logo

Pulsatilla Mountain

Summit Elevation (m): 3035
Trip Date: Saturday, September 07, 2019
Round Trip Time (hr): 11
Elevation Gain (m): 2300
Total Trip Distance (km): 26.0
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: A lot of total height gain and some loose SC6 scrambling up cliffs if you take our line, otherwise just a long, easy scramble.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps


After completing some long days in the hills on my week off during the first week of September 2019 I was looking for a nice way to cap it off before heading back into the office. After throwing around a bunch of ideas I settled on a long-standing peak on my to-do list. Pulsatilla Mountain is tucked in between Protection Mountain to the west and Johnson Creek to the east and despite having many access points, none of them are that straightforward and none are short day trips either. Wietse agreed to join me for the trip despite its length and height gain.

In 2010 Andrew Nugara published a route up Pulsatilla that “shortcut” over Protection Mountain’s long N-S ridge somewhere above the old mine site between Armor Peak and Television Peak. In 2012 Josee published her account of the same route, cementing it as my route of choice. Nevermind that it took 7 years for me to finally get to it, it turns out that the wait was worth every moment.

Pulsatilla Mountain Route Map

Wietse picked me up at my house (a huge benefit to moving earlier this summer) and we bombed down the TCH to the Castle Mountain junction to the Bow Valley Parkway. After getting stuck behind yet another slow moving camper (!) on the parkway we pulled into the nondescript pull off near the Protection Mine trailhead and prepared for a long day ahead. The weather was shaping up to be perfect – yet another in my week off and obviously the reason we choose this objective. The trail up to the mine was pretty much exactly how we remembered it from our trip up Armor Peak with Raf in 2013 and even earlier in 2009 when I scrambled TV peak with Marta. The trail gains height deviously and by the time we reached the old mine site (Eldon Showing) we’d gained almost 1000 meters already.

The Protection Mine / Mountain trail is well graded and very easy to follow.

We were both feeling pretty darn good (I was shocked at how good I felt to be perfectly honest) and made short work of the easy scramble from the mine to the top of Protection Mountain’s N-S ridge. The route deviated further south then I remembered but it also avoided any cliffs above and for the most part followed sheep and human trails in the scree and rubble making routefinding pretty easy. From the top of the ridge we got our first look at Pulsatilla and I’m not gonna lie – it looked pretty darn far! There wasn’t much to do but start down the ridge towards the karst flats that this area is known for. It took us around 3 hours to hike the approach and scramble to the ridge crest.

Armor and Avens at left with Pulsatilla at center across the vast karst valley.

We were feeling great and the day was lovely as we started down easy rubble / dirt slopes to the karst pavement visible below. There were many options for traversing towards Pulsatilla, we simply chose the ones with the least amount of height changes, trying to preserve our energy for the day. Wietse had a good routefinding sense this particular day so I basically got lazy and followed him. 😉 On the way across the flats we were blown away with the unique scenery all around us. To the north Armor Peak, Bulwark Mountain and Mount Avens stole the show, looming above a lush hanging valley draining the flats towards Baker Creek. Of course Pulsatilla stole the show directly ahead while Television Peak looked more and more like a mountain the further we hiked across the pavement.

Easy descent to the karst valley with Pulsatilla looming ahead. It’s around a 350 meter height loss from the ridge to the valley below.
Traversing the karst valley with its unique landscape. Armor Peak at left with Pulsatilla at right.

Eventually we realized that we should contour to our right to avoid unnecessary height loss. Wietse again found a perfect route through the karst maze, leading us around a wide ledge system towards a bubbling brook. We commented more than once how a western or a sci-fi movie should get filmed here with many different unique angles, canyons, sidewalks, lakes and streams. Thankfully our chosen route worked perfectly and we exited to a cheerful little stream where we took a nice break before continuing up towards the two hidden lakes we knew were still ahead.

Gorgeous views over the lush hanging valley to the northwest that sits between Armor (L) and Avens / Pulsatilla (R). This valley drains into Baker Creek.
A very unique and engaging landscape feature is this huge sidewalk we used on our traverse. We avoided a lot of extra height gain or loss with this feature.
Looking back to Armor and Bulwark from the end of the sidewalk traverse. Protection at left.

Both online trip reports that we read were pretty vague about the details on attaining the lakes and the upper mountain. We ascended more pavement, including a small, dry canyon with a fully natural and perfectly formed stone staircase! Using my proposed GPS track we came to the first lake – more of a copper colored tarn than an alpine lake. We didn’t drink the water here, put it this way. We ascended a bit further to the north before spotting the real gem of a lake tucked under the south slopes of Pulsatilla.

The first (lower) lake is pretty but isn’t quite as ‘pristine’ as the upper one.
Traversing around the upper lake’s east shore. Pulsatilla looms at right – note the cliffs.

