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Astley, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 2900
Trip Date: June 07 2015
Elevation Gain (m): 1500
Round Trip Time (hr): 9.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 19
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: The final summit ridge to the highest point is very exposed and loose, other than that it’s a moderate scramble on scree and slabs.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (3rd)
MapGoogle Maps


Mount Astley is interesting for a number of reasons. I wasn’t even aware of this peak before I found out that Raf and Eric were planning to ascend it on Sunday, June 7th and invited me along. I did absolutely no research and for some reason Raf convinced me that it was a short day out. I blew off Phil Richards (we were planning Threepoint Mountain) because of a later start on Astley and a feeling of laziness induced by a long drive and ascent of Wildhorse Ridge with my family the day before. Sorry Phil!! So back to what makes Mount Astley interesting;

  1. This is one of a very few peaks that has been officially unnamed. It used to be called ‘Mount Astley’ and everyone still calls it that, but officially you won’t find it on any maps anymore. Even bivouac (which names absolutely everything) doesn’t have it named!
  2. Nobody seems to be very sure where the actual summit is. Yep! That’s the truth. Indications are that the summit is the one directly above the Cascade River but since the mountain has been officially unnamed, nobody is sure anymore. How bizarre is that?
  3. The most likely ‘official’ (unofficial) named peak is not the highest one point on the mountain. The highest peak is along a ridge and clearly part of the same massif. This is the peak that is being called ‘Mount Astley’ both by me and by the Rocky Mountain RamblersSo Nakagawa and Steven Song aren’t so generous, and consider the lower SW summit the official one. But since it’s no longer official can anyone claim an official summit on this hunk of rock anyway?! Damn! Climbing mountains used to be so simple. 😉
  4. On official maps (including Garmin GPS maps), the highest summit is around 50-60 vertical meters too low. This is my strongest evidence that the west summit used to be the officially named one. I think the map makers got lazy and just assumed the east summit bumps must be the same height as the named summit (otherwise why wouldn’t that be the summit?!), so they marked all three as the same height. Altimeter GPS readings from three devices show the lower, west summit at around 2840m and the higher east summit at around 2900m.
  5. The higher summit actually has two summit blocks. The easternmost one entails difficult, exposed and very loose scrambling. It’s also clearly a wee bit higher than the western summit and has slightly better views too. So tagging the highest point on the Astley massif is difficult scrambling rather than just moderate.
  6. Both the lower west and higher east summits are visible from Lake Minnewanka and the Trans Canada Highway so that doesn’t help either. (i.e. peakfinder shows both summits and calls them Mount Astley).
Mount Astley Route Map

Now that I’ve cleared that mess up, I’ll proceed to talk about the actual scramble of Mount Astley. In short? It reminded all of us who have done Mount Girouard of that approach and scramble. A lot. The initial hike from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot, up Stewart Canyon is a pleasant stroll through thinly forested slopes with a raging Cascade River far below. I was delighted to find large groups of my favorite flowers along the trail – Ladies Slippers. After the pleasant walk along Stewart Canyon, we arrived at the drainage coming down from Astley. This is where the approach reminded us of Girouard. The next few hours were spent navigating up a wonderful drainage, hoping over rocks and boulders and gazing up at a tight, steep walled canyon with bolted climbing routes and even two stuck ropes still dangling from high above!

These types of approaches are always more fun on approach and this one was no different. It was very nice not to be bushwhacking and climbing up the rocky creek bed was like climbing stairs. This terrain is hard on the knees on descent. Eventually the narrow canyon widened and there was more debris from the brutal 2013 June floods scattered around. We could navigate through most of it easily. Some of it was a PITA but nothing too serious. To our surprise there was no running water in this drainage until the split, where we wanted to go climber’s left. We gratefully drank cupfulls of fresh, cold water and refilled our bottles before continuing up a steep side drainage towards the upper hanging valley under Astley’s summits.

Once we finally broke out of all drainages, we had already gained almost 1000 meters of height gain! The upper hanging valley is one of those typical alpine meadows that are my favorite Rockies destinations. They always make me want to bivy. The group had a passionate debate about which peak we were going to go for. Steven really wanted to go immediately left, to the most likely (originally named) summit. He reasoned that nobody we knew had ascended it and he liked the look of it. I didn’t know that So had called it a moderate scramble or I likely would have agreed with Steven. At this point, we still thought the summits were the same height. Raf, Eric and I reasoned that no matter what else, the east summit had better views and we knew the route would go. We made a strange decision to split up – we’re all confident scramblers so this wasn’t a horrible idea. Nobody was angry – we just wanted different things. Three of us were more concerned about great views and Steven really wanted to see if the west summit was truly a scramble or not.

