Summit Elevations (m): 2607, 2585, 2480
Trip Date: September 11 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 2000+
Round Trip Time (hr): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 19
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3+ – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: Routefinding between the various peaks with many opportunities to get into very steep, exposed and loose terrain. I got cliffed out while descending the south ridges of “Dundy”.
Technical Rating: SC6+, RE4
Map: Google Maps
Last year Wietse and I spent a few glorious days in Waterton National Park in late summer on ascents of both Mount Dungarvan and Glendowan. At the time, while high on Dungarvan’s summit slopes we scoped out the traverse to “Dundy” and Cloudy Ridge and wrote it off as looking a bit far for the day we had planned. Almost immediately I knew I’d be back for Cloudy Ridge and likely “Dundy Peak” – an unofficial summit made sort-of-official by its inclusion in Andrew Nugara’s 3rd edition of More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. With the weather looking to change soon into fall with snow in various long term forecasts I figured it was time to go give Cloudy Ridge a look with a sideways glance at “Dundy”. All this business of naming every high point between official summits with combinations of the names is an early 2000’s trend in the Alberta Rockies that is long past its due but considering “Dundy” is in a guidebook it’ll stay on maps for the foreseeable future. Ironically it provided some moderate to difficult scrambling so in the end it was certainly a worthwhile distraction while in the area anyway. I had zero intentions of bagging the NE outlier of Cloudy Ridge, called “Cloudy Ridge Junior” in Nugara’s guidebook and Cloudy Ridge NE by me since that’s exactly what it is.
I parked at the Red Rock Canyon parking lot up the Red Rock parkway and set off up Bauerman Creek along the Snowshoe Trail despite dire warnings posted at the trailhead regarding an aggressive black bear further up trail. I was quite a bit later than usual since I needed a new park pass and didn’t want to arrive early and have to wait for the info center to open at 09:00. Thankfully the gate attendant was on duty at 08:30 so I didn’t have to bother with going into town. I hiked up the trail for a km or so before arriving at open grassy slopes reaching down to the trail from the north. In order to avoid nastiness along (and in!) Red Rock Creek, it is advised to ascend these slopes and traverse them towards the south end of the SW ridge of Cloudy, descending and crossing Red Rock Creek before starting up the ridge to the summit. Of course the issue with this route is the height loss between the SE ridge of Glendowan and the SW ridge of Cloudy but the time and energy saved is likely worth it. I managed to find a pretty efficient traverse line but was still disheartened by the steep height loss into the creek below. It was at this point that I resolved to descend the south ridge of Dundy into Lost Horse Creek rather than deal with this mess at the end of my day. Little did I know at this point that I would end up taking a much more exhausting route back…
After crossing the NW branch of Red Rock Creek I started up the very steep south end of Cloudy’s SW ridge on a mix of low vegetation, dirt and scree. The Kenow wildfire ripped through this area in 2017 and very little live vegetation remains above knee height in much of Waterton Lakes National Park. The open terrain makes for some wonderful photography but once the burned trees start falling, off trail scrambles here could be a bit of a nightmare. This is one of the reasons I’m pushing to complete any remaining scrambles I have in Waterton within the next few years (there’s not many). I hadn’t done the amount of research I normally do for solo outings for some reason and the SW ridge was much easier than I was expecting. The winds were forecast to pick up throughout the day but I thought my day wouldn’t be that long considering the relatively short distances involved. Yeah right!
As I neared the false summit at the NE end of the ridge I admired the incredible views over the cliffs and upper Red Rock Creek valley towards Dundy Peak. Although the peak itself looked fairly unremarkable, the terrain around it looked damn impressive. I noted that the south ridge off Dundy didn’t look too straightforward with an obvious line of insurmountable cliffs ringing it near the top. That was a “future Vern” issue so I turned my attention the other way – towards a scary looking summit block of Cloudy Ridge to the NW of my position. I followed the ridge towards it before looking closely for the route. Again – reading Nugara’s description would have helped me out here but alas, I hadn’t. My first attempt at the summit block ended with me backing off steep terrain, looking for an obvious way around it. Soon I noticed a traverse bench (exposed) going around the summit block before ascending steep and very loose ledges on the north face to the surprisingly spacious apex above.
Views from Cloudy Ridge were very nice. The wind wasn’t so nice. I snapped a bunch of photos before descending my ascent ledges back around the north face and walking along a wide ridge to get some better views of the NE outlier or “Cloudy Ridge Junior”. Already while traversing the SE ridge to the summit of Cloudy Ridge I’d been impressed with the outlier – it was much more aesthetic than the true summit to be perfectly honest and it got me thinking about tagging it. I knew that Geoff Hardy had forged a route from the outlier to Cloudy Ridge but I had no idea where it went. I also knew that they had descended my ascent route to the Red Rock Parkway for some reason, rather than retracing their route down the NE outlier which made me nervous.
Cloudy Ridge NE (“Junior”)
I was here now and knew that the standard route to “Cloudy Junior” would entail another 2.5-3 hours of driving (each way) and at least 1100 meters of height gain. Tagging it from Cloudy Ridge just seemed like smart math and I’m all about the math when it comes to these things. Well, math and opportunity – which I also clearly had in my favour. I decided to try descending the NE ridge and north face to a bench visible about 150 vertical meters below me and likely granting access to the col between the two peaks. From the col I spotted a pretty darn easy route up the south face and SW ridge to the summit of the outlier. If you’ve spent time in Waterton scrambling the peaks you know that the terrain tends to be very loose and very cliffy with sneaky routes possible but certainly not guaranteed! I’ve gotten lucky a few times this year with ledge traverses but this time my luck seemingly ran out. After descending some pretty steep and loose terrain along the north face of Cloudy Ridge my luck ran out just above the bench I was trying to reach in the form of a vertical wall. The wall was even overhanging in spots and there was simply no way to descend it safely as a scramble. Reluctantly I turned back up to the upper ridge, ready to give up and start my traverse over to Dundy Peak.
