logo

Smuts, Mount & The Fist

Summit Elevation (m): 2938, 2630
Trip Date: Saturday, August 6, 2005
Round Trip Time (hr): unknown
Elevation Gain (m): 1600
Total Trip Distance (km): 19
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: A fall on the crux of Smuts would severely injure or kill so take necessary precautions. Adding The Fist does make for a long day but the Fist is much easier than Smuts.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (4th)
Map: Google Maps


On an early (04:30) August 6 2005 morning, I joined Dave Stephens and Blair Piggot on a full day trip to scramble Mount Smuts and The Fist in Kananaskis Country. Blair and Dave do a lot of mountaineering and climbing trips together and every once in a while Dave manages to sucker Blair into a scramble. Dave and I were turned back from summitting Smuts on July 23rd when a strong wind and impending storm forced us to rappel back down the ridge after making it about 1/4 way up the ‘tough stuff’.

There was a reason why Dave and I really wanted to make the summit of Smuts and that was to place the memorial cairn for Van Belliveau who who tragically fell to his death from the summit of Smuts a few weeks earlier.

Mount Smuts & The Fist Route Map

Mount Smuts has always made me more than a little nervous. The way Kane describes this mountain it’s a ‘climbers scramble’ and ‘exhilarating’. I love the whole ‘exhilarating’ thing but the climbing thing always made me a bit nervous. Lately some people have been posting reports about scrambling Smuts and reading them didn’t help my apprehension any! I knew after our unsuccessful attempt that the ridge wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be in my head. I also knew that the super-exposed section of the ridge wasn’t nearly as long as I had originally thought.

Mount Smuts

Saturday morning was a clear and windless one and as we biked from the trailhead we were in good spirits. After ditching the bikes almost 3 km in we realized that we could have biked a bit further (to the first falls) but oh well! We quickly made our way along the trail to Smuts Pass and just before the climb to the pass we met up with Bill Kerr and Gary Vandergrift. After quick introductions we continued on and following Blair’s blistering pace we were on top of the pass only just over an hour from the parking lot! Blair apparently doesn’t believe in the need to stop and catch your breath – he just motored all the way up to the pass with 1.5 stops.

Starting up the scree to the main access gully on Smuts from the pass.

We stopped for a quick snack and drink and then pressed on up the scree slope to the ribs that lead up to the ridge. Right away Dave and I knew that this would be a much better day than two weeks ago. The rock was dry and we could stay to the right of the gully on the slabs which made for quick and fun scrambling. (In other words if you are attempting Smuts and you can’t climb the ribs along the climbers right of the gully don’t even bother continuing!) Once again, Blair kicked our butts up the mountain and eventually Dave and I joined him on the ridge. My strategy was clear in my head. I already knew the route to the second rap station and from there I was going to go straight up. When I got to the crack that forced the Nugara brothers to go further left I was going to go right. (Kane’s route picture shows the route always going to the right.)

Without waiting any longer I started up. The rock was dry, the sun was warm on my face and the breeze was light. I never stopped until I recognized the spot where I was planning to go off to the right. There are actually two cracks here. To get to the right-hand one you have to carefully work your way down a sloping ledge and than climb up the crack. This crack was steep and obviously exposed but I found the rock to be solid and in no time at all I was at the crux – an east-sloping slab that required some friction climbing to navigate up. After this bit of exhilaration I let out a whoop of relief and quickly scrambled up the rest of the nasty stuff till I knew I was onto easier terrain.

I apparently went up the ridge very fast. Dave and Blair were nowhere to be seen and they told me later that other than the occasional whoop of excitement from above them they never really saw me till we met on the final summit ridge! I waited for a bit till I could spot Dave and Blair negotiating the tricky slab. I took some pretty cool pictures of the event and soon they caught up with me. Blair told me that since I was in some sort of groove I better keep going to the summit so I quickly took off and was soon standing on top of the infamous Mount Smuts about 2.5 hours after leaving the parking lot.

Blair on the summit ridge of Mount Smuts.
Dave and Blair get close to the summit. The three mountains directly across at center are Leval, Vavasour and Warre with White Man in the background. King George at left.

