Trip Date: Friday, July 09 2021
Time (hrs): 9.5 (from Tinda to Scotch Camp)
Height Gain (m): 1200 (from Tinda to Scotch Camp)
Distance (km): 34.5 (from Tinda to Scotch Camp)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something.
Difficulty Notes: A moderate scramble on slabs and rubble, bushwack approach from the Red Deer River trail.
Technical Rating: SC6
Map: Google Maps
First Ascent: 1991; Reg Bonney, Rick Collier
Ever since I started exploring the eastern side of Banff National Park from the Ya Ha Tinda ranch along the Red Deer River I’ve hiked many times past Mount Tyrrell and wondered about scrambling it. Of course the indefatigable Cornelius Rott put a route up the south side of the peak on difficult terrain but it was his moderate descent route down the east face that had Phil and I interested. Rick Collier also scrambled this peak, a possible FA, from a camp along Tyrrell Creek that was quite a bit off the Red Deer River trail that we were hiking along. Other than these two intrepid scramblers I didn’t know of anyone else who’d been up this peak that towers over the Red Deer River / Cascade fire road trail and is visible from a great many other peaks in the area. As usual for us, we settled on another peak in the area in order to make full use of the long approach from the Tinda ranch and decided not to leave ridiculously early as we’d have plenty of time after Tyrrell at a Scotch Camp bivy.
We left the Bighorn parking lot on our bikes at around 09:30 on Friday, July 9th under a warm summer sun. On hindsight this might have been a little late for such a hot forecast (30 degrees) but with the lengthy approach it doesn’t make much different unless you camp at the trailhead and leave really early. The bike ride was quick and relatively painless other than the extra weight on the seat thanks to overnight packs. I have done so many bike approaches in 2021 that any scramble that doesn’t start with at least an hour or so on the bike seems like a front range ramble (i.e. Sira Peak). Initially we were wondering about the Skeleton Creek crossing considering the Red Deer River was a raging mess but apparently if you’re not fed directly by a glacier your back to normal or even low water levels as a stream. For the first time ever we biked right across Skeleton Creek without having to bail off the bikes.
By around 10:30 we were marching through a bison gate and up a very familiar trail along the Red Deer River. It was bloody HOT already and the flies were pretty terrible along the trail. We stayed positive and chatted our way along as usual. Passing by the south end of Wapiti Mountain is always entertaining in that it seems to take forever. Crossing Tyrrell Creek was easy and soon we were wondering about more water sources and the south access slopes to the east face of Tyrrell.
We passed a burn area with horrible looking pickup sticks and bushwhacking before deciding that the older forest next to us was looking decent for an approach. The big packs were hidden carefully along the trail before we shrugged into much lighter daypacks and proceeded up through very pleasant, open forest north of the trail. All this pleasantry did not last long! Before we really knew what was happening we ended up in some serious suck. It wasn’t quite as bad as what I endured on Mount Hensley but it was in that range of “awful”. Matchstick forest had burned and collapsed and needed to be stepped on, up and over. Other larger trees had blown over. The creek in the SE drainage was choked with debris. It wasn’t pleasant. Making things MUCH worse was unrelenting midday heat. Holy cow it was bloody HOT! I haven’t hiked uphill in that kind of heat for a while and I don’t want to repeat that any time soon either. We drank more water than usual – much more, and still felt dehydrated. My stomach hurt from drinking so much but my body simply couldn’t absorb enough somehow. Thankfully we eventually plodded our way above the worst of the mank and into a relatively easy upper SE approach gully. From the gully the east face of Tyrrell looked very intimidating.
As with most routes in the Rockies, once we poked our noses into the east face a bunch of options opened up. We made sure to look left and right as well as straight up and often the best lines involved traversing slabs with rubble or shallow cracks. There were two steeper steps up this face to the upper scree bowl but neither were quite deserving of the stiff “SC7” rating. SC6+ would be my rating for this terrain.
Once above the last bit of slab and cliffs we were surprised to see a pretty large scree bowl. We weren’t 100% sure where the summit was but aimed for the center. This worked well. Other than having zero energy due to the sapping strength of the summer sun we encountered no other issues to the summit.
Originally we had some more aggressive plans forming for the latter half of the day but we were both completely exhausted from the efforts of this fairly nondescript summit for some reason. I’m sure we both had heat exhaustion. I haven’t felt this way on a 1200m day in a long while, but to be fair we did bike 14km and hike another 7 with big packs in the heat of the day. We made the decision to slow down and relax and hydrate for the rest of the day. We took some time at the summit despite having no wind and overheating even there!
After snapping too many summit photos and realizing a cool breeze wasn’t happening today anymore we turned our attention to the descent. We weren’t looking forward to the bushwhack but we tried to enjoy the preceding hike down the east face and the SE drainage first. The bushwhack wasn’t quite as bad on descent (as usual) and before long we were back at our overnight packs along the Red Deer River trail. We shouldered them in the afternoon heat and trudged down the trail towards the bridge over the Red Deer River and Scotch Camp just beyond.
Scotch Camp was empty and we found some delightful tent sites. We realized too late that we set up right under the bear pole! Ooops. I had my new Ursack along so wasn’t overly concerned. 😉 We took our time setting up and making supper. After supper we slowly wandered back to the bridge and enjoyed some bug-free snoozing, podcasting and photography until bedtime. We even spotted a solo backpacker camping along the Red Deer River below, showing that many people enjoy the solitude of this special place.
Our plans for the following day were fairly aggressive so we agreed to get up around 05:00 and turned in. About 20 minutes after crawling into our tents we both heard some panting and grunting noises nearby! I urgently whispered, “is that you Phil?” but he answered in the negative. I grabbed my bear spray and flipped open the tent only to spot a deer dashing off across the open meadow in the camp. Apparently they make this noise when curious or anxious so that explains that… I still had a slight headache from the heat and fell into a restless sleep.