Summit Elevation (m): 2777
Elevation Gain (m): 1050
Trip Time (hr): 8.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 20.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Howard is mostly an off trail hike with some easy scrambling. Can be done in the off season if the approach road is open.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps
On Remembrance Day, November 11, 2009 I joined Bill Kerr, Wietse Bylsma and Kelly Smith for a hike up Mount Howard in Kananaskis Country in the front ranges of the Alberta Rockies. Mount Howard is located in the vicinity of Compression Ridge, Nihahi Ridge, Mount Fullerton and Mount Bryant and is has similar geology to these mountains as well. Howard is an easy scramble, but it’s a mighty long ways to the middle of nowhere so plan your trip accordingly!
We left the parking area at 08:00 and started the long tramp up Canyon Creek. Within 20 minutes or so we were passing the right hand (south) valley turn off for Mount Bryant. I stored that bit of information away for another day. (Bryant is another good off season objective and I haven’t done that one yet.) The wind was cool in our faces but the weather was quite nice for November. We were expecting to have lots of wind anyway – this area is famous for it. Bill told us that certain parties spend a few days in this area training for high altitude climbs such as Aconcagua because of the wind.
After trudging up the creek for about 1:15 and much discussion over the economy and investment strategies we were looking at a small cairn and the ascent ridge for Howard. We hadn’t gained any elevation worth mentioning to this point and it was a bit of a shock to start using the legs in earnest after already spending so much time walking! I was wearing my huge mountaineering boots in an effort to keep my feet warm and dry. This was a successful strategy but the downside was that walking 22 km in these boots was a test for my knees and feet.
As we climbed the first part of the ridge the wind died right off. This was an unexpected bonus. The views of Mount Bryant and Compression Ridge opened up as we got higher. The ridge is quite a bit further than it looks on photos. After trudging along for another 2 hours we were finally getting close to the summit. The wind started to pick up again and before long it was quite cold and windy and fresh snow was starting to fall. We bypassed some of the bumps on the ridge, but to be honest it’s not really worth it for most of them. I would say only the bump with the obvious sheep track bypassing it is worth the hassle – especially with snow and ice on the route. The few snow slopes we crossed were either wind loaded on slab or ice hard. Not the best terrain to be crossing but most were very small pockets with no serious run out issues.
Once I finally made the summit, I couldn’t find the register anywhere! The weather was closing in and I wanted to make sure this was the top. I wasn’t about to turn around only to discover that the true summit was close by… After waiting for a few minutes on the top the weather deteriorated even more. Pretty soon I couldn’t see the lower col and started to get really cold. Just then the other 3 guys came up and we quickly took some summit shots and prepared to go down. Our descent was looking a bit dicey as we couldn’t see 50 feet with the blowing snow. Just before heading down I spotted the register tucked into the north side of the cairn. I quickly signed it for everyone, noting that Alan Kane had placed it in the year 2000. Not a lot of people bother coming all the way in here but with the publishing of Nugara’s book and the ease of this peak I’m sure that’ll change over the next 10 years or so.
The trek back down Howard was interesting, especially for the first 45 minutes or so. We were blasted by a frontal system that came very close to blowing us off the mountain a few times! Fresh snow, combined with the wind, conspired to take away any views that we had and made for tricky navigation. We had Kelly’s GPS unit in case we were in real trouble but didn’t end up needing it. It’s funny how tricky things can get in the span of 10 minutes. You go from knowing exactly where you are and how to get down, to being lost in a world of snow and cold and no clear idea where you are! About 45 minutes from the summit on the way down the weather improved dramatically again.
We descended the alternate route and it worked great. The snow was ankle to knee deep in the trees but smaller stream out to the Canyon Creek valley wasn’t too bad. The long trudge out was – well it was long!
The trudge in and out from Howard really reminded me of Mount Fullerton. So it you’ve done that one, you know what to expect. An enjoyable day out in the off season with good friends.