The weather forecast for the Alberta Rockies wasn't looking great for the 2nd weekend in September 2016. Big surprise. Not! I had a choice to make, and it was harder than it should have been. Stay home and sleep in or drive 3+ hours to Waterton Lakes National Park where the forecast was quite positive. Guess which movie I chose to watch with Kaycie on Friday evening? The Revenant. What else was I supposed to watch before solo hiking in one of the most dense bear concentrated parks in the Rockies?! When I fell asleep I still wasn't sure what I'd be doing Saturday morning, but set my alarm for 05:00 just in case I got some inspiration while sleeping.
Apparently, I got inspired.
I'm not sure how but for some reason I was up at 04:45 and out the door before my alarm went off. As usual I really enjoyed the drive to Waterton. I've done many solo trips around the Waterton and Castle Wilderness areas for some reason. I've said it before, but the landscape of rolling hills meeting the prairies reminds me of growing up in southern Manitoba and reading way too many Louis L'Amour and Max Brand western novels. I cranked my favorite music, sat back with a coffee and watched the prairie grass, wind turbines and cattle pass by under a reluctantly lightening morning sky.
[I waited too long to stop for this morning sunrise shot but got the tail end of it just past Nanton.]
By the time I drove through the very full townsite of Waterton and parked at the Bertha Lake trailhead it was only 07:30 and I was only the 3rd vehicle there. I started the hike to Bertha Lake under a cool, partly cloudy sky and quickly made progress to the first falls. From the falls to the lake the trail did its usual annoying over-switchbacking habit which sees the hapless hiker go 500m horizontal for every 10 feet of height gain. Oh well. Eventually I did make it to Bertha Lake.
[The first viewpoint along the Bertha Lake hike. The north end of Richards rises on the right.]
[Past Bertha Falls and gaining some height on the endless switchbacks. Hard to argue with a day this nice - at this point I'm really glad I got out of bed motivated today!]
[Heading towards Bertha Lake - the north end of Richards at upper left and Bertha Peak out of sight at upper right.]
[I'm all in favor of switchbacks to make trails easier but this is getting slightly ridiculous.]
Other than a few ducks and some very fresh bear scat (!!) it was only me and the lonely windswept trail to the end of Bertha Lake, from where I could finally see the start of the scramble route. The entire way up to the lake and even around it, I still wasn't 100% sure I was going to bother with scrambling Richards on this particular day. I wasn't sure I was in the mood for a difficult solo scramble and was already quite satisfied with the lovely hike and nice drive. The clouds seemed to be getting thicker as I hiked, which didn't boost my desire to go higher either. But you know how it is. After driving 300km, hiking for several hours and now staring up at easy approach slopes to the upper ridge, I decided I might as well go a bit higher and see how things progressed. I was here now. You can see where this is going.
[It's still too early for larches but the fall colors (and smells) are out as I start the lovely lakeside hike around Bertha Lake.]
[Mount Alderson rises in the far distance just left of center and Bertha Peak rises at right.]
[It's hard to beat Waterton colors. Looking across the lake to Bertha Peak.]
[At the back (south end) of Bertha Lake, looking up at the easy lower part of the route up Richards which ascends to the obvious bench and then traverses left to gain the north ridge.]
With scenes from The Revenant still fresh in my memory I started up the easy slopes at the end of Bertha Lake, nervously letting any resident Grizzlies know I was coming. I took the right-hand stream which looked slightly less steep than the left one and soon found myself looking forward to a boulder field followed by a scree slope to Richard's north ridge. I also spotted two small figures, high up on the scree slope! Apparently I wasn't alone out here after all. For some reason, spotting two other climbers ahead of me on my intended route gave me some energy.
[Looking back over Bertha Lake from the lower ascent slope - Bertha Peak rising at left.]
[Looking up towards the north ridge of Richards (C) with the summit somewhere above on the upper right.]
[Looking back down the lovely bench running along the cliffs from Richards to Alderson.]
[Looking back down the bench from near the north ridge, Richards at left, Alderson at center and Bertha at right. ++]
As I crested the north ridge of Richards, I noticed the two figures who used to be way ahead of me were now pretty much right at my height on the north ridge. They appeared to be searching around a bit for a route and didn't have climbing gear so I assumed they were likely scramblers. I yelled over to them that I had a GPS track and that they should try the east side of the ridge for more benign terrain. They yelled their thanks back to me and disappeared over the east side of the ridge. I slowly began up the north ridge towards the spot where they crossed over - slightly higher than where the access to the lower traverse to the SE ridge starts.
The traverse to the SE ridge started on a narrow scree ramp heading down from the north ridge. After losing a bit of height I noticed some obviously traveled terrain angling up again, past some stubborn trees on the face and trending climber's left along the east face. When I started over to an obvious break I noticed a pink ribbon tied to one of the trees nearby. The two scramblers ahead of me had missed this cue and were a bit further down and ahead of me but scrambling up to my line. We met and introduced ourselves. To my surprise, Trevor Helwig was one of the two - I knew him from years previous on the old RMBooks forum and ClubTread. The gentlemen scrambling with him was Rod Quapp. They are both from Lethbridge and part of the Southern Alberta branch of the ACC. They thanked me for my routefinding advice and I thanked them for the company / motivation to continue to the summit. We agreed to stick together and continued the traverse.