Dave and Blair joined me at the summit and we proceeded to build Van’s memorial cairn. Once I saw the summit area it became obvious where Van had slipped down the west face. There is an area behind the summit cairn that has a short, very steep scree slope which ends in the 400 meter cliff down the west face – any slip in this area would be fatal. After saying a few words for Van we placed his memorial in the cairn and were ready to start down.

The mighty Mount Assiniboine shows up over Morrison and Turner. Mount Shark at lower right. Currie at left.
A glass-smooth Spray Lakes with Mount Shark (L) and Tent Ridge (R) in the foreground and Fortune ,Nestor, Turbulent, Cone, Buller and others beyond.
One more shot of Birdwood (L) and Sir Douglas (R). Sir Douglas is another mountain with a bad reputation that I didn’t find too bad when I finally climbed it’s west ridge in 2015. The same trick applies to it’s ridge as Smuts – avoid it when possible! 😉

The alternate descent is not easy. After the ridge we were kind of expecting the descent to be a trivial matter but of course it isn’t or everyone would simply scramble up to the summit this way. It was a very loose, very steep gully that (in Blair’s words) cause some puckering every once in a while. 🙂 Eventually we made it out and after traversing slabby terrain we were on the easy slopes curving back to Smuts Pass.

Vern leads down from the summit ridge (photo by Dave S.)
Vern down climbs from the summit of Mount Smuts.
Vern having fun on descent! (Photo by Dave S.)
You do *not* want to miss the ledge traverse out of the gully or you’ll end up in bad terrain.
Birdwood and Sir Douglas with Birdwood Tarn in the foreground and Burstall Pass Peak on the right.

Since we hadn’t had enough difficult scrambling for the day (!!) we decided that it was time to bag The Fist while we were in the area anyway.

