Summit Elevation (m): 2358
Trip Date: Friday, July 17, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 900
Round Trip Time (hrs): 4.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 14
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your thumb
Difficulty Notes: Don’t do this one via my ascent track – see route map below for a much quicker and better route along my return track.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (II)
Mount McCarty has been on my list for quite a few years, ever since reading Bob Spirko’s trip report from 2014. It’s funny because reading it now again I wonder what I thought was so attractive about this particular peak and approach but that’s neither here nor there. Sometimes a mountain trip gets into your bones and you just have to do it at some point. It’s like an itch that you have to scratch. Well, in the case of Mount McCarty I was about to get more than my fair share of “itch”… 😉 I made plans to spend the weekend in Banff with Hanneke for our wedding anniversary so on Friday the 17th I needed something small and fairly quick. KC agreed to join me on Mount McCarty.
We made the drive down south through the small hamlet of Beaver Mines and turned off on the road to the Castle River Road that leads to both the Carbondale fire lookout access and over a pass towards the Carbondale River and the Lost Creek and Carbondale River roads. I’ve never driven this road and was surprised how steep but also how easy it was to drive. We went over the pass and back down to the Carbondale River road before turning left onto the Lost Creek road. This road started out fairly large but once the main road curved up (north) we continued west along the Carbondale River and the road rapidly deteriorated. I slowed way down and kept driving as far as I deemed prudent. On hindsight I could have driven to the end of this road at the river but I didn’t know this. We parked about 500m before the ATV bridge over the Carbondale River and started hiking.
NOTE: This is going to seem strange but it is what it is. I cannot tell you in any detail how KC and I got to the unnamed lake. I can’t draw you a map or provide you with the GPS track. Sorry! We gained access to a trail that wasn’t built by us and on the condition that we don’t expose it. I am not a fan of this type of hoarding in the hills but like I said – until the builders or someone else exposes it I can’t.
We found ourselves hiking along acres of wildflowers on a good road until it crossed the Carbondale River on a very well built and fairly new bridge. This road leads up to the North Kootenay Pass and is a good access for Mount Hollebeke. And speaking of the devil, soon a trio of bikers came up behind us on the road. It turned out to be none other than Andrew Nugara, Dave McMurray and Brad. I’ve known all these guys for years, especially Andrew and Dave through their web sites and of course Nugara’s guidebooks. It was cool to chat for a few minutes before they continued up to do Mount Hollebeke and we continued on to our destination.
Although I can’t tell you exactly how we got to the unnamed lake, I can tell you that there was a trail and it was quite overgrown and thanks to a morning rain storm – soaking wet! We struggled in high humidity and thick vegetation and soon looked like we swam up to the lake rather than walked! The mosquitoes were absolutely horrendous as well. McCarty was quickly becoming more work than I’d bargained for. KC was also fading fast in the heat on the steep approach and decided she’d be taking a break at the lake while I’d continue on to bag the summit above.
From the lake I wasn’t 100% sure where to go but I knew I wanted to traverse into the south bowl beneath the east summit ridge and I knew I had to go left (east) before gaining the ridge above. I followed an animal trail into the back bowl beneath imposing cliffs and surprised two large elk who were grazing there. On ascent I struggled up a sheep trail in thick undergrowth before finally hitting an open avy slope and hiking very steep slopes to the thinning forest above. On descent I found a slightly better approach down steep gullies at the head of the bowl near the east side.
I was moving quickly thanks to KC waiting below and was surprised how treed the east ridge was and how “long” it took to reach the open summit slopes. It didn’t actually take that long, but I was underestimating a small mountain – something that is very easy to do. I was surprised to see two elk near the summit – they must like this area! The wildflowers near the summit were stunning, and the views south to Syncline, St. Eloi, Gravenstafel and Haig were also very respectable.
It only took me around an hour from the lake to the broad, windy summit of Mount McCarty but it felt longer than that for some reason. The views over North Kootenay Pass to Mount Hollebeke were great, as were the views of Bisaro, Centre and Darrah to the north. The best views were south to Syncline, St. Eloi, Gravenstafel and Haig with a peek at Packhorse and Boot Hill as well. Windsor and Castle Peak were also visible.
After snapping some summit photos under a much cloudier-than-forecast sky it was time to return to KC who I feared might be under a swarm of bugs near the lake. The descent of the east ridge was very pleasant and quick with great views.
KC was doing well at the lake and was shocked to see me so quickly. We made short work of the exit to the road which we followed back to the truck, taking hundreds of photos of the incredible wildflower display along the way.
Mount McCarty was a strange mix of very pleasurable hiking in fields of wildflowers surrounded by impressive mountains and a bit of a thrash through heavy vegetation (soaking wet) and myriads of bugs including mosquitoes. Overall I enjoyed this little peak enough to recommend it but I’d personally wait for fall when the little unnamed lake will pop nicely and the few larches will spruce up your photos of this beautiful area even more.