Summit Elevation (m): 2892
Trip Date: Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 1300
Round Trip Time (hr): 6
Total Trip Distance (km): 18.5 (9km on bike)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: A steep route up a Rockies east face breaking cliffs on ledges and scree benches. Two steeper breaks through upper cliffs ensure a difficult rating.
Technical Rating: SC7
Map: Google Maps
First Ascent: 1915; Boundary Commission
I remember reading Rick Collier’s trip report on Gould Dome years ago on bivouac.com and thinking how cool it would be to wander up there sometime and read his register. There was no way anyone else would be interested in this oddly named peak was there? Tornado Mountain is the prize in this area of the High Rock Range and is a much more aesthetic and lofty peak accessed from the same approach as Gould Dome. (Ironically Tornado used to be called Gould but the names were changed around in 1915.) Gould Dome stayed on my peaks list for years until someone else did it. This was when I first realized that Cornelius Rott had pretty much the exact same list of obscure Rick Collier peaks on his radar as I did! I remember while we were doing our first scramble together on Lougheed I he mentioned that he had scrambled Gould Dome via a new route up the east face. Somewhat bold, his line was more direct than Ricks but sounded quite fun. I changed my mind from Ricks wandering route along the SW side and up a “corkscrew” route to break all the cliffs to Cornelius’ east face route.
I scrambled up the south face of Tornado in 2020 as a solo effort and loved pretty much everything about it. I remember biking past the approach road for Gould Dome and thinking I might do that one solo too. I also remember looking at the east face and thinking it didn’t look that straightforward! After having plans for a lengthy hiking trip canceled for the first two weeks of July I found myself with some time to settle some long standing scrambles that I’ve been looking at for a long time. Gould Dome’s turn arrived on a somewhat smoky, warm day on July 13 – my daughter’s birthday. I decided to leave pretty early for the lengthy drive from YYC with tstorms forecast for the afternoon. The Dutch Creek road that branches off the forestry trunk road was not in great shape. An overnight thunderstorm had deposited enough rain to produce some big puddles and the road was extremely rough. I bounced my way to the t-intersection and was happy to finally get on my bike at 08:00 under blue skies. Cornelius didn’t use a bike on his approach but I was starting lower and further than he did thanks to a modified spur road that is no longer drivable. I remembered all the berms from my Tornado approach. I also remembered the sweaty ride uphill! Before long I was at a slightly older side road leading west off the main one and continued along it on my bike not knowing how far it could be peddled.
It turns out I should have peddled this access road even further than I did. The road starts off very nicely with a grassy ride before dipping into two side creeks and then feeling a bit manky which made me stop the ride after pulling the bike over a few fallen trees. I should have followed my learnings from Mount Burns earlier in the year and pushed the ride a bit harder but I decided to start walking after about 4.5kms on the bike. It was a lovely, calm morning as I strode up the road which predictably cleared off and would have made for excellent riding just after I left the bike behind. 😉 Cornelius mentions that there is “no bushwhacking” on the approach but this is slightly wrong. There isn’t any horrible whacking but there is an old cutblock that has to be crossed before some light bushwhacking towards the approach gully. Finding an animal trail in the forest just beside some pretty bad avalanche debris was a nice mood booster and soon I was in the east access gully leading up to the east face / south ridge of Gould Dome.
The lower east access gully is an obvious avalanche deposit zone but remarkably easy travel and soon I made my way into the rubble and scree gully snaking its way up to the abutment of the south ridge to the east face above. I had to tell myself to slow down in the hot morning sun as the going got easy in the gully and I quickly gained height. I also had to tell myself not to look at the imposing east face too closely from afar. This is classic Rockies terrain which demands that you get your nose into things before judging things too harshly and this is exactly what I did. After reaching the top of the east access gully I struck out across the east face, heading for an obvious break before starting up lower scree benches trending up and left towards another obvious break.
From the lower east face I choose my own route, deviating slightly from Cornelius. To make a long story short I broke through the first few bands easily before traversing back south and finding a very straightforward up and left route up little ledges and ramps that is obviously used by the local ungulate populations. I was feeling great! This is the best sort of scrambling IMHO. Finding routes up complicated terrain on a sunny blue sky summer day without a care in the world other than the terrain just in front.
After following a nice line up and left along the east face I spotted a distant patch of snow and headed up for it. I found the lower crux that Cornelius had ascended on his trip and although it was dry and looked doable it also looked very steep and I decided to find where he had descended further along the face. I traversed above the snow patch on scree before ducking under an overhang and around a corner. Soon I was at the bottom of the lower crux and it looked more SC6+ than SC7 and a no brainer to break through this band of cliffs. I easily ascended the dry crack and left a cairn at the top before traversing back south to find the upper gully leading to the loose slopes under the summit.
Here is where things got really interesting. Cornelius doesn’t say too much about the terrain leading up to the loose slopes under the summit other than it was steep scrambling over water worn rock with some stemming moves. I wasn’t really expecting any more difficult terrain and was thinking this was almost too easy when I rounded the corner on my scree bench and gulped out loud at what was in front of me. What almost had to be the access to scree slopes above looked pretty darn hard from my vantage! Water was running down a very steep series of little ledges in an exposed shallow gully that made stemming pretty difficult (it wasn’t tight enough for shorter legs). I worked my way up the gully but didn’t love the running water (slick rock) and exposure required to get over a slight bulge about half way up. I backed off and decided to check if there was any other route.
I worked my way a bit further along the scree bench past the running water and found a dry line leading steeply up another crack just south of the one Cornelius used. This was the perfect alternate route until I hit a low overhanging wall. Darn it. I even tried doing some funky climbing moves over this very loose overhang but there was no way this wasn’t 5th class and it was silly to pursue this line so I returned to the wet shallow gully / wall leading steeply upward. Interestingly after trying the overhang route this one now seemed more reasonable. A good strategy for difficult routes is to try something even more difficult first. 😉 Ascending the upper crux was still not easy. I deviated right of the running water on very steep rock with tiny holds and plenty of loose rock to keep things interesting. After a few lunges I was over the worst of it and scrambling out of the choke and onto the loose rubble slopes just below the summit.
From the top of the upper crux I followed Cornelius’ recommended route to the summit, ascending very steep and loose terrain slightly left and then straight up to the top. Smoke obscured my views somewhat but I had nice closeup looks at Tornado, Erris, Funnel and some other nearby peaks.
After taking in the summit views and a short break I decided it was time to challenge my two cruxes from above. I descended very loose terrain down to the mouth of the upper crux, sending tons of rock down it in the process. Curiously enough the wet gully was actually slightly easier to descend than it felt on ascent – I have no idea why but that was nice.
The lower crux was pretty simple compared to the upper one and after descending it I started the traverse back under the overhang and the snow patch and then down my line of cairns and the sheep track along the east face to the east access gully.
Clouds were building over the divide behind me as I retraced my route down the steep east access gully to the avalanche slope below. I was feeling pretty good about my day as I followed the animal trail back through light forest and traversed the cutblock back to the approach road and my bike. The ride back was quick and fun over all the berms and I was surprised to return just under 6 hours after leaving the truck. I really enjoyed the route and the scrambling on Gould Dome even more than I thought I would. For anyone looking for a nice short, challenging day out this is a good choice. Considering the long (and rough) drive from Calgary I would suggest a car camp at the t-intersection and combining this peak with Tornado or Mount Erris or both.