Once our original plans fell through for the weekend of September 7-9 (thanks to forest fire smoke), Phil Richards, Wietse Bijlsma and I had to think fast on Thursday night to come up with an alternate trip that still satisfied on some level. Smoke from BC forest fires had already been a huge issue since late July this year and we were tiring of trying to avoid it or climbing in it. After several suggestions we settled on a few easy, but lengthy and harder to access, scrambles on the Great Divide in the High Rock Range of South Kananaskis. I remember years ago, Wietse telling me about a few peaks in this area including Beehive Mountain, Mount Lyall and Mount Gass. These peaks came to Wietse's attention as they are all on the so-called, Calgary Panorama - all the mountains clearly visible from a certain point in Calgary.
It turns out that we weren't the only ones with these peaks on our radar, when in 2016 Sonny Bou posted a trip report on Beehive, elevating it even more on our respective lists, but still not high enough to actually do it. Then earlier this year, Matt and Alison bagged both Beehive and Lyall in a long day from the Oldman River FSR and once again we talked about getting to these peaks before they started to become more and more popular. After passing on yet another opportunity a few week ago (we did Pyriform and Junction instead), Wietse and I were eager to finally get into this unfamiliar area and see what it was all about. Phil wasn't as eager, but he agreed that with the smoke forecast we might as well do a grade "B" views trip rather than waste grade "A" views as originally planned. Wietse and I were planning to bivy at "Lyall Tarn" - a lake visible on the satellite maps under the north face of Mount Lyall - before tackling the relatively unknown Mount Gass on Saturday, while Phil was planning to limit his trip to just Friday on Beehive and Lyall. Our bivy plans necessitated a reverse direction from Matt and Alison's trip. We would tackle Beehive Mountain first and then traverse over to Lyall for our second peak of the day.
[Sunrise view from our drive into the Rockies - this is from near Windy Gap between Hailstone Butte and Windy Peak on Hwy 532. ++]
Thanks to Sonny's trip report we knew that there was a good trail from the Oldman River Road up Soda Creek to the Great Divide Trail and treeline under the impressive and imposing NE face of Beehive Mountain. What we weren't sure about was the condition of the Oldman River Road itself. Matt mentioned that Pasque Creek was not bridged when he drove the road in mid June and also wrote about a very rough section of road just past Oldman Falls. Thankfully, both of these obstacles were fixed for us and we drove right to the Memory Lake OHV trailhead with no issues and parked Wietse's SUV there (this was our planned exit point for the next day) before driving back to the Soda Creek trailhead with Phil. A high clearance car could have driven all the way on this road in the conditions we had, but I recommend a high clearance SUV or truck due to the changing nature of these back country roads.
[Beehive Mountain is seen from the parking area off the Oldman River Road.]
In late season the Oldman River was no problem to cross without even getting our feet wet and soon we were marching up the Soda Creek Trail towards Beehive Mountain. I was surprised at how quickly we gained height on this trail and even more surprised by how quickly we reached treeline and the Great Divide Trail on it. For some reason, I was expecting a much longer approach but within 1.5 hours of leaving the parking spot we were already crossing the GDT and marveling at the east face of Beehive looming above us along with the brilliant fall colors that the surrounding vegetation was already wearing. Unfortunately we were a bit early for larch season but there was some evidence of their needles starting to turn.
[The Oldman River is fairly unimpressive this late in the season - we should be up on the bank at right here where a trail leads to the Soda Creek Trail just ahead.]
[Soda Creek is still running as we start up the good trail alongside it.]
[Fairly quickly we start encountering nice alpine meadows surrounded by Spruce and Larch trees. Beehive looms above us here.]
[In a few weeks these larches will be bright yellow.]
[Nearing the GDT the meadows open up and catch fire.]
[On the Great Divide Trail now, heading north for a few hundred meters before we'll turn up towards the north shoulder of Beehive to our left.]
After meeting the GDT, we followed it for a few hundred meters before ascending to our left up steep grassy terrain to the north shoulder of the peak and finding a very obvious and large sheep track curving up and across the NW shoulder on scree and grass towards a distant col. We turned up steep grassy slopes before the col, aiming for the only viable break in slabby cliffs above giving access to steep west scree slopes to the summit ridge high above. Wietse and I dropped our overnight gear on this slope before continuing on with smaller day packs. Some of my favorite views from Beehive were of the upper alpine meadows decked out in fall colors with impressive rock faces towering overhead.
