Summit Elevation (m): 2874
Trip Date: Saturday, July 7, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1900
Round Trip Time (hr): 15
Total Trip Distance (km): 31
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: A long approach on good trails until Police Meadows. Remote BC bushwhack followed by scrambling with possible snow / ice on route.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE5
GPS Track: Download
As of July 2018, Simpson Ridge had been on Phil and my peak hit list for more than a few years already. The main reason was an enticing comment from the indomitable Rick Collier about his second ascent of the mountain in 1996 (76 years after the first ascent in 1920!);
At the high point on the NE edge, there was a large summit cairn, with – and what a wonderful surprise! — the original 1920 record by Bulyea, Wates, and Gold, handwritten on ACC stationery. I took a photo of the record, rewrapped this original along with my own note, and placed both in the canister and the canister in cairn.Rick Collier
Reading that there might still be an original 1920 summit register waiting to be rediscovered put our imaginations into overdrive. We didn’t yet know about the naming confusion or the difficult and multiple attempts at the original ascent – and didn’t realize this very interesting part of the mountain’s history until after returning from our trip days later.
Originally, while planning our ascent Phil and I were planning to use the same straightforward route that Rick had used up the SW aspect from the Surprise Creek / Rock Lake / Ferro Pass approach. Thanks to a decommissioned trail from the Porcupine Campground along the Simpson River, and a removed bridge over the Simpson River to Surprise Creek in 2015, combined with the large Verdant Creek wildfire in 2017, our hopes to access this mountain “easily” were dashed. But we don’t give up very quickly, and after viewing the mountain from the north from the summits of Citadel, Fatigue and Golden, we were confident that there was a scramble route up a somewhat remote and inaccessible bowl on the eastern side of the mountain. The bonus of this route was twofold, firstly we could finally see what the Police Meadows and cabin were all about and secondly we could approach and exit on good trails from the Sunshine Meadows, through Citadel Pass and via the Simpson River Trail.
There were a few “gotchas” with our plan. The first huge PITA was the sheer distance and elevation changes it involved. By accessing the mountain from the Alberta side of the Rockies via Sunshine Meadows, we would have to travel at least 22.5km and up to 28km each way, if we didn’t catch the gondola / bus at Sunshine Village. Even with the lift, we were looking at around 1900m of total height gain and at least 870m of height loss on approach, all of which would be regained on exit when we’d be tired and sore from our ascents. Then there was the route itself. Despite how viable it looked from many kilometers away, I’ve dealt with BC bush more than once and it is NOT easy or pleasurable terrain! I remember one particular case on Mount Alexandra where it took us an hour to travel about 500m! My cardinal rule is to never, ever, ever underestimate BC bushwhacking for its level of intense suckiness. Despite this rule, I was still positive about the planned route for some reason. Sometimes I wonder about my sanity, to be honest. Phil, of course, was his usual bubbly self about the entire plan. He was still a BC bushwhacking virgin and didn’t know what he was signing up for – he’d realize it a few days later while crawling through a vast field of Krumholtz in the rain on a 40 degree slope!
Thinking about it now, days later, I’m surprised we had the desire to re-hike the Sunshine Meadows trail to Citadel Pass, so soon after doing it with big packs only a week earlier! But we were both bitten by the explor8ion bug – wanting to be a third recorded ascent and to find an original ascent register from the 1920’s. We didn’t even think about the fact that we were also almost certainly forging a new route by tackling the peak from its east aspect via a largely untraveled and unexplored valley. I must warn you – this is a long trip report – just like the trip itself so settle in with a good cup of your favorite bevvy and make sure you have the time and energy to deal with the rest of this tome.
Police Meadow – Approach and Cabins
Read all about our approach and the mysterious Police Meadow / Cabins in a separate report.
After the 15.5km, 500m height gain and over 850m of height loss involved with our 4 hour approach, it wasn’t easy to tear ourselves away from the comfort at the cabin in Police Meadow, but it was now 13:00 and daylight hours were getting on. There wasn’t much else to do except strap our packs on and head out of the back of the cabin area towards the valley beckoning beyond.
