After an easy day on Mount Stelfox, Mike Mitchell and I were pretty excited to find a scramble route up it's higher northern neighbor - Bright Star Peak. As far as we knew there are no recorded scramble ascents of this peak - as a matter of fact, I don't know of any online trip reports of anyone getting to the summit although I'm sure some folks have, over the years. As it turns out, there is good reasons for the lack of beta on this peak. We got up early at our bivy along Whitegoat Creek and by 05:00 we were on the familiar approach trail towards Whitegoat Pass. Why bother redoing this trail and not bivy higher? Simple. There's no easily available water anywhere from Whitegoat Creek to the Pass, or even beyond. As far as I'm concerned you should not count on any water source from Whitegoat to Coral Creeks at all. You might get lucky with snow melt or recent rains, but this is obviously not dependable enough to count on.
We had scouted a possible route the day previous from Stelfox (one of the main reasons we ascended it first) and were quite keen on giving it a go. Stelfox had awesome views but was kind of easy and straightforward. We were in the mood for some nice routefinding and interesting terrain. We certainly got what we desired! We knew from the day before that there was three key sections to cracking Bright Star. First was gaining a high col that led to a false summit, well short of the peak that almost looked like part of the south ridge from Stelfox. There were two viable routes to this col. The most interesting was via a treed slope leading to a narrow access gully which looked to be fairly easy and low angled. This was our preferred route. There was also a ridge that looked as if it would work, rising north from near Whitegoat Pass. I thought it looked a bit slabby and was probably not as easy as it appeared from a distance. The second key was getting to the summit block. Again, there were two viable routes from our vantage on Stelfox. The first was the obvious south ridge. It looked fierce - even from 1.5km away. The second was a traverse along the west face of the south ridge to the west ridge. This looked doable from Stelfox, but parts of the route were blocked by terrain so we had no good idea of the whole thing. The third key to cracking Bright Star's summit was the summit block itself. From a distance it looked doable with some difficulties in the form of slabby terrain with broken scree gullies. We hoped one of the gullies would go.
[Part of Bright Star from the descent gully on Stelfox. Note that it's 1.5-2km away from us at this point and everything looks much easier than it ended up being on closer inspection! The true summit is separated by a 1km long ridge and on this photo it's merged with the false summit. The descent gully looks easy too. This is why I'm not convinced the green descent slabs / ridge would be any easier - everything looks easy from this distance. The alternate green ascent line leads to difficult terrain at the summit block too.]
After all this planning and scoping out routes, it was fun to finally be going for it. I hadn't had great luck with trying new routes this year (turning around on King Edward and my first try at Whirlpool Ridge). Trying new, unknown routes definitely puts a big dent in the ol' peak bagging success rates! Kudos to all the guidebook authors and beta-sharers out there who are the first to find scramble routes up so many of the Rockies peaks. It's not an easy enterprise and results in a lot of "failures" for every success.
[An early morning start along the first creekbed.]
When we got to the small blowdown section just before Whitegoat Pass, we diverted as planned, heading up to climber's left through thinning forest towards an obvious drainage leading to what we hoped was the first of many weaknesses to the summit ridge of Bright Star. We were expecting very strong winds this particular day, which made us somewhat apprehensive about tackling a likely difficult and long route, but so far the weather was perfect with very little wind. We groveled up the obvious gully on smatterings of sheep trails before gaining the headwall guarding the shallow gully to the first col before the false summit. At first the headwall looked pretty straightforward. Mike especially seemed to think it would go pretty easily. I wasn't as convinced. I'd spent a lot of time in DTC over the past few weeks and was starting to recognize a pattern in the rock there. Ledges and slabs that appear easy from a distance, usually aren't as straightforward when you get on them. The exposure can quickly creep up and you're left hoping your Vibram soles work as well as they're advertised. ;) There's also scree on most of the slabs, making them a bit more desperate than you expect until you're on them. As we got closer to the headwall and I tried the first obvious tactic of going straight up, I realized we were once again dealing with the "tougher-than-expected" slabs of DTC.
[A great start! We head up an obvious scree gully to the crux lower headwall which is out of sight here.]
[Looking up to the headwall - I'm starting to get a bit nervous at this point already.]
[Looking back down our ascent gully towards Mount Stelfox.]
[Despite appearances, the terrain ahead is rather steep and exposed.]
