Summit Elevations (m): 2695, 2798
Trip Date: Sunday, September 19, 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 1350
Round Trip Time (hr): 9.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 22
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something badly
Difficulty Notes: Steep, loose route involves route finding and some exposure on the ridge
Technical Rating: SC6+; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Years ago already, Wietse proposed a trip to me that sounded pretty interesting. He was proposing that we use car shuttles to do a traverse from Mount Odlum to Mount Loomis, leaving hwy 40 along an unnamed creek and returning via Odlum Creek to the Lantern Creek parking lot. Of course he got the idea from a trip in Andrew Nugara’s More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies 3rd Edition. Even though we had intentions of doing this trip for at least 4 or 5 years it always slipped out of the top spot. This was an obvious candidate for a Fall trip considering the area is rife with larch trees. In 2017 I hiked up nearby Odlum Ridge and then in 2020 I completed a fantastic trip up the nearby Mount Bishop, Horned Mountain and Bishop Ridge. From Bishop Ridge I remember looking over towards Mount Loomis and thinking yet again that I should prioritize it a bit more. When I injured myself returning from Marvel Peak in late September 2020, the traverse was postponed yet another year. Enter 2021. This has certainly been the year of getting long sought summits for me. From the Spectral Lakes peaks to summits such as Gould Dome, Zombie and Otuskwan and Aldridge and Courcelette, this has been a pretty darn good year already.
As the 3rd weekend of September approached I decided that pretty much no matter what the forecast said I was going to try for Odlum and Loomis. Wietse had already scrambled Mount Odlum but we were hoping to add Running Rain Peak to the day so he was still keen on the traverse. I was really hoping that Wietse would be able to join me as it was originally his plan but he was otherwise engaged on the better weather day of the weekend (Sunday) so I was stuck with Sara McLean instead. JUST KIDDING (about the being stuck with part – everything else was still true). 😉 We decided to meet at the late(ish) hour of 08:00 in the Lantern Creek parking lot (Picklejar Lakes) since there was no way I was going to take the recommended 14 hours for this trip. We had no beta for Running Rain Peak – just a line in Gaia so we had no idea what to expect there. Our route would start with Odlum, gaining the Running Rain / Odlum col before tagging Running Rain and then traversing to Odlum and Loomis. On the drive to the front ranges I was pretty psyched. Photos from a party on Mount Bishop the day previous showed little to no snow and I was thinking that everything looked bone dry until I approached Eyrie Gap and my heart sank precipitously. There was a very fresh coat of snow on every peak along the Great Divide in front of me and even the pavement was soaked from an obviously recent rain event. I wasn’t in the mood for this crap today! I knew that the route was rated ‘moderate’ and a Nugara moderate can sneak into SC6+ territory on occasion – or even the easier side of a Kane ‘difficult’. Snow was not going to make our day easier or shorter or less stressful. But there wasn’t much to do but try it – I’d done most other day trips in this area. I met Sara at the Lantern Creek parking lot where she joined me in lamenting the fresh snow before jumping in my car and heading up hwy 40 to the parking spot that Nugara mentions.
With the obvious fresh snow to the west I decided to wear my lightweight mountaineering boots instead of the usual approach shoes. Sara wore runners as usual. Right off the bat she was much quicker than me as I fussed about keeping my feet dry while crossing a horribly mangled Storm Creek just beneath highway 40.
I somehow managed to find a log that worked and soon we were following a series of ribbons and a good trail up an unnamed creek towards Mount Odlum. We hiked quickly in the cool morning air and soon I was taking layers off despite the 0 degree temps. The bushes were damp from that morning’s rain. As we neared the upper valley the trail became less distinct and we encountered some bog which was easily avoidable for the most part. It was nice to hike among yellowing larches again as we gained height up a rubble field under the steep east face of Odlum.
We trended right on endless rubble, trying to avoid it on vegetation where possible, before spotting the tight scree and boulder gully angling up through impossible cliffs to the Running Rain / Odlum col high above us. It didn’t look like the next hour or so was going to be the most pleasurable in the world but we shrugged and settled into it, gaining height much quicker than I first expected. We started running into more serious amounts of snow about half way up the slope to the col as it narrowed and steepened.
The gully was very steep, very loose and generally just manky (yes, this is a favorite word of mine). I wouldn’t want to be in here with any more than 2 people and I’d prefer to be the one higher up. A delightful mix of scree, boulders, rocks and dirt combined with fresh snow, water and some ice contributed to the overall impression. I was very impressed with the fact that Sara ascended here in runners – it was hard enough in stiff-soled boots!
