After scrambling up Mount Warspite the day before, I was ready for another 'difficult' scramble so when Raf suggested an afternoon jaunt up Mount Storelk in the Highwood Pass area of Kananaskis I was ready to go. Wednesday, August 15 2007 turned out to be a beautiful day and shortly after 2 pm we were headed off into the forest. The Storelk route description has always confused me a bit so I made sure I had Dow William's description in my pocket and Kane's description on my digital camera (thanks to Sonny for that weight saving tip).
Raf and I were surprised to see another car parked near the start of the route and even more surprised to see a bright orange ribbon marking the start of the trail. We started getting optimistic right away that maybe we wouldn't have to endure a bush whack. That was premature. The bright orange ribbon was a sucker marker (probably from a trap line route). There was no obvious trail after about 3 minutes and we ended up charging into thick brush. Here's where good route finding skills are essential. Instead of just charging up the hill we took our time and made sure that we followed both Dow and Kane's descriptions very carefully. The main things you should remember are the hill from Dow, and the lakes and stream from Kane. You really need to make sure that you don't screw up your directions or you will be in for a long and frustrating approach.
[Don't underestimate the bushwhack! Not the worst I've ever done but it's enough to throw you off track quite quickly. Here Raf is just crossing the stream that Kane mentions.]
Once we got across the stream to the south side we turned climber's right and began hiking up steep slopes. Dow is 100% correct that any trail you end up on is NOT human and you should not get too excited about finding "the trail". After about 2 minutes on each trail you have to re-orient yourself uphill and look for the next one! This is also an infamous bear habitat hot spot and I was getting a bit nervous hiking through acres of berry bushes. We made sure we did lots of yelling and managed to avoid any hungry bruins but the group in front of us wasn't so lucky (more on that later).
After what seemed like forever, but really wasn't that long we finally came to a natural drainage ditch that led us up to the col. Our views began to open up as we gained and then passed tree line. At the col we took Dow's advice and stayed completely off Kane's ridge route. We crossed the meadow on the south side of the ridge and actually ended up south of Dow's route too.
[Raf gazes up at the east face of Storelk with our approach to the col below.]
I led us up a difficult route right up the east face of Storelk. We never regained the Kane ridge at all. I never felt that we were above scrambling but on several spots I made sure to look down, just to make sure I'd recognize the terrain on the way back and that I would have the courage to down-climb it! After getting pretty high on the face I ran into a low cliff band, about 4-6ft high, trending south-north along the face and upwards. Rather than climb over this cliff, I followed along it's base as the terrain got steeper and steeper. Just as I began to worry that I was getting into climbing territory, I came on the nose of a ridge running up the face, parallel to the Kane ridge (about 2 ridges south). This was steep and very exposed but thankfully short enough to be reasonable. I knew right away that this section was going to cause some involuntary tightening on the way down!! :-)
[The east face / ridges from the col - click for approximate route line. ++]
[The lower route is fairly easy but still loose. I wouldn't want a big group here.]
[This picture of Raf shows the steep angle of the east face. In the background you can spot Storm (L) and Mist (R) mountains.]
[Looking down at Raf picking his way up the lower east face.]
[Looking along a traverse bench and back at Raf climbing his way up towards it.]
[Looking up a difficult section on the east face.]
[Looking down at Raf and another obvious traverse ledge on the face.]
[Off the east face, looking towards the summit of Storelk.]
After gaining the main north-south ridge of Storelk we simply scrambled along it towards the summit. It's not as exposed as it first looks, but there are some 'no slip' zones for sure. About half way along this ridge I passed two people heading down. We shouted greetings and I continued on above them as they were traversing down below the ridge on scree and slabs. The summit offered great views of familiar peaks and good telephoto shots of the two other climbers as they finished the north-south ridge. Raf joined me at the summit and after a few pictures (yeah right - maybe a couple hundred) we headed back down the ridge out of the cool wind.
[Looking off the summit ridge across hwy 40 at Storm and Mist Mountains. ++]
[Looking back at Raf (somewhere in this photo!) and along the spine of the Elk Range and the North American continent. Alberta to the left, BC to the right. The east face route comes in from the left.]
