Summit Elevations (m): 2900 & 2870
Elevation Gain (m): 1900
Trip Date: June 25 2021
Round Trip Time (hr): 13.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 59
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something, direct route on Psychic is class 3 – you fall, you break something.
Difficulty Notes: Just like it’s SW neighbor – Haunted Peak – the difficulty with Psychic and Psychic NE1 lies in its access rather than it’s technical defenses. No matter how you get there, this peak will challenge your sense of explor8ion!
Technical Rating: SC5/6, RE5
Map: Google Maps
GPS Track: Download
First Ascent: Unknown, possibly us but unlikely
On Monday, July 5, 2004, three Old Goats (Mardy, Christine, Rick) . . . set off with boundless enthusiasm to try a new traverse in the Front Ranges, having conveniently forgotten that if things are going to go wrong on a trip, they will go really, really wrong on the first major outing of the season. After which, I recounted how we got stuck in the bush, Mardy broke a bone in her hand, I bear-sprayed myself, and we all got soaked in one downpour after another.
Sounds fun eh? Apparently we thought so and we managed to not only make the ascent (likely a 2nd) but we even enjoyed it for the most part! Don’t get me wrong. The trip wasn’t exactly easy despite being beautiful, remote and very unique. One tiny regret that I’ve had for the past year has been not attempting Haunted’s nearby neighbor to the NE, especially considering how far up the creek we were at the time (literally and figuratively). We had good reason not to attempt Psychic due to cornices on the direct traverse and a lot of snow in the upper approach valley. BUT. Psychic Peak had no known ascents that I know of. A careful reading of Rick’s “Psychic Peak” report shows that he almost certainly ascended Haunted Peak, not Psychic. This includes his GR references and descriptions of both the col and the valley he descended between Stony and Haunted peaks. Finding a named peak with no ascents that can be day-tripped is a pretty rare thing nowadays in the Rockies. Our Haunted Peak trip got people dreaming and I knew of at least 3 parties that were more interested in going for Psychic then Haunted by using our approach route. I was determined to get back in there sooner than later to find out for myself if this peak has a summit cairn or not. As with anything else in this area what I found wasn’t quite as straightforward as “yes” or “no” – but now I’m skipping ahead in the story…
Spring and early summer 2021 has been strange on a few fronts. Mostly good and somewhat bad. First the “somewhat bad”. Covid-19 is still a thing – a year after doing Haunted Peak and we’re still in the middle of it. I’m double vaccinated now but with new strains of the virus nobody is even sure that it’ll help much long-term. I’ve been stuck at home working which is mostly a good thing but does get pretty tedious. On the “mostly good” end of things, I’m still employed and healthy. It already feels like I’ve done some pretty big trips this year including adventures up the Clearwater River, Ram River and Onion Creek. When Wietse and I were looking for a good objective for Friday June 18, I suggested Spectral Peak so that we could scout conditions on Psychic and he agreed. After a great trip up Spectral our plans were solidified for a week later. Our views of Psychic from Spectral hinted at it being more straightforward than I first expected – but you never know until your nose and various other body parts are in it do you? We decided to leave early with a hot day in the forecast. At least we knew we’d be in a cold creek for a good part of the day! By 07:00 we were peddling up the Cascade fire road trail from near the Lake Minnewanka parking lot in cool morning air with birds serenading us from all sides. Just as a week previous, we made pretty short work of the bike ride and within 1hr 20 we were at the “no biking” sign just before Stoney Creek. (Note: I have no idea if it’s “Stoney” or “Stony”. I’m going with no “e” since that’s what my basemap has and it means less typing…) We locked up the bikes (directly to the no biking sign, which I thought was pretty classy) and continued across the creek on the only bridged crossing of the day. From here we continued up the Dormer River / Pass Trail ascending high above Stoney Creek on our right.
After crossing a swift and cold Stoney Creek we continued up the trail to the Haunted Creek egress and the start of our off trail adventures. Despite being a nice morning we knew within the first few crossings of Haunted Creek that we were going to have very cold feet for the next few hours. The creek was a good bit higher than the year previous with more current and slightly trickier crossings in spots. But it was the frigid water temperature that really got to us after a while. I know Wietse was surprised by the number of creek crossings despite my dire warnings to him while planning the trip. “Dozens and dozens” of crossings doesn’t sound like many until you are faced with them – then they start adding up quickly in the tight confines of the creek! It’s hard to explain but my toes got so dang cold after a few dozen crossings that they felt like someone was cutting them off. Slowly. It wasn’t as pleasant as it sounds either. Sometimes we had to take a few deep breaths to deal with the pain after doing several crossings in a row. I was wearing very light footwear in the hopes that my feet would stay a bit drier but that didn’t happen and I wondered if it actually made things slightly worse.
