After a couple of very long and full days spent on a 5th recorded ascent of Mount McConnell, deep in the heart of Banff National Park, Phil Richards and I awoke at 05:00 on Friday morning, August 17 2018 with tired bodies and minds, unsure of our abilities to ascend another peak before exiting. I was feeling much better than I had a right to be, but Phil was clearly not feeling the stoke for another peak on this particular day. His head cold from earlier in the week was back and his body and mind were not impressed with him for even considering it. I set about making my morning coffee and choking down some breakfast while we discussed the situation in the early morning darkness. It didn't take long to conclude that I would give Tilted Mountain a shot and Phil would sleep for another hour or two.
I had zero beta for the peak, which was fine, but was a bit leery of it for some reason. It had looked pretty slabby on the approach to our bivy the evening before and I know that slabby peaks can have a bite if you go anywhere off route. The only beta I did have on Tilted was a Facebook post from Paul Zizka in 2017, encouraging more folks to ascend it. He posted in a scrambling group, so I assumed there must be a scramble route somewhere on the mountain - the only question was, where? On our approach we both commented that the SW end of the mountain looked most laid back, but I didn't feel like traversing there in the morning darkness, so I ascended straight up scree slopes under a series of cliffs and slabs on the NW end instead. It was fairly dark but I could see an obvious line up scree and slabs next to the cliffs and simply went for it.
[In this view from the evening before, Tilted Mountain is obvious at left. I ascended a line via the facing NW slopes and descended further south around the skyline where the angle eases off.]
[In this view from near our bivy the evening before, you can see Tilted's lower scree apron that I ascended and the cliffs I traversed around and out of sight at upper left. ++]
[Looking up my line early on Friday morning after rounding the NW cliffs above camp. I aimed for the lowest angle line between scree and slabs, often using thin cracks in the slabs for an efficient line up to the summit ridge.]
As dawn slowly broke around me, I could see that the forest fire smoke was going to be brutal on this particular day, completely ruining any shot at good early morning views. Oh well. Tilted isn't a very grand objective anyway - this justified our choice not to go for Lychnis until clearer skies and better conditions presented themselves. The terrain steepened as I climbed, but I could always see an obvious line up cracks in the slabs. Slab scrambling is fun, but can be tricky because it's very easy to get suckered into difficult, exposed terrain. There were several times on ascent where I was looking down my line wondering how easy it would be going the other way. As I neared the summit ridge I also noted that I was moving quickly and that I'd have at least 500m of mostly horizontal traversing to attain the summit. This wasn't a huge deal, but the summit ridge was looking pretty fierce - knife edged and VERY loose.
[You can see how horribly loose this mountain is as well as the amount of slabby terrain that you can get lost on. I followed cracks between scree and slab to maintain the best angles and have a bail-out if needed.]
[Looking down my ascent line - it's not exactly "easy" scrambling terrain. I could get down it, but some sections would require care. A helmet is mandatory on this loose terrain as rocks go ALL the way down thanks to the slabs!]
[Looking towards Skoki Mountain at center distance with Fossil at left and an unnamed summit at right. No views today, unfortunately.]
[Riding the line between scree and slab, looking down my ascent.]
My day improved dramatically as I popped over the summit ridge and discovered a scree sidewalk leading along it towards the summit on the opposite (east) side of the knife edge! When does that happen?! I couldn't believe my good fortune and whooped out loud in the still morning air before scampering along the sidewalk towards the distant high point. Another observation improving my mood was the realization that the SW slopes looked pretty laid back compared to my ascent line and would almost certainly be my chosen route of egress.
[Looking along the hidden scree sidewalk feature towards the summit of Tilted Mountain (click to view approx line). Tilted is really just an outlier of the much higher Lychnis Mountain at left here. The valley used to access Lychnis also a lower left, leads out to the unnamed lake and our bivy. ++]
[Looking back along the scree sidewalk - I can't believe how lucky this feature was! Baker Lake visible at distant left.]
Just before the summit the scree sidewalk seemed to disappear on me. Before committing to some very exposed knife-edged ridiculousness, I gave the route a closer look. Roughly 15 feet underneath the ridge crest on the east side, the sidewalk continued! I downclimbed gingerly to get back onto the feature and simply hiked along it - taking care with some narrow bits that were pretty severely exposed to the east face. Before long I was on the summit of Tilted Mountain with pretty much zero views thanks to the smokey pollution that was clogging the normally pristine air in this area.
[My sidewalk vanishes, only to reappear about 15 feet beneath me to the left.]
[It's a smokey, gray, depressing summit panorama but it's all I could do... Summits "visible" include Anthozoan, Brachiopod, Ptarmigan, Fossil, Skoki and Lychnis (L to R). ++]
[Views to the south include Lychnis and tantalizing views towards the Bonnet Icefield at center left. To the right is Anthozoan Mountain with Avens hidden in smoke at center right. The Wildflower Campground is somewhere in the valley at lower right and the decommissioned Baker Creek Trail descends along Baker Creek to hwy 1, passing the access valley for Pulsatilla Pass along the way. ++]
[The Bonnet Icefield is located up this valley and beyond. I'm not sure there's any named summits visible here but Hickson Peak is somewhere on this line.]
