Summit Elevation (m): 2890
Elevation Gain (m): 1800
Trip Date: June 10 2020
Round Trip Time (hr): 13.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 52
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Without a doubt the difficulty of Haunted Peak lies in its location rather than any technical difficulties. The biggest challenge is the endless creek crossings and varied bushwhacking up “Haunted” (unnamed) Creek from Stony Creek.
GPS Track Download: Download GPX File
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
If you’ve never heard of Haunted Peak you aren’t alone. The name of this obscure summit fits more into the theme of the Ghost River Wilderness Area than the various themes you find in the national parks (usually world war based). There’s a reason for the spooky theme as Haunted sits just west of the Ghost on Banff’s eastern border, north of Lake Minnewanka and south of Dormer Pass. “Haunted” is an unofficial name but so are many of the other peaks nearby including “Psychic” and “Sira”. There are a number of unnamed, large peaks in this corner of Banff, likely because they can’t be seen from anywhere else so nobody bothered. 😉 For example, the peak immediately to the west of Haunted is over 3000 meters high and isn’t named. Give the map below a close look (click and zoom in) and you’ll get a good feel for where this peak is.
Phil was getting antsy for a trip as June 2020 came along. Due to a mixture of life events, Covid-19 and a very big winter snowpack, we haven’t been able to get out earlier as with other years such as 2019 when we ascended Dormer Mountain already in early April! We did Winchester Ridge at the end of March that year, and this year I was still running into snow on front range bumps like Quirk Ridge ffs. I’ve managed my head space by bagging roughly 50 front range “summits” that I hadn’t bothered doing before but I have to admit that the game of “foothills whack-a-summit” was wearing thin by the time June rolled around. When Phil started musing about a mid-week trip up the Cascade fire road into Haunted Peak I perked up and took notice. Phil is a connoisseur of the Cascade fire road and more specifically the area around Stony Creek and the Cascade River. He has bagged a number of obscure and unnamed summits up there including one a few weeks previous where he started getting ideas for the Haunted trip. Various people were consulted but in the end only Phil and I were naive enough to commit to the 50+ km venture. Phil wisely only gave me the stats from the bike drop, which didn’t look so bad. When I did some quick mental math on the drive to Canmore on Wednesday morning I realized this would be my first 50 km day trip and had a mild panic attack before concluding it wouldn’t be that bad.
After picking up Phil we set off from Canmore to the Lake Minnewanka parking lot. There’s a small gravel pull-off across from the start of the Cascade road but we didn’t trust the current Covid restrictions with parking at the unofficial lot and figured another km or so wasn’t going to kill us. Famous last words… We geared up and started the easy (downhill!!) approach to the Cascade road. I was testing my new Hyperlite Summit Pack on this trip. I love my HMG 3400 Ice Pack that I have used for the past number of years, but it often feels like massive overkill on fast, light scrambling trips. When my usual summit pack sported a hole I decided to go big (i.e. expensive) and get the HMG for regular use and as a summit pack on bigger trips when I don’t want to use my approach pack for climbing. The only issue with summit packs is that they are designed for packability and not comfort. They usually don’t have hip belts so all the weight is on your shoulders. This is also the case with the HMG Summit pack and is going to force me to pack even lighter than I have been over the past few years. On this trip I didn’t need to pack any liquids since we were literally in a creek all day so that saved a few pounds right there.
