On Friday, July 12 2013 I was joined by Wietse for an attempt up a relatively unknown peak along the icefields parkway - Bison Peak (see the interesting facts above for a discussion on the naming of this peak). All we had to go on was a terse description by Graeme Pole on Bivouac.com. Well, as it turns out this terse description is pretty much all you need to summit this mountain! :)
The day started out nice enough from the pull out along the parkway (roughly across from Epaulette Lake, just north of Chephren / White Pyramid and south of Bison Creek). It was a cool morning and we were surprised to see fresh snow high up on the surrounding peaks, including our ascent slopes. This wasn't a huge concern but we knew that part of our route ascended steep cliff bands and this could present a problem if there was too much ice. We shrugged our shoulders and started off.
The first part through the forest was easy. Alberta bushwhacking is so simple compared to BC! Basically we went up and trended left until we got into some thicker bush and eventually broke out into a stream bed. This stream descends from the upper slopes of Bison and joins Bison Creek down low. Theoretically you could probably just follow Bison Creek and then go climber's right up the creek we found. Our way is shorter and pretty easy - just see the route photo for details. At this point we were SOAKING WET from the short bushwhack and heavy morning dew and a bit cold but climbing in the creek bed kept the chills down.
Eventually the creek split. We chose the climber's left branch for a few reasons. Graeme mentions "north end" of buttress once you get higher up and there was less water flowing in the left branch! Our choice was perfect and we quickly gained height in the tight confines of a small creek that had a trickle coming down the middle.
[The route in Google Earth. Three things to note: 1. The lower access to the creek. 2. The cliff bands about half way up that we went up rather than the gullies beside it. 3. The upper break in the buttress before the scree slog to the summit. Click for full size.]
[Looking up Bison from the parking area on hwy 93. The trick is stay left and access the upper scree slopes via the gully / notch visible here, high up and on the left.]
[Starting off in a damp, light forest.]
[Breaking into an avy path with views already behind us.]
[Through the bushwhack and we found the stream! Eventually the stream splits and we took the left branch.]
[Great views of Kaufman Peaks and Epaulette Mountain looking back down the main creek bed.]
[The creek bed steepens and curves climber's left.]
[Just before the split in the creek - take the left hand branch.]
[The left branch is narrow and loose.]
[Very narrow and loose!]
[In the left hand creek. Note the slopes above the creek on the left - we came down that way rather than mess with loose and wet rocks in the creek.]
[Higher up the creek gets wider.]
[At the top of the left-hand creek we came across this cliff band. Traversing left and then back and forth up the band was the best route we found and was only moderate difficulty.]
After topping out of the left-hand branch of the creek we were faced with a wall of rock. No problem! We traversed left and then back and forth up ledges until breaking out on a buttress, looking up at steep cliffs and gullies to the summit area. We left small cairns along our route for the way down but we never encountered anything above a 'moderate' level of scrambling on the ledges. If you take your time you should have no issues here. The terrain looks much worse than it is when you put your nose in it and it's good fun. We really enjoyed the hands-on section.
Once on the upper bench above the ledge traverses we had another route choice. I kind of wanted to trend climber's left up an obvious gully and then follow the northwest ridge up higher but Wietse wasn't convinced. He wanted to head straight up the larger gully on the west face. It looked bloody steep to me but eventually I saw his logic and we set off. Wietse's choice was perfect. Once again, we made the right call. Good fun scrambling (some loose scree / rock) brought us up to the final 250 vertical meter scree cone to the summit.
This final gully is the only way to easily break through to the summit block and it is essential that you find it. Study the pics / route and you'll have no problem - it's pretty bloody obvious! It's also very loose, so don't bother scrambling this peak with large groups of people. Rocks were coming down gullies all day and we kicked off a fair number ourselves. This is a rarely ascended peak and there is no trails / markings / scree paths and everything is LOOSE if it ain't still part of the mountain.
[Looking down the ledges. You can see our access creek on the left - NOT the right hand one.]
[Traversing climber's left to find a weakness.]
[See the fresh snow?! Wietse is having fun picking a line up the ledges.]
[Wietse is close to finishing the ledges.]
[On the upper bench looking at our route through the top cliff bands to the summit scree cone. This gully is the only way up - so make sure you find it!!]
[Wietse starts up through the final 'gate' to the summit slopes.]
Like every other section on this mountain, the upper access gully is less steep and intimidating once your nose is in it. It's loose and steep, but never more than moderate scrambling if you choose your route carefully. We climbed fairly quickly up this section because the melting snow was causing some rock fall here. Definitely bring a brain bucket on this scramble as you'll wear it most of the day!
[Looking down (notice the fresh snow again?!) at the upper bench above the ledges and down the upper access gully.]
[A great panorama is opened behind us as we climb the gully. Includes Chephren, White Pyramid, Epaulette, Kaufmann and Sarbach (L to R). ++]
[Wietse comes up to the buttress area after topping out of the steep final gully.]
