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Monarch, The

Summit Elevation (m): 2895
Trip Date: August 19 2016
Elevation Gain (m): 1700
Round Trip Time (hr): 11
Total Trip Distance (km): 27
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: A long day. The access gully and summit block are extremely loose, only recommended for small, experienced parties. Note: Since the Verdant Creek wildfire in 2017, access to this area is pretty restricted.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
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On Friday, August 19th I was joined by the indefatigable Phil Richards and Wietse Bylsma for another longish day trip in the Canadian Rockies. After two previous off-trail adventures to Breaker and Molar, Phil and I decided that it was time for a mostly on-trail objective. We settled on The Monarch, located between Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and Kootenay National Park in British Columbia. Wietse has had his eye on this peak for many years, since Ben Wards posted on the old RMB forum that his group found a scramble route on it. Since then, Alan Kane has come out with the 3rd edition of his infamous scramble guide and added the same route to it.

The Monarch Route Map

Interestingly, the best access to The Monarch isn’t via either of the two parks it straddles but rather via a long trudge that starts in Banff National Park. We started bright and fairly early from the Sunshine parking lot, heading up the Healy Pass trail at around 07:30 in very crisp, clear mountain air. I have skied the approach to Healy Meadows / Pass many times but never hiked it. It’s even more boring hiking it than skiing it! 😉 We covered the first ~6km pretty quickly before taking the branch towards Simpson Pass where the trail starts gaining some real elevation.

Note the frost at Simpson Pass! There are two border markers here as well. The Monarch is just barely visible over the trees.

Once we finally got up to Simpson Pass the views started to open up a bit and there was even some frost nipping the low bushes beside the trail. Fall colors are just starting to come out. I knew that I’d be wishing it was larch season all day and this desire started already around Simpson Pass as there are many larches in the area. I already knew at this point that I’d be revisiting this area some nice fall day – it must be stunning in full color! We passed a couple of border markers at the pass and kept ascending towards Eohippus Lake as Kane describes. After a couple of hours of lovely hiking we finally saw our objective across rolling terrain and started towards it off trail, trying to shortcut between the ponds and tarns that dot the landscape around the North Simpson River valley and beneath the Monarch Ramparts. To be honest, I’m not sure the off-trail “shortcut” was worth it. The terrain dips and rolls in the area and we even ended up with some light bushwhacking. Going all the way to Eohippus Lake is a bit further but easier and not much longer.

Cutting across the outflow of another pond on our ‘short cut’ route.

Eventually we ended up on a nice ramp leading up the Ramparts right under the east face of The Monarch on its north end and the extreme south end of the Ramparts. We found a nice trail here again too (coming from Eohippus Lake). Soon it was time to once again leave the trail and ascend right to the ridge top under the north ridge of The Monarch. It took us just under 3 hours to reach this point and we were feeling pretty good. The view over Eohippus Lake and the North Simpson River valley towards the Sunshine Meadows and Mount Assiniboine was already very respectable. We stopped for a bite to eat before scouting our route to the base of the lower access gully that is the key to scrambling The Monarch – located on the NW side of the mountain. You probably won’t follow my advice because it looks like a waste of distance and elevation loss, but I wouldn’t bother trying any sort of shortcut or side-hilling on scree slopes to gain the gully. It sucks, but you’re much better off following our return route along treeline to skier’s right of the debris field. This route is much easier on the feet and faster thanks to the much easier dirt / grass terrain over boulders and scree.

I would recommend against ‘shortcutting’ – stick to treeline instead (R). Here we are working our way down loose, bouldery slopes to the scree cone / gully which is visible coming out of the cliff band at left.

We descended much further than it first looked from the Ramparts and eventually found ourselves looking up at the obvious scree cone leading into a manky looking gully high above. I’d guesstimate that the height loss is more than 150m – we were thinking it’s closer to 200m elevation loss – certainly more than the 100m that Kane mentions. There wasn’t much to do at this point but start the long grunt up the gully. In order to save weight, Phil and I both wore approach shoes for this scramble. On hindsight we got very lucky. I didn’t even know about Ben’s trip report or I would have worn boots and brought light crampons. The gully is very narrow and since it’s north-facing the snow doesn’t completely melt in it. When we hit the snow we were very relieved to find a narrow crossing that Wietse kindly kicked steps across for us. Any more snow – or even worse, ice – and Phil and I would have been very unhappy. I recommend crampons, ice ax and boots for this scramble. You don’t want to hike all the way in here to be turned back by some icy slope.

