On Saturday, September 02 2006, Raf, Jason and I set out to climb Fisher Peak in the front ranges of Kananaskis Country. The weather was fantastic and the day was grueling - as expected of a 30km day with over a mile of height gain on difficult terrain! Appropriately for a difficult mountain there was a great feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day and Fisher Peak will remain near the top of my scrambles because of its difficulty and remoteness. Our round trip time was just over 10 hours. Now for the details.
Let's get something out of the way right off the bat. Fisher Peak is not for the faint of heart. This is one long and tough day out - but it's also a very rewarding one. We were only the fifth party to make the summit this year and in the past 8 years only a handful have braved the slog to record their names in the register. I noticed that not even the Alberta Centennial register debacle influenced this peak. Thank goodness...
The bike ride can be described in one word. ROUGH. Horses can really bugger up a trail and this horse route has not escaped that fate. The few smooth sections are very welcome but mostly you are on bone-jarring, wheel loosening / popping rubble. Stones the size of footballs and baseballs conspire to throw you off line and if you're not looking ahead you can end up in thick mud-bogs which could end up stealing your granny gear - right Jason? Over roughly 9km (pun intended) you gain 500m and lose about 100 more. We followed Bill Kerr's excellent suggestions on this trip. Bill was even kind enough to give me his GPS way points. We used Bill's start point which is slightly further than either Gillean Daffern's or Kane's suggestions (hence a 9km approach). After the last stream crossing we went up a long hill and stashed the bikes at the top of the next long hill down.
[More detailed map of the route leaving the approach road just after the last stream crossing before trending climber's right, over the nose of an abating ridge (around the '2440m' label) and meeting up with the Kane route on the NW ridge before continuing on to the summit.]
We headed up through the steep forest, angling climber's right to try to hit the pinnacle that Bill mentioned on his site. We actually ended up right on the pinnacle, after climbing a ridge that turned from steep grass to rough plate-sized shale. We didn't really know we were right on top of the pinnacle until Jason uttered an "oh no"! We peered down the nose of the pinnacle and realized that Bill's route split off to climber's right about 300 meters back down the slope. We could have back tracked but that would be a waste of time, not? Instead we decided that we'd warm up for the crux down climb and started down the loose rubble on the nose of the pinnacle. We think everyone should go up via this route. If you look at it and turn back because it's too steep / exposed you will not down climb the crux and you should not bother with the 500 meters elevation gain just to turn back again.
[Looking west towards Mount Denny from the ascent slope of Fisher.]
[Raf climbs the steep grass slopes that lead up to the brown, dirt pinnacle.]
[JW down climbs the nose of the dirt / dinner plate pinnacle that abuts the NW ridge of Fisher directly ahead of us here.]
[Raf down climbs dinner plate shale / dirt on the nose of the abutment ridge.]
[Looking back at JW and the shale pinnacle we just down climbed. Raf is just finishing up his turn on the pinnacle.]
After that bit of fun we had a nice scree slog to look forward to! Oh well. It ended (sort of) once we finally hit the ridge. By the time we hit the ridge we were a good 100-200 vertical meters above the large plateau that Kane's route goes over and about 1km further up the ridge. I found the ridge to be fun but long. The view is very foreshortened and every time you think you're at the crux or the summit you still have plenty to go.
[Raf makes the scree slog look like a pile of ___ (fun). The views are pretty great though - this is looking at the 'back' of the Opal Range peaks including, Evan Thomas East, Hood, Packenham, Evan-Thomas, Potts and Denny (L to R).]
[Finally on the NW ridge proper! What a gorgeous day though. This is looking back at the large plateau that Kane mentions and our approach route from the Kananaskis Valley and highway 40 - about 10km to the NW.]
[Photos from the NW ridge looking south, west and north. Too many Kananaskis peaks to name - zoom in for some labels. ++]
[Looking over the NW ridge and plateau (orange) at lower left, north towards Volcano, McDougall and Old Baldy to the right and Bogart, Sparrowhawk, Ribbon and Lougheed on the left. ++]
[Looking east towards Compression and Nihahi Ridges and Mount Fullerton. ++]
As we leaned over and peered down the crux I thought back to Bill's words of advice. He suggested that instead of going down to skier's right on tricky ledges, we go straight down the very exposed / steep nose on firmer terrain. I didn't want to think about things too long and headed down straight over the nose! The first few moves were very exposed and a slip was not optional. I never actually felt that concerned about it but this is certainly a difficult and exposed crux and probably deserves some respect.
