Trip Date: Saturday, July 10 2021
Time (hrs): 10 (return from Scotch Camp)
Height Gain (m): 1500 (return from Scotch Camp)
Distance (km): 18 (return from Scotch Camp) add another ~23 km to return to the Bighorn parking lot at Tinda.
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 4 – you fall, you break something or die.
Difficulty Notes: A difficult scramble on slabs and rubble, bushwack approach from the old Cascade fire road trail.
Technical Rating: SC7
Map: Google Maps
First Ascent: 1918; Topographical Society (Morrison P. Bridgland)
After an exhausting day on Mount Tyrrell the day before, Phil and I both slept in at our comfortable Scotch Camp beside the Red Deer River on Saturday July 10. This doesn’t happen to us very often! We both had restless sleeps, likely due to heat exhaustion from the day before and both woke up at around 04:00 and then promptly slept in until 05:40. Oh well. Obviously we needed the rest. We weren’t sure what to expect from our day on Prow Mountain. We knew that Ephraim had scrambled to the easier Greater Prow (bivouac named “Forward Peak”) and stopped there rather than traverse to Prow. We also knew that Rick Collier had taken two attempts to nab Prow in snowy conditions via Greater Prow and didn’t make it sound very easy. There wasn’t much to do but go give it a try – especially since we might be only the third recorded summit party since the Topographical Survey first ascended Prow in 1918. That’s a pretty sparse summit register.
We left camp at around 06:30 in much cooler approach temperatures than the day before on Tyrrell when it was already midday before we started ascending. The old Cascade fire road was familiar from our one day 73km day trip of Mount White and Grouse Peak back in June 0f 2020. The road is quite overgrown in places, making us question (not for the first time) what happens when the old bridge over the Red Deer River inevitable fails. Will it be rebuilt? I doubt it. Flowers exploded along the old roadbed as we ascended in welcome shade. After about 4km and an hour of pleasant hiking it was time for another bushwhack. We had to lose about 50 vertical meters to a creek running between the road and the Prow massif to the west before hiking up very steep, mossy, forested slopes to an east shoulder of Greater Prow. The bushwhack felt downright pleasant compared to the shitshow on Tyrrell a day earlier and we kept up our energy levels as we ascended.
After an hour or so of moderate to light bushwhacking we found ourselves approaching treeline on a gorgeous east shoulder leading up to steep rubble slopes and Greater Prow high above us still at this point. We revelled in the cool morning views and enjoyed the countless wildflowers underfoot on the open ridge. Looking over towards Snow Creek Summit as we ascended we could see that everything was in full summer “lushness” right now.
Despite looking pretty steep the east slopes of Greater Prow were no more than easy scrambling to a broken summit sporting a giant cairn and familiar bright pink army register courtesy the indefatigable Ephraim Roberts. Our views over Skeleton Lake towards Mount Drummond were stunning, finally providing some decent angles on that giant peak that usually looks drab from other summits.
After taking in the unexpectedly clear views (we were expecting BC wildfire smoke to ruin our views this weekend) we started the traverse down towards a very distant looking Prow Mountain. The descent was much more involved than we were originally expecting. It wasn’t hard but the giant shifting boulders and exposed traverses on slabs of rock overhanging the airy east face were more than a hike, that’s for sure. Time slipped by as it always does on these things and by the time we were finally approaching the low point between to the two peaks we realized we were in for a much longer excursion than originally planned.
The views and the cool breeze helped immensely and we both felt MUCH better than the day before on the easier Mount Tyrrell. We kept thinking the terrain ahead didn’t look too bad and then when we got closer it looked pretty tough. Than we’d get our noses into it and it wouldn’t be more than moderate. Until it wasn’t. Phil was just ahead of me and grunted a sound that I recognized. It meant that there was something unexpected, and there was. An innocent looking step along the ridge up to Prow Mountain wasn’t quite as innocent once we started poking around it and trying to ascend. The obvious line was very loose, had no reliable holds and was a bit exposed. The not-so-obvious line was horribly exposed to the east face and still loose with no holds. Hmmm. This is where you either turn around or go up something you’d rather not. We were looking at a huge cliff that extended almost to the valley below to the west and ended in a cliff over the east face. There was nothing to do but try the least exposed line. It worked. It’s the type of crux that looks easy until you’re in the middle of it. Then you wonder where the heck the holds are and why everything is breaking off under your hands and feet! Sure! There were always 3 points of contact available but none of them were solid.
