On July 29th, 2017 Phil Richards and I completed a huge day - both approaching and climbing Cataract Peak from the Mosquito Creek parking lot, entailing around 2400m of height gain and 28km of distance. July 30th promised to be a much simpler day but still a big effort, returning over 22km to the parking lot and adding another peak along the way - albeit a short and easy one. Andrew Nugara had told me about a new peak he was adding to his latest guidebook already in 2016 in exchange for some of my photos in said book. He claimed that the views both on route and on the summit of this peak were some of the best he'd ever had in the Rockies - an opinion us peakbaggers seem to have alarmingly often about every new peak we ascend! :) Of course with that sort of ringing endorsement, I had no choice but to add Molarstone Peak to my summit list and secretly planned to combine it with Cataract Peak.
After packing up camp in the cool early morning air at the head of Cataract Creek deep in Banff National Park, Phil and I slowly started heading back downhill towards the Pipestone River below. It was only around 05:30 as we worked our way past the beautiful upper reaches of the creek and then down the easy forested slopes to valley bottom. We re-traced our steps back across Three Brothers Creek and through the short bushwhack to the Pipestone River trail. Along the way we discovered more signs of early human travel through this area, including rusted out tins and other detritus that was simply discarded rather than cleaned up - back when littering pristine landscapes was a way of life. To be fair, I suppose the wilderness wasn't seen so much as a privilege back then but rather an obstacle and a means to prosperity.
[Recrossing the flats before Three Brothers Creek in distinctive blue early morning lighting.]
[Looking back at an already distant Cataract with its namesake in the foreground.]
The Pipestone River once again required removing our footwear and wading across, and it was as we came up the far shore that I got angry and disappointed for the first time on this amazing trip. I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at the river bank and saw recent human feces along with toilet paper scattered right near the water and right beside the crossing point!! WTF?! I get angry all over again even as I type this! Ask Phil - I was still grumbling about this at the summit of Molarstone Peak hours later. My faith in humanity is already at an all time low considering the strange politics going on in our world. This act of complete and total narcissism and utter lack of consideration for others is one of the most disturbing things I've come across in the backcountry. I really wonder what the actual fuck the person who squatted there, right on the river crossing trail and did their business was thinking?! And then to leave a bunch of TP right there in plain sight without even attempting to bury it under some moss or a nearby rock?! There's a whole bunch of swear words that are itching to come out of my fingers as I type this but I'll try to move on. Just wait 'til the next paragraph - it gets even worse somehow.
As we ascended back up towards the Fish Lakes I was in a slightly sour mood thanks to the horrid lack of manners we witnessed at the normally pristine Pipestone River. The plethora of wildflowers and warmth of the morning sun was just starting to cheer me up when I got a second jarring dosage of humanity's fucked up nature. I don't know if it was the same people who shit and left the evidence for everyone to enjoy at the Pipestone River crossing, but once again - IN PLAIN SIGHT OF THE TRAIL and RIGHT BESIDE IT - there was a pile of human waste and fresh toilet paper littering the area around it!! Right beside the trail! There was a large alpine meadow right behind the steaming pile of crap, but once again, this excuse of a human being chose to squat right beside the trail, deposit their stinky mess there and then scatter white TP all over the place, before calmly getting up and walking away without so much as a glance back at the mess they'd left. If this attitude doesn't capture exactly what I think is wrong with society nowadays then I don't know what does! I'm positively steaming right now as I type this report - and again, ask Phil how pissed I was hours later after witnessing this behavior. Why would somebody come all the way to the remote Fish Lakes and Pipestone River areas, only to leave scattered shit and TP scattered throughout the wildflowers beside a popular hiking trail and in clean, fresh water?! If someone could enlighten me, I'd love to be enlightened on this.
Phew. I'm glad that's over. Let's continue with the good stuff...
I tried to enjoy the beauty of the upper stretches of the approach to North Molar Pass from the Fish Lakes after the horrid human manners we'd witnessed earlier. It was pretty hard not to! The warmth of the sun, the smells of millions of wildflowers, the call of the marmots and the gurgling of the stream slowly combined to take the edge ofmy anger at humanity. Witnessing a beautiful doe in the alpine meadows as it gazed alertly at us drinking out of the stream was a magical moment that faded my anger even more. By the time we passed back through the bowl and grunted back up to North Molar Pass, I was once again enjoying the day.
[Nature does its best to cheer me up as we re-ascend through acres of wildflowers towards Fish Lakes.]
[A porcupine looks at us suspiciously as we pass him by.]
