Summit Elevation (m): 3004
Trip Date: Saturday, July 3 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 1750
Round Trip Time (hr): 12
Total Trip Distance (km): 44
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or possibly break something.
Difficulty Notes: Mostly an easy scramble but remote and involves plenty of loose scree on slabs.
Technical Rating: SC6
Map: Google Maps
I don’t recall exactly the first time I heard Phil mention “Sira Peak” to me but it was more than a few years ago and it always had a nice ring to it. Other than a brief description from David Jones’ Rockies Central on what he calls “Unnamed Peak V10” by John Martin there was very little beta. We always determined that we would ascend via the same route as John from the east but then someone else beat us to this summit and published an excellent route from the south and west aspect. And you guessed it – Cornelius Rott seems to grab more than a few peaks on our to do list before we can get to them and Sira was no different. I have to say that having Cornelius’ beta was a major win for me and anyone else who may be interested in this relatively obscure 3000m peak. In my opinion this is one of Cornelius’ best routes and far better than the original recorded ascent route from the east – and to think he came up with it last minute! Once you see the route on the map below you’ll ask yourself why nobody else seemed to think of it – it’s so obvious in hindsight. But I guess most great routes are only obvious once someone goes out and tries them, causing the rest of us to ask why we didn’t think of it.
After scrambling Stoney Peak with Wietse and Phil on Canada Day, we started making plans for the weekend while walking back along the Dormer / Stony Pass Trail. Since we knew that Cornelius had just done Sira Peak we settled on that trip before too many others got after it, especially since it had been on our priority list for a few years already. Cornelius had kindly shared his beta with me and only asked that I wait with publishing my report until he’d done his, which I obviously agreed to. On Friday Phil indicated that his Achilles injury was flared up thanks to the big day on Stoney and he would not be joining us for Sira. This was disappointing but in classic Phil style he encouraged us to go for it anyway. I wasn’t a sure thing for such a long day either! My ankle had twisted quite badly while ascending Stoney Peak and was still bothering me the next day. I’m not 20 years old anymore – my body is trying hard to convince my mind of this fact. My mind is busy ignoring my body but sometimes it’s easier said than done. I decided that Sira Peak would be a good test for my ankle. If I could do the 40+ kilometer trip than my ankle was obviously still ok to use. I decided to use my Altra Lone Peak 5 trail shoes for the long approach up Forty Mile Creek and carry my ultralight Scarpa Ribelle Tech OD mountaineering boots for the scrambling.
We decided to leave early to beat afternoon tstorms and heat. By 06:10 Wietse and I were striding across a deserted Norquay ski resort, heading for the Forty Mile Creek trail that we’d last hiked on our Mount Brewster adventure back in 2016. This time we would be walking much further. It’s really too bad you can’t bike the Forty Mile Creek trail as this would open up the area for day trippers, but maybe that’s the point? There certainly weren’t any other people around and all the campgrounds we walked through were completely empty despite the long weekend. As we entered the forest just past the ski resort I stopped for a second and told Wietse to listen. The sound of billions of hungry mosquitoes filled the silent air in the woods around us! Uh oh. I assumed I had my bug spray in my pack and we kept hiking, deciding to put it on when the mossies actually started biting. For the next 3.5 hours we hiked at a steady pace along the mostly excellent Forty Mile Creek Trail to the Mystic Junction Camp (FM19). Our pace was much better than I was expecting on my bum ankle and the trail was in much better shape than we were expecting. Wietse almost crushed at least 3 or 4 huge toads on the walk in so be aware that there are giant killer toads along the approach – much worse than bears IMHO. 😉 The highlight of the approach was a soft dirt trail that almost looked like someone had put soft chunks of tree mulch on it. One of the best condition backpacking trails I’ve hiked on in Banff in years to be honest. As we started up the hikers bypass trail from the FM19 junction the only fly in the ointment was that we both forgot our bug spray. This could be a future Vern and Wietse problem but for now we were avoiding the bugs…
The bypass trail was much smaller and had lots of roots and undulations than the main Forty Mile Creek Trail had been. This wasn’t a bad thing however, we both commented more than once how nice this trail also was. After a few more kilometers we came to the place along the trail that we had marked for our ascent to the small lakes under Sira Peak (a shortcut of Cornelius’ lower route). It took us roughly 4 hours to hike the first 19 kilometers to the lower ascent slopes. That’s likely among the longest on-foot approaches I’ve done for a day trip before! We took a refreshing drink from the small stream marking our ascent point and started hiking up through deep moss and relatively light forest up toward the Sira tarns. The next hour or so was off trail hiking magic. Despite the lengthy approach we were both feeling pretty fresh and the landscape was so pleasant we forgot that we hadn’t even seen our peak yet! Our chosen ascent line worked perfectly, we ended up on a shallow ridge in the forest that led up to an open ridge with carpets of wildflowers and our first views towards Sira. The landscape was practically glowing with life and color after a week of nuclear temperatures followed by some much needed rains. We descended ~50 meters off the ridge towards the small Sira tarns before stopping for our first food break of the day.
