Hensley, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 2820
Trip Date: Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Round Trip Time (hr): 9
Elevation Gain (m): 1630
Total Trip Distance (km): 19
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: If you take advantage of my suffering and follow my descent route this is a fairly easy but long day. If you insist on going your own way you could be in for a lot of suffering through burn and deadfall.
Technical Rating: SC5; RE3/4
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

Following a long day high above the lovely Middlepass Creek area on Sunday, I took my own excellent and logical medical advice and layered more pain on top of existing pain on top of preexisting pain in order to help with the original pain. Strangely, it didn’t work – at all, but I did experience a heckuva solo adventure when I could have been at work doing boring stuff all day. So there is that… I was doing some research on Monday and Tuesday about possible destinations for a full day trip when I came across a mountain I’d apparently seen and even labeled before, but didn’t really know anything about – Mount Hensley. In 2017 I completed a long 4 peak day with Mike Mitchell, part of which traversed above Landslide Lake, giving me my first glimpses of Hensley rising to the west. Before that, in 2013, I scrambled Resolute Mountain and its two summits which are just west of Hensley. 

Mount Hensley looms over Landslide Lake as seen from Landslide Peak.
Mount Hensley (L) looms over Landslide Lake as seen from Landslide Peak. Resolute, Cline and the three White Goat peaks at distance. What you don’t notice easily on this photo is that there’s a rugged ridge running between Landslide Lake and Hensley, blocking direct access to Hensley from the lake and views of the lake from Hensley.

Unfortunately for me, the only trip report readily available on The Google was a trip from Jose and Fab in early June of 2014. Lucky for you I have very much updated beta and trust me – it cost me a lot of suffering to get you this new information! I have followed a great many of Jose’s excellent trip reports in the past and I trust her descriptions – albeit sometimes a bit understated. I have no right to argue with free beta and I won’t start now but suffice it to say that I think she really understated things for Hensley! On my way up I was constantly reminding myself to ask her what was in her brownies that she remembered it so positively. I wanted some of that for myself!

Study this map carefully and then forget you ever saw it. This is my route but it’s horrible on approach.

Part of the “blame” is on me. I read the trip report from Jose and took it 100% literally while I should have done a bit more research and spent a bit more time researching with Google maps etc. But I didn’t. I left home at 04:15 and was pulling up to the designated parking spot at the Timber Creek Bridge by around 07:30. (Traffic on the Icefields Parkway was insane for 07:00. This doesn’t bode well for the summer of 2019…) If I would have driven the other way this story would likely start out a lot different as you’ll realize later. But again – I didn’t.

Jose describes the route generally as

We parked on the side of the highway and started hiking along the west side of Timber Creek. The burnt forest offers some views, the price is plentiful deadfall; luckily, the tangled wood is manageable. We hiked the path of least resistance, keeping in mind the main drainage to our right. We followed a paralleling drainage on a rib for a while, travel was decent as we zigzagged and sometimes lost height to gain another rib; eventually we corrected our heading and aimed for the main drainage.

Ok. Sounds easy enough – no? Simply follow along the west side of Timber Creek. The only way to do this is to park at the bridge along hwy 11 over Timber Creek (that name is bang on BTW). But this was a huge mistake right off the bat! If I only would have driven from the other direction, or gone another 500m down hwy 11 I would have noticed that I could shortcut the whole SW branch of Timber Creek by hiking through lovely open and largely clear burnt meadows towards the start of the north-south orientation of the creek where it begins to curve SW. I would have likely found something even better if only I’d done that in the form of a newly cut trail. But again – I didn’t.

THIS is the map to follow! It’s my descent route with some other beta included. (Note that after looking at the route sign closer,  I now think my northernmost green line isn’t correct. I think the route is going to go through a saddle just west of the first green line right where I’ve put my green label.)

Within 10 minutes of leaving the bridge and hiking along the west side of Timber Creek I was ready to turn back and consider other objectives in DTC. The deadfall was some of the worst I’ve ever encountered and this includes horrible shit like being off route on Harrison and even Alexandra’s infamous creek approach. There is no way to really describe how f’ing terrible this area was. I would find myself balancing on loose burnt logs 4 feet above the deck one minute and then wading shin deep through swamp the next. Oh! And there were about 4.56 billion mosquitoes too – and guess who forgot mosquito spray at home? Yep. It was instantly shaping up to be a classic solo shit sandwich.

Shortly after leaving the bridge on hwy 11 I am in the thick of things. And NOT enjoying life.