From the east end of the lake we once again simply followed our noses us the most efficient and reasonable terrain, trying to keep things closer to the easier side of scrambling than moderate or even difficult. There were multiple lines breaking through the cliffs to the upper rubble benches but since we didn’t have our helmets (ooops) we wanted to be safe. As it was we definitely ended up on some moderate terrain, scrambling up some fairly solid and fun cracks to attain the middle rubble bench. From the middle bench we angled left and then up and around the next set of cliffs to finally put us on scree slopes to the summit.

Views back down from the middle bench to Protection Mountain, TV Peak and the two lakes.

The views were really heating up by the time I popped onto the summit ridge and when I finally stood on the mountain apex I was pretty much gobsmacked by the incredible views over Badger and Pulsatilla Passes towards more of Banff’s hidden gems including the surprisingly hidden Bonnet Peak (over 3230m) which seems to elude photos no matter where you happen to be standing. Johnston Creek runs down the valley to the south and the views in that direction were sublime with a slight mountain haze, deep green valley, sparkling streams and towering, jagged peaks such as Block and Noetic.

Stunning views NE towards Badger Pass and down Johnston Creek (R) from just under the summit (R).
Incredible summit panorama over Pulsatilla (L) and Badger (C) Passes towards Bonnet and down Johnston Creek (R). Peaks include Avens (L), Bonnet (C), Block and Noetic (R).
Hector (L), Redoubt, Richardson, Pika, Ptarmigan, Avens, Willingdon, Crown, South Tower, Fossil, Harris and Cyclone (R).

Wietse soon joined me at the summit and we marveled in turn at the views in every direction. Pulsatilla is the highest peak on the entire massif that is Castle Mountain and it shows in the views we had! We knew we had a long way to go yet so we didn’t linger long before starting the long journey home. It had taken us around 6 hours to reach the summit from the parkway – not too shabby considering we were around 2000 meters height gain at this point already.

Bonnet Peak has three summits but this is the highest (middle) one. It has taken me many years to get such a good, clear photo of this elusive summit!
Stunning views down Johnston Creek along the Sawback Range (L). The Castle Mountain massif including Helena Ridge, Stuart Knob, Eisenhower Tower, Castle Mountain and TV Peak at distance.
The karst valley holds many tarns and little ponds. These all drain from this side of the Castle Mountain massif towards Baker Creek.

We took a slightly different line around Pulsatilla Pond on exit before retracing our steps across the magical karst pavement and back up the rubble slopes of Protection Mountain to the ridge crest. For some reason I still felt really good on the re-ascent of the ridge. It was one of those days when everything comes together – weather, fitness, company and views. I felt less good about the rain storms forming over the Bow Valley as I crested the ridge but thankfully they stuck around Lake Louise and didn’t hit us. We made short work of the exit down to the mine where we stopped for a nice break.

Returning back along the amazing sidewalk feature – views to Armor Peak and Bulwark Mountain.
On the ridge with views to TV (L) and Temple (R) with threatening weather.

The steep trail from the mine to the highway was excellent, providing mindless direction and allowing us to lose ourselves in conversation and silence. The larches were just starting to turn near tree line which shocked us into realizing that summer is almost over for 2019 in the Rockies! I have to say that my summer is ending on a pretty high note considering how many a-list peaks I’ve been getting lately. Pulsatilla is highly recommended for a good weather day for fit parties who are tired of the same old views.