[Looking back you can see the Soda Creek trail coming in from the left to join the GDT at right.]
[It was a gorgeous morning.]
[Smoke can be seen coming down valley from the north in this view of our approach over the north shoulder (L) of Beehive. Peaks at center include Lyall and Gass - our next two objectives.]
[There are lots of very impressive sheep trails in the area which you should definitely find and use - it's worth it!]
[The fall color in the alpine meadows was sublime. Looking back at the sheep trail we used to access the north shoulder and west face of Beehive.]
[Mount Farquhar lies to the north along the High Rock Range.]
[Rounding the north end of Beehive Mountain.]
[We continue to contour around the north end of Beehive towards the western slopes, now with impressive views of the rock wall running towards Mount Lyall at far right.]
[Great fall scenery as we start up the lower western aspect with unnamed peaks to the south and west of the col.]
[It's a steep grunt to the face and directly into the morning sun.]
[There are trails if you look for them on the lower scree apron but they're still horribly loose.]
Despite appearances, the break through the cliffs was pretty straightforward and soon we were grinding our way up some of the worst scree I've been on in a while. It was so bad in spots that the entire west face seemed ready to slide out from under our feet! Thankfully our views were pretty stunning, especially west over some unnamed local peaks. Alas, we could see very thick smoke creeping down valley from the north and hoped we'd make the summit before it hit. Phil noticed some large moving figures in the alpine meadows to the north and we first thought it might be huge Grizzlies. My zoom lens revealed some hunters on horseback instead.
[Some easy scrambling through the lower cliffs / slab section above the lower scree apron.]
[The real scree bash begins once we're through the short cliff band.]
[At least there's some great views to distract from the scree pain!]
[The smoke is approaching as we continue to grind up the west face scree slopes.]
[This was the worst of the scree - just under the broad summit ridge. It's hard to believe the peaks visible here are unnamed.]
After finally grovelling, grunting and swearing our way up to the broad SW summit ridge we were relieved to see easy slopes leading to the summit but were disappointed to note that the smoke had thickened around us considerably. We were also very surprised to note that we were only around 3.5 hours into our trip as we summited the mountain - this meant if we were returning the same way we ascended, we could likely day trip Beehive Mountain via the Soda Creek Trail in around 6 hours - much quicker than expected! Our views from the summit were pretty darn smoky, Tornado Mountain was barely visible and even the Elevators were only ghostly outlines in the haze. Par for the course in the summer of 2018, unfortunately.
[This is heavenly compared to the west face!]
[Wietse comes up the SW summit ridge with The Elevators visible to the south.]
[Easy terrain to the summit on a beautiful morning.]
[Hoping to beat the worst of the smoke to the summit but I'm afraid it's a losing battle at this point.]
[Views north off the summit along the High Rock Range at left including Lyall, Gass, O'Rourke, Farquhar and Etherington. To the right are ridges such as Pasque Mountain and Raspberry Ridge. ++]
[Trying to look south over Cyclamen and Cabin Ridge towards Sugarloaf Lookout, Thunder, Lightning, Chaffen and Thrift Peaks. The Elevators sneaking into view at right.]
[The Elevators with Tornado and Gould Dome to the left just barely visible. The peak at right is unnamed despite being clearly higher than Beehive Mountain.]
[Descending the expansive summit ridge. We will drop to the right towards the col with the unnamed peak below us here.]
Our descent went pretty quick and easy, despite kicking off a scree avalanche on the west face! Phil briefly considered exiting already after just doing Beehive but after considering how far he drove to get here, and how nice the day was, he decided to take a chance and join Wietse and I on our traverse towards Mount Lyall.
[Looking down at the alpine meadows we'll traverse towards the NE shoulder of Mount Lyall before ascending its east face / ridge clearly visible here.]
[Starting scree avalanches on the west face of Beehive!]
[Some easy scrambling back down through the cliff / slab band.]
[There were odd bunches of dried up timber at the col - maybe for tying horses up?]
[We begin our long traverse through alpine meadows towards Mount Lyall - almost invisible now in the thickening smoke right of center.]