Summit Elevations (m): 2440, 2384
Trip Date: Saturday, September 15, 2019
Round Trip Time (hr): 5
Elevation Gain (m): 1250
Total Trip Distance (km): 12
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: No real difficulties other than a semi-exposed traverse and some route finding on Ostracized Peak. NOTE: There is a harder route (Kane) up the NW ridge of Sentry which I did in 2005.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
After spending just under 4 hours to the summit of Phillipps Peak and back earlier in the day, it felt a bit strange to be unloading my bike at another trailhead at 12:30 in the afternoon. Somehow I’d decided that despite almost falling asleep while driving to the Crowsnest Pass area earlier in the day, I should now tack on another two summits adding up to over 2300 meters of elevation gain, not to mention a biking and hiking distance at over 22km. Oh well. It wasn’t a horrible idea considering the weather was pretty much perfect and I knew Ostracized and Sentry were supposed to be pretty darn easy from the east side. I even suspected I might be on a trail of sorts so why not enjoy another gorgeous summer afternoon? I was in the area anyway…
I’m not gonna lie. My legs were a bit tired as I started biking up a gravel road just west of the closed visitors center south of Crowsnest Lake. On hindsight I could have driven this road but the biking was fast and fun on descent so I don’t regret biking it. I didn’t have a track for this part of the approach but figured it should be obvious and it was. I biked up the winding road until it intersected a smaller track that showed up on the ViewRanger Landscape basemap I was using. The obvious cutline ATV track deviated off the main road heading due west and I followed it through a gate and past a parked truck. A bit further along I passed a Jeep and a bit further the track ended.
From the end of the ATV track I was delighted to see an obvious trail ascending scree and dirt through a thinning forest. Even better, the trail ended up on a south trending ridge with great views to both of my destination summits, the east access drainage and back over Crowsnest Lake towards Crowsnest Mountain. The sun was incredibly warm and being on the lee side of the mountains, there was very little wind considering how blustery it had been only a few hours earlier on Phillipps Peak. I continued on the trail as it turned towards the east drainage and started up the left hand side of it trending into the middle. I was feeling a bit peckish by now and decided it was time for some lunch. It was wonderful to sit there in the warm sunshine eating my sandwich and looking out over the Crowsnest Pass area.
Somewhat reluctantly I decided it was time to get off my duff and continue upward before I lost my energy and optimism for the remaining work ahead. As I ascended the lower gully the trail grew faint and I spotted a group far up the gully, likely descending considering the time of day. I wasn’t too worried about rockfall but started looking to my left anyway as I knew I was going to tackle Ostracized first and would be using the ridge to the left of the access drainage for the remainder of my ascent. Using the ridge meant shortcutting the Ostracized / Sentry col on ascent and saving me some time and distance.
Using the left hand ridge worked perfectly. The terrain was easy to ascend and it was obvious where I’d trend left (south) to gain the north ridge of Ostracized. On my way up the ridge I watched a party of four utilize a nice scree slope just north of the main gully and resolved to use the same line on my own descent. A solo scrambler was continuing up Sentry Mountain above them.
Soon I was at the bottom of Ostracized’s north ridge. I really had no idea what to expect but the scrambling was more engaging than I thought it would be. I would have to rate this peak as moderate due to route finding and exposure. One section was really neat but quite exposed, a scree sidewalk on the east side of the ridge that would be horrible with any snow or ice and dubious with too much rain. I’m not sure if there were other options around this section but I thought it was the highlight of this scramble. I love it when there’s “hidden” routes around difficulties that seem almost impossible until you’re on them.
The summit views from Ostracized were pretty good. Just as on Phillipps Peak earlier, I never expect this heavily populated and scarred area (there’s a ton of mining here) to match pristine wilderness for views. But it’s still the Rockies and it’s still Canada so the views were still better than sitting in the city or some manufactured landscape somewhere else. The shadows were starting to lengthen a bit as I descended towards the Sentry col. I could spot the solo scrambler descending Sentry’s south ridge and soon they were out of sight descending the east drainage. Once again, I was all alone on a mountain.
Sentry presented no difficulties from the col – it’s easier than it first appears. I ascended the ridge and descended just off the ridge but there’s lots of options. Crowsnest Lake and the Phillipps / Tecumseh massif looked awesome in the afternoon lighting as did Harrison and Washburn.
For descent I took an obvious line from the south ridge of Sentry directly into the large scree / rubble bowl to the east that I’d avoided on ascent. The scree here wasn’t perfect but I found a few reasonably fast lines down to the choke point above the lower drainage. As I traversed along the bottom of some cliffs left of the drainage things got interesting. I was on a pretty good track and happened to look up and see the dark maw of a big cave just above me! I decided I had to go check it out so I followed a track up towards it. I half expected a cougar to jump out at me but thankfully the cave was uninhabited but pretty big. Apparently there’s more caves on Sentry’s east side – even larger than this one.
After exiting the cave I continued traversing to the top of the scree run I’d spotted on ascent. It was worth the traverse big-time. The scree run was a few hundred vertical meters of easy and fast descent – something my legs appreciated after another long day. After another lovely break the rest of the descent to my bike was very pleasant in the warm late summer afternoon sun. As expected the bike ride to my truck was very quick and easy – bringing a bike was a no-brainer once again in this area.
My round trip time of 5 hours included two breaks and I wasn’t feeling fast so this is another good half day option if that’s all the time you have. I highly recommend doing both peaks in the direction I did them as you get solid(ish) ascent terrain and scree(ish) descent options along with the cave explor8ions. Also, I always believe in doing the highest and hardest peak first if you’re doing more than one. I enjoyed this outing quite a bit more than I thought I would – it’s a very pleasant outing and much more engaging than I expected.