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; YDS (Hiking)
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.
I knew the south face couldn’t be too difficult since Matt did it and 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!
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.
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.
I really enjoyed Mount McPhail and the Weary Creek Gap area. This area certainly deserves the attention of any Alberta Rockies peakbagger or backpacker.