[Joanna and Harvey descending.]
[Raf on the summit ridge.]
[Mist Mountain - you can clearly see the myriad of confusing gullies that can throw you off route when descending right to left down the summit ridge.]
[Mount Storm is similar to Storelk but easier.]
[Yet another familiar peak near the Highwood Pass - Mount Rae.]
[Looking up the Nivelle Glacier at Mount Joffre]
[Vern and Raf on the summit of Storelk.]
[Amazing views north along the Continental Divide towards the Highwood Pass and Kananaskis Lakes. Summits include Tyrwhitt along the spine and Grizzly Ridge to the right. In the distance summits include, Sir Douglas, Indefatigable, Murray, CEGFNS, Kent, James Walker, Inflexible, Elpoca, Rae (L to R). ++]
[Looking south along the spine of North America (AB to the left, BC on the right), includes Odlum, Loomis and Bishop along the spine and Riverside at right in the distance. ++]
I was in the mood to go a bit faster than usual as Raf had mentioned that the couple below us had been stalked by a grizzly bear on their hike to the col. I wanted to try to catch up to them so we could hike out together which I felt would be safer than two smaller groups, especially since the grizzly sounded a bit aggressive. We quickly made our way down the summit ridge. I would recommend staying on the ridge rather than traversing down below it. The ridge really isn't that bad and you'll do enough traversing on rubbly slab as it is! Why tempt the scree-on-slab gods more than you have to right? ;-)
I had marked our exit from the east face/ridge route onto the north-south ridge with a small cairn, so once we arrived there we started down. On hindsight, it's a very good thing that we took an entirely new route up Storelk, because if we would have gone down any further north (closer to the Kane route) we would have showered the two scramblers in front of us with rocks. Did I mention that the east face is loose?! We gingerly worked our way back down my route up and I am pleased to say that other than the very exposed transition back into the north-south gully under the low cliff band, the route went very well. Involuntary clenching was kept to a minimum and stayed at the normal difficult scrambling level. We could see that we were catching up with the two people in front of us and eventually they stopped and waited while we stumbled off the east face and back across the meadow near the col.
[Raf descends a short scree chimney under the summit of Storelk.]
[Looking back at Raf descending the summit ridge as I wait at the top of the east face.]
[Raf on top of the east face of Storelk with the summit in the bg.]
[Careful down climbing on the east face - note the concentration!]
[This is definitely a no slip zone!!]
[Retreating down a narrow ledge system on the east face.]
[Almost done the hard stuff - traversing back to the ridge.]
[Friction is your friend Raf!]
Joanne and Harvey (I would finally do another difficult scramble with Harvey two years later in 2009 on Mount Fox) related their encounter with the grizzly to me as we waited for Raf. Apparently they had come up to the col and found themselves staring a young grizzly in the face! After stuffing their hearts back down their throats they cautiously started up the ridge only to have the bear follow them. Eventually the bear lost interest and headed down the other side (scrambler's ascent side) of the col - towards Raf and I coming up. We never saw the bear on the way up so obviously yelling every 10 seconds while going through bear country really does work.
All four of us proceeded down into the bear habitat with refreshed energy and made short work of the bushwhack back to the cars, calling out to the bear that he'd be better off leaving us alone as we descended. I even managed to find the blazed trail that Frank talked about, but it's only blazed in the downhill direction! This doesn't help for ascent so I won't even bother describing where it is. If you find it, it does help guide you back to the cars for the last 50 or so vertical meters through the forest.
Raf and I completed Storelk in just over 5 hours car-to-car, including a 20 minute break at the summit. Joanne and Harvey took a bit longer, but then they saw a bear and experienced a bit more of the local scenery than Raf and I did. I highly recommend this scramble if you aren't afraid of the odd grizzly bear and exposed scrambling and route finding on scree covered slabs. Else you might want to try easier scrambles in the area like Arethusa (which is still quite exposed) or Mist Mountain or even Mount Rae.