Summit Elevation (m): 2477
Trip Date: Sunday, May 27, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1300
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.25
Total Trip Distance (km): 21
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: No major difficulties to Lightning Peak, mostly hiking or easy scrambling. “Bolt” peaks had some moderate terrain from the first to the second peak.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking
GPS Track: Download
Wietse, Phil, Calvin and I took advantage of yet another great May weather forecast on Sunday, May 27th 2018 to summit a peak that’s been on my list for the past few Alberta spring scrambling seasons thanks to its position on the front ranges of the Rockies near the Crowsnest Pass. For some reason Phil and I ended up canceling several planned excursions here, but alls well that ends well – and we picked the perfect day in the end. I first heard of this mountain from Bob Spirko in yet another of his excellent scouting trips around the Rockies where he finds these excellent easy approaches and interesting unnamed summits (and promptly feels free to give them his own label on the map of course). Cornelius Rott also gave the peak high praise after doing it in November of 2016 and since then I’ve been very interested in trying it myself.
After the usual flurry of emails, texts and Facebook messages the electronic dust settled and it ended up being a larger group than usual on this outing. Obviously Wietse, Phil and I often go scrambling together, but we hadn’t gone out with Calvin Damen in a LONG time. Phil had never met Calvin before, but they connected on social media over a love of obscure, remote trips. Wietse and Calvin had done a few trips together years ago and I hadn’t been out with Calvin since scrambling Mount Bell with him, Sonny and Jeff way back in October of 2006 – 11.5 years previous! We met at 06:00 at the De Winton parking lot before piling the bikes and our gear in Calvin’s full size truck and setting off for the hills and another day of adventure in the Rockies.
As we approached the parking area off the Forestry Truck Road along Daisy Creek we noticed that the Daisy Creek ATV track looked pretty drivable. Calvin was game to give it a shot in his truck, so up the narrow road we went! We didn’t make it far. Soon the road looked very rough and muddy ahead and we decided that we were better off on the bikes. Calvin deftly parked at the top of the first hill from the main road and we prepared for the bike approach. I haven’t been on my bike for a while but as usual, the kinks worked themselves out quickly and soon we were sweating our way up and down the undulating Daisy Creek ATV trail.
After crossing Pocket Creek we turned uphill to the east along an excellent, but less used road bed with some deadfall across it. Phil broke his chain here, but continued to push his bike to the end of the riding section where the hiking starts at an obvious rocky drainage coming down to Pocket Creek from the south. I noted that we had gained approximately 200m on the bikes, but had also lost about 100m, which would obviously be regained at the end of the day. We locked the bikes together and started up the drainage before soon cutting very steeply uphill through light forest – following an obvious (but faint) trail. Lightning Peak is quickly becoming more popular and we had bits of trail for most of the rest of the day.
Wietse set a furious pace for the next hour or so up the lightly forested approach ridges. I’m not sure what he ate for breakfast, but I want some next time! Calvin and Phil chatted their way up behind Wietse and I hung back a bit. I was in a quieter mood for some reason, but was also engaged with identifying some of the flora around me and reading my pocket field guides on the iPhone while I hiked. It turns out that most of the forest on the approach consists of Juniper, Lodgepole and Whitebark Pine. There were also Englemann Spruce of course – these are everywhere in the Rockies. Our views back over the Racehorse Provincial Recreation Area grew larger and larger as we sweated and grunted our way up through thinning forest until we could see the mountains along the Divide to the west, including the engaging shapes of Tornado and Crowsnest mountains.
Two hours after leaving the truck we found ourselves on a lovely meadowy outcrop with great views west to the Divide and two routes visible above. The most obvious route was directly up a ridge but the track I was following insisted on traversing this ridge instead, heading more south. On ascent we followed the track, reasoning that there was a reason for its path – and there was. The traverse took us into a small drainage where I kicked steps up firm snow for a short section before exiting and continuing a south trending traverse below the ridge line above. On hindsight we realized that this track avoids gaining “unnecessary” elevation to the twin “Bolt” peaks that we tagged on return. As we ascended a grassy slope with sublime views, in perfect weather conditions I reflected on the amazing Spring I’d already had – summiting far more peaks than usual at this point in the year. I am very lucky to be able to enjoy so many beautiful areas of the Rockies, so often.
As we crested a small rise on the traverse, we realized why the track insisted on staying lower than the top of the ridge crest. A wide, grassy saddle lay in front of us, dipping slightly from the two Bolt Peaks before rising dramatically to the false summit of Lightning Peak. The views as we approached the false summit were only getting better and better. I particularly liked the stunning green valleys to the east off the front ranges. The foothills looked like green waves on a vast ocean far below us as we kept ascending the narrowing ridge towards the false summit. Despite appearances that things could get into the moderate scrambling range, they stayed at “easy” and the views continued to improve as we crested the false summit and looked over to the true one which was a few hundred meters along the ridge with a slight height loss along the way.
We deviated slightly off the ridge proper to keep things very easy and soon spotted the infamous rock arch which was slightly below our trail in the scree. We determined to check it out on return and huffed and puffed our way to the giant summit cairn. Within only 3.5 hours of leaving the truck we were already on the summit of Lightning Peak. Considering how quick the bike ride back was, we could have done the mountain in around 6 hours return at this pace! We didn’t want to rush things too much in such perfect weather conditions (very rare to have no wind in this area) so we chilled for a while at the summit, eating lunch and chatting about various trips and peaks we could spot. I was especially interested in Gould Dome and Tornado Mountain which were drying out nicely. After roughly 30 minutes on the summit we turned our attention to the infamous arch and descended towards it.
The arch was pretty neat – and much larger than I expected. I even managed to scramble to it’s apex on loose rock for an interesting photo opportunity. After checking out the arch we returned to the wide saddle between the “Bolt Peaks” and the false summit, passing a couple of other scramblers along the way who we chatted with for a while before continuing on.
At the saddle we realized we were going too fast for such a nice day and the group decided to tack on the two “Bolt” peaks just for fun. When we ascended the first one the second one looked lower but we couldn’t be sure and it had a cairn so we thought we’d better check it out too. I led the moderate scramble down climbing to the col before scrambling back up to the eastern summit where I realized it was definitely the lower one. The eastern “Bolt” did have the best views and we enjoyed them before returning over the western summit and starting down the descent ridge.
The ridge directly under the “Bolt” peaks led directly back to the nice meadows we encountered at treeline before our traversing ascent, so that worked out nicely. From the meadow we dropped steeply down the approach trail to our waiting bikes. The bike ride back to the truck went very quickly despite several big uphill sections that necessitated dismounting and pushing our two-wheeled steeds back uphill. Of course Phil could only coast downhill thanks to a busted chain, but surprisingly he was only a few minutes behind the rest of us to arrive at the truck. We were surprised at our round trip total time of just over 7 hours, especially considering our detour up the two “Bolt” peaks.
I really enjoyed this outing and can highly recommend it for advanced hikers or scramblers of any ability as a good early or late season objective. Too much snow or ice could be problematic on some sections but your biggest enemy in this area is always the wind. Due to the false summit and ridge traverse, I recommend finding a rare calm day and enjoying it to capacity.