Kaycie and I set up a lovely bivy camp just under the small lake sitting on top of the headwall guarding Weary Creek Gap between Mounts McPhail to the north and Muir to the south. After a few minutes I decided I needed to bag one more peak this day (we'd already backpacked over Mount Muir that morning). Mount McPhail's huge south scree face had been calling my name ever since I first glimpsed it from Mount MacLaren a few days previous. Now that we were sitting right under it, it seemed wrong not to at least give it a shot! Mount McPhail is the southernmost Divide peak in the Elk Range of the Rockies - Mount Muir being the northernmost member of the High Rock Range.
[This photo, taken on descent, shows the easy line on McPhail's south aspect. Simply ascent from lower left to upper right, staying left of the light colored gully lower down and trending to the smallest cliff bands higher up. Red is the easy and purple is the line that avoids the approach trail by going around the north side of the lake, lower down.]
[The outlet of the lake can be problematic to cross if you don't get lucky to find it on approach (I spent some time hunting around for it and there is an easy crossing about 1/4 way down the outflow). No worries though - simply stay north of the pond and follow the purple line. Nugara's moderate line goes straight up cliff bands to climber's left of mine.]
I knew the south face couldn't be too difficult since Matt did it and doesn't like exposure, but it looked intimidating from Mount Muir and as I peered up at it from below. I decided to get my nose in it and see what transpired. After re-ascending the trail towards Weary Creek Gap from our bivy, I veered north towards the lower south facing scree slope, grunting my way up easy grassy slopes under a pretty intense summer sun. Once again, smoke wasn't an issue. I felt great to be carrying a very light pack and soon I was trending my way climber's right up the face, working my way up to a visible line of low cliffbands high above me.
[McPhail's lower south slopes are open grass. Nugara's route comes in from above the lake so it avoids this nice grassy slope.]
[Great views back over Weary Creek towards Muir and the Gap at right. ++]
[This is the rubble-fest on McPhail's south face. You can't avoid it so best deal with it!]
Before long I was alongside a pretty recent scree slide / gully on the face. I stayed climber's left of this feature and started having fun working my way up and over many small cliff bands which got larger the higher I went, but always with easy breaks. Nugara calls this area of the Rockies some of the worst scree slogs, and Matt definitely agreed with him on that count! I didn't find any of the scree that bad but maybe that says more about me - I need to get out on more solid rock once in a while! :P I will say that there is a lot of scree on McPhail!
[Much higher now and near the south ridge. ++]
Near the summit I wasn't sure if the terrain would remain "easy" scrambling. It mostly did. The McPhail scramble is certainly a much more difficult undertaking than something like Piran or Fairview, but mostly due to the looseness of the scree and the lack of a beaten trail to the top. Hikers or beginner scrambles will absolutely hate the scree. I was happy that KC took a pass on this particular peak. I blasted up the 750 vertical meters of the south face pretty quickly and within 1.5 hours of leaving our bivy I was enjoying the expansive summit views.
[Despite appearances, the cliff bands were all easy scrambling higher up with slight detours climber's left to avoid loose or exposed sections.]
[Summit views looking north towards Mount Bishop (C), Horned Mountain (C-R) and Hill of the Flowers (R). ++]
[Bishop looks easy from this side with a beautiful little tarn to boot. Mountains in the distance include Loomis, Abruzzi, Joffre and Mist Mountain amongst many others that dot Highwood Pass and the Divide. ++]
[Great views of Lancaster, Connor, Abruzzi, Cadorna, Swiderski, Battisti and Stiletto - all very impressive peaks that don't get very much attention.]
[Mount Joffre looms over peaks like Aosta, Nivelle, De Gaulle, Castelnau and Ney with Petain to the right of that group. To the right is Mount Fox.]
[Looking over Horned Mountain and past Mount Bishop towards Mist Mountain. Gibraltar to the right.]
[Great views east (L) and south (R) including (L to R), Hill of the Flowers, Patterson's, Serendipity, Head, Holy Cross, Muir, Strachan, MacLaren, Baril, Cornwell, Aldridge, Shankland and Courcelette.]
[A slightly tighter panorama of the area KC and I spent the past few days exploring. Peaks include (L to R), Muir, MacLaren, Strachan, Baril, Cornwell, Shankland, Aldridge and Courcelette. ++]
[Looking southwest over Weary Creek Gap towards Tuxford, Veits and the Fording Mine site.]
[Gazing far to the north at Mount Sir Douglas (L) with French rising at center right. Mount Fox rising in the foreground left.]
[Looking along steep eastern walls of the Divide including Loomis, Odlum, Storelk and Pocaterra.]
[I ascended Mount Head in a greyout earlier this year.]
[Stunning view of Lake of the Horns just off the summit. This is our destination for the next day. Hill of the Flowers just NE of the lake.]
Descent was quick despite some sections of annoying dinner plate scree and KC was pretty surprised to see me wander back into camp only 3 hours after leaving it. We enjoyed the rest of our evening reading books and looking for our exit down the headwall towards Lake of the Horns the following day. I really enjoyed Mount McPhail and the Weary Creek Gap area. This area certainly deserves the attention of any Alberta Rockies peakbagger or backpacker.
[Great views over Weary Creek and the Gap as I descend the south ridge. Our bivy at lower center just below the lake. ++]
[Impossible to see here, but our bivy is located just left of the lake and a bit below it.]
[Off the rubbly south aspect and back on heavenly grass! The alternate descent route on Muir is clearly visible to the left of the easy west ridge that we descended.]
[Looking back at Weary Creek Gap from the spot just above the lake where we found evidence of previous camps. We didn't like the exposure to the winds here, so we camped slightly below the lake instead.]
[The lake at the outlet of Weary Creek isn't a beauty like Carnarvon or Lake of the Horns, but it's pretty enough with McPhail as a backdrop, I suppose.]
[Back at our bivy, KC is engrossed in her book.]
[Gorgeous evening views over our bivy (L) and McPhail and down the headwall towards Hill of the Flowers. ++]
[A wider view east, down the headwall guarding Weary Creek Gap. Muir rising at right.]
[An evening view back to the gap from the edge of the headwall with Muir now at left and McPhail at right.]
[Hill of the Flowers will be our 6th and last summit of the trip. But first we get a relaxing day at Lake of the Horns.]
[We will descend this headwall at left and contour along the base of the cliffs (on and off trail) before cutting back left to the Lake of the Horns. McPhail Creek below.]
[A gorgeous evening near camp.]