Summit Elevations (m): 2758, 2844
Trip Date: Friday, June 11 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 1000 (from camp), 1400 (from Ram River Trailhead)
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.5 (from camp)
Total Trip Distance (km): 16.5 (from camp)
Reference Trip: 33 Hours up the Ram River
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Easy scrambling made trickier for us with fresh snow and cold, windy weather. There are more direct routes.
Technical Rating: SC5
Map: Google Maps
After spending much more effort that we were expecting biking and hiking up the Ram River Trail to our delightful camp under Wingnut Peak, Wietse and I were feeling pretty optimistic about the Wingnut / Canary scramble ahead of us for that afternoon and evening. In case you’re wondering, “Wingnut” is the bivouac name for an outlier along the SE ridge from Canary. We didn’t even realize it had a name until researching the trip beforehand. I’ll take a bonus “peak” any day – especially when it involves a long approach like this one. 😉 The sky had cleared out nicely all day and the snow was rapidly melting around us. So far the rivers and streams had been fairly straightforward to cross and we were daring to think that perhaps the weather was done being fickle and would match the predicted models. We were partly right but unfortunately also mostly wrong…
We started hiking NW from our campsite and soon found ourselves crossing the Ram River yet again – obviously it was much smaller over 20km upstream from its downstream merge with Hummingbird Creek and thanks to a warm sun the crossing felt good rather than bone chilling like some of the previous ones. I was surprised to see a gorgeous little cabin sitting in some alpine meadows just NW of the river crossing. The South Ram Patrol Cabin sits in one of the more pristine and lovely landscapes I’ve seen a cabin in before. It looked to be in pretty good condition as we checked it out.
After walking around the cabin it was time to focus on the peaks looming high over top it. We had choices to make. Originally we had a line heading directly up to Wingnut Peak via a steepish gully just south of it, heading up between two outlier peaks. Thanks to copious amounts of fresh snow and the inability to see the top of the gully we decided to go further around to the south instead, and go over two smaller outlier peaks before tackling Wingnut from the south ridge. Believe it or not there were avalanches and cornice collapses showing from the fresh snowfall and we didn’t want any part of any of that crap on top of the crap we had to deal with.
We had lots of energy as we started up to the south skyline ridge in open burnt forest with zero evidence of snow lower down. A light breeze and some goats kept us company as we rounded the steep slopes and snuck through a low cliff before heading up steep scree to the ridge above. As we rounded onto the south ridge we were surprised yet again by the amount of fresh snow ahead of us and set our expectations accordingly – or so we thought. For some reason my energy levels waned as we hit the snow but thankfully Wietse’s didn’t. For the rest of the day he pulled me along for the most part, including up to the first false summit where we froze our toes by kicking steps in snow up to knee deep! As we crested the first false summit we tried to remain positive about the remaining work ahead. Canary looked very far but even Wingnut didn’t look very close and everything was absolutely plastered in fresh snow.
Clouds were starting to form and the wind was downright chilly as we started the long, slow traverse towards Wingnut and Canary peaks. Our bluebird day was obviously not going to happen anymore but we had to dig deep and struggle on at this point. Our feet were soaking wet and our toes were actually starting to throb and go numb from constant exposure to snow. Our shins were getting battered and bruised from the annoying crust that refused to soften despite the sun. Every step was literally painful as the snow collapsed underfoot and then rubbed harshly against our shins on the forward step.
Descending off the 2nd false summit south of Wingnut Peak we realized that the original route would have worked better and much more direct than ours. Oh well – sometimes you err on the side of safety in these conditions. It took us around 2.5 hours finally reach the summit of “Wingnut Peak” – much longer and much more effort than we first thought it would be.
Views from Wingnut were pretty good despite the cold wind and we enjoyed them briefly before turning our eyes and feet towards the long traverse to Canary Peak. Based on our slow pace we knew that we were flirting with a much later arrival at camp than planned but were thankful for almost endless daylight hours at this time of the year. We would need all the daylight we could get today.
If we thought the trek up over the two false summits and then to Wingnut Peak was endless and painful, the scramble along the SE ridge towards Canary Peak was much, much worse. The winds were cooling as the afternoon waned towards evening and our feet certainly weren’t warming up or drying out in the ankle to knee deep snow either! Loose rocks and boulders hidden under the snow turned our ankles with almost every step. It was a relief to make a step without feeling physical pain because it was so rare. Almost every stride involved either a shin scrape against snow crust, a knee bang against a rock or at the very least an ankle buster on a small boulder. We had to be cautious about huge cornices to our right – it felt like full on winter conditions in runners.
After what seemed an eternity – it was more like 1.5 hours – we found ourselves staring up at the final few bumps to Canary Peak. It was now 17:00 and dark angry clouds were threatening from the west. We ignored those clouds and tried to ignore the ones in our own minds as we struggled to move our toes in frozen shoes and ground our way up towards our final peak of the day. Finally, at 17:40 we made the last few strides to the highest point on the massif and an empty summit register. We were the first to sign it since its placement in 2018 as a geocache.
Views towards some of the Rockies hardest-to-spot peaks were respectable and I enjoyed naming them for Wietse who hasn’t spent quite as much time catching glimpses of them as I have over the past few years.
It didn’t take long and we realized we were downright COLD. It was amazing how quickly our core temperature dropped when we stopped kicking reluctant steps up endless, shitty snow slopes. It was weird how the cold started in our extremities and moved quickly to our core, first our hands started freezing, then our feet and then actual chills started announcing themselves as full body shivers. Recognizing a potential issue we decided to descend off the high ground as quickly as possible, choosing to exit via a fairly straightforward looking south gully which would take us even further around south slopes than our ascent had been. At this point we just needed to get out of the wind and off snow as quickly as possible. Worst case scenario we’d see some nice landscapes and get to camp a bit later – it really didn’t matter at this point.
In a common theme for the day, the south gully descent was a stumble ‘n bumble affair that hurt everything it possibly could on our lower extremities but we did get out of the cold winds and our bodies slowly warmed up as we descended. We ambled through a pretty valley coming off White Rabbit Peak and enjoyed some pretty stunning views of Aries Peak as we exiting back through the burned forest towards the South Ram Patrol Cabin. There was no more talk about ascending Aries.
We side-hilled through the burnt forest for what seemed like a long time before finally striding back through the meadows to the cabin and back across the Ram River. Camp never looked so good as we finally arrived back in our little stand of trees with our waiting gear. There was no more talk of moving camp further up river – we were exhausted and ready to set up and take a few hours for supper and a little fire before turning in for the night. As much as I’m happy to have done Wingnut and Canary I think it goes without saying that I’d rather we had the dry conditions from a week previous for this trip. Sometimes you have to accept that conditions are crap and you have to decide what to do about it. I’m happy we pushed through and I won’t soon be forgetting this particular outing. These peaks are located in a unique and distant area of the Rockies and are well worth the effort needed to attain them.