Summit Elevation (m): 2880
Trip Date: Saturday, October 20, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1500
Round Trip Time (hr): 8
Total Trip Distance (km): 16
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: With snow anywhere on route there is avy hazards. There is also a minor cliffband to overcome, but nothing too dramatic. I’d say this is the easier side of a “moderate” rating.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
After the crappiest September on record, I knew we’d likely get some good weather in October. Sure enough! After a pretty bad start, October turned gorgeous and by the third week the forecast was all sunshine. Although the sun and warm temperatures were extremely welcome, they were also a bit on the late side for scrambling season. Despite assurances from Phil in Canmore that everything was melting out really quickly at valley bottom, I had my suspicions regarding anything above 2000m being snow-free. After a series of emails and texts, Wietse and I were the last two standing and started making plans for Saturday. We settled on Chimper Peak for the simple reason that Nugara makes specific mention that snow is welcome on this peak. We figured we’d win either way. If it was dry than we’d enjoy one last dry scramble for the season and if there was snow apparently that would assist our efforts. It turns out that we got a little of both.
As we drove through the mountains, we noticed a TON of melting below treeline. The peaks were still plastered with snow higher up, but the valley bottoms looked almost entirely snow-free. As we parked in the Marble Canyon parking lot along hwy 93 south, we were very surprised to see no snow around the lot and very little even higher up on avy paths that we could see up the Tokumm Creek Valley. The lack of snow made our decision to leave the snowshoes in the car very easy. We remained very suspicious about conditions higher up on the peak however, and packed axes and crampons despite the dry terrain all around us.
We decided to check out the canyon on return, and walked briskly up the Tokumm Creek Trail towards the nonexistent Fay Hut, which is still advertised on the trail signage for some reason. It hasn’t been operational for almost a decade after burning to the ground in 2009! The first 30 minutes or so on the trail were very delightful. Someone had recently maintained the fallen trees and the walking was brisk on 100% dry ground. We were amazed how dry everything was. The last 30 minutes to our avalanche gully were also pretty good, but the trail was no longer maintained and there was some deadfall across it. We arrived at the base of the large avalanche path in almost exactly 1 hour, so I guess we hike at the same pace as Nugara! It’s the first obvious avy gully you come across and is very large and very foreshortened.
We agreed to go our own pace up the huge (completely dry) avalanche gully as Wietse wasn’t feeling 100%. I agreed to wait if necessary and off we went. The gully reminded me a bit of Chickadee Peak, but this one’s even more avalanche-prone based on its size and aspect! After ascending over 500 vertical meters we finally started to run into small patches of snow and by the time we finally arrived in the huge upper scree valley, we were on a decent sized patch of snow. The snow made travel easier at this point, rather than traveling over boulders and rocks I simply kicked shallow steps in the firm, easy-angled snow as the valley curved slowly to the north, our left. Soon I could see the moderate cliffband far above me and just as we suspected, copious amounts of snow on the prime avalanche slopes above and around the cliffs.
As I approached a narrow gully leading up to the cliffband, I decided it was time to put on the crampons, pull out the ax and start transitioning from hiking to easy alpine climbing. This wasn’t going to be a simple scramble with all the snow, but the slope angle and cliffs looked to be fairly simple from a mountaineering perspective. I was very much looking forward to climbing some firm snow slopes, especially in the gorgeous weather we were experiencing! Our views were slowly opening up and becoming quite stupendous. I was already thinking they’d be much better than a few months ago on Ochre Spring Peak which is just to the south of Chimper, on the other side of the Tokumm Creek Valley. Wietse was quite a ways behind me at this point, but I wasn’t too concerned as I knew my progress would likely slow significantly if the snow slopes were softer than I wanted them to be. I started up the narrow gully on firm, fast snow up to the crux cliffband above.
The cliffband proved to be the transition point from “good” to “very bad” snow. As I ascended the band on a mix of rock hard snow, water ice, rock and very soft snow, I noticed that there was more and more soft snow – the wallowing kind that sucks the life out of anyone foolish enough to wade through it. Wietse was already starting to catch up as I transitioned over the small cliffs and onto the pretty large snow slopes above. The snow didn’t want to slide, but it sure didn’t want to hold my weight either! The next few hours really sucked as I struggled and swore my way up towards the distant summit that never seemed to get closer. I think this was probably the most work I’ve done in a long time on snow. It was a “double break” situation. I’d kick a step and try to make it hold my weight, which it would. Then I’d go to make another step and it would collapse another 6″! I was wallowing up to crotch deep many times. Making things worse, there are a number of 2-3′ rock bands on the slope and near each band the snow would turn to sugar, completely collapsing at the slightest bit of weighting. Needless to say, Wietse really started catching up at this point! Thankfully the snow remained surprisingly stable – it didn’t want to slide and there were no reactive layers.
Finally, after over over 4 hours I stumbled up to the summit. Our views, as expected, were some of the best I’ve had in this area. We didn’t want to linger due to the sun baking our steep, snowy ascent slopes and after 20 minutes in a cool breeze it was already time to start the descent.
The descent was pretty quick, especially compared to the climb, but the crampons kept catching jagged rocks under the snow and throwing us off balance which wasn’t the most fun in the world. Thankfully the weather was beautiful and our views kept us somewhat distracted. The cliffband was a little tricky with all the snow, but nothing too complex and soon we were glissading down the narrow gully to the drier lower scree / boulder valley leading to the top of the avalanche slope. We took a long break at the top of this slope, enjoying the summer-like conditions and even a few yellow larches before hiking back down the steep slopes to the trail far below. On return we checked out the very interesting Marble Canyon.
I highly recommend Chimper Peak. If you’re a confident skier this peak would a very nice ski tour – albeit with significant avalanche risk and more technical than Chickadee Peak due to the cliffband. If you’re confident on steep snow and assessing avalanche conditions, I would recommend doing it in the Spring with a firm snow pack rather than the crapfest we endured! The views are stunning – even better than Ochre Spring and Whymper due to the location of this peak.