After reading Andrew Nugara's trip reports on Noseeum Mountain in Banff National Park, I decided that it was a peak that I would be putting on my list.
Noseeum Creek and Lake interested me almost as much as the summit views and they did not disappoint!
On Friday, September 16 2011, I found myself with a day off and no scrambling partners. The weather had initially looked quite nasty for the icefields parkway regions but a glance at the weather forecast at 05:00 on Friday morning had me jumping in the truck and driving out to the trail head. I knew I'd have clouds and rain or snow, but the promise of some sunny breaks lured me out anyway.
Some days I'm more nervous about solo objectives than others. Ironically, the more remote the destination the more comfortable I seem to be with being alone. I've run into more wildlife and 'situations' in heavily populated and travelled areas than remote ones. I think when wildlife is stressed it tends to react worse to humans. In wild places the wildlife remains 'wild' and goes out of its way to avoid you. (That's my theory anyway!)
The hike up Noseeum Creek was extremely pleasant. Almost right away I had a surprise encounter with wildlife. Two tiny cutthroat trout were stranded in shallow water, trying desperately to get away from me! I did not know that cutties even existed in this part of Banff - especially in such a small stream. I coaxed them back into deeper water and continued on, wondering if the local bear population was aware of such an easy food source... ;-) The clouds were shedding some light snow on the peaks around me and I knew I'd eventually be in it, but there were enough patches of blue sky that I also figured I'd get some pretty amazing pictures. When I looked at the route on my map the day before, I was surprised by how short the day actually looked. Sure enough, before I knew it I was already looking up at the waterfalls coming down the Noseeum Creek headwall.
The headwall is the toughest scrambling by far on this outing. My recommendation is to go up what you intend to go down. I went up some pretty exposed terrain, thinking I could find an easier way down, but on descent I ended up going down even worse terrain trying to find easier stuff. I went up between the two main waterfalls, just on climber's left of the rightmost waterfall (most southerly). The terrain is steep and somewhat loose, but small ledges make it fairly manageable as upper moderate to difficult scrambling (Kane's ratings).
After the first headwall there is a forested plateau that I didn't expect. I worked my way to climber's left. The further you go left, the easier the route up the second headwall. I came down all the way on the left but went up somewhere in the middle where I found a break in the cliffs. You'll have to use your explorer's nose here. I was having a lot of fun tramping around, route finding and discovering the terrain. I found that the higher and further I went on this day, the less trails and human sign I saw. Once I broke through onto the Noseeum Lake plateau there was pretty much no human sign anymore. I put up a small cairn to guide my way back through the upper cliff band but never did use it since I found a much easier way down.
Once at Noseeum Lake the views were spectacular! Andromache, Unnamed and their small glacier along with Bow Peak and other Wapta summits were all on display. The lake is a typical small greenish blue tarn, nestled under soaring cliffs with karst pavement all around. Truly a magical area and definitely a worthy objective all on its own. If it wasn't 5 degrees with snow showers and wind I could have spent hours lollygagging around the lake shores. As it was, the cool weather kept me moving. I could see fresh snow on the upper mountain and the weather was acting a bit unpredictably so I decided to take the easiest route to the summit.
Noseeum Mountain has a few different options. You can loop around on the south side of the lake and up the southwest ridge before traversing over to the true summit. Apparently there is some 4th class terrain but nothing too difficult if you are careful about route selection. Another option is the 'direct route' which goes right up beneath the summit. This route is what Nugara and Raff did in the their succesful summit bid.
I took a third option and got extremely lucky. I knew that there were supposed to be some scree descent routes on the south slopes of the west ridge of Noseeum and decided with the snow and wind I would go up these slopes instead of just down them. Originally I was going to go up just west of a bump on the ridge but as I got closer I found a line through the cliff bands that looked like it would go and would save some traversing on the ridge. When I got up to the line, it did go - loose scree but mercifully short and fairly easy. When I got up on the ridge proper I saw my first cairn and realized that if I ascended my original line to the west of the 'bump' I would have been hooped. That bump did not appear to have an easy descent route over it and back to the ridge! Phew! Sometimes you just have to be lucky I guess.
From here the route was obvious and easy. The views were mind blowing and the snow covered rocks were interesting to negotiate without breaking an ankle. I went through a few moments on the way up where I was convinced that a peak further to the south was higher, but once I stepped to the cairn and saw the register it was obvious that I had indeed summitted the correct high point. There were only 6 or 7 entries in the register since 1999 so this is not an oft-visited peak. The views from the summit into the pipestone and molar pass areas were awesome, as expected. The dramatic play of clouds, snow and sun was perfect for photos.
I retraced my ascent route on descent and stuck to skier's right as much as possible through to the 2nd plateau. I descended some tricky terrain right at the bottom of the last waterfall which reminded me of the crux on Hawk Mountain. Just like on Hawk, there's an easier bypass to skier's left of this terrain (the way I ascended). The walk back to the truck was very pleasant and quick.
I loved this day out! Pristine views in a seldom visited paradise - it doesn't get any better than that.
A small cutthroat trout tries to flee across dry land.
Fall colors are out - you can just see the headwall in the distance.
Looking back at Bow Peak.
The two main waterfalls and the headwall.
I scrambled up this terrain and should have descended it too. Loose, but blocky with lots of little ledges.
Looking back down the approach valley and Noseeum Creek with Bow Peak in the background.
The waterfalls are pretty cool.
On the first plateau above the approach, an outlier of Andromache on the left.
At Noseeum Lake. Noseeum Mountain is buried in cloud to the left.
Noseeum Lake with snow. From left to right you have 6 'bumps'. I went up just to climber's right of the second bump from the left, went over the third bump and the fourth bump is the summit. You can also go to the right and traverse over to the summit that way, or go up directly under the summit. (Click for full size)
Very interesting and fun terrain around the lake. Here I'm heading north to the south scree slopes coming off the west ridge.
Looking back at the lake and terrain from part way up the scree slope.
I would have had to downclimb this if I came up the west ridge too far to the west... :-|
As it was, I was left with this hike to the summit (far right).
Vern on the summit of Noseeum Mountain. Molar to the left and Hector on the right with Andromache in front.
Good register, few ascents in the last 12 years.
Willingdon with Tower and Crown to it's right and Ramp and Mosquito in front.
Mount Balfour tries to make an appearance.
Great views into the Pipestone Pass area.
A beautiful tarn.
Mount Hector with Unnamed, Little Hector and Andromache in front.
Views on the way back down to the scree slope.
Part of the Dolomite Circuite ski route goes down this pass.
Looking down the scree ramp.
Waterfalls fall almost vertically off the small glacier on the north side of Andromache.
I went up between these two falls, right on climber's left of the rightmost falls. I came down on climber's right of the left falls. Confused yet? So was I... ;-)
Even the hike back is through some interesting terrain.