After spending the previous two weeks in various stages of fall throughout the Rockies, I was almost ready to return to work on September 29, 2016 when Wietse texted me, asking if I wanted to bag a peak? Let's see. Go back to work or bag a peak? Hmmm. That decision wasn't really a decision so much as an instinct. ;)
As usual, the weather forecast over the Rockies was a bit of a mixed bag. After browsing outlooks for various areas, the Crowsnest Pass looked to be the most promising with summer-like temperatures and only a small chance of showers. Wietse agreed that a two peak day was in order, so we settled on Bob Spirko's unofficial Mount Racehorse just south of Racehorse Pass, and the generally accepted (but still unofficial), Racehorse Peak located just north of the pass. Obviously both these summits share an approach which makes doing them together attractive.
The first challenge of the day was getting out of bed early. The second challenge was very narrowly avoiding a head-on collision while barreling at 110km/h down highway 22 south! We were driving along, chatting in the early morning light with very little traffic on the highway when I happened to see two semi trucks side-by-side heading towards us at full speed. Yes. Both of them - towards us!! Wietse later told me I was surprisingly calm as I pulled us half off the road before we casually flipped the offending semi driver a couple of WTF greetings. We continued driving for a few minutes before realizing just how close we'd come to taking a couple of dirt naps. I still have no idea what that truck driver was thinking. He was passing another semi, both of them going highway speeds and slightly uphill, while on a double yellow line that was a partially blind curve in the road! Wietse and I both fully expected to see the after effects of a horrific accident on our return that afternoon. All it would have taken was a van full of kids or a school bus and a major tragedy would have occurred on that lonely stretch of highway. Another reminder that mountains and Grizzlies aren't the most dangerous thing we face each time we go out to the hills...
The third challenge of the day was driving off the Allison Creek Road and up the Racehorse FSR. Based on Sonny's remark that he could have driven his CRV up this road, we figured my xTerra should have no problems. I've driven some gnarly (for me) backcountry roads before, most notably on our Alexandra trip where I almost drove too far. I don't do enough off-roading to feel really comfortable with it though. Almost immediately after starting up the FSR I wondered why the heck I was driving this! There was some very delicate balancing along some very deep, wet ruts that would have stranded us, before finally the road became a bit more reasonable. At this point I could still turn the truck around and was very nervous about driving further, assuming the road probably got worse the higher we went. Rather than risk life and limb for a second time that day, I decided to turn around, drive back along the gnarly section and park along the FSR, about 1km in from the Allison Creek Road. After re-negotiating the deep rutted section (which was easier on return), I parked the truck and we started hiking up the road.
[A gorgeous morning as we leave the truck.]
Naturally the road only improved to the pass. :) We could have easily driven all the way to Racehorse Pass considering we literally drove the worst section (!!) but oh well. The morning was beautiful and adding around 200-300 vertical meters wasn't a huge deal. We met a Jeep coming down from the pass, which would have made for an interesting situation on some sections if we were still driving at this point (not enough room for two vehicles). In an interesting twist, our views looked to be obscured by smoke - I'm not sure from where, but we could smell smoke quite clearly. Mount Ward was obvious as we walked up to the pass.
[Naturally, the road improved after the bad start and only remained excellent to the pass!]
[Following the road to the pass as it winds around the south side of Racehorse Peak (out of sight at upper right). Mount Ward at far left. ++]
[Looking down the road you can see the smoky haze and how narrow the road is in places.]
[Great views south to Ward and Crowsnest in the distance at left.]
[Nearing the pass - Mount Racehorse directly ahead.]
[Looking up at the south slopes of Racehorse Peak from near the pass. We ascended on right hand slopes to the right skyline ridge before following it up and left to the summit. We descended between the obvious gully at center and our ascent route. ++]
From just east of Racehorse Pass we scoped out various ascent options. Dave McMurray (peaksandstreams) took a more scrambly route up a huge gully just to the east of the easier south ridge but we simply headed up to the south ridge and followed it to the summit. There were no difficulties, easy scrambling at most. There was some exposure to our right, but we didn't have to be anywhere near it if we didn't want to be. The warm sun felt like summer - but there was some rain showers to the west. The summit was higher than expected, but we immediately noticed that further to the northeast there was an obviously higher one.
