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Wapta Mountain

Summit Elevation (m): 2778
Trip Date: Thursday, August 16, 2007
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Round Trip Time (hr): 8
Total Trip Distance (km): 15
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)
Map: Google Maps


After scrambling Mount Warspite and Mount Storelk the previous two days, Thursday, August 16 2007 seemed like the perfect day to grind up Wapta Mountain and complete 3 difficult scrambles in 3 days after 2.5 weeks away from the mountains. So that’s exactly what I did! This time I was joined by Wietse, Jason and Kevin Barton. Wapta Mountain has always interested me because of the purported views and the difficult crux which seems to surprise most people with it’s level of difficulty. I love the Yoho area for it’s amazing views and good approach trails. The day started off with JW stuffing 6 bottles of beer in his pack for later enjoyment.

Wapta Mountain Route Map

The hike to the campground by Yoho Lake was pleasant and it was here that the beer got hidden under a log in the lake. We continued up the excellent trail and soon were enjoying views of the ‘other side’ of the Presidents and the impressive waterfall coming off the south glacier. The hike is longer than you may expect, it must be close to 6km each way, but it was a lot shorter than my trip up Mount Field. (OK – that was a ridiculous amount of work for such an easy peak, I admit it, but we were desperate for a summit at the time!)

Once we came to the gully we wasted no time heading right up the middle of it. Raff had mentioned that the middle of the gully was fun scrambling on the way up and that the trees to climber’s right were better saved for the way down so we listened to his advice – and it paid off. The gully has some moderate to upper moderate scrambling in it, on smooth water-worn slab that can get pretty steep in spots. You can usually bail out of it to the left or right if it gets to prickly for your taste, but if you can’t handle the scrambling in the gully you won’t be liking the crux on the summit block very much and should probably continue on to Mount Field or stick to hiking for the day.

Once we got near the top of the gully we scrambled slightly to climbers right and straight over the first cliff band – heading for a cairn that could just be seen on the top. The scrambling through the lower cliff bands was quite enjoyable. You may be tempted to go way over to climbers right where the cliff band completely deteriorates into scree but if you can find the break closer to the ascent gully you will save yourself a lot of scree bashing and will have a much more enjoyable scramble, IMHO.

Looking back down the gully (lower left) and across at the Presidents with Carnarvon on the left.
Taking a break after the first cliff band, Emerald Lake far below and Carnarvon rising out of sight at upper right.

After we broke through the first cliff band we could see another band above us. It looked like there was a way directly up and through this band too. We headed up very broken scree and boulders for another break in the cliffs and this was quite loose but only moderate scrambling at best.

Carnarvon (L) and The Presidents (C) with des Poilus and Collie in the far distance at right. Wietse’s also in there somewhere.

Once through this last cliff band we were in the upper bowl before the summit block. JW headed off for the slopes to the east of the summit block (he would have to traverse west to meet up with us on the west side of the block later) while the rest of us followed the odd cairn and bits of broken trail up the scree to climbers right and the northwest corner of the block. Testimony to the looseness of the upper terrain came in the form of a huge cloud of dust and rock from the summit as we were clambering up this final scree field. Once at the summit block we waited for JW to join us and then proceeded to traverse under the steep cliffs towards the south end of the block and our route up to the summit.

The route goes somewhere up here… As it turns out, the easiest ascent route is further back than the flagged / cairned one that we descended.

As we traversed up alongside the summit block we naturally ended up on a ledge that worked its way along the steep cliffs. The ledge eventually became a bit exposed and we had to stretch to get over some broken bits on it. We kept looking for the Kane route markers but didn’t see any obvious ones. Eventually we came to a point where JW thought we could get up onto the south ridge and so we clambered up using a slightly awkward move and we were there. The route we took did not seem very heinous to us and we knew that we had somehow missed the Kane route but found an easier one while we were at it! The final bit to the summit was quite exposed and loose but not that bad and soon we were enjoying the wonderful views of the surrounding peaks including the Goodsir Towers, Mount Vaux, Laussedat, Carnarvon, the Presidents, Wapta Icefields summits, Niles, Daly etc.