As we headed south, up valley from the Police Meadows, I was struck by how Phil Richards and myself plan and carry out these sorts of adventures. It’s a little bit nuts if I really think about it! Simply by looking at a distant valley and estimating the angle of slopes from topo maps and Google Earth, we were willing to hiking many kilometers and many hundreds of meters of elevation to “get our noses into it”, despite have no clue about whether or not any of the routes we were planning would actually work or not. I love it, but this sort of thing is not for the faint of heart. Even being conservative had us doing ~2,000m of height gain two days in a row, with at least 35km each day, including BC bushwhacking, possible glacier or steep snow ascents and certainly having to deal with unknown terrain issues along the way. Phil and I have been on some long trips already in 2018, including a 42km bike ‘n scramble into Mount Currie / White Man Pass but Eric hadn’t been on a mountain trip since December 2017! I think he might have underestimated the effort a bit. But Eric is Eric and I’ve known him a long time. He is a very mentally tough hombre and doesn’t give up easily as he would clearly demonstrate on this trip.
Immediately upon hiking past the dilapidated second cabin, we realized that there was really no trail or even path leading up valley towards our planned ascent routes for Nestor and Simpson Ridge. We were in for it. Big time. Us, being us, this didn’t really phase us or even slow us down for some reason. Instead we got excited about the notion of adventuring and exploring a valley that obviously hadn’t seen very many creatures of our ilk. The first avalanche slope wasn’t too bad but by the time we hit the second or third one we were deep in the “suck” and starting to wonder how much adventuring we were really in for.
We realized pretty quickly that our feet would continue to be soaked as we navigated up and through the stream running down the middle of our approach valley. It simply wasn’t feasible to keep them dry or avoid water up to shin deep. We could see the terrain narrowing ahead and started to worry about steep canyons and waterfalls that could prove very difficult to navigate around. There was a strange route line on my Gaia base map which certainly didn’t correspond to a trail or even a track, but it did make some sense to try following it up to climber’s right to get around the steep, narrowing terrain ahead of us in the valley bottom. I led up a small but lively stream coming down a steep avy slope leading up to our right (west) a short way, before starting a long and challenging traverse in the forest towards the drainage we were planning to use to access the upper part of the mountain. This is where the difficulties ratcheted up a notch.
Our traverse above the valley floor was a lesson in BC bushwhacking and route finding patience and grit. Phil did an admirable job with his first real BC bushwhack and Eric and I settled into the familiar routine of crawling up and over avalanche debris, scratching shins, arms and faces on sharp, random branches and wading uphill and side-hill through, over and across dense shrubs, alders and Kruppelholz trees – we’ve done this more than once. Bushwhacking in BC is a lesson that teaches you a lot about yourself and can be used later in life. You learn to be one with the bush, moving carefully, slowly and deliberately and not trying to brute force your way through. If you don’t force yourself to slow down and get very patient and deliberate with your movements, you will spike your heart rate way over 160bpm and will burn out almost immediately. If your heart doesn’t explode, your mind will. Everything is about s l o w i n g d o w n.
After an hour and a half of bushwhacking we finally turned up a side valley to the west, heading for a distant waterfall and drainage that would hopefully give us easy access to the peak from the SE. So far our route was as good as it could have been but I think we might have made life harder on ourselves than necessary as we scouted out the best way around the beautiful waterfall we were slowly approaching. It took a while but soon enough we were under the falls, a lovely atmosphere of sparkling water, backlit by the summer sun and surrounded by steep walls of rock and Kruppelholz trees plastered on impossibly steep avalanche slopes.
As we gazed at the terrain around the waterfall, we noted two options. The first was the most attractive – a series of steep slabs and loose rock along it’s left hand side. Yes – that was the more attractive side! The right hand side didn’t look very inviting thanks to a thick field of Kruppelholz and some barely visible rocky cliffs embedded within. So why did we choose the right hand option? I’m not 100% sure, to be honest. Slabs are always tricky to gage from below for difficulty, often looking much easier than they are. The weather was starting to turn a bit ugly and with pending rain or sleet we thought the loose rock / slab could quickly escalate beyond scrambling so we chose the slope we knew would work technically, even though it was going to be a bit hellish. It was indeed, not a very heavenly slog from the bottom of the waterfall to treeline! Firstly we scrambled difficult cliffs to get into the bottom of the messy, stunted, hellish forest and then we waded, pushed, struggled, sweated, swore and stumbled our way up to treeline. Did I mention that it started to sleet and rain about half way up? Not cool folks. Not cool at all. These are the moments that make you wonder what the hell you’re doing.
