I've had plans for years involving a trip into the Devon Lakes area near Pipestone Pass and the head of the Clearwater River in eastern Banff National Park. My plans involved summits such as Dip Slope, Three Brothers, Clearwater and of course the 11,000er in the region, Willingdon. Originally the plan was to go in the fall when all the brilliant color was at full height but when an opportunity came up to go with the 3 amigos from Edmonton (Ben, Eric and Steven), I couldn't say no...
Due to time constraints we couldn't possibly summit everything in the area so we planned a 3 day trip with Devon as our day one summit - hoping to tag it on approach to our bivy site under Mount Willingdon. Day 2 would be a 3 summit day (Willingdon, Crown and Tower) with Clearwater completing our 3 day peak bagging adventure near Devon Lakes. Funny how plans don't always go the way you think they will!
[Google Earth image of our first day approach to Willingdon and scramble of Devon Mountain. Total elevation was over 1700 meters gained. ++]
We met at the trailhead at around 07:00 and were soon tramping up Mosquito Creek to Quartzite Col. Just before the 4th bridge we found a faint trail snaking off to the north (left) along the left branch of the creek, which we followed through very wet bushes / vegetation. The trail is faint but obvious - there is NO reason to bushwhack on approach to the Quartzite Col - you should be on this faint trail right through a creek crossing and up into the upper meadow beneath the col. We followed a GPS track from So which obviously helped a lot. Over the years I've heard a lot of bad things regarding Quartzite Col. The two biggest complaints are that it's hard to find and when you do find it, you're not sure it's the right place due to snow, ice and very, very steep and horribly loose terrain.
[Our day starts out sunny but very wet vegetation along Mosquito Creek]
[The trail up to Quartzite Col is a bit faint but should be obvious in most sections]
[We crossed the creek fairly high up the valley where the southwest side got boggy]
[The access slopes to the upper valley beneath Quartzite Col are surprisingly steep. We gained over 700 meters of height just to get to the col!]
[Looking ahead to the col (R) and the upper valley (L) - you should be on climber's right of the major drainage you see just ahead of me here. ++]
We found it all right! :) We followed So's GPS track down a steep snow / ice gully right under the col. This worked, but on hindsight we should have checked the gully just to the skier's right to see if it had less ice in it. We would have simply downclimbed the gully if it was more snow, but the hard ice wasn't easy to navigate and we downclimbed (and slipped, stumbled and crashed) very steep and loose rock terrain on skier's left of the ice in the gully. Earlier in the year this would be easier terrain, I think. Going down from the Col into the Clearwater Valley was certainly one of the most difficult and dangerous bits of terrain we navigated the whole trip. Don't underestimate it - we took our steel crampons and axes along mainly for this section and even though we didn't use them, we certainly would have if the rock wasn't viable. Another option I may look into next time is the route that Sonny took, down slopes to the north of the col.
[Looking back at our approach route]
[Looking ahead to the col area. Sonny went to climbers left but the regular route is to the right, up the larger rocks / boulders.]
[Looking east off Quartzite Col, Devon Mountain on the right. ++]
[We encountered the same steep, loose, icy slopes that others have.]
[Did I mention STEEP and LOOSE?!]
[If the ice slope had more snow we would have descended it instead of the loose rock downclimb. It was a matter of choosing between two non-ideal options here.]
[We stuck close together - I wouldn't want to be here with a large or inexperienced group.]
[Tip-toeing a traverse along the edge of the sn'ice]
[Finally near the bottom of the slopes from col looking across the Clearwater Valley. Willingdon, Crown and Tower on the far right. ++]
Once down the Quartzite col we were surprised by the height loss / gain still ahead of us across the Clearwater River valley to the Devon Lakes area. We moved easily across the open terrain and a mild bit of bog before starting our way up to the lower slopes on Devon. We were surprised to hear voices above us after stopping for a water break and noticed a group of backpackers on the trail heading to Molar Pass. For a few minutes we wondered if Devon Mountain was more popular than we expected! :) It isn't.
[Looking back up to the col from near the bottom of the slope - should be fun on the way back too! :) We came down from the right but maybe the left would be slightly easier?]
[We crossed several clear, cool streams on our way to Devon Mountain.]
[This valley is deeper than you'd think when viewing from Quartzite Col! Notice the height loss still ahead of us before we finally start getting closer to Devon Mountain (right). ++]
We went easily up the Northwest ridge on loose, steep scree and rock before topping out at a rather knife-edged ridge just before the summit - very unexpected! It was a nice surprise to find that Devon wasn't just a simple scree slog, but actually involved some hands-on scrambling and exposure before giving up her summit. We were delighted to summit under partially sunny skies considering that the forecast had made a summit on Thursday seem faily uncertain. The views were a bit hazy but we enjoyed them anyway and soon started down again - we still had to navigate our way below Willingdon to find a good bivy. The good news was that Willingdon, Crown and Tower all looked fairly dry and snow free.
[Ben comes up the lower scree slog on Devon's Northwest ridge.]
[A view through a gap in the ridge of Willingdon (L), Crown and Tower (R)]
[Eric comes up a narrower section of ridge with many Banff peaks visible across the Clearwater Valley behind him, including Mosquito, Ramp and Quartzite. ++]
[Steven went ahead of us (left his pack behind) and here you can see him coming back down the crux ridge section as we climb up it (tiny dot on top of photo).]
[Looking off the summit ridge north towards Watermelon, Bobac (L) and Clearwater (R). ++]
[Looking north and east off the summit. The two smaller Devon lakes clearly visible along with Clearwater (L), Willingdon, Crown, Tower and Three Brothers (R). ++]
[Vern finally bags the summit of Devon Mountain!]
[You might think there's a lot of ascents of such an 'easy' peak but most people don't bother. We were the 10th recorded ascent party in the register. ++]
[Willingdon (L), Crown and Tower (R) from the summit. They look dry! For now anyway...]
[Ben descends the ridge ahead of me.]
[Eric comes down behind - you can see that the upper ridge goes a bit beyond a simple scree bash, but nothing above moderate scrambling with exposure.]
[Ben descends easier terrain just above the big, loose rubble slope to the valley below.]
[A look at where we go next with Eric descending the ridge on the right. ++]
After descending to our gear (we emptied our packs before ascending) we continued on to find a bivy beneath Willingdon's south ridge.