Summit Elevation (m): 2758, 2560
Trip Date: Saturday, August 31, 2019
Round Trip Time (hr): 9
Elevation Gain (m): 1850
Total Trip Distance (km): 26
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: While both peaks are pretty straightforward they do require some routefinding to remain “easy” and I’m still rating them 3rd class rather than simply hiking. There is much opportunity to get into trouble or off route, especially on Mount Pengelly.
Technical Rating: SC5; RE4/5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Mount McGladrey and Mount Pengelly aren’t on very many folks’ mountain peakbagging lists. There’s several reasons for this but the biggest is simply because they aren’t very well known or advertised. I remember reading Andrew Nugara’s online report from Mount McGladrey in 2009 and making a mental note to do it someday. The peak had faded off my radar until I was perusing Dave McMurray’s site earlier this year, and his June trip report put it back on my to-do list. As I was reading on Dave’s site I noticed that he had also pioneered what sounded like an interesting route up McGladrey’s neighbor to the south – Mount Pengelly. It only seemed logical to combine the two peaks into one day since they share both the long drive from Calgary and the bike approach up Goat Creek. The only thing remaining to fall into place was the timing, the weather and hopefully a partner or two to share the experience with.
As the last weekend in August approached, I was looking forward to a week off during the first week of September. Despite the summer of 2019 being a rather wet and unpredictable one, I’d managed a few gorgeous day trips including one of my all-time favorite solo trips up Arete Peak only a few days previous. Of course as the weekend approached the weather collapsed until it was looking like a long shot to get up anything, nevermind two peaks in one day. On Friday the forecast was showing 80% chance of rain and tstorms everywhere in the Rockies except the Crowsnest Pass / Castle Provincial Park area so my plans were back on. After some last minute changes it became another solo venture, something I usually enjoy but for some reason was hoping to avoid on this particular outing.
Following Dave’s excellent approach directions I arrived at the junction of Goat Creek Road after driving the Lyons Creek Road approximately 14 km south from the town of Blairmore. The weather was looking pretty decent and I witness a magical sunrise over Turtle Mountain along the way. At the junction I had several choices in front of me.
- Turn around and go back home
- Drive up the Goat Creek Road another 2.5km
- Start biking already at the junction
Why was option 1 so dramatic? In short – I was sick. I’d driven all the way to the junction feeling just fine, but as I stepped out of the truck to check out the sign along the road I realized with a jolt that I was NOT fine anymore! After being violently ill next to the road I knew exactly what I should do but I also knew I wasn’t going to do it. For some reason I was feeling stubborn about giving up so easily and despite feeling a bit weak from my recent purge I decided to go with option “3” – start biking at the junction. I unloaded the bike, drank a bunch of water and started pedaling up the Goat Creek Road at around 07:15.
Considering my condition I realized pretty quickly that I probably should have driven the first 2.5km up the Goat Creek Road rather than bike. The road was easy enough to bike but I was feeling a bit woozy and dehydrated and exercise wasn’t helping (go figure…). Oh well. The road was narrow and fairly rough in spots and as Dave points out in his trip report it is probably a wash timewise between biking and driving since the exit on the bike was so much faster than driving would have been. By the time I arrived at the 2nd bridge along the first stretch of road – the end of the drivable section – I was feeling a bit better. I crossed the black ATV bridge and kept biking along the reasonable track.
Something to note is that the biking on approach isn’t all uphill. There are some stretches of considerable downhill too – obviously this means an uphill exit! I passed some sheep hunters just before the road descended to Goat Creek and the last ATV bridge. Immediately after crossing the red ATV bridge I turned up an old grassy road and continued biking until it was obvious that it was time to continue on foot. I passed through an open gate along this road that marked the edge of a Wildland Zone. It took me about 45 minutes to complete the biking portion of the approach and that’s in pretty weak health so you can likely count on a similar or faster approach time. The mountains ahead of me still looked a ways off and were now covered in a layer clouds – something that’s very familiar this year.
As I prepared for the rest of my day at the bike drop I realized how gorgeous it was all the way back here. I felt very alone with the quiet forest on all sides and the layer of clouds obscuring the peaks ahead, making them seem bigger and more ominous somehow. Thankfully other than feeling a bit weak I was pumped to keep going at this point and started off up the continuing track. The next kilometer or so was easy to follow despite some deadfall. I was surprised with all the fall color already showing in the vegetation around me. A huge pile of deadfall cleverly hid a “secret” shortcut trail to Goat Creek but I found it and followed it (I can be clever too). The creekbed was a bit messy but eventually I saw my way up lower forested slopes to the north and started angling up them, stepping over a good number of fallen trees along the way.
There are a ton of options to get you into the south drainage and bowl between Mount McGladrey and Mount Pengelly – pick one and go for it. My choices weren’t perfect (I’m blaming the low grade fever I was dealing with at this point) but they worked out eventually. You can choose to blindly follow my GPS track but I’d advise you to ascend closer to the main south drainage rather than take the more easterly route that I did before contouring into it. As I ascended the south drainage the views around me were dramatic with clouds hiding the peaks above and vanishing to the east over the prairies. In a rather humorous twist I found myself ascending a shallow drainage to the wrong summit until I finally checked my GPS and realized my error. In the end this worked out rather well – I even found a nice sheep trail leading to the proper south ridge from my “wrong” drainage.
