Prairie Lookout

Summit Elevation (m): 3165
Trip Date: Tuesday, August 18 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1330
Round Trip Time (hr): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 18.5
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 3/4 – You fall you break something or die
Difficulty Notes: A difficult but manageable scramble with careful route finding. I found it upper moderate more than difficult but the terrain is steep, loose and easily becomes difficult in spots. I combined this peak with Mount Jellicoe, and it can be combined with Mount French as well.
Technical Rating: SC7
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

Prairie Lookout has been one of the longest outstanding peaks on my summit list. I’m not even sure why or how I found out about it, considering that even Bivouac didn’t have it marked or stored in its database until I pointed that fact out recently. To be fair, Rick also pointed this out after posting his first winter ascent of the peak, but that comment was missed for a decade since. All I know is that I’ve been asking friends to do this peak for many years and most give me that blank look that I’m used to getting. “Prairie Lookout”? Where the heck is that?! When I tell them it’s a difficult, loose, slabby peak they quickly lose interest. When Alan Kane finally put the peak in his 3rd edition scrambles book the peak gained a bit more legitimacy but even now it’s not a very popular destination. Finally, on Tuesday, August 18 2020 it was my time to try this peak for myself. Thankfully I had someone to share the potential misery with – Grant Meyers would be joining me and this would be his 2nd last 3rd edition Kane summit.

Prairie Lookout Route Map. NOTE: I combined this peak with Mount Jellicoe.

After scrambling Mount Jellicoe (and for Grant, Mount French), Grant and I started the route back to the French / Robertson col and from there a traverse on snow and very loose scree towards Prairie Lookout’s west face. As we struggled over some annoyingly large and very loose scree towards the top of the “scree fan” that Kane mentions, I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated by the huge slabby face above. It certainly didn’t look “upper moderate” as Mike and Liz indicated when they did it in 2017. It looked damned near impossible! One foot in front of the other would hopefully solve this puzzle. At the top of the scree cone we agreed to stick close together and take our time up the face. We dropped some gear that we knew we didn’t need (ax, pons, bear spray etc.) before I led us up and out onto the face.

Grant Meyers traverses hard snow slopes from the French / Robertson col towards the top of the scree cone on Prairie Lookout which is behind me here. Mount Robertson towers above.
Traversing hard snow towards the top of the scree cone at mid center where the slabby west face starts. The summit of Prairie Lookout at top center here, ~600 vertical meters above us.

As Liz and Mike had indicated in their beta on this face, there is no possible way to detail exactly where to go to keep things in the realm of a “scramble”. There are plenty of places to make it a slab climb and plenty of places to get injured or worse if you slip or lose concentration. In general from the top of the scree cone you should traverse right (south) on a scree ledge without gaining too much height until you cross under two water courses. The first is a long, thin waterfall. The second was basically a trickle for us but still running water. After this traverse you are pretty close to Mount French, under steeper slopes that don’t make sense to ascend. The easiest route now wanders back and forth, up steep slabs with scree, avoiding the watercourses and always sticking to the lowest angle terrain. The first half of the face is the steepest but the top half is looser. 

The tricky, slabby, loose west face of Prairie Lookout towers above us. In general it’s best to find easier terrain on the south end of the west face.

The only good thing about the face is that it’s pretty quick climbing due to the copious amount of slab on it! It didn’t seem to take too long and we were nearing the south ridge already. I knew that we’d be thankful for the odd cairn we’d constructed on ascent but I agreed so far with Liz and Mike that the face was upper moderate scrambling with careful route finding. Call it “difficult” for safety reasons.

As I topped out on the exposed ridge I couldn’t believe how beautiful Mount French looked from this angle. The rest of the ridge to the summit block looked very intimidating but I knew from the beta that this was deceiving just as the face had been.

Looking back at Mount Smith Dorrien (L), Jellicoe and Mount French from the south ridge of Prairie Lookout as Grant finishes the west face ascent at lower right. The Smith Dorrien Glacier at left.

