Wietse and I were in the mood to do some quality suffering on Saturday, July 09 2008. We perused the Kane scrambles book, looking for something that would hurt a bit but nothing too technical since neither of us were in the mood to balance on tiny ledges or up anything too tricky this particular weekend. (There's a reason for that too, a reason I can't get into at the moment but maybe I'll update this trip report later with that reason.)
Mounts Cegnfs and Murray seemed like the perfect candidates for suffer-fest. Here are some quotes we found while browsing trip reports on the Internet:
"Mount Murray goes down as one of the most miserable scrambles in the book." - Bob Spirko
"This is a scree fest and I don’t recommend it except for you Canadian Rocky die hards." - Dow Williams
Sounds like fun eh? Well, Tom Kenny from MapItFirst software thought it sounded like a great trip and offered to join us on our little venture, so of course we agreed and precisely at around 08:00 we were leaving the Burstall Pass parking lot to find out what adventure was waiting for us on this particular summer day.
The weather was fantastic, cool with blue skies and chirping birds. The cameras were out about 1 minute from the cars, documenting a perfect lake reflection. Wietse and I had both skied the bottom part of this route when doing the French-Haig-Robertson traverse the past winter and we were hoping to save ourselves some route-finding issues because of this experience. Unfortunately we forgot that one detail was significantly different between March and August. That would be the 2-3 feet of snow on the ground in March! Other than a few obvious areas, our ski ascent looked and felt massively different than the hiking one and probably confused us more than helped us! Although sometimes I think I am just permanently confused when hiking...
(It's probably because I'm used to the smog and nasty smells of the city so when I go out in the fresh mountain air my brain has too much pure energy and I go into some kind of 'clean air shock' or something. Because my neurotransmitters are going crazy, firing off in all directions, I end up getting a bit confused. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.)
We stuck to the obvious road until it crossed a dam along French Creek. I was just asking Tom why this road was so well maintained when we came to the dam area and saw all the recent digging activity there. It looked like there was some new stream widening or something going on. We crossed the dam and took the sharp right hand turn up a hill, the road definitely becomes much more overgrown at this point. Wietse and I were a bit confused here. We didn't remember the dam and we didn't remember the overgrown road either. But Tom was confident and he had a cool gizmo with his excellent mapping software on it so we trusted him and bushwhacked up the road. Yep - it was mild bushwhacking even though it's a road! It was wet too. Obviously there had been recent rainfall in the area and the trees and bushes were in the mood to share their good fortune with us even though we'd have preferred a little less generosity on their part.
[The route as detailed in Tom's MapItFirst software (he labelled it once the trip was done) showing that we avoided any non-bridged creek crossings.]
We followed flagging up a steep hillside and eventually ended up at another overgrown road coming in from our right. There was a profusion of flagging at this junction - flagging that was obviously encouraging folks to take our route. We found out why pretty quickly. Apparently our route avoids crossing French Creek which is kind of cool. Not sure how that happened but like I said - cool!
We kept following the narrow and overgrown trial until we realized that we had passed the 'second' waterfall. Actually it's the first waterfall that we had heard all day but why be fussy about these details eh?! Thanks to Bob Spirko's trip report we knew that we were close to the ascent gully which he describes as "wide and rocky". Except we weren't near a "wide and rocky" drainage - or I didn't think so. Tom wanted to try the first drainage we encountered but I convinced him to continue down the trail. Tom was right - I was wrong. We realized our mistake eventually and turned back to find the proper drainage. The drainage is as Bob describes it but we went up a more overgrown version before coming on a really rocky drainage. Basically, go past the waterfall (you hear it - you don't actually see it) about 5 minutes. You'll cross a gully that's quite overgrown and rocky, but easy to ascend. If you go up a steep little hill on the far side you've gone too far. Turn around and go up that gully. About 5-10 minutes up this gully you'll turn left (climber's) up a really rocky and wide gully. This wide, rocky gully takes you up to the rock gates and the old snow patch. I think most people end up turning up gullies way too early. Remember, you have to hike a good way around the lower slopes of Cegfns before you head up. You will hear the creek a few times before hearing the obvious waterfall. I think that the 'first waterfall' may be bypassed if you end up on the approach road that we were on - with all the flagging. We certainly didn't cross French Creek near any waterfall. (See the map for details.)
[Very strange artifact we discovered off the trail. There's one croc sandal sitting near the bottom and a weird little ladder going into it. It's only about 3 feet high. Creepy!]
[Tom and Wietse on the trail where it comes very close to French creek. Skiers have been known to slip into the creek here in the winter...]
[The wide rocky gully? Nope, but it leads there pretty quickly.]
Once we were through the rock gates (pretty cool scenery) the route up Cegnfs was quite obvious. We ascended the old snow patch (I think it must be permanent snow) and then trended climber's left and up on grassy / rocky slopes. You can bypass the gates / snow on climber's right, this was our descent route because the snow is a bit tricky. If you're not comfortable on hard, steep snow without crampons I would suggest you stay off this snow slope. One slip and you are going to have some serious Rocky Mountain road rash - or worse!