Pulsatilla Mountain
The Protection Mine / Mountain trail is easy to follow.
The Protection Mine / Mountain trail is easy to follow.
The Protection Mine / Mountain trail is easy to follow.
The Protection Mine / Mountain trail is easy to follow.
Nearing tree line on the Protection Mountain trail.
Nearing tree line on the Protection Mountain trail.
Nearing tree line on the Protection Mountain trail.
Nearing tree line on the Protection Mountain trail.
Traversing SE across the west face to avoid cliffs.
Traversing SE across the west face to avoid cliffs.
Looking back across the west face to the mine site at lower left.
Looking back across the west face to the mine site at lower left.
Ascending the rubbly west face of Protection Mountain to the ridge.
Ascending the rubbly west face of Protection Mountain to the ridge.
On the N-S ridge of Protection Mountain looking north to Armor Peak.
On the N-S ridge of Protection Mountain looking north to Armor Peak.
Wietse picks a line down the east side of Protection with Armor (L) and Avens (R) in the bg.
Wietse picks a line down the east side of Protection with Armor (L) and Avens (R) in the bg.
Easy descent to the karst valley with Pulsatilla looming ahead.
Easy descent to the karst valley with Pulsatilla looming ahead.
Pulsatilla at left, TV at right.
Pulsatilla at left, TV at right.
A magical landscape - much different than almost every other area of the Rockies!
A magical landscape - much different than almost every other area of the Rockies!
We didn't go straight across the valley, choosing instead to trend right.
We didn't go straight across the valley, choosing instead to trend right.
Finally bottoming out with Pulsatilla rising right of center.
Finally bottoming out with Pulsatilla rising right of center.
Traversing the karst valley.
Traversing the karst valley.
Traversing the karst valley.
Traversing the karst valley.
Bulwark (L) and Anthozoan (R) rise over the hanging valley.
Bulwark (L) and Anthozoan (R) rise over the hanging valley.
A perfect bivy pad!
A perfect bivy pad!
A very unique and engaging landscape feature is this huge sidewalk we used on our traverse.
A very unique and engaging landscape feature is this huge sidewalk we used on our traverse.
Wietse on the sidewalk feature.
Wietse on the sidewalk feature.
Wietse on the sidewalk feature.
Wietse on the sidewalk feature.
Wietse on the sidewalk feature with Pulsatilla looming above at center left.
Wietse on the sidewalk feature with Pulsatilla looming above at center left.
Wietse on the sidewalk feature.
Wietse on the sidewalk feature.
A yellow larch with Armor and Bulwark in the bg.
A yellow larch with Armor and Bulwark in the bg.
Wietse exits the sidewalk feature.
Wietse exits the sidewalk feature.
Looking back to Armor and Bulwark from the end of the sidewalk traverse. Protection at left.
Looking back to Armor and Bulwark from the end of the sidewalk traverse. Protection at left.
This little stream ends the sidewalk feature and provides nourishment.
This little stream ends the sidewalk feature and provides nourishment.
Ascending to the hidden lakes.
Ascending to the hidden lakes.
Ascending a dry little canyon to the hidden lakes.
Ascending a dry little canyon to the hidden lakes.
A perfect staircase in the canyon.
A perfect staircase in the canyon.
Ascending more slabs towards the lakes.
Ascending more slabs towards the lakes.
The first (lower) lake is pretty but isn't quite as 'pristine' as the upper one.
The first (lower) lake is pretty but isn't quite as 'pristine' as the upper one.
Traversing up to the second lake from the first.
Traversing up to the second lake from the first.
We aren't the first humans here this summer...
We aren't the first humans here this summer...
The upper lake with Armor Peak.
The upper lake with Armor Peak.
Traversing around the upper lake's east shore. Pulsatilla looms at right - note the cliffs.
Traversing around the upper lake's east shore. Pulsatilla looms at right - note the cliffs.
Scouting a moderate line through the lower cliffs.
Scouting a moderate line through the lower cliffs.
Views back over Pulsatilla Pond to TV Peak and Protection Mountain.
Views back over Pulsatilla Pond to TV Peak and Protection Mountain.
Another set of cliffs to navigate.
Another set of cliffs to navigate.
A moderate scramble through the cliffs.
A moderate scramble through the cliffs.
Views back down from the middle bench to Protection Mountain and the two lakes.
Views back down from the middle bench to Protection Mountain and the two lakes.
Traversing the middle bench to get around the next line of cliffs.
Traversing the middle bench to get around the next line of cliffs.
Traversing the middle bench to get around the next line of cliffs.
Traversing the middle bench to get around the next line of cliffs.
Almost done the traverse around the upper cliffs.
Almost done the traverse around the upper cliffs.
Wietse comes up behind me. Both lakes and TV Peak behind him.
Wietse comes up behind me. Both lakes and TV Peak behind him.
All that remains is a scree slog to the top!
All that remains is a scree slog to the top!
View back down the south slopes of Pulsatilla with Protection Mountain in the distance.
View back down the south slopes of Pulsatilla with Protection Mountain in the distance.
