After several weekends in a row of very low motivation, I finally felt the call of the mountains again as the last weekend of October 2017 approached. My apathy the weeks previous had been mostly due to typical fall conditions - hurricane force winds in the front ranges, despite warm temperatures. I've done a lot of front range hikes and scrambles in these conditions and they're never as fun as you imagine they'll be when planning them. It's like peak bagging in Waterton. The peaks are always more enjoyable afterwards, when looking at the photos without the wind trying to blow you off the peak!
Saturday, October 28 was shaping up to be very pleasant. Rather than a Chinook forming, which always means hurricane winds on the front ranges, this was something else. A high pressure system was forming over the Rockies. It was forecast to break down late in the day on Saturday, but promised very warm temperatures and low winds in the valleys. I knew it was still be windy on the summits, but it's almost always a bit breezy above tree line at this time of year. Serendipity with a traverse to Patterson's Peak has been on my radar for many years already and seemed like the perfect late season trip. I tried recruiting my usual trip partners but in the end this ended up being a solo venture. I didn't mind. It seemed like a fitting way to end my scrambling season and I was in the mood for some solitude. I had no idea what to expect for snow as my social media feed was full of skiers already. I also had no idea what to expect for timing. The stats indicated around a vertical mile and about 16-17km distance which felt like an 8 hour day to me. But then there were trip reports indicating at least 10 hours and up to 14 depending on conditions! I put the snowshoes in the truck and planned on a 10 hour day.
As usual, the drive past Longview and through Eyrie Gap was nice and quiet in the early morning. The temperature was very warm and lots of hunters were scattered in the ditches along my drive, waiting patiently for sunrise to begin their hunt. There were less deer in the ditches than usual too. Coincidence? Somehow I doubt it. Despite the dim light of dawn, I could also clearly see that there was no snow on the front ranges at all. Even the familiar forms of Strachan, Muir and McPhail had much less snow than I was expecting. This was great news - my day just went from "slog" to "pleasant slog". I passed a busy staging area at Cat Creek before arriving at the designated start under the pinnacles that Bob used for his approach.
I parked the truck in the ditch and took a few photos in the gorgeous early dawn lighting that was setting off around me before starting up the steep ditch and plunging into light forest. There was no trail, ribbons or cairns marking the route.
[My Taco matches the gorgeous sunrise along hwy 40.]
[Looking north up hwy 40 towards sunrise on Mist Mountain.]
Within 5 minutes of leaving the truck I was already through the initial stretch of light forest and gazing up a small boulder field towards the infamous pinnacles that mark the south end of the first approach ridge. I followed up a very steep grassy ramp between two rock ribs, enjoying the unique terrain feature and a beautiful day breaking around me. The views across Hwy 40 towards the High Rock Range and now-familiar peaks such as Muir, McPhail and Strachan were awesome. I could also see the impressive Mist Mountain rising to the north. Despite some great early views, as I sweated my way up the first ridge, I soon realized that I was in for at least an hour of bushwhacking and limited views from this point onward.
[Looking across Hwy 40 just before plunging into the bush towards McPhail, Muir, Strachan and MacLaren (R to L).]
[A very steep early morning hike to get the blood flowing and the ol' ticker thumping!]
[The pinnacles are very interesting terrain features that are encountered early in the approach. The High Rock Range lies across Hwy 40 here. My approach is from lower left. ++]
[Looking north towards Mist Mountain and the Highwood Pass.]
[I enjoyed hiking up this grassy ramp - it's bloody steep! The first 250m of height gain come in the first 20 minutes on this hike.]
[My last good views for at least an hour from the first approach ridge looking south over the Strawberry and Coyote Hills at left and Mount Armstrong at far right.]
Despite being mostly treed, the next hour or so of hiking was very enjoyable. The bush here is very light. It's hard to call this "bushwhacking" after what I'd been through earlier this year, but technically there's only smatterings of animal trails so that's what we'll call it. The terrain conspired to throw me a bit off track near the northern end of the first ridge. I wanted to stay climber's left for some reason, but soon realized that I had to lose elevation and get onto an west-east ridge sooner than later. This happened quicker than expected and for some reason my sense of direction got pretty screwed up for a few minutes. I really didn't want to turn hard enough to my right but eventually I convinced my brain to quit overthinking things and got back on track. It was near the western end of the first west-east ridge that I spotted horse tracks and a faint trail running along the top of the ridge with obvious signs of recent travel and light maintenance. I would follow this track all the way to Serendipity.
