On Saturday, March 05 2016 Mike Mitchell (Giant's Gate Journeys) and I left my truck (parked the wrong way on a one way for some reason...) at the Yamnuska parking lot and headed off up an obscure cut line on an adventure to scramble End Mountain and hopefully Association Peak and Hill along the way. Alan Kane and Kris Thorstenstein scrambled both of these peaks in 1989 via the Yamnuska (Yam) shoulder, and for some reason neither of them appeared in Kane's scramble book. Apparently the latest & greatest way to approach these two mountains on the eastern front ranges is to access them from easy approach roads via First Nation's land to the east with a free permit that must be obtained beforehand. Since Mike and I didn't have a permit, we chose to access them the semi-hard way - via the Yam shoulder and old roads around the east end of the shoulder.
Back in 2008, Raf Kazmierczak followed Bob Spirko's 2007 ascent route up Association Peak and attempted to traverse the ridge to End Mountain, roughly 1.5 kilometers to the north. Raf confidently stated that the traverse was "not doable" due to a series of large gaps requiring technical mountaineering and a "mother of all gaps" stopping even a roped team from continuing. At the time, Raf indicated that he was going to attempt the SE ridge next, which looked to be "less than 5.5 climbing" - but obviously still looked fairly intimidating from his angle on the upper ridge.
Fast forward to June of 2014 and Raf was back at it - determined to bag End from Association! And he did! By utilizing an impressive route around a large ledge system on the west side of the traverse from Association to End, Raf and his group managed to squeeze their way up a rock chimney to access the rubbly summit slope of End and tag the peak via a 'new' (not widely published) scramble route. For some reason I didn't read of too many folks attempting this new route until Phil Richards and some friends did a combined run / scramble of Association and End in an extremely fast 8.5 hour day via the Yam shoulder in late February 2016 and found another 'new' (unpublished) moderate scrambling route down the east face of End just south of the east ridge - no 5.5 climbing necessary!
Thanks to modern social media, it would only take a week or so before hordes of eager scramblers, including myself and Mike (and at least 3 others already!), would take advantage of Phil's trip report of the new, easier route to the summit of End Mountain via the east face / ridge. I'm not sure why Association and End are so popular but folks seem eager to bag them in the scrambling / hiking off-season. I think it must be pent up scrambling energy combined with the fact that these two peaks are both easily visible and impressive from hwy 1 when approaching the Rockies from the east. That's certainly the case with me anyway!
I've done the Yam shoulder height gain / loss several times including for Wendell, East End of Wendell and even Association Peak (before I knew it could be combined with End). I was wary of the long, tiring approach and was surprised myself that I was doing it yet AGAIN after swearing it off the last time! I told Mike that although I was keen on tagging End, I was not going to ascend Association for a second time. Initially the plan was that we would ascend End up the east face / ridge rather than descending it, and then Mike would proceed to Association Peak while I would descend our ascent route and tag Association Hill before we'd meet up again lower down on the approach trail. You know what they say about plans right?!
[At first light, Mike and headed up the 'shortcut' route to the Yam shoulder from the parking lot.]
I remembered the general theme of the approach route that Bill, Wietse and I took on Association Peak back in 2013, but thanks to a data purge on my part, the GPS track was lost to me which resulted in us making some minor navigation errors. The gist of the shortcut route over the Yam shoulder is to use a cut line on the very edge of the Provincial Park boundary to gain height about half way up the shoulder before trending climber's right around the east nose of the shoulder on lightly forested / open grassy slopes. Once around the nose, there are several old roads that can be used to navigate down to Old Fort Creek. From the creek bed the route is obvious and eventually joins with the more traditional Yam shoulder route. The morning flew by pretty quickly until we hit the old roads, which were covered in a disappointing amount of snow. The forest beside the roads was almost completely melted out. Thankfully there were some old animal and snow shoe tracks that supported our weight, but it did slow us down a bit.
[Mike follows me through Birch forest and alongside grassy slopes around the east end of the Yam shoulder.]
[Yamnuska in the background as we continue our traverse. ++]
[Much more snow than I was hoping to see, but it stayed frozen for us - thank goodness!]
Once we finally descended to Old Fort Creek we had a great view of all three destinations ahead of us - a LONG way ahead! We followed the dry creek bed and flowing stream up valley before taking the obvious trail (cairn in the creek bed to the left of it) to the Association col between the peak and the hill. My dumb knees were feeling a bit weak all day already to this point but I decided my cardio was still good so stubbornly pushed on.
[Hiking alongside Old Fort Creek with Association Peak in the distance, End just visible through trees to the right.]
