Summit Elevation (m): ~3315
Trip Date: Monday, July 27 2020
Elevation Gain from Bivy (m): 1100
Total Time from Bivy (hr): 5
Total Distance from Bivy (km): 10
Reference Trip: Upper Martin Creek
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something.
Difficulty Notes: A pretty easy hike to the summit via west slopes. Just as on Mount Kentigern, the crux is definitely getting to the west slopes from anywhere!
Technical Rating: SC5; RE5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Ah. Mount Harris! This peak has been on my radar for so many years, I don’t even recall when it first appeared. I always knew it was one of Banff National Park’s most remote and hard to access summits and I always knew that some day I’d stand on it, I just didn’t know when! In 2019 I gave Harris my first focused attempt via a route from the south from the Clearwater trail below Devon Lakes. After failing on this attempt I’ve spent the last 10 months in a debate with myself if we should have tried a little harder to scramble the waterfalls but I knew that we’d made the right choice not to. The weather wasn’t ideal that day, especially on hindsight when I compare it to what I finally got in July 2020. After a long and difficult approach to our bivy in Upper Martin Creek the day before, Phil and I were ready to rock and roll Mount Harris at 07:00 on Monday morning. The day dawned clear and beautiful and our route was obvious.
We headed up a lovely karst valley from camp, heading south between the striking east walls of Mount Willingdon with their remnant glacier and the easy west scree face of Mount Harris. We managed to find a beautiful line on a broad sidewalk feature which curved perfectly into the scree slope. Small streams and waterfalls serenaded us as we chatted excitedly in the crisp early morning air. We knew already at this point that the trip was shaping up to be pretty stellar.
Once on the giant west scree slopes of Harris we simply put one foot in front of the other to get to the west summit. I didn’t bother checking my GPS as we ascended, preferring to be surprised when we arrived at the top. Obviously I could tell by the shrinking peaks in every direction when we were getting close. Only just over 2 hrs from the bivy we were getting pretty high and when I finally did check where we were I was shocked to see how close to the west summit I was.
Phil was slightly ahead of me and yelled back that “there’s a huge cairn on this summit”. Why was that a bit strange? Well, as we crested the west summit it was very obvious to us that the further eastern one was higher. There was very little doubt about it from a visual point of view, but we took out our GPS devices and measured the altitude just in case. I was very surprised to find Rick and Graeme’s 1996 register in this cairn and realized that they did not traverse to the east summit and likely did not actually tag the high point on Mount Harris! The register was a bit wet so we left it to dry in the strong morning sun and started a high level traverse on snow to the east end of the mountain.
The traverse was a highlight of the trip and a highlight of 2020. The clear, crisp morning air, the views of remote peaks such as Mamen, Icefall and Malloch, the knowledge that we were finally going to bag Mount Harris – it all combined into pure scrambling bliss for us. We took our time, not wanting the perfect moment to end too quickly. Eventually we were under the east summit and hiked easily up shale and snow to a small radio shack that we had forgotten was supposed to be there. Obviously the views were stunning – how could they not be?! Measuring 5 to 10 meters higher than the west summit, this was definitely Harris’ highest point and the visuals confirmed it.
As we took in the wild views over Martin and Trident lakes and down the Clearwater River I was struck once again by how things work out with some patience. Sure! I’d have been delighted to tag Mount Harris a year previous when I had the chance, but here I was now – with much better weather and views in every direction without clouds or haze. We spent some time at the summit, wandering above the exposed east face and getting photos of obscure peaks for future explor8ions.
As we descended back over the west summit and down the west scree slopes to the karst valley below I pondered how lucky we were to experience things like Mount Harris. Many folks don’t understand the desire to put in the effort on these “easy” peaks which aren’t 11000ers and aren’t especially difficult climbs. For me it’s the sense of exploration, the unknown and finding summit registers over two decades old with no other entries. It’s the crisp views, the fresh air and knowing that very few will bother following my steps over the next two decades.