On Remembrance Day, November 11, 2009 I joined Bill Kerr, Wietse Bylsma and Kelly Smith for a hike up Mount Howard in Kananaskis Country in the front ranges of the Alberta Rockies.
Mount Howard is located in the vicinity of Compression Ridge, Nihahi Ridge, Mount Fullerton and Mount Bryant and is has similar geology to these mountains as well. Howard is an easy scramble, but it's a mighty long ways to the middle of nowhere so plan your trip accordingly!
We left the parking area at 08:00 and started the long tramp up Canyon Creek. Within 20 minutes or so we were passing the right hand (south) valley turn off for Mount Bryant. I stored that bit of information away for another day. (Bryant is another good off season objective and I haven't done that one yet.)
[We start the long trudge up Canyon Creek. Part of Mount Howard can be seen in the far distance left of center.]
[Some ice hanging off Bryant's steep slopes at upper right and Howard's lower slopes in the upper left.]
The wind was cool in our faces but the weather was quite nice for November. We were expecting to have lots of wind anyway - this area is famous for it. Bill told us that certain parties spend a few days in this area training for high altitude climbs such as Aconcagua because of the wind! After trudging up the creek for about 1:15 and much discussion over the economy and investment strategies we were looking at a small cairn and the ascent ridge for Howard. We hadn't gained any elevation worth mentioning to this point and it was a bit of a shock to start using the legs in earnest after already spending so much time walking! I was wearing my huge mountaineering boots in an effort to keep my feet warm and dry. This was a successful strategy but the downside was that walking 22km in these boots was a test for my knees and feet.
As we climbed the first part of the ridge the wind died right off. This was an unexpected bonus. The views of Mount Bryant and Compression Ridge opened up as we got higher. The ridge is quite a bit further than it looks on photos!
[Starting up the lower ridge on Howard - nearly 2 hours into the trip already!]
[The team comes up the lower ridge, high above Canyon Creek.]
[Looking south to the summit from the ridge - it's not the obvious high point here but further and slightly left. ++]
[Looking back at the rest of the team coming up the ridge. Bryant on the left, Compression on the right. ++]
[The views into the Canyon Creek headwaters to the west include a plethora of unnamed summits in the Fisher Range. McDougall may be visible at far right.]
[Looking a long way back at the team and the ridge.]
After trudging along for another 2 hours we were finally getting close to the summit. The wind started to pick up again and before long it was quite cold and windy and fresh snow was starting to fall. We bypassed some of the bumps on the ridge, but to be honest it's not really worth it for most of them. I would say only the bump with the obvious sheep track bypassing it is worth the hassle - especially with snow and ice on the route. The few snow slopes we crossed were either wind loaded on slab or ice hard. Not the best terrain to be crossing but most were very small pockets with no serious run out issues.
[Wow! That summit is still a long way off! It's the far apex just left of center here.]
[Crossing intermediary bumps on the ridge as we work our way further and further into the Fisher Range of mountains - most of which are unnamed. ++]
[Thankfully we can bypass some of the bumps easily on goat trails.]
[Some easy scrambling terrain - again looking back at the rest of the team and the approach ridge.]
[A Y-junction that we took advantage of on descent - heading down the right branch while we ascended the left one.]
[The summit is getting closer. These snow slopes were rock hard in most places with some soft wind slab forming.]
[One more trudge before we're on top - but the weather is turning dismal.]
Once I finally made the summit, I couldn't find the register anywhere! The weather was closing in and I wanted to make sure this was the top. I wasn't about to turn around only to discover that the true summit was close by... After waiting for a few minutes on the top the weather deteriorated even more. Pretty soon I couldn't see the lower col and started to get really cold. Just then the other 3 guys came up and we quickly took some summit shots and prepared to go down. Our descent was looking a bit dicey as we couldn't see 50 feet with the blowing snow.
[Wow - not many views to be had from this summit!]
[Kelly is having a blast - literally.]
[Vern 'enjoying' the summit of Mount Howard.]
Just before heading down I spotted the register tucked into the north side of the cairn. I quickly signed it for everyone, noting that Alan Kane had placed it in the year 2000. Not a lot of people bother coming all the way in here but with the publishing of Nugara's book and the ease of this peak I'm sure that'll change over the next 10 years or so. The trek back down Howard was interesting, especially for the first 45 minutes or so. We were blasted by a frontal system that came very close to blowing us off the mountain a few times! Fresh snow, combined with the wind, conspired to take away any views that we had and made for tricky navigation. We had Kelly's GPS unit in case we were in real trouble but didn't end up needing it. It's funny how tricky things can get in the span of 10 minutes. You go from knowing exactly where you are and how to get down, to being lost in a world of snow and cold and no clear idea where you are!
[Time to escape the gale.]
[The weather slowly starts improving as we descend.]
About 45 minutes from the summit on the way down the weather improved dramatically again. We descended the alternate route and it worked great. The snow was ankle to knee deep in the trees but smaller stream out to the Canyon Creek valley wasn't too bad.
[A glance back to the summit.]
[The weather clears as we descend. From L to R, McDougall, Wasootch Ridge, Bryant, Compression Ridge. ++]
[The alternate descent ridge - note all the fresh snow now! Nihahi Ridge left of center in the distance.]
[Looking east down Nihahi Ridge. ++]
[Great views over Canyon Creek to Mount Bryant's impressive south and west faces.]
[An easy scrambling step on the ridge.]
[We will bail straight off this ridge - we ascended the ridge to the left.]
[More fun scrambling down the alternate descent ridge.]
[A wider view of the scramble section.]
[Lots of fresh snow as we hit the creek feeding into Canyon Creek.]
[This is starting to feel like winter now! Kelly breaks trail in the creek bed.]
[Great views along the creek leading to Canyon Creek.]
[Exiting to Canyon Creek - the alternate descent ridge in the bg just right of center.]
The long trudge out was - well it was long! The trudge in and out from Howard really reminded me of Mount Fullerton. So it you've done that one, you know what to expect. An enjoyable day out in the off season with good friends.
[Looking out of our exit canyon to the south face of Mount Bryant.]
[Impressive buttress on Bryant's south face.]
[A slightly wider view of Mount Bryant as we start the long trudge out of Canyon Creek.]
[Canyon Creek is still flowing near the parking lot.]