Summit Elevation (m): 2118
Elevation Gain (m): 650
Round Trip Time (hr): 6.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 12
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something – i.e. your ego
Difficulty Notes: The biggest difficulty on Labyrinth is crossing the Red Deer River without drowning or freezing various body parts.
GPS Track Download: Download GPX File
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
On Wednesday, April 8 2015, I climbed Mount Athabasca with Ferenc in perfect spring conditions. This left me wanting more in the way of snow ascents, hopefully on skis, for the weekend of April 11/12. Alas, the weather report didn’t bode well for a nice summit on skis. Rather than a suffer-fest in blizzard conditions, I decided another hike in the front ranges was in order. You probably can’t tell, but this year has been all about one area when it comes to hiking / easy scrambling in front ranges – Ya Ha Tinda.
And so it would be again. This time I was bringing someone who hasn’t been exposed to the charms of this interesting place yet – Wietse. Driving into Ya Ha Tinda, you inevitably drive past two small, but interesting peaks on the southwest side of the road as it curves through a burn area running along the base of Wildhorse Ridge. Mount Minos is the most southerly peak, with Labyrinth Mountain just to the north. Both peaks have some impressive cliffs on their northeast faces. What is also obvious is the fact that both peaks are protected from an easy ascent by thick bush and the Red Deer River which flows between them and the road. Nonetheless, the Red Deer River hasn’t stopped us before in the Ya Ha Tinda region, so there was no reason to let it stop us again.
Thanks to a flurry of activity in the region recently (apparently there are more of us running out of easy peaks near Calgary!! :)), we knew that ascents of both Labyrinth and Minos had been done recently by friends as separate day trips. We’d been planning to do both peaks together all along, and having confirmation that there were routes on both was a nice bonus. Matt even had a partial GPS track for Labyrinth which proved invaluable to finding a horse track from the river, saving us time thrashing around in the bush trying to find it first thing in the morning. After parking the truck on the edge of the clearing across from Minos, we descended to the Red Deer River on more fresh snow than we were expecting. Thankfully the sky was clear, as forecast, and the sun was warm on our backs, even as we crossed the very chilly Red Deer River. The water was just over knee deep where we crossed, about 500 meters north, up the river, from where we parked.
The key to having some fun on Labyrinth, rather than a pure bushwhack suffer fest, is to find an obvious horse trail that comes in from the north around the northeast face of the mountain, between the face and the river, before it loops around the southeast end and back around to the backside on the southwest (see the map below) on climber’s right of a Wolf Creek coming down between Minos and Labyrinth. There are many animal trails in the forests around Ya Ha Tinda, but trust me, you know when you’re on a horse trail – or anyway your nose will tell you. We followed the horse trail for about an hour, gaining some height and looping around to the southwest side of Labyrinth. The trail made travel easy and we enjoyed the views of Wolf Creek below and the open valley running between Labyrinth and a long ridge and some impressive peaks to the southwest. Eventually we decided we’d gone long enough up the valley and peeled off the trail to climber’s right, ascending steep, forested slopes up Labyrinth.
After leaving the trail we were expecting a nasty bushwhack / boulder slipping trek to the summit. We were pleasantly surprised when we found a relatively bush-free, boulder-free ascent line! Wietse was slightly further north than me and found the perfect line up a fairly bush free gully. I had slightly more trees to deal with, but both of us had fun for the first 300 vertical meters. After ascending a few hundred meters, we came on a large boulder field. There were elements of “labyrinth” here and we enjoyed it too – although it was a bit slick with the fresh snow and we wondered how it would be on descent. Eventually we trudged up to the high point, which was partially covered in trees but granted surprising views to the west and south. After taking a bunch of photos we descended off the top to eat lunch and plan the rest of our day.
After fueling up in an interesting feature beneath the summit, we decided to try an alternate descent path rather than deal with the slick boulder field we’d ascended. At first we thought we could descend the NW ridge before bailing to the horse trail lower down, but cliffs blocked our progress and we ended up back tracking a bit before descending into a rock labyrinth. The terrain was a bit challenging, but also very interesting! There were many deep holes and caves buried beneath the jumbled mess of rock and we had to carefully navigate our way down the maze before finally getting into steeply treed terrain that led back to the horse trail in the valley below.
We followed the trail back around the SE corner of Labyrinth before descending to Wolf Creek and tackling our second objective for the day – Mount Minos.