After a long hiatus from peak bagging and pretty much any activity in the Rockies, other than resort skiing, I was more than ready to join Eric Coulthard on a front range adventure to scout out the Waiparous Creek area of the North Ghost Wilderness on the eastern edge of the Rockies in Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park, between Kananaskis to the south and Ya Ha Tinda to the north. Our original objective was the impressive Mount Davidson, a peak that isn't well documented and probably not visited that often due to the nature of its access. With avalanche danger ratings at considerable for both treeline and the alpine, we knew we weren't going to push it on snow slopes either.
So why did we pick this particular area for this time of year? Mainly to avoid having to share the approach with too many OHV's. The Waiparous Creek area is infamous for it's myriad of OHV trails and the different type of outdoor characters that are attracted to motorized wilderness exploration. I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of this here, but suffice it to say we prefer peace and quiet if possible! ;) We suspected that we would only be able to drive a portion of the Waiparous Creek Road. My Tacoma isn't geared with off-road tires yet and Eric's vehicle is also off-road limited. After meeting at the Tim Horton's in Cochrane, we made the short drive to the start of the Waiparous Valley Road, approximately 40km up the highway 40 forestry trunk road north of highway 1A. It was still pitch dark when we started up the road and we quickly managed to get lost by following the main road too far. We turned around at a gas well and managed to locate the turnoff, a left hand turn off the main road that sticks closer to the creek.
We drove through several pretty deep, icy puddles before coming on a huge one that seemed foolish to attempt with our vehicles. On hindsight we could have continued, but we had no idea what lay ahead, and Gillean raises a good point in her description of this road, that bikes can be quicker if you're not confident of your 4x4 skillz! There really was no point in pushing it and getting stuck all the way out there so we backtracked a bit and parked off to the side of the road where there were shot gun shells scattered all over the place. What could go wrong?! ;) I knew the bike ride was going to hurt - and it did. Literally. I haven't ridden bike in a while, and with a heavy overnight pack on my back, complete with ax, crampons and snowshoes, my butt was sore after about 1km. Then there was the ice. Neither of our bikes were equipped with studded ice tires and we took some pretty bad falls on the extremely slick approach track. We enjoyed a spectacular sunrise on Black Rock and Devil's Head, from one of the few viewpoints along the pretty boring approach.
[The giant puddle that stopped us driving. On hindsight we likely could have driven through it but didn't know what lay ahead so the smart decision was to park and start biking.]
[A gorgeous sunrise along Waiparous Creek.]
[Sunrise on Black Rock, Costigan and Devil's Head (L to R) from along the washed out creek. ++]
[Like I said - pure, slick ice! This was extremely treacherous biking.]
[A rare stretch of dirt on the approach. The warm sun certainly made for a nicer trip too.]
I'm not gonna lie. Despite the speed advantage of the bikes, I was pretty done with it after about 11km and two or three bad falls! We were following OHV tracks on snow and ice the whole way up to the Margaret Lake turnoff, which is as far up the Waiparous Creek Valley Road that OHV's can go (legally) as of August 15, 2016 due to ongoing destruction of the Waiparous Creek habitat. There was very little dirt on the track, and a lot of refrozen water, which made for extremely treacherous biking. Packed snow sections were very nice as they at least offered some grip.
[Overview map of the OHV trails around the Waiparous Creek area. Note the 129 marker with its sharp turn up to Margaret Lake. This is where we ditched the bikes and started hiking. This is also as far as OHV's are allowed since August 15, 2016. ++]
[Notification of the closures after marker 129 along the upper Waiparous Creek. ++]
After hiding our bikes in the forest we descended to Waiparous Creek to continue our quest on foot. It took us about 2 minutes to jettison the old trail that continued on the far side (south) of the creek, and instead we simply walked up the frozen surface of the creek itself. We were taking a pretty big chance, as we had no idea how long the creek would remain clear of debris, or even frozen, but it was super easy walking and we had to give it a shot. On hindsight this was the best decision we made all day.
[Migrating Cedar Waxwings.]
[Looking up Waiparous Creek towards Sunrise Wall. We will approach the wall and then go right before heading far up valley, out of sight.]
