Summit Elevation (m): 1734
Trip Date: May 23 2014
Elevation Gain (m): 310
Round Trip Time (hr): 1.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 4
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1/2 – you fall, you sprain your ego
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties except maybe gaining the final summit which requires some steep hands on and some slight exposure.
Technical Rating: TL4; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
I’ve been planning to take my daughter, Kaycie up a mountain to bivy over night on the summit for a while now. The perfect opportunity seemed to arise on Friday, May 23 when rumors of a spectacular meteor event started circulating social media and the news cycle. The Camelopardalid meteor shower was a rare astronomical event – a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a potential of up to 1000 meteors / hour!! (As a comparison, the common Perseids have a rate of around 100 / hour.)
There were a few problems we had to overcome. The first one was obvious. We needed a clear sky! While most of Manitoba was clear for the night of the 23rd, most of Saskatchewan and Alberta were covered in thick cloud. A local forecaster was predicting that a small patch of clear sky would open up near the foothills west of Calgary just around 02:00 – right around the end of the shower. It was worth a shot. I figured worst case scenario we’d get a cool mountain top bivy experience!
Interesting Facts on Vents Ridge
Vents Ridge is named for five vents buried in the scree near the summit that are only visible during winter with cold weather and snow. White Buddha is the cliffs below the summit of the unofficial Vents Ridge. There are numerous, short climbs on the cliffs, many of them appear to be bolted routes.
Driving out of Calgary at 20:30 felt strange. Starting our hike at the Powderface Ridge trailhead at 21:30 felt even stranger! Our first obstacle was a trail washout thanks to the 2013 spring floods. The small stream was rushing pretty fast and we had to delicately balance our way across it on shaky, partially submerged rocks. Kaycie set a good pace after this and soon we were sweating our way up the short, but steep, approach to the White Buddha cliffs above. We passed a group of climbers just cleaning up for the day around 22:00, just as the sun was setting. They were quite surprised to see us coming up with fairly large packs and were even more surprised when we told them about the meteor shower and our planned bivy.
The traverse along the White Buddha cliffs is really cool. There’s a ton of bolted routes of varying levels of difficulty, including some real doozies! It looked like a great place to hang out on a nice warm summer day. I’ll be sure to go back there when I get more into rock climbing some day.
Soon we were scrambling up through the end of the cliffs and I was busy snapping the gorgeous sunset from the summit of Vent’s Ridge. As I photographed the sunset, Kaycie explored the summit and to our immense delight she discovered a small stand of trees which would protect us from the stiff, cool wind and even some fire rings built out of rocks! We set up our bivy and I got a nice cheery fire going and we settled in to wait for midnight and the meteors. What a great memory for both of us.
At midnight we wandered away from the fire and back to the summit and I started taking photographs of the partially cleared night sky. There were still quite a few clouds, but a band of clearing was right around a very bright Mars, Spica and even Saturn were very visible. Right at midnight I took a series of photos and upon review noticed some familiar streaks indicating meteors! Excitedly we continued taking photos and looking for more, only to discover that the event had basically died out already. (I should mention that the light pollution from the city of Calgary was pretty bad, even this far out – for really good astrophotography you want much darker skies than we had on Vents Ridge.)
For the next 2 hours we switched between huddling over our warm, small fire and 20 minutes of photography sessions from the summit (until we’d get cold again). The next small burst of meteor activity showed up just as the sky was clearing at 02:00, just as predicted by the weatherman. I wanted to stay up to get the Milky Way, but the clouds weren’t clearing quite fast enough and the light pollution from Calgary would probably render the shot a bit duller than I’d like anyway, so we headed to bed for 3 hours until we could hike out in the morning.
The morning dawned bright and clear and we had no issues hiking back, except for another interesting stream crossing on shaky logs this time. The meteor shower was pretty much a nonevent, but bivying with my 14 year old daughter on the summit and enjoying each others company around a nice campfire for most of the night made the trip worthwhile. Next time we’ll try a much darker location – further from civilization and it’s light pollution.