Summit Elevation (m): 2880
Trip Date: Sunday, October 21, 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: Upper easy to moderate scrambling, depending on route choice and snow cover. There’s enough confusing route options to rate it “moderate”.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
I very rarely repeat mountains. Very, very rarely. I just don’t see the point. The name of my web site provides insight to the whole point of hiking, scrambling, skiing and climbing for me – exploring new areas. But every once in a while I get an itch to do a repeat for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s just that the mountain is that much fun but usually it’s because I didn’t get great photos or views the first time. Such is the case with Mount Cory. (For the original 2004 trip report click here.)
While driving back through Banff after a great day trip on Chimper Peak in Kootenay National Park, Wietse and I both commented on how bone-dry Mount Cory looked – at least for the bottom 2/3. For years now, I’ve regretted not getting better photos and views on this scramble. It was one of the first mountains I ever did and I didn’t have a good handle on how to adjust white balance on my digital camera at the time. We also had some pretty cloudy weather which didn’t help the photos either. I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy to climb another 1400m on Sunday after an exhausting trail-breaking experience on Chimper, but I filed the idea in my head and kept driving.
Sunday morning I slept in until 08:00 and then decided I shouldn’t “waste” such a nice day sitting around the house. Everyone else in my family had plans that didn’t require me, so I put together my gear from the day before including ax and crampons and jumped into the truck, hoping to start up Cory by 10:00. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was slightly underestimating the size of this objective, only looking at the total height gain and the distance of under 10km. I figured 6 hours should be more than enough to bag it – and I would have been right on the money in completely dry conditions. I also didn’t read my own trip report very carefully – where we took 6 hours just to get to the summit from the parking lot. Ah well. I wanted the experience to be as “new” as possible and it certainly was!
As I started from the pull-out along hwy 1A, I thought back to what I remembered from 2004. All I really remembered was how steep the initial ridge was, the snowy downclimb between summits and descending an alternate scree gully on return. All other memories were pretty much gone. I followed the breadcrumb track on my ViewRanger basemap to find the start of the lower south ridge which involved going past a locked gate from the parking lot and then a short walk along a cutline under some large power lines. From the powerline right-of-way I found a faint trail leading to the bottom of the ridge and continuing upwards on dirt and scree, which I followed.
The next few hours were a steady grind up. I made the huge mistake of wearing my insulated pants – figuring with a high of only around 5 degrees it would be cool enough to justify them. NOT. I could have worn shorts most of the day! Soon I was in my t-shirt, sweating in the hot sun and still air on the extremely steep south ridge trail. My legs were still sore from breaking trail in shitty snow on Chimper the day before and by the time I finally arrived at the upper plateau I was questioning my choice of objectives for this particular day. But the weather was sublime and I was enjoying the mountain all by myself so I decided to continue.
It’s only after the plateau (where I enjoyed the company of a herd of very unconcerned sheep) that the route on Cory becomes a bit convoluted. With fresh snow starting soon after the plateau, the route became even more diverse. I was following fairly fresh tracks in the snowy sections on the ridge but they didn’t always take the easiest path and I ended up forging some of my own route until the snow became much more consistent higher up. The good news is that it was pretty easy keeping things easy to moderate up to the shoulder beneath the false summit.
From the upper shoulder under the false summit things got a bit more interesting. Firstly, I ended up gaining and losing more height than I’d remembered from 2004. Secondly, thanks to copious amounts of snow, the route became more constrained, especially when it concerned traverses on steep slopes vs. balancing along crumbling ridges. The first hint of this was on the shoulder itself, where I’m sure there’s a simple traverse in dry conditions but I was forced up onto the crest of the shoulder and faced with a tricky downclimb at the end of it. Just as I was downclimbing the shoulder I noticed two figures high up under the false summit coming down slowly.
I continued up to the false summit, now in much more snow. I didn’t quite need my crampons yet, but it was getting close. As I met the two figures coming down, we chatted briefly and they indicated that the traverse to the true summit was a bit challenging and would definitely require the ‘pons. I was secretly glad, since I’d lugged them all the way up to this point! I continued upward on snow and rock, the scrambling being much more interesting than I remembered from my first time up here – albeit in much drier conditions. After scrambling up a few steeper sections on the ridge I arrived at the false summit to some pretty stunning views of many familiar peaks from Assiniboine to Temple and many more in between. It had taken me just under 4 hours to reach the false summit – longer than I’d expected it to. Looking over at the true summit I wasn’t convinced it looked any higher, but alas, it’s been accepted by the scrambling community as being slightly higher and even I have it listed as around 7 feet higher so I knew I ‘had’ to make the traverse in order to get some good photos from it. It didn’t look very easy with all the snow…
The traverse to the true summit wasn’t easy or straightforward in the winter conditions I had – certainly no longer a scramble, but rather easy alpine mountaineering with ax and crampons required and some delicate moves on rock and snow to avoid getting into more serious trouble. Again, I noted easy looking slopes off the ridge top to my left (west), but they were loaded with snow and a pretty severe wind slab that was reactive when I tried the traverse. I gave up and followed the tracks that led along the undulating ridge, including a few tricky downclimbs before finally arriving at the easier slopes to the summit. The views from the summit were, as expected, spectacular and I was glad I made the traverse. The views north over Fifi and up the Forty Mile Creek were especially intriguing. It had taken me 4.5 hours to reach the summit – much longer than I’d expected.
The return was quicker, as usual. After leaving the false summit behind, I rapidly descended back to the shoulder before taking off the crampons and putting the ax away. The shoulder was much easier to upclimb than downclimb and soon I was slowly transitioning back to grass from snow. I took a lengthy 30 minute break high up on a grassy shoulder, enjoying my Starbucks and the quiet calm around me. I was sure I wasn’t going to experience a day this pleasant in the alpine again until next Spring or Summer so I wanted to soak it in thoroughly. Reluctantly I left my little piece of Heaven behind and continued the steep descent to the plateau.
From the plateau I followed the very steep track back to the powerline cut block far below. For a short section I managed to plunge-step the gully that I remembered from 2004, but I ended up traversing back to my ascent track in order to avoid the canyon lower down. I wasn’t sure what kind of shape it was in and didn’t want to bother with any bushwhacking. I’m sure it’s fine. I arrived at the truck, back in my t-shirt, for a round trip time of almost 8 hours. Overall I really enjoyed Mount Cory for the 2nd time. It felt like a new mountain to me and the summit ridge was fun alpine scrambling with some pretty sweet views.