After almost an hour on the summit we decided that the clouds to the west were looking a bit soggy and we should get down before we looked soggy too. Wietse and Kevin led the way back down the summit ridge. I was kind of bummed that we hadn’t gone up the Kane route. I wanted to test my scrambling skills against Kane’s difficult rating and the register entries had me even more curious about the crux. (Generally people were not in favor of labeling it as a ‘scramble’ route.) On my way up the summit ridge I had noticed where the Kane route topped out, and could see the route was well marked with small cairns on the way down. I yelled to JW behind me that we should give it a shot but he didn’t sound so keen on that plan so I kept going down our ascent route.

Emerald Lake at left then, Carnarvon, President and Vice President, Des Poilus, Collie, Yoho, Baker, Rhondda, Gordon, Balfour, Niles, Daly, Hector, Ogden, Bosworth, Divide, Niblock and Whyte at distant right.
Mount Field at lower right with Stephen, Cathedral, Huber and Victoria (R to L) in the distance behind.

I guess the wheels got to turning in JW’s head because as he passed the Kane route he yelled down to me that it was “worth a shot” and so I scrambled back up to meet him and we started down the route. Right away it became obvious that this is a whole other ball ‘o wax compared to our ascent route. The Kane route is more difficult. It’s more exposed, much steeper, longer and looser than our ascent route. Unless you like down climbing loose choss, where every handhold, no matter how large seems determined to come down on top of your melon, I would highly recommend NOT using the Kane route on this mountain. JW and I both made it down no worse for the wear – and I was glad I did it because I would have always wondered otherwise, but since there is such an obvious route around this crux it almost seems foolish to tempt the scrambling deities.

Looking down the flagged / cairned crux as described by Kane – note the cairn at the bottom?
Tricky, slow down climbing on the crux.

There were no cairns marking our ascent route and we didn’t cairn it either, but if you simply continue past the Kane route, almost completely to the south end of the summit block on the ledge (it will be obvious), you can’t miss it. I think Dow Williams must have picked a very similar line to ours but I can’t be sure of that. Even the ledge route was ‘difficult’ but compared to the regular Kane route it is much safer IMHO. Wietse and Kevin both said that it was a bit tricky to descend but the level of involuntary clenching seemed considerably less than what JW and I had just experienced.

This gives an idea of the terrain around the crux – very steep and exposed.

After the summit block we retraced our ascent route through the cliff bands and tackled the steep scree slopes on skiers left of the ascent gully. Eventually we ran into a faint trail with flagging and soon were back at the Wapta high-line trail. Back at the lake JW immediately downed his beer while lounging in the frigid water! The rest of us stayed dry until the sun came out and I joined JW. I am not cold blooded like he is so I only lasted about 3 minutes but he must have been in there for at least 10 or 15.

A shallow cave we went through along the upper summit cliff face.

Once the beer was gone, it was time to head back and we enjoyed some good laughs and impressive views of Takkakkaw Falls before finishing another awesome day in the Rockies.

