Summit Elevation (m): 3035
Elevation Gain (m): 1200
Round Trip Time (hr): 6.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 18
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 2/3 – You fall you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: No major difficulties but there is some exposure right near the summit. Caution is also advised if there’s snow on route.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Mount James Walker has been on my radar for a number of years. I wanted to save it for off-season since it’s a pretty easy objective but I also wanted it to be fall and fairly nice weather because the rumor was that it was a perfect objective with fall colors. On Saturday, October 13 2012 I met Wietse in the Sawmill parking lot under a very grey and threatening sky – not quite the nice weather I was looking for.
Oh well. We knew we were taking a chance with extreme winds and the possibility of morning rain in the forecasts. The trail to the first lake was basically snow-free which was more than I was expecting after my experience on Old Baldy and McDougall the week previous! Obviously the front ranges received more snow for some reason. We could see that there was some fresh snow up high but it didn’t look very deep.
After the first lake we made our way through some scrappy trail sections to the headwall cliff band and then up a good trail on climber’s left. After the headwall we contoured straight over the hump to the back of the valley, around the moderate scramble route on climber’s right. On hindsight we could have contoured around this bump on climber’s right but it wasn’t a lot of extra gain so no big deal. Snow levels were WAY lower than I was expecting and we traveled fairly quick until the back of the valley.
From the bottom of the final ascent slopes it’s still 600 vertical meters to the summit. Normally this would have sucked on loose scree but we had just enough snow to kick firm(ish) steps all the way up! Wietse led quite a bit of it since my toes were so cold I could hardly kick steps! My toes are getting worse circulation every year – I’ve been abusing them for years and now they’re paying me back I guess. The final 300 vertical meters was a bit depressing because we had snow, wind and NO views at all. We didn’t really know where the summit was until we finally realized we were there already. After a few useless photos (no views) we headed down.
Of course 5 minutes later the clouds started to lift. Oh well. We plunge-stepped down the snow slopes and made very short work of the first 600 vertical meters. The rest of the hike out was fairly pleasant – the promised hurricane-force winds never did materialize for us (thank goodness). On our way out I noticed another group of 8 making their way along the upper alpine meadows. I have no idea if they were going for the summit but if they did they probably got better views than we did.
I’m sure this is a gorgeous area in the summer / fall – I was surprised by the number of small tarns in the upper alpine meadows – but for us it was a little drab. The scrambling was very easy and the day ended up being short too.