I took Wednesday, July 14 2010 off work and headed to K-Country to scramble one of my last remaining Kane peaks with Keith and So - Cougar Mountain. The weather forecast was dismal for this day but since we had all booked it already it wasn't worth another cancelation. The summer weather so far in 2010 has been dismal at best!
Like it so often happens, as I drove closer and closer to the front ranges the clouds started to dissipate and by the time I pulled into the parking area at 06:30 the sky was blue! I don't know why it's taken me so long to get to Cougar Mountain. Trip reports vary on this peak. Some people seem to think it's a pile of loose scree and hardly worth bothering with while others talk about it like it's a short day out with good views. I think it's just one of those peaks I wasn't that excited to go and do but now that I've done it, I've formed my own opinion.
My opinion on this peak is that it's a fairly short day (if you're fast you can do it after work in late June) with minimal treadmill scree (most of the scree is firm) and some great hands-on scrambling opportunities on the ridge. There is a nice bike approach with very minimal bushwhacking. The bike ride back to the parking lot is fast too. (NOTE: Since the epic floods of 2013 the Big Elbow Bike trail is still being repaired. Check for updated conditions on the Kananaskis web site.) I enjoyed Cougar Mountain as much, if not more, than other mountains in the Elbow area such as Fullerton, Nihahi and Glasgow. If I think about it now, I definitely enjoyed it the most of any Elbow area peaks except maybe Compression Ridge.
We biked just over the hill as described by Kane. It's probably worth going almost to the bottom of it, simply because there's no route finding that way. The bushwhack was very steep but surprisingly short.
[Keith looks for a clear way up from the bikes through the trees. He didn't find one.]
[Our views opened pretty quickly to the west, towards Tombstone Mountain.]
[So grunts up the only section of loose scree from tree line to the first shoulder.]
[We hike towards the lower shoulder - the weather station visible up ahead.]
The scree field was fairly solid for scree and we climbed up it quickly to the lower ridge. After that we got some hands-on scrambling to the false summit. The true summit looks close but takes a bit to get there. Again, some very nice hands-on scrambling through this section. More than I expected.
[So is going the 'scree route' at far left while Keith and I scramble along the ridge crest towards the first easy scrambling of the day. The summit at upper right is a false one - the true summit is far off yet. ++]
[The scrambling here is very enjoyable.]
[Great views looking back from the first scrambling step down our approach valley and the Elbow River. Banded and Outlaw peaks at left. ++]
[We ascended this small buttress directly just for fun - it can be easily bypassed on climber's left.]
[Keith is enjoying himself immensely.]
[Calgary is under rain clouds. Suckers.]
[More great views beneath the false summit, looking back. ++]
[From the false summit, the true summit is a depressingly distant view!]
[A sublime alpine tarn to the south is the headwaters of Cougar Creek. Bluerock, Rose and Burns in the distance. ++]
[Hiking along the ridge with views to the summit.]
[There is some moderate scrambling and exposure to the summit - most of the tough stuff can be avoided on climber's left.]
[So clears the scramble section - caution required here as it's very loose!]
[So and Keith throw rocks down at me as I climb. Just kidding! That would be very uncool.]
Summit views included Mount Rae and other Elbow Valley peaks like Glasgow, Banded, Outlaw and Cornwall. I also developed an interest in Three Point and Rose. The little tarn to the southeast looks like one of the world's nicest bivy spots and probably never gets visited. Bluerock and Mount Burns were also prominently visible.
[A great summit panorama! ++]
[Threepoint and Rose at far left with Bluerock to the right of center.]
[Impressive views of Mount Rae.]
[From L to R, Outlaw, Cornwall, Banded and Glasgow just visible.]
[Giant Mist Mountain to the south.]
[Incredibly, even Mount Assiniboine shows up!]
[Clouds pouring in over the divide.]
[Tombstone looms over the Big Elbow trail.]
[Vern, Keith and So at the summit of Cougar Mountain.]
[The lovely tarn would make an excellent bivy site.]
We descended quickly and our round trip time, including a 45 minute break at the summit, was 6 hours and 15 minutes, which is pretty darn quick for a 33km day! :)
[So descends with Banded Peak in the bg.]
[Descending the shoulder.]
[The buttress was fun down climbing too.]
[Feeling like we 'stole a day' on this one!]
[Threepoint looks like a mountain again! Rose out of sight to the right.]