Summit Elevation – Rowe – (m): 2452
Summit Elevation – Festubert – (m): 2522
Elevation Gain (m): 1850
Round Trip Time (hr): 12
Total Trip Distance (km): 30
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Mount Rowe is easy, but Festubert is a bloody long traverse from there. Much longer than you’d think, and the terrain is rough and bouldery in spots. Not technically very difficult however.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Looking at my choices for peak(s) to do on my second full day in Waterton National Park I thought I was fairly limited, thanks to the closing of the Red Rock Parkway for construction. I settled on Mount Rowe, hoping that it would have similar snow conditions to what I had on Sofa Mountain the day before. Of course I rationalized that even though it was further west, it wasn’t that much further right?! Joining me as we cruised along the Akamina Parkway under a gorgeous morning sunrise was Phil Richards – a recent friend who’d done another long trip with me earlier this year on Rose and Threepoint.
Wait a minute! Isn’t Mount Rowe a short day, you might ask? Why yes! It is. But I was planning to combine it with Mount Festubert – a mysterious summit that nobody else seems to combine with Rowe for some reason. I though Phil might be a nice enough guy (i.e. sucker ;)) to agree and he was. Those Brits are so cooperative when they want to be… We didn’t only get a nice sunrise, we also witnessed a nice big black bear along the parkway looking like he was still recuperating from too many fermented berries the night before. He didn’t even budge when I slowed my truck beside him, just scratched his large tummy and ignored me altogether. Well, we wouldn’t have to worry about this bear I guess! I doubt he was in the mood to chase us down.
We started up the Rowe Lakes trail at a pretty fast pace. Did I mention that Phil is a long distance runner? Yep. A short run for him is 10km and a longish one is 25km off trail! Remember, I had a tough trip on Evelyn only a few days previous plus Sofa Mountain the day before so I wasn’t exactly feeling like a spring chicken. I tried my best to keep up and was quite warm by the time we finally got to the hanging valley above the first Rowe Lake where the trail splits, the right hand branch a high traverse to Lineham Lakes.
The high traverse had a LOT of snow, as did the terrain above us! It looked like February, the trees were plastered in snow and the trail was icy underfoot. This wasn’t boding well for our long day out, but we pretended like we were still having fun and kept going. Did I mention that there was also a wind advisory for the town of Waterton this particular day? Oh yeah. We picked a great day for a long traverse. Beggars can’t be choosers and we were both determined not to let conditions stop us unless absolutely necessary. One more thing I forgot to mention. My feet were already soaking wet thanks to the snow on Sofa Mountain the day before. Ankle deep snow with soaking wet feet. What could go wrong?
I’ve never done the Rowe Lakes hike before and it was steeper than I expected. I was sweating in the cool morning air thanks to Phil’s pace but the trail was icy and the snow was getting deeper the higher we went. Finally we arrived at the upper lakes – they are gorgeous. A few more weeks and the many larches around the lakes will be brilliant yellow. We soon started off trail on the right hand side of the lake for the obvious ridge rising beyond. Phil broke trail and soon we were wading through a few knee deep snow drifts!
There was still some hope for a “sort of” sunny day but even that window was closing as we approached the upper ridge leading to the summit of Rowe. Once we crawled up / through / over the final snow drift to the ridge we could see awfully dark clouds over Cameron Lake and Akamina Ridge to the west. The wind wasn’t terrible (for Waterton) and we enjoyed a nice stroll to the summit on wind blown snow / scree. The summit was actually nice enough to have some lunch, which we enjoyed immensely. At this point, if we were smart, we should have realized that this was as good as our day could get – a nice relaxing summit lunch before heading home. Alas, nobody said we were smart…
The weather wasn’t terrible as we descended Mount Rowe. It wasn’t great either though. I was mostly concerned about the wind which was forecast to get very strong, and I know that Waterton winds can ruin even the most beautiful, sunny days – and our day was not sunny. I was also concerned about the very dark clouds to the west. So far they were hovering over one mountain range to the west, but this wasn’t guaranteed to last the whole day. My last concern was the snow. There was a lot more than I was expecting! Much more than I had on Sofa Mountain the day previous. Phil had driven all the way down for a day trip and we still had plenty of time and energy so we decided to buck up and continue to Festubert despite all the negatives looming over that proposition.
Right off the bat we got all excited when we summitted the first high point after the Rowe col where we came up an hour earlier. I looked at the distant summits and declared confidently that Festubert was only 1.5km distant! Wow! This wasn’t bad at all. As we started down the high point (ironically higher than Rowe!) I started having doubts. Why would Nugara list the extension to Festubert as an addition 8 hours if it was only around 2km total traversing? This didn’t add up. I pulled out the GPS and started scanning the map. Darn it. I found Festubert and it wasn’t close at all. It was a FAR distant summit, buried in thick clouds already and preceded by a long, undulating, partially treed (i.e. bushwhacking) ridge. Despite this new information, we felt like we already committed and stubbornly kept going. Nugara only adds 400m of elevation for the extension but it looked like a LOT more to me.
After the first bump we traversed snowy slopes around the west side of the second one, descending to tree line and even lower. For the next interminable few hours we slogged up and down the snowy / bouldery / windy / treed ridge to Festubert. In the conditions we had it felt like quite the slog. The only advantage of the trees was that they blocked the strong westerly winds, which were actually lighter than I had the day before. In a very interesting twist, we actually ended up following fresh Grizzly tracks for a long portion of the ridge. The bear picked a pretty good route through all the debris! Finally we arrived at the lowest point of the traverse and the terrain became slightly less bouldery after ascending a very steep, dirt slope back up to the ridge crest. After passing three huge, somewhat grumpy rams (lowered heads, pawing the dirt) we could finally see our destination looming into the clouds above.
The weather was deteriorating quickly as we slogged up to the summit of Festubert. It was longer than expected but not too bad. The summit was a complete whiteout – all we could see was a sign post. The register was wet but readable, only around 4 summit parties in 2015 and around 10 in 2014. The register was placed by Kris Thorsteinsson in 2012 and only had a few entries in the first couple of years. Apparently some folks do a traverse from Kishinena Peak over Festubert and on to Mount Rowe. A couple of people listed Festubert as their final Waterton summit so I guess it is a long ways out of the way! We didn’t linger and started back along our long traverse to Rowe Lakes. I was concerned about the chill I could feel settling over me. Being in snow and wind all day with wet feet wasn’t earning me any favors with my poor immune system.
As we reversed our tracks on the ridge the day got even better. It started to drizzle. 🙂 We kept the mood light and since Phil is used to wet and dreary weather he actually enjoyed himself quite a bit I think. It was funny how positive we made things, even though this was by far the worst conditions I’ve had on an outing in a long while. Hey! It still beat work… 😉 Eventually we made it back to Rowe Lakes and got back to the cars after a long 12 hours of fast and steady hiking. I think most folks would take longer than this – Phil sets quite a pace! The total height gains and distances for the day were significantly more than Nugara implies due to the undulating nature of the ridge. My GPS put it at around 30km and 1850m for Rowe and Festubert combined. I can only recommend the Festubert traverse for hardcore peak baggers, I think normal people would likely not be too impressed with the long ridge and all of its height gains / losses and the boulder fields. Of course, the terrain is wild and beautiful and we commented more than once along the way how incredibly lucky we were to have the freedom, time and health to enjoy such outings.
So maybe you would like it after all.