Summit Elevation (m): 2842
Elevation Gain (m): 1200
Trip Time (hr): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 32
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Easy hiking, biking and scrambling but this is a long day!
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
I had a score to settle with Mount Romulus, so when TJ mentioned on the web board that he was going to be attempting it on Friday, November 2 2007, I decided that work could wait. Kevin Papke and Bill Kerr also decided that their work could wait, so we all hooked up on Friday morning and drove two vehicles with our bikes, to the Big Elbow Loop trail head. Well – almost to the trail head anyway! Because the Elbow campground was closed for the year we had to park about 1.5 km from the trail head. I realize that a total of 3 extra km of biking doesn’t sound like such a big deal but it all adds up.
Sometimes I really wonder what makes me think “yeah – I can do that!” to things like this. I haven’t biked all year. There’s fresh snow on the ground. I’m going to bike 12.5 km’s in snow, up hill, climb a mountain in winter conditions and then come all the way back down and bike back another 12.5 kms. This after already running over 30 kms this week!! And then I wonder why I don’t have much energy on the climb! I’m such an idiot. Oh well. It was quite brisk in the morning with temps around -12 in the parking lot. We were warm in no time though – biking in the snow wasn’t as easy as TJ had it the week before. (There was only a dusting then.) Because it was so cold the snow had a bit of a crust on it, which made the biking just a bit harder as the wheels had to break through all the time. There wasn’t quite as much of the white stuff as my previous Romulus attempt and the further we went in, the less snow there was. The peaks were mostly blown bare so it didn’t look like we would have to worry about avy conditions at all.
We took our time biking and soon we were near the shortcut route to Romulus. We badly wanted to try this route for a couple of reasons. First of all, everyone but TJ (who bikes 150 km a WEEK) had very sore butts already and were sick of the bike ride. Secondly, we liked the idea of trying a different route. The biggest reason was that Papke needed to be back in Calgary on time and when I told him that Bob Spirko had done the trip we were doing in 10 hours he kind of turned pale and said there was no way he could take that long! As an aside: NEVER EVER tell your partner back home that a trip to the mountains will only be “about 6 hours” It’s better to surprise by coming home early than disappoint by getting home late. That little tidbit is free but I’ll charge for the next one. 😉 After peering up at the alternate ascent route we determined that since we still didn’t know exactly where it went and since there was likely just enough snow / ice in the gully to make things very interesting (i.e. nasty) we were better off biking a bit further and actually bagging the peak instead of spending 3 or 4 hours getting lost and off route. So we continued on the extra kms, climbing steadily to the Romulus back country campground and prepared for our ascent of the mountain from there. After a somewhat precarious crossing of the Elbow River we were on a trail threading its way around the southwest side of Romulus. Both Kevin and Bill had previous attempts at this mountain, and both had ended up off route. Bill actually found himself in a whiteout on a sub peak of Fisher Mountain! After a few moments on the trail there was an obvious cairn marking a branch to climber’s right, just on the east bank of a deep gully coming off Romulus. We headed up that trail and through some interesting gully terrain till we were above tree line.
From tree line the scramble became a bit of a scree slog. Because of the snow and higher elevation winds, we didn’t want to gain the ridge via the tougher gullies on climbers left, so we trudged all the way up the alternate descent route instead. Eventually we came to the upper col, just to climber’s right of the main ridge to the summit of Romulus. I’m not gonna lie to you; the rest of the trip didn’t look very inviting from the top of the scree slope. The winds were downright nasty and the steep traverse up to the ridge was caked in snow and ice and didn’t look easy. Kev decided that he’d had enough and that he’d better turn around in order to get back to Calgary on time. Despite me and TJ urging Bill to continue on with us, he turned back with Kev. I really strongly suspected that the traverse to the summit wouldn’t be nearly as bad as it looked and I was mostly right.
TJ and I headed up the steep terrain towards the upper ridge from the col while Bill and Kev started back down the scree basin. At first we made good time on solid holds but soon we were up against some intimidating terrain. The ridge we were on became very steep and slick with snow and ice. We tried repeatedly to get into the large bowl to climber’s right, which we thought we could side-hill traverse to a point further along the upper ridge. This was frustrating because we simply couldn’t find a place to traverse that wasn’t rocky slab covered with about 1 mm of ice! Crampons were no good on that stuff and we both started getting a bit frustrated – it should have been so easy! Finally we decided that we would commit ourselves to the tricky terrain above and try to scramble up higher on the connecting ridge. This wasn’t easy either but we managed to finally scramble up a bit higher before getting stuck against an overhanging cliff – there was no way over this obstacle. We looked at the traverse again, and both decided it was worth another shot. We cramponed up and I led the charge across the bowl. To our surprise and relief, hidden under knee-deep snow, there was actually a very solid and level path! Obviously in the summer this would have been very obvious but we had to get ‘lucky’ to find it. In 10 minutes we were across the trail and on the main ridge to the summit.
Other than the elevation loss and the intense winds almost blowing us off the upper mountain, we had no other problems completing the ascent. What I suspected was also true. Without the snowy traverse problems we would have been on the summit within an hour of the col, as it was we took about 1.5 hours. The descent was quick and easy. TJ and I basically jogged all the way down the mountain on snow and then scree. Once we got back to the bikes I couldn’t believe how much it hurt to sit on that seat!! Wow. That wasn’t cool at all. I forced myself to suck it up and eventually my butt went kind of numb. We rode out a lot quicker than I thought I’d be capable of and within 9 hours of leaving the parking lot we were back. TJ was in super good shape and I know I slowed him down quite a bit. He didn’t seem to mind though – which I’m thankful for! It was good chatting with Bill and Kevin again – it’s been a while since I’ve gone out with either of those guys and they always have lots of interesting stories to help pass the boredom of scree slogging. Sorry you guys both have to go back a third time for this stubborn peak.
A great off-season scramble if you don’t mind wind, snow and a tough bike ride. I’d recommend doing this one in the spring or summer, and probably via the shortcut on the southeast side of the mountain – if you can find it and it’s clear of snow. There is some objective avy hazard on the shortcut route and with snow / ice I think you’d want to bring some mountaineering gear along.