Speaking of the access gully. It’s manky. Lately I’ve been thinking that scrambles should have an exposure rating and an objective hazard rating! Exposure-wise The Monarch is a moderate scramble. Objective hazard from rock fall on the entire NW side is pretty bad. We had to stick close in the gully and even then we had some very close calls with large rocks / boulders crashing down at the lightest touch. I was relieved when we finally broke out of the gully – but the objective hazard isn’t actually much less in the giant scree bowl under the upper mountain. There is a remnant glacier tucked right under the NW face of the upper mountain and that, combined with the horribly loose rock, regularly releases rock fall down the bowl. Put it this way – I wouldn’t stop for lunch anywhere after starting the lower gully all the way to the upper ridge.

This photo shows the angle and “mankiness” a bit better – Phil is just topping out of the narrowest lower section in the gully.

For some reason I had lots of energy at this point and scrambled a bit ahead of Wietse and Phil, up the giant scree bowl, trending left to the north end of the upper ridge where the cliff bands clearly disintegrated. (Phil was rapidly getting sicker as the day progressed – by the end of it he could barely talk anymore.) Maybe I was just having an off day or something, but the upper mountain wasn’t quite as straightforward as Kane implies. 

The route will be obvious as you angle left toward the summit, which lies near the left skyline. Expect no real challenges if snow-free…

Alan Kane

Hmmm. The general route might be obvious, but the actual scrambling line from the north ridge up to the summit wasn’t as obvious as I was expecting from the rating or the description. I started heading up the north ridge directly from the top of the scree slope I’d been on, but was soon blocked by very non-moderate terrain. The only way I could see around this loose, very exposed ridge was to traverse below it on climber’s right (west) on more very loose, somewhat exposed terrain.

Another look back as I gain the north ridge – Phil just visible at the base of the scree slope breaking the cliffs at lower left.

I found a route that crossed a few loose gullies above low cliffs, but it wasn’t that obvious – routefinding skills are necessary to avoid really manky climbing to the summit from the north ridge. Up to this point I was thinking the scrambling was more on the easy side of moderate but a few moves on the west face of the summit block to the north ridge were definitely moderate on extremely loose and somewhat exposed terrain. There were no cairns on the entire route – I think it’s so loose that any cairns wouldn’t last anyway. 😉 I set up some small cairns for Wietse and Phil to follow and yelled down to them off the north ridge to traverse where I did. 

Mount Assiniboine at left and Mount Shanks straight ahead in this view south from the summit.
Stunning views over Eohippus Lake and towards Sunshine Meadows from the north ridge of The Monarch.

The views from the summit were absolutely stunning – as expected. Also, as expected, I found myself wishing it was a month later and the fall colors were out. Oh well! You can’t wait for fall colors for EVERY objective! Soon Wietse and Phil joined me and we enjoyed a nice 30 minute summit break, taking in the views towards Assiniboine, the Rockwall, Sunshine Meadows and Mount Ball. I was surprised to see less than one ascent per year in the register but given the distance and effort required to attain this mountain I guess it makes sense. David P. Jones must really like this peak, as he ascended it twice since 2006 – via climbing routes of course! (And yes – of course many hundreds of people may have stood on the summit and not signed the register – I’m well aware!)

The above sarcasm is due to comments I’ve received that somehow I’m misinterpreting empty summit registers as a lack of ascents on some of the peaks I’ve been on lately. I call bullshit on that sentiment. Sure! Some people don’t sign registers, but especially on these giant peaks, the vast majority will scribble something down for posterity. The reality is that even though peaks like The Monarch are highly visible and quite accessible, they simply aren’t ascended that often. Deal with it. 🙂

Looking towards the Sunshine Ski Resort over the North Simpson River.