[I can get used to this level of "bushwhacking".]
[Gorgeous early morning lighting on a grassy clearing that I crossed while traversing over to the first west-east ridge.]
[Easy hiking along the first east-west ridge.]
As I followed the faint horse tracks along the first west-east ridge, I suddenly noticed a blue ribbon on my left, indicating a steep descent off the ridge towards the south ridge leading to the second west-east ridge and final approach to Serendipity. Rather than continue on Bob's track, I choose to follow this very steep trail. It descended about 100m to valley bottom and ended at a freshly blazed tree. It shortcut the route that Bob took, but rejoined it pretty quickly. Instead of following the track, I simply continued up the end of the south ridge until I found the tracks back a bit higher up on the ridge crest. This ridge was also very pleasant to hike along - especially with the track to follow. Soon I was rewarded with my first views over the sublime upper grassy meadows on the west side of Serendipity. It was such a gorgeous morning that I was in a t-shirt the whole approach already.
[The blazed tree marks the turnoff to the steep access trail up the first west-east ridge. I've already descended here - I'll have more photos on return.]
[There's no obvious trail, but there is a track I'm following through the light forest.]
[Sublime views towards Pyriform S5 (L) and Serendipity (C) over the grassy meadows and west ridge.]
I stayed on the south ridge as it dropped slightly and transitioned to the west ridge approach to Serendipity. The weather was even better than I'd expected so far. Zero wind and very warm temps put me in a pretty good mood. Being alone felt great too - the stresses of everyday life lifted as I listened to the birds chirping and breathed in the sharp smell of the forest. As I hiked up the pleasant grassy meadows at the head of Cat Creek, I spotted a couple of figures on the ridge above me. As I suspected, they were sheep hunters and were the ones who'd made the recent horse tracks. (Well, their horses made the tracks...) Their steeds were in a lovely little alpine meadow tucked between Pyriform S5 and Serendipity and the bells they were wearing tinkled and echoed their presence in the still morning air. It was very serene to hiking up the windless ridge with the sound of bells softly calling out. I greeted the hunters and we briefly chatted before I continued on my way. They were pretty surprised to see me and even more surprised when they realized I was solo. They warned me about several grizzlies in the area, including some fresh kills and also that there was cougar signs. I assured them that I was aware of the possibility of running into these animals but they didn't seem convinced that I knew what I was doing. Maybe they're right. They also weren't too happy when I assured them that there was an advertised route up Serendipity and that I was following it. We chatted briefly about this "Internet Effect" where secret spots are no longer possible. I kept on my way, starting the steep grunt towards Serendipity.
[Transitioning to the final ridge leading up Serendipity (L), crossing a large grassy meadow at the head of Cat Creek (C). ++]
[A little slice of paradise in the small valley between Pyriform S5 (C) and Serendipity's access ridge (R). ++]
[Looking down the access ridge to the north as I break treeline and start up to the peak. What a glorious day!]
I had done limited research on the scramble up Serendipity and didn't know much about it, except that it wasn't more than "moderate". This is true, but the terrain wasn't quite as straightforward as I was expecting. There were two pinnacles blocking direct access up the west ridge, that I had to circumvent and several other spots that were blocked by annoying ribs of rock. Nothing too complicated, but not just a walkup either. I could see hikers or inexperienced scramblers finding some of the terrain unnerving.
[Looking down at some height loss from a pinnacle on the ridge. You can see the broken terrain to the summit isn't quite a "hike" - it's a scramble.]
[Looking back at the first and largest gendarme blocking direct ridge access. Bypass was easy at left.]
[Looking up the west ridge to the summit it's not a hike - there is some route finding and slabs to avoid.]
[On the ridge looking to the summit of Serendipity from the false summit. Pyriform S5 to the left and Patterson's Peak just visible to its right. ++]
I finally had to put on a thin fleece as I topped out just under the false summit and got my first puff of cool wind for the day. I'd been in my t-shirt since the truck! I was a machine on this particular day, and did the entire approach and ascent without any eating or drinking - which wasn't the smartest thing in the world to do. I was having such a good time on approach, I simply forgot to stop I guess. Within 3 hours of leaving the truck I was grunting my way up to the summit in a stiff wind, enjoying clear views in every direction. This means that Serendipity could be as little as a 5-6 hour day on its own. I only stayed very briefly at the summit of Serendipity, as I figured I could take my time on return from Patterson's Peak later in the day. I ducked off the very windy summit and started the obvious traverse line towards the Pyriform S5 / Patterson's col well below my current position.