Raf, Eric and I started towards the easternmost peak on loose scree and some very handy snow patches. Eventually we found a moderate gully which led on scree and slabs to the col between Steven’s peak and ours. Some folks won’t like coming down this stuff – slabs can be tricky especially when wet. From the ridge, the summit block looked impressive! I was hoping it would stay ‘moderate’ and it did. As we climbed the final slopes it was also very obvious that our peak was higher than the one that Steven was now standing on top of. This was a surprise, but made me satisfied with our decision to bag this summit rather than the other one.

Breaking onto the SW ridge with our approach valley at center left. Mount Rundle at distant center here.

As we walked the final stretch to the summit, we immediately noticed that there was a slightly higher summit immediately to the east. It was also very obvious that we were quite a bit higher than the west summit that Steven climbed. I didn’t waste any time and started the scramble over to the high point. I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be as moderate as the previous sections were. The rock is extremely friable on this traverse, and the exposure is pretty severe on both sides. Great care must be taken here. I eventually did make it over and indeed, the summit was slightly higher, maybe 1 or 2 meters. The views to the south, east and north were very nice indeed. Inglismaldie, Girouard, Peechee, Costigan, Saddle, Orient Point, Blackrock, Devils Head, Carrot, Stenton and of course Mount Aylmer were all very prominent. Further away, Mount Assiniboine and other summits west and north were also looking fine under the clear, hot June sky.

Incredible summit views include (L to R), Solstice, Revenant, Brocks, Apparition, Aylmer, Devils Head, Black Rock, Costigan, Saddle, Carrot, Stenton, Girouard, Inglismaldie, Rundle, Sulphur, Assiniboine, Cascade and the lower SW summit of Astley.
Vern jumping off the mountain! Costigan, Orient Point, Saddle, Carrot and Stenton over the lovely Lake Minnewanka.

After taking many photos and at least 45 to 60 minutes on the summit we started our descent. I’m impressed that the Ramblers managed this with a large group and no injuries – the descent is very loose and we kicked many rocks down despite trying hard not to. 

We met up with Steven before proceeding back down the long approach drainages. He verified that his summit was basically a moderate scramble with route finding. He also found some evidence of a register (unreadable), which we didn’t have on ours. We all agreed that while his summit was most likely the previously named one, ours was higher and had better views. It’s up to you which is more important! 😉 The hike out was long and very hot, but easy and pleasant enough for the most part. It certainly wasn’t the ‘easy, short’ day out that I was expecting but 9.5 hours wasn’t too bad. I highly recommend Astley as a scramble for fit parties who are tired of beaten trails to their summits. The absolute high point is a difficult and exposed scramble, so it’s up to you which of the options you choose to call ‘Astley’. In the end – it really doesn’t matter does it?

