Alderson, Buchanan & Carthew Traverse

Summit Elevation (m): 2692
Trip Date: Saturday, September 24, 2005
Elevation Gain (m): 2150
Round Trip Time (hr): unknown
Total Trip Distance (km): 26.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: This was done as part of a long four peak traverse, involving lots of elevation gain and loss and some off trail scrambling and route finding through cliff bands.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE2/3
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps
Photos: View Album

On September 24th, 2005 the RMBooks Group or “Kane Troopers” got together for another group scramble. This time we found ourselves meeting in the Cameron Lake parking lot in Waterton National Park at 07:30.

Alderson, Buchanan, Carthew Traverse Route Map

Mount Alderson

The day started early for Sonny, Bob Parr and I as we met at Sonny’s house at 04:30 and started the long drive down to Waterton and the rest of the group. When we finally pulled into the parking lot at Cameron Lake we noticed that there were two cars along with their drivers already getting ready for the scramble. Or so we thought. When we got closer we could see that Linda Breton and Eric Mango were the two early birds. We weren’t even expecting Eric so that was a nice surprise!

Summit Lake reflects a beautiful morning view of Mount Custer as we make our way up to the Carthew – Alderson col.

Linda soon let us know that she would not be joining us. She didn’t get any sleep and since she wanted to scramble on Sunday too, she passed on Saturday to save her knee – turns out that worked because she, James and Sonny did Blakiston and Hawkins the next day.

Chapman Peak rises behind us.

As we were standing around chatting, another vehicle pulled into the parking lot and out of it stepped two other ‘new members’ of our group, James and Kelly. A short time later the last member to join us for the day drove in – Frank didn’t look like he was feeling too good and as it turns out he was still suffering from a migraine that set in the night before. He didn’t let the pain stop him though and by 07:50 we were all (well not Linda! ) tramping up the trail to Summit Lake.

Custer (L) with Kinnerly and Kintla (C) in the distance.

Time passed by very quickly because we were chatting up a serious storm as Frank led us up past Summit Lake. In what seemed like no time at all we were grunting up to the Carthew / Alderson pass and found ourselves looking up at Mount Alderson’s summit ridge stretching up above us. James and Sonny had already been to the top of Alderson and so they only joined the rest of us part of the way up. Eric led the group up the last 200 meters or so and soon we topped out to a gorgeous fall sun and no wind! If you’ve ever hiked or scrambled in Waterton you’ll realize what a special treat it is to hike in Waterton under a clear, sunny, windless day. Usually you don’t get all three of those together!

Long Knife Peak at left Kinow at distant center left with Carthew in the fg at right and Carthew Lakes at lower center right.
L to R, Vulture, Guardhouse, Carter, Chapman, Numa, Peabody, Custer, Kintla, Kinnerly, Parke, Long Knife, Carthew, Buchanan, Blakiston (R).

We chatted for a bit at the summit and Frank decided that he would not be continuing on. I can’t say I blame him either, because even without a migraine the rest of the trip didn’t look very easy! We could see that we had a lot of elevation to lose before heading up to Buchanan Peak and I for one was feeling the first peak already. Bob also decided that his recently sprained ankle would not hold up to the rigors of a 3-peak day and went back to Calgary with Frank while the rest of us continued on to Buchanan Peak.

Buchanan Peak

After summiting Mount Alderson we started off for Buchanan Peak. There is a bit of a mix-up regarding this summit because the actual peak is just a shoulder on a ridge and the highest point on the ridge is actually named Buchanan Ridge. A lot of people don’t realize this and bag the ridge thinking that they’ve bagged the summit when they actually haven’t. 

Looking over Carthew Lake to Buchanan Peak and Ridge (L). We’ll ascend the right hand ridge and traverse over to the left on the skyline ridge.

Sonny Bou was one of the unlucky ones who did the entire traverse from Carthew to Alderson and was literally only meters from the true summit of Buchanan and never knew that he didn’t actually stand on the peak. Thanks to him, we would bag both the peak AND the ridge just to make sure we didn’t have to go all the way back up there!

Looking back up our descent slope on Alderson.

