Whyte, Niblock & St. Piran, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 2983, 2976, 2649
Trip Date: Saturday, August 19, 2006
Elevation Gain (m): 1930
Round Trip Time (hr): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 17
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: Difficult exposed scrambling on Mount Whyte, moderate to easy everywhere else. This was a three peak traverse from Whyte to Niblock to St. Piran.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (4th)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps

After scrambling 4 peaks the previous weekend in Yoho National Park it was time to relax a bit this weekend. I thought I’d go for an even (odd) 3 peak in Banff! Raf 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 Raf’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 were 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 disappointment the day was awesome for scrambling.

Mount Whyte, Niblock and St. Piran Route Map

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 Tea house in just under 50 minutes and after a quick break started around the right hand side of Lake Agnes.

Mount Victoria and Lefroy (L) in the morning light as I start my way around Lake Louise.

Mount Whyte & Niblock

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.

Lake Agnes reflects the surrounding terrain perfectly. Mount Whyte at center with Devils Thumb at left.
After you do the waterfall climb you are faced with this view towards the col.

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.

Views back down towards Lake Agnes, Beehive and Devils Thumb from the scree bowl.

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. 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.

A view of the summit ridge, part of the descent and even Mount Niblock.

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.

Summit views from Whyte towards the impressive Mount Victoria South (C) and North (R) summits.

At the top I scrambled right on top of the ridge but then had a scary little down climb 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 down climbing 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 scrambling Mount Whyte. Niblock 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.

From L to R, Aberdeen, Whyte, Lefroy, Victoria South, Victoria North, Collier, Popes and Narao
Niles, Daly, Balfour and a host of other peaks barely show up through the haze of forest fire smoke.
Another scrambler on the ridge with Whyte, Lefroy, Victoria, Collier and Pope’s in the bg.

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 hundreds of 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.

Mount St. Piran

After scrambling up Mount Whyte and Mount Niblock it was time to descend back down the waterfall / headwall and back to the trail branching up on skier’s left to the Niblock / Piran col. It was a little bit depressing having to lose all that height, but traversing higher up just didn’t seem worth it either. I also thought a trail would be nice to follow, especially since I was feeling pretty tired at this point. The trail up to St. Piran from Lake Agnes is very steep, initially. With the sun beating down on my back the whole way up, I was certainly not running up! I was also very thankful that it was only 20 degrees and not 30.

Looking down from the scree bowl at Lake Agnes, Devils Thumb and the Beehive.
Mount St. Piran shows up as I descend back down from the Niblock / Whyte col.

I finally made it up to the col and started up the last 250 vertical meters to the summit. There were no issues at all (aside from lacking energy) and I finally stumbled up onto the summit. After enjoying the views, I took some Advil and headed down the main trail back to Lake Agnes.

Views over Lake Louise towards Mount Fairview.

I made good time back to the parking lot and got to the car 8 hours and 50 minutes after leaving that morning feeling very satisfied with my day. I would highly recommend doing these three summits in the order that I did. You are done the most difficult one the earliest which leaves you two more summits to relax and enjoy the views. The only problem is that after Mount Whyte everything else seems a little under-stated.

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