[I tried going straight up the end of the scree gully which was a bit too commiting. Mike found a line on climber's left which was a bit less so.]
Mike tried another line to climber's left of the direct one and found an exposed traverse to some reasonably angled slabs leading up to the shallow gully, out of sight, above us. I was extremely grateful for my approach shoes (as opposed to boots) for the next 100 meters or so. The terrain wasn't horrible, but looking back down it, I knew I was going to be trying an alternate descent. We could have descended our ascent route, but it wouldn't have been quick or completely safe.
[Looking down the crux slabs - note the loose scree scattered all over the place.]
[Up the crux slabs, now we will traverse into the easy shallow gully leading to the col with the false summit.]
[Mike follows to the shallow gully - the crux terrain underneath us now and Stelfox rising beyond.]
Once off the slabs, we traversed on another partial sheep trail towards a shallow gully which we followed easily up to the col with the false summit. Ironically, we found a perfect bivy site with running water (from snow melt) just before the col. I'm sure not very many humans have been to this delightful little spot - which always feels good. There was good news, bad news and very bad news in our views from the col. The good news was that the false summit looked to be very easy from here. The bad news was that the traverse along the west face of the south ridge to the far west ridge involved dropping down at least 200 vertical meters before groveling up a scree gully to a difficult-looking west ridge. The very bad news was that the south ridge looked very intimidating already from down a the col. We didn't imagine it would look better from the false summit, but we gamely headed up anyway. Worst case scenario we'd tag the false summit, garner some beta and views and then descend.
[Great views back along our descent route towards Stelfox. We came up the slabs at lower center.]
[Based on our beta from the day before (looking over from Stelfox), we thought the gully on the right would be a fair bit easier than our ascent gully (L). We were partially correct. ++]
[Looking up to the col and the false summit rising to the right.]
[Nearing the col, looking back at Stelfox on a gorgeous early morning.]
[The terrain isn't small here - find Mike ascending towards me.]
[The only running water we found all weekend that wasn't part of the lower Whitegoat Creek - this is from snow melt at the col.]
[Yikes. That's not happening... The severe west face of Bright Star. Click for a possible ascent line from Coral Creek (lower left). We did consider dropping down from here and attempting that line but to be honest it looked pretty difficult and couldn't be less steep than the south ridge above us on the right here. ++]
[Looking back at Stelfox from the col.]
The false summit was easily attained from the col via a short scree slope and soon we were looking at the very unfriendly (to scramblers) south ridge leading off to the tantalizing summit, still over 1km from our vantage. We both knew our day was over at this point so we decided to enjoy the views, take a break and then head down our alternate descent gully. Sometimes it feels really crappy not to bag a summit, but on Bright Star we both ended up agreeing that it was one of our "best" failures. There simply wasn't any viable scrambling route ahead of us so we didn't feel any pressure to try it. Sometimes the decision is made easier when the terrain / conditions are so bad you don't even feel tempted to try. After snapping some gorgeous summit pics we started back down to the col below.
[Mike grinding up to the false summit of Bright Star with a great panorama opening up to the south and west. ++]
[I think he's dreaming of Mount Rainier already... (which he bagged a week later).]
[Great views south and west from the summit. Stelfox steals the show with Vision Quest, Allstones and Abraham to the left and the Cline group at right. ++]
[Mike comes up the (false) summit ridge with Stelfox rising behind him and Michener across Abraham Lake at left. ++]
[The difficult east face of Bright Star with the intimidating south ridge to the summit. Our access drainage at lower right and Vision Quest at center with Whitegoat Creek flowing in front of it. ++]
[A great shot of the ridge at left and the alternate ascent gully rising to the east face from the right. It looks pretty doable until the summit block where things get interesting - but who knows? Maybe that's the better route? Someone will have to go find out some day... Hangman Peak in the distance at right. ++]
[Great lighting on Murchison, Resolute, Cline and the White Goat peaks (L to R).]
[Murchison and it's towers at right with Corona Ridge, Spreading Peak and Marmota in front.]
[Elliott Peak at left with Siffleur, Peskett and Loudon at distant right.]
[Stelfox is only slightly higher than the false summit of Bright Star Peak. Note how "easy" its NW ridge looks from here? It's not. It's difficult, exposed scrambling in sections and this is partly what made us realize that if the south ridge of Bright Star looked much more difficult than than the NW ridge of Stelfox, it was almost certainly not a scramble.]