Why didn’t I turn back? Simple really. I trusted Jose’s route. I figured I was slightly off their line and would find it eventually. There was simply no way she would have called what I ended up in, “manageable”. It wasn’t even close to that! I’m also of Dutch heritage and way more stubborn than anyone should be. So I kept going until it was pretty much useless to turn back as it would cost me so much time and more importantly mental energy that I wouldn’t have bothered with another peak. I figured the day was gorgeous and I wasn’t expected home until much later so I might as well spend another few hours sussing out if there was still a viable route for Hensley from this angle.

About 1.5 hours after the last picture I stumble across a ribbon and a freshly cut trail! I’m still west of Timber Creek at this point.

At some point along my venture I re-read Jose’s trip report (saved in iBooks on my phone) and realized some very important but low key wording. Firstly, she does mention “plentiful deadfall” and secondly, she mentions that it took her and Fab 3 hours to go approximately 5km. That’s 1.6 km/h which is not blazingly fast. Everything else about my route was lining up with her description including crossing side drainages and gaining / losing height along the way. I kept getting suckered into these side drainages so eventually I lost my cool and decided I would head straight east towards Timber Creek and see what the east side looked like since I was questioning the sanity of the west one. It’s a good thing I didn’t have my GoPRO for this outing. It would have been about 1.5 hours of cursing before you heard anything positive out of my mouth – and then it was a whoop of pure, unadulterated joy.

I stumbled across a small drainage on my straight line towards Timber Creek and proceeded to march straight onto a faint but very obvious trail. Yep! A gosh darned, fracking, sumobitch trail!! What?! I was flabbergasted. I was ecstatic. I thought maybe, just maybe I’d make a summit after all, but I didn’t want to get too positive. Very rarely do random trails in the Rockies align with my objectives. Usually the trail runs exactly perpendicular to my wishes, which you’d think would make me think a bit more on my life choices. It doesn’t – but it certainly should. I proceeded to follow the faint trail through more horrible deadfall and burn areas. I could tell the trail was very recent by the smell of the saw cuts and the fact that the grasses along it were barely pressed down.

On the trail.

Way too soon the trail started to angle back to the west, crossing another small creek on a simple log bridge and heading up a parallel drainage to the west of Timber Creek with a small gushing stream bubbling along it. I didn’t love this new development but since the drainage and trail were still going north I figured I’d take advantage of the easy traveling as long as possible. It wasn’t very long and the trail ran out with two overhead ribbons on a fallen log. I looked around and didn’t find an obvious continuation. Normally this would be very disheartening but since I’d just doubled my distance in half the time I wasn’t complaining.

The forested slopes from the end of the trail were pretty decent compared with the crap I’d started out with. I quickly started gaining height and as per Jose’s instructions I angled for Timber Creek. As I neared the creek (high above it on a treed rib) the going got horrible again. I once again found myself questioning my sanity but the creek was so close now I was determined to make it. The sun was burning hot as I fought my way over and across burnt matchstick forest to the creek. Mosquitoes were drawing blood and my shirt and pants were stained black from the burned trees. When I finally descended to the rocky creek I must have looked like a wild bushman. I drank deeply from the clear, cold waters of Timber Creek and pondered my options.

Yeah right. There was only one option at this point and it involved continuing up the heavenly creek bed and nabbing this summit. There was no freaking way I was ever coming back! I hiked about 3.45 minutes before I came on the “canyon” that Jose mentions. A very steep and hot bypass on climber’s left was followed by an equally steep and loose descent back to the creek. I was both horrified and delighted to see the rest of my route from this point. Horrified because it looked bloody far and high, delighted because it looked bloody easy. As I had planned it, snow would assist me greatly to the col under the summit slopes. I had crampons and ax just in case the snow was firmer than I suspected it might be in all this heat.

Views back down the creek to the choke point that I skirted on steep slopes to the west.

Hiking up the creek was pure magic. I marveled at myself as I walked and whistled my way towards the snow-filled gully. The fact that I was so relaxed and content all the way out here in the middle of nowhere, on my own and after the hellish thrash I’d just done was mystifying. Why does this sort of thing appeal and bring such pleasure? I honestly don’t have an answer. As the birds whistled back at me and the Marmots whistled their distress because of me, I let the stresses of life evaporate with the warm Spring sun on my back. Any negativity flew off with the gazillions of mosquitoes – as did a good portion of my blood (I won’t be forgetting my spray again this year).

The creek was very refreshing on several levels. My mountain is still a ways off.

Upon hitting the snow my pace increased dramatically. It wasn’t intentional but the footing was quite firm and I simply kept putting one foot in front of the other until I had two route choices in front of me. I could stay on snow which would necessitate crampons and ax, or I could follow a shallow rock rib / scree to the upper col before angling to the summit on my right. I choose the latter option because it would give me views sooner and was less work. The scree / dirt was a bit obnoxious but the rocky rib worked well and soon I was labouring through yet another patch of knee deep snow and then topping out just west of the scree summit block in a refreshingly cool breeze.

