After a relatively short day on Razors Edge Peak the day before (which was climbed with a migraine), I found myself in the mood for a nice long solo outing on Sunday, May 31 2015. Bluerock Mountain has been on my list of peaks to scramble for many years already, and this particular day seemed like the perfect one to attempt it. I was hoping for snow in the steep crux gully and packed my light crampons and ax just in case.
[The long, interesting route up Bluerock from the south. ++]
I have to admit, I didn't read Gillean's guidebook until I got home and I chuckled at her description of the options for parking;
For law-abiding hikers starting from access 2 (Junction Creek day use), this already long trail is even longer. Consequently many hikers use access 1 (equestrian trail day-use parking) and hope not to get a ticking off by an unsympathetic campground operator. Your choice.
I chuckled, because I followed Engor's GPX track from his ClubTread posting quite blindly in the morning and ended up getting a "ticking off" from the campground operator at the end of my day! Be warned, that this parking lot is patrolled quite religiously and the parking for paid guests only is strictly enforced. I think I was about to get a ticket when I walked up and talked my way out of it by promising to alert the good folks on my blog. ;)
When I got to the parking lot at around 08:30, I was surprised to be only the 2nd car there (I didn't realize at the time that we were risking the wrath of irate campground operators). Ironically enough, the first thing I asked the two bikers who were just ready to leave, was whether we were allowed to park there. One of them responded very confidently that it was no problem as, "everyone parks here". I guess this explains the campground operator's sensitivity to the issue!! Apparently one of the bikers had done the trail to the end of the hiking section years before and they were going to attempt it again. Him and his buddy were planning to take a look at the gully through the cliff band to see if they could scramble it. They were not expecting to get through it due to snow and / or ice, but were planning to come back some day anyway. I sort of wished I had brought my bike too at this point, but had been told by several friends that it wasn't worth it due to the nature of the approach trail.
I left the truck about 15 minutes behind the riders. I was happy that they were clearing the trail of any bears for me and was very much enjoying the perfect weather and chirping birds as I hiked up the wide road above the parking lot. It's been a while since I was on a good trail, listening to nothing but a cacophony of birds singing their individual songs. The sun was already warm on my neck as I navigated a few confusing trails and settled onto the Bluerock Creek trail, rising up a ridge far above Bluerock Creek on my right.
[The trail starts off wide and extremely bike-friendly.]
[The first clearing after getting on the Bluerock Trail - it's worth taking a bike even just this far IMHO. From here the trail drops down to Bluerock Creek at the far end of the clearing.]
After reaching a clearing, the trail plunged many vertical meters down to Bluerock Creek. I was fully expecting this height loss, but it was still more than I thought it would be. I was also wishing I brought my bike! The two bikers were obviously still ahead of me at this point, and I thought the trail looked like great fun for mountain biking. At a minimum, I should have brought my bike for the initial few km's to the high clearing before the height loss to the creek. This would have been easy uphill riding and very fast / fun at the end of the day. (If you're a competent mountain biker, I think you should try riding the entire hiking trail to the bench beneath Kiska Mnoga Iyarhe).
Bluerock Creek was going fast, but it is braided at the trail locations and I managed to cross both at the beginning and end of the day without getting my feet too wet. After crossing the creek the trail ascended very steeply (as promised by Gillean) up the south end of Bluerock Mountain. After gaining around 50m I was surprised to see the two mountain bikers sitting on the trail, performing some duct tape surgery on one of their biking shoes. They were even more surprised to see me! The one guy questioned how the heck I managed to catch up to them so quickly and wondered if I'd found a "shortcut". :) This is the only thing that gave me pause to the benefits of a bike on this approach. Perhaps I'm underestimating how much time most folks will need to push their bikes uphill? In any case, I didn't see these two guys anymore. I don't think they went too much further (based on bike tracks) - the shoe repair likely didn't work properly and they didn't feel like hiking to the end of the trail.
[The trail is muddy and steep down to the creek.]
[Bluerock Creek is fairly benign, which is probably why there's no bridge here anymore.]
[After working my way up several hundred vertical meters on the south ridge of Bluerock, I was greeted by wonderful morning views like this.]
I made my way rather quickly up to the bench beneath "Ram Mountain" (Kiska Mnoga Iyarhe) and soon was laboring about tree line. It took me 2 hours to reach the bench, but I have to admit I wasn't lolly gagging. The trail was in decent shape, with limited blow-down and some muddy sections. I felt really good this particular day - I wasn't tired at all as I started up Ram Mountain.The shale was annoyingly loose, but soon I was on top of my first "peak" - the so-called Kiska Mnoga Iyarhe (say that 10x in a row). The views were already very good, but I could see that I had a LONG way to go yet. There's a reason many people record 10-12 hour days on this mountain! The gully through the cliff band looked disappointingly dry but I kept the ax and crampons on my pack and worked my way towards it, staying on the ridge for the views as much as possible.
[A great trail to follow on the ridge.]
[A campsite along the ridge.]
[Daffern mentions this glade with flowers and she's right! There's a ton of them growing here.]
[The end of the Bluerock hiking trail. From here you can follow the trail to the right and loop to trails around Gorge Creek. Ram Mountain or Kiska Mnoga Iyarhe looms directly above me.]
[Lovely alpine flowers are out in full bloom everywhere on this approach hike.]
