Storm Mountain (Banff)

Summit Elevation (m): 3100
Elevation Gain (m): 1500
Trip Time (hr): 6
Total Trip Distance (km): 11.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something.
Difficulty Notes: No major difficulties if scrambling the Kane route. If skiing the winter route, obviously there is avalanche risk that you must manage.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (Hike)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

After spending the previous two days ascending Mounts Inglismaldie and Whymper I was ready for either a shorter day or even a day off. So I decided that a nice 1500 meter elevation day was in order. Huh? OK, originally I was going to do Copper Mountain with Harvey but he decided to do another objective that I’ve already done so I decided I would do Mount Burgess in Yoho National Park, solo, instead. On my drive out to do Burgess I noticed quite a bit of fresh snow along some of the divide peaks and started to rethink Burgess as my objective. Burgess is rated ‘easy’ in Kane’s book but his South Peak (main) option is considered by many to be ‘difficult’ and with fresh snow / verglass it didn’t seem wise to do a difficult scramble by myself. Note: Now I realize that Walcott is the ‘easy’ scramble and Burgess is the tough one. Either way – you don’t want snow for Burgess.

Storm Mountain Route Map

I pulled off onto the Castle lookout along the Trans Canada and mulled over my options. The weather forecast was calling for a sunny day but so far it didn’t look too positive with low cloud along most visible peaks. I was optimistic though, and figured it would probably clear out. Considering where I was, I had two options. I could go up Storm Mountain or Vermillion Peak. Vermillion seemed far easier but I didn’t like the Grizzly odds on the open avalanche approach slopes and I kind of wanted to ski up Vermillion so I choose Storm instead – even though my leisure day just changed to almost a vertical mile of height gain on an off-trail scramble… I phoned in my change of plans (I always alert my wife where I’m going, especially when solo) and headed up hwy 93 for the second time in two days.

Kane mentions a parking spot off the highway, 0.8 km from the divide parking lot, but I found a nice gravel pullout a wee bit further on the east side of the highway and pulled in there instead. This worked out excellent – I ended up with less bushwhacking this way. As on Inglismaldie a couple of days earlier, a faint trail on the climber’s left side of the creek provided me with a huge sense of relief and a much shortened approach time. The trail was rough and there were still plenty of trees to duck under and scramble over but having that faint trail was a morale boost and helped avoid the worst of the bushwhacking. If you attempt this mountain you should try to find this trail, it is hard to miss, especially at the beginning of the trip once you’re through the bottom flats before the drainage that Kane mentions.

Once on this trail, I made good time, occasionally losing it in thick growth and fallen trees but always finding it on the edge of the drainage again. Eventually I found myself right in the drainage, looking at a gap into the upper environs of the Storm Mountain basin and LOTS of fallen rock / scree! I was kind of taking my time because I knew I had all day and rather enjoyed myself through this upper drainage / basin. The view is VERY foreshortened though. It took me another good hour before I was at the end of the basin and by then I was getting a bit sick of loose rock and rubble. Kane’s suggestion to do this scramble with snow is bang on. I would highly recommend waiting for late spring to do this scramble. (Or ski it via the ski route which is NOT the same as the scramble route.)

After two hours the misery started in earnest for me. The weather closed in so even the promised views weren’t a motivator anymore. It started to snow and the wind grew cold. The scree on the upper part of Storm, just under the final slopes to the summit, is some of the loosest, nastiest, crappiest scree I’ve been on in a long time! Considering people have been coming down this way for 100 years, I’m very surprised by how loose it was. Maybe most people wait for snow or something. Sometimes half the slope was moving on me.

Once on the upper plateau I grew more concerned about summiting. There was no way I was turning around after all that top ‘quality’ suffering for the past hour but the visibility was all but gone and the upper slopes are pretty big! I figured I would simply slog uphill and keep to skiers right on the descent and would probably make it fine.

After fighting the wind and snow for about 20 minutes I was on top of Storm Mountain with absolutely no views whatsoever. 😐 Not cool, but I’ve been pretty lucky with views this summer so I’ll take it. I was really looking forward to the views of Ball’s north face though! Now I’ll just have to ski it someday I suppose.

I start to get some views as I descend back to the approach valley. Whymper just right of center.

My fingers and face were rapidly going numb in the cold wind so without any dallying around, I scurried back down the mountain. Of course the clouds started lifting on my way down but there was no way to predict if it would last or not and I was too cold to stick around to find out. The walk out was fairly quick with the weather improving slowly the whole time. The upper scree was very loose but after that it was a pleasant walk with improving views. Once back at the car I gazed longingly back at the summit, wondering at the great views I had missed out on. Oh well.

Great views down the approach with the green tarn at right. Whymper at left, Boom at right in the distance.

This is a recommended scramble for those desperate for a Banff peak off the beaten track. Literally. Supposedly the views from the summit are worth it. In all seriousness, there are great views already in the upper basin and the tarns look like an interesting distraction too. I might even go back some day to check them out.


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