Summit Elevation (m): 3162
Elevation Gain (m): 1680
Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 33
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: The difficult crux can be bypassed making this a simple mountain hike ‘n bike – note we took the crux.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
After scrambling up Commonwealth Peak the day before, Keith and I found ourselves driving to the Mount Aylmer trailhead at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park on Saturday morning, June 27 2009. I should point out that we were fairly tired. And it wasn’t because we did Commonwealth Peak in 3.45 hours the night before. It was because of the rude neighbors we had at the Spray Lakes campground! Keith and I are both very tolerant guys. We were fine with the youthful antics of our 20 year old neighbors till about midnight. After that the games of ‘truth or dare’, ‘jackpot’ and other drunken distractions got a little bit old. Our neighbors on the other side were actually pretty good till they started up a BONGO DRUM at 1AM FFS! I’m disappointed in the campground management, who should develop a sense of responsibility and courage to at least drive around at midnight and out of courtesy, shut down these inconsiderate idiots. Ah well. Who really needs sleep before doing a 30+ km day right? And that vertical mile of height gain? You don’t need more than around 4 hours of shut-eye for that right? I was a bit concerned about the bike ride since the ride in and out of Commonwealth the previous evening had been my first time on a bike for the year. My butt was definitely not happy with me for the first few minutes of the Minnewanka trail! We met Heather and Parry in the parking lot just before heading out. They were waiting for a couple of friends before embarking on the same trip so we bid them a “cya later” and sped off down the trail.
I’ve always enjoyed the Lake Minnewanka single track and this was no exception. My legs were surprisingly cooperative and Keith and I enjoyed the 8 km ride to LM8 – the campsite where we ditched the bikes and prepared for our 15 km hike into Mount Aylmer. After a paranoid Keith (he thinks everyone is out to steal his bike) walked our bikes into the middle of the bush and locked them to a massive tree, we started up the steep Aylmer pass trail at around 09:00, an hour after leaving the parking lot. The trail from here to the turn off gully is set at an unrelenting angle – UP. This is a good thing because even though the bike ride has gained you about 100-150 vertical meters you have also lost all that height gain and are looking at over a vertical mile from the bike stash to the summit! Trust me. It feels like a vertical mile too.
After 2.3km we came across the trail branching to our right to the Aylmer Lookout. About 10 or 15 minutes past this spot we finally took our first real break of the day on some rocks near the trail. This was the first time we really had any good views since the bike ride as well. A cute Pika kept us entertained and the warm sun almost made us regret the fact that we still had so far to go. A bit further and we were at the drainage where scramblers must leave the trail to gain the ridge that runs from Aylmer’s upper slopes to the lookout. The drainage and the slopes above were riddled with Grizzly diggings. As we hiked up the slope we were amazed at how aggressive this bear was! S/he was on the hunt for gophers and must have been pretty hungry judging from the size of the holes! I would not hike this area alone during it’s restricted season (July 15th to September) judging by the looks of these slopes this is one very active bear area.
After finally topping out on the ridge we could hear the voices of Parry and Heather’s party down on the trail below. We caught a quick glimpse of them before tramping on up the ridge. We chose the moderate / difficult scramble route over the scree bashing hiking route to the high col from the ridge. It turns out that this was a great decision because the quality of rock on the ridge was much more enjoyable than the loose, wet scree on the hiking route.
After reaching the downclimb we could see why it’s rated moderate / difficult. The exposure isn’t too bad (you probably won’t die if you fall here), but it’s very steep and over-hanging at the bottom. I was very happy with my 6ft frame as I stretched through the bottom move and exited the difficult down climb. Keith breezed down the climb in short order and after another moderate down climb we joined up with the easy route and trudged up to the high col. Did I mention how long this bloody scramble is?!
From the high col I knew we still had about 350 vertical meters to go – thanks to my altimeter watch I didn’t get lulled into thinking we were closer than we were. The final section is nothing but a scree slog but thankfully we had a well-defined trail and some firm snow to assist our ascent. The summit sported an impressive view, although the thickening cloud cover was a bit disappointing – as was the cold breeze. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the summit, choosing to do our relaxing on the way down in a warm spot out of the wind.
Back near the high col we ran into Heather and Parry’s party and after a brief chat continued down. All the way up we were debating taking the ridge descent to the Aylmer Lookout. My legs were feeling tired and sore and I wasn’t sure about but it looked so pleasant and the day was so nice we decided to do it. It was a great decision! The ridge walk to the lookout is very pleasant. You have much better views than the hike on the Aylmer Pass trail and for much longer too.
The only key to finding the lookout (despite what the Gemtrek map shows) is to stick on the sheep track all the way along the ridge. The few times we dipped off it to skier’s right we almost got in trouble. You will eventually come to a very steep drop off into a rocky drainage, just after the weird burnt area. If you go on the skier’s left of the ridge there is an easy trail around the drainage on the east side of the ridge. Follow this trail another 10 minutes and you’ll see the obvious lookout.
I was expecting a fire lookout building but only the stone foundation remains. We hiked up to the lookout and spent about 2 minutes taking in the excellent views before heading down the trail again. The ‘endless switchbacks’ actually aren’t too bad – there’s only around 4 or 5 of them. It’s the walking back towards Aylmer Pass up hill that’s the issue! I’m not sure why there’s a section of the lookout trail that goes in the wrong direction and up hill but it’s a bit disconcerting. We eventually did reach the main trail and hoofed it back to our bikes.
The bike ride out was fast and furious. We passed two other bikers who had packs about the size of my scrambling boots. Maybe I have to start bringing less crap on long scrambles… A great trip and a nice mountain to have done but I won’t be back for more of this one.