Summit Elevations (m): 3002
Elevation Gain (m): 2100
Trip Date: July 01 2021
Round Trip Time (hr): 11:15
Total Trip Distance (km): 46
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something.
Difficulty Notes: Just as for many of its Palliser Range neighbors, the main defense of Stoney Peak is getting there. Slabs with scree and boulders with some loose downclimbs along the south ridge (no exposure).
Technical Rating: SC6, RE4
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
First Recorded Ascent: John Martin (solo), December 1 1987
As Phil and I continued to seek out and ascent more and more remote peaks in the Palliser and Vermillion ranges such as Block Mountain, Panther Mountain, Flints Peak, Elaphus Peak and Haunted Peak he kept pointing out a large unnamed summit that always showed up on our summit panoramas. Annoying us somewhat, was that it always seemed higher than the peak we were currently standing on. Especially from Haunted Peak and Psychic Peak, “Stoney Peak” looks massive! It is a real shame that there is no official name for this peak, but that didn’t mean we didn’t want to stand on its summit at some point. We didn’t know of John Martin’s 1987 FRA of Stoney at this point either, so we were lured by the idea of a possible FRA too. Before I dive into this report any deeper I should address the small elephant in the room. Is it Stoney with an “e” or Stony without the “e”?! This moniker is a bit of a mess when it comes to the area and is applied to the creek, a warden cabin, a pass and this peak in an upcoming guidebook. Depending which map, which photograph, which trail report and which person you talk to, it’s a different spelling. In my limited research I think what happened over the years is that a name that was originally supposed to reflect the “stony” or “rocky” nature of the creek became a name to reflect the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Unfortunately this has caused a lot of confusion for the dozen or so people that care enough to notice that even Parks Canada has labeled things differently depending on media and date of publication. Next time you’re hiking through the area notice how the creek and pass is named “Stony” on all the older hiking signs and base maps. Anything newer all of a sudden adds the “e”. Even the Stoney Warden Cabin used to be spelled without the “e”. See the pics below.
So, why am I spelling the peak with an “e” instead of without? There’s really only one reason and it’s a future guidebook that may or may not be coming out which has the peak dubbed “Stoney” and explicitly says it’s after the “Stoney Nakoda Nation” rather than named for the rocky nature of its neighboring creek. It’s this draft book that also let us know that John Martin first ascended this peak in 1987 and likely built the large cairn we found at the top.
Due to afternoon tstorms and dramatic summer heat we decided to meet at the parking spot along the Lake Minnewanka road at 06:00. Wietse and I were excited to be joined by Phil who was attempting his first long(ish) scramble since a foot injury earlier in the year had scuttled some bigger plans that we’d had together. The bike ride up the Cascade fire road went remarkably well and we were all surprised by our 1 hour 10 minute approach time! Normally this ride takes 10 or even 20 minutes longer so I’m not sure what’s going on there but we’ll take it. From the end of the very familiar ride we hiked an equally familiar Dormer / Stony Pass Trail in lovely early morning lighting and very warm conditions. Wietse and I had exited this trail from our Psychic Peak ascent only a week previous and everything including a crossing of Stony Creek felt familiar to the bottom ascent slopes of Stoney Peak’s west outlier.
We crossed a lively Haunted Creek before arriving at the bottom of our ascent slope roughly an hour after locking the bikes to the “no biking” sign at Stony Creek. Phil had some destiny to fulfill. A few years ago he and Ali made it almost to the summit in May – very early season for such a large objective. Only one tricky snow slope just under the summit prevented him from a successful ascent and it had been itching at him ever since. Making things more interesting for us is that we didn’t know about John Martin’s FRA in 1987, and still thought was a chance of an FRA of our own on a relatively large and visible peak. Well, I guess it’s not that visible… 😉 Phil remembered the route and it wasn’t rocket science. From the trail we bushwhacked for 8 seconds before breaking onto a huge, steep slope leading to the south ridge of a west outlier of Stoney. We ground our way up the 600 vertical meters on a mix of grass, slabs and scree. The slabs greatly assisted our ascent and we powered up the slope pretty quick – thankfully still out of the strong summer sun.
