Trip Date: Saturday, June 29 2019
Reference Trip: Three Passes Route
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3- you fall, you break something.
Difficulty Notes: A moderate scramble from Tyrrell Creek via west slopes and the southwest ridge.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE4
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
After biking 14km to the Banff National Park boundary, Phil, Jo and I hiked an hour up the Red Deer River before turning north and trekking up Tyrrell Creek towards Tomahawk Pass. We filled our water bottles at a convenient side creek flowing into Tyrrell Creek and turned uphill with smaller daypacks to tackle the summit of Wapiti Mountain.
We ascended through light forest on a western rib of Wapiti, trying to keep up with a very speedy Joanna. Phil had no issues keeping up but I was feeling the effects of a stress-filled few weeks thanks to an ongoing move and lots of work hours. Soon we transitioned from forest to alpine and our views started opening up dramatically. The green meadows on a ridge to the north kept us entertained as the sun played hide-and-seek.
Finally, after 1.5 hours of steep hiking we topped out on a high point on the southwest ridge with the summit of Wapiti still looking a long way off and distressingly snowy. In an effort to keep our packs as light as possible, Phil and I had left axes and crampons behind. This was a risk given all the recent snow, but we were tired of carrying them for no use on the last few trips. Were we now going to by stymied on our very first peak due to this decision? We knew from previous trips that even dicey looking snow slopes could be straightforward at this time of year, so we doggedly pushed on up the narrowing SW ridge.
My only reference for this route on Wapiti was a trip report from Steven Song where he, Ben and Eric struggled to the summit in mid October in snowy, cold conditions. He mentioned several “tricky” spots so in my head I was expecting moderate to difficult scrambling to the summit. Other than a few moderate downclimbs along the ridge, we found pretty straightforward terrain, even with the fresh snow. We stuck to the ridge for the most part, bypassing a few sections on climber’s right.
By the time we topped out 1.5 hours after joining the SW ridge I was downright freezing in the stiff breeze and cloudy, cool conditions. The shivering did not dampen the views however! They were much better than expected given the forecast conditions and despite the cold, we spent some time identifying many peaks that Joanna had never even heard of before, much less recognized. Years of planning trips in the area and flirting with its borders on peaks such as Dormer Mountain, Mount McConnell and Cataract Peak had honed Phil and my familiarity with these remote summits.
Eventually the cold breeze won over and I quickly texted Hanneke that we were on our first peak before following Phil and Jo back down the ridge to our waiting packs along Tyrrell Creek. The descent of the ridge was easier than ascent since all the downclimbs were now up-climbs.
I finally started warming up again as we enjoyed wildflower meadows in the alpine before dipping back into the light forest towards the creek and trail below.