. Considering we had heavy overnight packs, I think a strong party could easily day trip Cirrus in around 14 hours round trip. Of course, you'll have to get lucky with the weather and conditions, since you'll be up high at mid to late afternoon. Avoiding storms can be tricky on a peak that's so close to many icefields and across from the large Columbia and Saskatchewan glaciers.

Comments

Wild stuff. I have always wondered what the peaks beyond the Weeping Wall looked like - and what stupendous views would open up towards the Columbia Icefield group. Now I have an idea.
Just like Forbes, this appears to be one of your more complex mountain ascents. Some serious ridge traverse in effect here. You have mentioned it could be done in a continuous push in around 14 hrs, by an experienced party. Agreed, as very strong hikers and climbers can make a push for it, but what use are trip where one is so completely fatigued and almost falling over, by end of day? My longest days have been on Chephren (13 hrs on the summit day, with subsequent hike-out), Mt. Edith Cavell (11.5 hrs with the hike out) and The President/Vice President (over 10 hrs) - I remember absolutely hating life for the last hour or two, on each of those trips. Also some seriously long days in the Yukon and Alaska trips.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.