Summit Elevation (m): 2896
Trip Date: Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1600
Round Trip Time (hr): 11.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 36.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: The traverse from Mount Morrison is moderate scrambling with exposure, but if ascending via Owl Lake and Ridge this is an easy scramble.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Download
After being only the 6th summit party in the last 31 years to stand on Mount Morrison’s summit, Phil and I somewhat reluctantly turned our attention to our next destination – Owl Peak. We were only reluctant because we didn’t see how the day could get any better than it had already been! The weather had been perfect to this point, our route had worked out beautifully and the views were overheating our cameras. How could it get better? We set out to find out.
Right away we encountered a pretty exposed north ridge from the summit of Morrison. Rather than mess with the exposure, we decided to try the west facing slabs and scree instead. This worked, but was a bit tricky in spots. After circumventing the ridge just under the summit, we traversed back to it and decided to stick on it wherever possible from that point forward. A highlight on the upper north ridge of Morrison was spotting the mountain goat with a baby kid, scampering down some extreme terrain on the east face. Staying on the ridge worked out perfectly. In a theme for the day, every time we thought for sure we’d be cliffed out, the ridge route would open up and remain straightforward. As we made our way over the intervening bumps between Morrison and Owl, we continued to marvel at the scenes all around us – this high level traverse we quickly becoming a summer highlight. Mount Eon and Assiniboine obviously stole the show, but there were many others competing vigorously.
As we continued traversing towards the east ridge of Owl Peak, a crux gully up the nose of the ridge appeared to get more and more difficult just up from the col. We had spotted this crux already early in the day from Morrison’s lower west face, but at several points throughout the day it started looking less and less intimidating. Now that we were facing it directly, it looked scary again but we decided to “get our noses into it” before making any evasive maneuvers. Once again our day proved on point, the crux was moderate and fun rather than scary. We ascended it to a large chockstone before deviating around on climber’s left and ascending back onto the ridge proper above it again. From above the crux to the summit we enjoyed yet another “walk in the sky” in perfect conditions. At some point we both remarked that we kept taking photos of the same scene since it was so beautiful!
The summit of Owl Peak was just as enjoyable as Morrison’s, with slightly better views towards Marvel Pass and the Assiniboine Park regions and slightly worse views towards the Spray Lakes and Burstall Pass areas. We spent another 30 minutes or so chilling, re-hydrating and building a summit cairn since none was present.
For descent, we followed the ridge to the NW before descending straight west and then following a prominent ridge towards Owl Lake. We had a choice as we descended. We could see a wonderful, direct line into the valley below – one valley west of the Owl Creek valley. Some big patches of snow really tempted us to take this obvious line which also avoided almost all bushwhacking down to the Owl Lake trail. As we descended, however, we decided to stick with the original descent line over “Owl Ridge” – which would hopefully give us some views over Owl Lake and keep us above treeline that much longer. This route worked out perfectly. As we descended the ridge alongside some nice cliffs to our right, we got some views of Owl Lake – unfortunately mostly in shadow now thanks to the building cloud cover – but still nice enough to justify the route choice
I was wondering how much bush we’d encounter off the end of Owl Ridge, but here again we got lucky! We found an animal trail leading down the steep nose of the ridge before contouring north into the valley we were looking at from above. From here the terrain opened up nicely and we tramped through mosquito-infested (!!) alpine meadows to the Owl Lake trail. It was nice to hit a good trail for the first time in hours and our pace increased substantially at this point. We were starting to realize that our day was going to be a wee bit longer than expected, but the weather was holding and we marched towards Bryant Creek with renewed purpose. It was at this point that I realized I’d left my food bag at the summit of Owl Peak and would be going hungry for the next few hours.
I don’t know why HMG makes their stuff sacks gray colored – this is the second one I’ve lost simply because when packing up from the summit it’s very hard to spot the small bag among all the gray uneven rocks. It seemed to take a while but eventually we crossed a raging Bryant Creek and filled our tummies with lots and lots of its refreshing goodness before tramping off down the wide Bryant Creek trail towards our bikes. I thought the ~5km to the bikes went by pretty quickly considering how tired we were already at this point. We were both getting a bit grumpy thinking about the long hill we’d have to soon push our bikes up, but for the most part we were staying pretty positive – it was hard not to on such a perfect day out. Pushing the bikes up the big hill was a bugger, but honestly the ride out was much faster and more refreshing than either of us expected. Bike approaches are like ski approaches – they ROCK on the way back. We pulled up to the truck 11.5 hours after leaving it, with t-storms threatening all around and peals of thunder bouncing off Mount Shark in the distance. This was a top 20 and maybe even top 10 scrambling trip for me. It ticked a lot of boxes such as remoteness, rare ascents, high level traverse in perfect weather and incredible views.