Summit Elevation (m): 2970
Trip Date: Thursday, August 27 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1400 (from camp in Flints Park)
Round Trip Time (hr): 10.5 (from camp, up peak, back to Lake Minnewanka)
Total Trip Distance (km): 44.5 (from camp, up peak, back to Lake Minnewanka)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: There are moderate and difficult ways to reach the top but the easiest route still requires steep slab scrambling with route finding and very loose rock.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
After a fairly long 55km day approaching and ascending Panther Mountain 27 years after Rick Collier placed the summit register, Phil Richards and I woke early at our camp along the Cascade River ready for another day of Rockies east range explor8ion. Flints Peak was a very late suggestion by me, made as we rode our bikes up the old fire road the day before! This late suggestion meant that we had much less beta than usual – not that there’s much of it available for this peak anyway. Thankfully Phil has a very good memory when it comes to these things and remembered just enough from Rick Collier’s 1991 ascent to guide us on our efforts to the summit. Both of us felt that unlike Panther Mountain, Flints Peak would likely have many more ascents simply due to its location above a much busier section of the park and near an active warden cabin. Thanks to Phil’s good memory we would be attempting Rick’s descent line down a massive gully that was supposed to come down the south end of Flints Peak. We could see this gully on our topo and satellite maps (saved on our phones – another fortuitous thing that both of us had done while planning earlier trips).
After waking and breaking camp in pitch darkness (Fall is coming!!) we finished our morning brew and started out along the Flints Park trail by headlamp at around 06:00. The trail was much bigger and much more traveled than the Cascade fire road the day before. Apparently horses are incapable of saving some of the 8 foot wide highway for hikers and the first 2-3km were horribly chewed up by hooves and hard to walk on. I understand that horses are an important part of our parks system but I really don’t get why they can trash trails with impunity but God forbid we let folks BIKE on any of these hard road surfaces! (Don’t get me started…) Thankfully after the first bit of hammered trail / road the track narrowed considerably and for some reason the horse damage faded and we could hike along at our normal pace again. Sunrise on Noetic and Block Mountain was special and soon we noticed we were descending towards the Cascade River. At this point the east face of Flints looked impenetrable and we were both questioning just where the heck our huge south access gully began.
We passed closely by the Cascade River before rising slightly and arriving at what we assumed had to be part of the outflow from our gully. At this point we couldn’t actually see the gully but took a chance and ascended on climber’s right of a small (dry) drainage. It didn’t take long before we could see a larger drainage to our left and started traversing towards it. Sure enough! As we rounded the edge of the larger drainage the gully appeared – just as promised. A short traverse on slabs into the gully and there wasn’t much to do but start the long trudge up to the north between two huge walls on either side of a wide scree gully. From the bottom of the gully we couldn’t see far ahead but after 15 minutes or so we spotted a col far up ahead and we strongly suspected it was very foreshortened.
Just as we thought, although the gully was very easy it was also very foreshortened. We put our heads down and looked for fossils as we ascended, with limited success. As always there was a few fossils but nothing like a peak like Foch or Lyautey have. It took around 90 minutes to ascend the gully to the col. We tried to avoid scree on the final few hundred vertical meters by using rock fins to the sides of the gully. This worked with limited success – it was better than nothing. Unfortunately the scree was not the kind that would be quick on descent but that was future Vern’s issue. As we ascended the final meters to the col I was seriously wondering how “easy” the remaining terrain to the summit was going to be. It didn’t look that straightforward with steep tilted slabs above us to the east.
Immediately from the col we noticed a short traverse further north might result in a slightly less steep option than ascending the steep slabs immediately east of our position. Since it was so close we agreed to give it a shot. As we looked up steep slabs from the far col it still didn’t look like the ascent would be “easy”. Oh well. We’d come this far, it was time to get our noses in it and see if it would go. As often happens in the Rockies, once we started up the steep slabs with a very loose covering of rock and pebbles a route started to form. It reminded me a bit of Prairie Lookout but MUCH shorter. Soon I was topping out on the summit ridge and yelling down to Phil that we were home free – the summit cairn was a short walk away over a narrow ridge with sublime views.
Once again I was very excited to see a register sitting under a rock on top of the cairn. As I opened it I knew right away that it was old and rarely used. It was quite wet, unfortunately, and I had to be very careful opening the cover over rusted spiral bindings to see the first and only entry. Yup. Once again we were the first to sign since Rick! This time we were almost 30 years after his ascent with no other recorded ascents of Flints Peak. Considering how “busy” Block Mountain got after Rick’s marathon trip report on bivouac, we were both very surprised that the much easier-to-access Flints Peak trip report hadn’t inspired the same increase in visits over the past 29 years. The views from the summit were very respectable in early morning light. Flints is not surrounded by very many well known peaks but we enjoyed the views of Noetic, Block, Bonnet, Lychnis, St. Bride, Douglas, Cuthead, Panther and Puma Mountain.
After enjoying the warm and windless summit the winds started to pick up and we began our descent along the summit ridge and down the west face, following our carefully placed cairns. The descent went much quicker and easier than expected – but care and caution were paramount with the loose terrain on slabs. Every time a small rock slipped down the face it would start a cascade of other rocks and some of them weren’t small! We stuck very close together to ensure safety on the upper moderate terrain. From the bottom of the west face we traversed back to our access col and from there down the huge approach gully. The scree in the gully was annoyingly hard pack but eventually we stumbled out of the bottom and back down the smaller drainage to the Flints Park trail along the Cascade River.
The next few hours were a nice hike back to our overnight packs and from there the 10km back to Stony Creek and our bikes. It felt great to be enjoying what we assumed would be the last few warm days of summer. I was heading back to work the next week and drank in the scenery and the fresh mountain air – knowing that in a few short weeks this would be a distant memory already.
It didn’t seem to take that long before we were crossing Stony Creek on the rebuilt bridge and getting back to our bikes. I wasn’t looking forward to the bike ride but as usual it went much faster, easier and better than expected. As we rode the last kilometer to the Lake Minnewanka parking lot I reflected how lucky we were to enjoy remote, obscure peaks such as Panther and Flints. There aren’t very many places on Earth where named summits have almost 30 year gaps in their ascents – especially in a national park and along pretty good trail systems! Once again I mused that trips like this are becoming more and more rare even here in our backyard and soon we will not be able to enjoy the same level of “discovery” as we currently enjoy. 2020 has been a year of fairly obscure summits and pristine landscapes for Phil and I. We managed two possible FA’s (Grouse and Bellow Peak) and a whole whack of other rarely ascended mountains such as Augusta, Harris, Kentigern, Hangman, Boar Station, Shanks, Soderholm and many others. I feel extremely privileged to have the health and time to enjoy such a wide variety of clean and beautiful landscapes in our amazing Rockies back yard.