Other than freezing our feet the creek wasn’t all bad. Just as I remembered, it was beautiful and wild too. We passed a familiar 3-tiered waterfall and explored a short canyon section with a log jam plugging its upstream end. This is the only section of Haunted Creek that forced us to leave the creek bed and hike up and around through the forest on the left hand bank.
After the short canyon section we were back in the creek for a bit before Haunted Peak finally appeared ahead. I’d say there’s about 3-4km of pretty intense creek travel which took us just over 2 hours at a steady pace before we reached the split in the creek just south of Haunted Peak. The right branch goes up towards the Revenant Mountain / Spectral Peak col and the left branch goes up towards Psychic and Psychic NE – obviously we went left.
The left branch of Haunted Creek started out fairly rough but we quickly bailed out of the creek bed on climber’s left and traversed light forested slopes as they transitioned to lovely alpine meadows under the SE slopes of Haunted and Psychic. As with most peaks in this range there are some impressive slabs and cliff bands making some of the easy looking routes impassible once you get a closer look. We slowly made our way around the SE end of Psychic until finally we were looking towards the summit – we just didn’t quite know where the heck the summit actually was!
When researching the peak already a few years ago I noticed that determining exactly where the summit was wasn’t quite as easy as pointing at a contour line on the map. Various maps put it in different places and the upper terrain looks either easy or terrible depending which satellite view or where you think the apex is. This is the exciting part about peaks with limited beta but it also means you can hike for 10-15 hours and come up short of your goals! I noted the peak just to the NE of Psychic labelled “NE1” and wondered if we could tack it onto our day for a twofer but I wasn’t going to count on that just yet. From the alpine meadows the terrain looked interesting to say the least. Wietse had a line plotted slightly different than mine and we decided to split our two routes and hope for the best (he went to the Psychic NE1 col first, which would work on hindsight).
As we ascended rubble slopes to what we hoped was either the summit or close to it, we noticed that what we first assumed was a long traverse over potentially complex terrain to “NE1” was actually very likely not the case. For once the summit looked to be the closer and easier one to the col. Excellent! At least we had a consolation prize if Psychic proved to be an ill tempered host. As we ground our way up rubble Wietse pulled one of his favorite scams on me. He knows that I don’t like knowing how much further / higher the summit is – I prefer getting there when I get there. So he started grumbling about how far we still had to go and that “you don’t want to know how much further it is”. Fidiot. 😉 When I accidentally looked at the contour lines on my GPS I realized we were less than 300m vertical to the summit! This gave me lots of energy which was nice. Near the summit ridge my line went left to the summit while Wietse’s went right. It wasn’t until we finally popped onto the ridge that Wietse’s line was obviously the correct one and we started a short, easy traverse towards it.
At this point it was obvious that we were going to make the summit – what a great feeling! After years of planning and thinking about it I was finally taking the last few steps to the top of Psychic Peak. The only question remaining was – would we find a summit cairn or even a register? As I took the final steps to the top I realized that this question was likely not going to be as easy to answer as it should have been. The summit was a tangled mess of loose rocks and the true apex wasn’t even that obvious, nevermind a neat pile of human placed stones to indicate a previous party or parties. Making things more confusing was a small pile of possible human organized detritus but it was so random and so old that it was almost impossible to tell for sure. Despite looking ferociously for a register or any other signs of humanity we didn’t find a single artifact to “yeah” or “nay” an FA. I’m going to have to go with “possible FA” on this one. There is the extremely slim chance that Rick did do Psychic despite his trip report indicating it was actually Haunted he ascended and there’s the matter of the possible cairn. Obviously if you’ve done this peak or know who did please let me know.
After snapping photos in perfect summit conditions and having a bite to eat we turned our attention to Psychic NE1. We figured chances of an “FA” on that peak were even greater than on Psychic and since it looked pretty easy, why not try it? We’d made the summit of Psychic in around 6.5 hours from the parking lot so we were still well within acceptable time limits. We decided to descend a more moderate line than our ascent route – just for fun. It worked great and provided some hands-on scrambling down to the col. On our way down I pointed out some tracks in snow leading from the col into a lovely valley north of Psychic and posed the question – “why don’t we follow those out?”. Wietse wasn’t committed to this alternate exit plan just yet but I had him thinking. I knew Phil Richards had hiked up this way before so there must be a trail or some sort in the valley but I wasn’t sure what condition it was in. I knew that further downstream this would link up with the same Dormer Pass / Stoney Creek Trail we were on earlier in the day on our approach to Haunted Creek. We turned our attention to the task at hand first – grinding up Psychic NE1 on easy scree and boulders.
As expected, the scramble up our second peak of the day was pretty tame – just a class 2 hike. It proved well worth it however, when we noticed not even the hint of a cairn at the summit. I’m reasonably confident we made an FA here – but as always there is room for doubt in this day and age with everyone bagging everything in sight. Let me know if you’ve done or know someone who has. Views from the summit were stunning – especially towards the huge Mount Oliver looming over the headwater valley for the Ghost River. Puma and Centerblock Peak also featured prominently from NE1.
