I was getting a bit antsy after spending too much time in the concrete jungle for the past few weeks and decided, against my better judgment, to join Phil on a dubious snowshoe ascent of the mighty Kent Ridge, South Peak on Sunday, January 21, 2018. The trip promised to be more tolerable thanks to the addition of a few more people to assist with trail breaking - Robin and Ryan agreed to join us for some reason or another. I didn't even know where this minor peak was, to be honest, until Phil mentioned Bob had done it. After some deliberation, however, we decided to follow a more southerly route than Bob's, mostly due to the avalanche rating of 'considerable'. I don't usually venture into any avalanche terrain in ratings above 'moderate', so that precluded Bob's route up the more south westerly aspect to a slightly higher summit, closer to the summit of Mount Kent.
Obviously there is really only one summit along this whole ridge, Mount Kent, but I had already completed a scenic scramble of Kent Ridge, higher and further along it to the north, and there was some attraction to complete the entire ridge with an ascent of its south end. I was a bit leery of the snow conditions, remembering what Gypsum Ridge - just across the Smith Dorrien road, was like back when I snowshoed it with the family in December of 2013. This was looking like a very short day, so we agreed to meet at the late hour of 09:30 by the trailhead. After surviving a ridiculous amount of traffic on both Hwy 1 and 40, I was happy to see plenty of blue sky as I parked the truck and got out to meet the others. It was nice to be doing a trip with Robin again - our last one being the excellent and interminable Poboktan Mountain. For some reason she's been a bit nervous to join Phil and I on any more adventures after that longer-than-expected outing...
I'd never met Ryan before, so I listened carefully as Robin and Phil explained his personality to me in great detail (within his earshot of course). After fair warnings on each other's personalities, we tramped across the Smith Dorrien road (also very busy) and made for some old 'shoe tracks heading into ominous looking bush above the road. As you can tell, I was clearly "feeling it" today. To be honest, the sun was shining in a brilliant blue sky filled with interesting clouds and there wasn't a breath of wind, so at this point I was feeling pretty happy to be back out in the hills again. That feeling wouldn't last long.
[As we ascend the slopes above the Smith Dorrien Road there are many cars driving along it.]
The old 'shoe tracks turned left and continued along the High Rockies Trail. This wasn't what we wanted, so Phil headed up the treed slopes on our right and a good ol' fashioned bushwhack began. I should point out that Phil ran 40km the day previous, so it's kind of crazy that he had enough energy to do as much trailbreaking as he did! I'm giving him a compliment up front, because now I'm going to complain about his choice of route. I have one piece of advice for this diminutive 'summit'. Only do it if you're bored and / or desperate for an outing on snowshoes during elevated avalanche conditions. Due to its aspect and the nature of shrubbery, downed trees and mellow terrain, this isn't a snowshoe for the faint of heart. We followed another set of old tracks for about 100m before they (wisely) gave up and probably went to enjoy some cold bevvies, or perhaps burn their snowshoes. If you don't believe me, consider that we took 5 hours to ascend less than 600m and go a total of around 5.5km! That's 1km/h including the descent! Now consider that Phil and I have done off trail trips covering 31km and 2700m of height gain in around 15 hours. That's about all I'm going to say about the first 500 vertical meters of the 560 vertical meters of this route.
[If you still venture up this route after seeing this photo, you give up all rights to complain about it afterwards.]
[Robin's turn to break trail. The punchy crust about a foot down was a PITA.]
The redeeming quality of the day was twofold. First of all, we enjoyed good conversation among the three that weren't breaking trail. Whoever was breaking trail was usually too busy shoving their heart back in their chest in between giant steps in up to crotch deep snow, to join the conversation. It's comical how easy it is to follow someone who is wallowing in crappy, unconsolidated snow just in front of you. Unless the front person was Phil, in which case the second person still had to break trail since he's so light, he floated on top of the crust half the time, and none of the rest of us did. The second redeeming quality of the day was the weather and views. Unexpectedly, we had gorgeously warm and generous sunshine and some sublime views back over Kananaskis Lakes as we slowly inched our way higher. (Yes, I'm purposefully glossing over the horrible bushwhack / unconsolidated snow we thrashed up for the first few hours in order to remain positive.)