With clouds swirling around me from the west and the summit hidden far above, the south ridge looked pretty intimidating as I stepped onto it about 3 hours into my day. I was still feeling a bit weak and definitely had a low grade fever. Being all alone in this wild landscape also lent a hand in making me feel pretty small at this point of the day. I hoped for some clearing as I started up the ridge. Despite looking difficult the terrain was fairly straightforward. I took advantage of some slabs and easy scrambling and also deviated onto trails in the neighboring scree where it made sense. I think partly because I was sick, the summit seemed a lot higher than expected, especially as I kept ascending into the swirling clouds and mist.
Eventually I could make out the summit block above and scrambled to the summit cairn in a complete greyout – reminding me of the summit of Mount Head back in 2017. I was disappointed in the lack of views and no register but c’est la vie. You can’t climb as many summits as I do and expect perfect views from each one of them. I knew the clouds were forecast to clear soon, apparently this was just another case of leaving too dang early! I hung around at the summit, getting glimpses of Mount Pengelly and Darrah N2 to the south and even brief looks at Ptolemy and Ptolemy SE5 immediately to the north but nothing worth photographing. The wind was cold and with my fever the summit stay wasn’t pleasant. I just knew the clouds would clear soon though!! Just as I was about to give up the clouds cleared for a few minutes and I rattled off some photos before starting my descent. Phew!
As I started my descent of the south ridge of McGladrey I just knew the clouds were going to clear off the summit behind me. Sure enough! Literally 5 minutes after starting my descent the clouds started to clear off. Dang it! Ah well. I didn’t have the energy to reascend the peak anymore and I knew I was planning to stand on Mount Pengelly a few hours later anyway with similar views. It would have to do! I took some photos and continued down the ridge eventually trending to my left (east) down obvious scree slopes into the giant bowl between McGladrey and Pengelly. My target was an obvious line across the short east ridge of Pengelly from where I’d gain its SE aspect and hopefully work my way to the second summit of the day.
As I worked my way down easy scree slopes across the giant bowl between McGladrey and Pengelly I sussed out an obvious line to the grassy east ridge of Pengelly and hopefully my access to the scramble route up its SE aspect a la Dave McMurray. Rick Collier ascended a pretty gnarly line directly up Pengelly’s SE ridge (he incorrectly writes it was the “SW” ridge) while the line I was hoping to take was to the left of the ridge traversing slabs and scree. As I grunted my way up very steep grassy slopes before transitioning off the ridge to the face, I was happy to note the clearing skies and feel a warm sun on my neck. Apparently the weather forecast was bang on for once and I would enjoy nice summit views.
Dave calls the SE route of Pengelly not much more than a “hike”. I would argue that due to the routefinding and scree-on-slab nature of the route it should still be approached with caution and due diligence and should still be treated as an SC5 scramble. As I worked my way up the face I was constantly aware of severe runouts down to my left if I got off route. There was always an easy scrambling line available but beginner scramblers or even just a distracted one could get into trouble in this terrain. I found a very nice crack in the slabs that led to the upper scree slopes which I followed easily to the summit ridge. The weather was gorgeous at this point but my head was throbbing thanks to my fever. Not the best condition I’ve ever been in on a summit…
The summit ridge of Mount Pengelly presented me with an interesting conundrum. I wasn’t feeling like tagging multiple high points but I really didn’t have a bloody choice in the matter! It wasn’t at all obvious from below which “summit” was the darn summit! I suspected the summit was up to my left and thankfully I was correct. My day was made when I spotted a magnificent Billy Goat headed for the top with me. A very cool moment and I still have no idea where he disappeared to from there. Unfortunately I hadn’t read Dave’s report close enough to realize there would be no register and hadn’t brought one along either (I usually don’t bother as I don’t really see the point to them TBH). Apparently some maps indicate the true summit as the high point furthest to the west but it definitely looked lower to me. Of course I had to traverse it to make sure, ending up on moderate to low difficult scrambling along an exposed and very loose ridge.
After snapping a bunch of photos from the westernmost and then the proper summit I started back along the ridge. Of course I had to quickly ascend to the easternmost summit too – just to ensure I wasn’t missing a register somewhere. <sigh> Sometimes I make my life more work than it has to be.
My descent of the SE face went quickly thanks to some strategically placed cairns guiding me along the tricky bits. Soon I was back on the grassy east ridge where I enjoyed a VERY welcome 30 minute snooze in the warm sunshine. Honestly this was the best power nap I’ve ever had. It was extremely pleasant laying there in absolute stillness on the warm grass. I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty exhausted at this point thanks to my continuing low grade fever and headache. The power nap invigorated me down the moderate bushwhack out of the valley to my bike – I didn’t read Dave’s report quite close enough to pick the best line through here.
Once back at my bike I somehow found the energy to bike the ~6.5 km back to the truck in reasonable time. There were a few hills that had me pushing the 2-wheel steed but for the most part it was fast and efficient. My round trip time of 9 hours was much better than I expected given my condition this particular day. I really enjoyed McGladrey and Pengelly as a solo day trip despite my illness. The access is interesting and once in the back valleys there is a surprisingly remote feeling to the area. Highly recommended for scramblers looking for something a bit off the beaten path – the only trails here are goat paths!