Summit Elevations (m): 2910, 2850, 2604
Total Elevation Gains (m): 2800
Round Trip Time (hr): 26
Total Trip Distance (km): 44
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: Not a very difficult trip but remote with plenty of bushwhacking and some exposure on Cone Mountain.
Technical Rating: TL2, OT4, SC6, SC5
Map: Google Maps
GPS Track: Download
First Ascent: Sept 1973; P Vermeulen, F Campbell (Cone), Oct 1978; P Vermeulen, F Campbell (Turbulent)
Cone Mountain is one of those peaks that you don’t know you want to do until you see someone else do it. I have realized a great many peaks like that! In the case of Cone, it’s a striking peak that I’ve hiked past many times before including hiking trips to the Mount Assiniboine area and explor8ions around the Spray River and Blue Range including Warre, Vavasour, Currie and Mount Morrison and Turner. Every single time a hiker crosses the bridge over the lovely and wild Spray River their eyes are drawn to the striking figure of Cone Mountain rising in the distance like an unattainable giant that you get to look at and photograph but you don’t get to summit. Well, I have news for you. As a Rockies scrambler you can summit it – and quite easily as far as technicalities are concerned. When I saw trip photos from a “moderate scramble” of Cone Mountain that Brandon Boulier posted I decided this peak was a top priority and before spraining my foot on Marvel Peak in late 2020 I was planning a fall trip into both Cone and Turbulent. When I found myself with 2 unplanned weeks off for scrambling in July 2021 I decided it was time to finally put these somewhat elusive and hard-to-get peaks on my summit list.
The only questions remaining were, who would come with me and how much smoke would we have to endure? Along with the unseasonably hot and dry late June and early July 2021 we now had to deal with the inevitable wildfire smoke pouring into Alberta from both BC to the west and SK to the east. Phil and Wietse were both available and willing to put in an effort on these peaks with me and we agreed to meet at the Mount Shark trailhead on Friday morning. I was a little concerned about having enough energy for such an aggressive plan considering I had scrambled Gould Dome only three days previous and Mount Oliver only the day before! Oh well. You only live once right? I decided to HTFU and just go for it as a nice end to my holiday.
Yet again, in a VERY common theme for me this year, we started from the parking lot on our 2-wheel steeds. I didn’t realize it when first planning this trip but you can fairly easily bike 10 kilometers of the approach – a substantial distance! Considering the whole trip is less than 45kms, you do half of it in about 1.5 hours total time. It’s the other half that takes much longer than we realized… After a quick and fun ride to a fast flowing Turbulent Creek we locked up the bikes and pondered the fact that we were now lower than the parking lot. That big hill after the Watridge Lake intersection was really going to suck on return. Future Vern problem.
We started up an obvious trail beside the creek, headed for what sounded like a pretty good sized waterfall just ahead. The waterfall is beautiful and must be why the trail is so well defined along the first few hundred meters of the creek. We were in high spirits as we continued upward, following a trail that slowly became less and less defined.
Sometimes when researching a trip I don’t give enough attention to the details. Due to a plethora of trips beforehand this was likely the case with this one too. Not that there’s a plethora of trips to read on either Cone or Turbulent but none of us were expecting a bushwhack all the way up valley from the lake along Turbulent Creek. Jose mentions;
We followed a crude trail on the east side of the canyon, this hike was starting on a high note! After 4 hours of easy bushwhacking, we were nearing the hanging valley and the objective
The way I read this statement was that there was a crude trail up the entire creek but of course this isn’t what she says at all. She mentions the crude trail along the canyon (~300m) and then 4 hours of bushwhacking. Dang it. For Jose, who seems perfectly happy bushwhacking for hours on end doing 4 hours of it is apparently no biggie but for the rest of us it’s a little annoying. Brandon doesn’t really talk about the approach along Turbulent Creek either. He definitely mentions the bushwhacking up Cone as being character building so we were prepared for that. I remember a few years ago it seemed like all my scrambling friends were tackling Mount Turbulent for some reason and none of them mentioned a lengthy ‘whack up the creek either. But a lengthy ‘whack it was! I should say that there is a faint trail up most of the way to Cone’s east access drainage but it was frustrating trying to follow it. Even with the 3 of us looking constantly we couldn’t seem to stick to it. It also had a habit of either crossing the creek or disappearing near the creek making us cross it for no reason. Put it this way – there’s a reason we chose to return via the Fortulent Peaks rather than back down the valley bottom…
After an hour and a half of hiking / bushwhacking up Turbulent Creek we noticed we were getting close to the ascent slopes for Mount Turbulent and dropped the big packs before continuing with daypacks for the east access drainage on Cone. The outlet creek was obvious as a gravel outwash and we slowly started up in the creek bed before deviating to the left hand side in light forest and deep moss. We were expecting a bushwhack up this east drainage and we got exactly what we were expecting. Eventually the creek narrowed, choked up and developed waterfalls that we avoided on climber’s left through a mix of open forest, steep willow and alder slopes and open(ish) avalanche terrain. By the time we could see open rubble slopes ahead we were ready for something other than bushwhacking for a bit.
The next few hours were unexpected – but in a good way this time. We hiked up the east drainage on rubble, following the energetic stream as it slowly curved up a NW ascent gully with a gorgeous tiered landscape. Waterfalls cascaded down the rock, glistening in the morning sun and misting us with cool droplets as we hiked up beside them. Towering outliers loomed over us as we continued to marvel at the scene as it slowly opened up in front of us and we began our final ascent to the upper col and summit ridge.
