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Arete Peak

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 The glacier is pretty tame and melting quickly – most of it has been replaced by a lake. 
GPS TrackDownload GPX File
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. 

Arete Peak and Waterfall Valley Route Map

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 trail and surrounding forest are still soaked from early morning rains. Thankfully they stopped as I pulled into the parking lot.
The trail to Twin Falls Campground crosses Twin Falls Creek after the Laughing Falls Campground.

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”?

Incredible views past the Whaleback (R) down the Yoho River Valley towards a distant Cathedral Mountain.
Incredible views off the Twin Falls Trail over Twin Falls Creek and the Yoho River Valley below as the sky starts to clear off and the day improves dramatically.

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 trail up Waterfall Valley is distinct until treeline. Note my first clear views of Arete Peak and Des Poilus at center right.
Resisting the urge to go straight towards Arete and Des Poilus. The trick here is to trend left until you’re in the main channel coming off the distant Wapta Icefield.
Crossing Twin Falls Creek wasn’t an issue. Arete and Mont Des Poilus rise far off at center.

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.

The main Wapta Icefield and Glacier des Poilus tarn. Arete and Mount Collie at L, Yoho at C, my approach at R.
Plenty of water sources on this trip! The col is much further than it appears here. I was surprised how far.

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.

Looking back over many tarns and ponds that are leftovers from the melting glacier. Daly and Niles at left, Isolated at right.
Views back down Twin Falls Creek and Waterfall Valley over the rapidly melting Glacier des Poilus at right.

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.

Stunning views off Arete Peak’s SW ridge past Mont Des Poilus (R) and across the Amiskwi River Valley towards the Mummery Group.

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.

The original summit register placed by Graeme Pole, found and taken off the mountain (it was soaked) by Robb Schnell who is the only other person I know who’s been up Arete Peak.
More jaw dropping views off the SW ridge of Arete Peak over Waterfall Valley including (L to R), Gordon, Hector, Balfour, Yoho, Daly, Niles, Lake Louise group, Presidents, Isolated, McArthur, Kiwetinok and many others.
A tele pano towards the Lake Louise peaks includes (L to R), Daly, Niles, Temple, Aberdeen, Ogden, Lefroy, Victoria, Huber, Hungabee, Cathedral, Stephen, Presidents, Goodsirs, Isolated, Vaux, McArthur and more.
Hector, Balfour and Daly loom high above the tiny Louise and Richard Guy ACC Hut which is located on the north shoulder of Yoho Peak.
A ridiculous summit view over the Amiskwi Valley includes Laussedat, Poland, Mummery, Lyells and Forbes (R).

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.

Descending snow patches from the col to the rapidly shrinking Glacier des Poilus below.
Arete Peak rises over the upper tarn (C-R).
Traversing loose rubble around the lower tarn with Arete, Des Poilus, Collie, Yoho and Isolated Peak (R) visible.

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.

Exiting Waterfall Valley on a good trail past some interesting features. I didn’t see another soul here all day!
Twin Falls Creek generates a double rainbow in this stunning view from the top of Twin Falls.
There used to be camping allowed up here. Enjoying views down the Yoho River Valley from Twin Falls. I brewed up a coffee and sat here for about 20 minutes enjoying myself immensely.

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. 

Twin Falls plunges down into the creek from near the Twin Falls Chalet and viewpoint.
The Twin Falls Chalet is apparently in danger of being shut down by Parks Canada.

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.

4 thoughts on Arete Peak

  1. Wow Vern such mind blowing pictures. I just love the Yoho valley. Such a special place. And as usual I cannot comprehend how you do this kind of distance as a day trip – Its absolutely incredible. It was also super interesting to see you post the pic showing the Amiskwi River Valley. Thanks as always for sharing. I really admire your dedication to keep yourself fit enough to be doing these kinds of distances and elevation gains in one day – its really something else. More than anything its just fascinating to see the Yoho valley from this interesting perspective that so few people will ever see.

    • Thx bud! It is a very special place. It’s funny, I don’t really “train” in the classical sense to do these sorts of trips but I guess my constant walking and plethora of trips must keep me in decent enough shape… 😉 Glad you enjoyed the pics – you should get in there sometime, you’d love it.

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