The line I picked went straight over the nose of the crux and then angled down to my (skier) left, or north. Once I reached a nasty looking, over hanging section I went back across the nose to the south, under an overhang. That overhang is just to climber's right of the crux pictured in the front of Kane's book. Jason actually came down right of that crux over some very steep (i.e. cliff) terrain. I really enjoyed the climbing down the crux and found it challenging and fun. There were a few loose rocks that kept things interesting but we all made it down safely and could now concentrate on the summit right? WRONG.
[Looking straight down over the nose of the crux. I moved to my left here, rather than to the right.]
[Swinging over the nose and then immediately left (north) I came to this ledge. This is looking down the nose over the Kane route down.]
[Raf descends the nose following my route which swung north and then back south near the bottom. You can see that the terrain to the left (south) in the sun is more exposed but this is where Kane's route descends.]
The most surprising thing about Fisher Peak is that there is more than one crux down climb. We had already done two and would do another two or three on the way to the summit. The weather was absolutely perfect and we were having a grand time but the summit really took a long time to show up. There was even a short, exposed ridge that reminded us of the cockscomb on Crandell. The only fatality recorded on Fisher was the result of sliding down slabs and losing control. At first I couldn't figure out where this accident could have happened but after climbing a few steep, slabby sections I had it figured out. Wet, snowy or icy conditions would make the crux dangerous and the slabs almost impossible to climb or down climb safely.
[Raf down climbs another section of the ridge.]
[As you can clearly see - the terrain on the NW ridge is *not* easy scrambling!]
[Raf on yet another crux section.]
Finally we made the summit and enjoyed fantastic views in every direction. It was nice to have unimpeded views for once. I guess the last bout of wet weather must have damped the forest fires in Washington that had been ruining Rockies views for the past few weeks. After a leisurely 45 minutes at the summit we headed back down.
[Stunning summit views over Opal Ridge towards the Royal Group and of course King George as the highest peak visible here.]
[More stunning fall views towards mighty Mount Assiniboine over the line of Fortress, Gusty, Galatea and the Tower. Eon and Aye to the left of the big "A".]
[Bogart, Ribbon, Sparrowhawk, Wind, Lougheed and Allan (L to R).]
[Fall colors and a wonderful view of the rarely seen / photographed 'back side' (east) of the Opal Range of peaks.]
[Raf photo bombs the entire area.]
[JW stuffs his face at the summit.]
[I haven't had a day this clear in ages! The Wedge doesn't even look like a peak from here while Assiniboine and Galatea sure do.]
[McKay Hills to the left and Nakiska Ski hill at the right with Kananaskis Village just to its left.]
The best thing about Fisher Peak that I have never experienced before is that all the difficult down climbing is done on ascent and so all the fun up-climbing gets to be done on the descent. We even re-climbed the dirt pinnacle off the ridge on the way down - just for fun!
[JW climbs a difficult section of the NW ridge on descent.]
[Raf's turn to climb. As you can see - this is exposed terrain.]
[Careful climbing when unroped.]
[One more shot before it's my turn!]
[Back on scree - but you can see another crux ahead, I believe that's the main one.]
[JW stands under the main crux on Fisher Peak.]
[JW traverses climber's right under a small roof while climbing the crux.]
[Off the main NW ridge now and descending to the abutment pinnacle. You can see that there's a slightly easier route to the left of the nose that we could have used but what's the point? On Fisher you have to be prepared for difficult scrambling or you won't enjoy your day in the hills!]
[Looking down the pinnacle at JW just starting up it.]
[Raf nears the top of the pinnacle while JW looks on in the bg and tries to dodge rock fall without his shirt on... :)]
[JW is hardcore - climbing without a shirt! It was bloody hot though.]
The bike ride back to the parking lot was fast and furious with Jason setting a crazy pace. I'm still not sure how I survived but I obviously did. Overall this was an awesome scramble with lots of challenging route finding and a feeling of remoteness. A worthy peak for anyone's list but not one that I'd recommend doing until you're comfortable with exposed down climbing and long days in the hills.