Coliseum Mountain

Summit Elevation (m): 2045
Trip Date: Saturday, June 06, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 700
Round Trip Time (hrs): 3
Total Trip Distance (km): 9.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain your thumb on the main trail, you fall you could break something on the direct route.
Difficulty Notes: If on the main trail this is a class 1/2 hike. There is a direct route which we descended which passes through a steep, loose band of low cliffs where helmets are recommended. 
Technical Rating: TL2/SC5
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

The weekend of June 6th 2020 was forecast to be pretty gloomy from the prairies to the foothills and into the mountains. Wietse and I did some humming and hawing and ended up settling on the Nordegg area simply because it sucked the least in terms of the SpotWX forecast. On Friday the forecast slightly worsened so we were expecting rain at least half the day and packed accordingly. Our objectives were the lowly and easy Coliseum Mountain followed by Shunda Mountain afterwards, provided the weather wasn’t too horrible. Neither of us realized just how short and easy both of these objectives were or we might have chosen something a wee bit more aggressive but the forecast tempered our enthusiasm quite a bit. Nordegg is a 3.5 hour drive from YYC so we decided to leave around 06:00 from my house.

Coliseum Mountain Route Map. Note the official trail on the right hand side has more switchbacks than indicated on my track line. Don’t ask. Also note that the left hand descent line is only recommended for folks who are comfortable with easy, loose scrambling on steep terrain. Most parties should likely return via the main trail as for their ascent.

As we drove past Innisfail and then west down Hwy 11 towards the Rockies I was getting a wee bit depressed. This was a LONG bloody drive for what looked to be a day in clouds and rain. There were low clouds hanging over the foothills as we drove through Rocky Mountain House and towards the town of Nordegg. Even though we were expecting the dismal weather it was a bummer nonetheless. And then the miracle happened. As we drove past Nordegg to RR152A the sky turned blue and we had stunning views to the west.

Our moods improved dramatically as we drove to the Coliseum Mountain trailhead in bright sunshine and warm temperatures. Now our idea to hike so far from home seemed brilliant. There is no rocket science involved in ascending Coliseum Mountain via the maintained and signed trail. There’s not much routefinding or effort involved either. The trail traversed to the east through open forest before ascending numerous switchbacks up a break SW ridge to tree line. We may or may not have shortcut some of the interminable switchbacks, simply because we’re Dutch and we don’t like inefficiencies where they’re not needed. You should never contribute to trail braiding of course! We passed 2 or 3 parties on ascent, including families with dogs – it’s that easy.

On the easy ridge to the east summit (R). The main summit at center distance. The trail is visible just below us here.

Near tree line and within sight of rocky terrain above, we started traversing some deep patches of snow. The snow mostly held our weight but we still tired of it quickly and soon cut directly up hill off the main trail on an open shallow ridge heading up to the lower east summit. This is the marked summit on the Canada topo map but it is lower than the west summit. The weather was nearly perfect as we topped out and took in great views over the foothills towards Eagle Ridge and Mountain and of course to the main summit. I was surprised to see Abraham Lake and easily recognizable peaks around it such as Michener, Sentinel, Abraham and Allstones. There were many unfamiliar peaks along the Bighorn Range to the north that caught my gaze too.

Great views west from the east summit of Coliseum Mountain. Abraham Lake at center distant right.
Views north (L), east (C) and south (R) from the east summit include Coliseum (L) and Eagle Mountain (R).

The traverse between the east and west summits of Coliseum was pretty straightforward. We descended along a trail down low cliffs from the east summit and found the main trail back. We tried to avoid snow as much as possible on the traverse (still more than there should be on such a front range peak in June) and were soon ascending easy slopes to the west summit. Views were of course very similar to the ones from the east summit, but there were some surprises hidden in yet another brilliant pink register courtesy of Ephraim Roberts. Apparently this is the year I’m following Ephraim up numerous peaks. The other surprise was just how busy the summit register was! There were at least 30-40 entries since Ephraim placed it in February. Obviously this is a very busy mountain – as it should be.

Traversing from the east summit to the main one. The approach trail comes up below the cliffs at left. The direct route runs down the ridge at center down to the left from the true summit.
Views east from Coliseum Mountain.
Incredible views west from the summit of Coliseum Mountain towards Abraham Lake (C) and the Ram Range (L). The First and Bighorn Ranges running off to the right.

After snapping a bunch of photos we realized that we were less than 2 hours into our day and already done both summits! Jeez. That was a little quick for 7 hours of driving! We now realized that Coliseum is the “Prairie Mountain” of the Nordegg area. At only 700 meters of total height gain and a highway for a trail with great summit views, it is well suited for families and hikers of all abilities. Of course, on hindsight we were now wishing we planned a much bigger and more aggressive day but now we were somewhat stuck with what to do next. We decided to descend the “direct route” on Coliseum just to shake things up a bit. We had no idea if there was a trail or what the route was like, I only had a dashed line to follow on Gaia maps so we started our descent under the summit cliffs.

Starting our descent down the direct line to the lower south ridge.
Looking through broken cliffs to the lower south ridge along the direct line. The main trail comes up at far left under the east summit.

Of course, there was another obvious trail to follow on the direct route. The route descended steep and loose terrain through broken cliffs to a lower south ridge. I would rate the terrain through the cliffs as easy scrambling but definitely not mere “hiking” and much more scrambly than the official trail. I would take helmets for this section for loose rocks and potential rockfall from other parties. This route is obviously done quite a bit, probably by locals who don’t need to go past the east summit or up all the crazy switchbacks on the official trail.

A gorgeous day as we descend an old cut-line.

Once we got onto the treed south ridge the trail was even more obvious and we worked our way quickly down the south aspect of the mountain first on an obvious cut line and then on an old roadbed. We followed the old road right down to the parking lot and arrived back only around 3 hours after leaving – a wee bit quicker than originally planned! The weather was still gorgeous and while we snacked on some fruit we deliberated about our next objective. Obviously we wanted to do something a bit more than just the walk up Shunda Mountain but now we were faced with the choice of adding another 1000 m + to our day and at least 5 or 6 hours on something like Eagle Ridge / Mountain, or the easy Shunda Mountain. Clouds were building to the west so we decided to take it easy for once and go for the very short and simple Shunda Mountain / Baldy Fire Lookout hike.

Views back up the direct route near the start. East summit at right, main at center.

I highly recommend Coliseum Mountain for any hiker that is in the Nordegg area. This easy mountain hike is comparable to Prairie Mountain or Cox Hill and can be done by anyone who is used to height gains around 700 meters and mountain environments. It is not as exposed as hikes like Ha Ling and sports some pretty sweet views for such a front range mountain. Make sure you take a telephoto lens so you can spot Abraham Lake from the top. (Do NOT follow my track down the direct line unless you’re comfortable with easy scrambling and loose terrain.) For an even more friendly and easier family hike, check out the nearby Shunda Mountain.

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