[Looking back along the approach ridge coming from the left, with Mount Burns at right.]
[It's a bit of a scree grunt up Ram Mountain.]
[Excellent views off the climb up to the summit of Ram Mountain - including Mount Ware at center left. ++]
[Looking ahead to Bluerock from Ram Mountain. Burns at left. You can see the cliffband that is a PITA to navigate around on the left if you don't ascend the obvious break. ++]
[The break through the cliffs is bone-dry!]
[It's starting to feel like Devil's Head]
When I finished the loose traverse beneath imposing cliffs to the bottom of the steep gully, I was reminded of the access to Devil's Head in the Ghost Wilderness Area. As I started up the gully, I was also reminded of the access to Walcott / Burgess in Yoho. I quickly realized that without snow, this is not simply "easy" scrambling. While not terribly difficult or exposed either, a slightly flaring, overhanging 5 foot high cliff band part way up was annoying. I'm 6 feet tall, and I imagine that for someone shorter than myself, this crux might be enough to turn them around when it's not covered by snow. The terrain was also terribly loose. On descent I would have literally killed anyone beneath me when I accidentally set off a volley of rocks down the chute! Thank goodness there was nobody there. :(
[It's not horribly difficult or exposed but for people more used to easy scrambling or hiking, I think this will pose a challenge - possibly enough to turn a few folks around.]
[Looking back over Ram Mountain from near the bottom of the crux.]
[This is the crux. When there's snow covering it, it's fairly benign, but otherwise it's an awkward flaring crack of about 4-5 feet tall that will resist short people.]
[Looking down the gully gives an idea of the terrain involved here. Loose rocks above it make this a small party objective and before descending, make sure there is nobody coming up!]
After the crux there was still a long way to go. Thankfully the breeze was cool and the views were great, distracting me from the slog up the false summit and from there, finally the true one. It took me exactly 4 hours to reach the top - much quicker than I was expecting. I found that the best travel was actually west of the ridge crest (climber's left) for much of the final ascent, including some fairly big detours on faint sheep trails around large boulders and slabs. On one of these detours, I found the infamous cave and got a cool shot looking out from inside it. There was no summit register and after snapping a bunch of photos I decided to head down, out of the cool breeze, and eat my lunch in a warm, windless spot instead.
[Great views over the green foothills to the east from the ridge. Summit is on far left here. ++]
[Summit at center with the lovely Bluerock Creek valley to the left and foothills to the right. ++]
[The infamous cave that sits left of the ridge and is a local hangout for sheep. ++]
[The sublime view from within the "sheep hotel" looking back along the south ridge of Bluerock Mountain.]
[What blows my mind, is how long has this rock been balanced like this? And how long before it finally slides off?]
[Finally looking up at the true summit from yet another low point on the ridge.]
[Steep walls guard the east face of Bluerock.]
[Just off the summit, Rose on the L and Ware on the R (tiny bump). ++]
[Summit views looking south, east and north. Rose and Ware are center L and R. ++]
[Looking west and south off the summit. Views include Rose / Threepoint on the far R and Shunga-la-she and Burns on the L. ++]
[Both Mount Rose and Threepoint Mountain are in this shot although they appear as one mountain.]
[Threepoint with it's cliffbands that Phil and I figured out shortly after this trip to link it with Mount Rose.]
[Cornwall, Outlaw and Banded Peak.]
[Mount Rae looks very impressive from this angle.]
[Cougar Peak with Tombstone in the distance.]
[Mount Burns (L), Rae and Cougar (C).]
[Mist Mountain is another Kananaskis peak that I really enjoyed.]
[Looking over Shunga-la-she towards Mount McPhail.]
[Highwood Peak with giants along the Divide in the distance.]
[Approaching the crux from above.]
The "warm, windless spot" ended up being the bench underneath Ram Mountain. The crux proved quite straight forward on descent, other than being very loose and sort of awkward to down climb. I would rate it a stiff moderate if comparing to Kane scrambles. Once I was down at the bench, I stopped for a 20 minute break. There were a ton of Shooting Star flowers there and I could hear the bees, busy gathering nectar all around me as I dozed off. I could have stayed there for hours. Maybe I should have stayed longer, but I knew I was making good time and wanted to get home for supper if possible and surprise my wife, since I'd told her I'd be much later. The hike back down was even quicker than ascent. Even with my break at the bench and speaking for a few minutes to a couple I ran into on the trail, I made it back in just under 8 hours for a round trip time.
[The crux is awkward for short people, stemming against the left wall works good on descent.]
[The view from the bottom of the gully, looking south down Bluerock Ridge / Creek.]
[Almost down Ram Mountain and back at the lovely meadows around the bench.]
[Lots of flowers here too.]
[The bees were very busy in the meadows around the bench, tons of Shooting Stars here.]
[A last look back at this quiet spot - we all need to spend more time in spots like this.]
[This would be fun on a bike!]
[Apparently I'm crowding the parking lot filled with all the "paying customers". Go figure.]
I highly recommend Bluerock from the south access hiking route. There are other ascent routes as well, including one from the north that Raf, Fabrice and Josee used - I can't comment on how these compare but they seem just as long albeit with a nicer bike approach. Be forewarned, however, this is a longish outing with quite a bit of height gain for a front range summit.