Summit Elevation (m): 2575
Trip Date: Friday, September 11 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1130
Round Trip Time (hr): 6:45
Total Trip Distance (km): 11
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: Mostly moderate scrambling with a few steeper sections that could result in very serious injury or worse. Generally good rock where it’s needed.
Technical Rating: SC7; RE3
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Mount Dungarvan was high on my to-do list for many years before the incredible Kenow wildfire burned 30% of Waterton National Park on and around September the 11th 2017. For the next few years Waterton struggled to rebuild and open trails until finally in early 2020 the Red Rock Parkway was reopened and trip reports from both of my highest priority Waterton peaks started trickling over my social media feeds. Andrew Nugara sings high praises of this peak in his “More Scrambles” book and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. My last peak in Waterton was Dunwey Peak in June of 2017 just before the fire would change the park for a very long time to come. I remember the great views of Dungarvan I had from Dunwey and the fact that I was planning a trip in September to ascend it. That never happened. After a few weekends of no mountain activity at the end of August and first weekend of September I was more than ready to ascend another peak (or three) on the weekend of September 11-13 2020. Wietse agreed to join me on a two day trip to finally tackle both Mount Dungarvan and Glendowan. I didn’t realize until getting home after the trip that we were on these peaks exactly 3 years to the very day that they were incinerated. Since Waterton still has very few camping options (Crandell is closed after the burn and the town site is under renovations) we ended up reserving sites at the Crooked Creek Campground just outside the park gates. Their Covid-19 policy meant we had to reserve 2 sites which was strange but we didn’t take any chances. The campground filled up quickly so good thing we reserved in advance!
Wietse picked me up at 06:30 on Friday morning and we made the long drive down to the park. I was slightly concerned that the small Lost Horse Creek day-use area parking lot would be full by the time we arrived, but as we drove up on a gorgeously clear morning the lot was completely devoid of any other humans. We parked near the bubbling brook and got our scrambling gear ready. By 09:30 we were leaving the car and starting up Lost Horse Creek under a brilliantly blue, cloudless sky. Fall color was bursting from the blackened landscape around us as we hiked down into the creekbed. The next hour or so was almost as scenic as advertised. I say “almost” because although the Lost Horse Creek canyon is beautiful, I didn’t find it quite as stunning as I expected from others’ accounts. The colors in the rocks and vegetation was stunning, of course, but the canyon itself was a bit understated IMHO. Beautiful – yes. Mind blowingly beautiful? No. That being said, I’m being picky and in no way am I saying that this stream isn’t worth your while! We mostly stayed in the creekbed itself, eventually getting wet feet from crossing it. There was one detour out of the creek on the right (east) to get around a problematic pool but other than that the route was very obvious.
As we slowly turned eastward toward the south ridge of Dungarvan we got out of the creek on its north side and followed a faint trail along the grassy bank before dipping back into the creek just near the end of the south ridge. The fire-ravaged landscape was stunning with the brilliant fall colored foliage showing through the black and white tree trunks. We commented more than once over two days of traveling through this landscape that folks should ensure they do any off-trail travels in Waterton soon, before all the trees start falling over. Once the trees rot enough to fall, these landscapes will be very difficult to navigate! Right now they are dead-easy thanks to no undergrowth or shrubbery. The sun was HOT as we slowly started up the end of the south ridge on a steep dirt and grass slopes in between dead trees and sharpened sticks on the ground.
The route on Dungarvan isn’t rocket science. Go up and either tackle all difficulties head-on or for easy and faster scrambling go left and find weaknesses back up to the ridge wherever possible. We enjoyed a mix of easy, moderate and difficult scrambling depending on our chosen lines. We only went to the right around the very first obstacle, all others could be avoided on the left if we chose. Sometimes we went the easiest way, sometimes not.
Part way up the slope an obvious cliff band runs all the way from Dunwey across the south ridge and on towards “Dundy” peak to the west of Dungarvan. Once again the way through the cliff band is left! Once again, there are options to make it easier or more difficult – pick your poison. We found a pretty easy line not too far along the band which was extremely obvious from below. Once we topped out on the ridge again we angled left and up and soon found ourselves under the obvious red band under the summit block. The terrain wasn’t nearly as fierce as it looked from below. We traversed left to find weaknesses and soon were above the red band looking along the very fierce looking summit block. Here there are two options – left for easier, right for harder. BUT. Don’t expect “easy” to the left – it’s SC7 scrambling either way!
We traversed left along the top of the red band, following intermittent trails in the scree until coming to a steep gully with a small cairn marking it as our ascent route. I started up the steep gully and found it pretty easy for SC7 but still steep enough to warrant this rating. Being fairly solid and narrow there was lots of hand and footholds and not terrible exposure. To be honest I found the next section to the summit more exposed and more likely to end badly with a slip down the north face of the mountain. We had some lingering snow on this section but thankfully not very much or we’d have had issues with it. The west ridge to the summit is not terrible difficult but has some exposure and some loose rock. Care is required! The smattering of survey markers at the summit was very interesting – they were all from 1924.
The summit was beautiful. Waterton is known for its colors and the views did not disappoint. Waterton is also known for its wind and we got very lucky in this regard with light winds and warm sunshine. We lounged at the summit for around 30 minutes, eating lunch and relaxing. It had only taken us around 3.5 hours to the summit so we knew we had plenty of time to descend and get to our campground to set up for the night. I’m kind of surprised we didn’t plan or try for a traverse to “Dundy” Peak but honestly we didn’t really feel like it and wanted to save it for another day. The number of peaks I have left in Waterton is down to a handful so I don’t feel the need to rush them anymore!
Descent was quick and fairly easy – even considering the few difficult bits. Alison Sekera had warned me that descending the ascent route was likely just as quick as any alternate descent route and we heeded her message and I think I agree with it. There were plenty of scree ramps and fast descent options next to the more difficult ascent lines along the south ridge and by taking advantage of them we got down pretty quick. Once at treeline the ground is mostly dirt (thanks to the fire) and is very quick to descend.
Returning along the creek was very pleasant despite the incredible heat – we simply dunked our heads in the water periodically to cool off. We were looking for reasons to wade the flow just to cool ourselves off a bit! We were surprised to return to the parking lot within 6 hours and 45 minutes of leaving the car. We didn’t feel rushed at this pace, even taking multiple small breaks on descent.
I can find very little to complain about with Mount Dungarvan. Very little – hence my “complaint” regarding the Lost Horse Creek canyon at the start of the report. The scrambling was fun and never felt silly. The hiking was gorgeous. The landscape was easy and open thanks to the fire. We had very little wind and no smoke (this changed drastically the next day). I highly recommend this scramble for anyone wanting to dip their toes into a “Nugara Difficult” and looking for a colorful hike in Waterton Lakes National Park.