Once on the south ridge of the west outlier I immediately wanted to traverse east slopes to the hanging valley between it and Stoney Peak. Phil warned that this would not end well so I reluctantly started up the intervening peak. The west outlier is more visible than Stoney Peak and could have its own name if one cared about such things but for now it’s just an “outlier”.
It was a gorgeous, windless morning and the scrambling was fairly benign to the west outlier’s summit. From here Stoney looked big and the drop down to a seasonal tarn and hanging valley below looked pretty big too. Once again I got too invested in trying to traverse and about half way across some loose rubble my right ankle decided it had enough and partially blew out on me! Uh oh. I was pretty worried about the injury but tried to stay positive as I joined Wietse and Phil on the descent to the lovely hanging valley and small tarn below.
I could still walk at this point so I made the decision to keep going as we took a short break at the buggy tarn. This was literally the first day of a stint of summer holidays for me and I was determined not to let an injury end things already. I was very dubious about making the summit (nevermind getting down and out yet) at this point but I didn’t feel that I had a ton of choice either.
Another easy rubble slope led up to the south ridge of our main objective and once again we made pretty short work of it. Phil was doing great and it was nice to be out on a large peak with him again. My own injury was also holding up – obviously it wasn’t a full sprain, but it did let me know it wasn’t totally happy with my life choices as I ascended on more loose rubble and slab. Once we hit the south ridge the summit looked high and far but the views were absolutely stunning. Haunted and Psychic were pretty much below us already at this point as we started towards the summit ridge.
The summit ridge wasn’t nearly as technical as it looked from afar. Phil thought some of the downclimbs were harder without snow but we were never on anything difficult – moderate with almost no exposure at most. There were a few very loose downclimbs before the final summit slope but again, pretty tame as far as these things go.
Finally we descended one last little drop off (the one that stymied Phil on his first ascent) and made the last few steps to the summit where a large pile of rocks greeted us. So, not an FA then! It was a bit shocking just how close Phil had come to the summit but with tricky snow conditions we all agreed he’d made the right choice since he was still around to tag it this time. We dug around furiously for a register but there was none so we spent the next 30 minutes or so enjoying the warm, windless summit and sublime views in every direction.
As the air temperature around us rose to alarming levels we decided it was probably a good idea to head back down. Clouds were forecast to start building up around 3 with tstorms following after an unprecedented heat dome over Alberta started to collapse. And holy cow – it was freaking HOT, even at 3000m! We made short work of descending the upper ridge before descending back to the small tarn and enjoying a deep drink of the cold water flowing into it. This tarn wouldn’t last long in the type of heat we were experiencing! The bugs were also terrible – much worse than I’m used to experiencing at this elevation in these ranges of the Rockies.
Unfortunately (for us), we had to ascend at least 150 meters back up the west outlier in order to get back out to the Dormer / Stony Pass trail below. My ankle wasn’t perfect but it was holding up much better than expected as we sweated and swore our way up in unrelenting summer heat. I haven’t done a ton of scrambling in that kind of heat – nor do I want to make a new habit out of it. I was wearing shorts which helped the energy levels a lot.
From the summit of the outlier we descended the scenic south ridge back to the top of our steep access slopes plunging to Stony Creek 600 meters below. Once again we found a pretty quick line down scree runs between slabs and I was happy to note that my partially sprained ankle continued to hold up.
It was so hot descending to the trail that we all developed headaches, despite drinking about as much as we possibly could all day long. I even carried 1.5 liters of water on me which is about 1.4 more than usual. It was well over 30 degrees in the valley bottom as we finally stumbled back onto the trail and started walking back to the bikes. The bike ride went quickly, as it usually does. I punctured a tube along the way which was interesting – thank goodness I bring a spare tube, tools and a pump along! By the time Wietse and Phil grew concerned enough to start biking back uphill I was riding towards them. We ended our day just over 11 hours after starting, peddling past a herd of elk to our vehicles and the busy Lake Minnewanka road. Stoney Peak is a very worthwhile objective for anyone looking to scramble something a bit more off the beaten Kane and Nugara paths. You’d be hard pressed to find such as distinctive, lofty unnamed peak with such easy access and essentially zero bushwhacking. The only issues with the mountain is how to spell its name and the number of subsequent peaks you’re going to be interested in after viewing them from its lofty summit!