Summit Elevation (m): 2591
Trip Date: Friday, August 17, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1460
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 35
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: My ascent route was moderate with some steep slabs and the descent was easy / moderate with scree and slabs. Routefinding is key to keeping things easy / moderate on this mountain.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE3/4
GPS Track: Download
After a couple of very long and full days spent on a 5th recorded ascent of Mount McConnell, deep in the heart of Banff National Park, Phil Richards and I awoke at 05:00 on Friday morning, August 17 2018 with tired bodies and minds, unsure of our abilities to ascend another peak before exiting. I was feeling much better than I had a right to be, but Phil was clearly not feeling the stoke for another peak on this particular day. His head cold from earlier in the week was back and his body and mind were not impressed with him for even considering it. I set about making my morning coffee and choking down some breakfast while we discussed the situation in the early morning darkness. It didn’t take long to conclude that I would give Tilted Mountain a shot and Phil would sleep for another hour or two.
I had zero beta for the peak, which was fine, but was a bit leery of it for some reason. It had looked pretty slabby on the approach to our bivy the evening before and I know that slabby peaks can have a bite if you go anywhere off route. The only beta I did have on Tilted was a Facebook post from Paul Zizka in 2017, encouraging more folks to ascend it. He posted in a scrambling group, so I assumed there must be a scramble route somewhere on the mountain – the only question was, where? On our approach we both commented that the SW end of the mountain looked most laid back, but I didn’t feel like traversing there in the morning darkness, so I ascended straight up scree slopes under a series of cliffs and slabs on the NW end instead. It was fairly dark but I could see an obvious line up scree and slabs next to the cliffs and simply went for it.
As dawn slowly broke around me, I could see that the forest fire smoke was going to be brutal on this particular day, completely ruining any shot at good early morning views. Oh well. Tilted isn’t a very grand objective anyway – this justified our choice not to go for Lychnis until clearer skies and better conditions presented themselves. The terrain steepened as I climbed, but I could always see an obvious line up cracks in the slabs. Slab scrambling is fun, but can be tricky because it’s very easy to get suckered into difficult, exposed terrain. There were several times on ascent where I was looking down my line wondering how easy it would be going the other way. As I neared the summit ridge I also noted that I was moving quickly and that I’d have at least 500m of mostly horizontal traversing to attain the summit. This wasn’t a huge deal, but the summit ridge was looking pretty fierce – knife edged and VERY loose.
My day improved dramatically as I popped over the summit ridge and discovered a scree sidewalk leading along it towards the summit on the opposite (east) side of the knife edge! When does that happen?! I couldn’t believe my good fortune and whooped out loud in the still morning air before scampering along the sidewalk towards the distant high point. Another observation improving my mood was the realization that the SW slopes looked pretty laid back compared to my ascent line and would almost certainly be my chosen route of egress.
Just before the summit the scree sidewalk seemed to disappear on me. Before committing to some very exposed knife-edged ridiculousness, I gave the route a closer look. Roughly 15 feet underneath the ridge crest on the east side, the sidewalk continued! I downclimbed gingerly to get back onto the feature and simply hiked along it – taking care with some narrow bits that were pretty severely exposed to the east face. Before long I was on the summit of Tilted Mountain with pretty much zero views thanks to the smoky pollution that was clogging the normally pristine air in this area.
After an unsuccessful search for a register and even more unsuccessful attempts at getting photos from the summit, I started my descent of the SW side of Tilted Mountain. I don’t normally love descending routes “blind”, but I could see 95% of the route and it looked pretty easy compared with my ascent line so I took a chance. Everything went great and soon I was plunge-stepping scree down and across the lower west face of the mountain in a circuitous route back to the unnamed lake and our bivy. The scree and boulder slog back to the lake was a bit annoying but I was feeling pretty good from my successful scramble and luck with the summit ridge sidewalk, so I didn’t care much.
As I hiked back to our bivy along the lake shore, I noted that I was only gone around 2 hours and also thought to myself that maybe I should be yelling for bears, since this was a prime Grizzly habitat. “Nah”, I thought to myself, “I don’t want to disrupt this perfectly still morning with yelling”… Phil was very surprised to see me returning already. It was amusing to hear about his thought process as he watched me hike back along the lake shore. First he thought I was someone else as it was way too quick to be me already. Then he noted my orange climbing helmet and realized it was, indeed, me. Then he thought that I must not have found a scramble to the summit and returned already, defeated. Then he noticed me taking flower pictures and enjoying my walk and thought I must have been successful and the route must have gone well. I didn’t realize I was that easy to read from a distance!
We packed up camp while I brewed another coffee to power me through the last 18km or so of our trip back to the parking lot. As I was folding up the mid, Phil whispered something urgently. “What?”, I asked. “BEAR!”, he replied! In a highlight moment for the entire trip, we spent the next 15 minutes or so watching a large Grizzly tear up the earth next to our camp in the alpine meadows around the lake shore. We yelled in order for everyone to realize who was all tucked into this small valley and it took a few minutes before the large bruin turned towards us and started walking in our direction. Bears don’t have great eyesight, and after peering intensely towards us, he dismissed us as mere sideshow to his breakfast routine, and continued trashing the meadow with gusto. The coolest moment was when he took a break and wandered down to the lake shore (where I’d just walked past quietly a few minutes before) and took a deep, refreshing drink from the same water I was boiling for my morning coffee. It was a magical Skoki morning, but I do admit that the presence of a bear did speed up our morning packing a bit.
We exited the valley on the opposite side of the lake to the bear and proceeded down the access headwall (bushwhack) to the Baker Creek Trail. From there it was a trudge along various segments of Skoki highways to Boulder Pass and then down to our bikes. The amount of height gain from Baker to Ptarmigan Lakes was surprising – I remembered doing that years earlier only while we were doing it again. Views were limited due to the smoke, but this area is so special it always presents some nice panoramas.
Tilted Mountain is not a mountain you’d prioritize as a premier Skoki summit, but it is a peak I’d highly recommend adding to your itinerary if you’re camped at Baker Lake or bivying near Lychnis Mountain. It’s a fun, short scramble that I’m sure offers stunning views and is surrounded by some pretty wild country including an apparent popular breakfast destination for Grizzlies.