Summit Elevation (m): 2752
Elevation Gain (m): 460
Trip Time (hr): 8
Total Trip Distance (km): 20
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: Moderate scrambling on the Kane route.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
I decided early on in 2008 that it was time I bagged a few of the Kane peaks in Jasper National Park. In the span of two weeks I’ve now completed over half of them! Indian Ridge and The Whistlers were my latest Jasper peaks. I shared the pleasure with two nephews and two brother-in-laws on June 30 2008. Part of me hesitates to claim The Whistlers as a summit on my summit log, but since I down-climbed the whole trail and ran into an aggressive bear for all my efforts, I’m claiming it. I’ve done a lot less work for a summit in Jasper before. Amber Mountain is a simple hike up about 20 meters and off to the side of the main trail when you’re already on the Skyline trail. Signal Mountain isn’t much more of an effort than Amber.
We were the first ones at the tram and soon were rocketing up the first part of The Whistlers. I hate trams. It didn’t help that there were only teenage summer students running the thing and they seemed very fresh at it. I also happened to know that the week before, the tram was shut down for maintenance so I wasn’t in the best of spirits as we rode the 1″ cable up the mountain. We stepped off the tram station at around 9:30 AM and began the trudge up The Whistlers (about 200 meters height gain). The weather was beautiful with mostly clear skies and only a bit of haze off to the south. My two brothers-in-law were doing pretty good and my two nephews didn’t seem to have any issues with the first part of the ascent either. We were all huffing pretty good by the top of Whistlers but we made good time (25 minutes) and the views were great in all directions – especially Mount Robson off to the Northwest. It wasn’t that strange to think that there were some people just stranded for 18 days on that mountain – it looks pretty intimidating from 80 km away.
After some drinks and photos on The Whistlers (named after the numerous Marmots up there), we descended into the tranquil valley between The Whistlers and Indian Ridge. This height loss is important to note, as you have to regain it on the way back! It’s about 180 meters and it feels like it. I was looking at the snow on Indian Ridge, just before the summit, and thinking that we were going to have to be lucky to summit in those conditions, but I kept silent about it. Sometimes things look a lot easier when you’re a bit closer, especially mountains. As we went higher the route became a bit more exposed to climber’s right. One of the boys began to get a wee bit nervous and even my brothers-in-law were getting a bit overcome with the views and the airy feeling that comes with ridge walking. I love scrambling with people who have never done it because it helps me remember why I do it.
Eventually we came up to the snow. It was actually a cornice that hung out over the north face of the ridge – not a good place to fall down. I thought the snow was pretty bomber and would most likely hold but there was no way I was letting my two nephews take that kind of risk! My sister would kill me if anything happened to them. They were done anyway as the route steepened considerably above this point. We agreed that I would tag the summit and come back to the group before heading back down. I quickly went over the ridge, trying not to stray onto the cornice. The last part was the best in terms of scrambling with good holds and pretty solid rock. I still think this is more ‘low-moderate’ than ‘easy’, especially when compared to other easy scrambles I’ve done. At the summit there were great views in every direction. The mountains to the west were especially colorful and Edith Cavell and Robson tried to steal the show in opposite directions. When I peered down at the group waiting below, my one brother-in-law yelled that he was coming up. I went down a bit and helped him up some of the steep stuff which made him a bit nervous but also exhilarated. Now my sister’s really going to hate me – when her husband decides to bag peaks! 🙂 He was really blown away by the views and the feeling of a summit – his first real Rockies summit ever.
The way back was without incident. When we got to the tram there was a huge backup of people. Apparently something wasn’t quite working with one of the cars. This made me VERY anxious since I hate those things at the best of times. When we were told it would be “at least an hour”, I mentioned that I was hiking down the Whistlers hiking trail and they could meet me at the bottom. Of course, my nephews didn’t want to sit around for 1.5 hours either so they right away volunteered to come with me. Now my two brothers-in-law weren’t going to be out-hiked by a couple of youngsters so they also decided (reluctantly) to follow me down! Oops. The Whistlers trail is not a great one. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The views are very limited. There are mosquitoes and water on the trail and after descending quite quickly the trail drags on and on for way too long. It got very annoying the more east (away from the parking lot) we got. I knew that the trail head was different than the tram parking lot but didn’t think it was that far away.
Right before getting to the trail head (we could see the vehicles in the parking lot) I brought up my nephews with a shout. Just below us, on the trail was a rather large black bear! We had been yelling for bears the whole way down, and even ran into some people going up, so I was surprised when the bear just looked at us and started coming up the trail – straight for us!! This wasn’t cool. I expected the bear to run into the bush – I knew that an aggressive bear isn’t to be trifled with so I coaxed my (nervous at this point) nephews back up the trail towards my two brothers-in-law who were a bit behind us. I knew that it would take an insane bear to challenge 5 people. Once the brothers-in-law caught up to us we all slowly went down the trail to the parking lot with no more signs of the bear. We did hear an air horn and someone yelling though. As we trekked the trail from the hiking parking lot to the tram parking lot I conjectured that the yelling and the air horn was some idiot trying to scare the bear away from the road. I wondered why they didn’t just shut up and leave the bear alone.
As we got closer to the hostel (it sits between the two parking lots) the air horn and yelling got louder and louder. We were all yelling because we knew the bear was close by and soon the yelling started over-lapping. “Get out of that bush”, someone yelled at us. “What the heck do you think we’re doing?”, we yelled back. The most bizarre sight greeted us in the hostel’s back yard. Some dude with no shirt was standing on a pile of logs with an air horn in his right hand and both hands raised above his head! When I asked him what the heck he was doing he replied that we had scared no less than 4 bears into the hostel area on our way down The Whistlers and he was busy scaring them right back up the trail!! I told him that he was not doing the single girl or the two Japanese tourists (with a yippy little dog) any favors but he didn’t seem to care that he was disturbing 4 bears back up a popular hiking trail towards unsuspecting hikers. What an idiot. I really do hope that no-one else ran into those bears because that’s why they were so aggressive. It was either some hikers or a dude with an air horn – most smart bears would take their chances with the hikers. That is why the bear we saw wasn’t scared of us like he should have been. The good news is that yelling while hiking definitely works, the bad news is that sometimes you end up chasing the bears right down to the parking lot where they have little choice but to come straight back up at you.
The short hike up the highway in 32 degree heat almost killed us but we made it. A highly recommended scramble but I would suggest waiting till the snow clears and doing the whole traverse of Indian Ridge on a clear day. That would be a much better use of your energy then hiking down the Whistlers trail.