Summit Elevation (m): 2850
Trip Date: July 22, 2017
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 11
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 : you fall, you break your arm
Difficulty Notes: Routefinding is key to keeping this scramble moderate. It can quickly become difficult if off the easiest route. Huge, loose boulders to the false summit are also very dangerous and very slow to travel over. Note: Distance and elevation gain includes an ascent of Mount Maclaren and is measured from Carnarvon Lake.
GPS Track Download: Download GPX File
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
After approaching Carnarvon Lake via Carnarvon Creek and setting up camp, KC and I completed the easy scramble up nearby Mount Maclaren. We made the decision to traverse under the false peak of Maclaren towards the first peak on the traverse to Mount Shankland. This worked well and soon we were standing at the col between the false summit of Maclaren and Shankland’s first false summit.
I didn’t have Nugara’s beta for this peak for some reason but soon after starting up the east ridge of this peak, we ran into some fairly serious terrain. On hindsight we may have been able to scramble up this short cliff band, but it was certainly not “moderate” from my point of view and I knew I was pushing KC pretty hard already. We’d done over 1400m of height gain and easily over 15km of distance on a hot day with large packs for a good part of it. I wasn’t sure if Nugara’s moderate route pushed upwards to this summit or not, but I made the decision to traverse ledges on the south face instead of continuing up the ridge. I was really, really hoping that we wouldn’t get cliffed out on one of the many loose gullies and cliffs that were apparent along our route. I knew that just because the terrain looked doable from MacLaren, didn’t mean it would look so easy when we got our noses into it. I also knew that despite KC’s great attitude, I was starting to push her out of her comfort zone in terms of endurance at this point and we had a long way to go yet. If only we knew just how long we still had, we likely would have given Mount Shankland a pass.
The decision was made so we started our traverse along an obvious, wide scree bench sandwiched between cliff bands along the east face of the first false summit. I got lucky. Somehow, each time the terrain ahead looked dicey, we managed to squeak through it, usually be ascending a bit before continuing along another scree bench. One section required moderate scrambling with pretty good ledges and holds but other than that it was all easy hiking / scrambling until I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. We were going to make it to the col between false summits! From here I knew we had alternate descent options so I wasn’t worried about being turned back. Once again, if we only knew what was in store I think even at this point we likely would have headed for Carnarvon Lake and our delightful bivy at this point.
We were very happy to have clear, smoke-free skies and a stiff, cool breeze as we started up the innocent looking NW ridge of the highest summit on Mount Shankland (but possibly not the official one – it’s hard to say based on various maps what the named summit actually is…). Soon after starting up the NW ridge I realized that Nugara wasn’t lying when he cautions about the boulders on this peak! After another 30 minutes on it, I was already feeling somewhat worried about an accident occurring and slowed us down considerably. I’ve been on loose, scary terrain many times in the Rockies but this small, unnamed summit has among the scariest I’ve ever had the ‘privilege’ of balancing over. After reading about Ryan Titchener’s accident last year, I’m super sensitive to huge, unbalanced boulders. It wasn’t just that the boulders on this slope were loose, it was how loose they were and how freaking huge. This wasn’t the type of rock that will break your leg. This was the type that will sever it, or crush your spine. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know if you ever get into it. Considering how far back Shankland is and how many other options are higher and in the same area, I would give this peak a solid “pass”, or just ascend the true, lower summit, from the alternate descent route.
Finally, after many nervous minutes ascending the treacherously loose and shifting boulders we reached the apex of the highest summit of Shankland. I snapped a few photos but we quickly got the heck out of there. Our day was now officially feeling quite long but we had no choice at this point – we were finishing it properly. If we thought going up the shifting boulders was bad, going down was almost worse. Everything moved with the lightest touch. You know the feeling when you step on a huge boulder and it shifts? This was 10x worse because not only would the boulder you stepped on move, everything around it would also threaten to go!
Slowly we worked our way down to the col before finally stepping onto good ol’ normal scree again. Phew. I won’t be going back there again. I could tell that KC was getting sick of the peakbagging game, so we fueled up and slowly ascended easy terrain to the lower, possibly named, summit of Shankland. We were used to the views already, but the valley to the north was pretty sublime. Good thing, because we were about to get chest deep in it.
Nugara describes three possible descent routes for Shankland but I agree with him that the third one is really the only one worth considering. (The first is to return to the ascent line on MacLaren, the second is the green line on the map above.) From the summit, the NW ridge looked pretty easy and it was. Other than our tired bodies and minds, I really enjoyed this descent. There were larches here too, so a fall trip would be gorgeous in this area. When it was time to drop off the ridge things got pretty tough, especially for poor Kaycie who was pretty exhausted. Bushwhacking and routefinding at the end of a long, hot day is always less fun than you’d expect. (!) I managed to keep us on a pretty level contour line around the valley towards our exit point but we still encountered chest high brush, steep creeks and other natural obstacles.
Our poor feet were very sick of traversing by the time we finally realized we were getting close to the base of Mount Strachan and our bivy on the shores of Carnarvon Lake. KC broke into the biggest smile I’d seen in hours as I told her we were all “downhill from here”! After a very full 12+ hour day we finally got to sit and enjoy the lake with a warm supper and a hot drink as the sun set, birds chirped, chipmunks came to investigate and the fish started to feed on the lake in front of us. Some days in life are better than others. This was one of the good ones.
It felt really great to be done our biggest excursion on the very first day of our trip but on hindsight I pushed it a bit much. Lesson learned. KC never complained (she’s not the type), but she was pretty tuckered out! I promised her a very simple and short next day – we only had 4km and less than 650m vertical to go up and down Mount Strachan and we didn’t have to move camp. While I can heartily recommend Mount MacLaren as a short(ish) scramble from Carnarvon Lake, I can’t really say the same thing about Mount Shankland. Yes, we got some great views off of it and yes, it’s not ascended that often thanks to it’s location, but there’s a reason it’s never going to be the most popular peak in the area. Unless you’re chasing some list, I would give it a solid “pass” and ascend Muir SW2 instead.
It was unexpected, but on the summit of MacLaren I realized I had cell coverage (Rogers). This was good and bad. It allowed me to check the wx and message Hann that we were OK, but it didn’t allow me to fully disconnect for our trip. The wx had improved greatly for the next day, only a few showers at night were forecast. (I got cell coverage on every peak that we ascended around Carnarvon Lake except Shankland. I could even pick up a signal from the lower slopes of Mount Strachan, just above camp. This is good to know in case you’re ever back there and need a wx update or make an emergency call.)