Getting off of Alderson was a bit more involved than I expected but that was partly due to the fact that the slope was covered in a good layer of hard snow that was almost impossible to navigate. This was not a good sign of things to come, especially since I knew that the difficult ascent up Mount Carthew’s north slope would have the same covering of snow and ice. Eventually we made it down to the lower Carthew Lake and joined up with Sonny and James just before the Alderson Trail descends between Buchanan and Mount Alderson.

At first we thought of traversing north and then around and up Buchanan Peak from below Buchanan Ridge but as we descended the trail and got closer and closer to the waterfall we realized that it would make a lot more sense to go up Bob Spirko’s suggested route and up the southeast ridge. We crossed the stream and James led us up the steep, rubbly slopes of Buchanan. Eventually we got onto some nice scrambling terrain and navigated up through a line of rocks / cliffs that proved to be a lot easier than it looked from Mount Alderson.

Alderson from Buchanan Peak.

On the way up through the steeper rock section I accidentally kicked a massive rock down the slope and nearly hit the guys coming up. I’m glad that I never because that rock was not little! I guess that’s why a brain bucket is never a bad idea, especially when I’m scrambling above you!

Views down Carthew Creek towards the town site of Waterton.

After what seemed like a long time but was in reality only about an hour from the start of Buchanan’s ridge we were standing on Buchanan Peak. It felt weird to be celebrating such a diminutive ‘shoulder summit’ and I think Sonny was kind of choked to realize how close he was to the summit last time without realizing it! After taking in the views and grabbing a quick bite to eat we decided to continue on and give Buchanan Ridge and Mount Carthew a look. James decided to continue with Kelly, Eric and I while Sonny went down to the Alderson / Carthew trail and out to the town campsite.

Buchanan Ridge

Buchanan Peak wasn’t too bad so we headed up for Buchanan Ridge in good spirits under a beautiful, blue and surprisingly windless sky.

The scramble up to Buchanan Ridge was actually some of the best scrambling of the day. We tried to stick as close to the ridge as possible, but ended up on climbers left going up some pretty steep terrain. Everyone did the section no problem and I was especially impressed with Kelly who was only on his second major scramble of his life!

Eric traverses over to the summit of Buchanan Ridge.
L to R, Rowe, Lineham, Blakiston, Ruby Ridge with Cloudy and Glendowan in the distance at right.

Eventually we made it up the steep section and after negotiating a steep rubble gully we were at the top and walking on flat terrain to the large cairn where we took the obligatory summit photos and began to scout our route up Mount Carthew.

Mount Carthew

After scouting out a potential route up Mount Carthew’s north side from Buchanan Ridge it was time to try out the theory! While Kelly waited with James, Eric and I headed up the first cliff band just to see how things were and to get a bit closer to the traverse which looked kind of nasty from head-on. There was excellent scrambling up the first band of cliffs. We moved quickly over the dry rock and soon were looking at the traverse and the second cliff band.

The traverse looked decent but the cliffs above us looked really nasty. There was snow and ice on the rock and even if dry it would have been pretty difficult to get up there. The decision was made pretty quickly to try the traverse across the north face of Carthew to the northwest ridge – even though it meant another height loss. We yelled back to the others to come on up and Eric and I started across. The traverse was pretty tame and soon I was on the easy northwest ridge leading up to the summit of Carthew.

The funny part about some scrambling routes is that often you look at them and think that it’s going to take you forever to do them when in reality it only takes you a few minutes. The northwest ridge of Carthew was that kind of route. After the traverse it only took us about 40 minutes to reach the summit, even though we were going pretty darn slow by this point! At some point I had to lean on my poles every 2 minutes for about 10 seconds before I could force myself to take another step.

Cleveland (L), Campbell, Shaheeya, Guardhouse, Chapman, Carter, Rainbow, Custer, Numa, Peabody.
Alderson ascent route with Richards, Kainla, Cleveland and Campbell in the bg.

Eventually we were all standing on the last summit of the day – that felt pretty good! The sun was getting lower in the sky by the minute so we didn’t have long to linger before heading back down to the parking lot. Of course we still had about 7.5km to hike down and that did seem to take a while. Good conversation and a quick pace and we were done.

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