But wait a minute! Was I really going to give up this easily?! Time was slowly ticking away as it tends to do when you’re onsighting a route but I still had plenty of daylight and I had one more route to try – and one I should have seen right away but didn’t for some reason. Why not descend easier looking terrain down the west ridge towards the Glendowan col to access the bench I was interested in? Indeed. The descent of the west ridge went much easier and more straightforward than expected. When the terrain got silly I simply traversed around the nose of the ridge to my left (south) before getting around the cliffs and finding my desired bench. The bench traverse worked even better than expected! (After getting home I realized that Geoff and Ryan also found this bench, but they traversed around the SW side of Cloudy instead of taking the west ridge before tagging the summit, which likely cost them some time.)
Every time I thought my luck might run out, the bench continued and soon I was angling my way steeply to the col and starting my traverse on rubble and small boulders along the SE face of the outlier. After passing beneath some cliffs and pinnacles to my left, I turned sharply up loose rubble to gain the SW summit ridge and soon I was on my second peak of the day.
Views were similar to Cloudy Ridge with some nice vistas north to the Castle Wilderness. While I was busy fussing around trying to find a route to the outlier the winds had picked up and were now nearly blowing me off my feet. It was time to return and start the traverse to Dundy Peak.
The traverse back to the west ridge went quickly, as did the ascent back up to just under the summit of Cloudy Ridge. From here I retraced my steps along the exposed traverse to the SE ridge leading towards a distant looking Dundy Peak.
I followed a very handy sheep trail across the east slopes of the false summit along the SE ridge before continuing down towards Dundy Peak. Another sheep trail on the south side of the ridge avoided any difficult terrain and soon I was staring up at the summit block of Dundy wondering where the heck the easiest route went! After some fussing around I ascended a steep crack with good holds that I’d consider SC6. Once again, as on the outlier of Cloudy Peak the winds were so strong I was a little worried about blowing off the spacious summit and soon started down the interesting south ridge.
This is where things got interesting. The first part of the descent went easily. Soon I was taking a steep line down loose blocky terrain on the SE branch of the south ridge. I was getting a bit nervous about the terrain ahead – it was obvious that the ridge had some very exposed terrain further down. I knew from the summit register on Cloudy Ridge that many folks come up this route but nobody mentioned they were going back down it which furthered my concerns. Once again, upon coming home and doing research that I should have done beforehand, Nugara mentions that downclimbing the crux won’t be everyone’s cup ‘o tea. It certainly wasn’t mine on this particular day!
As I suspected I soon arrived at a line of cliffs that just didn’t have an obvious break that I could scramble down. I found Nugara’s line – it was the only possible scramble route – but after spending at least 10-15 minutes nervously poking around at it from above I knew I wasn’t in the mood for this kind of downclimb at the end of a long day while solo. A fall here likely wouldn’t kill but it could certainly break bones and I wasn’t feeling it for whatever reason. I knew I could likely ascend it no problem but going down with small holds, some overhangs near the bottom and no obvious way of stemming any of the moves meant I wasn’t going to tempt fate any more than I already had. Dammit! I was a few hundred meters on the wrong side of Dundy already at this point and energy levels were waning quickly – as was my afternoon. Darkness comes early at this time of year and I had to make a decision about descent route quickly. I even traversed to the south ridge to see if I could find a route down the line of cliffs but there was simply no other viable routes. I made the call to go back up and over Dundy and traverse all the way back to my ascent route on Cloudy Ridge via the SW ridge. Arg.
The day was getting long as I slowly trudged back up the south ridge of Dundy, over the peak and back down my moderate ascent route. The slog back up the SE ridge to the false summit of Cloudy Ridge was even worse for some reason. I wasn’t feelin’ it anymore, I can assure you of that! I managed to avoid about 10m of height gain with a traverse on the south side of the false summit which felt much better than it should have. All that was left was an easy descent of the SW ridge. Ooops nope. That’s not all. I still had that f’ing ascent from the creek to do! When I remembered that little detail I sank into a few minutes of deep depression before reminding myself that it was still a lovely afternoon and I had no right to complain about my self-induced predicament. The ascent after the creek crossing went about as well as it could have considering my exhaustion. I simply put one foot in front (and above!) the other for long enough to get it done and over with. Soon I was traversing the slopes towards the open slopes down to the Snowshoe Trail. Once on the trail I enjoyed the gentle grade and easy walking back to the parking lot.
What a day! Originally I was planning a 6-7 hour fairly straightforward jaunt but I ended up with some serious route finding, difficult and exposed terrain and three summits instead of two. I was stymied by cliffs twice, managing to route find around them once and forced to backtrack a second time. Failure in the mountains is a good thing as long as you come back in good health, so I consider my failed descent of the south ridge of Dundy to be a good thing. You’re simply not trying hard enough if you succeed at everything you try IMHO. If I were to make a recommendation it would be to either repeat my route or ascend Dundy via the difficult south ridge and then return either down Dungarvan as per Nugara or tag Cloudy / NE outlier as I did, returning to the Red Rock Parkway via my route.