McCarty, Mount

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: No major difficulties as long as you find the “secret trail” on approach. There is some moderate scrambling if you take steeper gullies to the NE ridge from the lake but these are avoidable.
Technical Rating: SC5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps

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 and plans were made.

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.

Mount McCarty Route Map. Note the slightly different descent track from the lower end of the upper east ridge where it starts turning to the NE.

UPDATE 2023: Now that Sonny Bou has sussed out and published “Dewit’s secret trail”, I can now reveal it to you in full. Updates have been made to this trip report where necessary. Some folks will be upset by this but as discussed in a lengthy Facebook chat with Wayne, time marches on and trails get discovered. It’s the cycle of life and exploration and isn’t going to stop any time soon. Plus, Gaia has two public tracks already following the “secret trail” all the way up Mount McCarty – Sonny could have saved himself a lot of bushwhacking by downloading either of these.

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.

Mount McCarty rises over the Carbondale River as seen at the end of the Lost Creek Road – note the bridge that starts the Hollebeke Mountain Road to the North Kootenay Pass.

After hiking a short way up the road there is a side road with a barrier in front of it up and off to hiker’s left across a small clearing. This is the start of the “secret trail”. After following it a ways it narrowed and was quite overgrown and thanks to a morning rain storm also soaking wet but it was a heckuva lot better than bushwhacking would have been.

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. This always happens with small objective because we underestimate them. A mountain is still a mountain. 

After some tight vegetation along the cleared trail we found ourselves hiking through relatively open forest with orange markers showing the way. Eventually we climbed out of the forest on a muddy trail and found ourselves near a small backcountry lake. KC was 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. If I’m 100% honest about it, I was disappointed in the lake. It was surrounded by pretty tight vegetation and was more of a forest pond than an alpine lake like I was expecting. Certainly NOT worth hiking to on it’s own IMHO. There’s much nicer and more accessible lakes with better trails nearby.

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. 

Mount Darrah and Coulthard seen rising above the unnamed lake.

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. 

There are options here. I went up too early and got some thick vegetation up the NE ridge. Another option is where I descended steep gullies further ahead and then climber’s left.

I was moving quickly thanks to KC waiting below and was surprised how treed the NE to east trending 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. 

Looking along the east ridge to the distant summit with the unnamed lake at lower right.

I was surprised to see two elk near the summit – they must really like this area! Despite the clouds and gloomy weather overhead, 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.

The massive summit cairn on McCarty. Views north up the Flathead Range to Darrah at center with Hollebeke at left.
Views south and west from the summit include (L to R), Table, Castle, Windsor, Syncline, Gravenstafel, Haig, St. Eloi, Boot Hill and Packhorse Peak (R).
Views SW from the summit.
Hollebeke at left with Borsato at center and Centre Mountain at distant right.
Mount Bisaro at left with Darrah at right.

After snapping some summit photos under a much cloudier-than-forecast sky it was time to return to KC who I feared might be faltering under a swarm of bugs near the lake. The descent of the east ridge was very pleasant and quick with great views.

Descending the east ridge. My descent gully marked. It’s steeper and mankier than it appears from here.

I managed to find a slightly more open descent line off the NE trending ridge rather than the bushier ascent line I’d taken. The gully was pretty loose and steep and consisted of annoyingly loose rubble and dirt – not my favorite type of terrain. This would be a slightly more open ascent line but could be annoying with it’s loose and steep personality. I’m not sure I recommend it or not.

KC was doing well at the lake and was shocked to see me so quickly. We made short work of the “secret trail” 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.

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