Summit Elevation (m): 3135
Elevation Gain (m): 1700
Trip Time (hr): 8.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 18
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – 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 (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
On Thursday, July 30 2009 I joined Eric Coulthard from Edmonton on a trip up Mount Coleman in Banff National Park. In order to facilitate an earlier arrival back home to Calgary after the scramble, we both stayed overnight near the trailhead and agreed to leave the parking lot around 0530. This was my first scramble with Eric and we proved to have much in common, including our love of the mountains and our method of ascent.
I met Eric at the trailhead and we started up the trail in the dim light of a mountain morning. Eric was in great shape and we chatted and climbed up the rather steep trail to Sunset Pass. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this trail. It would be a bugger with a big pack on but got 500 vertical meters off the ascent in short order.
Once at the pass the sun was coming up, but there was still frost on the surrounding vegetation! We hiked through an empty Norman Lake campground and continued for our objective which was clearly to our left. We weren’t sure if we should go all the way to Sunset Pass or not but soon itchy feet won out and we started crossing the open meadows / marsh area that makes up the Sunset Meadows. This is a beautiful and remote area – I’ll be back for sure sometime to explore it more.
We ascended an obvious gully up the left shoulder of Coleman. The vegetation was wet from the morning frost and as we got higher into the warm sunshine we experienced the only negative part of our day – the bugs! I’ve heard rumors about the bugs around Sunset Pass and they’re true. If you’re in that area during a warm summer day I highly recommend that you bring some bug spray along.
As we got higher on the shoulder we realized that we could either traverse high above the gully on climber’s left or descend slightly and go right up the gully. I voted for the gully for two reasons – there was snow which would provide easy step kicking and the higher traverse looked like it could get very tricky after a bit. Eric agreed with me and we descended slightly and began the grunt up to the high col.
As you gaze at the high col from the Sunset Pass trail you may not realize that you have to gain almost 900 meters just to the col but you will feel it once you start going up to it! 🙂 Eric did a great job kicking small steps in the snow patches that we came across and finally we reached the col to some fabulous views. Looking south was smoky because of fires but the views to the west and north were incredible. It was also very nice to realize that we were only about 300-400 vertical meters from the summit at this point and this was the fun stuff.
From the col to the summit I found the scrambling very enjoyable and not that difficult. We basically followed the crest of the ridge and eventually started finding the occasional cairn. I would caution against wandering too far to climber’s right in search of a ‘gully’ because Kane’s gully is the shallow one right next to the ridge crest on climber’s right.
After some upper-moderate scrambling we popped out on the ridge and could see our short traverse to the main summit. We chose to carefully make our way along the glacier on the north side in order to access the final summit bump on the way up but it is avoidable on climber’s right if you want to avoid it – there are some massive holes on this glacier and there’s a good chance that some of them are right at the col so if you do venture onto it make sure you probe carefully. Because of our early start time we were on the summit of Coleman shortly after 10:00.
The summit was small but we both fit no problem. After 30-45 minutes in the very cool wind with some mind blowing views, we were ready to start heading down.
We encountered no other problems except for the black flies lower down, which were merciless. We returned that attitude back on them several times. We chose to follow the main gully rather than our smaller ascent gully on the way down and that worked well. At first we traversed on animal trails alongside the skier’s right but after a while we simply dropped right into the gully and enjoyed some very refreshing stream water in the increasing heat.
We chanced on Twin Falls which was a nice distraction on the way back to the Sunset Pass trail and had a nice walk back to the parking lot.
This is a rarely ascended peak that deserves your attention if you like more remote scrambles with great views and no highway to the summit.