After approaching the Middlepass Lakes and scrambling up Rainy Ridge it was time to traverse towards the creatively named, "Three Lakes Ridge" - the professional cartographers must have been on holidays when these peaks were monikered. Nugara mentions the traverse between Rainy and Three Lakes Ridge as doable but not highly recommended, especially in the direction we were going to be doing it. How difficult could it be right?
[Initially the ridge towards Three Lakes Ridge is pretty tame with great views. Jake Smith and Scarpe at left and the Middlepass Lakes at lower right.]
[This telephoto of Three Lakes Ridge from Rainy Ridge shows some possible complexities up the east ridge but all the difficulties are actually descending the west ridge of Rainy!]
As Nugara mentions, the ridge down to the col from Rainy is pretty easy at first. The whole traverse reminded us of similar traverses in the Castle Wilderness such as Lys and Barnaby Ridge. We quickly came to the first difficulty, a very steep chimney / gully on skier's right as we ran up against an impossibly steep cliff on the ridge proper. Despite being very steep and quite exposed, the chimney felt no more than moderate thanks to the fact that it is a chimney and we could stem down it. Whatever you do here, do *not* try descending south (left) of the ridge to bypass the cliffs as you'll end up descending a long way before overcoming them!
[The smallest of the Rainy Lakes is tucked under the north aspect of Jake Smith Peak.]
[The ridge was quite scenic with larches right up to the crest and lakes and Red Argillite all around. Rainy Ridge NW at right here with Haig, Middle Kootenay Mountain and Miles to its left.]
[Looking straight down at the largest and highest of the Middlepass Lakes.]
[The ridge isn't very high - there's trees that encroach right on the crest as you drop to the Three Lakes col.]
[Phil exits the steep chimney / gully that breaks the cliffs along the ridge to the col.]
[A view back up the ridge from after the chimney showing the chimney and terrain.]
After regaining the crest of the ridge we continued along it for a short bit before I asked if maybe we should simply bypass the next set of complications on our left (south) already before even getting to them? Nugara mentions backtracking and finding a route down the south aspect of the ridge anyway, so why not just start side-hilling a bit early in hopes of a more obvious and gentle descent? This plan worked out beautifully. We followed our noses and the terrain down to our left and managed to sneak through and past several lines of cliffs that presumably cause issues higher up on the ridge crest. Before long we could see a pretty easy side-hilling line to the col and followed it, thereby avoiding almost all the difficulties that Nugara mentions and putting the route at a solid "moderate" instead of "difficult".
[Great views off the ridge before we start descending and traversing on the south aspect (L). A surprising number of larches between Three Lakes and Jake Smith Peak.]
[This is why you must drop down and traverse - it avoids a series of pretty serious cliff bands interrupting the ridge crest.]
[Phil looks up a line of cliffs extending to the ridge above as we deftly avoid them.]
[Looking back along the terrain we've avoided by taking a route at center instead of left.]
From the col we enjoyed sunshine and great views of larch forests on either side of the ridge and lakes on all sides too. Rainy Lakes to our left (south) and Middlepass Lakes to our right and behind us. The east ridge of Three Lakes Ridge was much easier than it appeared from afar, the only detour being around the pinnacle that Nugara mentions. Near the top the terrain steepened and loosened a bit but sticking climber's left of the crest worked well. Looking back at the exposed step on the ridge from the summit, I can agree with Nugara that this is certainly a difficult route and is likely best avoided since it's so easy to detour. I'm a big believer in making things as easy and safe as possible rather than difficult just for the sake of it. I figure life throws me enough curve balls, I don't need to create my own for entertainment purposes. I guess that's also why I'm a scrambler at heart and not a very good climber - I always avoid the hard stuff when I reasonably can.
[The east ridge of Three Lakes is much easier than it appears from afar. The slab route to the right still looks a bit gnarly but it also gets easier the closer you get to it.]
[Great views back along the ridge to Rainy with the Middlepass Lakes at left.]
[Phil starts up the east ridge of Three Lakes.]
[The obvious pinnacle that Nugara mentions as a landmark in his guidebook. At this point we started detouring on climber's left of the ridge sticking well below the ridge crest above us on our right.]
[Wonderful views back to Rainy Ridge with the Middlepass Lakes at left and the largest Rainy Lake at right with Jake Smith Peak rising above. ++]
[Detouring climber's left (south) around difficulties on the ridge above.]
[Great lighting on one of the Rainy Lakes and its larch forest with Jake Smith Peak rising above.]
We popped out on the summit of Three Lakes Ridge just as the sun finally broke free of the stubborn cloud it was hiding behind for most of the day. Our views were very fine as we soaked them in and enjoyed lunch. It had taken us around 1:45 hours to make the traverse from Rainy Ridge and a total of 5.5 hours from the parking lot, which was a bit longer than expected but did include a coffee break or two along the way.
[From near the summit, looking back at Rainy Ridge NW (L) and proper with Southfork, Barnaby, Lys, Matkin, Coulotte, JSP and Scarpe in the distance and Middlepass Lakes at left, Rainy Lakes at right. ++]
[Looking north and east (R) off the summit includes (L to R), Krowicki, Miles, Tombstone, Middle Kootenay Mountain, Haig, Gravenstafel, Syncline, Middle Kootenay Pass, Southfork, Barnaby, Castle, Victoria, Rainy Ridge, Lys Ridge. Note the difficult downclimb on the ridge proper at right foreground that Nugara mentions if you don't detour the pinnacle lower down on ascent. ++]
[The largest Rainy Lake.]
[Great views to our next objective, Jake Smith Peak with Rainy Lake below.]
[Great views over Middle Kootenay Pass down the West Castle River corridor past Haig and Syncline on the left and Southfork / Barnaby on the right.]
[The lower, Middlepass Lake. Note the trail at upper left.]
[The upper Middlepass Lake.]
[The "middle" Middlepass Lake is pretty small.]
[The Middlepass Lakes area and its access including Middle Kootenay Pass at left and the lakes at right with Rainy Ridge above. This snow free image will likely have to last a very long winter, as I sit here typing up the trip report we are in October and haven't seen temperatures above 5 degrees for a month and there's TONS of snow in the Rockies! ++]
[Looking down the Middlepass Creek drainage at center with Jake Smith Peak, Scarpe Mountain and the Red Argillite Peaks to the left. Krowicki, Miles, Tombstone, Middle Kootenay and Haig to the right. ++]
[Tombstone Mountain is a uniquely shaped peak.]
[This outlier is lower than Nugara's "RA" Peak, but we tagged it and called it part of the "Red Argillite Peaks" since it's a pretty impressive outlier, especially from the valley below.]
[Looking over Mount Coulotte at right towards a distant Anderson Peak, Lost and Bauerman in Waterton Lakes National Park to the southeast.]
[Gazing far north towards Darrah (L).]
[Looking over Gravenstafel Ridge towards the Flathead Range near Crowsnest Pass including Ptolemy and Mount Coulthard (R).]
[Looking over Syncline towards Crowsnest Mountain with Tornado visible beyond.]
[Southfork (L) and Barnaby are another colorful fall option in this area.]
After snapping a slew of photos it was time to start our descent and traverse to the highest peak in the area, "Jake Smith" - an unofficial summit along the ridge towards Scarpe Mountain. We weren't 100% sure what the route would entail as I didn't have Nugara's description on my phone (I usually take photos of the guidebook but didn't count on JSP and RA for this trip) so we'd be winging it. How hard could it be right?