As I started my annual week off in late September 2017, I didn't know what I was in the mood for. The weather wasn't fabulous, but it wasn't horrible either. Being solo, I didn't really feel like a huge day - not to mention Phil Richards and I had some pretty big plans for later in the week and I didn't want to ruin those with too big a day already on Monday. Of course, being September, I wanted larches to be part of the landscape. I've often looked at Mount Howard Douglas, either while skiing at the world class Sunshine Village resort, or from various trips nearby such as The Monarch, Ramparts, Healy Pass or Twin Cairns. It never looked that easy and I always wondered what kind of scramble it would be - having heard for years that it was indeed, only a scramble. When Andrew Nugara published a moderate route in his latest guidebook, I knew I had to give it a go sooner than later and this would be the day. I hoped to combine it with its easy neighboring peak - Eagle Mountain for a relatively short and easy two peak day.
I started bright and early from the Sunshine Village parking lot, walking up to the Goat's Eye complex on the ski-out / approach road before the daily buses started their grind up to the Sunshine Meadows above. A few resort vehicles passed me on the road, but other than that it was its usual steep-but-easy grind. For anyone interested in taking the bus for these scrambles, you'll have to walk back down the road from the village where the buses stop, so it may not be worth it. It's good to get the leg muscles engaged early on this outing anyway - you'll need 'em! I realized, as I walked the road past the Goat's Eye gondola station, that this was the perfect solo outing. It has a short, easy approach up a road and then angles up to treeline along ski runs which have open sight lines for foraging bears. As I walked up the low-angled Sunshine Coast (blue) ski run toward the Eagle Basin under Howard Douglas, I kept a sharp eye for bear sign. I figured that this would be a nice quiet area of the resort and I was right. Other than some scat and overturned boulders, I saw no signs of recent bear activity all day. The fall colors were definitely out and I enjoyed the bright reds on the ski runs as I hiked.
[The Bourgeau ice climbs aren't quite ready yet.]
[Nice early morning lighting on Mount Bourgeau.]
[Starting up the ski runs at Goat's Eye. The lower, right one is the one I followed (Sunshine Coast).]
My plan was to cut over from the Sunshine Coast ski run into Eagle Creek and then upward to Eagle Basin. I think Nugara starts closer to the creek, but I wanted the nice wide terrain rather than a smaller trail. My route worked perfectly as I angled into the creek and then ascended on Nugara's route (climber's right of the creekbed) up towards the basin where brilliant larches greeted me cheerfully. The morning was absolutely still and I enjoyed the peace with a thermos of coffee as I contemplated the rest of the route.
[Brilliant morning lighting as Howard Douglas comes into view at center left. I went a bit further up Sunshine Coast before descending to Eagle Creek which is in the trees to the right here.]
[Look at these colors!]
[Now I'm on Nugara's route - a trail on climber's right of Eagle Creek.]
[Howard Douglas and the Eagle Basin below. It looks pretty impressive from here!]
[Larches in the upper valley under the mountain. Eagle Mountain at left, Howard Douglas at center. ++]
In a weird twist, the Sunshine ski resort names the peaks in this area differently from the official maps. The local trail maps identify Eagle Mountain as "Goat's Eye Mountain" and Howard Douglas is one of two labeled "Eagles".
[Goat's Eye trail map showing my approximate ascent lines in red and the confusing names. ++]
Regardless of what it should be called, I finished my break and continued up snowy boulders through the Eagle Basin, working my way towards a lower cliff band that looked like it might be problematic with the snow / ice. As I got closer to the band, I could see a pretty easy way through. Sure enough - it was a simple walk-up on firm ledges and scree and soon I was grunting my way up much steeper terrain in the west scree bowl leading up towards the summit. Here's where the recent snow helped me out. There was just enough to get the edges of my boots in some frozen snow on the steep scree and work my way up very quickly. Once again, the terrain above me looked impassible but I knew there was a scree ledge traverse that would get me out of the bowl and onto the summit block easily. As I approached an impregnable wall of rock, the ledge became obvious and I made my way towards it.
