Summit Elevation (m): 2695
Trip Date: August 18 2017
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 5.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 8
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 4 – you fall, you are either hurt or almost dead
Difficulty Notes: The crux is a short, loose, exposed ledge with an awkward step on the north side of the summit block.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (4th)
Ever since I first read about Mount Ogden (likely from Nugara a decade ago), it’s been on my endless to-do list of peaks. Nugara added the peak to his second scrambles book. When Kane added it to his latest book, with a different lower access route than Nugara’s, it only peaked my interest (pun intended). Earlier this year I joined Liz and Mike for a delightful trip up Divide Mountain, which granted me excellent views of Ogden. Based on negative trip reports from Kane’s route via Sherbrooke Lake and a manky avalanche slope, I knew I wanted to utilize Nugara’s approach up the south ridge directly from the Trans Canada Highway. I also knew that with recent construction work along the TCH, especially near Kicking Horse Pass, the south ridge might not be accessible for scramblers very much longer. Now that I’ve done it I am 99% sure that this route will no longer be viable once the construction starts in this area. There’s no way the small gravel parking lot at the old bridge will survive the 4-lane highway that’s being built. There’s also very little chance that authorities will allow folks to cross a 4-lane highway to access the lower south ridge of Ogden.
When Mike and Liz reported on a recent trip up Ogden I knew it had to happen soon and made it a priority. Ogden is a short outing and is a perfect candidate for a solo trip so when I found myself with a free Friday on August 18th I decided it was finally time to tackle it. I hoped for at least partly clear skies, but after experiencing smoky haze less than a week earlier on Quill and Conical peaks, I wasn’t counting on anything other than total greyout.
For some reason, Ogden sketched me out a bit. I’d heard rumors and read many reports of its difficult and exposed crux. It didn’t help when Alan Kane himself mentioned in an email interview with Bob Spirko that when he went back to look at it years after doing it, it looked much scarier then he remembered! He even mused that part of it may have fallen off since he last did it. He clearly didn’t redo it either – but rather thought he might not even include it in the book after looking at it. Obviously he changed his mind and did add it afterall, but I was strangely nervous as I parked the truck along the TCH and stepped out into the cool morning air along the Kicking Horse River.
Liz and Mike shared some valuable beta, including a tip to head up to the right hand side of barely visible white cliff bands on the south ridge. They also indicated the crux was much easier than expected – a fact that comforted me a bit but didn’t dull my apprehension much for some reason. I think it’s a bit strange that it’s even possible to cross the TCH currently, as the highway is very congested and views partially blocked at the crossing point. I felt pretty exposed to traffic as I dashed across the three lanes!
I spotted the white cliffs from the hwy and had plotted a route in ViewRanger using Google Earth beforehand. Getting up from the TCH into the bush on the south ridge wasn’t without its challenges and I quickly noted that construction crews had been clearing trees in the area already. I was glad to be doing this trip as I’m sure within weeks or months this will be off-limits to casual wanderers such as myself.
The first hour or so up the south ridge was a bit manky. Based on what I’ve read, it’s far better than the avalanche slope from Sherbrooke Lake, but don’t be fooled – it’s still a bushwhack! There are smatterings of animal trails scattered on the ridge, but they fade out or go in other directions than straight up for the most part. Higher up I ended up some pretty steep and exposed slabby terrain despite trying to avoid this on climber’s right. On descent I found a better line even further to climber’s right than my ascent line was. After gaining half the elevation on the steep lower ridge, I was surprised to top out on a shoulder – still within treeline. The trees here were mostly larches and the soft moss and flat terrain was a very nice break.
Shortly beyond the shoulder I finally found myself on a well-defined sheep trail as I approached the Kane route coming up an uninviting avalanche slope from Sherbrooke Lake far below to my right. As I climbed higher I was absolutely delighted with the views that I was getting, both to the west and the north. Even views over Sherbrooke Lake were good. The ridge ahead looked fun and my apprehension for the crux faded a bit as I worked my way along it. The ridge to the traverse before the crux is mostly easy to moderate scrambling along the spine. There are obvious detours to climber’s left to get around some sections but for the most part I’d suggest regaining the ridge soon after losing it or you might be traversing loose, annoying ledges. Either way works though. I enjoyed the great views over many familiar Yoho peaks such as Field, Wapta and Carnarvon as I approached the first, easy, cliff traverse. This traverse provides access along the west face and around the north end of the summit block to the crux ledges.
The traverse was very simple (even easier than I expected) and soon I was staring somewhat nervously across and up the crux ledges. It took about 2 seconds for my nerves to calm. The ledge didn’t look that bad at all! Just as Mike and Liz had indicated, it was actually pretty wide and even less exposed than I was expecting. A fall wouldn’t necessary kill you here – but it might. Compared to Divide Peak’s crux it looked pretty short and simple.
My initial thoughts on the crux were confirmed as I traversed it. To be honest, on ascent I was thinking it was more moderate than difficult, but on return I realized that the “difficult” rating is justified. As usual going up (on approach) is slightly easier than coming down (on return). There are two components to the crux. The first is a loose, somewhat narrow ledge with some exposure down to the left. I found this section to be short and moderate. The difficult bit is at the end of the ledge where there is a step up to the north side of the summit block. This step was straightforward enough on ascent (it helped to be 6′ tall) but on return it was more awkward than I thought it would be. Liz and Mike also commented on this step. Nothing more than the low end of “difficult” – but still deserves that rating IMHO. A slip here would not be trivial.
After the awkward step there was some moderately exposed slabby (but fun) terrain to the summit. I was delighted both with the ease of the crux and the wonderfully clear views that I lucked out on. I made sure to text Dr. Phil a photo to show him what he was missing. After also texting Hann that I was safe and sound, I sat down for a bit and enjoyed the views and memories of so many familiar Yoho Peaks. From Paget in winter to Bosworth in summer, both with JW. Daly and Niles in the fall with my brother. Mighty Mount Balfour, king of the Wapta, with TJ and Ben. Collie in winter via a sketchy-as-hell cornice. McArthur, Carnarvon, Wapta, Field and Stephen – all have provided me with stunning views and great trips. Cathedral, Divide, Narao, Niblock, Piran and many others closer to Lake Louise have also provided me with many good memories.
The descent of the north ridge was certainly harder than the ascent – even the section down to the crux felt more exposed than I remembered. The awkward step onto the ledge was solved by turning inwards – but I managed to keep both my poles and camera out so it couldn’t have been that hard. You know it’s serious business when I put those two items away for a down climb. The rest of the descent was quick and straightforward. The bushy section before the TCH was a bit of a suckfest in the heat, but it was short at least. Crossing the TCH back to the truck was a different sort of crux!
Overall, Mount Ogden is the perfect scramble. It’s short and sweet with amazing views of some truly gorgeous peaks. It includes lakes, glaciers and some of the Rockies grandest peaks in its summit panorama. A highly recommended outing for anyone comfortable on upper moderate to difficult scrambling terrain.