For Father's Day and for the longest day of the year, we chose a fairly easy scramble in the Spray Lakes region of Kananaskis. Originally I was hoping to climb North Victoria early on Sunday before coming home to celebrate Father's Day, but that didn't work out thanks to a very chaotic weather forecast that kept promising perfect weather and then changing at the last minute! Oh well. June in the Alberta Rockies is known for unpredictable and chaotic weather.
[Our route up The Orphan - we even had the same clouds as Google Earth... ++]
On the drive through Canmore the rain was pouring down in buckets - making us second guess our choice to be out scrambling on this particular day. We knew that the weather was supposed to break around noon, so we decided to at least drive to the trailhead before cancelling our plans. We parked at the Driftwood parking lot and proceeded towards the creek that runs down between Rimwall and The Orphan. The creek was devastated by the 2013 June floods and we were in awe over the amount of widening and debris that the water carved in only a few days! In case you've ever doubted that the landscape can be carved dramatically over geologic time, consider the humbling fact that in a measely 1 million years, there will be 10,000 events like the floods of 2013 in the Kananaskis region! Can you imagine what the landscape will look like, just from flood events? Pretty cool actually.
[The creek was dramatically impacted by the 2013 floods - it used to be barely visible in the trees!]
[Some debris is stuck in the creekbed, but for the most part it is surprisingly free of it]
[It's not looking great at this point yet - low thick clouds and even fresh snow up high]
[Looking back as the clouds slowly start to clear over Spray Lakes]
After enduring about 30 minutes of rainy weather, we were stripping off our rain gear in warm sunshine. Typical Rockies weather works both ways - in this case it was slowly getting better for us. We worked our way up the creek until coming to the split. I was amused by the huge numbers of cairns in the creekbed (where the route couldn't be more obvious) and then the complete lack of any route aids once the route leaves the original creek - just where a few aids would be nice... ;) Nonetheless, the route is obvious and from the original creekbed we worked our way up loose scree and even muddy scree and fresh snow to the col. Yes - there was fresh snow! Nothing like a hike on fresh snow to mark the first day of summer!
[The split in the creek up ahead, take the climber's right bank of the left branch]
[The creek is fun terrain to explore and full of huge boulders]
[Looking up the left branch]
[A bit higher up the left branch, this scree is loose and a PITA - best bet is to head climber's right once you're close to treeline to avoid slabs]
[Hey - at least we're in t-shirts now! Note the huge carving act from the floods to the right?]
[The table top rock that Bob mentions. You may be tempted to grovel up the deep gully to our left but I would strongly advise against this. The slopes above it are still unstable and we saw two large rock releases while hiking up beside it which would have injured or killed anyone in the gully. :(]
[More clearing over Spray Lakes - just visible here]
[Working our way up on snow - it melted before we got back to the car]
There are a lot of flowers on this hike, even up high at the col. Most were covered by snow when we were there. From the col the summit looks far, but it's not. Within 30 minutes we were on top, in thick clouds. I was a bit nervous about t-storms but we agreed to wait 10 minutes to see if it would clear. And it did! Our views of the Sisters, Rimwall and Lougheed I were spectacular. I especially loved the green valleys below with snow capped mountains and clouds swirling all over. Clouds really do make mountain landscapes more dramatic.
[The clouds start to roll in on us near the col, coming up from the Canmore side]
[KC takes dramatic cloud photos from the col - The Rimwall in the background ++]
[Starting our final ascent to The Orphan, looking back at KC and Hann still near the col. ++]
[KC and Hann start up The Orphan with an outlier of The Rimwall in the background]
[Dramatic photo of the Little Sister from The Orphan]
[Middle Sister (Hope) on the left with Little Sister (Charity) on the right]
[Awesome summit panorama with Big, Middle and Little Sister on the left and Rimwall, Lougheed I on the right with Skogan Pass showing as brilliant green thanks to the fresh rainfall. ++]
[Another slightly more vertical pano showing even more of the green valleys beneath The Orphan to the north. ++]
[More views over the Skogan Pass area beneath Rimwall and Lougheed I. ++]
[Mount Nestor and Old Goat loom across Spray Lakes]
After a half hour on the summit, we decided to descend before any storms started up. The descent was quick and easy on muddy scree and then boulder hopping in the creek. I highly recommend The Orphan as an easy and relatively short scramble with great views of The Sisters from a unique angle, as well as a possible combination loop with The Rimwall via it's west ridge and descending it's approach route.
[Nearing Boulder Pass on descent, looking past The Rimwall towards Skogan Pass]
[The snow is melting on descent]
[A fast descent on loose rock / muddy scree]
[Looking down at the creekbed approach]
[Loose terrain without a trail - this is still an 'easy' scramble rather than just a 'hike' IMHO]
[Water was flowing in the creek - which we used to our benefit]
[Amazingly all the snow is now melted up high already!]
[A cleared out creekbed awaits us on descent]