Mount Smuts
56 photos
Dave and I attempted Smuts on a cloudy / rainy day. first.
Dave and I attempted Smuts on a cloudy / rainy day. first.
On our first attempt a week previous, we were turned back by clouds / rain about 1/4 way up the tough stuff.
On our first attempt a week previous, we were turned back by clouds / rain about 1/4 way up the tough stuff.
On our first attempt a week previous, we were turned back by clouds / rain about 1/4 way up the tough stuff.
On our first attempt a week previous, we were turned back by clouds / rain about 1/4 way up the tough stuff.
Dave and Blair scout out the route.
Dave and Blair scout out the route.
Looking down the approach valley from the Smuts / Birdwood col.
Looking down the approach valley from the Smuts / Birdwood col.
Starting up the scree to the main access gully on Smuts from the pass.
Starting up the scree to the main access gully on Smuts from the pass.
Vern and Blair in the gully (pic by Dave S.)
Vern and Blair in the gully (pic by Dave S.)
Dave follows up the slabby access gully that must be followed a good way up beside the ridge before crossing over onto the ridge proper and ascending it directly.
Dave follows up the slabby access gully that must be followed a good way up beside the ridge before crossing over onto the ridge proper and ascending it directly.
The tough section from the lower ridge. A lot of folks go straight up the crack here, but if you work your way climber's right the cracks / gullies are easier.
The tough section from the lower ridge. A lot of folks go straight up the crack here, but if you work your way climber's right the cracks / gullies are easier.
Looking back down the ridge.
Looking back down the ridge.
Looking down the very steep west face of Smuts from a nice perch on the ridge - I'm already done the hard sections.
Looking down the very steep west face of Smuts from a nice perch on the ridge - I'm already done the hard sections.
Dave and Blair on the ridge below me.
Dave and Blair on the ridge below me.
Dave and Blair on the ridge below me.
Dave and Blair on the ridge below me.
Dave and Blair on the ridge below me.
Dave and Blair on the ridge below me.
A nice friction move!
A nice friction move!
Birdwood Lakes are far below.
Birdwood Lakes are far below.
Looking up the summit ridge and west face from on top of the difficult section.
Looking up the summit ridge and west face from on top of the difficult section.
Blair and Dave make their way along the summit ridge of Smuts.
Blair and Dave make their way along the summit ridge of Smuts.
Blair and Dave make their way along the summit ridge of Smuts.
Blair and Dave make their way along the summit ridge of Smuts.
Blair and Dave make their way along the summit ridge of Smuts.
Blair and Dave make their way along the summit ridge of Smuts.
An imposing Mount Birdwood rises behind Dave and Blair as they make their way up the ridge to the summit of Smuts.
An imposing Mount Birdwood rises behind Dave and Blair as they make their way up the ridge to the summit of Smuts.
An imposing Mount Birdwood rises behind Dave and Blair as they make their way up the ridge to the summit of Smuts.
An imposing Mount Birdwood rises behind Dave and Blair as they make their way up the ridge to the summit of Smuts.
Looking up the summit ridge.
Looking up the summit ridge.
Vern on the summit ridge of Mount Smuts.
Vern on the summit ridge of Mount Smuts.
Blair on the summit ridge of Mount Smuts.
Blair on the summit ridge of Mount Smuts.
A gorgeous view of the Royal Group behind Dave and Blair. Mount King George is the tallest member of that group at 11,228 feet.
A gorgeous view of the Royal Group behind Dave and Blair. Mount King George is the tallest member of that group at 11,228 feet.
Blair and Dave make their way along the summit ridge of Smuts.
Blair and Dave make their way along the summit ridge of Smuts.
Birdwood, Sir Douglas and King George (R) with Blair and Dave in the fg.
Birdwood, Sir Douglas and King George (R) with Blair and Dave in the fg.
Dave and Blair get close to the summit. The three mountains directly across at center are Leval, Vavasour and Warre with Whiteman in the background.
Dave and Blair get close to the summit. The three mountains directly across at center are Leval, Vavasour and Warre with Whiteman in the background.
The mighty Mount Assiniboine shows up over Morrison and Turner. Mount Shark at lower right.
The mighty Mount Assiniboine shows up over Morrison and Turner. Mount Shark at lower right.
A glass-smooth Spray Lakes with Mount Shark (L) and Tent Ridge (R) in the foreground and Fortune and Nestor beyond.
A glass-smooth Spray Lakes with Mount Shark (L) and Tent Ridge (R) in the foreground and Fortune and Nestor beyond.
Birdwood, Sir Douglas and King George (R) with Blair and Dave in the fg.
Birdwood, Sir Douglas and King George (R) with Blair and Dave in the fg.
Dave, Vern and Blair at the summit of Smuts.
Dave, Vern and Blair at the summit of Smuts.
Van Belliveau's memorial register with Assiniboine in the bg.
Van Belliveau's memorial register with Assiniboine in the bg.
Van Belliveau is the first scrambler I've known personally who has died following his passion. A reminder that this sport can be deadly.
Van Belliveau is the first scrambler I've known personally who has died following his passion. A reminder that this sport can be deadly.
Van's last words before falling 600m to his death off the summit of Mount Smuts. :(
Van's last words before falling 600m to his death off the summit of Mount Smuts. 🙁
Our second summit for the day will be The Fist - pretty small compared to Smuts!
Our second summit for the day will be The Fist - pretty small compared to Smuts!
Scramblers prepare to ascend The Fist from the Fist / Smuts col. I wonder if they know they're on camera!
Scramblers prepare to ascend The Fist from the Fist / Smuts col. I wonder if they know they're on camera!
Another panorama over Tent Ridge with Fortune, Nestor, Spray Lakes, Engadine, The Tower and many others visible.
Another panorama over Tent Ridge with Fortune, Nestor, Spray Lakes, Engadine, The Tower and many others visible.
Galatea, Chester, Kent Ridge and other peaks between Spray Lakes Road and Hwy 40 show up in the summer haze.
Galatea, Chester, Kent Ridge and other peaks between Spray Lakes Road and Hwy 40 show up in the summer haze.
Vern leads down from the summit ridge (photo by Dave S.)
Vern leads down from the summit ridge (photo by Dave S.)
Vern down climbs from the summit of Mount Smuts.
Vern down climbs from the summit of Mount Smuts.
Do not be lured into thinking the descent will be easy! This is the easy part on the upper ridge before the loose gully down the west face.
Do not be lured into thinking the descent will be easy! This is the easy part on the upper ridge before the loose gully down the west face.
Vern having fun on descent! (Photo by Dave S.)
Vern having fun on descent! (Photo by Dave S.)
Dave follows me down the descent gully.
Dave follows me down the descent gully.
Looking down the gully, which ends in a cliff! (You traverse left out of the gully before this point)
Looking down the gully, which ends in a cliff! (You traverse left out of the gully before this point)
You do *not* want to miss the ledge traverse out of the gully or you'll end up in bad terrain.
You do *not* want to miss the ledge traverse out of the gully or you'll end up in bad terrain.
Dave does a delicate scramble move while Blair is just clear of the hard stuff.
Dave does a delicate scramble move while Blair is just clear of the hard stuff.
Steep, loose scree to exit the west face of Smuts.
Steep, loose scree to exit the west face of Smuts.
Looking down to the Smutwood Col.
Looking down to the Smutwood Col.
Birdwood and Sir Douglas with Birdwood Tarn in the foreground and Burstall Pass Peak on the right.
Birdwood and Sir Douglas with Birdwood Tarn in the foreground and Burstall Pass Peak on the right.
Dave looks pretty small exiting under the massive west face of Smuts the prominent descent notch / gully clearly visible above him to the left.
Dave looks pretty small exiting under the massive west face of Smuts the prominent descent notch / gully clearly visible above him to the left.
The Birdwood tarns are a gorgeous place to lollygag a warm summer afternoon away. Alas. We are peak baggers and don't lollygag enough.
The Birdwood tarns are a gorgeous place to lollygag a warm summer afternoon away. Alas. We are peak baggers and don't lollygag enough.
Smutwood Peak on the upper left.
Smutwood Peak on the upper left.
Descending from Smuts Pass, we'll trend left towards The Fist next.
Descending from Smuts Pass, we'll trend left towards The Fist next.