[Looking ahead at the very intimidating summit ridge to Mount Richards. This is the point where you have to make a choice. Staying on the ridge is 5th class climbing. Going down and left to the far SE ridge is easiest. I followed Rod and Trevor on a traverse just left of the ridge on difficult scrambling terrain that isn't really visible from here. ++]
[Looking ahead at the first part of the traverse, I've circled Rod who is slightly off course here. :) The red line is approximate and the last half of the traverse to the SE ridge isn't visible from this angle.]
[Rod stands behind me on the traverse.]
It's going to be almost impossible for me to describe the traverse in any meaningful detail but I'll give some broad strokes. Marko's GPS track was very handy here but due to the terrain it can be hard to follow a GPS accurately so don't rely only on that! The only obvious clue along the east face traverse was the pink ribbon and looking for traveled terrain in the form of slightly different colored scree. Other than that, we followed our noses, never going over more than difficult scrambling terrain and never into 5th class stuff. A few times I thought for sure we were going to be cliffed out but after going around the corner another route would open up in front of us. Eventually we broke onto the SE ridge and looked up at some more difficult looking terrain directly above us. There wasn't much else to do but head upwards at this point - so that's exactly what we did!
As with the east face traverse, we never got into 5th class terrain but certainly navigated a few 4th class moves, especially when deviating slightly climber's right of the SE ridge proper in order to get around low cliff bands on the downsloping terrain. A few spots were quite exposed! Eventually the angle eased off a bit and soon I was watching Trevor and Rod cross the last bit of ridge to the summit.
[Looking down the SE ridge towards the Upper Waterton Lake with Boswell and Cleveland in the distance.]
[We start up the SE ridge to the summit above.]
[The rock was more solid than expected and the scrambling was fun. Note the downsloping terrain to the left here - we had to avoid some low cliffs on climber's right which put us above the exposed east side of the ridge.]
[Picking our way to the summit - should never exceed scrambling unless you want it to.]
[Fantastic exposure to the summit of Mount Richards! Upper Waterton Lake at left and Bertha Lake at right. ++]
Summit views were excellent, as expected, but the wind and clouds made it quite cool. After signing the 2nd register (the first was too soggy to bother with) and grabbing a bite to eat, we turned back down towards the SE ridge.
[Looking down at Bertha Lake from the summit. Alderson at left and the north ridge stretching out in front of me here. Bertha Peak rises left of the lake. ++]
[Looking over Upper Waterton Lake towards Vimy, Sofa, Arras, Boswell, Chief, Cleveland and Campbell Mountain which is across the USA / Canada border running through the valley at lower right. (L to R). ++]
[Mount Cleveland lies in Glacier National Park in the USA.]
[There are some peaks in the distance that make Richards seem pretty small.]
[A unique angle on Chief Mountain.]
[Mount Custer rises over Lakes Wurdeman (L) and Nooney (C).]
[The lower steep walls of Chapman Peak rise over Carcajou Lake.]
[Fantastic views along the north ridge of Richards from the summit.]
For our descent, we followed the north ridge just down from the summit before descending back to our right down the SE ridge. Instead of retracing our difficult route up the spine of the ridge, we traversed climber's right into the gully that Nugara also mentions. This gully worked excellent and soon we were traversing our way back to the SE ridge to our east face traverse line. We pretty much managed to follow our line back across the east face to the north ridge where we stopped for a bite to eat.
[Exposure anyone? Stepping off the summit along the north ridge.]
[Starting down the ridge - we still haven't gone down the SE ridge yet but are still on the north ridge here.]
[Some moderate downclimbing in the gully.]
[Looking back up the gully to the upper SE ridge.]
[Looking down the gully all the way to valley bottom.]
[Downclimbing some steep, loose terrain along the east face traverse.]
[Looking back along the east face traverse with Campbell Mountain in the distance.]
[More of the traverse.]
[You really have to be a decent route finder to get through this traverse without getting off route.]
[Another great view towards the SE ridge, Upper Waterton Lake and along the traverse (R).]
[The final narrow scree ramp leading us back up to the north ridge and our crossover point before we will descend back to Bertha Lake.]
[Crossing over the north ridge. ++]
As we prepared to descend back to Bertha Lake we noticed a figure rapidly climbing towards us on the scree slope below. Apparently Richards is a popular peak! A young gentlemen from Saskatchewan attending the University of Lethbridge was out for a stroll and hoped to bag the summit. I gave him some route advice and he continued up to the north ridge, the excitement of being in the Rockies clearly evident in his demeanor. We pointed our feet down the scree slope and made short work of it to Bertha Lake. Here we parted ways, as both parties wanted to continue around the lake opposite our morning paths.
[Fast and easy descent slopes.]
[Rod is a tiny dot at center as we continue downward under the imposing line of cliffs running from Richards to Alderson. We spotted folks descending the light-colored scree bench in the far distance, presumably coming down from the Alderson area somewhere.]
[Looking down the final slope to the lake. I would go left back around and Trevor / Rod would go right.]
[Rod is at center right downclimbing beside the easier terrain that I'm on. Richards at upper right.]
The rest of my day was quite pleasant as I completed the Bertha Lake circuit and started down the endless switchbacks to Bertha Falls. There were hordes of folks on the trail from the Lake down, including many still heading up. My round trip time of 7.5 hours wasn't too bad consider almost 20km of travel and a vertical mile of height gain. I really enjoyed this scramble - much more than I expected to.
[Starting back along the Bertha Lake circuit.]
[After running into a few hikers along the trail, I finished the circuit in peace and quiet on my own.]
[Looking back at Richards (L) from part way along Bertha Lake.]
[More of the lakeshore hike.]
[Back in sunshine! Vimy Peak looks great from this angle.]