After another break and building a cairn (we don’t generally bother carrying summit registers with us) we started the descent back to the Psychic col. We decided to check out the snow descent to the north valley and if it looked viable in our approach shoes (I was in trail runners) Wietse agreed to try it. Why not? Going back down Haunted Creek wasn’t going to be quick or easy anyway and with the promise of a trail taking us out around Stoney Peak we were looking forward to easy, mindless travel. We didn’t quite get what we were looking for.
The first part of our alternate descent route worked perfectly. The snow slope was much gentler than it first appeared and the snow was soft despite being north facing thanks to the warm temperatures. We followed obvious bear tracks down into a small slice of paradise in the green valley below and revelled in our surroundings. We’re pretty darn lucky to be able to explore and experience this kind of remoteness on a day trip. Consider where else in the world you can leave a city of 1.5 million people and less than 8 hours later find yourselves in a mountain valley that perhaps nobody has set foot in before! Crazy. Crazy cool.
As we exited the hanging valley we nervously started looking for the trail that should be running down the east branch of upper Stoney Creek leading down from Stoney Pass. And this is where our exit got a bit rougher than it probably needed to but we were likely a little tired and losing our route finding ‘edge’ at this point. Despite looking pretty hard and crossing and recrossing the track lines on our maps we couldn’t find an obvious trail. Eventually we stumbled across a really old trail that seemed to vanish randomly under our feet! It was definitely manmade with very old, faded blazes marking the way and even some ax-hewn logs next to it. Predictably the trail vanished and we lost it for good. At this point the marked trail was on the south side of the creek and we were on the north so we started traversing towards it. The forest wasn’t horrible but not being on a trail was more tiring than we wanted things to be at this point.
We tried to be patient as the bush slowly started thickening but finally we’d had enough of the intermittent animal trails we kept following and decided to simply go uphill and try to find the official trail one last time. It worked! Thank goodness too, because we were running out of bushwhack energy at this point. We found an obvious manmade but very unmaintained trail running high above the creek on its south side. This was finally the “Dormer Headwaters” or “Stoney Pass” trail that is marked on some maps and is slowly going back to nature.
We followed the trail as best we could (some deadfall and a few overgrown sections) before finally coming to a sign indicating a junction in the Stoney Creek / Dormer Pass / Headwaters trail. The trail coming down from Dormer Pass was much more travelled and obvious than the one we’d just exited (Dormer Headwaters / Stoney Pass) and from here our alternate exit went swimmingly (I use that word almost literally considering how fast and deep Stoney Creek was now running).
Don’t be mistaken! The Stoney Creek / Dormer Pass Trail is still not a straightforward highway like you’re probably used to in mainstream Banff or Lake Louise. This is a remote backcountry horse trail that the occasional silly hiker stumbles upon. This is NOT a maintained hiking trail in any sense of the word and it’s very obvious. The first thing to note is the unbridged crossings of Stoney Creek which weren’t as easy as earlier in the day when we accessed Haunted Creek. The creek was more of a river now and the current was strong. We didn’t have any serious issues but someone shorter and lighter than us might have had a few. Also, the trail isn’t always obvious, especially near the creek where the 2013 flood wiped it out. Pink ribbons are key to finding the next bit of track and often they weren’t in obvious spots. Experienced hikers will have no issues here but I was surprised at the remote feel of it.
Finally as the hours and kilometers started adding up we arrived at the final crossing of Stoney Creek. Wietse plunged in without overthinking it and I was amused to watch him stumble around a bit halfway across. I’m a good friend like that. 😉 This crossing was a bit deeper and faster than some of the others and I was surprised to find both pockets on my pants soaking wet afterwards. Good thing my iPhone is waterproof is all I can say. The remainder of the hike back to the 2-wheel steeds was very pleasant. We were happy that the sky clouded up a bit, protecting us from some of the sun’s fury.
The bike ride back to the parking spot was predictably fun and fast despite the 4 or 5 uphill grinds along the way. I’m always surprised how well the bike goes after a full day of hiking and scrambling when I should be exhausted. For some reason as soon as my butt hits a bike seat I seem to gain energy back from somewhere. It’s a great way to end a day in the hills and I’ve been ending a LOT of them on a bike seat this year! I really loved most of this trip. I loved the remote landscapes and the fact that we found some sneaky, easy routes to two FRA’s and maybe even an FA in the Banff / Ghost backcountry. I loved hiking up Haunted Creek again but I sure as heck ain’t ever gonna do it again. 😉 I really enjoyed our alternate loop down the Dormer Pass / Headwaters trail and down Stoney Creek despite the rough start with not finding the trail. This adventure ticked a lot of boxes for me and lived up to its promises and much more.