Mount James Walker has been on my radar for a number of years. I wanted to save it for off-season since it's a pretty easy objective but I also wanted it to be fall and fairly nice weather because the rumor was that it was a perfect objective with fall colors.
On Saturday, October 13 2012 I met Wietse in the Sawmill parking lot under a very grey and threatening sky - not quite the nice weather I was looking for!
[I stopped to snap some photos of this moose and the morning glow on on a nearby peak]
[The moose crosses the road without giving me too much attention.]
[At least I got a great sunrise out of the gloomy skies.]
[Sunrise on Invincible.]
Oh well. We knew we were taking a chance with extreme winds and the possibility of morning rain in the forecasts. The trail to the first lake was basically snow-free which was more than I was expecting after my experience on Old Baldy and McDougall the week previous! Obviously the front ranges received more snow for some reason. We could see that there was some fresh snow up high but it didn't look very deep.
[The approach trail is quite obvious.]
[A grey morning as we approach the first lake. The moderate scramble route goes straight up the slope in the background. We contoured around it on climber's right and then left to the summit on 600 vertical meters of scree / snow slope.]
After the first lake we made our way through some scrappy trail sections to the headwall cliff band and then up a good trail on climber's left. After the headwall we contoured straight over the hump to the back of the valley, around the moderate scramble route on climber's right. On hindsight we could have contoured around this bump on climber's right but it wasn't a lot of extra gain so no big deal. Snow levels were WAY lower than I was expecting and we traveled fairly quick until the back of the valley.
[Working our way above the lake.]
[A small waterfall coming off Mount Inflexible.]
[Looking back at our ascent route and the lake from just above the headwall cliff band. The cliff is to the left of this photo.]
[The moderate route goes up the slopes at left. We contoured around this on climber's right before heading up easy slopes.]
[Looking towards the back of the approach valley. The moderate route is out of sight to the left.]
From the bottom of the final ascent slopes it's still 600 vertical meters to the summit. Normally this would have sucked on loose scree but we had just enough snow to kick firm(ish) steps all the way up! Wietse led quite a bit of it since my toes were so cold I could hardly kick steps! :( My toes are getting worse circulation every year - I've been abusing them for years and now they're paying me back I guess.
[Looking back at our approach as we start the final slog to the summit.]
[Looking back at Wietse as we climb up the final 600 vertical meters. Mount Inflexible in the background.]
[Still a ways to go. The summit is hidden in clouds - the route goes right up beside the drop to the east.]
[Taking advantage of the snow - this made our round trip time much quicker than if we didn't have the snow.]
The final 300 vertical meters was a bit depressing because we had snow, wind and NO views at all. We didn't really know where the summit was until we finally realized we were there already! After a few useless photos (no views) we headed down.
[It was windy and cold the higher we went.]
[Wietse with the summit cairn and great views in all directions. Too bad we can't see them. :)]
Of course 5 minutes later the clouds started to lift! Oh well. We plunge-stepped down the snow slopes and made very short work of the first 600 vertical meters. The rest of the hike out was fairly pleasant - the promised hurricane-force winds never did materialize for us (thank goodness!). On our way out I noticed another group of 8 making their way along the upper alpine meadows. I have no idea if they were going for the summit but if they did they probably got better views than we did!
[The clouds start to lift as we descend. Hwy 40 just visible here. ++]
[Plunge stepping down 600 vertical meters!]
[Inflexible on the right. ++]
[I'm sure this is much nicer in good weather]
[Wietse descends behind me to the first lake.]
[As we pass the first lake the sun even comes out - briefly]
[A pleasant hike out]
I'm sure this is a gorgeous area in the summer / fall - I was surprised by the number of small tarns in the upper alpine meadows - but for us it was a little drab. The scrambling was very easy and the day ended up being short too.