Once above the crux we nervously looked ahead at the summit and were relieved to spot a pretty nice line traversing some slabs and then easily ascending to the top. Thankfully there were no more surprises. Five hours from camp we finally stood on the elusive and very rarely ascended Prow Mountain with stunning views over the Red Deer River valley far below.
We spent some time at this hard-won summit, enjoying the cool breeze and stunning views in every direction. Some peaks are earned and this one certainly was one of those! We rebuilt the destroyed cairn (no register) and put in a new register with the original and Rick’s ascents the only recorded before ours. As always, let me know if you or someone you know has been up here and I’ll revise my “3rd recorded ascent” claim. Not that anyone really cares… 😉 We both had the crux in mind as we slowly started back towards Greater Prow, now looking even further that we knew what was between us and it. As expected, downclimbing the crux wasn’t easy but we both survived. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and make it happen I guess! Or not. Your choice. I have no freaking clue how Rick did this traverse and crux with snow and ice. He was certainly next level.
From the crux we breathed easier and enjoyed the exposed ascent above the east face on slabs and dangerously loose boulders and sharp rocks as much as you can “enjoy” such things. The weather was holding and our views were glorious which certainly helped. We limped back over Greater Prow before descending the rubble back down to the east shoulder below.
The bushwhack descent was a bit mankier than either of us remembered but downhill is always easier and faster anyway. Soon we were sweating our way back up to the Cascade fire road before hiking down towards Scotch Camp, feeling pretty darn good about our day. As we passed a side trail along the road Phil asked if I still wanted to check out the Scotch Camp Warden cabin in the large meadows west of our camp. Why not? We were here now… We started down an excellent horse trail towards the distant meadows, hoping the trail would stay good. It did. We hiked through the meadows and were surprised to see horses at the fence. This meant there was likely wardens at the cabin and indeed there was. We chatted with Karsten Heuer and his associate for at least 45 minutes, covering everything from the chemical makeup of local water sources (Phil) to the bison program that Karsten implemented in Banff National Park. It’s only when I got home and Googled him that I realized I was chatting with a pretty famous Albertan! Sadly we had to leave at some point since we had a long (hot) hike and bike back to the parking lot yet today. We bid our adieu and started across the meadows to camp.
After a brief break to pack up our camp at Scotch Camp we spent the next few hours hiking out to our bikes along the Red Deer River. As usual the south end of Wapiti seemed to go on forever and ever but eventually we did end up at the eastern bison gate and our bikes. In a very interesting and intriguing turn of events, the wet portion of trail that usually has 3 standing pools of almost knee deep water were completely GONE from the day before when we hiked in! Very strange. We both assumed we’d entered a parallel universe in which these things no longer existed and moved on.
Other than a hilarious “slow tilting full immersion” incident at the Skeleton Creek crossing (ask Phil about that sometime in a few years when the sting is less severe) the bike ride went fast and smooth as always. The setting sun combined with billions of colorful flowers carpeting the prairie through the Tinda ranch made for a perfect ending to a pretty perfect 2 day trip. Mount Tyrrell was a bit more involved on the approach than either of us expected but to be fair it was 30 degrees and we were tired. The east face route was wonderful and good fun and the views were awesome. Prow Mountain and Greater Prow took much longer than expected but were involved and fun. Things get boring pretty fast when there’s no challenge left and both of these peaks proved to have plenty to offer in the “challenge” department. As did Skeleton Creek but that’s for Phil to explain… 😉