Arethusa, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 2912
Trip Date: Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Elevation Gain (m): 875
Round Trip Time (hr): 3
Total Trip Distance (km): 6.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 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 (4th)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

Taking advantage of the weather is priority #1 for any peakbagger, so following that theme I set out with Kevin Barton and Wietse on Wednesday evening, July 04 2007 to help our Southern neighbors celebrate independence day with a trip up Mount Arethusa in the Highwood Pass area of Kananaskis country. We left Calgary city limits around 15:45 and after a quick stop for refreshments (it was HOT!) we arrived at the parking lot. Taking Dave Stephens advice we instantly noticed a cairn on the right hand side of the drainage (not left as per Kane) and started up a very good trail through the forest. This was the first scramble I’ve done with Kevin and as it turns out we have very familiar backgrounds and ambitions. We are both ex-overweight smokers who enjoy bagging peaks and running – what more do you need?!

Mount Arethusa Route Map

Kev set a nice pace up through the forest and soon we came to the stream that we could hear rushing down on our left as we walked. My advice to anyone climbing Arethusa or even just hiking into the valley is to stay on the right side of the stream as long as makes sense before crossing it. We crossed it too early on the way up and ended up too far to the left of the scrambling route and had to back track a bit around the south slopes as we made our way up. Our route worked out fine but it’s less bushwhacking the other way.

Soon we were scree-bashing up the southwest slopes of Arethusa with the sun beating down on our backs and sweat pouring down our faces. We decided that we should traverse a bit around to the south so we headed for a prominent buttress and skirted around the bottom of it to climber’s right. Once around the buttress I saw that we could avoid most of the scree by walking up the edge of a small rock spine all the way up to the ridge, above the Arethusa / Storm col. This saved us a lot of time and energy and soon we were grinding up the ridge towards the crux.

Once I got to the crux I was relieved. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very steep, narrow chimney and if you’re not used to such things you will not like it, but compared to what I was expecting it wasn’t that bad. The thing I didn’t expect was that the trickiest part for me was getting into the chimney. I’m glad I’m 6 feet tall, let’s just put it that way! Any more erosion on that part of the down climb will make things very interesting for subsequent parties. I chose to go right down the first (obvious) chimney. I did my ‘crab walking’ routine, facing outwards and using my butt and outward pressure of my hands to keep me anchored to the mountain. A fall here would be fatal – or at the very least really, really uncomfortable… You should be aware that the rock isn’t quite as solid as it looks. For example, I sat on a rock on the way down the chimney and was quite alarmed to feel it shift.

A slightly wider view of Kev on the crux down climb with Wietse above him on the ridge – definitely not easy terrain!

After I completed what’s supposed to be the crux I did a variation that I don’t recommend. I kept going on the ridge and this was not smart! For some reason I guess I was feeling that I should try sticking to the ridge when I should have gone down and around the next section to climber’s left, traversing on grippy slab. But I went up a very exposed little corner notch and about 20 meters down the ridge discovered that I was stuck at an overhang! Oops. What followed was a tricky bit of route finding down the slabs to my left (west). I glanced back and noticed that by this time Kev was down climbing the crux. He chose to traverse over to another crack to the west of the one I went down. He seemed to be OK so I yelled back at him that I was going to keep going and he acknowledged that was OK.

Great views down hwy 40 and over Highwood Ridge towards Joffre (R) and Abruzzi (C).

I love this kind of scrambling! Exposed ridge walks with bits of slabby traverses made the rest of the trip to the summit fly by too quickly. Every time I thought the terrain was getting too difficult to be called ‘scrambling’ I would find a route to the left (west). There was an interesting traverse before the final climb to the summit, underneath overhanging slabs of rotten rock. Honestly, I think that this mountain will collapse soon so you’d better get out and enjoy it while it’s still there. I got to the summit 1 hour 55 minutes after leaving the car and proceeded to gulp some Gatorade and enjoy the summit views in the late evening sun. A cool breeze revived me quickly. About 30 minutes later I was joined by Kevin and Wietse who both thoroughly enjoyed the scrambling too. Wietse did very good considering this was only his 2nd difficult scramble. We didn’t waste any more time at the summit and quickly began retracing our steps over the ridge.

Panorama from Storm (L) to Grizzly / Highwood Ridge with Tyrwhitt, Pocaterra, Joffre and many others.

The alternate descent wasn’t an option for us because it was choked with snow and ice. Personally I’m not sure it’s worth all the hassle anyway. The trip back across the ridge was fun and fast and climbing up the crux is much easier than descending it. It’s kind of like Fisher Peak that way – you climb up all the cruxes on the way back. The Fisher crux is more exposed than the Arethusa crux – in case you really didn’t like Arethusa you certainly will not like Fisher because it has 3-4 sections like the Arethusa one.

We descended the scree on Arethusa’s south slopes very quickly and by sticking to skiers left in the valley we avoided most of the trees too. We saw a large moose on the way out and with all our ‘bear yelling’ we didn’t see any of those brutes. Soon we were back at the stream and our ascent trail through the trees. A bit over an hour after leaving the summit we were back at the car. A highly recommended scramble if you’re confident on loose rock with quite a bit of exposure.

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