As we ascended the stepped terrain up the NW drainage Wietse and I both donned our icers and took advantage of the large snow slopes obviously feeding the creeks below. Phil managed to stick to smaller patches of snow and bare rock towards the center of the gully. The ascent went quickly with the distracting scenery and easy snow slopes and before long we were looking over outliers and up at the summit ridge.
The NW summit ridge offered incredible views and moderate scrambling to the top. We were all a bit bummed about the smoke but we knew this was a risk when we started the trip. We’ve had similar views to this one, of course, but I can’t imagine how great the view must be on a clear day from this vantage.
Wietse dug around in the cairn for a bit and came up with a small film canister. This was a good sign as these are usually pretty old. Sure enough! Ricks ascent from 1989 was the only entry. Unfortunately we didn’t have a writing instrument so we couldn’t add our names to the tiny piece of paper. Considering the FRA wasn’t until 1973 this is obviously not a hugely popular summit although I know of at least one other party (Brandon) who has done it recently. Considering the views and the prominence this peak should see a few more visitors than it does.
We took in the views that we had and ate some lunch before descending back to the upper col and down snow and rock to the east access drainage far below. I took full advantage of the snow slopes on descent, rocketing down much quicker than the rock route took the other two guys. (They didn’t like the rockfall coming down the snow slopes periodically – likely a smart decision.)
Descending the east drainage back to Turbulent Creek was quick and easy despite some thick bushwhacking. Soon we were back at the faint trail leading to our waiting packs. It was time to challenge another bushwhack and another peak.
I wasn’t really feeling like another bushwhack ascent after just completing Cone Mountain but we were this far up Turbulent Creek and the namesake peak was right there so we really had no choice. Soon we were grunting uphill with our large packs, headed for an upper SE drainage / gully that would eventually lead to the two Turbulent tarns and Mount Turbulent itself. To be honest the bushwhacking wasn’t nearly as bad as on Cone and we were surprised to get into a narrow, rocky drainage pretty soon after leaving the creek below. Note that there isn’t an obvious creek flowing from Mount Turbulent to the creek as there is on Cone Mountain. We didn’t find a creekbed until we were in the SE drainage a few hundred vertical meters up slope.
We followed the SE drainage as it slowly broke through the forest and led to an obvious scree slope on climber’s left that continued to stay out of anything resembling bush – delightful to our eyes. We skirted most of the forest in the SE drainage before hiking through a wonderful stand of larches just before treeline. This area must be gorgeous in the fall and is one of the reasons I’d planned for it that way. Once above the larch forest we wandered past the lower Turbulent lake – a lovely alpine lake that sits in a bowl and doesn’t obviously drain anywhere. It must go underground to the SE drainage below somewhere and must get pretty low when the snow above it melts off.
We worked our way easily around the lower lake before getting to the less impressive upper one and hiking around it easily as well. The SE slopes to the summit above looked very simple from here. The smoke was clearing a bit as we started up the lower SE slopes at around 19:00, hoping for some nice evening summit views.
We got what we came for! The views opening up behind us to some very distinct and popular Kananaskis peaks was incredible, especially compared to the haze we had on Cone Mountain only hours earlier.
As we gained the high col just under the summit we noticed a Banff Park radio repeater station on a small outlier just NE of the summit. As expected the views from Turbulent were pretty darn good despite some lingering smoky haze. Obviously Eon, Aye and Assiniboine stood out but so did some more obscure stuff like Beersheba. Sulphur Mountain looked very different from this angle and Goatview Ridge was catching the dying light sublimely.
After way too many summit photos and after Wietse discovered the original 1978 FA register (barely readable), we slowly started back down the easy SE slopes to the lakes below. Once again, snow was our friend and made for a very speedy exit.
I’m not sure when the high points along the ridge stretching from lowly Mount Fortune to Mount Turbulent got this silly label but I think it is in a snowshoe guidebook or something. Back in the day it was popular to combine peak names into new peak names (unofficially of course) but thank goodness that trend seems to be ending. I like So’s naming convention for the high points on this ridge, simply dubbing them Fortulent Peaks. Whatever they’re called or not called, we were determined to avoid the on “trail” bushwhack back down Turbulent Creek to Spray Lakes so we came up with a plan to reverse a route from Turbulent to Fortune that some folks have done in the past. The hiking was pretty easy for the most part. We managed to avoid trees with an initial steep grind up rubble to the ridge crest where the hiking became very pleasant.
It was kind of strange to be hiking downhill from the last Fortulent Peak to Mount Fortune. I never thought I’d repeat this little summit after a horrendous snowshoe way back in 2013! Ironically some of the best views of the trip were from this very lowly summit thanks to continued clearing smoke.
Descending from Mount Fortune back to the bikes and the bridge over Turbulent Creek was a little more manky than I was expecting but I was very happy to be doing downhill here instead of up. It didn’t take long and we were back at the bikes.
The bike ride back to the parking lot was fun and fast except for the 1km uphill ride that always manages to surprise with its hurt on return from this area. We finished the trip not much more than a day after starting it in 26 hours. I think with a fast and light team it could be done in a day – but it would be a long one.
I really enjoyed this three or four peak outing despite the lack of a good approach trail and the thick smoke on Cone Mountain. It always surprises me how many fairly prominent peaks continue to stand on their own for many years between ascent parties (recorded anyway). This trip summarizes what I love about the Alberta Rockies – accessible but remote. Over a very popular trail system but rarely ascended. Views to die for, acres of wildflowers and cascading waterfalls hidden by high rock walls on all sides. Lakes and tarns that are only visible from nearby or from space only add to the attraction.