On Wednesday, April 8 2015, I climbed Mount Athabasca with Ferenc in perfect spring conditions. This left me wanting more in the way of snow ascents, hopefully on skis, for the weekend of April 11/12. Alas, the weather report didn't bode well for a nice summit on skis. Rather than a suffer-fest in blizzard conditions, I decided another hike in the front ranges was in order. You probably can't tell, but this year has been all about one area when it comes to hiking / easy scrambling in front ranges.
Ya Ha Tinda.
And so it would be again. This time I was bringing someone who hasn't been exposed to the charms of this interesting place yet - Wietse. Driving into Ya Ha Tinda, you inevitably drive past two small, but interesting peaks on the southwest side of the road as it curves through a burn area running along the base of Wildhorse Ridge. Mount Minos is the most southerly peak, with Labyrinth Mountain just to the north. Both peaks have some impressive cliffs on their northeast faces. What is also obvious is the fact that both peaks are protected from an easy ascent by thick bush and the Red Deer River which flows between them and the road. Nonetheless, the Red Deer River hasn't stopped us before in the Ya Ha Tinda region, so there was no reason to let it stop us again.
Thanks to a flurry of activity in the region recently (apparently there are more of us running out of easy peaks near Calgary!! :)), we knew that ascents of both Labyrinth and Minos had been done recently by friends as separate day trips. We'd been planning to do both peaks together all along, and having confirmation that there were routes on both was a nice bonus. Matt even had a partial GPS track for Labyrinth which proved invaluable to finding a horse track from the river, saving us time thrashing around in the bush trying to find it first thing in the morning. After parking the truck on the edge of the clearing across from Minos, we descended to the Red Deer River on more fresh snow than we were expecting. Thankfully the sky was clear, as forecast, and the sun was warm on our backs, even as we crossed the very chilly Red Deer River. The water was just over knee deep where we crossed, about 500 meters north, up the river, from where we parked.
[Mount Minos from the road - lots of fresh snow today!]
[Labyrinth to the north. We descended along the cut block than proceeded about .5km up the Red Deer River before crossing it and finding the horse trail leading around Labyrinth's south end.]
[A beautiful morning. Labyrinth is reflected in a small tarn along the Red Deer River valley]
[Wietse with Minos in the background. These mountains are small, but when you combine them it's a longer day than you'd think...]
[After crossing the Red Deer River we went a bit more upstream (200m or so) before diving into the bush and eventually locating the horse trail on climber's right of the stream coming down between Minos and Labyrinth.]
The key to having some fun on Labyrinth, rather than a pure bushwhack suffer fest, is to find an obvious horse trail that comes in from the north around the northeast face of the mountain, between the face and the river, before it loops around the southeast end and back around to the backside on the southwest (see the map below) on climber's right of a Wolf Creek coming down between Minos and Labyrinth. There are many animal trails in the forests around Ya Ha Tinda, but trust me, you know when you're on a horse trail - or anyway your nose will tell you...
[Our GPS track in Google Earth for Labyrinth (L) and Minos (R). In both cases, our ascent trail is climber's right and descent is climber's left. ++]
We followed the horse trail for about an hour, gaining some height and looping around to the southwest side of Labyrinth. The trail made travel easy and we enjoyed the views of Wolf Creek below and the open valley running between Labyrinth and a long ridge and some impressive peaks to the southwest. Eventually we decided we'd gone long enough up the valley and peeled off the trail to climber's right, ascending steep, forested slopes up Labyrinth.
[The horse trail makes travel very enjoyable and quick to the back side of Labyrinth]
[There was just enough fresh snow to make things slick, but the trail was still obvious]
[A brief snow squall worried us that maybe the forecasts were way off for the day. About 20 minutes later the sky cleared and we had sun / clouds the rest of the day while mountains all around got more of this.]
[Ahhhh. Back in the sunshine! Both Wietse and I agreed that this is the perfect place to build a small cabin to get away from it all... A protected valley, a stream, and no people. Perfect.]
After leaving the trail we were expecting a nasty bushwhack / boulder slipping trek to the summit. We were pleasantly surprised when we found a relatively bush-free, boulder-free ascent line! Wietse was slightly further north than me and found the perfect line up a fairly bush free gully. I had slightly more trees to deal with, but both of us had fun for the first 300 vertical meters. After ascending a few hundred meters, we came on a large boulder field. There were elements of "labyrinth" here and we enjoyed it too - although it was a bit slick with the fresh snow and we wondered how it would be on descent. Eventually we trudged up to the high point, which was partially covered in trees but granted surprising views to the west and south. After taking a bunch of photos we descended off the top to eat lunch and plan the rest of our day.
[We decided to go up when the southwest slopes looked a bit more open. This photo is already part way up the bottom SW slopes.]
[We enjoyed the labyrinth up the SW slopes of the mountain]
[Surprising views off the ascent slopes - we are now in the large boulder field directly under the summit]
[This could be a bit slick on descent]
[Great summit views looking west and south. From L to R are Dormer, Barrier, Gable and Warden Rock as the high summits with Tyrrel, Wapiti and Tomahawk in the far distance at right. ++]
[Dormer Mountain is impressively large]
[Tyrrell (L) and Wapiti (R) are two more large, impressive peaks in the area that interest me.]
[More views to the north over Ya Ha Tinda - Unnamed, striking peak on the left.]
[Possibly Tomahawk with lower, unofficially named summits of Ya Ha Tinda in the foreground]
[Vern on the summit of Labyrinth Mountain]
[We descended off the summit to the northwest to a nice sheltered lunch spot]
After fueling up in an interesting feature beneath the summit, we decided to try an alternate descent path rather than deal with the slick boulder field we'd ascended. At first we thought we could descend the NW ridge before bailing to the horse trail lower down, but cliffs blocked our progress and we ended up back tracking a bit before descending into a rock labyrinth. The terrain was a bit challenging, but also very interesting! There were many deep holes and caves buried beneath the jumbled mess of rock and we had to carefully navigate our way down the maze before finally getting into steeply treed terrain that led back to the horse trail in the valley below. We followed the trail back around the SE corner of Labyrinth before descending to Wolf Creek and tackling our second objective for the day - Mount Minos.
[In the labyrinth]
[Very cool terrain]
[More of the labyrinth on Labyrinth!]
[It wasn't all easy - there were a few moments where we wondered if we could get through.]
[A gorgeous spring day in the front ranges]
[Getting closer to the forest]
[Back on the trail in the valley. On ascent, it would be a good idea to hike to this sign and then go up climber's right to the summit from here.]
[A pleasant hike back along Wolf Creek]
[Mount Minos looks so innocent and easy from here. Thank goodness we didn't know what was in store for our second peak of the day at this point yet... ;)]
[At Wolf Creek after bailing on the horse track somewhere between Labyrinth and Minos]