Wapta Mountain
Storing some drinks for the return trip in Yoho Lake.
Storing some drinks for the return trip in Yoho Lake.
Looking back at the south face of the President (L) and Vic President (R) from the highline trail.
Looking back at the south face of the President (L) and Vic President (R) from the highline trail.
Hiking along some impressive cliffs coming off the west end of Wapta
Hiking along some impressive cliffs coming off the west end of Wapta
The infamous lower gully
The infamous lower gully
Getting near to the top of the gully.
Getting near to the top of the gully.
Looking back down the gully (lower left) and across at the Presidents with Carnarvon on the left.
Looking back down the gully (lower left) and across at the Presidents with Carnarvon on the left.
Rather than side-hilling too far to climber's right, you can find your way straight up through the lower cliff band above the gully.
Rather than side-hilling too far to climber's right, you can find your way straight up through the lower cliff band above the gully.
Taking a break after the first cliff band, Emerald Lake far below and Carnarvon rising out of sight at upper right.
Taking a break after the first cliff band, Emerald Lake far below and Carnarvon rising out of sight at upper right.
Taking a break after the first cliff band, Emerald Lake far below and Carnarvon rising out of sight at upper right.
Taking a break after the first cliff band, Emerald Lake far below and Carnarvon rising out of sight at upper right.
The second band wasn't too bad - just loose.
The second band wasn't too bad - just loose.
Wietse looks pretty small in the expansive views from below the summit block on Wapta.
Wietse looks pretty small in the expansive views from below the summit block on Wapta.
Carnarvon (L) and The Presidents (C) with des Poilus and Collie in the far distance at right. Wietse's also in there somewhere.
Carnarvon (L) and The Presidents (C) with des Poilus and Collie in the far distance at right. Wietse's also in there somewhere.
The route goes somewhere up here... As it turns out, the easiest ascent route is further back than the flagged / cairned one that we descended.
The route goes somewhere up here... As it turns out, the easiest ascent route is further back than the flagged / cairned one that we descended.
Traversing the summit block.
Traversing the summit block.
JW gazes off a prominent point near our ascent line.
JW gazes off a prominent point near our ascent line.
Views over Emerald Lake.
Views over Emerald Lake.
Looking down at Wietse who's coming up onto the ridge proper - you can see the point from the previous photo behind him in the center of the photo.
Looking down at Wietse who's coming up onto the ridge proper - you can see the point from the previous photo behind him in the center of the photo.
JW leads up the summit ridge. As you can see - it was a scorchingly hot day.
JW leads up the summit ridge. As you can see - it was a scorchingly hot day.
Sublime view of Emerald Lake with Carnarvon rising to the right over Emerald Peak.
Sublime view of Emerald Lake with Carnarvon rising to the right over Emerald Peak.
Wietse with the distinctive shape of Mount Vaux in the distance.
Wietse with the distinctive shape of Mount Vaux in the distance.
Mount Field at lower right with Stephen, Cathedral, Huber and Victoria (R to L) in the distance behind.
Mount Field at lower right with Stephen, Cathedral, Huber and Victoria (R to L) in the distance behind.
Carnarvon on the left, President and Vice President at center and des Poilus, Collie and Gordon in the distant right.
Carnarvon on the left, President and Vice President at center and des Poilus, Collie and Gordon in the distant right.
Takkakkaw Falls at lower left and the mighty Mount Balfour - king of the Wapta - looming above Trolltinder.
Takkakkaw Falls at lower left and the mighty Mount Balfour - king of the Wapta - looming above Trolltinder.
From L to R, Collie, Baker, Habel, Rhondda and the ridge of Mount Gordon.
From L to R, Collie, Baker, Habel, Rhondda and the ridge of Mount Gordon.
Mount Owen on the extreme left with the Goodsir Towers and Chancellor Peak between it and Vaux on the far right.
Mount Owen on the extreme left with the Goodsir Towers and Chancellor Peak between it and Vaux on the far right.
Emerald Lake and Mount Carnarvon (R) - my very last Kane Peak scramble!
Emerald Lake and Mount Carnarvon (R) - my very last Kane Peak scramble!
Mount Laussedat has a very distinctive summit glacier cap.
Mount Laussedat has a very distinctive summit glacier cap.
Upper Carnarvon - this mountain is still one of my favorite scrambles.
Upper Carnarvon - this mountain is still one of my favorite scrambles.
Mount Vaux is another favorite mountain of mine - and this is her best angle IMHO.
Mount Vaux is another favorite mountain of mine - and this is her best angle IMHO.
