After approaching and ascending Cyclone Mountain the day before, Phil and I woke up to a frosty but clear morning on Friday, September 29 2017. After Phil took a few hours to collect soil samples from Douglas Creek, we packed up our camp and headed back along the trail towards the core Red Deer Lakes area in the Skoki backcountry of Banff National Park. Our destinations for this glorious fall day were Pipestone Mountain and Merlin Lake. These two things are not very close together, in case you were wondering.
[A beautiful early morning view of Pipestone Mountain and its impressive east face (L) and Mount Drummond (R) from Shingle Flats.]
We backtracked our steps along the Red Deer River towards the south end of Pipestone Mountain before turning off trail to our right and starting a relatively short bushwhack to an obvious SE gully running down the south end of the mountain. This gully is not visible from the trail, but clearly visible on Google Maps, which is where I'd scouted out our proposed route ahead of time before transferring it to a GPS route. Of course, the view from space made this gully look a bit less bushy than we found it to be up close and personal. After ditching most of our gear near the start of the gully, we continued through some low shrubs and nasty, small Christmas trees before finally finding the proper center of the gully and continuing our ascent in a rocky drainage which quickly steepened and became perfect for an efficient ascent. We gained height very quickly in this terrain, I had a hard time keeping up with an energetic Phil who'd already traveled more than me when he collected samples from Douglas Creek that morning.
[Searching for the true center of the gully which is free of all these nasty foreground shrubs and trees.]
[In the gully proper now, the route is simple - head UP! Way up. The summit is not visible here yet.]
[The gully narrowed and then widened again and the terrain was never as steep as it appeared.]
[A very green coating on this rock. Not paint.]
[Looking back down the huge SE gully towards the Red Deer Lakes. Douglas, St. Bride, Lychnis and Oyster Ridge at center.]
[It did feel never ending at some point.]
Pipestone Mountain was an interesting objective for us, in that we had no idea where the true summit was. Even more disturbing - in some ways we still don't - even after climbing up the dang thing! Every map we had, pointed to a set of clearly lower, SE towers as the named summit. But each of these maps and every name source we found, also listed the height of Pipestone at around 2970m - much higher than the lower SE towers which are certainly not above 2900m and likely not above 2850m. Hmmm. As we ascended the SE gully towards the highest point on the massif, we decided that if there was no cairn / register on the highest summit, we would be forced to seek one on the lower SE towers. We also decided that either way, we were naming the high point something, as it clearly deserved to be named if the lower towers had a register for "Pipestone Mountain".
[From the false summit looking east (L) and south (R). Mount Drummond, Pipestone Towers, Douglas, Oyster Ridge, Fossil and Skoki from L to R. ++]
[Looking along the impressive east face of Pipestone towards the summit from the false summit. It's not as far as it appears, thank goodness. Cyclone Mountain peeks out above Phil's head.]
As expected, our views on Pipestone were similar to the day before on Cyclone, but with slightly different angles and lighting, due to the different time of day. The upper mountain to the false summit wasn't nearly as steep as it looked from below, and we easily followed the ridge. It was depressing to realize how far we still had to go from the false summit, but just as on Drummond and Cyclone it wasn't actually as bad as it first seemed. Soon we were enjoying another fantastic summit panorama in perfect fall conditions. Unfortunately (for us), we didn't even find a cairn on the summit of Pipestone Mountain, much less a register! This meant we'd have to ascend the SE towers to see if there was something official stashed there. From the summit, the towers looked blocky but fairly easy. We also deduced that there was no way they were over 2900m.
[Looking over Merlin Lake towards Richardson and Merlin Ridge (C) with Mount Victoria at distant center.]
[The sublime Red Deer Lakes with Fossil and Skoki rising over them and Redoubt, Ptarmigan, Wall of Jericho, Pika and Richardson in the far distance right of center.]
[Phil enjoys great views over the Drummond Icefield towards Mount Drummond at left and the Pipestone Towers at center. ++]
[Summit views over the Drummond Icefield. Cyclone at far left and Drummond at center-right. Everything else is unnamed. ++]
[Summit views looking west towards Lake Louise. Cyclone now at far right and the false summit at left. ++]
[Looking over the Skoki Lakes towards familiar Lake Louise peaks such as Bident and Quadra at left and Temple rising over the Ptarmigan Traverse at right.]
[Rick Collier also thought the traverse to Cyclone Mountain looked easy. Until he tried it.]
[These impressive peaks on the northern end of the Drummond Icefield are unnamed. (Bivouac creatively names them DR1-DR4.)]
[There are worse ways to spend a Friday morning in late September. Phil takes in the Drummond Icefield from the summit of Pipestone Mountain. ++]
[Douglas, St. Bride and Lychnis are impressive Skoki peaks that also see very few ascents. All three of these are much harder than Pipestone and Cyclone but Mount St. Bride is the toughest. It probably has only 2 ascents ever - the first in 1910 and the second in 1999 AFAIK.]
[The Red Deer Lakes and early morning lighting are fantastic.]
[Great views over Merlin Lake and past Mount Richardson towards Lefroy and Mount Victoria.]
[Mount Daly at left with Balfour and Hector at right.]
[The clear, early morning air allows views to faraway peaks such as The Lyells at distant left and Chephren at distant right. ]
[The impressive Cathedral Mountain at left and Mount Stephen at right.]
[The unmistakable summit ridge of Mount Daly. Mount Carnarvon pokes over it at left.]
[Bident and Quadra rise over Mount Redoubt at left with Mount Fay at center.]
[Mount Drummond is a long trip - but a relatively easy one. We put in 54km and 2800m of height gain on that one two years ago. The ascent line goes from out of photo at lower right, over the false summit and up to the left high point. We had much worse weather and much more snow when we did it. ++]
[Descending back to the col. Our ascent gully at lower right and the Pipestone Towers at center looking much easier than they proved to be.]
After descending back to the col with the SE towers, we dropped our packs and took only a few items with us, thinking that the towers would be quick and easy. They weren't. (They also didn't have a register or much of a cairn, leading us to call them "Pipestone Towers" while keeping the more official label of "Pipestone Mountain" for the highest point on the massif, as seemed logical.)