Soon Grant joined me on the ridge. We both agreed that the summit and ridge looked wicked from this angle and that the slab face had been slightly easier than expected. We also agreed that any rock fall on the face would be extremely unwelcome and only very small groups should attempt this route together! If anyone was coming up after us (extremely unlikely) we’d likely kill them with rock fall on descent. The weather was gorgeous as we started the lengthy traverse towards the summit block. This was the highlight of this trip and of the day for me. There was incredible exposure to the east, down to the valley between Mount Murray and Smith Dorrien and the views west to Mount Assiniboine, Robertson and many other peaks was stunning to say the least. The summit block kept looking tougher and tougher and knowing there was a key to crack its difficulty just made it more intriguing.

The south ridge of Prairie Lookout stretches towards the summit at left as we pop off the west face (R). Generally it is easy to moderate scrambling with exposure. Mount Murray at center left, Smith Dorrien and French at right.
Grant scrambles along the south ridge of Prairie Lookout with stunning views of Mount Smith Dorrien, Mount Jellicoe and Mount French behind him.
The summit block looks terrifying but is only moderate scrambling. Simply traverse the obvious scree bench at mid center-left for a short ways before going up to climber’s right and around another bench, ascending the trivial north side of the peak on scree – opposite to this side.

Thanks once again to Mike and Liz, we knew that there was a scree ledge traverse around to the north end of the summit block that would crack the difficult looking access to Prairie Lookout’s summit. As we approached the final few meters to the top we could easily spot a wide scree bench and started up and along it. Very quickly I wondered aloud if we should ascend to a higher, narrower looking bench above and indeed, after checking things out this was the play. After ascending scree to the second bench almost immediately after starting the lower one, we continued up steep scree to the north end of the summit block and with a few more steps were on top with wicked views in every direction. The register was in good shape – an original 1991 Rick Collier. In the 29 years since he placed it only around 7 other parties had signed it – not many considering it’s now in a guidebook and a tick list item for several million people.  

Summit views include Galatea (L), Gusty, Fortress, Chester, James Walker, Inflexible, Kent Ridge, Smith Dorrien, Jellicoe, French, Robertson and Sir Douglas (R).
Views off the north end of the summit block over Mount Burstall, Mount Murray and CEGFNS include Snow Peak, Birdwood, Smuts, Commonwealth, Engadine, Tower, Galatea, Gusty, Kidd, Fortress, Chester, James Walker, Inflexible and Kent Ridge. The French Creek approach is at lower center here.
The Kananaskis Range includes Inflexible (L), Kent Ridge and Mount Kent. In the bg is the Opal Range including, Denny, Potts, Evan Thomas, Packenham, Hood, Brock and King Creek Ridge.
Views include French (L), Leroy, Robertson, Sir Douglas, Soderholm, White Man, Leval, Brussilof, Alcantara, Eon, Assiniboine, Snow Peak, Birdwood, Smuts, Ball, Pig’s Tail, Commonwealth, Burstall, Nestor, Engadine, Tower, Galatea (R).

After enjoying the summit for 30 minutes or so, it was time to head back down. The positions on the south ridge were fabulous for some great photos and soon we were back at the top of the west face. We carefully retraced our ascent line as closely as possible, thankful for the few cairns we’d placed and almost wishing we’d placed a few more. The crux was a wet slab traverse that was short but a wee bit slick and VERY exposed. There were definitely more than a few no-slip zones on the face. I wouldn’t even attempt this wet or snowy – save it for mid to late August when the waterfalls are barely running and you should be fine.

Dramatic views south include Mount Smith Dorrien and its glacier, Mount Jellicoe which I climbed first today, Mount French which Grant climbed earlier. At distant center are Sarrail and Joffre.

Finally we exited the face and started stumbling and bumbling our way down to the headwaters of French Creek. I snapped both my carbon trekking poles in the horrible scree near Prairie Lookout – it’s that ridiculous! The hike back out on a good trail was very welcome and fast. Prairie Lookout lived up to my expectations. I knew it was a tough peak and after the easy ascent of Mount Jellicoe it definitely showed some teeth. I agree that it’s a bit less difficult than other Kane difficult peaks such as Smuts, Northover and presumably some of his newer beasts such as Robertson and Chancellor, but it’s still “difficult” in the sense that it requires much route finding and can easily injure or kill with a slip or miscalculation pretty much anywhere on the lower face.

Getting suckered to the left (north) slabs would likely result in a person not having very much fun and would be a mistake for the average scrambler. The views from the south ridge and the summit are stunning however, and not every mountain should be a walk-up either. I loved this peak but I really wish it wouldn’t have snapped both my expensive trekking poles.

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