After a very pleasant break above the upper Sira tarn it was finally time to officially end the approach and start ascending our peak! We were now 5 hours into our day and many kms from the parking lot. It was a beautiful summer day in the alpine with just a hint of cool breeze and a deep blue sky. Some haze from BC wildfires was slowly creeping in but didn’t look too thick yet – although we both commented that we could smell the smoke. From the upper tarn we followed Cornelius’ route towards a grassy scree ledge.
The route up the ledges worked so well it’s hard to believe that Cornelius just happened on it! I will reiterate that IMHO this is one of his best finds yet. There is an even easier route climber’s right of this ascent line but considering it was on the easy side of moderate I’m not sure it’s even worth checking out the other line. There was only one slightly moderate section where we traversed up and left across a series of slabs to access another bench but other than that everything was easy and fast thanks to the copious amount of slabs that we used on ascent.
After taking advantage of the nicely tilted strata we came to an upper col with dramatic views back down our route and down over Forty Mile Creek and Summit towards other large peaks in the area such as Mystic and Noetic. Just as for the lower route, the route to the summit was on the easy side of moderate with only some rock on slabs offering any sort of resistance to our feet. I actually kept my runners on for the entire ascent – not even requiring my boots or a stiffer scrambling shoe. (My boots stayed in my pack for the descent.)
Finally, just over 6 hours from the parking lot we found ourselves standing on the lofty summit of Sira Peak! Despite some smoky haze in the air our views were stunning, as expected. Relatively remote peaks such as Mystic, Noetic, Block, Bonnet, Puma and Stoney Peak were our new neighbors. Mystic Lake was also visible and had us guessing where Mystic Pass was located. It was humbling to look south down Forty Mile Creek and realize just how far we’d come in only 6 hours!
Thanks to a very comfortable, cool summit breeze we lingered slightly longer than usual at the top of Sira Peak. Eventually the deep sighs of realizing how far we had to go in the second half of our day started signalling the upcoming descent. A few more photos and we slowly started our journey down – me in my boots now to protect my ankles. Descent went much quicker and even easier than expected thanks to just enough scree beside the slabs and rocky ribs that we had ascended. Just over an hour from the summit we were back enjoying another break at the lovely Sira tarns.
Reluctantly we left the tarns and started up our access ridge under a scorchingly hot sun. The short ascent was totally worth it as we traversed the ridge back towards lower forested slopes, walking on carpets of wildflowers exploding the air with their colors and smells.
From the wildflower meadows we descended our ascent line through light forest before hitting the bypass trail and starting the long walk back. As I switched back to my runners from my boots I noticed right away that the heat of the day had woken up the few billion bugs that had been snoozing earlier in the day on our approach. We were in for it now! I will not be forgetting bug spray again this year, I guarantee you that. Sure! The trail was still feeling pretty darn good under foot despite the long day but the bugs put a damper in both our upbeat moods. I haven’t experienced mossies or biting horse flies this bad in the Rockies ever. I told Wietse more than once that I was being reminded of my canoe trips to northern Ontario – they were that bad! There were a few occasions where I slapped Wietse’s shoulders and ended the life of more than a dozen mosquitoes on each one!
My hands were literally bleeding from fly bites and Wietse’s neck looked like he contracted some horrible skin ailment involving raised, fiery bumps. I ended up putting my fleece jacket on despite 25 degree temperatures just to stop the bites. If you’re hiking in the Rockies this summer I can’t advise you strongly enough to bring bug spray along. Another thing to note about the Forty Mile Creek trail is that there is a lot of height gain on return. Despite knowing this and feeling mentally prepared for it, we were swearing at a few of the seemingly never ending ascents on the way back. We were shocked at how quiet this whole valley is. On the first long weekend of summer, with perfect weather, we didn’t run into another soul along Forty Mile Creek. All the campgrounds were silent and completely empty. When we finally got back to the parking lot we had a good chuckle. A group of 4 or 5 hikers left their car to hike a small peak near the resort. I told Wietse that I guaranteed they would soon either turn around or stop and start applying bug spray. Sure enough! They got into the trees and soon were back at their car, scrambling around for spray.
Despite a terrible bug experience along the Forty Mile Creek trail, I can’t rave about this route on Sira Peak enough. This peak goes into my top 10 easy remote summits for several reasons including the lovely approach trail, incredible fields of flowers, lovely tarns and lofty summit views. The fact that so few people bother with this officially unnamed “V10” summit despite its 3000 meter apex only makes me love it even more. Highly recommended for backpackers who are in the area or fit parties as a relatively straightforward day trip from the Norquay ski resort.