A split in the creek higher up. Both ways would work eventually but the shortest path is the right hand one up to the col and from there to the summit at right.
Off the snow and on the shallow rib leading nicely up to the col here.

The ~130 vertical meters to the summit felt much longer but soon(ish) I was finally at the summit of Mount Hensley taking in great views in every direction. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t see Landslide Lake from the summit but every other view was spectacular. I even had cell service and texted several people where I was and what I thought of the approach for this particular mountain. I relaxed for about 30 minutes at the summit before signing the new register (one entry from 2018) and descending back to the col.

On the summit ridge. No views of Landslide Lake thanks to the foreground ridge, but Landslide Peak and Two O’Clock Ridge visible beyond.
Views over the North Saskatchewan River include Peskett, Loudon, Quill, Marmota, Corona Ridge, Spreading, Totem Tower, Murchison, Epaulette, Sarbach, Outram, Forbes and Mons Peak (R).
Views over Landslide Lake include Allstones, Abraham, Elliot, Landslide, Two O’Clock and more.

It was such a gorgeous day and I was feeling so great, I decided to take a huge gamble and risk an alternate descent to where I knew there was a trail. I would ascend to a small highpoint west of Hensley before taking the obvious meadowy / treed rib between Timber Creek and the unnamed creek that the trail was being cut along. The rib looked decent even lower down and I figured the bushwhacking couldn’t be much worse than what I’d already done so why not try it? The views from the minor summit were stunning and the descent down the rib was an absolute pleasure on a mix of grasses and soft dirt.

Back down at the col, looking up at “SM Peak”.
Views from “SM Peak” include Hensley in the foreground.
Excellent views over the Cline River Valley towards distant giants such as Seven Seas and Hangman Peak.

I enjoyed the rest of my sandwich on a perfectly balanced rock part way down the sublime alpine meadows on my descent rib before reluctantly continuing my downward progress. I could spot a nice line through burnt forest that cut a swath through the untouched terrain next to it. Everything from here to the trail worked out pretty darn awesome. I avoided all the horrifying deadfall I’d encountered off trail on my way towards Timber Creek and by sticking close to the western edge of the treed rib I avoided almost all bushwhacking of any kind until just before the trail.

Descending the rib with Timber Creek at left and the west creek at center bottom.
I followed the obvious burnt line of forest past the greener sections sticking generally to the west side of the rib lower down before hitting the trail again.
This kind of forest is a pleasure to walk through!
This kind of forest is a pleasure to walk through!

I heard the buzz of a chainsaw and noticed more work had been done upstream of the trail since I’d left it only a few hours before! Strange how small our world has become. Literally within 24 hours of someone putting in the hard work of a new trail in the middle of nowhere, it’s GPS track is posted on the Internet. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing but it is what it is I guess. Once on the trail I obviously followed it all the way downstream to where I’d first encountered it and kept on it rather than dealing with the SW section of Timber Creek.

Heading straight south to hwy 11 now.

The trail crossed Timber Creek and kept going in a fairly straight line for hwy 11 – just like I thought it would. When I saw the first sign it sort of made sense but the second sign (first you’d see on approach) made even more sense. It indicated that someone was building a “South Access to Lake of the Falls” trail that was still a work in progress. It showed a “W” with the right two high points being “SM Peak” and “Mount Hensley” – both the high points I’d just stood on. The trail will apparently go through the left hand side of the “W”, between “SM Peak” and the unnamed highpoint further west. This is obviously a shortcut to the regular approach which starts at the Cline River on hwy 11 and measures at around 19 km each way. I’m not sure about total height gain though – it won’t be an easy shortcut that’s for sure.

The trailhead sign with Hensley at distant center right and “SM” at center.

A truck was parked at the end of a gravel road coming through the burnt meadows presumably from hwy 11 further east. I simply walked across the open meadows to hwy 11 straight south of the trailhead and from there wandered back to my truck at the Timber Creek bridge. I had to chuckle when my iWatch finally decided to ask me if “I was exercising” on my way to the truck. Really?! Now you decide I’m working out?! AI’s aren’t that smart in the end, are they?

From the highway just cross this easy open meadow to the trailhead and continue on. Hensley at distant center left now with “SM” at left.

Mount Hensley will likely never be popular and considering other options in the area it probably doesn’t deserve to be either. Despite its relative obscurity it will stay pretty fresh in my mind for giving me the sort of day that doesn’t fade quickly.

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