NOTE: Thanks to commercialization, the route and trip I describe and map here is no longer possible to do. Thankfully, there are other scrambling routes to the summit.
On Wednesday, June 28 2007, Jason Wilcox and I decided that we should bag a peak after work. According to JW this was not about having fun but was strictly for a cardio workout. We tried sticking to that theme but the mountain won us over and we ended up having fun AND getting a cardio workout!
Norquay is a very interesting scramble. The mountain is not big and there aren't very many places to get lost on the way up. BUT... In my experience these 'little mountains' can pack a big punch and Norquay did not disappoint.
We started up the grassy ski hill directly west of the lodge and quickly began gaining height. I was having some difficulty keeping up to JW but considering I was suffering a cold I didn't do too badly. Eventually even the giant had to slow down and we continued sweating and gaining height. The mosquitoes were absolutely BRUTAL. I remembered Sonny Bou mentioning these critters on his TR so I was covered in spray already in the parking lot. JW didn't have spray on and I left my spray in the car to save weight in my backpack so unfortunately JW suffered a bit throughout the trip - the nasty critters were even on the summit!
[Jason heads up the easy ski hill ascent slope of Norquay.]
We arrived at the top of the chair lift in around 30 minutes from the car. Considering this was a 400 meter height gain we were on pace for 13.3 meters/minute or 44 feet of height gain every minute - no wonder we were sweating! Of course this was the easiest section of the mountain so we knew we wouldn't be able to keep up that pace. But we'd do our best to try!
The headwall behind the chair lift has a bit of a nasty reputation so we weren't sure what to expect. When I first saw it I was disappointed by how small it looked. It can't be more than about 20 feet high. One thing that we weren't too keen on was the trickle of water coming down it but we didn't waste much time clambering up. JW easily worked his way over the crux at the top and I made it too, after briefly confusing myself about what to do with the lack of good holds (the answer is to stop thinking about it and just heave yourself up and over).
[The lower crux wall is the wet cliff just ahead of JW. The upper wet spot is where you start losing holds.]
After the headwall we worked out way up the steep and VERY LOOSE gully to the east ridge. We trended up on climber's left - ignoring a potential route that went off to the right. I have to say that we were wishing we had helmets on (we left them behind) in this gully. It's a very good thing that nobody was ahead of us and an even better thing that no one followed us up. Despite trying hard to avoid kicking down debris it was pretty much unavoidable in spots. That being said, we also didn't really follow the trail that snaked up the (climber's) left hand side of the gully but sort of charged up the middle.
[Looking down the ascent gully at the upper chair lift station.]
[JW heads up the eastern summit block on Norquay.]
Once on the ridge we could clearly see the trail that Bob Spirko and Sonny mentioned to bypass the east summit and go directly to the east/west col. We started down this side sloping trail and eventually could see that we had to lose elevation to continue on the trail or scramble up to some more interesting looking terrain near the east summit. We decided that since we were there to get exercise it wouldn't hurt to bag the east peak or at least try the east ridge so up we went! We gained about 100 meters to the east ridge and were glad to see that we were still east of the east summit. We enjoyed the east ridge a lot and soon were standing on the peak looking over at the west summit and the drop to the east/west col. I spotted a Centennial register in the cairn and we puzzled as to why the register would be in the false peak! JW decided that he would carry the register to the real summit so I guess we helped some people avoid the toughest scrambling to get to the west peak of Norquay.
The traverse down to the east/west col was no problem. We started up towards the west peak with rain clouds kind of threatening from the west. The mosquitoes were still bothering JW so I think this helped him move along even quicker than normal to try to create enough wind on his own to keep them away. I don't think it worked very well. After scrambling up the west summit block for a bit I noticed that we were on the toughest terrain of trip so far. This didn't really jive with the guidebook but the terrain ahead (above) looked like it would go so I didn't really say anything and we kept going - JW picking a good line. The terrain was very steep with some loose holds and some good exposure so we had to be careful. Eventually we came to an overhanging section which forced us over to climber's right, across a gully that was choked with snow and ice above and below us. Our spot barely had any snow in it and we could lunge over to the other side. After scrambling up some more steep terrain (under a huge cornice) we popped out on the ridge again and easily made our way up to the summit. There was a soaking wet register with no ascents in it from 2007, so we signed the centennial register and made note of the fact that we had moved it. There were about 6 ascents from 2007 already in it but we have no idea how many of those went on to the true summit. Rain was making it's way toward us and we didn't want to down climb the west summit block wet, so we started back down after a 2.5 hour approach time from the car. This included our short summit stays on the east and west peaks.
[But this isn't the main summit! We moved the register to the west (i.e. highest) summit.]
[Jason on the traverse from the east to the west summit.]
[JW on the difficult alternate ascent to the west summit.]
[Told you it was difficult! Hope that cornice holds...]
[Telephoto of Mount Rundle.]
[Mount Louis looks imposing from this angle! Actually, it looks imposing from any angle! The Cory Pass hiking trail cuts down in front of it at lower center.]
[I love this shot of Mount Bourgeau.]
[Mount Assiniboine and Lunette sneak into view.]
[Summit panorama including (L to R), Rundle, Sulphur, Sundance, Howard-Douglas, Eagle, Bourgeau, Brett, Pilot, Cory, Edith, Louis, Fifi, Cockscomb, Brewster, Cascade and of course many others.. ++]
[A unique view into the Spray Lakes area above Canmore includes views of Sparrowhawk and Bogart on the left.]
[Another shot of Louis, in black and white.]
The trip back down the summit block proved interesting. We could clearly see where the Kane route went and it looked much easier but crossed the steep snow gully which was still full of snow. Being late in the day we didn't really trust the snow conditions and Kane even mentions an accident here due to snow. We had our axes but decided that it was safer to down climb the difficult terrain that we had come up. It was tricky but fun and other than one desperate moment when I found myself hanging backwards over the gully on a loose hold, the route was pretty straight forward. (JW decided to take flower pictures while clinging on to a cliff, he said it was easier because he didn't have to bend down!)
At the east/west col we decided to give the south traverse down and around the east summit another try. This went well. After 1/2 hour from the summit of Norquay we were back at the point where the ridge drops down to the ascent gully. We managed to follow the trail on the skier right hand side of this gully and after 15 minutes we were back at the head wall crux above the chair lift. JW right away decided he was down climbing this section. Considering the terrain we had already down climbed this would be no tougher. I briefly scouted for a route around this section but was too lazy to put some real effort into it. I followed JW down the head wall and with him guiding my feet over a couple of holds it was no problem at all. 15 minutes of excruciating down hill running on grass and we were back at the car. Total round trip time including both summits (via the toughest scramble routes) was 3.5 hours. I think we got some good cardio training done that evening!
[It looks like Jason is stepping on the col, but it's 150 meters below him!!]
[You can see the tracks in the snow to JW's left. This is the normal Kane route that traverses the gully before heading up easy slopes to the west summit.]
[Looking a bit mangy, but still a cool tele shot. What's he looking at?]
[The previous guy was waiting for his buddy to hurry up!]
If you're a competent scrambler you will love this route, if you haven't done a difficult scramble before you may want to leave this one alone for a bit or take the easier options.