It took us less than 6 hours to the summit but we were moving pretty steady on approach. I would say that Kane’s estimate of 7 hours isn’t out of line. We descended the summit block very carefully and even though we’d just come up it we managed to get a bit off route on our way back to the north shoulder / top of the scree slope. We carefully descended the huge scree bowl, sticking close to avoid kicking rocks onto each other. In the lower gully we were even more cautious but I managed to release two basketball sized boulders straight down towards Phil and Wietse, missing Phil by only inches with one of them! Not cool. I’m sure his leg would have busted if it would have hit him. 🙁 We breathed a sigh of relief as we exited the lower gully.

Another look back as I gain the north ridge – Phil just visible at the base of the scree slope breaking the cliffs at lower left.

Rather than retrace our “shortcut” up the scree / boulder field  to the Ramparts, we decided to cross the boulders directly under the scree cone and ascend to the Ramparts via the edge of the treed slopes instead. This worked beautifully but it was a grunt and certainly felt like more than 100 vertical meters – we think it’s more like 175-200. From the Monarch Ramparts ridge we descended easy grass slopes to the trail which we followed to Eohippus Lake. The views of The Monarch over the lake were awesome, as were the sublime meadows that were filled with wild flowers and insects enjoying one of the nicest days of summer. There are smatterings of trails around Eohippus Lake but they’re harder to connect than you’d think – we ended up following our noses on some sections of open meadow before finally finding the main trail again.

Gorgeous view over Eohippus Lake from our descent of the Ramparts towards the lake.

The next few hours were mixed between lovely hiking to Simpson Pass and then a rather boring trudge back to the parking lot along Healy Creek in the forest. Our round trip time of 11 hours is moving pretty quickly all day, I would estimate that most parties should count on 12+ for planning purposes. I highly recommend The Monarch for folks who want something a bit different with unique views of Assiniboine and the Pharaoh Peaks / Ball area. The only suggestion I would give is to travel as light as possible (still bring crampons / ax) and in a small group.

