Summit Elevation (m): 2936,
Trip Date: Friday, July 4, 2003
Round Trip Time (hrs): Unknown
Elevation Gain (m): 1250
Total Trip Distance (km): 6.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: A fall on the crux would severely injure or kill so take necessary precautions.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
I did this one on my own while skipping out on work on a beautiful Friday! There really isn’t a choice between work or scrambling, especially on a day like this one. I started the scramble at around 9:00am and headed up the steep forested slopes above the drainage coming from the upper slopes. There was one truck already parked in the lot so I knew someone had already scared the wildlife for me! As I worked my way up the slopes I realized that I actually had quite a bit of energy. My legs didn’t feel tired at all and I think this was due to hiking 44km the weekend before.
As I ascended I kept scanning the ridge far above me for the people I knew where ahead of me. As I broke tree line I could finally spot two figures high above me picking their way up towards the summit. I found the down climb to the scree beside the slabs and couldn’t make myself get onto that crap!! It didn’t look that safe either – I don’t have a helmet yet but after this scramble I’m going to get one ASAP – more on that later. I was a little concerned at this point that I wouldn’t make it past the final hurdle on the mountain. Just before the summit there are two pinnacles of rock that you must bypass on the left. If there is too much snow on the route you either have to rope up and use an ice ax or you can’t cross. There is a 50 degree slope to slide down if you do slip and this will definitely mess you up good and probably kill you. There was some snow up at the top but I figured it would still be a good day if I could get that high.
I headed up the slabs and just picked my way up. I came to the overhanging slab and had fun getting up it. It went through my head that this would be fun on the way down but I wasn’t too worried. The rock was dry and my Vibram soles stuck to it quite nicely! Eventually I worked my way up to where the ridge tops out and the views begin to open up. I continued up the ridge, eventually coming to two backpacks and a 30ft cliff.
As I peered down the cliff I could see two faces looking back up at me. The Finleys had just completed the down climb without their packs and poles and where getting ready for the pinnacle / crux section. I could see that the snow beside the pinnacles was melted just enough so it wouldn’t be a problem to scramble below it. The slope did get pretty steep so I thought I would bring my poles with me down the cliff.
I chatted with the Finleys for a few minutes and then we proceeded for the summit. We climbed up the slope and found it wasn’t as bad as it looks. The only tricky part was not kicking down too many rocks but it proved to be a bit of a challenge to keep them on the mountain! Once we topped out the views really opened up with Mt. Assiniboine poking it’s head into the clouds and Canmore just a bunch of dots off in the distant valley. The wind was pretty cold but we chatted for a few minutes and I took some photos. I love meeting people in the mountains – most are very friendly and just glad to be able to share a moment with someone who loves the outdoors as much as they do. Every time I talk with someone from Edmonton I’m reminded how lucky I am to live only an hour from the mountains.
My hands were quickly numbing so I started down again with the Finleys coming down behind me. After renegotiating the pinnacle section I climbed the crux and made for the scree slopes for the way down. I quickly lost elevation but as the scree became bigger and more slabby my enthusiasm for it waned. I also felt unsafe in this terrain without a helmet because of the loose cliff bands beside me and the obvious tendency for them to shed large chunks of rock onto the slopes below them. I made for a break in the cliffs and went back to the slabs that I had climbed up on.
I found a nice perch out of the wind with my feet dangling over a small cliff and ate lunch with a beautiful panorama of the Spray Valley opening up in front of me. I saw a car pull up beside my truck down in the parking lot and assumed that someone was making a late-day dash for the summit. I hoped they had read the weather forecast because the clouds were starting to darken and the wind wasn’t getting any calmer or warmer. As I paused for a drink of water I could hear rocks crashing down a steep drainage to my left. I could also hear this weird noise that sounded like a rusty nail being pulled out of an old board. I was at a loss for the source until I saw a goat running down the slope! I never heard a goat sound like that before!
All-in-all Big Sister was a great solo scramble and a peaceful day away from work and the concrete jungle and crowds of the city.