Summit Elevation (m): 3083
Trip Date: Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Round Trip Time (hr): 12.5
Elevation Gain (m): 2100
Total Trip Distance (km): 40.0
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties other than total distance and elevation gains, some route finding and possibly snow or ice on route. There is some horribly loose scree and boulders on the ascent slope from the glacier to the col which should be treated with utmost caution and delicacy. The glacier is pretty tame and melting quickly – most of it has been replaced by a lake.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
Arete Peak has been on my radar for a while now. It first appeared in my consciousness while browsing Bivouac.com and trying to come up with obscure peaks that most other folks wouldn’t care about. Back in 2011 I climbed Mont Des Poilus with Raf and Alan and I remember wondering if we could have tacked Arete onto our agenda. It turns out that this likely wouldn’t have worked given our timing but you could certainly add it if you plan the extra day. When I ended up with a midweek day off and nobody to join me I decided 2019 was finally the year that I was going to try for this remote summit on the edge of the Wapta Icefield and the Glacier des Poilus.
The first thing to note regarding Arete is that it’s either the highpoint on the south shoulder of Mont Des Poilus as every map has it shown, or its one of many possible highpoints along the ridge NW of Des Poilus as Rick Collier asserts. I chose to follow the maps and Graeme Pole’s route for my ascent. The peak I ascended is almost the same height as des Poilus, despite some online maps having it hundreds of meters lower. The second thing to note about Arete Peak is that it’s a long way from the Takakkaw Falls parking lot! When I was plotting out the trip on ViewRanger I noticed that my stats were going to be pretty big at around 1700m gained over 35 km. Thanks to an incorrect route line and underestimated height gain even these stats were quite a bit lower than what I ended up with. I wasn’t too fussed since I knew I didn’t have to carry water (I was hiking up “Waterfall Valley” afterall ;)) and I would be on trail until well into my day. Wearing light approach shoes sped things up immensely as well as keeping the feet from overheating and getting sore.
I’ve been a bit unlucky with the weather forecasts in 2019. Several times now I’ve risen at 04:00 only to end up in rain and clouds on the summit and clearing skies as I exit my objectives. With the forecast calling for early clouds and clearing later in the day I learned from my mistakes and left the house a bit later. I arrived at the Takakkaw Falls parking lot at 07:30 and a few minutes later I was marching up the road to the first campground under a gray sky that had stopped dropping rain about 10 minutes earlier. At least there were no horses to mess up this trail and I made good time to the Laughing Falls campground. By 09:00 I was marching through the Twin Falls campground, still alone on the trail and enjoying myself immensely. There were blue patches of sky opening up above me and the smell of forest and just a hint of Fall was permeating my nostrils.
The steep trail up Twin Falls was a treat as always, and I enjoyed dramatic views back down the Yoho Valley past peaks such as Trolltinder and Wapta. The height loss from the top of the Twin Falls trail to the falls was less of a treat (I knew that was gonna suck on return) and by 10:00 I was on a small side trail (unmarked) leading up Twin Falls Creek and Waterfall Valley. I was enjoying my day tremendously at this point – it was quickly becoming “one of those days” that sticks in the memory banks a tad longer than most. As I hiked through thinning trees along bubbling streams in absolute stillness and solitude, I meditated on the strangeness of the human condition. Earlier that morning I’d witnessed the silliness that is Moraine Lake in Lake Louise. It was only around 06:30 when I drove past the area and car after car was turning off, each one convinced that they would get lucky with parking despite the obvious fact that none of them would. There is no way that you can convince me that driving around the Moraine Lake parking lot at 06:30 jostling for parking only to take a photo that 1 million people already have is a worthwhile experience in and of itself. The slight endorphin bump that a few likes from random strangers on Social Media can’t be worth the stress and the over photographed and overcrowded lakeshore – can it? Maybe I just don’t get it. I try to do things that I actually find enjoyable on my time off, who cares what others think or “like”?
I continued up the obvious trail until it petered out at a marshy tarn below Yoho Peak somewhere. I remembered this spot from our trip in 2011 – we got a bit lost and ended up too high on the moraines east of the main drainage. I could finally see Mont Des Poilus and Arete Peak and they looked disturbingly far considering I was around 3 hours and 13 km into my day already. I learned from our earlier mistake and followed a dry watercourse to my left following a few cairns before going my own way towards Arete Peak. Originally I’d scouted a line along the main glacier that we’d used in 2011. I figured the glacier would be dry so I’d cross the toe of it, avoiding any deep water crossings. As I hiked up the main drainage from the icefield I changed my mind. The streams were quite braided and the crossings were easy enough. As I approached the main lake now sitting at the toe of the Wapta Icefield coming from between Arete and Yoho Peak I was relieved to see that I could traverse the boulder field around it to the west (my left) quite easily.