[The brilliantly colored Seven Seas Peak across the Coral Creek Valley to the west of Bright Star.]
[Distant views of Murchison's Towers and Spreading Peak.]
[Another shot of the approach drainage at lower center looking over Whitegoat Creek towards Vision Quest. The alternate ascent gully rising to the left is probably the next-most viable route I'd try on Bright Star - but after my experience on a very similar line on Whirlpool Ridge, I'm not at all confident that it would crack the summit block easily. ++]
[Looking down at the access drainage / route that gains both Stelfox and Whitegoat Pass.]
[Heading back down towards our alternate descent gully - which is right of the buttress at lower center.]
Bright Star wasn't quite done throwing us curve balls as we started down the "easy" alternate descent gully. Soon it became rather obvious that the terrain that looked dead-easy from Stelfox the day before, wasn't. The scree ramp we'd spotted was broken by cliff bands and pretty exposed. The slabby ridge to our left looked doable, but again, it had to be at least as steep as the gully we were facing and that didn't look easy either! We decided to roll the dice and start down the narrow gully / chimney feature, mostly because it looked very fun. We knew full well that we could be easily turned back at almost any point by a drop off, since we couldn't see very far ahead down the steep feature. We had some ledges on our left which could be used to bail out to the ridge if we had to so we didn't feel stuck. The steep gully / chimney feature was very fun and very unique. It was also bloody exposed to objective hazards above on our right in the form of very loose and very unstable rock / shale cliffs that were obviously eroding actively. We were both surprised by how much fun we had descending this feature, but we both agreed that we wouldn't want to come up it due to the nature of the slick slabs on our left and exposed hazards above. After much longer than we both anticipated, we finally broke into the lower gully and bailed out to Whitegoat Pass on easy terrain.
[There is no guarantee that we won't run into a cliff or drop-off ahead but down we go anyway!]
[Much steeper than it appears, the gully had slick slabs to our left and crumbling, crappy shale to our right.]
[Some sections were easy and quick.]
[Other sections were more 'interesting'.]
[It always looked easier and much quicker than it was. We didn't escape the difficulties until the very end of the gully near treeline.]
[We had to come up with some interesting moves to avoid getting our feet wedged under the crappy shale ledges to our right.]
[More funky moves.]
[We definitely underestimated both the length and difficulty of the terrain but we both enjoyed it immensely.]
[The whole west side of the gully was composed of this unconsolidated metallic rocky shale that was collapsing from many meters above and even overhanging in sections.]
[But not quite there yet - I love the smooth slab at left and crappy rock falling against it at right. I've seen this pattern all over DTC including the creek approach on Elliott which also made me a bit nervous for overhead objective hazards.]
[Looking back up the impressively long gully / chimney feature.]
[Back on the trail near Whitegoat Pass.]
The rest of our day was pretty straight-forward as we leisurely packed up our camp before heading back along the Whitegoat Creek OHV trail to our vehicles. The one change that made things easier and quicker on exit than on approach, was ignoring the hiking detours along the creek and simply following the OHV track. This necessitated wet feet in places (or wading) but on a hot day, it actually felt good to dip the feet in the drink once in a while. Mike and I both commented more than once how much fun we had on Bright Star despite not making the summit. I guess it proves that sometimes the pleasure really is in the journey and not the destination. Now if someone else could just try a few more routes and share the beta, we'd both be grateful. :)
[I've never seen carpets of Calypso Orchids like the ones around Whitegoat Creek and the bivy camp.]
[The first camp is very close to the second and would work just as well.]
[Looking back along the OHV track where there are 5 or 6 ribbons indicating the Whitegoat Pass trail to the left.]
[The rolling nature of the OHV trail means lots of uphill sections on return.]
[It's a pretty impressive OHV trail that goes through the 2013 flooding damage along the creekbed for about 1km.]
[The trail is only open during winter months, which greatly lessens the impact.]
[The 2013 floods had a dramatic impact on many streams in the Rockies, including Whitegoat. The OHV trail that's been cut along this section dramatically improves access along it.]
[A perfectly sized side channel helps the OHV track along.]
[Yet another natural feature helping the OHV track.]
[Looking back down the OHV track where it descends steeply to the creek below. The false summit of Bright Star is the bump at center. Stelfox at left and Bright Star in the distance to the right.]
[The exit track is pleasant enough and obviously very easy to follow.]
[Some sections aren't drained properly, which is a little annoying.]