A few kilometers up the creek we noticed a sharp 90 degree turn ahead on the map. We decided at this point to join the old OHV track which was once again on the north side of the creek. (On return, we stayed in the creek the whole way.) We needed our snowshoes on the OHV trail and the snow was pretty punchy (i.e. crappy), with no support whatsoever. This motivated us to once again follow the creek, rather than trail, the next time it crossed. After only a short while along the creek bed, we once again diverged onto the OHV track when it avoided a significant narrowing of Waiparous Creek. Once again, we took the creek bed on return, but didn't know what to expect on approach so we played it safe. The snow was getting worse as we gained and then lost height beside the creek. We resolved to try sticking on the hard surface of the creek from this point onward.
[We briefly took sections of the old OHV trail on approach. Each time sucked thanks to a punchy snow pack so on return we stuck to the creekbed.]
[One of the two "Sheep Meadow Mountain" peaks that Daffern talks about in her descriptions of the area.]
[Sunrise Wall at left and The Prow at right. Once again, we took the obvious cutline trail on approach but on return we stuck to the creekbed at left. "Waiparous Tower" can be seen at far left as part of the Sunrise Wall.]
So far the creek sections were wonderful. We were started to get some pretty impressive views of the Sunrise Wall with Castle Rock and Black Rock Mountain to the south and The Prow rising majestically to the north with the vertical "Pinto Wall" skirting it's south aspect. "Waiparous Tower" on the north end of the Sunrise Wall was pretty impressive too. It goes at 4 pitches of 5.8. Neither of us had seen these peaks from this angle before and they were spectacular in the morning light. I'm pretty happy that this whole area is now closed to OHV's and can be enjoyed in peace and quiet even in the warmer months now. As we followed Waiparous Creek into the upper valley between Sunrise Wall on the south and The Prow to the north, the scenery just kept getting more and more delightful. Towering walls of rock surrounded us on every side and frozen waterfalls plunged off mountains to the north of the creek. Birds were chirping in the warm spring sunshine and flakes of snow fell from a blue sky. The creek was piled up in blue sheets of water ice, each one a slightly different shade. It was pure magic and exactly what we both needed after a long winter.
[Detailed map with our route and some of the local names inserted. Obviously "Waiparous Peak" is unofficial, but since there's no peaks with that name in the area, it makes perfect sense to call it that. ++]
[The weather briefly started closing in as we start contouring deeper up the Waiparous. Note the cutline / trail at center - we didn't bother following it from this point onward, choosing to stick in the easy-traveling creekbed.]
[The spectacular "Pinto Wall" on the south aspect of The Prow offers some pretty intense rock routes. ++]
[The first view of our peak - Mount Davidson - is pretty gloomy. It's a spectacular looking mountain which reminded me of Mount Fryatt from this angle.]
[We start up our first narrow creek section just as the weather improves.]
[Snowshoes were essential for weight distribution and grip on the blue ice in the creek. Note how much higher Eric is than me? The water just keeps piling up, forming great texture on the creekbed.]
We passed a cross at the Don Getty Wilderness Area boundary marker which was dedicated to "Pedro". After hiking a while up the creek, it started to narrow significantly and gain noticeable height again. Unlike the previous two times that we'd deviated to the OHV track at sections like this, we chose to stick right in the creek this time. Wow! I'm really glad we did! When the narrow canyon walls closed in to not more than 5 feet across, Eric suggested we might want to turn around, but I encouraged him to keep going. We tiptoed around several deep, open pools in the canyon and managed to squeeze out of a 16 inch gap to exit the feature of Waiparous Creek known as the "Chasm"! So cool. This was the highlight of the trip for both of us. Nobody gets to walk right through the chasm normally! This is a raging set of rapids when most people experience it.
[The creek narrows, providing some spectacular hiking scenery.]
[Very few people get to hike right in the Chasm!]
[Eric delicately bypasses a deep, open pool in the chasm. We were convinced that we'd be turned around at some point, but we managed to squeeze right through the entire length of this section.]
[Looking back down the chasm at our tracks.]
[Escape! We made it up the final 18" gap at the end of the chasm. Davidson is even visible in the far distance here.]
