Phillipps Peak

Summit Elevation (m): 2500
Trip Date: Saturday, September 15, 2019
Round Trip Time (hr): 4
Elevation Gain (m): 1100
Total Trip Distance (km): 10.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or die
Difficulty Notes: A quick and fun trip in the Crowsnest Pass involving a short stretch of difficult scrambling to the true summit.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (4th)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps

After huge height gains and peaks well over 3000 meters high for the last few scrambles, I thought I was going to come away from the 2nd weekend in September 2019 with nothing except a relaxing weekend spent with loved ones at home. That wouldn’t do at all though would it?! As the days of summer fade into oblivion I am like a Grizzly bear going into hibernation, except instead of getting fat on berries and chasing poor Marmots, I get lean while chasing summits. I pack on the weight during the long, cold winters. Sometimes I wish I was like a bear – go to sleep in the fall and lose weight through the winter, waking up in time for Spring nice and lean!

Phillipps Peak Route Map

Initially I had Friday booked off but I canceled those plans with the questionable forecast. Then I forsook any Saturday plans for the same reason. I know I could have bagged some peak in less-than-ideal conditions (social media posts confirmed this) but I wasn’t in the mood to force things. I chilled and enjoyed sleeping in and relaxing in the city with Hanneke for once on a weekend. By Saturday evening the weather was still looking dismal for anything directly west of YYC so yet again my eyes turned southward. Yet again the weather down south looked pretty darn sweet.

A gorgeous morning as I bike up towards Phillipps Lake and Pass. The south ridge of Phillipps Peak rising to the left.

I didn’t know if I felt like it but Phillipps Peak had once again come onto my radar and I decided to set my alarm and see what happened the next morning. I woke up at 05:30 before my alarm and decided to go for it. I’ll sleep in much more when I’m dead… Driving down to the ol’ pass was rough. I was freaking tired man. Like totally buzzed out freaking tired. I bought one coffee in YYC near my house and then another one on my way through Nanton! I was yawning every 5 minutes and dozed off a couple of times on my way to Chain Lakes. Not kewl. Not kewl at all. Somehow I decided through all my yawning and dozing that I was likely going to do two or three peaks on this particular day. I’ve always wanted to check out “Ostracized Peak” next to Sentry Mountain and since I didn’t have good photos from my 2005 trip up Sentry, I thought I’d probably bag it while I was in the neighborhood. Whatever was in that second cup of jo, I want more of it – daily.

A gorgeous morning as I bike up towards Phillipps Lake and Pass. The south ridge of Phillipps Peak rising to the left.

The only way I was going to pull off my two or three peak day was with a bike approach on both objectives. Thankfully I’d brought my bike. I pulled into the rest stop just past Summit Lake over the Crowsnest Pass (in BC) and prepared for my first objective and the toughest one by reputation. Phillipps has been called “difficult” by almost everyone who’s done it including Sonny Bou, Dave McMurray and Steven Song. I know all of these folks’ scrambling abilities so I was a bit nervous as I set out on my bike up the wide approach road leading towards Phillipps Lake and Crowsnest Ridge. Five minutes later I was back at the truck. Dammit! Not a great way to start the day and definitely reflective of my tired mind if nothing else. I forgot my hiking poles – good thing I remembered so early into my ride. I sighed heavily, pondered my life choices with some regret and immediately turned back up the road.

Hiking up open slopes to the south ridge, looking west into BC.

The bike ride was thankfully pretty quick and soon I was hiking up open slopes to the south ridge of Phillipps Peak. The weather was fantastic and the terrain was quick and easy and soon my tired mind became too engaged to remain dull and I perked up considerably. On ascent there are options to stick to slabs and bare rock on the ridge while on descent there are options to bypass the more moderate terrain and take scree lines instead. I knew the crux was supposed to be quite exposed so I took all the harder lines I could find on the ascent to get myself psyched up.

Hiking up open slopes to the south ridge looking back over Crowsnest Ridge and Phillipps Lake. Sentry Mountain rising at left.
The south ridge is a pleasant ramble.

The false summit was in view the entire time up the south ridge and I kept up a good pace to arrive there within about 2 hours of leaving the parking lot. I didn’t linger long before continuing along the ridge towards the true summit as the winds were picking up and I wasn’t in the mood to blow off the crux. Almost immediately after starting up to the true summit the terrain got more serious. Some caution was required on the narrowing ridge before the crux due to loose rock but nothing like the loose stuff I’ve dealt with in other areas of the Rockies lately! I’ll be honest. The crux was much easier than I expected on ascent. I simply scampered up it without too much bother, finding pretty solid holds along the way and not feeling too exposed. I was going to rate it “upper moderate” until I descended…

Views north from the false summit to the true summit at center left and Tecumseh at right.

The ridge from the top of the crux to the summit was surprisingly narrow in one spot – again caution was required due to the looseness and exposure of the terrain. The gusting winds didn’t help. The summit view was really good for an area of heavy use like the Crowsnest Pass. This area can’t ever match pristine wilderness like Deluc, McConnell or Cataract, but it has its charms. I enjoyed spotting many familiar peaks such as Crowsnest, Ward, Allison, Deadman Pass, Sentry and McLaren.

From the top of the crux there’s still some ridge left to traverse. Tecumseh at right.
Summit views include Coulthard, Andy Good, Perrish, Sentry (L), Loop, Erickson, Deadman, Allison, Ward, Seven Sisters, Crowsnest and Tecumseh (R).
Crowsnest Lake (L), Sentry, Island Ridge / Lake and Summit Lake (R). The North Fork Creek group of summits including McLaren, Coulthard, Andy Good, Parrish, Chinook, Ostracized, Sentry and Ptolemy at left. Loop and Tent Mountains at right.

The wind was cold and I had more peaks to bag so I didn’t linger long at the summit. It was only while down climbing the crux that it felt a bit more difficult, earning it an “SC7” rating for exposure and some tricky footwork near the bottom. I’m sure competent scramblers will have zero issues with it – it’s on the easier side of “difficult” IMHO and I’m getting more and more adverse to risking my life as I age so I think I’m more likely to over than under exaggerate these things nowadays. I agree with Steven that it felt easier than I was expecting – especially on ascent.

View back to the crux. I felt like the exposure down to the left wasn’t as bad as I was expecting but it still commands respect. There is an awkward down sloping slab near the bottom of it.

From the crux it was a matter of finding the easiest lines down the south ridge. I used scree on my left where I could and enjoyed the warm sunshine and great views over Phillipps Lake and Crowsnest Ridge and towards my next objectives, Sentry and Ostracized Peak. I debated biking up Crowsnest Ridge to claim it but figured I’d continue to save it for a day when the weather forecast is horribly wrong and I have to salvage a day. I figure Saskatoon Mountain and Crowsnest Ridge are two easy objectives that don’t need doing just yet. Maybe I’ll do them when I’m 97 years old. Either way, I’m saving those “gems” for a truly desperate scenario.

The bike ride was laughably quick and made me thankful yet again that I used the two wheel steed instead of walking that road. In just under 4 hours (including the turnaround at the start) I was finished the first challenge of my day. I highly enjoyed and highly recommend Phillipps Peak for scramblers looking for a short and somewhat challenging scramble in the Crowsnest Pass area.

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