Summit Elevation (m): 2544
Trip Date: October 09 2015
Elevation Gain (m): 1250
Round Trip Time (hr): 6.25
Total Trip Distance (km): 16
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1/2 – you fall, you sprain something – i.e. your ego
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties, this is a trail / off-trail hike.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps
On Friday, October 09 2015 Phil Richards and I decided that we should do a “pre-turkey” workout. Well, actually only I decided that, since Phil doesn’t eat turkey, but you get the point. Originally the weather was looking perfect. Naturally, as the day approached the weather deteriorated a bit but still looked reasonable enough to make the effort. We downgraded our original plans a bit and settled on Mount Nomad in Kananaskis Country, near the Upper Kananaskis Lake and Mount Indefatigable.
We left the Interlakes parking lot at the not-so-light hour of 07:30. I have walked that boring approach road to the first bridge way too many times now. I wished (yet again!) that we’d brought bikes for this 4km section of road. Next time. I swear. Even though we were following Marko’s trip report, we still made the exact same mistake his group did. We crossed the first bridge over Invincible Creek and kept going on the main trail. Oops. At least we didn’t go far. I’ve crossed that bridge many, many times over the past 15 years but I didn’t realize that about 50 meters to the right there’s an old logging road, right after you cross the bridge. Even simpler, don’t cross the bridge at all. Once you get to the end of the approach road (where bikes aren’t allowed anymore), simply go about 20 meters upstream from the bridge and cross the stream on some rocks, directly accessing the old logging road / trail. Any way you choose to do it, it’s very obvious and easy once you figure that bit out. What isn’t so easy is walking along the old logging road once you manage to find it. We were both a bit surprised by the amount of dead fall on the old road, but thankfully the forest detritus eventually thinned out a bit and we could hike quickly again. More than once we wondered aloud where the road ends up and why it was built in the first place – it’s called a “logging road” but I didn’t see a lot of tree stumps along the way.
After a few hours of hiking from the parking lot, we finally found ourselves at a cairn with a long stick poking out of the top indicating the west face ascent ridge to climber’s right. In reading some of the many trip reports on Invincible Lake and Mount Nomad along with Daffern’s descriptions I now realize that there are two ascent routes up the ridge guarding the upper Invincible hanging valley / Mound Nomad. The ‘old’ ascent trail (Daffern’s route “1”) sounds horrible to me – I haven’t talked to anyone that enjoyed it. The “west face” route that she mentions, leads up from the old logging road to the top of the access ridge on a very steep trail. This route has no deadfall issues and a very clear trail.
Once we started ascending the west face trail there was an orange ribbon highway 3/4 way up it. The top 1/4 of the route is still obvious (just go up!), so losing the trail didn’t matter much. The views back towards Upper Kananaskis Lake, over Hidden Lake towards Aster Lake and Mount Lyautey were stunning and got better the higher we hiked up the west face. The sun was incredibly warm for October, we were soon in t-shirts and almost wishing we had shorts on. Once on the ridge top, we only followed it – back on a really obvious trail again – for about 300 meters or so before descending to a larch-covered, obvious track heading into the trees on the north side of the ridge. This trail is tough to spot in summer but with the leaves / needles off the trees it was obvious to see from above. We followed this good track down towards Invincible Creek, aiming for an obvious intersect with Nomad’s south ridge and grassy slopes.
A colleague at work has told me an amusing story about fishing with his buddies at Invincible Lake and being charged by a large grizzly bear. To make a long (and hilarious) story shorter, the dog went exploring while his owners fished, and came running back some time later, with a pissed off bear chasing and closing in quickly behind it! The stunned fishermen all scattered, abandoning my friend to deal with the bear on his own. He pulled his bear spray, but mistakenly half-grabbed it and ended up sending the bottle flying up through the air. It crashed down onto the rocks and punctured – sending a cloud of orange bear spray all over the place! My buddy was covered in the stuff! The exploding bear spray and ensuing orange bellowing adult man, scared the CRAP out of the dog, and thankfully also out of the large bear who was last spotted dashing off over a small rise near the lake.
As I see it, the moral of the above story is threefold;
- Never take friends to a secret fishing hole – it’s never worth it
- Never take friends with dogs to a secret fishing hole in grizzly country – that’s even less worth it
- Bear spray works in a general fashion as well as directly – you can wear it like an accessory and the bear will still run away
Marko also indicates that this is prime grizzly country, so I was well aware of the possibility of running into a bear on our trip. Sure enough! As I was climbing the south ridge up Nomad, Phil was enthusiastically gesturing for me to descend a bit and traverse over to him. He was at an overlook for the lake. I didn’t feel like hiking further so I initially ignored him until he was in danger of dislocating a shoulder and I could hear him urgently whispering, “BEAR”! I still didn’t really believe him but thought I’d be a sucker and give things a look. As I got close Phil told me that a large grizzly had just looked directly at him and ambled away. Looking closely I could see the retreating rear end of a large bear along the west slopes of Nomad. Apparently Phil almost ran into him – literally!
Seeing the bear was a huge bonus and made our day. It was fortuitous that Phil spotted Mr. Bear before ascending Nomad as he saved us from running into him unexpectedly on descent of the west slopes, which we were originally planning on using to get to Invincible Lake on return. With the bear on the west slopes, we decided to ascend and descend the south ridge instead. We felt comfortable around the bear since he knew we were around and didn’t seem that interested in mauling or eating us. We both felt remarkably calm with the fact that a huge bruin was tearing up the slope about 200 meters away! Things have certainly changed for me in the last decade or so, since I’ve run into dozens of bears on my various trips. None of them seemed too interested in killing or eating me, as long as I let them know I was there and avoided crowding them more than absolutely necessary.
With a cautious eye down the west side of Nomad, we easily ascended to the summit via the south ridge, with good views to the north and south. With all the height gains and losses, the overgrowth approach road and the somewhat limited views from the summit, Nomad isn’t a peak I’d highly recommend for scrambler’s who want any real excitement. I can highly recommend it as a hike for folks who just want a nice day in the mountains with good views, a remote lake and the possibility of a bear sighting. Apparently the flowers can be pretty good too (July) and there are tons of larches in the Invincible valley (September).
After taking some photos in the strong summit winds, we descended our ascent route. We could see the large bear who had now moved closer to the lake, and spent several minutes sitting on a grassy knoll just watching him tear the earth apart in search of food. Eventually we both thought that we’d been casual enough about the encounter and decided to leave while things were still peaceful and copacetic between all parties.
Descent was quick, if not a wee bit boring along the Upper Kananaskis Lake. Our round trip time of 6 hours, 14 minutes surprised us a bit. We expected it to be longer and even had a short nap on descent. Apparently Mount Nomad / Invincible Lake is a short day trip.