Summit Elevation (m): 2940
Trip Date: Saturday, July 21, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1700
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 22
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: Easy hiking and scrambling to the false summit. A moderate, exposed, loose traverse to the true summit.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
After a ~900m descent from our Alcantara / Brussilof bivy, I was feeling pretty bagged for some reason. I think Phil was too. It sure felt good to down the cool pop we had waiting for ourselves in Phil’s SUV! Technically we had two days in front of us still at this point. We knew that Saturday was supposed to be almost 100% cloudy with no rain and Sunday was supposed to improve to sun again. We felt a wee bit burned out after our monster approach and scramble of both Brussilof and Alcantara the day before and we both wanted to turn off our brains and do something a bit easier than our originally planned 1.5 days on Mount Eon. We decided pretty quickly to do the hike into Marvel Pass and check out some of the scrambles around there. Neither of us had ever done this hike, so why not? Being on a trail again would be awesome!
We briefly considered not bothering to drive any further up the Aurora Creek FSR. We figured the SUV was nicely wrapped in chicken wire so why bother with fussing around when the trailhead was only 1km distant? Boy am I glad we didn’t make that particular brain fart. As we drove past the Assiniboine approach parking area (two vehicles) we realized that the Marvel Pass trailhead is further along the road and very drivable. It’s also very much uphill! Walking this road would have been very demoralizing and silly! I didn’t realize it but this road goes at least 1-1.5km past the parking area for Assiniboine Creek. We arrived at the parking area to see Jay’s truck and thankfully some more chicken wire that we used after repacking our gear for the 2nd phase of our trip. The trailhead was marked by an old sign and we headed down a short embankment following a faint trail in the grass.
Two things stand out about the approach trail to Marvel Pass. Firstly, the trail is excellent – albeit a bit overgrown and faint in spots. It’s graded nicely, it’s routed nicely and it grants some great views once you get up a bit higher in the valley. Secondly, it’s way more height gain than I thought it would be! By the time we ascended two head walls and through some lovely meadows that reminded me of the Valley of Rocks along the Citadel Pass approach, we’d ascended over 600 vertical meters already! By the time we finally stumbled onto the shores of Aurora Lake we’d done almost 7km and 650 vertical meters from the car. In the fall I think this area would be on fire with larches and shrubs with turning leaves. We felt pretty good considering the days efforts – hiking along such a lovely trail had re-energized us.
Once we’d taken a break at Aurora Lake it was time to narrow down our objectives for the day. The clouds had indeed been building and some of them looked quite threatening but we’d had no rain so far. Our options were somewhat limited due to energy levels and our location. Marvel Peak, Mount Byng and Aurora Mountain were the front runners. We didn’t love the sounds of Rick’s convoluted route on Marvel, so we decided to head for Byng and decide later if it was worth tagging Aurora too. We screwed up a bit on our approach to Mount Byng by trying to follow Rick’s description;
We descended Marvel Pass and skirted the pretty little lake just E of the pass (See Aurora), and boulder-hopped up the valley to the SE, which forms the headwaters of Owl Creek. The NW shoulder of Mt. Byng (See Byng)is easily accessed from this valley…Rick Collier
By going up and over Marvel Pass from Aurora Lake, we ended up on a trail much further to the north (left) than we wanted to be. My base map has the wrong trail marked so I’m not sure if the trail from Marvel Pass towards Owl Lake has been rerouted over the years or what, but to make a long story short, we ended up going about 100 vertical meters too low on the trail before realizing we had to bushwhack towards the mountain across a shallow valley or we were going to miss it. It wasn’t as bad as we thought and soon we were back on track, grunting up some forested gullies north of the valley between Byng and Aurora. It didn’t take long and we were cheering up again – walking through lovely larch forests and exiting treeline on open alpine terrain between Byng and Aurora.
As expected from Rick’s report and our own views from Mount Currie earlier this year, the NW slopes of Mount Byng were ridiculously easy compared to the routefinding, shifting blocks of rock, exposure and scrambling we’d had the day previous on Brussilof and even on Alcantara’s south ridge. We were tired, but this was easy terrain where just putting one foot in front of the other (and slightly higher) results in a summit. But not the true summit, unfortunately. From the false summit there is no debating the fact that the true summit to the east is higher – it’s not even close. We knew, from Rick’s report, that getting to the true summit was going to require some tricky, moderate scrambling and he was bang on. I have to admit that we were a bit nervous approaching this traverse after experiencing firsthand what Rick called “moderate” scrambling on Brussilof the day before! We needn’t have worried on hindsight. Although beginner scramblers or hikers would be terrified on the terrain, compared to what we were on the day previous, this was pretty basic stuff. I didn’t even hesitate, instead plunging down on climber’s right and following faint trails in the scree and even cairns indicating where the best traverse was to be found. (At the time we assumed the cairns were from Jay / Glen who we knew were on this mountain just before us, but later found out that they were already set up for them as well.) Byng is a much more popular mountain than the Brussilof’s of the world, perhaps seeing 1 or 2 ascents most years. After a few tricky ledge traverses on exposed and VERY loose terrain we scrambled easily to the summit and enjoyed the views from the third peak of our trip.
The wind was getting quite cool and the clouds were thickening as we turned our attention towards Aurora Mountain. Rick combined these two peaks, so naturally we wanted to do the same. In a shocking development for us, however, we were not feeling at all motivated to bag Aurora! Well, to be honest I was quite motivated but Phil was talking some sense into me. 🙂 Aurora is quite a bit lower than Byng and especially with the increasing clouds, our views would certainly not be improving. We could clearly see the route and it involved losing elevation from the Byng / Aurora col to the SE towards Currie Creek before reascending easy slopes to the summit. It was around this time that we also noticed that we could simply hike back out to the car and drive back to Canmore / Calgary without dealing with the Sunday traffic nightmare that is the Trans Canada Highway nowadays. Hmmm. We decided that a fall trip was in the cards anyway to Aurora Lake, so why not save Aurora for then?
The decision made to egress all the way to our houses, we focused on the more efficient line back to Aurora Lake that we’d spotted earlier. The descent down the NW slopes was very quick on great scree and snow patches followed by soft, grassy alpine meadows. We were surprised to run into Glen as we traversed boulders / scree towards the traverse. He was waiting patiently for Jay who had combined Aurora with Byng and was feeling pretty good about his decision to skip Aurora considering the dark clouds that were now much lower than before. We chatted for a bit and Glen mentioned that he and Jay had managed to bag Marvel Peak via a much better route than Ricks – beta I’m looking forward to seeing! From the old moraine we followed the obvious traverse line which worked out well despite being a bit more bouldery and undulating than we first expected.
After packing up camp at Aurora Lake (BTW – camping isn’t technically allowed there as we found out later – you have to go about 50-100m back into BC apparently), we marched back down the Aurora Creek trail. The weather held up nicely and the walking was pretty easy despite our tired legs. We arrived back at the parking lot by around 20:00 and made the drive back to Canmore with no traffic issues. Needless to say, my drive from Canmore to YYC was also uneventful, but I have to say it was much busier than I expected even at midnight! I enjoyed the low key nature of the hike into Marvel Pass and the relatively simple scramble on Byng Mountain. I think this whole area deserves a fall trip when the larches are out and the bushes are probably bright red, orange and yellow but of course it’s lovely any time of the year.