After scrambling 4 peaks last weekend it was time to relax a bit this weekend. I thought I'd go for an even (odd) 3!
Raff did a trip a few weeks ago where he did something I've had in mind for about 2 years now, bagging Whyte, Niblock and St. Piran all in one day. Kane kind of hints that you could do St. Piran first but when I read Raff's trip report I got a better idea. Why not do the peaks in order of most difficult to the easiest?
The day looked very promising. The skies where blue, there was no wind and the temperature was perfect. The problem? SMOKE. Apparently Washington fires are polluting our skies and completely decimated my views this day! Even with that slight dissapointment the day was awesome for scrambling.
I started off the day by falling asleep on the drive to Lake Louise! For some reason I was feeling very tired all day. On the way to Lake Agnes I found myself dozing off again - while walking... Hmmm. I don't think that Mount Whyte is a good scramble to fall asleep on! I made it to the Teahouse in just under 50 minutes and after a quick break started around the righthand side of Lake Agnes.
I found the scramble up to the Whyte / Niblock col much different than I anticipated - even though there are lots of trip reports on the web. I thought the climb up the headwall was quite easy. You should be following cairns the whole way up, generally trending first climber's right and then left back towards the water at the top. What surprised me was the hanging valley above the falls. It's a large valley, full of loose Rockies rubble but the view is deceiving and it doesn't take long before you're grunting up the steep ledges / scree piles to the Whyte / Niblock col. This section is not difficult either. If you are having a difficult time getting up the col don't even bother trying Mount Whyte because you will not have fun! In general the route is well cairned and goes up to climber's right before going straight up underneath Mount Niblock. If you go straight up (too far to climber's left) you will end up on steep, loose terrain that didn't look like too much fun to me!
Once I got up just under the ridge, I went climber's left because I was doing Whyte first. I scrambled up over the lip of the ridge and headed on towards Mount Whyte. It looked pretty nasty from my vantage, but the route was completely snow-free and the day was gorgeous so I kept going. Another thing that amused me on Mount Whyte was the side effect of the 'Kane Effect'. Kane mentions that when the ridge narrows you may have to take a brief detour to the right. So when I got to the ridge and there was no obvious way up, I followed a very wide path around to the right. WRONG!! I don't know where all those people end up going but I wasn't going up anywhere along that route! I went back to the toe of the ridge and thought about it. Kane mentions 'brief'. So I went up on the ridge and went about 10 feet around to the right (without losing elevation). There it was! An obvious route up climber's left to the ridge crest.
After that bit of route finding fun, I found the scree ledge traverse was easy, and going up the gully on the right hand side was no problem at all. The gully didn't have any snow in it but I can see why Kane mentions to stay out of it if there is. The gully looks very innocent but with snow, an involuntary glissade would send you over the cliffs guarding Mount Whyte.
Again, the amount of fun or fear you experience on Mount Whyte will depend on your route choices. At the top of the gully you should go through the top and across the next gully. When you get across that gully, look back and up and you will see a cairned route going right up some pretty steep terrain. Don't worry though. The route is well marked and you simply traverse back and forth on solid ledges to the ridge crest above. After this you have to make some choices. I angled around to climber's left and then up to climber's right to gain the ridge but there are indications that some people go at it from around to the right and then up to climber's left. This part of the route is loose and exposed and was the toughest for me.
At the top I scrambled right on top of the ridge but then had a scary little downclimb that could be avoided if you drop down to climber's left and go around the pinnacles.
The summit view was stunning. Without the smoke it would have been the best view I've ever had in the Rockies. Mount Victoria and Lefroy are right in your face along with their glaciers and snow covered summits. I took some photos and then headed back down. I didn't find the downclimbing that bad, mostly following the cairned route and remembering where I'd gone up. The loose / steep terrain above the meandering ledge wall was by far the worst part because a slip was not optional here. I made my way up to Mount Niblock, feeling very satisfied with my tramp up Whyte.
There really is not much to say about Mount Niblock after doing Mount Whyte! ;-) This is just an easy walk up, going climber's left around any difficulties. I just followed Kane's description and had no troubles at all. The views were just as smoky as from Mount Whyte and a bit less spectacular but still awesome. Without the smoke I would've been able to easily count summits from Field, Yoho, Banff and Louise.
I took a break and signed the register (wet because of a crappy centennial container of course...) and headed back to the col for my third summit of the day, Mount St. Piran.
(My round trip time, including all 3 summits was 8:50)