Summit Elevation (m): 3152
Elevation Gain (m): 1700
Trip Time (hr): 14
Total Trip Distance (km): 35
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or die
Difficulty Notes: If there’s snow on the upper traverse / crux this is no longer a scramble and can be dangerous. Wait until its completely dry.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
On September 25 2009 my brother Rod and I headed into Sherbrooke Lake and beyond in Yoho National Park to see what all the fuss over Niles Meadows and it’s neighboring peaks, Mount Daly and Niles was. The fuss is well founded, as it turns out! The hike to Sherbrooke Lake gained more elevation than I expected. We gained about 200 vertical meters before the lake already – and felt it with the bigger packs! Rod is a flat lander from Winnipeg and he did pretty darn good considering! Just wait till he turns 30.
Niles Meadows via Sherbrooke Lake
Sherbrooke Lake is a beautiful destination in it’s own right but we had to go much further. We stopped for some early morning photos of Mount Niles and Cathedral Peak reflecting in the lake before moving on and around the lake. The trail gets rougher the further you go and soon we were trying not to trip over roots and rocks at the edge of the lake shore.
After the lake the trail is in great shape and we followed it for a while through a flat marshy area with a stream meandering along it. At the end of this meadow the terrain steepens once again and we grunted our way up towards Niles Meadows. After passing the 20 meter waterfall (and a bunch of smaller ones) we crossed the ‘hump’ that Kane mentions and found ourselves descending into a small paradise on Earth.
The Niles Meadows is a very pretty place – one of the nicest spots I’ve had the pleasure to be in, and I’ve been in a few over the years. I like how small the meadows are. You don’t feel claustrophobic but you also don’t feel overwhelmed by open space. I highly recommend spending some leisure time in this meadow while in the area – even if you don’t want to climb anything.
After dumping our camping gear we shouldered our much lighter packs and headed up a nearby water worn gully for Mount Daly. This is probably not the gully Kane used but it worked great for both Niles and Daly. Once up the gully we realized that there’s another incredible valley just above Niles Meadows. This valley is even better than the one beneath and we would have camped here if we’d known about it. We angled climber’s left to the col between Niles and the ridge extending south from Niles. I found some tracks and cairns and we knew we were on someone’s route.
Once we attained the shoulder on the ridge we realized why hardly anyone completes a day scramble of Mount Daly. We still had a LONG way to go and we were feeling the effects of walking with our big packs to Niles Meadows and the 1000 meters of height gain and kilometers of distance already!! The weather was gorgeous and the wind was light so we shrugged off the doubts and started contouring along the southeast face of Mount Niles towards the pinnacle between Niles and Daly.
Once we reached the Niles Glacier we had to make a choice of whether to lose about 150 vertical meters contouring down and around the glacier or crossing it. Since the glacier was clear of snow and we could easily see the small slots on it we decided to cross. Crossing the Niles Glacier was no problem and Rod got to see how cool glaciers are when they’re melting. I led the way up the glacier towards the base of the scree cone and then off the glacier and around the cone on climber’s right.
Our next job was to ascend the horrible scree slope before the crux. It wasn’t actually that bad. We worked our way to climber’s left and then up firmer and bigger scree to the cliff band. I led the way up a difficult but very short crux and soon we were grinding our way up the rest of the massive slope to the long ridge. By this time we were both feeling pretty tired! The terrain was quite fun, not too loose and if you stick closer to the ridge the scrambling is fun in places and never more than moderate after the crux. I found a nice snow slope that we slogged up and finally we were on the LOOOOONG ridge to the summit! Are you getting the feeling that this was a long bloody scramble? Good. It IS! But it was becoming more and more worth it too. The views of the Waputik Icefield and Mount Balfour, not to mention a myriad of other peaks was absolutely mind blowing! We forgot about our tired bodies every time we looked up and around us.
The cliffs on the southeast side of Daly are also incredible. As we worked our way higher, along these cliffs, we were blown away by the grandeur of this area. We felt very lucky to be able to enjoy such a view with healthy bodies and minds. All the pain of the approach became more and more worth it. I got to the first summit of light brown scree and was kind of surprised to see no cairn and another summit of dark scree along a very exposed and difficult looking ridge! For some reason I wasn’t expecting this at all! I looked at the description and sure enough, Kane mentions that both summit are about the same height but the register is in the far one (of course!). Thankfully he also mentioned that the ridge wasn’t as hard as it looked, which is a good thing. I wasn’t coming this far to turn around NOW! Rod was quite a bit behind me but I knew he wouldn’t go past his comfort zone and so I started out along the ridge. It was more difficult than the crux as far as exposure was concerned. At some points I found myself looking hundreds of feet down sheer cliffs as I worked my way further along towards the true summit. I was feeling the effects of my head cold and the long approach and just wanted to get there already.
Finally, after one last move on the ridge I was standing on the summit of Mount Daly. The views were obviously very good and I relished the moment. We were the 5th ascent party of 2009 but most years see far less than that. The register was hardly started and was 13 years old already, so not a lot of people finish the slog. I suspect more than a few stop at the first summit too. So which is the true summit? My altimeter watch showed the exact same elevation for both peaks but it’s only accurate for 10 meters. From the first peak, the second looks higher but from the second the first looks higher so I suspect it’s a pretty close call. My map has the ‘dot’ on the first peak but the second one has the register and is more difficult to get to. I would say that if you care about such things as registers you should try going to the second peak just to be sure – you don’t want to miss the summit by 10 minutes! But I consider the first summit to be just as high as the second one and if you make it that far you’ve bagged Daly as far as I’m concerned!
Rod ended up not doing the traverse, even though he did the hardest bit which is right after the first summit. I still consider him as completing Mount Daly. After a brief summit stay (it was getting cold) we turned around and started the long trek down. We were very glad to know that we only had to go to Niles Meadows and a nice warm sleeping bag, rather than all the way back to the parking lot!
There was one bummer though. I had forgotten any form of fire starter and so we couldn’t have hot drink or our supper when we got to camp. This was a really big downer and we tried to forget this as we descended and got hungrier and hungrier. We’d have to survive on granola bars and we didn’t have that many. Mount Niles would be tough on empty stomachs! Than a small miracle happened. As we stopped for our lunch on the way down Daly, I remembered that on Chephren I had used a small lighter in my Gore-Tex jacket – which was in my backpack. Would the lighter still be in the jacket?! I checked the pockets and yes it was! We both let out a loud whoop at this excellent discovery! Maybe Vern isn’t as dumb as he seems eh?! 🙂 With the knowledge of a warm supper and hot chocolate our mood and pace picked up considerably.
We were wondering about the crux we came up – it wasn’t that bad (easy on the difficult scale) but was slightly over hanging and a bit awkward. Well, as it turns out we were not on the scrambling route on the way up through the cliff band. The scrambling route actually drops down from the top of the scree slope (we came up on climber’s left) to climber’s right and then follows cairns and flagging up to climber’s left through moderate terrain. I completely agree with Sonny that this is not a difficult scramble in dry conditions. It’s moderate – maybe upper moderate because of the summit ridge but not because of the cliff band. The cliff band route is easier than Mount Temple’s crux by a long ways, according to me. The difficult part of Daly is the remoteness and the long slog to get to the summit.
Once through the correct route in the cliff band we had no issues and took the glacier again on return. After snapping some pretty cool shots of the moon and the Victoria group from the high meadow we descended to camp for a nice warm supper and comfortable sleeping bags. We were in bed by 19:30 and slept very well. The next morning we were up at 07:00 and ready to tackle a much shorter and easier day on Mount Niles.