Summit Elevation (m): 2730
Trip Date: Monday, July 20 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1450
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 21.5 (10 biking)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: With the GPS track you’ll be fine but otherwise finding the correct ascent rib can be difficult in the forest. The summit block would be challenging with snow and ice.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
The first time I read about Mount William Booth 8 to 10 years ago while perusing Rick Collier’s immense trip library on Bivouac. Since then Brandon Boulier found a nice route to the summit in 2017 which Raf followed in 2018. Raf didn’t seem too impressed with the peak but I was still keen on doing it for some reason. After a wonderful weekend with Hanneke in Banff celebrating our wedding anniversary I was ready to burn off some of the yummy food we enjoyed! I loaded up the truck for a two-day DTC adventure on Monday morning, planning to do a solo bike ‘n hike of William Booth followed by a long day on Hangman Peak with Phil Richards on Tuesday. Brandon assured me that I could likely bike around 5km of the approach, making a two-wheeled approach a no-brainer. Any time I can save a few kms on my poor aging knees I take advantage!
The drive was long, as usual, but it was a pleasant summer morning as I pulled into the Siffleur Wilderness Staging Area along the David Thompson Highway west of Nordegg and east of Saskatchewan River Crossing. As I prepared for my day ahead a gentleman working in the parking lot approached me and started asking about my plans. He was surprised with my reply and warned me that there was a bear warning in the area (I’d seen two signs already) and that I probably wouldn’t have time to complete my ascent. He assured me that he’d call for help if my truck was still in the lot after 21:00 despite my assurances that I sort of knew what I was doing. 😉 Signs at the trailhead had me nervous about biking, but since they didn’t expressly forbid it, I set off towards the North Saskatchewan River at 10:00 under a hot summer sky.
I was surprised how narrow and “swingy” the cable bridge over the North Saskatchewan River was – it was too narrow for me to ride the bike over, especially with the movement. I enjoyed the boardwalk ride across the Kootenay Plains towards the Siffleur River which was also bridged but with a much sturdier and wider bridge that I could actually ride over! The river was going full bore, there’s certainly no shortage of water this year. Almost right after crossing the Siffleur River I encountered a “no bikes” sign. Arg. I looked a bit closer and realized I had to follow a faded trail to the left of the sign – I could stay on my bike. Bikes are not allowed toward Siffleur Falls.
From the Siffleur Falls intersection, the bike ride became a bit more involved. There were some fairly steep uphill sections and some very narrow riding where my handlebars were scraping against bushes on either side of the old road. After riding 5km I came to the start of the bushwhack leading off the approach road towards Whiterabbit Creek and the ascent rib that I had plugged into my GPS from Brandon’s track. Brandon mentions the bushwhack but doesn’t really describe it in much detail other than saying it’s “minor” and that Whiterabbit Creek was a bit feisty when they crossed it.
I was all alone in the forest as I started towards Whiterabbit Creek. I crossed the much smaller Wilson Creek first but soon I was looking at a very fast flowing creek and wondering how much quicker and higher it would get before I had to cross back over it at the end of the day! Ah well, I’ve crossed many fast flowing streams already in 2020 and this one looked a lot worse than it was. Water splashed over my knees as I pushed through to the other side and continued through a mix of pine and willow forest to the southwest rib that Brandon recommends as the ascent route. I have to admit that the bushwhack from the bike drop to treeline on the SW rib was worse than I was expecting. Sure! It’s “minor” compared to BC ‘whacking or even southern AB bush but it was still annoying in spots. It didn’t help that it had rained that morning and the bushes and grasses were soaked. I was soon drenched, which didn’t help the bushwhack seem any easier.
Eventually I worked my way to the lower rib, following Brandon’s GPS track as closely as possible as the forest was fairly flat lower down and the rib was not easy to visually navigate. Slowly the terrain steepened until I was sure I was on the proper rib and slowly the views behind me opened up and the scrambling became good fun. I ascended several steep slabs and cliffs in the forest before finally breaking out of the forest with views to the south ridge high above the rib, but at least within reach now.
From this point forward the rest trip was an 8 or 9 out of 10 for me. Firstly, I was out of the cloying forest and wet vegetation, secondly the cool summer breeze felt heavenly and third, the route was simply good, fun scrambling and route finding – which I enjoy immensely. I got up onto the south ridge with awesome views to Homeless Peak and the 5 Ex Coelis peaks to the west right across Whiterabbit Creek. Once on the south ridge, I stuck to the easy ridge crest giving the summit block some nervous glances as I went along. Brandon had warned of an “impossible looking summit ridge” and he wasn’t lying! It looked far beyond scrambling from my vantage.
I kept going over a minor high point and arrived at an oddly placed bivy corral just before the summit ridge, it was at a fantastic viewpoint! I didn’t linger but headed straight up the west summit ridge, hoping to find the line that Brandon obviously had. There was enough snow that I was concerned about whether or not I could make use of a safe line. As I scrambled up and over a few intervening bumps along the ridge I noticed a line to the right of the snow on the south side of the ridge that looked perfect – I descended towards it.
The scree bench worked perfectly – there was just enough snow melted back that I could use the rock. The summit block looked pretty intense too, but like many terrain features in the Rockies it broke into moderate scrambling from up close with some careful route finding and prodding. Soon I was standing on top – enjoying a very nice view in every direction.
After taking in the spectacular summit views it was time for descent. After retracing my steps down the summit ridge to the bivy corral I decided it was time for a break. I lay in the warm sunshine for almost half an hour, just enjoying my solitude and the cool summer breeze and warm sun on my skin. I love summer scramble season! I decided to try Brandon’s chosen descent line, down the gully between the rib directly under the summit and the middle one. At first it was a wide open scree bowl providing a fast and fun descent. I became slightly concerned when it constricted into a narrow streambed ahead, but despite my worries the terrain stayed very reasonable right until I hit a steep drop in the creek.
The creekbed was getting bushy anyway, so I traversed back onto forested west slopes leading down through light and moderate forest to Whiterabbit Creek which I crossed no problem. The forest was much better on descent, likely because it was now dry and I was enjoying post-summit bliss. It was a pleasure walking back through the quiet all alone with my thoughts. I walked up the road a short way back to my waiting bike and enjoyed a very fast ride back to the parking lot.
After a pleasant bike, hike and scramble what better way to end the day then camping in a gravel pit? I can’t think of one, so that’s exactly what I did! I was amazed to have it all to myself but took the win and enjoyed a very pleasant, surprisingly bug-free evening across from Peskett and Loudon, taunting me across the North Saskatchewan River.