Five years ago I read about a little front range peak called Mary Barclay's Peak in a trip report that Frank Nelson posted on the RMBooks web forums. For some reason it sounded like a trip I wanted to do but I never got around to actually trying it till I read about it again in Andrew Nugara's new book, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. I now had an official guidebook to follow - no more excuses! :-)
Saturday, March 09 2008 seemed like a good day to bag Mary Barclay's. The day before found me huffing and puffing on a gorgeous ski trip around the French, Haig and Robertson glaciers under a blue sky and this day looked to be no less gorgeous. It took some fussing around to cross the Kananaskis River because I actually put on my fly fishing waders / boots in order to make the crossing drier and more importantly since I was solo, safer. I'm sure the water was bone-chillingly frigid but with the waterproof waders and the specially spiked boots it wasn't that big of a deal. A good trick to crossing any stream or river is to walk downstream with the current as you cross on a diagonal path. I know it's probably really obvious but you'll fight the current a lot less this way, as a matter of fact the current will help push you across rather than fight you for every inch.
The route looked pretty dry from the parking spot but once I was actually on the approach through the open aspen forest I found out how wrong I'd been on that count! The snow was knee deep and had a two inch crust on it. This wasn't enough to hold my up and was just enough to make hiking a LOT of work. The hardest part of the day, physically, was getting through that 500 meter stretch of forest to the southeast ridge of the mountain.
[Crossing the Kananaskis River is always entertaining - great morning views towards Mount Kidd though!]
[After crossing the river there was some mild bushwhacking. The real problem was the crusty knee-deep snow. :-|]
Once on the ridge I had a great time scrambling on dry rock right up the center of the ridge. The best part of this scramble is the fact that it's impossible to get lost. Just stay on the ridge and you'll get to the top. Nothing complicated about that! Contrary to Frank though, I actually found the bushwhacking annoying after a while. This could be because of the snow drifts that I kept trying to avoid or maybe I'm just a lot taller and fatter than Frank (I know that I am both of those...). Until you get all the way up to the crux you are always at risk of being ambushed by the stubby, sharp, nasty, grabby, pushy, short and determined trees that are very grumpy and ill-tempered because they are always being hammered by strong Chinook winds and crapped on by local residents - anyway I saw and stepped in quite a bit of this evidence.
[The ridge isn't too steep and has good footholds but it is loose, naturally.]
[Right away the views to the south down the hwy 40 corridor towards Mount Kidd are great.]
You can see the peak almost the whole way up this mountain. This is good and bad. You know where you're going but you also know that you're not there yet! 850 meters of height gain is not a lot, but don't expect to run up this thing in 1 hour either. Maybe if you're short and in good shape you could run up it but the trees will give you a rough time, don't say you weren't warned. The other bad thing for me was that the peak reminded me of Mount Northover. Mount Northover was a great scramble but also happens to be the mountain that nearly killed me. Therefore I was nervous just looking up at Mary Barclay's crown. I knew that things usually look a bit easier when you're closer and I trust Nugara's ratings (!) so I kept going.
[Some bush whacking is required. The summit is to the right of the red/brown scree.]
[Telephoto looking ahead to the summit block.]
[Interesting terrain off the ridge.]
[The views are getting better - looking south down highway 40 including McDougall, Kananaskis Peak, Wasootch, The Wedge, James Walker, Fortress, Kidd and Bogart (L to R).]
Once above tree line the route narrows and steepens dramatically. I kept going and soon arrived at the crux. Like always, there was a fairly easy way up the crux with some loose holds and exposed moves. I was a bit concerned about down climbing this section but I knew that I'd done much more difficult on other trips so how bad could it be right? There was some more exposure before the summit and I would rate this section (including the crux) at upper-moderate. There was a bunch of 'no slip' zones where any small error would result in a fast, involuntary and permanent descent down a cliff so I consider that upper-moderate. I realized, as I balanced my way across a narrow section of the ridge, that scrambling really leaves no room for error sometimes! If a little gust of wind or a small loss of concentration caused me to stumble on that section you would be reading a different sort of 'trip report' right now. Of course, you could argue that in thinking about these things while doing them, I was not concentrating enough on my footwork, but arguing with me doesn't make sense because I can't hear you right now anyway...
[Looking ahead at the crux.]
[Another view of the crux, you really don't want to slip here.]
The views from the summit were surprisingly good and I sat down and spent some time enjoying them and reading the register. The summit log was filled with a bunch of notable local climbers / scramblers including Alan Kane, Kris Thorstenstein and Sim Gallaway. Considering that the register was placed in 1999 it wasn't that full either. I think only about 5 parties a year make it up this diminutive peak. Many of them also seem to expend a considerable amount of effort just getting to the base of MB. Many either biked or hiked from Barrier Lake or even Ribbon Creek. I guess a lot of them don't like water - which is consistent with most mountaineers I think! The only water a mountaineer generally likes is either in the form of ice or snow, not liquid and definitely not with a strong current.
[Vern on the summit of Mary Barclay's Mountain.]
[Summit Register has some interesting names in it.]
[Unique view of Barrier Lake and Mount Baldy. Mary Barclay's is higher than Mount Baldy by about 60 meters I think.]
[Looking at the continuation of the ridge west from the summit. This is where you would go for the alternate descent or to get to Mount Lorette.]
[Looking south down Highway 40 towards The Wedge, The Fortress and Gusty Peak.]
After about 30 minutes on the summit it was time to head down. I knew that the alternate descent, mentioned in Andrew's book, would be quicker in normal conditions but with all the crusty snow I didn't want to chance it. I was having a hard enough time with the snow on the ridge, I really didn't want to spend an hour or more wading through knee-deep crud in the valley bottom when I could be enjoying the views and the sun from on the ridge!
The trip back down wasn't a problem, except for the crux which I had to be very careful on. The river wasn't much deeper for my return crossing and after one near slip I was back across, no worse for wear.
[View of the narrow ridge on descent.]
[Another glimpse of the tricky descent ridge.]
[Looking down part of the crux.]
[Looking back up the crux.]
[This was the worst of the bushwhacking and I think it's only because I was trying to avoid snow drifts on the ridge!]
[Looking back at the summit from the power line road before re-crossing the Kananaskis River.]
[Only the summit is bathed in sunlight as I tramp back up the creek to my car.]
I highly recommend this trip for an early season warm-up.