[We found our first cairn here - above the buttress with great views of Murchison (R) and the Epaulette Group across hwy #93. ++]
When we finally broke through the upper buttress we found ourselves looking at our first cairn on the route (it was on the buttress itself) and also at the final scree slog to the summit. It looked far to me, but there was no way but up! We slogged easily up the steep scree to the summit and managed to set foot on top about 3 hours after leaving the car. Not a huge or long summit but the views were awesome and the scrambling was fun so this is top mountain for me - I don't care that it's "little"! The wind was cold at the summit but we found a little spot where we could hunker down and enjoy the incredible views of the Murchison massif and it's many towers.
[Heading up the final scree cone to the summit.]
[When we first climbed Bison, I thought that these two summits were the main peaks of Murchison. I found out about a month later, after climbing Murchison, that these are actually towers to the south of the main peak - probably Feuz Tower, Bison Tower and Gest Tower. ++]
[An incredible panorama of peaks and variety / color of lakes and rivers is the reward for breaking through the cliff bands guarding Bison's summit.]
[Admiring the views to the west from just beneath the summit, which include Chephren Lake, Howse, Chephren, White Pyramid, Epaulette, Kaufmann. ++]
[The scree gets steep near the summit.]
Disappointingly, we couldn't determine if we were the second ascent party as there was no register in the summit cairn, but given the cairn on the upper buttress and the summit cairn I'm guessing not. I'm sure there's not many human feet that have tramped up this peak before us though - and that was fine with us!
[Looking east and south off the summit. L to R, Engelhard, Cromwell, Southeast Tower, Totem Tower and South Totem Peak, Spreading Peak.]
[L to R, Kaufmann Peaks, Sarbach and the Lyells in the clouds.]
[The many towers of Mount Murchison - but not its main two summits - including Feuz, Bison, Gest, Engelhard, Cromwell, SE Tower, Totem and South Totem (L to R) along with Mount Wilson, Sarbach, Kaufmann Peaks, Epaulette, White Pyramid and Chephren (C to L). ++]
[Try to count all the lakes! From L to R, Peyto, Waterfowl Lakes, Chephren Lake, Epaulette Lake. Mountains include Wapta summits, Chephren, White Pyramid, Epaulette, Kaufmann, Sarbach, Amery, Wilson and many, many others. This is probably one of my favorite areas of the Canadian Rockies - I love the scenery here and Bison is one of the best "bang for buck" peaks along the parkway. Other comparable summits would be Weed, Observation and Noyes. ++]
[Vern on the summit of Bison Peak (MU1)]
[Gorgeous views east, south and west of the peak include Totem and South Totem Towers, Spreading Peak and many others. ++]
[Some of the many lakes along hwy #93 including (L to R), Bow, Peyto, Mistaya and Waterfowl Lakes.]
[I love this compressed landscape of Chephren Lake with Howse Peak towering over it. Chephren is one of my all time favorite scrambles and I have fond memories of traversing that lake... :)]
[Epaulette Lake with Epaulette Peak towering above.]
[Mount Wilson is another favorite of mine.]
[Bow Peak, Crowfoot Peak, Mount Temple, Bow Lake, Jimmy Simpson, Peyto Lake and Mount Patterson are all visible here.]
[Peskett (L) and Loudon (R) are very large peaks in the eastern front ranges of the Siffleur Wilderness that are very rarely ascended.]
[Looking towards Corona Ridge from the summit of Bison.]
The descent was surprisingly fun, easy and fast. We had excellent scree runs in many places, and could avoid most loose gully sections by descending small ledges to the sides of the gully when needed. We thanked ourselves for leaving cairns up the ledges and once we were back down at the left-hand creek we decided to stay on the shoulder to the north of the creek and descend on dirt / scree instead of the loose creek bed. This was genius and worked very well.
[Descent was fast on this mountain!]
[We checked out the highest buttress before continuing down the upper (steep) access gully.]
[Descending the upper gully]
[Looking back up at the buttresses and the upper access gully from the shoulder before going down the ledges. The morning snow is almost all gone already.]
[Can't get enough of these views!!]
[Sarbach was an awesome peak too.]
[Almost done the ledges, we descended the shoulder in the center of the photo rather than the ascent creek to the left.]
[Some of the terrain is steep and loose.]
[Yellow Columbine with some cross polination from an Indian Paintbrush.]
Eventually we descended into the main creek, cut across it and bushwhacked back to hwy 93. Our round trip time of 6 hours included at least 45 minutes of breaks. I highly recommend this rarely ascended peak for any competent scrambler with some route finding skills. The views, hands-on scrambling and fast descent all combine for a nice little 'punch peak'!
[The soft shoulder was much better than the creekbed for descent!]
[Finis! This is reminiscant of JW's saunter after doing White Pyramid...]