Evelyn Peak

Summit Elevation (m): 2855
Trip Date: September 05 2015
Elevation Gain (m): 1700
Round Trip Time (hr): 13.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 20
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: No major difficulties. Remote travel up a rarely visited valley with tight, dense bush that’s a challenge even with a faint trail.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

Of course when I started my two week vacation in September, the weather turned for the worse in the Rockies. And when I say “worse”, I mean way worse… First of all was the dump of snow that covered the entire range of the Alberta Rockies from north of Jasper to Waterton Lakes National Park. While a bit of snow isn’t a huge issue, especially in the fall – it definitely limited my choices for peak bagging. I had to dial down my ambitions from lofty 11,000ers to trips that involved more hiking and backpacking. I didn’t mind, to be honest. I was in the mood for more reflective trips anyway – sometimes the intensity of larger peaks can distract from the beauty and peacefulness of the area that you’re traveling through. Not a terrible thing necessarily, but it’s nice to stop and smell the roses every once in a while.

The route to Kerkeslin Lake and then up Evelyn Peak.

The weather was dismal all over the Rockies but Jasper was looking like it had the best chance of not sucking too bad. Ben was keen to join me and in the end we settled on a peak I’d never heard of before – Evelyn Peak. Evelyn is tucked in behind a very impressive mountain as seen from highway 93 – Mount Kerkeslin. I was worried about the snow but Ben assured me that Evelyn was a “smaller” peak and wouldn’t have much snow on it. Ben had attempted Evelyn years before when looking for a good route up the back side of Kerkeslin. He remembered that there was some “bushwhacking” but didn’t really remember too much more. He didn’t make the summit on his last attempt, getting turned around part way up thanks to snow and slippery slabs. This time we would attempt a different route – ascending from Kerkeslin Lake after first hiking along a decommissioned trail – last in official use back in the 1970’s!

Evelyn Peak Route Map

We started from an old pullout along hwy 93 and followed Ben’s GPS track from his last trip down the valley when he’d discovered an old trail after bushwhacking for hours without it. Apparently it has been roughly maintained over the years by Jasper residents and we soon saw evidence of this in the form of a faint track along the forest floor and fresh blazes on the trees, with sap still dripping from the cuts. This was a pleasant surprise! At first I was thinking that Ben’s memory of bushwhacking must be faulty but after a few kilometers I realized just how accurate his memory was. After crossing a couple of logs spanning a raging creek, the going got rough.

The trail is “old school”, in that it parallels the creek very closely. One good flood in this area like the 2013 floods further south and this trail is gonners.

The thick underbrush was soaking wet after the recent rains / fog / snow and the trail was extremely narrow. The trail is an old design and sticks very close to the creek which means that thick alders and bushes are in great supply. The soaking wet leaves soon left us dripping wet and even soaked our boots clean through. Ben wrung out his socks 4 or 5 times during the day, he got so much moisture in them! My Gore-tex eventually gave up too and I ended up with soaked clothing. Thankfully the weather was cooperating for the most part. By the time we finally broke free of the thick underbrush we were casting faint shadows under a thin cloud cover above. We were surprised to see fresh pink ribbons once we hit some rocky drainages and thinner alpine bushes. I’m not a huge fan of bright pink plastic dangling all over nature but in our case it did help us keep to the faint trail – which only got fainter as we got closer to Kerkeslin Lake.

Finally, after hours of struggling up a wet, narrow, undulating, muddy trail we arrived at the Kerkeslin Lake outlet. I have to say that the struggle to get to this remote, back country lake was entirely worth it. We started traversing along the lake shore – unsure exactly where we’d be heading up Evelyn, which looked pretty accessible from anywhere on the southwest side. We were following some pretty fresh and large grizzly tracks which was copacetic until there were a set of small grizzly tracks trotting along beside them! That wasn’t very encouraging, but we figured if we yelled enough they would at least get out of our way. We could see from the odd deposit along the approach that they were well fed on berries so smelly hikers wouldn’t be too appealing. When we arrived at a sandy beach we knew we couldn’t pass this opportunity for a perfect bivy spot and settled in there. On a hot summer day the bugs would be nasty here, but the sandy beach was amazing! The sand even extended into the lake so swimming here would be amazing. I was gazing up a steep gully behind camp and asked Ben why we couldn’t just go up there? He didn’t have any good reasons not to ascend it, so after setting up camp we shouldered our packs and headed on up.

Lovely, remote, wild Kerkeslin Lake.

The gully was massively foreshortened. Every time I looked up I thought we must be getting close to the upper ridge and each time I was very disappointed to notice how far away it still was – it was one of the most fore-shortened slopes I’ve ever been on. We knew it was around 1000 meters of height gain from the camp thanks to our GPS units but to be honest we doubted our units were entirely accurate. Well – they were! Initially the gully was steepish, grippy slabs which could be avoided on climber’s left. Higher up it transitioned to loose rock and boulders. Ben kicked steps up the deepening snow pack as we finally neared the ridge line. Evelyn has two summits which show as the exact same height so we threw the dice and picked the westernmost one to be ours. From the top we had great views of Kerkeslin’s main summit and subsidiary summits.

We were astonished that Evelyn was so close in height to Kerkeslin. Good thing I didn’t know that when we started! Ben was flustered too, as he assumed Evelyn was a minor summit, not a prominent one in the area. Mount Fryatt and Edith Cavell looked huge off in the distance. The east ridge of Edith Cavell looked very scary with copious amounts of snow plastered all over it. We saw many ponds, tarns and lakes from the summit, everywhere we looked we saw more of them. The wind was bitingly cold so we didn’t linger long, choosing to plunge down to our cozy, warm camp at the base of the mountain.

Pretty decent views already part way up the gully looking back at Kerkeslin and Kerkeslin Lake.
A lovely couple of tarns show up just to the SE of the peak. In the far background lies the Maligne Lake peaks.
Mount Hardisty marches off to the left.
The brilliant tarns to the SE.
Note the small tarn underneath Kerkeslin SE5 or “Windy Castle” Peak on the left. Mount Fryatt looms directly behind Kerkeslin showing how “small” the massif of Kerkeslin actually is compared to an 11,000er.

We spent a delightful evening in camp, eventually even some stars came out and the Milky Way was visible over a portion of the sky. The next day we were originally planning to ascend Empathy Peak at the head of the Kerkeslin Lake valley but our motivation was lacking thanks to the dreary weather. We decided to descend instead and made a fairly quick exit which was thankfully MUCH drier than our approach! (But still very bushy for a trail.)

I’m sure Windy Castle hasn’t been photographed this much in a long time!

I can’t say that Evelyn Peak is a major objective that should be on everyone’s list, but I will say that Kerkeslin Lake is a wonderful backcountry lake and the views from Evelyn are certainly excellent and worth a try if you’re in the area.

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