The Monarch
71 photos
At least the trail allows for good conversation which dulls the pain.
At least the trail allows for good conversation which dulls the pain.
Asters are still hanging on but many wild flowers are slowly giving up on life already.
Asters are still hanging on but many wild flowers are slowly giving up on life already.
Lovely hiking to Simpson Pass.
Lovely hiking to Simpson Pass.
Note the frost at Simpson Pass! There are two border markers here as well. The Monarch is just barely visible over the trees.
Note the frost at Simpson Pass! There are two border markers here as well. The Monarch is just barely visible over the trees.
A border marker at Simpson Pass.
A border marker at Simpson Pass.
Taking the trail towards Eohippus Lake.
Taking the trail towards Eohippus Lake.
A great view of The Monarch (L) with the Ramparts stretching out towards Healy Pass to the right.
A great view of The Monarch (L) with the Ramparts stretching out towards Healy Pass to the right.
We followed the trail past this pond (L) before trying to shortcut towards The Ramparts and The Monarch.
We followed the trail past this pond (L) before trying to shortcut towards The Ramparts and The Monarch.
Cutting across the outflow of another pond on our 'shortcut' route.
Cutting across the outflow of another pond on our 'shortcut' route.
Fall is definitely in the air as we continue off-trail towards The Ramparts.
Fall is definitely in the air as we continue off-trail towards The Ramparts.
Nearing the ramp leading up to the Ramparts now - and the trail from Eohippus Lake.
Nearing the ramp leading up to the Ramparts now - and the trail from Eohippus Lake.
Looking back at Phil and Eohippus Lake as we follow the trail winding up The Ramparts.
Looking back at Phil and Eohippus Lake as we follow the trail winding up The Ramparts.
Phil and Wietse head off trail, up the Ramparts. The north end of The Monarch at upper left.
Phil and Wietse head off trail, up the Ramparts. The north end of The Monarch at upper left.
Looking down the other side (west) of The Ramparts along the NW side of The Monarch (L) and towards Pharaoh Lakes and Mount Ball (R).
Looking down the other side (west) of The Ramparts along the NW side of The Monarch (L) and towards Pharaoh Lakes and Mount Ball (R).
Looking along the impressive east face of The Monarch (R) towards Eohippus Lake and the Mount Assiniboine area.
Looking along the impressive east face of The Monarch (R) towards Eohippus Lake and the Mount Assiniboine area.
I would recommend against 'shortcutting' - stick to treeline instead (R). Here we are working our way down loose, bouldery slopes to the scree cone / gully which is visible coming out of the cliff ban
I would recommend against 'shortcutting' - stick to treeline instead (R). Here we are working our way down loose, bouldery slopes to the scree cone / gully which is visible coming out of the cliff ban
Finally bottomed out and ascending towards the gully.
Finally bottomed out and ascending towards the gully.
Starting up the manky gully. It's much steeper, looser and further than it appears here!
Starting up the manky gully. It's much steeper, looser and further than it appears here!
Approaching the snow in the gully - again, the angle and distance are skewed in this photo.
Approaching the snow in the gully - again, the angle and distance are skewed in this photo.
This photo shows the angle and "mankiness" a bit better - Phil is just topping out of the narrowest lower section in the gully.
This photo shows the angle and "mankiness" a bit better - Phil is just topping out of the narrowest lower section in the gully.
Looking up at the scree bowl to the summit block, we would follow the terrain as it curves left to meet the upper north ridge.
Looking up at the scree bowl to the summit block, we would follow the terrain as it curves left to meet the upper north ridge.
Another shot looking down at the top of the narrow access gully.
Another shot looking down at the top of the narrow access gully.
This stuff is as much fun as it looks! At least the scenery is gorgeous.
This stuff is as much fun as it looks! At least the scenery is gorgeous.
Looking back at Phil and Wietse as I gain height on the loose scree slopes which are much bigger than they first appear.
Looking back at Phil and Wietse as I gain height on the loose scree slopes which are much bigger than they first appear.
Looking up at the terrain as it curves towards the north end of the summit ridge - the break through the cliffs is obvious at upper left.
Looking up at the terrain as it curves towards the north end of the summit ridge - the break through the cliffs is obvious at upper left.
Looking up the loose (!) break.
Looking up the loose (!) break.
Another look back as I gain the north ridge - Phil just visible at the base of the scree slope breaking the cliffs at lower left.
Another look back as I gain the north ridge - Phil just visible at the base of the scree slope breaking the cliffs at lower left.
Stunning views over Eohippus Lake and towards Sunshine Meadows as I gain the north ridge of the summit block.
Stunning views over Eohippus Lake and towards Sunshine Meadows as I gain the north ridge of the summit block.
Looking up the very loose and steep north ridge of The Monarch from where I topped out from the scree bowl.
Looking up the very loose and steep north ridge of The Monarch from where I topped out from the scree bowl.
Looking down at Wietse from the north ridge - letting him know that I've set up cairns to help guide them around (L) and up to my current position.
Looking down at Wietse from the north ridge - letting him know that I've set up cairns to help guide them around (L) and up to my current position.
Looking up the north ridge leading to the summit.
Looking up the north ridge leading to the summit.
Looking over our ascent route / gully up the Pharaoh Creek Valley and towards the Egypt Lake and Mount Ball area with The Rockwall at far left.