[I stopped here for a break before hitting the snowy boulder field.]
[Starting up Eagle Basin. The summit out of sight at upper left.]
[Looking back over the approach meadows from the boulder field under Eagle Basin.]
[Incredible views back over the Sunshine Resort over Wawa Ridge and Healy Pass. The Monarch is buried in clouds at left. ++]
[Initially I thought the lower cliffs might be problematic with the snow / ice cover, but I found an easy way through them. The route curves up the scree bowl to the left above the cliffs.]
[As I approach the lower cliff band an easy route through it appears at center.]
[Looking down Eagle Basin from just above the lower cliffs.]
[Looking up the bowl towards the summit cliffs.]
[Nice views past the lower outlier of Howard Douglas and down the Eagle Basin and my approach route.]
[The scree ledge traverse is obvious under the impregnable cliffs above.]
[From near the scree ledge traverse, looking back over the basin. ++]
So far the day had been far better than expected and the scramble quite enjoyable. As I worked my way easily along the scree ledge, I marveled that more people don't do this peak. It's easily accessible and so far was much more engaging and fun than nearby popular scrambles such as Bourgeau. My views were pretty darn good too - despite some low clouds over the higher peaks.
After the ledge traverse, I ascended some more steep scree through a gully before topping out at a col of sorts. From here I wasn't 100% sure where my summit was, thanks to a screw-up on the ViewRanger Landscape map which shows a lower outlier of Howard Douglas as the summit. I trusted Nugara's description instead of the map and made my way easily up low angled slab / scree until reaching the only moderate scrambling on the whole mountain. The short moderate step was clearly marked with a wand and from the base I could see another wand marking the summit above. I negotiated the crux without issue (short people might not like it as much) and scrambled steep scree before topping out on my first peak of the day.
[After the scree ledge traverse, this is what greeted me. Still some elevation gains to be done!]
[And even more to go! The summit block is still above this scree slope and to climber's left.]
[Looking back down the scree gully above the ledge traverse.]
[Finally the summit block comes into sight.]
The views from Howard Douglas are pretty darn good. I didn't even have the best views, thanks to the low clouds, and I still thought they were more than decent. I waited at least 30 minutes at the top and was rewarded with better views towards Banff and Lake Minnewanka, but sadly my views towards Mount Assiniboine never really cleared up. The Sundance Range and its many unnamed, but impressive peaks was the most impressive view to the east, but the larches on The Monarch and its Ramparts wasn't shabby either. I enjoyed looking into the Egypt Lakes area at Greater and Lesser Pharaoh Peaks and Sugarloaf Mountain which I'd visited recently on a long day outing.
[Pretty thick cloud cover to the west. The Monarch just visible with the Ramparts stretching out to Healy Pass at far right. ++]
[ViewRanger labels this lower outlier as the official summit of Howard Douglas. It isn't.]
[Eagle Mountain at left with an unnamed peak at center in this view looking north off the summit. ++]
[Unfortunately my views up Howard Douglas Creek (L) were very limited but dramatic.]
[Trying to gaze north towards Mount Cory.]
After waiting in vain for the clouds to clear off, I started the descent. The crux was marginally harder to downclimb than upclimb (as usual) but soon I was quickly descending the large scree bowl. The snow, which had assisted my ascent, also helped my descent. I love snow.
[At the bottom of the crux, looking up at the summit wand.]
[The crux is easy / moderate depending on your height.]
[The clouds lift slightly in this view up Howard Douglas Creek.]
[The clouds continue to clear as I descend the upper mountain. Howard Douglas Creek at center left with Fatigue Mountain left of the valley.]
[Looking down the scree gully leading to the ledge traverse.]
[Looking down the rest of the Eagle Basin (C) with the scree ledge at far left. ++]
[Really enjoying these views now!]
[Near the bottom of the Eagle Basin. My next move is to descend to lower right and then ascend the easy Eagle Mountain which is out of sight to the right here.]
Soon I was back at the boulder field and starting my traverse towards Eagle Mountain.