Whenever I looked into the Mount Coulthard scramble, I always ended up wondering why nobody seemed willing to combine it with its easy neighboring peak, Mount McLaren (not to be confused with Mount MacLaren in the High Rock Range further north). I decided it was time someone tried it and posted it as a good idea - provided it was a good one of course. As it turns out - it was a very good idea. Initially, I thought I'd have to start up to the Andy Good / McLaren col from lower down on the North York Creek Road, even lower than the plane crash site. This would give me well over 1800m of elevation gain for the day, when combined with Mount Coulthard. As I descended Mount Coulthard, however, I noticed a much more attractive option. It looked like I could simply follow a network of sheep trails from the cirque between Coulthard and Andy Good Peak to the col between Andy Good and Mount McLaren. I also spotted a pretty sweet line from McLaren, back down to my waiting bike and the Dakota crash site.
[As I traverse from Coulthard to McLaren the sheep track I'm following goes a wee bit high towards Parrish (maybe I should have done that peak too!). I will lose about 20m here before finding another track and continuing my traverse. ++]
Despite appearances, the traverse out of the cirque was quick and relatively painless even on approach shoes. Finding the right sheep track was as tricky as usual - they're obvious from 1km away but as soon as I got closer the tracks disappeared! Good thing I'm half-sheep because I always seem to find them back, as was the case on this particular day. At one point I found myself traversing up toward a very interesting looking little hanging valley on the north side of Andy Good, and had to descend a bit to find another trail leading to McLaren. Eventually I found myself scrambling through a few hardpan dirt and scree gullies - not much fun in approach shoes - before I was ascending very loose scree to the Andy Good / McLaren col. On the way I came across a herd of about 20 sheep. They weren't as impressed with my route finding skills as I was...
[Great lighting as I look back at Mount Coulthard from the traverse. ++]
[It is slightly harder than it looks to access the col, thanks to a couple of annoying hard pan dirt / rock gullies that you can't see until you're in them.]
[More great views back towards Coulthard (C) and Andy Good (R) as I near the col now.]
From the col the route up McLaren was a pleasant stroll in nice warm sunshine with mid afternoon views all over the Crowsnest Pass area. Of course the nearby Flathead Range peaks were the most dramatic, but I really enjoyed the way the light was playing towards Sentinel, Sentry, Phillips and Tecumseh, along with the fall colors and Crowsnest Lake. I was surprised how prominent Tornado Mountain and Gould Dome were showing up beyond Crowsnest Mountain - I didn't realize they were that far south for some reason. Many familiar peaks from the area showed up from Lightning Peak in the north to Table Mountain and many Castle Wilderness peaks to the south. The match stick forest of dead trees to the east reminded me of the incredible 2003 Lost Creek Wildfire, which I remember driving through on route to southern BC with the family. It made me a bit sad to realize that even 15 years later, the forest is nowhere near replenished, which made me realize I will never again see Waterton Lakes National Park in her full glory after last years Kenow Wildfire there.
[Now it's just a pleasant stroll (in SUNSHINE!) to the summit which isn't visible here yet.]
[Looking back at the col with Mount Parrish. Andy Good at left.]
[The other side of the Parrish col with Chinook Peak at right.]
[Nice easy slopes to the distant summit.]
[Mount Coulthard looks impressive from here with the Castle Wilderness in the distance beyond at left. ++]
[A huge panorama of the entire Crowsnest Pass area includes (L to R), Chinook, Sentinel, Sentry, Erickson, Phillips, Tecumseh, Deadmans, Allison, Window, Ward, Racehorse, Crowsnest, Ma Butte, Wedge, Saskatoon, Grassy, Lightning, Centre, Caudron, South Livingstone, Talon, Turtle, Willoughby, Hillcrest and Coulthard. Among others. ++]
[I love this shot looking east (L) and south (R) over the 15 year old Lost Creek burn area. Note how there is still no trees growing there. The fall colors show through the match stick forest nicely though, especially on Turtle and Hillcrest mountains. ++]
[A massive panorama looking south to the Castle Wilderness Area includes (L to R), Prairie Bluff, Pincher Ridge, Drywood Mountain, Victoria Peak, Table Mountain (foreground), Mount Gladstone, Victoria Ridge, Windsor Peak, Castle Peak, Whistler Mountain, Lys Ridge, Southfork Mountain, Barnaby Ridge, Syncline Mountain, Middle Kootenay Mountain and Mount Haig with peaks in Waterton and Glacier National Park filling up the distant background. ++]
[The local group of the Flathead Range includes (L to R), Coulthard, Andy Good, Ptolemy, Parrish and Chinook. ++]
[Great views west to Chinook, Sentinel and Sentry with Erickson at distant right.]