[An interesting cloud shadow in this view south to Mount Head.]
[A panorama from the summit looking south (L), west (C) and north (R) including (L to R), Mount Head, the false summit, the High Rock Range and Pyriform S5 (R). ++]
[Looking the other way towards the east and the long traverse to Patterson's Peak (C). Now Pyriform S5 is at left and Mount Head at distant right. ++]
[Mist Mountain rises to the north with Lineham Ridge in the foreground and Storm Mountain and Mount Rae to the right.]
[Mount McPhail at left with Horned and Bishop mountains to its right. Hill of the Flowers in the foreground.]
After making the traverse to Patterson's Peak and returning to the col with Pyriform S5, I made my way slowly back up to Serendipity. I knew that the summit views were better from this slightly lower peak due to it's position - especially any views west towards the High Rock Range and the many visible peaks across the Divide. The winds were strong at the summit, but as I worked my way along to the slightly lower false summit the winds died out, giving me a great vantage to relax, finish my Starbucks and take a whole bunch of great photos.
[Working my way up to the south ridge of Serendipity just under the summit which is at upper right.]
[Looking west and north over the approach ridge to Serendipity (L) from the false summit. Mist at distant center, High Rock Range at left with Pyriform S5 and Patterson's Peak at right. ++]
[Great views east and south (R) include (L to R), Pyriform S5, Patterson's Peak and Mount Head. ++]
[Great views north towards the Highwood Pass include Mist, Storm and Mount Rae with Lineham Ridge in the foreground.]
[Mount Joffre at center distance surrounded by other lofty peaks such as Battisti, Swiderski and Cadorna at left and Aosta and Nivelle in front. Odlum Ridge at foreground right with Odlum and Loomis marching in front of the loftier Divide peaks.]
[Mount Bishop at left with Abruzzi at center distance and Mount Loomis at front center-right.]
[From R to L, McPhail, Muir, Strachan, Shankland, MacLaren, Armstrong.]
[Telephoto of Mist, Storm and Rae (L to R).]
[Mist Mountain shows its easy side and approach.]
[Mount Joffre and surrounding peaks including Nivelle, Ney, Castelnau, De Gaulle and McCuaig.]
[Mount Abruzzi (R) and Bishop (L) with Connor and Lancaster in between.]
[Mount Harrison is the southernmost 11,000er in the Canadian Rockies.]
After snapping way too many photos from the false summit, I started my way back down the west ridge. I encountered no issues and was soon overheating in my light fleece. The rest of the descent and egress to highway 40 was extremely pleasant hiking under a warm sun and very little wind.
[Approaching the pinnacle on descent of the west ridge.]
[Under the pinnacle, easily circumvented on the left.]
[Bighorn Sheep - these rams are too small to be hunted. They weren't afraid of me at all.]
[The most snow I encountered all day was in the shade on the lower west ridge.]
[Back on grass and headed for the treed ridge at center. As you can see, it was a very nice day - it reminded me of my days in the Red Deer Lakes area in Skoki earlier this year.]
[A last glace over the sublime alpine meadow. There are horses grazing in here but you can't see them on the photo.]
[Cat Creek Valley at right with the west ridge of Serendipity at left as I descend the grassy meadows.]
[Back in the forest on an extremely warm and calm fall day.]
[Regaining the first west-east ridge on the steep track that had the blue ribbon marking it's start and fresh blazes in the valley below.]
[Open forest on the ridge crest of the first west-east ridge.]
[Great views from the Pinnacles at the start of the route.]
Overall I have to say that I was surprised by the Serendipity / Patterson's Peak outing. I expected more of a slog and less of the great views and pleasant hiking than I ended up with. This is a good thing, of course. My time of just over 8 hours was a bit too fast on hindsight. I could have sat in some warm, grassy meadow and enjoyed that sunshine for a few more minutes. Ah well, such are solo trips. My imagination was a bit more active on return after talking to the hunters about fresh grizzly kills and cougars in the area which probably didn't help slow me down any! I highly recommend this outing for fit parties of advanced hikers or scramblers with good route finding skills. Despite its low-key spot on the map, this trip has just enough unique landscapes and engaging terrain to elevate it quite high on my list.