The Fist

After scrambling Mount Smuts Dave, Blair and I figured that we should tack on another difficult scramble just to make sure our day was filled up. We circled all the way around Mount Smuts after descending it’s harrowing gully and side-sloped for what seemed like hours till we finally came to the Smuts / Fist col. Actually it did take us quite a while to do the hike around Smuts and to The Fist. There were sections of nasty bushwhacking and sections of really bad side-sloping and even some pretty slick snow we had to cross. It took us 3 hours to go from the summit of Smuts to the Fist / Smuts col while going all the way from the parking lot to the summit of Smuts only took me 2.5 hours.

Vern and Blair traverse under The Fist after first climbing and descending Mount Smuts. Photo by Dave S.

We met up with a group of climbers from Edmonton at the Smuts / Fist col just after they came off The Fist. After chatting for a bit we headed for the ascent gully. The climb up the ascent gully was fun but a lot looser than Smuts. It was also a lot less exposed but a slip still would have hurt a bit. Rockfall was the main concern in the gully – but be forewarned, it is a steep endeavor and not to be taken too lightly. I wouldn’t even consider trying it without a helmet and certainly not if anyone else was in the gully already.

Gorgeous summit panorama includes L to R, Birdwood, Smuts and Mount Assiniboine.

Eventually we popped out of the gully and navigated some really exposed terrain to get to the summit. While Blair searched out some exposed stuff to fool around on, Dave and I sucked in the views and as much liquids as we could! We didn’t stay at the summit for long and soon were dumping rocks on each other down the gully.

Looking between Shark (L) and Tent Ridge (R) up the Bryant Creek valley that is used to access Mount Assiniboine on the far left in the bg.
Spray Lakes with Nestor on the L and Engadine on the R.
Mount Kent, Commonwealth Ridge, Mount Burstall, French, Robertson and Sir Douglas in the far background from L to R.

