Summit Elevations (m): 2478 (Glasgow North), 2695 (Garriochmill)
Trip Date: Sunday, June 14, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1155
Round Trip Time (hrs): 5.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 16.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something. Perhaps your neck if you’re unlucky.
Difficulty Notes: The trails lower down might be confusing but once you find the main ones there are several surprisingly good ones. North Glasgow is class 2 but the traverse to Garriochmill is more serious with some exposure and loose terrain.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE2
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
While walking to Fish Creek Provincial Park in my new (to me) neighborhood in Woodbine in the SW part of Calgary, my eyes always drift to the Rockies to the west and I try naming all the peaks I see. There’s a nice pointy peak rising just north of Mount Glasgow (which is also a nice pointy peak) that has had my attention for the past year since we moved to the neighborhood. Unofficially this peak is called “Garriochmill” after a street in Glasgow, Scotland – obviously in reference to its giant neighbor immediately to the south. (ref: Gaia) There is another smaller peak just north of Garriochmill that is much more popular and is called “Glasgow North Outlier”. I decided quite a while ago to tackle a nice high level traverse of these two peaks as part of a highly recommended loop that my friend Phil Richards did a few years ago. The weekend forecast wasn’t ideal for Saturday the 13th but Wietse and I made tentative plans to do this route very early in the day before thunderstorms could build. I woke up at 05:00 and texted Wietse that I was “out” – it was cloudy and dreary and I was still tired from the first big day trip of 2020 on June 10 with Phil. Wietse was in full agreement and it looked like my weekend was a dud as far as peakbagging was concerned. I was strangely OK with this for some reason.
Saturday evening exploded. Literally. Our old neighborhood in NE Calgary got absolutely destroyed by a huge hailstorm and wild weather moved through much of Alberta from south to north all night. Sunday morning dawned much clearer than the forecast which called for mainly clouds all day, including SpotWX over the front ranges. I woke up early with a sore back (it’s been yelling at me a bit lately) and decided that maybe today was nice enough to do another long-planned hike in the front ranges up Forget-me-not Ridge and Peak. I gathered a light pack together and picked up a giant (it a freebie) coffee from the local Tims before driving hwy 66 to the Elbow trailhead. As I hiked from the parking lot to the bridge over the Elbow River I noted how loud the water sounded. When I crossed the bridge the river looked fierce-as-heck below me but I haven’t been in this area for many years and thought maybe I was just imagining things. 20 minutes later I realized that I wasn’t. Forget-me-not Ridge requires an unbridged crossing of the Elbow River before its confluence with the Little Elbow. I gave the crossing my best efforts but being solo and crotch-deep in angry swirling water at 08:00 in the morning was more excitement than I was prepared for. Obviously the storms of the night before had significant impact on water levels and I was either going home or somewhere else. With soaking wet feet and pants!
So. Now what? I had two realistic choices. I could go up Prairie Mountain for the 53rd time in 2020 or do something a bit more exciting. I choose the latter. Since I was already on the approach for Glasgow / Garriochmill I decided that was an obvious backup objective and headed towards it. As I skirted the Little Elbow River on the approach trail I realized just how high the water had gotten in the area overnight – it was flooding this trail too! I was glad for the wet feet as I didn’t even bother dancing around trying to keep them dry but simply walked through about half a dozen wet areas on the trail. The deepest flooding was knee deep and the water was very cold. Matt Clay had done Glasgow North a few weeks previous and complained of a confusing network of trails lower down on the east end of the ascent ridge and I had the same thoughts as I struggled to find one obvious trail. I was also trying to avoid flooding so that complicated things a bit.
Finally I stumbled on the main trail running along the east ridge and started making some quick progress. The weather was so much nicer than forecast at this point that I really didn’t want to squander my chances at summit views – or at least decent traverse conditions on moderate terrain. Before long I could see the false summit above me and pushed extra hard to attain it. Views were opening up all around me as I grunted over the pile of scree to see the final 150 vertical meters to Glasgow North Outlier and two other folks just starting their descent. The final grunt went quickly and within 2.5 hours of turning back at the Elbow River crossing I was taking in wonderful views of Garriochmill, Fullerton, Remus, Romulus, Nihahi and Compression Ridges and Fisher Peak – the namesake of the range I was in. Clouds and atmosphere were obscuring the Opal Range to the west but I could easily see through the gap towards them. I didn’t linger long but with clouds and what looked like sleet or rain approaching, I quickly turned my attention to the traverse and Garriochmill Peak.
I didn’t have a ton of beta on this traverse other than it was “fun” and “moderate”. It turns out this is pretty much all you need to know. It was indeed fun and it was indeed, “moderate”. Hikers can easily attain the Glasgow North Outlier but not-so-easy to Garriochmill. Most hikers including the ones in my life would not be impressed with the traverse. Aunt Edna would likely do it but she’d be pissed at you for dragging her along. While the exposure isn’t life-threatening except for a very brief moment, the rock is loose and with the fierce winds that I had I was glad it wasn’t wet or snowy. I had to crouch down in a few spots to ensure that a gust didn’t blow me off my perch!
After crossing the crux at an obvious narrowing it was time to ascend to the second false summit of the day. The weather held off to the west as I ascended quickly and started the final traverse up to Garriochmill on a moderately narrow and stepped ridge. No more than easy scrambling to my second summit with even better views than the first. Garriochmill Peak is much higher than Glasgow North which looks like a mere bump in comparison. I wasn’t that much lower than Mount Glasgow but it still loomed a few hundred meters above me to the south – letting me know who’s still boss in the area. The weather still looking fairly threatening and the wind was cold so I snapped some photos from the nice bivy coral at the summit before heading back down the east ridge to the false summit.
The east ridge of Garriochmill to forested slopes above Glasgow Creek was the highlight of my day. The weather never did get worse and the sun got warmer and wind gentler the further down the ridge I hiked. The ridge itself was easy hiking on loose rocks and sharp shale with low cliffs and boulders giving some neat landscapes in all directions. I wondered how the route would go off the end of the ridge and it went like everything else on this wonderful little loop – very very well. There were smatterings of a trial down the lightly forested slopes towards Glasgow Creek where I picked up a more obvious track heading to the Little Elbow River.
Before reaching my wet and convoluted approach trail I stumbled on a cairn with bright pink ribbons leading to my right (east), shortcutting my approach a bit. I decided to follow this trail and other than a few sections of uphill that had me asking questions, it turned out to be the perfect exit. Hundreds (likely thousands) of Ladies Slipper (Calypso Orchids) lined the forest all around me, both in the forest and along the exit trail. It was all very distracting in the best way possible.
Eventually the cut line trail merged back with the Little Elbow River trail (south side) and back to the bridge and the parking lot where I joined hundreds of other people in packed parking lots. It was certainly a LOT busier at 14:00 than at 07:30 out here! I was surprised I didn’t run into more folks on my traverse when I saw the hordes taking over all the other bits of the Elbow River area. I had a lot more fun on this easy traverse than I expected. 5.5 hours is traveling fairly light and fast – you could easily take 7 or even 8 hours on a lovely warm day and a lunch break or two. Highly recommended as a less popular option in this extremely busy area of the Rockies.