Mount Astley
51 photos
Following the popular trail along Lake Minnewanka from the parking lot.
Following the popular trail along Lake Minnewanka from the parking lot.
The Cascade River as it makes its way down to Lake Minnewanka.
The Cascade River as it makes its way down to Lake Minnewanka.
A favorite flower of mine - the Calypso Orchid.
A favorite flower of mine - the Calypso Orchid.
This is where the Stewart Canyon trail is washed out by the drainage that we wish to ascend. I'm not sure if the trail continues past this point or not.
This is where the Stewart Canyon trail is washed out by the drainage that we wish to ascend. I'm not sure if the trail continues past this point or not.
The debris was fairly easy to navigate around considering how bad it could have been! I think the flood in 2013 flushed the creek out for the most part.
The debris was fairly easy to navigate around considering how bad it could have been! I think the flood in 2013 flushed the creek out for the most part.
Hiking the access canyon SW of Astley.
Hiking the access canyon SW of Astley.
This rope was partially pulled down - the other end is dangling high on the face.
This rope was partially pulled down - the other end is dangling high on the face.
Looking back down the drainage you can see that these bolted climbs aren't easy (on the right).
Looking back down the drainage you can see that these bolted climbs aren't easy (on the right).
Getting higher the drainage opens up again.
Getting higher the drainage opens up again.
Sheep detritus.
Sheep detritus.
It's not all fun and games - there is more debris above the choke point / narrow canyon.
It's not all fun and games - there is more debris above the choke point / narrow canyon.
Almost at the split now - notice the drainage going left just ahead, this is the one to take.
Almost at the split now - notice the drainage going left just ahead, this is the one to take.
We go left ahead.
We go left ahead.
Raf thought Mount Astley was that peak that's already far behind us. This is why he promised me a short / easy day out... ;)
Raf thought Mount Astley was that peak that's already far behind us. This is why he promised me a short / easy day out... 😉
Looking ahead at the alpine bowl and Mount Astley at the end of it.
Looking ahead at the alpine bowl and Mount Astley at the end of it.
Steven worked his way up these cliff bands and then out of sight to the summit on upper right.
Steven worked his way up these cliff bands and then out of sight to the summit on upper right.
We made our way over to an obvious scree / slab gully leading to the west ridge high above.
We made our way over to an obvious scree / slab gully leading to the west ridge high above.
IMHO you don't want a large group on this terrain for obvious reasons.
IMHO you don't want a large group on this terrain for obvious reasons.
Note Eric at lower right? The terrain is much steeper than it looks on this wide angle photo.
Note Eric at lower right? The terrain is much steeper than it looks on this wide angle photo.
Eric looks small in the terrain as we gain a ridge beside the gully - we traversed climber's right when the strata through a cliff band and some steep slabs at us.
Eric looks small in the terrain as we gain a ridge beside the gully - we traversed climber's right when the strata through a cliff band and some steep slabs at us.
The peak is still high above us here.
The peak is still high above us here.
Exiting onto the SW ridge, looking back to the SW summit.
Exiting onto the SW ridge, looking back to the SW summit.
Now we're as high as the SW summit.
Now we're as high as the SW summit.
L to R, Costigan, Saddle, Inglismaldie, Rundle, Cascade and Solstice (R).
L to R, Costigan, Saddle, Inglismaldie, Rundle, Cascade and Solstice (R).
Views north to Solstice, Brocks, Revenant, Apparition, Devils Head, Costigan, Saddle (R).
Views north to Solstice, Brocks, Revenant, Apparition, Devils Head, Costigan, Saddle (R).
Looking back at Raf on the slightly lower summit before the difficult traverse. The obviously lower SW summit lies beyond.
Looking back at Raf on the slightly lower summit before the difficult traverse. The obviously lower SW summit lies beyond.
Saddle Peak at distant left with Carrot and Stenton to the right.
Saddle Peak at distant left with Carrot and Stenton to the right.
Banff area summits including Girouard and Inglismaldie on the L, Rundle at center with Assiniboine in the far distance and Cascade on the R.
Banff area summits including Girouard and Inglismaldie on the L, Rundle at center with Assiniboine in the far distance and Cascade on the R.
Raf starts traversing to the true summit of Astley.
Raf starts traversing to the true summit of Astley.
A huge pano towards the Ghost and eastern Banff area. Revenant (L), Aylmer and Cascade (R).
A huge pano towards the Ghost and eastern Banff area. Revenant (L), Aylmer and Cascade (R).
Costigan (L), Saddle, Carrot, Stenton, Girouard and Inglismaldie (R).
Costigan (L), Saddle, Carrot, Stenton, Girouard and Inglismaldie (R).
Solstice and Spectral Peak are just beyond the unnamed peak to the north.
Solstice and Spectral Peak are just beyond the unnamed peak to the north.
Mount Assiniboine rises over Sulphur Mountain and the town of Banff.
Mount Assiniboine rises over Sulphur Mountain and the town of Banff.
Vern on the summit of Mount Astley.
Vern on the summit of Mount Astley.
Some of the terrain on the short, difficult traverse between summits on the NE summit block of Astley
Some of the terrain on the short, difficult traverse between summits on the NE summit block of Astley
Views back to Raf on the summit as I traverse back to Eric on the slightly lower false one.
Views back to Raf on the summit as I traverse back to Eric on the slightly lower false one.
Mount Costigan is very high on my to-do list - apparently there's a 4th class route to the summit.
Mount Costigan is very high on my to-do list - apparently there's a 4th class route to the summit.
Mount Aylmer is the highest peak in the area.
Mount Aylmer is the highest peak in the area.
Brocks Ridge / Peak is the brown colored one in the foreground - Revenant Mountain looms above in the background.
Brocks Ridge / Peak is the brown colored one in the foreground - Revenant Mountain looms above in the background.
Black Rock Mountain to the east.
Black Rock Mountain to the east.
Cascade Mountain.
Cascade Mountain.
The unmistakable form of Assiniboine - the "Matterhorn of the Rockies" and one of my all time favorite climbs
The unmistakable form of Assiniboine - the "Matterhorn of the Rockies" and one of my all time favorite climbs
Girouard (L), Peechee (C) and Inglismaldie (R).
Girouard (L), Peechee (C) and Inglismaldie (R).
Lovely environs of Brocks Peak with Revenant and Apparition Mountain looming above.
Lovely environs of Brocks Peak with Revenant and Apparition Mountain looming above.
The summit block on Astley is impressive and thankfully not as hard as it first looks!
The summit block on Astley is impressive and thankfully not as hard as it first looks!
Plenty of scrambling on descent.
Plenty of scrambling on descent.
Ugh! This was a bit loose and caution was needed not to kick rocks on each other while descending.
Ugh! This was a bit loose and caution was needed not to kick rocks on each other while descending.
Taking advantage of snow on descent.
Taking advantage of snow on descent.
Back in a scorching hot canyon! Remember - no water here until the branch to the left and this might dry up soon.
Back in a scorching hot canyon! Remember - no water here until the branch to the left and this might dry up soon.
A long but interesting hike back down the drainage.
A long but interesting hike back down the drainage.
Back through the narrows.
Back through the narrows.

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