The day was only improving as I wandered the remote valley east of the dying Glacier Des Poilus and west of the teal colored lake below. The sky was a deep blue with puffy white clouds slowly drifting by. The air was cool and crisp as I hopped over countless numbers of loose boulders and rambled up piles of detritus left behind by the retreating ice. Normally this kind of travel can be annoying and tedious after a few hours, but for some reason I was loving it. I felt energized and fit as I dipped my cup in the countless water sources along my path, hopping from boulder to boulder and relishing the solitude and the beauty of my surroundings. My intended route looked closer than my GPS indicated, but it looked pretty straightforward. Eventually I got bold and decided my route looked dry and I wouldn’t need ax or crampons. I ditched about half my pack weight at a spot along my traverse and continued up loose moraine fields towards the distant col.
As I ascended to the col I was delighted to stumble upon a totally hidden tarn where only glacier used to be. The Glacier des Poilus is almost completely melted into oblivion and I assume even its remnant lake won’t be here for very long. The view back down over the upper tarn to the teal colored tarn at the toe of the Wapta Icefield was stunning. I really hoped both lakes would be visible from the summit. I’m not sure why but the route to the slopes leading to the col was severely foreshortened. I ascended loose moraines and even the edge of the glacier and some snow patches before I was finally staring up at the loose piles of rock teetering above me on a path to the col. It took me almost 5 hours from the parking lot to this point and I wasn’t dawdling. The ascent slope to the col wasn’t quite as bad as Top Hat Peak a few weeks previous but it was pretty darn loose nonetheless. I was pretty happy to be solo on this one as it was impossible not to send huge rocks skipping down the slope below. A few giant boulders shifted ominously under my feet, leading me to seek out snow patches as I neared the col.
From the col there were two options but I didn’t realize it at the time. I ascended the fun and relatively easy ridge on a mix of boulders and slab to the summit. On route I noticed a scree / snow slope bypass just north of the ridge that I used on descent. In a funny twist I actually thought I had to traverse to a slightly higher summit to the north before realizing that was the summit of Mont Des Poilus – it’s that close.
The views from the SW ridge and the summit were absolutely mindblowing, especially across the Amiskwi River and Pass towards the Mummery Group. I found an empty register (wet inside) but no booklet or papers, unfortunately. I’m sure this is not a popular peak – there were zero signs of human traffic from the valley to the summit. I spent about 30 minutes eating a late lunch and taking way too many photos of way too many familiar peaks before the cool wind pushed me back down towards the col. Note: After I posted this trip report (ok – 1.5 years later ;-)) Graeme Pole contacted me with a bunch of comparison photos between his trip 25 years earlier than mine. I put together a page showing the changes and the similarities between the landscape on his trip and mine.
I descended a mix of snow / scree bypassing the ridge on the north side (sort of wished I still had my ax for the snow patches considering I was wearing light approach shoes). The descent from the col to the sliver of glacier below was quicker than expected but not without setting loose copious amounts of rock and boulders. I stuck to snow as long as possible to avoid as much glacier debris as possible before picking up my route line from earlier and adding half the contents back to my pack.
The rest of my afternoon and evening was an extremely pleasant wandering out of the Yoho River Valley. I spent some time at the top of Twin Falls, brewing up a coffee and taking a nice long break. I seriously considered taking the Whaleback Trail back down but since it involved at least 200m of elevation gains I decided against it.
Once down the switchbacks I took the ill advised Marpole Lake Trail which also gained a bunch of height (!!) but for no good reason. Ooops. Oh well, now I know. It was a pleasant enough ramble through Rockies rubble on a nicely built trail but it wasn’t really worth the extra effort at this point of my day. I only met a few other hikers on my exit, most people were already done for the day or tucked into cozy tents at the various campgrounds I marched past.
I can’t overstate how pleasurable my day on Arete Peak was. Sure! It’s a loose pile of choss, but which Rockies summit isn’t? It’s a lofty peak situated in a gorgeous, remote little corner of Yoho National Park with mountain view to die for. I spent 12.5 hours of straight hiking in a popular national park all by myself, only running into about a dozen other humans all day. The sun was warm, the breeze was cool and the scenery was optimal. If you like long days for obscure summits, or are camped in the area (or staying at the Louise and Richard Guy ACC hut), you should give this ascent a serious consideration.