Townsend, Mount (Traverse)

Summit Elevation (m): 2710
Trip Date: Thursday, August 30, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1900
Round Trip Time (hr): 11.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 30
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: A very long creek approach with minor bushwhacking, some routefinding and some sheep trails. The traverse is moderate to difficult depending on whether Mythic Tower is included.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

My first good look at Mount Townsend was from Cougar Peak earlier in 2018 upon reaching its summit after a fun, early season scramble in mid May with Wietse – and it looked pretty darn impressive! After getting home and doing some research I also became interested in two unofficial peaks next to Townsend along the ridge towards Mount Fable dubbed, “Epic” and “Mythic” towers. These two peaks were first climbed and reported on by John Martin in 1993 and documented by Gillean Daffern in her Kananaskis Trail Guide series of books. Bob Spirko scrambled yet another minor peak along the same ridge from the Fable Creek drainage in 2008 and named it, “Little Mythic Tower“. Cornelius Rott used Bob’s beta in September of 2017 and scrambled both towers from Fable Creek, using the same approach as Bob had. Upon gazing at the Townsend to Fable ridge, I decided that there was no reason not to combine Mount Townsend with John Martin’s two towers and Bob’s minor summit to take advantage of the very long Cougar Creek approach and tag four interesting summits in one long day. I really didn’t expect that long day to be in 2018 already though!

The view of Mount Townsend and the traverse I planned as seen from Cougar Peak. Cougar Creek at lower left with the direction of the traverse being left to right.

The Thursday before the September long weekend I found myself with an unexpected day off, a decent weather forecast and no scramble partners available. I was planning a canoe trip down the Red Deer River for the weekend, so initially I wasn’t thinking of getting out at all the day before, but when the forecast improved and there was a good chance of minimal BC wildfire smoke, I slowly started ramping up the plans until I found myself plotting a route way up Cougar Creek and over four summits. Funny how that happens. 

The Townsend Traverse

Initially the trip ‘only’ included three summits. I knew from talking with Cornelius on our Castle Rock Peak trip in 2017 that he considered the ‘scramble’ on Mythic Tower to be quite difficult and possibly 5th class. I’ve scrambled with Cornelius on difficult terrain before, and I know that his long legs and calm mind can make tricky terrain look pretty effortless so when he talked about Mythic Tower I didn’t take his comments lightly. I planned on completing Townsend, Epic Tower and Little Mythic and figured that I’d give Mythic Tower a peek and only do it if I felt into it. Not including Mythic Tower in my plans would keep the pressure off me to go over my head – especially considering I was going to be solo.

Cornelius took 11 hours to scramble Mount Townsend via Cougar Creek, so I figured it was going to take me 12+ hours for my traverse and planned to leave Calgary around 05:00 to put me on the Cougar Creek approach by around 06:00. Thanks to a good Netflix show I ended up staying up too late on Wed evening and slept in ’til 05:30, arriving at the trailhead at 07:00. No matter. The creek is obvious and I could always return in the dark. I set off up the slightly boring creek bed, quickly passing the turnoff towards Mount Lady Macdonald and continuing along the low running water. I was sort of dreading the long creek bash, but it was rather pleasant doing this trip solo. My thoughts wandered all over the place as I marched up the easy creek. I was more paranoid about water than usual for this trip and had 1 liter along, plus a thermos of coffee. As I passed the Canadian Forks the creek completed dried up and I started to wonder if I had enough liquid to cover such a long day. Within about 1.5 hours of leaving the truck I was passing the turnoff towards Cougar Peak and entering new territory for me.

As much fun as this was, it did get old once the boulders in the creek became so big that there were scrambling moves required to ascend them!
The left branch of the valley goes up towards Stenton Peak while the right one goes towards Townsend.

The flats under Cougar Peak quickly narrowed and the creek started to gain elevation and narrowed considerably. I had no idea just how much height I was gaining and felt like I was traveling fairly slowly up this narrower, bouldery section. It was also quite foreshortened. After getting some glimpses of my peaks ahead, I assumed the valley would open up a bit but it never really did. I reached the upper fork in the creek where I was planning to ascend left and descend back down the right hand branch.

I made the wrong choice here by ascending the easier slope at right. The correct one is at center left

At this point I started to realize two things. First, I was gaining more height in the creek than I realized (a good thing). Second, this was going to be a fairly long and involved day (also a good thing) right before a busy long weekend (maybe not so good but too late to worry about that). I followed the left branch of the upper creek before confusing myself at another branch and choosing the wrong option – I went right when I should have gone left. I realized my error about 100 vertical meters later and made the hard decision to descend and take the more obviously correct slopes towards Townsend. I could have made the other route work on hindsight but being solo I didn’t want to take too many chances and the slabby terrain was deceivingly tricky in spots – just as it always is.

After descending and then re-ascending the correct slope I made some good progress following the same line Cornelius took. In general you will be on either slab or scree but should end up on a ridge of sorts – more of a whale’s back. I was worried about running into drop offs along the whaleback but there was always either an easy descent or traverse at the end of them and before long I was over the last one and starting the traverse towards the only obvious break at the SW end of Townsend’s cliffed out summit block.

The route to the summit is now visible. Up the whaleback, then left through the cliffs and up to the summit.

Other than a few moderate moves at the bottom of the slabs, the break went easily and even better – it had some running water! I drank deeply from this source as I suspected I might not get any more water on the traverse and until the Canadian Forks far down Cougar Creek.

Being solo, I took the easier, more easterly line up the summit block which was easy to moderate scrambling depending on the line up the slabs. 4.5 hours after leaving the truck I was standing on top of Mount Townsend – much quicker than expected and with glorious almost smoke free views. I was honestly very surprised at the wonderful views down Exshaw Creek and down the valley west of South Ghost Peak. Many familiar peaks such as Morrowmount, End Mountain, Association Peak and Orient Point looked very different from this angle – most of them looked rather small too.

Pretty good views from the summit looking east (R), north (C) and west (L). Summits include Stenton, Saddle, Orient Point, South Ghost, End, Association, Cross, Morrowmount, Wendell, Goat and others.
Views north (R), west including my approach valley (C) and south (L). Peaks include Cougar and Stenton (R).
Great views down Exshaw Creek include the rest of my day over Epic Tower, Mythic Tower and Little Mythic Tower. Goat Mountain at left above Exshaw Ridge.
Looking off the ledge traverse that breaks Townsend’s summit block through the cliffs. Epic Tower rising impressively at left.

I spent some time taking photos and eating on the cool summit before retracing my ascent route down and off the the summit block and starting the interesting traverse towards Epic Tower.

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