Summit Elevation (m): 2572
Trip Date: November 08 2014
Elevation Gain (m): 1500
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 21
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you might sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: Easy hiking, some basic route finding on Evangeline. There’s some tricky down climbing from Evangeline to Rum, but nothing serious. Options are there to avoid difficulties to the summit of Rum.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
When I heard there was a major winter storm coming down through Calgary and the Rockies to the west on Sunday, November 9th I decided that as much as I didn’t feel like getting up early on Saturday the 8th – I should probably try to make it a priority before the deep freeze. One last warm fall hike / scramble in 2014! After emailing with Ben and Steven we settled on Evangeline Peak in the Ya Ha Tinda region of the front ranges, west of Sundre, Alberta. I’d never been to this area, while Ben and Steven made a few excursions there in 2013. Sundre is an easy enough drive from Calgary (~1.5 hours) but that’s only about half way, time-wise. After picking up Steven and Ben we drove another hour to the parking lot near the Bighorn Campground. This campground is free to stay at – somewhat rare nowadays.
After gearing up we started our prairie walk along Bighorn Creek in temps that were warmer than expected. The Ya Ha Tinda area is quite different from other front range areas, such as the Ghost Wilderness because there is a range of mountains surrounding a tall-grass prairie / valley instead of a simple transition from prairie directly to mountains.
There are a confusing number of trails around the Bighorn Falls area, but using the map I’ve provided and common sense should help find the right mountain! We followed horse trails past a turnoff to “Poplar Ridge” (Steven wryly commented that it didn’t say “Popular Ridge”…) before finally plunging into the bush when the GPS showed we were on the lower east flank of Evangeline.
Interesting Facts on Evangeline Peak
The highest point of a long ridge which runs SE to NW between the headwaters of Bighorn and Willson Creeks. It is bounded on the S by James Pass and the James River, and on the N by the Clearwater River. Named after “Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie” which was a poem by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It describes the betrothal of an Acadian peasant girl named Evangeline to her lover, Gabriel, and their separation as the British deport the Acadians from Canada in the Great Expulsion.
This is also the area where Rick Collier et. al. decided to quit ‘official’ clubs and start enjoying themselves more informally as the “Old Goats” rather than put up with the politics of climbing clubs – see this trip report for reference. (from Bivouac.com)
We used a combination of logged areas, animal trails and bushwhacking to ascend to tree line. The bush wasn’t bad at all and we were very surprised by the complete lack of snow and even wind as we got higher. Eventually we cracked tree line and hiked easily to the summit from there, on large scree slopes. As we ascended, I couldn’t help but look over to our right at what we thought was Poplar Ridge. I mentioned that the traverse from Evangeline to Poplar (Rum Ridge Peak) looked doable and we should go back that way. Ben and Steven agreed.
The summit views were very nice (the views were nice all the way from tree line actually) but a cold wind was finally present at the apex of Evangeline so we didn’t waste any time before dropping down the south ridge towards Rum Ridge – or Poplar Peak.
Rum Ridge (Poplar Peak)
As we ascended Evangeline Peak, I noticed a nice looking horseshoe ridge / route running south from the summit and back down around to the west from a subsequent summit. Based on a antler-sign that we passed on our approach trail, we thought this was the summit of Poplar Ridge, but after descending and looking at maps we realized this summit is actually an unnamed peak rising above both Poplar Ridge and Poplar Peak. The traverse from Evangeline looked fairly innocent but Steven right away pointed out that we could by stymied by any of a number of cliff bands that were barely noticeable from a distance but were definitely in the way. As we started our traverse we began to run into these bands. Most were short and easy but a number of them were fairly steep and I found myself wishing I had my brain bucket along. I wouldn’t rate any of these bands as more than ‘moderate’ scrambling and we were actually delighted to be doing more than just hiking after an easy ascent of Evangeline Peak.
It took a while to drop down to the lowest point between the two summits – at least a 200 meter vertical drop. We never knew if the next cliff band would turn us away, so it was nice to finally know that our route would probably go! We didn’t know for sure the entire time, which made things a bit more exciting at least. The ascent of Poplar Peak from the low point was on loose and steep scree – I was feeling it at this point. When we finally topped out at the summit ridge I was surprised to see we’d done almost 1500 total metes of height gain between the two summits and the traverse! No wonder I was feeling it. The traverse along the west ridge to the twin summits of Poplar Peak was easy, with great views in every direction.
We were pretty happy with the traverse from Evangeline to Poplar Peak so far. We’d managed to find some hands-on scrambling on pretty good rock and had great views and weather all day. Now we just had to get back down to our approach trail to the west. As it turns out, our route-finding and scrambling adventure wasn’t quite done yet!
Soon after leaving the west summit of Poplar Peak, we encountered a distinct “Dragon’s Spine” along the west ridge. The spine was too sharp to scramble on top at first, so we descended snow terrain to the north (our right). Luckily for us, this turned out OK and soon we were confronted with a choice. Scramble up steep rock to the spine crest, or side hill loose rock to the left (south) side of the spine. Ben choose the side hill, Steven went up the spine. First I followed Ben but soon decided that side hilling sucked and joined Steven instead. The spine was close to difficult scrambling and reminded me of Mount Crandell’s spine in Waterton National Park. There you can also avoid the scrambling on climber’s left. This spine was a bit shorter and soon we joined up with Ben and continued down on easier slopes.
The rest of the hike down was pleasant and fairly quick. We descended easy slopes before running into a network of horse / hiking trails which even had a few signs. We learned of some interesting local peak names (“Oil Rig” and “The Hat”) and also some more trails we could use to access these peaks later. This is where we figured out that there was a Poplar Peak trail going higher than a Poplar Ridge trail in our area. We agreed that our peak was more likely a high point of Rum than Poplar and it sounded cooler too. After briefly getting lost in the myriad of tracks we managed to find our approach route and rejoined it right at the antler-sign for Poplar Ridge we’d passed that morning.
I highly recommend this hike / scramble. It’s a pleasant (but lengthy) 2 peak day or a nice day hike to just ascend Evangeline Peak. It took us 7.5 hours but we were moving pretty briskly. I think 9-10 hours would be a more leisure and perhaps ‘normal’ pack for the 1500+ meter of gain and 21km of distance.