I’ve skied the Cascade fire road before and knew that despite Phil’s assurances that “it’s all downhill on the way back”, it actually undulates more than you’d like. But in the early morning air and with months of conversations to catch up on, we peddled along at a fairly steady clip and found ourselves approaching Stony Creek only 1 hour and 15 minutes into the ride. We’d been noticing something a bit odd on the road and this was enhanced on the final rougher section to the creek. It looked like a LOT of fast water had washed over parts of the road and now had completely washed away the trail too! Remember, Phil was here only about 10 days earlier and none of this water damage was evident then. Throughout the day we would see evidence of a massive rain / melting effect on the landscape around the Stony Creek area, including the washout of the bridge over Stony Creek. The damage wasn’t on a 2013 scale but similar in nature. Upon returning home, Phil found the following on the Alberta River Basins flood alerting site for the Bow River just previous to our trip;
After taking a moment to place a can of Coke (Phil) and Pepsi (Vern) in a small feeder creek beside Stony Creek we had to make a choice. We could wade across Stony Creek (bridge washed out) and hike up the trail on the north side where we’d eventually have to wade it again to our access creek. Another option was to follow the untracked south side of Stony Creek to our access creek, saving us two big creek crossings and some needless elevation gain on the trail. Because the season is young and we’re idiots, we chose the bush. Within a few minutes I knew we’d picked wrong, but what to do? Waste those 15 minutes and turn back or keep going and hope it gets better? You can guess what we decided – and yes, once again we chose “wrong”. I put that between quotes because it all worked out in the end but clearly there’s a reason for the trail and we had a long enough day in front of us that we really shouldn’t have added more difficulties. Also there’s the obvious point that with ~80 creek crossings ahead of us what the heck were we so scared of a couple more?! Early season folks. Early season… 😉
The forest was quite decent for bushwhacking but we were still pretty darn happy when we encountered the Stony Creek trail after it crossed to our side. It felt wonderful to hike at full speed for 3.5 minutes before arriving at our unnamed access creek. Full speed was about to go the way of the Dodo bird for the majority of the rest of our day at this point but little did we know. I love the beginnings of adventurous days like this one. We’re so stoked and full of energy that we do silly things like bushwhack for no reason and dance around to avoid wet feet – thinking that maybe there’s a trail that nobody else knows about. There wasn’t. Two minutes up the unnamed creek and it was time to suck it up. It was obvious right from the start that we’d be hiking in wet shoes the rest of the day. No matter! This is what we live for – we plunged across the icy flow for the first time with big smiles and anticipation of the unknown adventure stretched out before us.
It’s funny how the mind affects the amount of enjoyment or pleasure on a trip, almost more than the actual trip conditions. I’m sure that most folks would have terrible memories of this unnamed creek. Rick Collier sure didn’t love it, in his words (note the peak should be “Haunted” in this report);
On Monday, July 5, 2004, three Old Goats (Mardy, Christine, Rick) . . . set off with boundless enthusiasm to try a new traverse in the Front Ranges, having conveniently forgotten that if things are going to go wrong on a trip, they will go really, really wrong on the first major outing of the season.” After which, I recounted how we got stuck in the bush, Mardy broke a bone in her hand, I bear-sprayed myself, and we all got soaked in one downpour after another.
That sounds like something entirely reasonable for the unnamed creek we found ourselves in – some trips just never get off the ground properly, sometimes for a multitude of reasons. Like any alpinist, Rick didn’t appreciate the failure and in October of the same year he was back in the area. This time he did a traverse from Aylmer Pass to the Stony Creek / Dormer Pass trail and then back along the Cascade fire road with an ascent of Haunted Peak along the way. (The report incorrectly calls Haunted, “Psychic”.) Back in 2004 Haunted Peak was unnamed and unclimbed. Phil read about this traverse and combined with his recent rambles up the Cascade fire road and ascents of several unnamed peaks and ridges there, he latched onto the idea of a possible 2nd ascent of Haunted Peak. And the rest is history.
The main reason for choosing Haunted as such an early season objective was its south and west ascent slopes which we figured would be fairly dry. I suggested we think about adding Psychic Peak to the day if there was a reasonable traverse between the two, but we didn’t think it was going to go simply due to snow pack and different aspects. Obviously we were packing very light for this trip and did not pack snowshoes – although we were cautious enough to bring axes and crampons along. As we progressed up the creek, the hours started to tick by one after the other at an unrelenting pace. On most trips we end up going much further than I expect for a given amount of time. Most summits are attained within 3 hours of leaving the trailhead – heck! This spring most objectives were completely DONE after 3 hours!! Because of the nature of the landscape we were in, we were forced to take our time and deal with multiple obstacles and terrain puzzles as we hiked. We’d be hiking along at a nice pace and before long there would be another puzzle – a waterfall, or a logjam or some other impairment to steady progress. The only obstacle that forced us well out of the creek and up and down the side bank was a narrow canyon with a massive logjam in the middle of it.
Slowly we made progress and within about 1.5 hours of leaving Stony Creek we were finally within sight of our mountain (looming almost 1000 meters above the creek!) and in a truly wild place. Soaring peaks and rocky cliffs hugged the creek, providing us that explor8ion feel that drives us towards these adventures. The upper slopes were snowy but there was enough rock showing that we knew it wouldn’t be a problem. The mountain looked easy – class II at most. It took almost another hour to reach the base of the SW slopes after first glimpsing the peak.