Other than one tense moment when Dave put all his weight on the exact rock I had just told him was loose and sent 50 lbs of rock crashing down over my hand and just past Blair (he thought I meant the OTHER one) – we made it down with no major incidents. I’m sure glad I am 6ft tall because some of the down climbing in the gully was a lot easier for someone with good reach! If you’re not used to very steep and loose terrain and you haven’t just done Smuts I think you could find this scramble quite difficult in places. It kind of reminded me a bit of the upper part of Dolomite Peak.

Gorgeous Tryst Lake with the Spray Lakes road in the background from the summit ridge of The Fist.

Once we made it back to the col we spent the next hour bushwhacking our way down to the trail and out to our bikes. I was surprised that there was no trail down from the col but I think we might have done better by traversing further south before cutting down.

Bikes are really nice after a long, hot day of walking and we were at the parking lot in no time flat. Round trip time was just under 9 hours.

The Fist
24 photos
Vern and Blair traverse under The Fist after first climbing and descending Mount Smuts. Photo by Dave S.
Vern and Blair traverse under The Fist after first climbing and descending Mount Smuts. Photo by Dave S.
The traverse was pretty easy but it was HOT out! Also the terrain wasn't entirely straight forward.
The traverse was pretty easy but it was HOT out! Also the terrain wasn't entirely straight forward.
Blair on the traverse.
Blair on the traverse.
We had to cross some snow patches - at least there was plenty of melting water.
We had to cross some snow patches - at least there was plenty of melting water.
We had to cross some snow patches - at least there was plenty of melting water.
We had to cross some snow patches - at least there was plenty of melting water.
Gorgeous alpine meadows with Mount Birdwood rising to the left.
Gorgeous alpine meadows with Mount Birdwood rising to the left.
The main crux gully on The Fist. People also take the shallower gully further to the right.
The main crux gully on The Fist. People also take the shallower gully further to the right.
Blair heads up from the col to the crux cracks on The Fist.
Blair heads up from the col to the crux cracks on The Fist.
Looking down the crux gully from near the top of it.
Looking down the crux gully from near the top of it.
Blair with the summit register.
Blair with the summit register.
Mount Birdwood with Snow Peak to the right and Robertson and Sir Douglas in the bg to the left.
Mount Birdwood with Snow Peak to the right and Robertson and Sir Douglas in the bg to the left.
Gorgeous summit panorama includes L to R, Birdwood, Smuts and Mount Assiniboine.
Gorgeous summit panorama includes L to R, Birdwood, Smuts and Mount Assiniboine.
Looking between Shark (L) and Tent Ridge (R) up the Bryant Creek valley that is used to access Mount Assiniboine on the far left in the bg.
Looking between Shark (L) and Tent Ridge (R) up the Bryant Creek valley that is used to access Mount Assiniboine on the far left in the bg.
Incredible view of Smuts - kind of intimidating!
Incredible view of Smuts - kind of intimidating!
Incredible view of Smuts - kind of intimidating!
Incredible view of Smuts - kind of intimidating!
Blair and Vern on the summit of The Fist.
Blair and Vern on the summit of The Fist.
Spray Lakes with Nestor on the L and Engadine on the R.
Spray Lakes with Nestor on the L and Engadine on the R.
Across the Spray Lakes road lies The Tower and Galatea.
Across the Spray Lakes road lies The Tower and Galatea.
Mount Kent, Commonwealth Ridge, Mount Burstall  French, Robertson and Sir Douglas in the far background from L to R.
Mount Kent, Commonwealth Ridge, Mount Burstall French, Robertson and Sir Douglas in the far background from L to R.
Gorgeous Tryst Lake with the Spray Lakes road in the background from the summit ridge of The Fist.
Gorgeous Tryst Lake with the Spray Lakes road in the background from the summit ridge of The Fist.
Delicate down climbing to the crux gully. You don't want to slip here!
Delicate down climbing to the crux gully. You don't want to slip here!
Delicate down climbing to the crux gully. You don't want to slip here!
Delicate down climbing to the crux gully. You don't want to slip here!
Mount Smuts from the crux chimney on The Fist.
Mount Smuts from the crux chimney on The Fist.
Mount Smuts from the crux chimney on The Fist.
Mount Smuts from the crux chimney on The Fist.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.