[Cataract is a distant giant in the haze as we gain height back above Fish Lakes.]
[A doe gives us a cautionary glance as she feeds in the early morning stillness along a bubbling stream.]
[Phil works his way up the heavily braided trail to NMP with Minnow Peak looming over Fish Lakes at left. ++]
[So many flowers.]
[Moonscapes just under NMP with Molarstone rising to the right.]
[Looking back from the bottom of the pass.]
[Switchbacks up the pass.]
From NMP we looked up at Molarstone's SW scree slope with some trepidation. It looked very easy, but we were obviously getting a bit tired from all the efforts of the past 24 hours! We knew it was only around 300m of elevation gain to the summit so there wasn't much to do but put one foot in front of the other - up we went! Phil led the way and within about 45 minutes of leaving the pass we were standing at the summit with amazing views - especially to the west which had been hazy the day before.
[I'm not gonna lie - this was a bit of a grunt.]
[The summit is almost in sight.]
[The views from the summit of Molarstone are pretty spectacular - especially in the morning. Cataract at distant left, Molar at center and NMP at lower left. Minnow Peak rises over Fish Lakes at center. ++]
[Great views over the Fish Lakes towards Mount Drummond at left, Molar at center and Mount Hector and Andromache at right. ++]
[Molar Mountain with Richardson, Pika and Ptarmigan in the distance.]
[Too bad about the haze, but from L to R, Little Cataract, "Big" Cataract, McConnell and Mount Drummond. Lower Fish Lakes visible too with Minnow Peak at far right.]
[Phil gazes over the Pipestone River Valley and a gorgeous tarn towards Deluc Peak at left.]
[Willingdon, Crown and South Tower with Harris at center right.]
[Stunning morning views down the Mosquito Creek Valley towards Noseeum, OXO and Mosquito Mountain.]
[Views over Mosquito Mountain towards the impressive Watermelon Peak, which Phil and I did a few weeks previously.]
[Devon Mountain at center with Clearwater rising above. Recondite at distant right.]
[A tele-pano of the Siffleur Wilderness Area includes Devon at left, the Willingdon Group and Huestis and Malloch at right. ++]
[Mount Balfour - king of the Wapta Icefields - rises majestically to the west.]
[Cataract Peak is a huge mountain. Hard to believe we were up there only hours ago.]
[Recondite and Augusta point their loose, rubbly summits at the sky.]
[Looking far off down the Siffleur River Valley to the north.]
The wind was chilly and we'd left all our gear at the pass, so after a few minutes of taking in the wonderful panoramas, we started the quick descent to the pass. From the pass we enjoyed an hour or so of wandering back through acres and acres of flowers with great views and fresh air boosting our tired spirits.
[Phil descends to NMP (C). ++]
[Hiking down north of the North Molar Pass.]
[The upper Mosquito Creek alpine meadows.]
[Looking back up NMP.]
[Pure. Hiking. Magic. ++]
[Phil hikes beneath the east face of Noseem Mountain.]
[Acres of wildflowers in the alpine meadows. ++]
[Views towards Dolomite (L), OXO (C) and Watermelon Peak.]
The hike back to the parking lot along Mosquito Creek was a bit dull, but went by quickly. Around 30 hours after leaving the truck the morning before, we were back with our minds, bodies and spirits refreshed.
[Fast hiking on a good trail along Mosquito Creek.]
Something I realized this year, that really came to a head on the Cataract / Molarstone trip was that at heart I'm more of a wanderer than a climber - and part of me has always known that. It's one of the reasons I'm no longer chasing the 11,000ers list - if I ever was - there's simply too many other folks chasing after the exact same list of peaks. I feel trapped by objective lists because they don't allow me the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want to and for any reason I want to.
Of course, I still absolutely love climbing big, remote peaks, but only on my schedule and at my comfort and skill levels and above all else - at my personal enjoyment. And the less I know about an area, the more pleasure I seem to get out of visiting it. There's another very weird thing about me that I realized lately - I don't hate scree! I've read many comments on social media recently, from real climbers openly deriding "scree bashes" and "long, boring approaches" or "wasting time" on loose, 3rd and 4th class terrain. I have to admit that I don't feel that way at all. I love scree - for the most part - and 3rd / 4th class terrain is right in my wheelhouse! I love long approaches.
I love "wasting time" - afterall isn't that the whole darn point of adventuring in the first place? It is for me and in this regard, Cataract Peak had every bit of wilderness experiences that I love so much about the Alberta Rockies. I just could have done without the "human" parts.