[A "view" south down Baker Creek past Anthozoan Mountain (R) towards Bulwark Peak (C) and Mount Avens (L).]
After an unsuccessful search for a register and even more unsuccessful attempts at getting photos from the summit, I started my descent of the SW side of Tilted Mountain. I don't normally love descending routes "blind", but I could see 95% of the route and it looked pretty easy compared with my ascent line so I took a chance. Everything went great and soon I was plunge-stepping scree down and across the lower west face of the mountain in a circuitous route back to the unnamed lake and our bivy. The scree and boulder slog back to the lake was a bit annoying but I was feeling pretty good from my successful scramble and luck with the summit ridge sidewalk, so I didn't care much.
[Looking down my descent line on the west face - much easier than the ascent line was but pretty darn loose.]
[Looking back up my descent line I realize that it's still a bit of a confusing mess. Pick your poison I suppose. Scree or slabs or both? Your choice on this little mountain!]
[Smokey views past Brachiopod over Baker Lake towards Ptarmigan looming over Packers and Deception Passes. Fossil Mountain at right.]
[Looking up another descent line I noticed on ascent - this one would have worked well too - past the dark slabs down a steep scree gully at right.]
As I hiked back to our bivy along the lakeshore, I noted that I was only gone around 2 hours and also thought to myself that maybe I should be yelling for bears, since this was a prime Grizzly habitat. "Nah", I thought to myself, "I don't want to disrupt this perfectly still morning with yelling"... Phil was very surprised to see me returning already. It was amusing to hear about his thought process as he watched me hike back along the lakeshore. First he thought I was someone else as it was way too quick to be me already. Then he noted my orange climbing helmet and realized it was, indeed, me. Then he thought that I must not have found a scramble to the summit and returned already, defeated. Then he noticed me taking flower pictures and enjoying my walk and thought I must have been successful and the route must have gone very well. I didn't realize I was that easy to read from a distance!
[A gorgeous early morning hike back around the unnamed lake with our bivy just visible at center. Lychnis rising at center left and Tilted looking impressive at center right. ++]
[Our bivy with Lychnis Mountain rising far above.]
We packed up camp while I brewed another coffee to power me through the last 18km or so of our trip back to the parking lot. As I was folding up the mid, Phil whispered something urgently. "What?", I asked. "BEAR!", he replied! In a highlight moment for the entire trip, we spent the next 15 minutes or so watching a large Grizzly tear up the earth next to our camp in the alpine meadows around the lakeshore. We yelled in order for everyone to realize who was all tucked into this small valley and it took a few minutes before the large bruin turned towards us and started walking in our direction. Bears don't have great eyesight, and after peering intensely towards us, he dismissed us as mere sideshow to his breakfast routine, and continued trashing the meadow with gusto. The coolest moment was when he took a break and wandered down to the lakeshore (where I'd just walked past quietly a few minutes before) and took a deep, refreshing drink from the same water I was boiling for my morning coffee. It was a magical Skoki morning, but I do admit that the presence of a bear did speed up our morning packing a bit.
[A very special Skoki moment.]
We exited the valley on the opposite side of the lake to the bear and proceeded down the access headwall (bushwhack) to the Baker Creek Trail. From there it was a trudge along various segments of Skoki highways to Boulder Pass and then down to our bikes. The amount of height gain from Baker to Ptarmigan Lakes was surprising - I remembered doing that years earlier only while we were doing it again. Views were limited due to the smoke, but this area is so special it always presents some nice panoramas.
[Phil leaves our bivy as the sun rises over the Lychnis Col.]
[Looking back at Lychnis rising over Tilted from the Baker Creek Trail.]
[As we gain height from the Baker Creek to Baker Lake trail, Tilted becomes less and less of a defined peak.]
[Looking back over Baker Lake as we ascend towards Ptarmigan Lake - the sun struggles to get through all the smoke. Brachiopod Mountain at right with Lychnis at center and Tilted almost below us now at center in front of Lychnis! ++]
[Late summer flowers as I glance back over Baker Lake to Tilted Mountain with Lychnis rising over it. We're at the same height as the peak now!]
[Hiking towards Ptarmigan Lake with Redoubt Mountain at left and Ptarmigan Peak rising above Phil at right. ++]
Tilted Mountain is not a mountain you'd prioritize as a premier Skoki summit, but it is a peak I'd highly recommend adding to your itinerary if you're camped at Baker Lake or bivying near Lychnis Mountain. It's a fun, short scramble that I'm sure offers stunning views and is surrounded by some pretty wild country including an apparent breakfast bar for Grizzlies.