View back down the south slopes of Pulsatilla with Protection Mountain in the distance.
View back down the south slopes of Pulsatilla with Protection Mountain in the distance.
Stunning views NE towards Badger Pass and down Johnston Creek (R).
Stunning views NE towards Badger Pass and down Johnston Creek (R).
Looking back at Wietse and the false summits of Pulsatilla.
Looking back at Wietse and the false summits of Pulsatilla.
Incredible summit panorama over Pulsatilla and Badger Passes towards Bonnet and down Johnston Creek.
Incredible summit panorama over Pulsatilla and Badger Passes towards Bonnet and down Johnston Creek.
Mystic Peak and Mount Ishbel down Johnston Creek.
Mystic Peak and Mount Ishbel down Johnston Creek.
Block (L) and Noetic Peak.
Block (L) and Noetic Peak.
Bonnet Peak at center with Badger Pass to the right.
Bonnet Peak at center with Badger Pass to the right.
Bonnet Peak.
Bonnet Peak.
Stunning views over Pulsatilla Pass (L) and Badger Pass (R).
Stunning views over Pulsatilla Pass (L) and Badger Pass (R).
Views over Mount Avens towards the Drummond Icefield and Pipestone Mountain.
Views over Mount Avens towards the Drummond Icefield and Pipestone Mountain.
Johnston Creek valley at left with the Castle Mountain massif at center and Lake Louise at distant R
Johnston Creek valley at left with the Castle Mountain massif at center and Lake Louise at distant R
Helena Ridge (L), Eisenhower Tower, Castle Mountain and TV Peak (R).
Helena Ridge (L), Eisenhower Tower, Castle Mountain and TV Peak (R).
Castle North, Ball, Stanley and TV Peak (R).
Castle North, Ball, Stanley and TV Peak (R).
Ptarmigan (L), Avens, Willingdon and the Drummond Group (R).
Ptarmigan (L), Avens, Willingdon and the Drummond Group (R).
Mystic Peak.
Mystic Peak.
Pilot, Brett and even Assiniboine show up over Helena Ridge.
Pilot, Brett and even Assiniboine show up over Helena Ridge.
Hector (L), Redoubt, Richardson, Pika, Ptarmigan,  Avens, Willingdon, Crown, South Tower, Fossil, Harris and Cyclone (R).
Hector (L), Redoubt, Richardson, Pika, Ptarmigan, Avens, Willingdon, Crown, South Tower, Fossil, Harris and Cyclone (R).
Fossil (L) with Willingdon, Crown, South Tower, Harris, Cyclone, Pipestone and Cataract Peak.
Fossil (L) with Willingdon, Crown, South Tower, Harris, Cyclone, Pipestone and Cataract Peak.
Bonnet Peak.
Bonnet Peak.
Flints Peak.
Flints Peak.
Stunning views down Johnston Creek along the Sawback Range (L). The Castle Mountain massif including Helena Ridge, Stuart Knob, Eisenhower Tower, Castle Mountain and TV Peak at distance.
Stunning views down Johnston Creek along the Sawback Range (L). The Castle Mountain massif including Helena Ridge, Stuart Knob, Eisenhower Tower, Castle Mountain and TV Peak at distance.
The hanging glacier on Pulsatilla's east face with views to Badger Pass at right.
The hanging glacier on Pulsatilla's east face with views to Badger Pass at right.
Wietse descends the south slopes of Pulsatilla trying to avoid cliffbands.
Wietse descends the south slopes of Pulsatilla trying to avoid cliffbands.
Descending easy scrambling terrain through cliffs.
Descending easy scrambling terrain through cliffs.
Wietse descends a moderate crack to break through the lower cliffs.
Wietse descends a moderate crack to break through the lower cliffs.
Wietse descends a moderate crack to break through the lower cliffs.
Wietse descends a moderate crack to break through the lower cliffs.
Descending to Pulsatilla Pond.
Descending to Pulsatilla Pond.
Hiking around the western end of Pulsatilla Pond.
Hiking around the western end of Pulsatilla Pond.
Looking back to Pulsatilla (L) from the west end of the pond.
Looking back to Pulsatilla (L) from the west end of the pond.
TV Peak over the karst valley.
TV Peak over the karst valley.
Armor Peak rises over the karst valley.
Armor Peak rises over the karst valley.
Life is vibrant here despite the pavement.
Life is vibrant here despite the pavement.
Returning back along the amazing sidewalk feature - views to Armor Peak.
Returning back along the amazing sidewalk feature - views to Armor Peak.
Armor Peak and Bulwark Mountain.
Armor Peak and Bulwark Mountain.
Mount Goats in the lush hanging valley below the karst valley. Ptarmigan Peak rises in the bg.
Mount Goats in the lush hanging valley below the karst valley. Ptarmigan Peak rises in the bg.
Wietse is tiny in the landscape under Armor, Bulwark and the clouds.
Wietse is tiny in the landscape under Armor, Bulwark and the clouds.
Wietse approaches the daunting 350 meters back up Protection Mountain on return.
Wietse approaches the daunting 350 meters back up Protection Mountain on return.
On the ridge with views to TV (L) and Temple (R) with threatening weather.
On the ridge with views to TV (L) and Temple (R) with threatening weather.
Descending Protection Mountain.
Descending Protection Mountain.
Larches are turning!
Larches are turning!
Larches are turning!
Larches are turning!
Hiking back down the Protection Mountain trail.
Hiking back down the Protection Mountain trail.
Hiking back down the Protection Mountain trail.
Hiking back down the Protection Mountain trail.

One thought on Pulsatilla Mountain

Leave a Reply to Protection Mountain (TV Peak and Armor Peak) and Pulsatilla Mountain – Game Trail Adventures Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.