[More Birch forest on the approach to the Association col. Association Hill rising in the bg to the right.]
[Looking back at the approach from near the Association Hill / Peak col. East end of Wendell and Yamnuska in the far distance. ++]
The road from the col down towards End Mountain was again, covered in snow. As a matter of fact, the bowl between the lower Association and End slopes had quite a bit of snow in it and we ended up in knee deep patches on our traverse towards the northeast end of End. The route was pretty obvious to this point and there were many approach options. Gullies along the way added some interesting bits of terrain.
[Mike hikes down the road from the Association Pass. End Mountain looms on the far left and we are aiming for the grassy slopes at skyline just left and above Mike's head here. If you obtain a permit from the First Nations in the area, you can drive and approach from the right side of this photo.]
[Higher than Association Hill (left of center), looking back at our approach and Association Peak on the right as we work our way up the gully to the east ridge of End. Click to enlarge and view my descent route from Association Peak (red) and approach route from Association Col (green). ++]
[You know you're on route when you see this oddly shaped pinnacle above and to your left. You should never be south of this landmark when you're higher up - not even close.]
Once I arrived at the bottom of the SE gully off the east ridge of End, I carefully followed Phil's GPS track towards impressive pinnacles towering high above. A traverse between two lower ridges took us across a steep, icy drainage. Make sure you catch this traverse as the drainage could be problematic to cross higher up, especially with snow and ice like we had. The obvious pinnacle soaring above us was a great route marker as we slowly gained height beside it on climber's right, but still well to the left of the east ridge proper. We gained height on loose scree and grass before heading right to the edge of the east ridge to check out the rest of the route from there.
[Following Phil's groups week old tracks made finding the right place to cross the last gully easier. Except for Mike, who missed the tracks and ended up a bit too high! ;)]
[Note the 'zag' in the approach route on the east ridge of End through the letter 't' that crosses a stream. This is one key navigation point. Another is the 'zigs' up to the main summit higher on the east ridge where the route deviates south off the ridge and the descent chimney and proper ledge on the west side of End to Association - best to download the .gpx and examine these in more detail using mapping software.]
[Across the last approach gully now, looking across and up at the pinnacle.]
[Looking across the gully (note the tracks) where we crossed. The terrain above is pretty steep, especially with snow and ice. Mike descended 50 meters back to this spot after unsuccessfully looking for a safe way across where he ended up.]
[Still not on the east ridge proper (the route never actually follows the east ridge but stays under it to the south) - looking back over our approach and the prairies beyond. Association Hill looks tiny now! ++]
[Looking down at Mike scrambling through the section I took the previous photo from.]
[Looking up at the cliffs that we'll traverse south (left) under - but not until we're level with the base of them.]
From the east ridge proper, we had great views north to Black Rock and Phantom Craig but our view of the east ridge was very intimidating! (5.5 at least - I guess Raf was right about the ridge after all... :)) Thanks to Phil's route description and GPS track, we knew that we had to traverse climber's left under some serious cliff bands, and pick our way up to the summit of End, through loose gullies and under several pinnacles and cliff bands. Even with a GPS track, we managed to get off route a few times due to the tight terrain, but keeping in mind that the route is only 'moderate' scrambling, we managed to find our way through. I built several cairns to assist myself on descent as Mike would be needing my GPS to continue on to Association afterwards. There were some slabby, slightly exposed sections through here that had serious consequences for a slip. I recommend only small experienced groups tackle this route - especially if you are descending it 'blind' - i.e. coming down without going up first. For reference, Association Peak is extremely easy hiking compared to End!
[Too far climbers right (on the east ridge proper), looking up at the east ridge and the reason we ain't going this way!! ;) ++]
[Views off the east ridge are great already - looking north past Phantom Crag and Orient Point to Black Rock (R).]
[Looking down the lower scree slope that we came up (from the left).]
[Mike starts the traverse from the east ridge view point towards me, under the first set of cliff bands. ++]
[A very natural 'cairn' marks the first key landmark in the traverse south from near the east ridge across the east face. This is obviously looking back. ++]
[From near the same spot as the previous photo, this is looking at the route ahead and the 'moderate' scrambling section where you really don't want to slip! The route goes left along the bottom of the photo and then up grippy limestone into the second gully on the left. The gully directly above me here is *not* scrambling terrain. ++]
[The same place as the last two photos, but this time I'm looking east and south to Association Hill and past the Pinnacle (R). ++]
[Mike comes up behind me.]
