Hailstone Butte & Sentinel Peak

Summit Elevation (m): 2373
Trip Date: Saturday, March 24, 2007
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Round Trip Time (hrs): 10 
Total Trip Distance (km): 19.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Combined with Sentinel Peak for a long day of easy scrambling and hiking, mostly on trails or ATV roads.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

On March 24, 2007 Wietse and I returned to the Livingstone Range to bag some more peaks. Our objectives this time were Hailstone Butte and Sentinel Peak. As we drove up the steep road to Teardrop Lake we were a bit nervous. The wind was howling at the pass and there were dark grey clouds closing in around us with snow coming down. We stepped out of the car and immediately got right back in! The wind was so strong we could hardly stand up in it – and this is the PARKING LOT! 

Hailstone Butte & Sentinel Peak Route Map

Hailstone Butte

The defeatist talk started. Did we really want to summit in this crappy weather? Was it really worth going up in this wind? Would we even stand a chance? Finally I asserted that I wasn’t driving 2 hours there and 2 hours back again just to do nothing so why not at least put our gear on and give it a shot? OK then. We reluctantly started getting our gear on. Wietse gave a nervous look back at his car as we started up the slope above the parking lot – he wasn’t sure if it would blow into the pond or not. I’m not kidding.

A look back down the approach gully shows the weather that we started with.

The wind was to be a major factor all day but in between furious gusts we actually experienced some moments of relative calm. The weather also steadily improved around us and as we hiked up to the col beneath Hailstone’s summit we had a partly sunny sky above us with lots of cloud to the west. We followed Andrew’s route which skirted the cliffs just below the summit due to icy conditions. The traverse across the steep avy slope wasn’t much better but at least the snow gave some more stable footholds.

Once up above the avy slope we headed up to climber’s left and traversed just above the cliffs to the summit. The wind was absolutely amazingly strong at the top and we struggled just to get behind the lookout! They must really build these lookouts strongly because you would think that constant exposure to 100+ km/h wind would eventually blow those suckers all the way into Saskatchewan.

A view north towards Sentinel Peak after topping out on Hailstone Butte.

We quickly snapped some photos and then the debate about whether or not to continue over to Sentinel Peak started. It didn’t take long to decided that we were there now, we might as well get some more exercise and at least do the hike to the base of Sentinel. If the wind was too strong we would simply turn back. Yeah right.

Sentinel Peak

After hiking Hailstone Butte in a gale force wind (or ‘Mach 2’ wind as Gillean Daffern would put it) Wietse and I decided we would try to at least make our way to the bottom slopes of Sentinel Peak if nothing else to get some exercise and figure out the route.

The traverse along the north end of Hailstone Butte was made very difficult by the sheer brunt force of the wind. It conspired with gravity and the slope of the hill to throw us off balance as we tried to walk. Some gusts were so fierce that we could only stand and lean back into the wind, else I think we would have blown clear off the ‘butte’! If I go bald in the next few weeks I’ll know what caused it! I’ve been in some really strong winds but this was by far the strongest to date. Any stronger and I would not have felt safe in it.

Wietse descends the north slope of Hailstone with part of Plateau Mountain in the background.

We really weren’t expecting to summit Sentinel Peak under these conditions. The funny thing was that after struggling down the north end of Hailstone in waist deep snow we kind of got used to the warm sunshine on our backs and the wind was much gentler. We started to forget how nasty the gale was and became all optimistic about summiting our second peak for the day.

After a pleasant walk up the approach meadows to Sentinel Peak we started up. The high tree line helped to provide much needed shelter and the wind was almost completely at our backs, pushing us up the mountain! About 10 minutes before the summit we re-entered the hurricane wind but it was way to late to turn back at this point so we basically crawled to the summit. We were in serious danger of blowing down the steep (i.e. sheer cliffs) east flank of the mountain. After a few quick pictures we headed back down into the fierce teeth of the wind and 15 minutes later sighed with relief as we regained tree line and a bit calmer environs.

From this point on we walked back out the approach valley and turned left onto the fire road that also accesses Hailstone Butte. We followed this road as it re-climbed towards the summit and left it for the high col just below the cliffs guarding Hailstone’s summit. After regaining all that height we quickly made it back to the car which was thankfully still there and not in Teardrop Pond.

A great two peak day, it would be absolutely fantastic with less wind, but that may be wishing for a lot, especially if you chose to tackle it when Calgary is getting a Chinook.

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