McPhail, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 2883
Trip Date: July 24 2017
Elevation Gain (m): 740
Round Trip Time (hr): 3
Total Trip Distance (km): 4
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your pinkie finger
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties from Weary Creek Gap. The headwall to the gap / lake is harder than anything on this easy scramble as long as you stick to the easiest route. Note: I did this peak after traversing from Carnarvon Lake to Weary Creek over Mount Muir.
Technical Rating: SC5; RE4
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

Kaycie and I set up a lovely bivy camp just under the small lake sitting on top of the headwall guarding Weary Creek Gap between Mounts McPhail to the north and Muir to the south. After a few minutes I decided I needed to bag one more peak this day (we’d already backpacked over Mount Muir that morning). Mount McPhail’s huge south scree face had been calling my name ever since I first glimpsed it from Mount MacLaren a few days previous. Now that we were sitting right under it, it seemed wrong not to at least give it a shot! Mount McPhail is the southernmost Divide peak in the Elk Range of the Rockies – Mount Muir being the northernmost member of the High Rock Range.

Mount McPhail Route Map – From McPhail Creek Headwall
The outlet of the lake can be problematic to cross if you don’t get lucky to find it on approach (I spent some time hunting around for it and there is an easy crossing about 1/4 way down the outflow). No worries though – simply stay north of the pond and follow the purple line.
McPhail’s lower south slopes are open grass. Nugara’s route comes in from above the lake so it avoids this nice grassy slope.

I knew the south face couldn’t be too difficult since Matt Clay did it and he doesn’t like exposure, but it looked intimidating from Mount Muir and as I peered up at it from below. I decided to get my nose in it and see what transpired. After re-ascending the trail towards Weary Creek Gap from our bivy, I veered north towards the lower south facing scree slope, grunting my way up easy grassy slopes under a pretty intense summer sun. Once again, smoke wasn’t an issue. I felt great to be carrying a very light pack and soon I was trending my way climber’s right up the face, working my way up to a visible line of low cliffbands high above me.

Before long I was alongside a pretty recent scree slide / gully on the face. I stayed climber’s left of this feature and started having fun working my way up and over many small cliff bands which got larger the higher I went, but always with easy breaks. Nugara calls this area of the Rockies some of the worst scree slogs, and Matt definitely agreed with him on that count! I didn’t find any of the scree that bad but maybe that says more about me – I need to get out on more solid rock once in a while! I will say that there is a lot of scree on McPhail!

Mount Bishop (Horned Mountain at fg right) looks easy from this side with a beautiful little tarn to boot. Mountains in the distance include Loomis, Abruzzi, Joffre and Mist Mountain among many others that dot the Highwood Pass and the Divide.

Near the summit I wasn’t sure if the terrain would remain “easy” scrambling. It mostly did. The McPhail scramble is certainly a much more difficult undertaking than something like Piran or Fairview, but mostly due to the looseness of the scree and the lack of a beaten trail to the top. Hikers or beginner scrambles will absolutely hate the scree. I was happy that KC took a pass on this particular peak. I blasted up the 750 vertical meters of the south face pretty quickly and within 1.5 hours of leaving our bivy I was enjoying the expansive summit views.

The sublime Lake of the Horns from the summit of McPhail.
Great views over Weary Creek and the Gap as I descend the south ridge. Our bivy at lower center just below the lake.

Descent was quick despite some sections of annoying dinner plate scree and KC was pretty surprised to see me wander back into camp only 3 hours after leaving it. We enjoyed the rest of our evening reading books and looking for our exit down the headwall towards Lake of the Horns the following day.

Gorgeous evening views over our bivy (L) and McPhail and down the headwall towards Hill of the Flowers.

I really enjoyed Mount McPhail and the Weary Creek Gap area. This area certainly deserves the attention of any Alberta Rockies peakbagger or backpacker.

4 thoughts on McPhail, Mount

  1. Found a 1940 register on McPhail when my golden retriever “Buddy” and I did it in 2003. Been meaning to correct the ACC record that shows first ascent in 1970.

  2. Hey Vern, I hope you’re well. I was wondering what the name of the peak/mountain with that super impressive rock face is in your uncaptioned black and white photo taken on the summit. It looks rad.

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