Finally, almost 5 hours into our day we started slowly up very steep, lightly forested slopes. Thankfully it was bone dry and despite all the work we’d done to get here, we moved quickly up the lower slopes until the trees started thinning and views behind us started opening up dramatically. Revenant Mountain stole the show, as did some outliers of Spectral Peak. We could clearly see Rick’s route from 2004 over the pass between Revenant and Spectral towards Haunted and also his route over the unnamed / Haunted col. It was fascinating to think that there was a distinct possibility that we were the first humans up this SW slope and only two of a handful through this area in the last few dozen years or perhaps much longer.
We inched upwards and our wild views got more and more far reaching. Psychic looked accessible from the lower slopes of Haunted but the amount of snow in the valley below it was concerning enough that we pretty much wrote it off already at this point. We both commented more than once that the ascent slope felt a lot like Poboktan Mountain. Phil led the way across some easy snow slopes as we approached the top. 7 hours after leaving the parking lot we were finally on the summit with a very stiff west wind and views of some pretty remote and beautiful peaks and strange angles on some very familiar ones.
It was also amazing how many familiar summits were visible from our rather lowly objective, including Devils Head, Assiniboine, Ball, Aylmer, Inglismaldie and Girouard. We wanted to enjoy the top longer but the wind was very biting and we had a long exit in front of us. We searched in vain for a cairn and register, but 2 feet of snow over the summit ridge made that task impossible. We left the summit and took another break about 1/3 of the way down where the wind was less of an issue.
As we took in the scene around us from our “lunch” spot (it was almost 15:00 by now) we had a last little debate about going for Psychic Peak. Being peakbaggers this was a very tempting objective for us. It was tough to admit that we were running out of time at this point and the conditions made a successful ascent very unlikely and possibly unsafe. The extra 600 vertical meters (at least) and 6km of distance were also a factor in the debate. Even conservatively we wouldn’t exit until closer to 23:00 or even midnight if we made the attempt. We decided to be prudent and save this even more remote peak for another day when it would be in better condition. We both felt more than fine with this decision. Some days are made for multiple peaks and others aren’t. It was enough for us to have hiked all the way in here and back out in a day – and at this point we weren’t out by a long shot!
Hiking down through the lower forest in warm afternoon sun on a carpet of 6″ thick moss was pure hiking magic. We reached the creek and took another break in warm sun with a gentle breeze and the sound of bubbling water echoing around us. It was very hard to force ourselves to start walking down the creek again! We knew that the 4km would take at least 2 hours to navigate and likely closer to 3. Just as on the approach, we took our time and enjoyed all the little landscape puzzles for the 2nd time on egress. Everything looks different on return of course and we made some navigation improvements and got ourselves all tangled up more than once too. Our feet were throbbing from the icy water as we finally exited to the Stony Creek trail – it was now 19:00 and we still had a long way to go.
On our approach we’d avoided crossing Stony Creek but on return this idea made us chuckle. Stony Creek looked very crossable at the designated crossing on the trail and we charged through the knee deep water with no issues and continued marching down the good trail. Traveling on trail was a massive mood boost. We felt like we were flying, even on the uphill sections. Views from trail over the bison fence and Stony Creek were sublime in the early evening light.
We descended back to Stony Creek and once again marched through it without issue. Although the evening lighting on the peaks and rivers was sublime, what followed was definitely NOT. Here’s what I posted on Facebook as a PSA regarding the incident;
Public service announcement. When you find a can of drink sitting in a cold creek near a bike in the middle of nowhere it is not litter. It is someone’s motivation for the bike ride back as part of a 52km, 1800m, 13.5 hour creek, bushwhack and mountain slog! Dang it, I was really looking forward to that cold Pepsi!
Yes. You read that correctly. Someone took our drinks out of the small stream that we carefully stashed them in while we were out exploring all day! I’ve had stashes robbed before – likely by well intentioned folks who simply think they’re cleaning up after some slob. But seriously? We made little artificial pools for the cans and stacked rocks on top. Plus our bikes weren’t even hidden or locked and were right there too. Putting 2 and 2 together should quite easily have painted the picture for whoever took them. Oh well. We couldn’t do much about it other than whine a bit before getting back on the two-wheeled steeds and starting the bike ride back.
The ride back was fairly easy and quick – especially considering how far we’d already gone. My feet never completely thawed out and were still a bit numb when we finally got back to the parking lot. It should also be noted that despite Phil’s cheery assurances that the road is “mostly downhill on return”, it has at least 4 significant uphill sections that we both felt. We did manage to peddle everything on return so the hills aren’t that bad – just unwelcome. Haunted Peak was a great way to start our 2020 hiking and scrambling season! We both joked that apparently 52km was the new minimum and we’re in for a long, hard season this year. 😉 Thanks to Phil for once again doing a ton of great research and planning for this route.