[Looking down the moderate section - you can spot the natural cairn along the base of the cliff on the left, just under the line of trees. ++]
[Looking up at the final scree grunt to the summit of End, from the top of the moderate section. Still lots of loose terrain here - a large group is not advised.]
[Looking down the scree / slab slope below the summit - note the pinnacle - the route traverses down this gully and then away from that pinnacle to skier's left.]
[Plodding up easy slopes to the summit.]
The final open scree slope to the summit was a bit of a drag, but soon we were standing on the summit of End Mountain with great views in all directions. Dark clouds were looming to the west, but didn't seem very close at this point so we didn't worry about it. Even the infamous Chinook winds were pretty tame and we enjoyed a quick break before continuing our separate ways.
[Interesting register with the indefatigable Rick Collier placing it of course! Kane and Thorstenstein were up here in '89 so likely it was their register that this one replaced.]
[Someone expected a first ascent? :) If you read the bottom comment, it's begging Alan Kane to keep this one out of his scramble book, perhaps giving light to some folks' sentiments about his guidebook when it first came out?]
[Some pretty famous local signatures in this register - and not many others.]
[Spectacular views to the west, north and east off the summit including the South Ghost River in the fg and Fable, Charles Stewart, Peechee, Girouard, Inglismaldie, Saddle, Costigan, Orient Point, Phantom Crag (might be hidden) and Black Rock mountains beyond (L to R). ++]
[Looking east at Broken Leg and Ghost Lakes and south towards Association Peak and the Kananaskis front ranges beyond including, Ole Buck, Cox Hill, Moose, Baldy, Bryant, McDougall, Fisher, EPOW, Wendell, Morrowmount, Fable, Charles Stuart, Peechee and others. ++]
[Black Rock Mountain]
[A great view over the South Ghost towards, Orient Point, Costigan and Saddle (R to L). ++]
[It's snowing on Fisher Peak to the south.]
[Another view south, over the TCH at Cox Hill and Moose Mountain.]
[Mount Fable shows up over the twin summits of Morrowmount in the foreground.]
[Mount Costigan is high on my 'to-do' list.]
[A gorgeous wall of rock on the south side of Orient Point.]
[The Ghost Lake reservoir is clearly visible to the east.]
[The city of Calgary is visible across the plains to the east.]
[One more shot towards Black Rock over the Ghost River before it meets with the South Ghost - Orient on the left.]
Just as Mike was leaving for his traverse to Association, I had a change of heart and decided the better option was for me to join him, rather than go back down End on my own. There were two reasons for my decision. Number one was the safety factor. We're both experienced scramblers but separating our paths, this far from the car and with all the navigation issues involved in both routes had me concerned. Number two was the fact that the ledge traverse looked fun and interesting, while the return via the east ridge of End to the Association col wasn't that exciting.
[Mike starts the traverse towards Association Peak - it looks so easy and close from here!! ++]
We followed the south ridge of End for a couple hundred meters to the next high point before trending down to skier's right - aiming for the chimney that Raf's group used to break the line of cliffs. Even with a GPS track this chimney wasn't entirely straightforward to find from above. Being 15m off Phil's track meant we were 12m higher and 3 meters east, separated from his ledge by a serious cliff band! We saw a choke stone in a steep gully but with no obvious way over it, we tried descending skier's left alongside and got ourselves cliffed out pretty quick. After kicking rocks down (very loose terrain), I was surprised to see someone on a wide scree ledge beneath us, probably sheltering himself from the barrage we were sending down his way! We yelled back and forth - he was wondering where we came from and whether or not he was at the correct chimney to escape his ledge. We figured out that he probably was, and soon he was scrambling up the gully as we made our way towards it, now beneath the choke stone on skier's left of it.
[Looking back along the summit ridge of End as we traverse to the chimney (below to the left here). ++]
["Is this the right one?". Yep. It is. The easier route to the chimney descends to the right of it here, before trending back left into the chimney well below the chockstone . We didn't realize this and went down on the left side before traversing into it.]
[Looking for the route. We're too far north here - the chimney is just behind Mike here. ++]
The solo scrambler broke climber's left out of the gully (opposite side we were on) well before reaching the chockstone , turning up towards a cairn on the scree slopes under the summit, that we had missed on our descent (we went left when we should have gone right after seeing the chockstone from above). We asked him what the gully was like and he told us it would be OK but had some 'tricky' sections near the bottom. He was planning to exit the east ridge route and I assured him there was a moderate scramble route with freshly built cairns if he looked hard enough for it. We parted ways and Mike and I traversed into the chimney.