[Looking over Crowsnest Lake to Erickson, Phillips and Tecumseh.]
[Looking over the north end of Willoughby Ridge towards Turtle Mountain.]
[Centre Peak (L) and Mount Caudron (R) which Phil Richards and I scrambled in November 2016 - with hardly any snow at all.]
[Ma Butte with McGillivray Ridge at right.]
[It's been quite a while since I did Crowsnest Mountain - 14 years ago!]
[Tornado Mountain with Gould Dome in front to the right are surprisingly dominant even from this far south.]
[Looking over the Ironstone Fire Lookout towards Hillcrest Mountain.]
[Interesting views over the old Lost Creek burn towards Prairie Bluff.]
After spending 30 minutes at the summit of McLaren, it was time to head back down to my bike. The route I'd spotted earlier worked like a charm and soon I was checking out the depressing Dakota Plane Crash site, mostly consisting of mechanical detritus scattered in North York Creek in a deceptively peaceful scene of waterfalls and alpine forest. I'm not sure how I feel about the site but in the end people died a violent death here and it is a fitting memorial to that reality. There is little doubt as to the final moments of that doomed flight as it slammed into the rocky cliffs of the Flathead Range before plunging into the alpine forest below. One can only hope that nobody on that plane even saw it coming.
[A magnificent Mountain Goat on return from McLaren's summit.]
[I descended diagonally down and slightly left here to the shadow line and directly to the crash site which is just below mid-center of the photo.]
[The crash site is just below these waterfalls at lower left. Coulthard looms above.]
[Note the picnic table and Mount McLaren at left. There is detritus from the crash scattered all over the upper North Fork Creek below me here. ++]
[Part of a wing.]
[Andy Good Peak looms over the crash site.]
[Part of me just thought the site was littering the creek - after so many years the metal looks like scrap just scattered around.]
[Engine parts in the creek.]
[More views of the largest piece of intact wreckage looking down North York Creek.]
[The tail section is covered in graffiti for some reason. Again - I'm not sure how I feel about the so-called "memorial". Since when do memorials have people's names and graffiti all over them?]
[There are many unique angles around the crash site, contrasting a terrible and violent incident with a harsh, uncaring, beautiful environment.]
[I think the huge black "signatures" are quite inappropriate for a memorial to the dead - but that's just my opinion. ]
After checking out the crash site, it was time to test my riding skillz. I'd heaved, sweated and sworn my dual-suspension, Rocky Mountain bike up 500 vertical meters of gravel, mud, boulders and dirt. Now it was PAYBACK TIME! I was determined to try another route back to my truck via the North York Creek trail instead of the York Creek approach I'd used. The initial descent was very quick and a bit gnarly in places. I found myself hanging my butt over the back wheel of the bike to prevent a spectacular endo that would have likely felt much less cool than it would have looked! Thank goodness for good disc brakes is all I can say! Not everyone would enjoy this bike ride, but I most certainly did.
[Yeah baby! This is a FAST ride down! This isn't a steep section either.]
Once I reached the fork in trails at the North York Creek crossing, I choose to descend left, down the North York Creek trail instead of going uphill towards York Creek. There was nothing spectacularly wrong with the North York Creek (NYC) option and I still don't know why Bob considers the York Creek approach so much better. Sure! The NYC trail was muddy and had some uphill sections, but nothing the YC approach didn't have. Also, it didn't have the huge muddy sinkholes that the YC trail had, which was a huge bonus IMHO. Put it this way - either trail is mucky and either trail has some strange elevation decisions. Both trails are subject to motorized traffic from dirt bikes to quads to freaking HUMMER trucks, apparently. I got lucky with zero encounters, being a weekday in the off season.
[This approach always seems to be muddy - likely thanks to the heavy OHV use. Go on a week day in September and you'll likely be alone.]
[Looking back at Mount Coulthard in the distance. Note the uphill that I just did - you'll be pushing your bike both on approach and egress but obviously much less on the way back.]
[There are bridges over North Fork Creek.]
[The NFC trail ends quite beautifully with fall colors and a pretty dry section of track.]
I was surprised to be back at the truck within about 45 minutes of leaving the plane crash site - certainly quicker than walking the 8km downhill in muck would have been. I highly recommend combining these two easy peaks in one trip - especially considering the relatively easy traverse between the cirque below Coulthard towards McLaren's south ridge. If there's snow, be cautious of the upper slopes on Coulthard. If you have a decent mountain bike, I would recommend riding (or more likely pushing) all the way up to the plane crash site. If you don't enjoy gnarly downhill riding on very rough terrain, I would still recommend riding to the merging of the NYC trail and the YC trail.