As we broke treeline and desperately peered towards the distant apex of our objective, we were extremely happy to note that all of our suffering and efforts to this point would very likely not be in vain. There were several route options that looked reasonable, so naturally we chose the most direct and difficult one. :rolleyes: Instead of the easiest route which headed to the Simpson Peak / Ridge col, we chose to access steep scree and snow slopes directly under the summit to the SE. We wandered through a larch forest towards our ascent slope, very happy that the rain was clearing off and the sun was peeking back out between the clouds. We took advantage of snow before starting a bit of a scree slog to the summit block above. As we worked our way higher and higher, the views behind us started dimming the bad memories formed on approach. Of course, we were also making sideways glances towards “Simpson Peak” – an unnamed summit between Nestor and Simpson Ridge that is named “Simpson Peak” on some maps.
As Phil and I approached the summit block, we could see two viable options. Option 1 was a steep, difficult line straight up to the summit (Eric took this line behind us apparently) and option 2 was a tricky snowfield / rock traverse where we’d tiptoe on top of a pretty deep moat next to the cliffs and on top of a steepish patch of snow. We chose option 2 as it looked easier but either option obviously works. From the tricky traverse we turned right on a wide expanse of scree and excitedly marched up towards the huge summit cairn that is probably shorter now than when it was first built at apparently around 7 or 8 feet tall!
Right away I noticed a white plastic container in the giant summit cairn. I tried to wiggle it free, but whoever buried it had done an impressive job and I couldn’t free it. As yet another passing storm dumped some hard frozen rain pellets on us, Phil and I dismantled the cairn, rock by rock, placing them beside us so we could rebuild it again. As I opened the container I was in for a wee bit of disappointment – it was not Ricks and there was no original 1920 register inside either. Instead we were looking at a multi-page entry from an Edmonton ACC trip from Rock Lake in 2010, who’d apparently also been searching for the elusive original register that Rick had left behind.
Sidebar: A Brief History of Simpson Ridge / “Mount Edmonton”
It was only when we arrived back home and did some research based on a hunch from Eric, that we started uncovering more of the mystery surrounding the first ascent of this peak and the possible third ascent almost 100 years later by the Edmonton chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada. If we would have looked a bit closer at the trip report from Rick we would have noticed that he starts the report as follows (emphasis mine);
The Simpson/Edmonton Ridge (9430′ or 2874m) runs for 18-20 km from the crook in the Simpson River, where it bends from NE to SE and S, to the final SE slopes of Nub Peak that run down toward Lake Magog.Rick Collier
Obviously Rick knew, most likely from the original summit register itself, that the mountain had been dubbed “Mount Edmonton” by the first ascenders, which is why he labels it thus in his online report. By the time he climbed it, however, “Simpson Ridge” was the accepted name and its original moniker was somehow lost to history, buried in a 1921 Alpine Club of Canada Journal for us to rediscover nearly 100 years after it was first published! The name is noted in the article as “not being accepted by the Geographical Board” for whatever reason. Since people nowadays are naming random peaks after their kids or their uncles, I think I’m OK with naming this ridge, “Mount Edmonton” as the first ascensionists wanted. The original ascent party ascended a very difficult and complicated route up the NE face of the mountain from the Simpson River Valley and exited back to the Simpson River via almost the exact same line that we used for our approach and exit.
The Edmonton trip is best described by its leader, Ernst M. Bergmann, who wrote up a detailed account of their reasons for doing the trip and the outcome. Mr Bergmann was kind enough to share that trip report and other details of their trip with me, which I have permission to share – so here it is!
I have to admit that we were a bit disappointed in finding a newer register in the cairn, but we didn’t give up hope of also finding Rick’s. We continued to look around and peer carefully into all the nooks and crannies and dissemble the cairn further but to no avail. We found out later that the Edmonton team did the same thing as we did. There’s two possibilities here. Either someone else came along and took the register (likely) or it vanished (unlikely) or it simply disintegrated (possible). Our disappointment was pretty short-lived when the sun came out again and we realized that we were the 4th or 5th recorded ascent party in the past 100 years to stand on this summit. That realization got us snapping way too many photos again, as we gave nervous glances at our watches and wondered aloud if Simpson Peak was still a possibility. We had some time to roam to the NW summit where there was another, smaller cairn (no register) before trundling all the way back to the SE cairn for a quick break.
The wind was getting quite cold and the day was fading quickly (it was now after 18:00) as we set our sights on the next objective that we’d been scouting a route for since first ascending into the alpine bowl beneath – “Simpson Peak“.