Here's where things got interesting. The first thing to note about the chimney is that it's *not* a 'moderate' Kane scramble, despite several hints out there that it might be. I've done many (all) of the Kane moderates including the tougher ones and this one is not like any of those. The only reason I stress this point is to save future scramblers who aren't comfortable with difficult scrambling a lot of grief if they get to this part of the route (a long way from the parking lot!) and wonder where the heck the 'moderate' route is and possibly get hurt trying to find it or navigating to a much more difficult one.
[Looking down the chimney from where the cairn route exits or enters depending whether you're approaching or leaving it. Note the ice in the gully bottom - we had to stem over it.]
[Mike stems down the chimney, trying to stay off the ice.]
[Looking up the chimney at the top chockstone . The route out of the chimney is just above this spot to climber's left.]
With lots of snow the chimney might feel easier than for us - we only had hard snow and ice along the bottom of it. Also, climbing up the gully is much easier than down it - it has good hand holds and fairly solid rock where you need it. One of the reasons Phil's group looked for another route down the east ridge in the first place, is because of the difficulties they foresaw descending the chimney. Going down was pretty easy stemming on dry rock for the most part, but with ice in the gully bottom, there was absolutely zero room for a slip, which made it feel a bit harder. The toughest part wasn't the ice or the stemming though, it was the escape from the bottom.
An awkward side step got us in position to get over the boulder blocking the chimney exit, but here the holds ran completely out! Mike did a few awkward moves before dropping down, banging his shin pretty hard in the process. I was quite tired by this point and not 'feeling it' - my legs were really shot as I tried to find a reasonable way down the last 6-8 feet. Eventually I sort of gave up and handed my camera down to Mike before asking him to spot me. I hung from a good hold and lowered my feet around 6-8 feet with outstretched arms before dropping the last foot or so - onto a small icy patch of snow. It worked out OK, but again, this isn't what a lot of people would be comfortable doing on a 'moderate' scramble route!! ;) The good thing is that you're likely not going to die if you fall on this crux, that's why it's still only a class 3 scramble.
[The crux is getting up or down this lower blockage in the chimney. As you can see, the lower part is over hanging with few good holds which makes descending rather tricky! I clung to the horn about half way down and then lowered my body as low as it would go before dropping - not the most elegant solution but it worked. :) With more snow it might be a bit easier but with ice it would be very tricky.]
[The entrance (or exit, in our case) to the chimney from the scree ledge.]
After the crux, we still had to pick our way along the ledge to the Association col. We didn't have any issues and enjoyed the terrain / scenery along the way immensely. I was very happy with my decision to join Mike, even if it meant pretty much re-ascending Association Peak. At the col, Mike continued on easy slopes to the summit of Association while I slowly picked my way down the large bowl to the north. I didn't find the trail, but had no major difficulties with the descent. Since I was about 30 minutes ahead of Mike, I lounged around at the pass between Association Peak and Hill and waited in warm sunshine, until it became a blizzard. Thankfully Mike joined me just as I was bundling up against the brief snow squall and we headed up the easy NW ridge of Association Hill.
[Part way along the ledge traverse, looking back at the area around the escape chimney - click to view an approximate location. ++]
[Mike on the ledge traverse. ++]
[We could have stayed higher here but dropped down instead and went around the far corner on the lower lodge at the level Mike is now. You can see a big notch above Mike to the left - this is the reason a direct route is difficult between End and Association.]
[Another great vantage point along the traverse, looking back towards Costigan and Orient Point. ++]
[Another look along the impressive cliff band blocking the traverse. ++]
[This erosion is both impressive and terrifying. Impressive because of all the cool caves and features. Terrifying because obviously the rock is very manky and falls apart easily and you have to walk underneath it. :)]
[Almost done the traverse - soon we would head up to our left on easy scrambling terrain.]
[Finally on the ridge of Association Peak - we traversed left of the first bump and then Mike continued to the summit in the distance while I contoured down to the left. Association Hill was our final destination - it's the tiny bump down and to the left of the main summit here. ++]
[Looking back at End Mountain - the notches not visible from here. The ledge route down and to the left of this photo, the east route comes in from the right. ++]
[Mike continues on easy hiking terrain to the summit of Association peak while I start contouring down here to the far ridge on easy / moderate scrambling terrain.]
[Moderate scrambling down low cliff bands as I work my way across the north bowl of Association Peak to the far ridge before contouring around it and down to Association Pass. End Mountain is visible here again on the left.]
[The sun is already casting long shadows as I work around the east end of Association (shadow in the fg). End Mountain rising impressively on the left.]