The always-impressive Goodsir Group
The always-impressive Goodsir Group
Des Poilus is a gorgeous Wapta Icefields peak, looming over Whaleback Mountain's ridge in this shot and looking extremely melted out!
Des Poilus is a gorgeous Wapta Icefields peak, looming over Whaleback Mountain's ridge in this shot and looking extremely melted out!
Mount Collie is one of the spiciest summit ridges on the Wapta Icefield with tremendous avalanche risk and exposure.
Mount Collie is one of the spiciest summit ridges on the Wapta Icefield with tremendous avalanche risk and exposure.
I've skied Mount Gordon several times and it's still a favorite ski destination of mine on the Wapta.
I've skied Mount Gordon several times and it's still a favorite ski destination of mine on the Wapta.
The gap between Habel (L) and Rhondda (R) is clearly visible.
The gap between Habel (L) and Rhondda (R) is clearly visible.
Mount Hector is another fantastic ski run - and an 11,000er to boot.
Mount Hector is another fantastic ski run - and an 11,000er to boot.
I have fond memories of scrambling Niles (L) and Daly (R) with my little bro' from a gorgeous bivy in the meadows beneath Niles.
I have fond memories of scrambling Niles (L) and Daly (R) with my little bro' from a gorgeous bivy in the meadows beneath Niles.
Looking into the Skoki area at Douglas (L) and St. Bride (C) the snowy peaks.
Looking into the Skoki area at Douglas (L) and St. Bride (C) the snowy peaks.
Distant Lake Louise giants include Huber, Victoria and Victoria North (R to L).
Distant Lake Louise giants include Huber, Victoria and Victoria North (R to L).
Group shot at the summit of Wapta Mountain
Group shot at the summit of Wapta Mountain
Looking over the Trans Canada towards Lake Louise.
Looking over the Trans Canada towards Lake Louise.
Looking down the flagged / cairned crux as described by Kane - note the cairn at the bottom?
Looking down the flagged / cairned crux as described by Kane - note the cairn at the bottom?
Wietse down climbs the upper ridge on Wapta
Wietse down climbs the upper ridge on Wapta
Down climbing to the end of the upper ridge where we came up on the right hand side.
Down climbing to the end of the upper ridge where we came up on the right hand side.
This is where I turned back up the ridge to rejoin JW and attempt to down climb the regular route.
This is where I turned back up the ridge to rejoin JW and attempt to down climb the regular route.
JW starts the tricky down climb - lots of VERY loose rocks!
JW starts the tricky down climb - lots of VERY loose rocks!
Tricky, slow down climbing on the crux
Tricky, slow down climbing on the crux
This gives an idea of the terrain around the crux - very steep and exposed.
This gives an idea of the terrain around the crux - very steep and exposed.
Looking back at the other guys negotiating the 'gap' in the ledge that occurs if you walk past the Kane crux route.
Looking back at the other guys negotiating the 'gap' in the ledge that occurs if you walk past the Kane crux route.
Looking back at JW on the ledge we used to access an easier line to the upper ridge.
Looking back at JW on the ledge we used to access an easier line to the upper ridge.
Traversing back around the summit block.
Traversing back around the summit block.
JW retraces our steps along the summit block's west cliff face.
JW retraces our steps along the summit block's west cliff face.
A shallow cave we went through along the upper summit cliff face.
A shallow cave we went through along the upper summit cliff face.
Exiting the upper mountain.
Exiting the upper mountain.
Careful down climbing on very loose scramble terrain through the upper cliff bands beneath the summit block.
Careful down climbing on very loose scramble terrain through the upper cliff bands beneath the summit block.
Easy scrambling compared to the crux but still fun!
Easy scrambling compared to the crux but still fun!
Looking along the curtain wall that some scramblers end up under if they don't chose the right gully (don't go far enough) on ascent.
Looking along the curtain wall that some scramblers end up under if they don't chose the right gully (don't go far enough) on ascent.
Waterfall coming off the Presidents
Waterfall coming off the Presidents
Takkakkaw Falls looks much bigger now that we're closer to it.
Takkakkaw Falls looks much bigger now that we're closer to it.
Emerald Lake at left then, Carnarvon, President and Vice President, Des Poilus, Collie, Yoho, Baker, Rhondda, Gordon, Balfour, Niles, Daly, Hector, Ogden, Bosworth, Divide, Niblock and Whyte at distan
Emerald Lake at left then, Carnarvon, President and Vice President, Des Poilus, Collie, Yoho, Baker, Rhondda, Gordon, Balfour, Niles, Daly, Hector, Ogden, Bosworth, Divide, Niblock and Whyte at distan

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