Summit Elevation (m): 2830
Trip Date: September 24, 2016
Elevation Gain (m): 620
Round Trip Time (hr): 3.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 4.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break bones
Difficulty Notes: Moderate scrambling, especially in the conditions I had (snow and some ice). Considering some of the routefinding and exposure, I would not rate this as “easy”.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
Ever since scrambling Nub Peak, Wonder Peak, Og Mountain and Cave Mountain back in 2008, I’ve wanted to go back to the Mount Assiniboine area and bag a few other scrambles. It took way longer than expected, but finally in 2016 I managed to get another trip into the area. After a long and tiring approach the day before via Sunshine Meadows and a morning ascent of the lowly Chucks Ridge, I was ready for Sunburst Peak in the afternoon.
Sunburst Peak has always interested me since first laying eyes on it in 2008, simply because it doesn’t look nearly as easy as its reputation implies. There isn’t a ton of trip reports available, but whatever is out there certainly doesn’t make this objective sound very difficult – despite the appearance of impenetrable cliffs leading up to it’s summit.
Thankfully, Sunburst Peak is located right near the Lake Magog Campground, so I only had to walk about 500m to the SW before heading up to its lower treed and rubble slopes. It’s impossible to describe the exact route I took on ascent because I stumbled around a bit before finding the boulder field, but on descent I found one that was a bit less of a bushwhack. If you walk about 200m past the sign warning non-climbers about routes to the Hind Hut you should see a narrow drainage or slight opening in the treed slope up on your right (to the NW). A short stint in the bush should have you on or near a boulder field which can be followed up to the NW until topping out on a wide bench to the east of the upper bowl beneath the cliff bands.
Once I was on the upper bench above the boulder field, I started following a faint trail into the upper bowl beneath the summit cliffs. At first I ascended steeply up a shallow ridge but soon noticed a break in the cliff band far to my left and wandered across the slopes to this break. Scrambling up the break was easy and I followed an obvious grassy ledge under the cliff bands, back towards the north until the slopes above me looked reasonable to ascend. It was here that I first noticed a magnificent white Mountain Goat high above me in the cliffs. I guess there’s a reason for the alternate name of this peak. When I started up the next series of small ledges and steep terrain below the narrow upper gully that I also realized I shouldn’t have left my helmet at the campground.
As I scrambled up the slopes I heard a low buzzing sound rip past my head! I knew that sound. I’ve heard it before and it’s never a good thing. It turns out that thanks to the snowfall the week previous and the warm temperatures the day I was scrambling, icicles high up on the southeast cliffs above me were breaking off and hurtling down the mountain, directly down the fall line that I was climbing up! By the time I realized what was happening it was just as quick to get out of the way than retreat, so I did that. My heart rate was pretty high as I started up a rocky, icy, snowy gully towards the summit ridge. After the steep, narrow gully there was another series of snow ledges that were marked with cairns before I was finally on the bouldery summit plateau.
As expected for this ideally situated summit, the views in every direction were fantastic! I didn’t know it at the time, but they would be my best summit views of the trip thanks to yet another confused weather forecast. I enjoyed the views for almost an hour before heading back down my ascent route.
Descent was quick, and thankfully most of the ice chunks were now melted off so I didn’t have to worry as much about getting bombarded by those projectiles while downclimbing. I found a slightly easier exit than my bushwhack approach and made my way back to the Lake Magog Campground and picnic “shelter”.
It was neat to chat with some other folks from all over the place at the shelter. I was surprised how many people were only staying in the area to take photographs of Mount Assiniboine, thanks especially to social media such as 500px and Instagram. Apparently the Assiniboine area has featured prominently around the world on these platforms and everyone is now determined to get their own share of likes and shares with one or two good shots of their own.