Right upstream of the Chasm was where we ended up bivying for the night, and on hindsight we could have saved ourselves a TON of work by dropping our overnight gear here, but we were still hoping to make the upper Waiparous Creek Valley under Mount Davidson at this point, so we doggedly pushed onward up the creek. (Without a paddle so-to-speak...) After even more cool, narrow sections of creek with great views of towering rock walls and mixed sun and clouds overhead, we met our nemesis in the form of deep, unconsolidated snow in the creek and an impassable, deep pool of water with vertical rock walls on either side. Our great progress up the frozen creek bed was came to an inglorious delay. Well, we're not called "peakbaggers" for nothing. :) I have no idea where I got the energy from (I'm out of shape after a pretty lazy winter), but I started bushwhacking on snowshoes up the steep north bank of the creek on really horrible snow. With a full overnight, alpine pack! It was horrible. At one point I found myself balancing about 3 feet off the ground on a fallen tree, on snowshoes, trying to avoid thick tangles of fallen timber! Even when I managed to find the "cutline" that Gillean mentions in her book, it was no longer "cut". It was barely a "line" either. ;)
[A beautiful day for exploring the upper Waiparous Creek.]
[Where the creekbed widened, the water was literally piled up in sheets of blue ice.]
[Two ice climbs coming down walls on the north side of the creek.]
[More interesting creek sections.]
[This section melted out pretty good by the end of the day, but continued to hold our weight.]
[Deep, unconsolidated snow followed shortly by a deep impassable pool of water stopped our great progress up Waiparous Creek and we were forced to turn around and bypass through the bush on the north side.]
Finally I stumbled onto an open grassy slope about 2km from the end of the valley, exhausted and thinking that maybe we'd met our match. Mount Davidson towered 1000m over me, looking fierce with steep walls of snow, rock and ice thwarting any attempts from the east. I lay on the warm grass and enjoyed a well-deserved sandwich while contemplating the fact that I had less than 500ml of water on me (we'd been drinking straight from the creek so far on the approach). This was going to be an issue if we decided to keep going. I also noticed severe avalanche terrain near the head of the valley and a lot of loaded snow slopes on the soaring walls of Astral Peak's outliers high above. I glanced at a scree slope rising through the trees to the north of my position and thought that maybe Eric and I could tag something up there as a consolation prize and get some mighty fine views in the process.
[A delightful grassy slope that I finally reached after a short-but-horrible bushwhack on 'shoes. Davidson rises at far right. We are still 2km from its base here and we decided that the conditions weren't ideal for a serious attempt. Instead we turned 90 degrees right and ascended "Waiparous Peak" from here. ++]
Eric finally stumbled out of the bush and we agreed to give the prominent outlier of Davidson, directly north of our position, a shot. (Later, Eric admitted that he was ready to turn back at any point on the bushwhack section.) After emptying our packs of our overnight gear, I led up steep and bushy snow slopes to the north. About 200m vertical up the slope we finally broke treeline and left the snow shoes near an outcropping of rock, as we could use dry rock from here on. Eric took over the lead pretty much from here to the summit as I was totally bagged. I haven't felt this out of shape in the mountains for a long time - on hindsight I think trail breaking through the bush lower down, did me in. Despite several snow squalls interrupting a blue sky with puffy, white clouds, we enjoyed great views as we slowly worked our way higher and higher on our outlier. Two rock bands proved easy to scramble up with both accessed on climber's left, part way along the low cliffs. The views back down the Waiparous Creek Valley were pretty special and Calgary was obvious between the gap. Davidson (and Waiparous Peak) are both clearly visible from YYC, just find Devil's Head and look 3 or 4 peaks to the north and there they are.
[Exiting treeline on our ascent. The open grassy slope just visible at far right, center.]
[On dry scree with great views of Davidson (R) and Astral (L). ++]
[Finally over the initial scree grunt and enjoying great views back through the Prow / Sunshine Wall gap down Waiparous Creek towards YYC. ++]
[Davidson at left with Waiparous Peak just barely visible at upper right. A few easy rock bands to ascend along the way. ++]
[Pinto Wall at left with Calgary visible at center.]
[Eric ascends one of the rock bands with stunning views of Davidson (R) and Astral (L). ++]
[This peak is a lot higher than we thought!]
[Nearing the upper rock bands.]
[Devil's Head and Castle Rock start showing over outliers of Astral to the south. ++]
[We're much higher than The Prow (L) and Sunshine Wall (R) and even higher than Black Rock (R).]
The summit was much higher than we were originally expecting, surpassing all of the lower summits to the east and far higher than Black Rock to the south. Devil's Head, Orient Point, Astral, Castle Rock and Davidson were all obvious to the south with Aylmer just showing up. Some pretty big peaks to the north including Barrier and Dormer also showed their faces. The Prow looked tiny from hundreds of meters higher. The most surprising view from the summit was the north face and bowl of Mount Davidson which showed obvious glacier scouring over many square kilometers. It was catching the light in such a way that made it a very unique view. There was a cairn located just to the north of the high point that we didn't bother traversing to, since it was quite a bit lower than our vantage and the wind was cold. We still had to find a spot to bivy for the night and were dehydrated and tired from the long approach.