So far our suffer-fest was actually quite a bit easier and more pleasurable than we had expected. I'm not going to say we were disappointed but we were surprised with the ease of the approach and the ascent up the lower slopes of Cegfns. Then we hit scree. Without a doubt, this was the loosest, crappiest scree I've been on in a long while. My poles (no baskets) would sink up to 1.5 feet into the scree! Ridiculous. Quality suffering! The views opening up behind us and to our right more than made up for the scree and our spirits remained high. I managed to find some solid(ish) ground and quickly made up for some lost scree, backsliding time. Tom and Wietse managed to stick to the really loose scree - I guess they were more in a suffering kind of mood than I was or something. We trended to climber's right up the slopes and eventually popped onto a solid(ish) ridge which led quickly and easily to the amazing summit view of Cegfns. What a great view of the Spray Lakes road / valley! And the view towards Mount Murray and Mounts French, Birdwood and Sir Douglas were awesome too. I think Cegfns should be an official summit, the view warrants an official name. (Never mind that no person on planet Earth can pronounce this odd name - no one can agree on an approach trail either so it kind of fits the mountain...)
[The rock gates beckon us on. Turn to climber's right to go up the snow slope or bypass on the far right of the photo.]
[Looking across the Smith-Dorrien road towards Galatea and The Tower from near the upper ridge on Cegfns.]
[Mount French and Robertson from the ascent slopes of Cegfns.]
[Mount Murray looks intimidating from this angle. You traverse right around the summit block to easily gain the summit.]
[Tom coming up to the summit of Cegfns. Mount Birdwood is the pointy peak in the background, over Mount Burstall.]
[Interesting view off the summit ridge of Cegfns across the Smith-Dorrien road. Visible are Mounts Chester, Gusty, Galatea,The Tower and Engadine (R to L). Nestor is visible in the far background across the Spray Lakes.]
[Tom coming up to the summit of Cegfns.]
[Tom, Wietse and Vern on the summit of Cegfns.]
[Panorama looking east-south-west from the summit of Cegfns. ++]
[Mount Murray with Mount French behind, as seen from the summit of Cegfns.]
[Tom enjoying brunch on Cegfns.]
[Wietse coming up to the summit of Cegfns.]
[Gorgeous views down the Smith-Dorrien road from the summit of Cegfns.]
[One more shot of Mount Murray. It's actually a really impressive looking mountain from this angle!]
The wind was chilly at the summit of Cegfns so after a few photographs and a quick brunch we began the descent to the Cegfns / Murray col. I have to tell you that the view of Murray from Cegfns was pretty intimidating. It certainly doesn't look like moderate scrambling. The Cegfns / Murray col is a sublime little piece of Rocky Mountain heaven. Two huge bull elk were grazing way down in the green valley beneath the col and the warm wind was heavy with the fresh scent of rock, pine and alpine flowers. A special place that we took a few minutes to enjoy before heading up the scree highway to Murray's summit. Yep. There's a bit of a highway. Since the scree is so bloody loose on Murray, it doesn't take very many scramblers to form a trail in it. From the col you should be on a trail the whole way to the summit.
[Tom and Wietse head down Cegfns. Murray with Smith-Dorrien and French in the background.]
[Wietse on the traverse with Cegfns in the background.]
[Tom and Wietse admiring the views at the Cegfns / Murray col with Gusty, Chester, James Walker and Inflexible in the background. You can see the highway trail leading to me from the col.]
[Mounts Smith-Dorrien and French appear as we round the backside of Mount Murray.]
[Tom coming up Mount Murray with Assiniboine, Burstall and Birdwood in the background.]
Tom and I missed the chimney around the back side of Murray and we ended up traversing too far around to the (climber's) right. We traversed around till we came to the southeast ridge and then followed that ridge up to the summit. You should come around the south side of the summit block on a trail and continue up to the cliff bands on the backside of Murray on this trail. Here the trail is obvious again, and leads to a impenetrable-looking gully that usually has a snow patch just under it. Go up this narrow gully (more of a crack) and follow cairns / trail to the summit. Wietse found the gully and we followed him down this route which is much less scree bashing than Tom and I did on the way around the summit block.
The summit of Murray was warm and windless compared to Cegfns and only took about 1 hour for us to get to from Cegfns. The views of Mount French and Smith-Dorrien were incredible. Mount Assiniboine and Birdwood weren't too shabby to look at either. Green valleys, blue sky and white clouds made for a very pleasant 30-40 minutes on the summit.
[The final few meters to the summit of Mount Murray.]
[Wietse coming up to the summit of Mount Murray with an amazing panorama behind him.]
[Tom, Wietse and Vern on the summit of Mount Murray.]
[Mounts Smith-Dorrien and Sir Douglas from the summit of Mount Murray.]
[Looking West, North and East from the summit of Mount Murray. ++]
The trek back down went without incident and was quick. We followed a faint track from the Cegfns / Murray col and traversed down and out of the cliff bands on the lower slopes of Cegfns before contouring around and coming back to the snow slope which we bypassed on skier left. Tom entertained a parking lot full of people by jumping into the lake near the trail head - but it sure looked refreshing! A bit of exhibitionist in you eh Tom? :-) Overall this was a great day out and far exceeded our expectations. I guess good weather, good trail descriptions and good company can make pretty much any scree bash worthwhile!
[Wietse descends the chimney / gully that is critical to cracking the summit block early on Mount Murray.]
[The cliffs on the summit block of Mount Murray present a formidable defense.]
[The chimney / gully is just above the snow patch in the distance.]
[Wietse by-passing the snow patch on the way down.]
[French Creek is flowing quickly and is quite muddy! Good thing we don't have to cross it.]
[Tom points the flagged turn, critical to by-passing the creek crossing.]
[A nice walk / talk on the way back to the parking lot after a successful day in the mountains.]