[A gorgeous day as we hike up easy south slopes to the south ridge.]
[Grass gives way to scree.]
[Pleasantly surprised by the great view south including Crowsnest, Ward, Allison and Racehorse. ++]
[Following the south ridge proper is more fun but not necessary if you don't like exposure.]
[Taking a break on the south ridge. Summit at left, high point at center with the huge slabby scree bowl in between.]
[Starting back up the south ridge.]
[Looking down the scree / slab bowl towards the FSR and approach.]
[The most fun was had by sticking right on the south ridge.]
[Wietse having fun - this could be avoided on climber's left.]
[The false summit at left, summit directly above Wietse here. There are some slabs in this section that beginner hikers may not like.]
[You can see the scree / slabs that we ascended near the summit.]
[Summit view looking north and along the northeast extension ridge. "Pony" is the darker summit with the highest point just to the right of it. ++]
Due to a lack of preparation, I hadn't read Dave's report ahead of the trip, and didn't realize that the first cairned summit is indeed, Racehorse Peak. Bob doesn't even mention a higher summit in his trip report, as he was struggling with wind and simply tagged the first summit and immediately descended again. We started second guessing ourselves about where the real summit was, and decided to try the NE ridge traverse - although it didn't look easy! Looks didn't lie. Due to a lack of preparation, we didn't even have our helmets along and soon we were pushing against the boundaries of easy or even moderate scrambling. When we got to what Dave calls "Pony Peak" along the ridge, we tried scouting out several different routes that involved downclimbing tricky slabs with loose scree before we'd have to regain the high point just to the NE. We poked and prodded several options along the south side of the NE ridge before finally giving up. On hindsight, the best option would be ascending the huge bowl directly to this higher summit. Dave says that "Pony Peak" is 6m higher than Racehorse Peak but I didn't get that reading on my GPS, which never went higher than Racehorse Peak's summit. The NE summit is definitely higher, but probably only a few meters at most and obviously unnamed. Interestingly, Andrew Nugara was on this higher summit when Dave was there. I'm not sure how he ascended, but likely via the large SE gully directly.
[Wietse descends the summit to start the traverse to "Pony".]
[Looking back up at a section of ridge that is certainly beyond the easy ascent rating for Racehorse!]
[Great views looking back at Wietse traversing the ridge from Racehorse Peak with Ward / Window / Allison. ++]
[Near "Pony" summit, looking NE to the high point at left and down the south bowl at center.]
[Wietse stands on "Pony" Peak. The terrain at left is much steeper than it looks in this flattened panorama. Racehorse Peak in the distance along the ridge. ++]
[Complicated terrain, trying to drop down to the col between "Pony" and the high point. Without helmets, this became a bit too much for our comfort zones.]
[Heading back up the ridge after trying another option that didn't pan out.]
[Wietse comes back along the ridge from "Pony" Peak with the highest point on the ridge behind him. Crowsnest Mountain at right.]
[In case you thought the traverse was still easy scrambling... ;)]
[View west from the summit including Mount Racehorse, Erikson peak and ridge and Mount Domke at distant right. ++]
[View south including "Pony" and the high point at left, scree and slab south bowl at center and Crowsnest Mountain, Ward, Allison in the distance. ++]
[Crowsnest Mountain looms over the Allison Creek Road.]
[The impressive Mount Washburn to the west.]
[Mount Erikson lies on the border with BC.]
[One last view north towards Domke.]
[Slightly wider view of Washburn - easily the most impressive summit in the area.]
[Mount Harrison - the southernmost 11,000er in the Canadian Rockies.]
We returned to what turned out to be the correct summit and descended our ascent route. Near the bottom of the route we deviated slightly down the south face on scree before taking a break and looking up at our next peak - Mount Racehorse. I can highly recommend Racehorse Peak as an easy scramble with great views and a short time commitment (other than the drive). Just watch out for semi trucks on hwy 22!!
[Wietse descends the south ridge / face with Ward, Window and Allison at center. ++]
[Looking down the gully that splits the south face of Racehorse Peak towards Mount Racehorse. We stuck left (east) of the gully.]
[The gully is a bit slabby so I'd avoid it if you can. Unless you like that sort of thing. ;)]