Looking over our ascent route / gully up the Pharaoh Creek Valley and towards the Egypt Lake and Mount Ball area with The Rockwall at far left.
Mount Assiniboine at left and Mount Shanks straight ahead in this view south from the summit.
Mount Assiniboine at left and Mount Shanks straight ahead in this view south from the summit.
Lovely lakes and tarns that we approached through.
Lovely lakes and tarns that we approached through.
Looking towards the Sunshine Ski Resort over the North Simpson River.
Looking towards the Sunshine Ski Resort over the North Simpson River.
Pilot Mountain with Ishbel rising in the background.
Pilot Mountain with Ishbel rising in the background.
From C to R, Howard Douglas, Lookout Mountain and Brewster Rock are all part of the Sunshine Ski Resort.
From C to R, Howard Douglas, Lookout Mountain and Brewster Rock are all part of the Sunshine Ski Resort.
Eagle Mountain with Lake Minnewanka just visible at lower left and Inglismaldie and Girouard looming above it in the distance.
Eagle Mountain with Lake Minnewanka just visible at lower left and Inglismaldie and Girouard looming above it in the distance.
Mount Bourgeau looks great from this angle. Our approach up Healy Creek comes from the lower right of this photo.
Mount Bourgeau looks great from this angle. Our approach up Healy Creek comes from the lower right of this photo.
The long NW ridge of Mount Brett (C) stretches out in from of Pilot (C) and Ishbel (L).
The long NW ridge of Mount Brett (C) stretches out in from of Pilot (C) and Ishbel (L).
Mount Ball and Temple rise high above the Pharaoh Lakes and Pharaoh Peaks.
Mount Ball and Temple rise high above the Pharaoh Lakes and Pharaoh Peaks.
Tele shot of Temple (L), Pharaoh (C) and Storm (R).
Tele shot of Temple (L), Pharaoh (C) and Storm (R).
The always impressive Goodsir Towers with Mount Vaux at right with the glacier.
The always impressive Goodsir Towers with Mount Vaux at right with the glacier.
Looking over Hawk Ridge and Hwy 93 (hidden) towards Foster Peak (L) and Numa Mountain (C) with Hewitt and Tumbling Peaks on the right.
Looking over Hawk Ridge and Hwy 93 (hidden) towards Foster Peak (L) and Numa Mountain (C) with Hewitt and Tumbling Peaks on the right.
The very impressive Mount Whitetail with the Bugaboos in the far distance.
The very impressive Mount Whitetail with the Bugaboos in the far distance.
Phil comes up to the summit with an amazing panorama opening up behind him.
Phil comes up to the summit with an amazing panorama opening up behind him.
The mighty and impressive Mount Assiniboine.
The mighty and impressive Mount Assiniboine.
Mount Sir Douglas.
Mount Sir Douglas.
Stunning views over Eohippus Lake to the east, over the North Simpson River valley and our approach route which comes from the left.
Stunning views over Eohippus Lake to the east, over the North Simpson River valley and our approach route which comes from the left.
Careful descent of the north ridge.
Careful descent of the north ridge.
It's 'only' moderate terrain but horribly loose and there are low cliffs below (out of sight) so care is needed.
It's 'only' moderate terrain but horribly loose and there are low cliffs below (out of sight) so care is needed.
More down climbing on loose terrain as we bypass the north ridge on the west side.
More down climbing on loose terrain as we bypass the north ridge on the west side.
The 'moderate' step where care is required to avoid falling out of sight to the right where there's low cliffs.
The 'moderate' step where care is required to avoid falling out of sight to the right where there's low cliffs.
One last awkward step while trying not to hold too tightly to loose rocks - classic Rockies scrambling!
One last awkward step while trying not to hold too tightly to loose rocks - classic Rockies scrambling!
A wonderful day to be enjoying this beautiful view as we descend the giant scree bowl towards the lower access gully.
A wonderful day to be enjoying this beautiful view as we descend the giant scree bowl towards the lower access gully.
The view down the gully shows why care and a light foot are necessary!
The view down the gully shows why care and a light foot are necessary!
The gully is fairly steep. With more snow or ice crampons and ax(es) would be needed to ascend it.
The gully is fairly steep. With more snow or ice crampons and ax(es) would be needed to ascend it.
Almost free!
Almost free!
The scree cone leading to the gully looks pretty innocent now that we're a ways away from it, across the rubble field.
The scree cone leading to the gully looks pretty innocent now that we're a ways away from it, across the rubble field.
Easy hiking up to The Ramparts beside the rubble field just in treeline.
Easy hiking up to The Ramparts beside the rubble field just in treeline.
Easy hiking up to The Ramparts beside the rubble field just in treeline.
Easy hiking up to The Ramparts beside the rubble field just in treeline.
Gorgeous view over Eohippus Lake from our descent of the Ramparts towards the lake.
Gorgeous view over Eohippus Lake from our descent of the Ramparts towards the lake.
Eohippus Lake.
Eohippus Lake.
The Monarch massif rising over Eohippus Lake.
The Monarch massif rising over Eohippus Lake.
The hiking from Eohippus Lake to Simpson Pass is through open alpine meadows with countless wild flowers and little streams running through them.
The hiking from Eohippus Lake to Simpson Pass is through open alpine meadows with countless wild flowers and little streams running through them.
Back on a 'proper' trail.
Back on a 'proper' trail.
Heading back to Simpson Pass - our last great view of The Monarch and the Ramparts.
Heading back to Simpson Pass - our last great view of The Monarch and the Ramparts.
Crossing Healy Creek on a bridge.
Crossing Healy Creek on a bridge.

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