Hawk Mountain

Summit Elevation (m): 2544
Elevation Gain (m): 1550
Trip Date: June 21 2008
Trip Time (hr): 8
Total Trip Distance (km): 17
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3- you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: The crux can be bypassed which makes this more of a ‘moderate’ scramble but the terrain above the crux involves a lot of ‘no slip’ zones.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps
Photos: View Album

After bagging Roche a Perdrix and Morro Peak the day before, we were ready for an easy day out. So, naturally we chose the 5.5 hour trip up Hawk Mountain. Of course we knew that the 5.5 hour time is actually only ONE WAY but still, it sounded short. After negotiating our way through the usual hordes of sheep (!!) at the Overlander’s Trail head we were on our own. I was feeling very tired. Our friendly teenage neighbors from the Whistler’s Campground had done their best to thwart our sleep and in my case it worked wonderfully. I had maybe 4 hours of restless sleep. Good thing Hawk is a long and difficult outing.

Hawk Mountain Route Map

Kane mentions a creek that you cross about 40 minutes in from the trail head. Then there is a trail on the right side of the creek heading up towards Hawk. At about 35 minutes you will cross a trail that comes down from the left side of the creek. There is a ribbon on a tree about 10 meters up the hill. I suggest you take this trail. This trail is much more traveled than the one Kane references and should take you across the stream near a waterfall and back up the other bank to the right side. Follow this trail to the crux – you may get slightly confused by all the sheep trails on the lower mountain but this main trail is pretty obvious. A pleasant diversion exists for anyone who wishes to look down at the canyon separating Hawk and Morro Peak. Good thing we didn’t traverse into it the day before.

I’m not sure what I think about the crux on Hawk Mountain. On the one hand it’s pretty tough but on the other the real Kane crux is by-passed quite obviously on climber’s right. Most people mention that the by-pass is ‘easy’. This is a bit misleading IMHO. The by-pass is easier to get up than the crux, but it’s much more exposed. A slip on the crux would hurt. A slip on the by-pass would probably hurt even worse! I’m calling it “class 3” but there are more than one no-slip zone on and around this crux.

Another thing that I don’t think is clear from other trip reports that I’ve read is how nasty the terrain above the crux is. I actually think that this terrain is getting worse, the more people that use it. Instead of just loose dirt and rocks (like the guidebook says), you now have hard-pan dirt, basically dried clay with sand on it, and very loose scree and larger rocks. I knew already on the way up that this was going to be a much harder section to come down than the crux, simply because one tiny misstep and you would plunge down the SW face of Hawk – there is no room for error on this section, which makes it quite ‘difficult’ in my books! It’s also sustained. There are trees to hold on to for some of the moves, but even they are showing signs of stress with all the traffic. We sent some pretty big rocks down this section on the way back so I would not ascend this part of the route without a helmet, or if anyone else is coming down it. I prefer crux’s that are steep, exposed rock to ones that are loose and sandy slabs with rockfall.

The Snaring River is at far left and mountains visible include Esplanade, Cliff, Whitecap and Gargoyle.
Incredible colors of the Palisade Tarns across the Athabasca River.

Once above the crux section, you can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the rest of the trip up the spine of the mountain. We knew that Morro Peak was around 700 meters so we weren’t surprised when we realized we still had a long ways to go once on the ridge. It was good to look back at Morro getting smaller and smaller and we continue on. There are lots of flags and cairns the rest of the route – no worries about getting lost! Where the first ridge ran out we spotted two mountain goats on the west face, scampering around. It was pretty cool the way they handled the exposure.

The upper mountain still had a fair amount of snow. I was quite nervous about our chances of making it and I knew that Wietse wasn’t so sure either. Thankfully, the closer we got the more confident we became and as we gazed up at the final 300 meters we knew we would most likely make it. (Yes – the top is almost 300 meters vertical, even though it looks like nothing from the road!) The steep snow-filled gully was bypassed on climber’s left. The terrain here is loose and steep but we made it through no problem. If you need them, there are cairns guiding your way up this section too. The final section was knee deep snow, but didn’t pose any significant problems for us. The summit view was awesome! We spent almost an hour enjoying our success.

L to R, Colin, Edith Cavell, Pyramid, Palisade, Kinross Zengel, Buttress, Snaring, Chetamon, Esplanade, Gargoyle, Greenock, Cinquefoil and Jacques (R).
Edith Cavell now on the far left, looking over the Athabasca River towards Marmot, Indian Ridge, Pyramid, Zengel, Buttress and many others including the large peaks of the Tonquin Valley – Geike and others.
Looking off the summit ridge up the Snaring River at center joining the mighty Athabasca River. The Victoria Cross Range at left and towards center.

The trip down was largely uneventful. The crux section was steep and nasty but we made it through. We took the alternate trail through Morro Creek on the way back and I put my head under a small falls in the creek – boy did that feel good. I highly recommend this trip if you’re comfortable with difficult terrain. The ridge section is long, but fun.

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