[Final plod to the apex.]
[Stunning views of the north aspect of Davidson (L) which looks like it's been scoured by glaciers. The lower summit at right had a cairn built on it. ++]
[Telephoto north towards Ya Ha Tinda includes Wildhorse Ridge, Maze, Eagle and Evangeline Peaks.]
[Still north, but more west is the huge Barrier Mountain with Dormer and Otuskwan in front.]
[And further north-west are Gable and White.]
[This is Oliver Peak.]
[Revenant Mountain is pretty prominent to the west of Davidson.]
[Looking NE over Pinto Creek.]
[Mount Aylmer shows up to the SW.]
[Black Rock Mountain is a striking front range peak from this angle.]
[Orient Point (L) and Devil's Head lie to the south of Waiparous.]
[YYC lies over the foothills - clearly showing why Davidson and Waiparous are so visible from there.]
[One of the striking peaks of what Gillean Daffern calls "Sheep Meadow Mountain".]
Descent to our stashed overnight gear was thankfully easy and quick. We packed up again and thrashed down our bushwhacking ascent tracks - this is when I realized why I was feeling so bagged on the ascent! Nasty. Once we hit valley bottom, we followed our tracks back along the creek to the chasm. Here we set up our bivy for the night. Just as we finished setting up camp, darkness settled in around us and we crashed until 07:30 the following day. Other than a very strong wind that threatened to blow my mid off of its nice grassy perch, I slept like a log in my cozy winter sleeping bag and awoke feeling quite refreshed.
[Descending an upper cliff band.]
[An upper scree bench runs along the cliffs.]
[Navigating the creek back to our bivy spot in fading light.]
[Sunrise on Davidson from our bivy site, Waiparous Peak is just out of sight at center right.]
We packed up and headed off down the chasm along Waiparous Creek under a gorgeous, warm spring sun. On exit, we choose to stick in the creek the entire way back to the bikes. This meant 2 more sections of exploring - one of which was almost as entertaining as the chasm section. The "90 degree" section was very tame and soon we were back at the bikes. I was dreading the ride back since the day before - my tush was SORE. I could barely sit down, never mind with a heavy alpine pack, on my narrow bike seat!! To my great surprise (and delight), the ride out was just enough downhill that we could coast a lot of it. Even though it was still very slick, I only fell hard once and Eric fell three times. I'm amazed we didn't break any bones with our falls. Imagine wiping out on hard ice with a heavy alpine pack and your bike coming down with you! I thought for sure I broke my arm on the last fall, but miraculously it's only bruised.
[Back into the "Chasm"!]
[Exiting a channel with Pinto Wall in the distance.]
[Pinto Wall (The Prow) with the memorial marker to "Pedro" at lower left. ++]
[Ice patterns in the creek.]
[Sunrise Wall with Waiparous Tower visible at right. Black Rock in the far distance.]
[Looking back at Davidson (L) and Waiparous (R).]
[Navigating another cool section of the creek that we bypassed on the crappy OHV trail on ascent.]
[Huge chunks of the Sunrise Wall lie in the creekbed here.]
[More debris in the creekbed as we descend on water ice.]
[Some tricky maneuvering to get through the tightest spots.]
[Last glance back at Waiparous Tower (L) and Davidson Peak (C).]
[Castle Rock (L).]
[A slick, but thankfully quick, ride out. The summit of Sunshine Wall in the distance here.]
We passed at least 20 OHV's on egress. Many had loud music cranked and bevies in the hands. They were all friendly enough and all wondered where the HECK we were coming from. Driving out from the Waiparous area was an adventure simply due to the amount of OHV's and campers in the area. It is certainly a very well-used spot in the Rockies - I can only imagine how crazy it must be in high season.
[You'll see a lot of this at the start of the Waiparous Creek Trail.]
I was delighted with our short 1.5 day trip up Waiparous Creek. There are some surprisingly gorgeous peaks up there and the snowshoeing through the small chasms and narrow canyons was very unique and entertaining. I'll be back some day for Mount Davidson - but I think I'll wait until the off season so I can once again experience the solitude and quiet stillness that the upper valley deserves.