Summit Elevation (m): 2820
Trip Date: Monday, September 25, 2017
Elevation Gain (m): 1700
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 15
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3- you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: A moderate scramble with easy approach and surprising views. The stats include an ascent of its easy neighbor – Eagle Mountain.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
As I started my annual week off in late September 2017, I didn’t know what I was in the mood for. The weather wasn’t fabulous, but it wasn’t horrible either. Being solo, I didn’t really feel like a huge day – not to mention Phil Richards and I had some pretty big plans for later in the week and I didn’t want to ruin those with too big a day already on Monday. Of course, being September, I wanted larches to be part of the landscape. I’ve often looked at Mount Howard Douglas, either while skiing at the world class Sunshine Village resort, or from various trips nearby such as The Monarch, Ramparts, Healy Pass or Twin Cairns. It never looked that easy and I always wondered what kind of scramble it would be – having heard for years that it was indeed, only a scramble. When Andrew Nugara published a moderate route in his latest guidebook, I knew I had to give it a go sooner than later and this would be the day. I hoped to combine it with its easy neighboring peak – Eagle Mountain for a relatively short and easy two peak day.
I started bright and early from the Sunshine Village parking lot, walking up to the Goat’s Eye complex on the ski-out / approach road before the daily buses started their grind up to the Sunshine Meadows above. A few resort vehicles passed me on the road, but other than that it was its usual steep-but-easy grind. For anyone interested in taking the bus for these scrambles, you’ll have to walk back down the road from the village where the buses stop, so it may not be worth it. It’s good to get the leg muscles engaged early on this outing anyway – you’ll need ’em! I realized, as I walked the road past the Goat’s Eye gondola station, that this was the perfect solo outing. It has a short, easy approach up a road and then angles up to treeline along ski runs which have open sight lines for foraging bears. As I walked up the low-angled Sunshine Coast (blue) ski run toward the Eagle Basin under Howard Douglas, I kept a sharp eye for bear sign. I figured that this would be a nice quiet area of the resort and I was right. Other than some scat and overturned boulders, I saw no signs of recent bear activity all day. The fall colors were definitely out and I enjoyed the bright reds on the ski runs as I hiked.
My plan was to cut over from the Sunshine Coast ski run into Eagle Creek and then upward to Eagle Basin. I think Nugara starts closer to the creek, but I wanted the nice wide terrain rather than a smaller trail. My route worked perfectly as I angled into the creek and then ascended on Nugara’s route (climber’s right of the creekbed) up towards the basin where brilliant larches greeted me cheerfully. The morning was absolutely still and I enjoyed the peace with a thermos of coffee as I contemplated the rest of the route. In a weird twist, the Sunshine ski resort names the peaks in this area differently from the official maps. The local trail maps identify Eagle Mountain as “Goat’s Eye Mountain” and Howard Douglas is one of two labeled “Eagles”.
Regardless of what it should be called, I finished my break and continued up snowy boulders through the Eagle Basin, working my way towards a lower cliff band that looked like it might be problematic with the snow / ice. As I got closer to the band, I could see a pretty easy way through. Sure enough – it was a simple walk-up on firm ledges and scree and soon I was grunting my way up much steeper terrain in the west scree bowl leading up towards the summit. Here’s where the recent snow helped me out. There was just enough to get the edges of my boots in some frozen snow on the steep scree and work my way up very quickly. Once again, the terrain above me looked impassible but I knew there was a scree ledge traverse that would get me out of the bowl and onto the summit block easily. As I approached an impregnable wall of rock, the ledge became obvious and I made my way towards it.
So far the day had been far better than expected and the scramble quite enjoyable. As I worked my way easily along the scree ledge, I marveled that more people don’t do this peak. It’s easily accessible and so far was much more engaging and fun than nearby popular scrambles such as Bourgeau. My views were pretty darn good too – despite some low clouds over the higher peaks.
After the ledge traverse, I ascended some more steep scree through a gully before topping out at a col of sorts. From here I wasn’t 100% sure where my summit was, thanks to a screw-up on the ViewRanger Landscape map which shows a lower outlier of Howard Douglas as the summit. I trusted Nugara’s description instead of the map and made my way easily up low angled slab / scree until reaching the only moderate scrambling on the whole mountain. The short moderate step was clearly marked with a wand and from the base I could see another wand marking the summit above. I negotiated the crux without issue (short people might not like it as much) and scrambled steep scree before topping out on my first peak of the day.
The views from Howard Douglas are pretty darn good. I didn’t even have the best views, thanks to the low clouds, and I still thought they were more than decent. I waited at least 30 minutes at the top and was rewarded with better views towards Banff and Lake Minnewanka, but sadly my views towards Mount Assiniboine never really cleared up. The Sundance Range and its many unnamed, but impressive peaks was the most impressive view to the east, but the larches on The Monarch and its Ramparts wasn’t shabby either. I enjoyed looking into the Egypt Lakes area at Greater and Lesser Pharaoh Peaks and Sugarloaf Mountain which I’d visited recently on a long day outing. After waiting in vain for the clouds to clear off, I started the descent.
The crux was marginally harder to downclimb than upclimb (as usual) but soon I was quickly descending the large scree bowl. The snow, which had assisted my ascent, also helped my descent. I love snow. Soon I was back at the boulder field and starting my traverse towards Eagle Mountain.