It wasn't looking good as I sat in the Tim Horton's in Sundre on Saturday, March 28 2015. It was around 11 in the morning and it was pouring outside! Not just a mist, but a full on down pour. I was waiting for Steven and Ben to arrive from Edmonton before we continued our drive to the Bighorn Campground in the Ya Ha Tinda area of the front ranges.
Our original plan was to sleep over on Saturday night, at the free equine campground, before arising early on Sunday and scouting a proposed route up Warden Rock. As the weather maps adjusted themselves on Friday afternoon, I started to get more ambitious and proposed that we scramble Eagle Mountain late on Saturday afternoon / evening, since we'd be in the area anyway. The weather was supposed to clear off around 15:00, which should give us enough time. Ben and Steven agreed to the adjusted plan and we planned to leave the Eagle Lake parking area around 1 or 2pm.
So there I was, sitting at Tim's and browsing every weather map I could think of. All were showing the same thing. Rain 'til around 15:00, then clearing. Sunday was starting to look a little bit iffy now, with extreme winds and cloud cover / snow for most of the Rockies. I texted Ben and Steven to see where they were. I was ready to drive home, to be honest. The pouring rain, combined with a so-so forecast for Sunday had officially dampened my enthusiasm for the next couple of days. We agreed to meet at the Tim's and do some last minute changes, if necessary. As I sat there waiting, the sky to the west slowly lightened and by noon there was even a tiny blue patch (sucker hole) visible. By the time Steven and Ben arrived, the rain had significantly lessened and we were ready to give things a shot, since we were in the area anyway!
After negotiating a muddy approach road we parked at the Eagle Lake parking lot and prepared for our scramble under a clearing sky. There wasn't a breath of wind as we started negotiating the myriad of trails around Eagle Lake. The easiest directions are as Dave Salahub describes them on Bivouac. Simply follow the ATV trail towards the lake and at the first large meadow, turn left and bushwhack up the ridge. There are a lot of horse trails that will distract you on ascent, you should probably ignore most of them. The bush is easy and the lower slopes get pretty steep to tree line. We contoured climber's left around tree line and grunted up a few false summits on scree. There was very little snow for us, but we could see fresh snow on peaks to the west. Most surprising for the area was that we had no wind.
[The approach trail is obvious!]
[A clearing give us our first view of the lower slopes (L)]
[A nice walk in the forest - Alberta bush is so nice...]
[Great views looking back over Ya Ha Tinda. ++]
[Grunting up the easy scree. Warden Rock is at the far left in the distance. Wapiti across the gap to the R.]
[Looking ahead over some false summits. Rum Ridge to the left. ++]
[Some slabs reminded us briefly of Recondite's Karst pavement]
[Steven and Ben just after downclimbing the crux buttress on ascent.]
[Clouds pour off our ascent ridge as I glance back over Ya Ha Tinda. ++]
[Still not there!]
Eventually we came to the one scrambly section of ridge. Ben and Steven down climbed the nose of a buttress (5.1ish), while I found a route around to climber's left that was fourth class, but very short. Clouds were coming in from the east, which was strange, and we enjoyed walking along the edge of them in very warm and windless conditions. The summit was a bit further than we realized but eventually we plodded our way to the highest point and took in the wonderful views over Ya Ha Tinda. Warden Rock beckoned us yet again, and we were happy to scout a potential snow couloir / gully that could assist our ascent the next day. It looked far away...
[On the summit, looking over Ya Ha Tinda with Rum Ridge and Evangeline on the R and Maze on the L. ++]
[Looking east off the summit. Maze on the R. ++]
[A tele pano over Ya Ha Tinda towards Banff National Park. Warden Rock at L. ++]
[Warden is a long way off (L) with Wapiti to the right of the gap through which the Red Deer River flows.]
[Looking over Labrynth Peak]
The descent was easy, up-climbing the crux was fun. We spent the night around a cheery camp fire at the Bighorn Campground and set our alarms for 04:00 the next day.
[There are dips and rises on the way, adding to the total height gains.]
[Steven climbs the buttress crux on descent]
[Vern's turn (photo by Steven Song)]
[Back to t-shirts in the forest]
[It's not all fun and games]
[A wonderful late afternoon hike back to the Eagle Lake parking lot]
[There are some signs but the myriad of trails are confusing. This is looking back at the lower ridge.]
[The Bighorn Campground isn't fancy but it works and it's free...]
[Ben does his part to encourage global warming... (photo by Steven Song)]
[The Red Deer River near the Bighorn Campground. Warden Rock is a LONG way in the distance, just showing up over the trees at center.]