[Crikey! We do this for fun right?!]
[This photo makes it look way too easy.]
[Robin, Ryan and Phil take in some views over the Kananaskis Lakes (out of photo to the right).]
[Crotch deep and uphill - this is getting ridiculous!]
[I break trail behind Phil. He only sank 8" here, while I plunged up to 24" at times. Clearly I need to start running a billion km per week just like Phil does.]
[Ok - this is slowly becoming worth it as our views open up over the Kananaskis Lakes.]
[More views start to open up towards Warspite and Invincible.]
It took hours of effort, but finally we were rewarded with views of the diminutive, treed summit and incredible vistas back over the Smith Dorrien and Kananaskis Valleys. Ryan broke trail up to the summit where we experienced our first wind of the day. I was surprised how much higher than Gypsum Ridge we were.
[The mighty summit appears!]
[Robin breaks trail towards the summit on the most supportive snow we had all day. ++]
[It's Ryan's turn to break trail up the final slope to the summit bump.]
[Nice views from the ascent of the summit bump looking towards the Opal Range and the Kananaskis Lakes.]
[One more tree wallow to go, as Ryan crests the summit ridge above me.]
[Robin and Phil break onto the summit ridge.]
[Views from the summit looking east (L) and south (R) towards the Opal and Elk Ranges.]
[Mount Lawson lies immediately to the north across Kent Creek.]
[The best views were from just under the summit looking south over the Kananaskis Lakes (L) and towards the Spray Mountains including Mounts Invincible, Warspite and Black Prince. ++]
[Gypsum Ridge in the foreground with an old mining road running along its north aspect. Note the swinging bridge along the High Rockies trail at lower right.]
[Great lighting to the south towards Mount Rae, Gap Mountain, Storm Mountain and Mist Mountain.]
[A wider view over the Lower Kananaskis Lake with the Elk Range at left looking through Elk Pass at center. At right are peaks such as Mount Fox and Indefatigable.]
[Across Smith Dorrien Creek lie Mount Invincible (L) and Mount Warspite (R).]
[Mount Kent lies further along the ridge to the NW, including the bump that Bob Spirko snowshoed.]
[Mount Smith Dorrien, Mount Murray and CEGFNS loom across the Smith Dorrien road.]
[Looking NW along Kent Ridge and Mount Kent.]
[Ryan takes in the views just beneath the summit.]
After taking in the great views from the top, we decided to shelter just over the summit cornice before heading back down. This worked well for about 2.5 minutes until the wind picked up. We quickly tired of the blowing snow and decided to descend a bit further for another, less chilly break. This worked well and after a nice warm siesta in the afternoon sun it was time for a quick return. The descent was much easier and more pleasant than our laborious ascent, even the bits through the tangled mess of trees and shrubs nearer the road. Soon we were back at the vehicles, looking back up at the summit and wondering how the heck that took ~5 hours to complete!
[Phil takes a break just over the summit cornice before heading down. Note the blowing snow.]
[Whose idea was this break spot?!]
[Much more fun on the descent.]
[The scenery was acceptable in short bursts.]
[Robin prefers the descent too.]
[Back in the suck.]
[This is the easy part of the suck. Just up ahead there is blowdown and dense shrubbery waiting to embrace you.]
[Still a gorgeous day as we descend to the road.]
[Our peak lies just over the trees at left of center here.]
All kidding aside, this was a good day out with friends in nice winter conditions. I can't really recommend this easy snowshoe out of good conscience. Sure! It has some decent views and is very safe, even in elevated avalanche conditions, but there are more well-traveled options in the area including Gypsum Ridge and the South End of Lawson that are also very safe. You've been warned.