As we crested the col, all the nastiness of the ascent gully was quickly forgotten with some unbelievable views over the Elk River valley with low-lying clouds and massive peaks rising beyond. We also gulped fairly loudly at the sight of Running Rain’s intimidating south ridge and upper face – it looked impossible from here. It turns out that it was, indeed, impossible.
We made an attempt at the south ridge of Running Rain, just in case it was easier than it looked. It wasn’t. We went further and higher than we probably should have given the conditions but you know how it is… Eventually we came to a snow and ice covered, slightly overhanging and chossy gully and decided today wasn’t the day for it. I’m not convinced there is a reasonable scramble line on this peak from this direction but maybe when dry it would feel much more reasonable – who knows? Kudos to whomever put the line on Gaia, they should share a trip report somewhere so I know whether or not to bother with it again. 😉
After descending from our attempt on Running Rain it was time to ascend Odlum. It wasn’t a warm day and the clouds were starting to thicken as we started up the NW ridge on a mix of snow covered rubble and slabs. I quickly donned my toque, gloves and a 3rd layer. I was very delighted to have dry feet but Sara assured me that her feet were still there as we tackled the moderate terrain. The route was generally obvious, sticking to the ridge and deviating off only when necessary.
The snow and ice made things spicier but within only about 50 minutes of the col we were at our first summit of the day. Even with the Running Rain attempt it took us less than 3.5 hours from hwy 40 to the summit of Odlum – it is a pretty short day trip on its own. The clouds were thick enough that we didn’t linger on the summit, choosing to keep moving before having lunch somewhere out of the wind.
The south ridge of Mount Odlum was fairly easy and quick to descend. I was getting a bit concerned that we’d be in thick clouds the rest of the day but they started to clear just in time for us to start up towards an intermediate peak between Odlum and Loomis. The landscape was very dramatic now with low clouds, blue skies on one side of the Divide and wilder weather to the west over distant giants such as Joffre and Abruzzi. The Italian group north of Abruzzi played chicken with the clouds, providing dramatic hints of their forbidding east faces.
We were happy to spot a sheep trail running under the unnamed peak on our traverse along the west face and wasted no time in following it – saving ourselves about 100m of height gain in the process. As we descended the south ridge of this peak towards Mount Loomis it looked fairly intimidating with quite a bit of snow on its NW ridge.
We traversed over another small bump before hitting the low point at the end of the NW ridge. From here we were relieved to see a pretty easy looking descent to Odlum Pond below. Now all we had to do was bag our second peak! Easier said than done… The NW ridge of Loomis earned its SC6 rating and the fresh snow added a “+” to that.
The routefinding wasn’t terribly hard – there were only so many reasonable options – but in one case we had to deviate onto a pretty exposed traverse across the top of the east face which wasn’t without some risk. The snow and ice obviously didn’t help here either! The real surprise was when we topped out of the first steep section how far the traverse to the summit still was.
Mount Loomis made us work for our 2nd peak of the day but our reward was much better views than off Mount Odlum earlier in the day with lifting clouds. Our views up the Elk Valley towards Mount Foch and Abruzzi were stupendous. I actually thought Foch was Joffre until I got home and realized that Joffre was buried in clouds on this particular day.
The wind was cool and we were feeling the affects of being on snow for hours on end so our summit stay wasn’t too long. The descent of the NW ridge was about as tricky as you’d expect with several “no slip” zones and lots of potential places to slip!
Once at the col we started down steep ledges, rubble and slabs towards Odlum Pond far below. The upper hanging valley was a beautiful place to eat our 2nd lunch and enjoy the successes of the day. I honestly thought at this point that all our efforts were done for the day and “all” we had left was one foot in front of the other for 8-10kms to the Lantern Creek parking lot. Boy was I wrong.
Logically, we decided to ignore the line on the Gaia basemap and take our own version straight down from the upper hanging valley to Odlum Pond below. Naturally this didn’t work very well. We should have either followed the line left or gone around on scree slopes to the right. It didn’t take long and we were cliffed out in very thick Krumholz on very steep avalanche terrain with running waterfalls all around. Grudgingly we went back upslope and got back onto the Gaia line which worked out perfectly, of course. 😉
Odlum Pond was a bit underwhelming – it’s more of a mud puddle to be candid. The upper valley is a gorgeous place to have lunch or hang out and read a book but don’t come up here for just the pond or even larches because there’s isn’t many. You’re much better off either one valley north (Odlum Ridge) or south (Loomis Lake).
What followed from the pond was a surprise for me. I should have known better, but the cutline trail was much more overgrown and unmaintained than our approach trail from the morning. Again – there are much better trails to much nicer bodies of water than Odlum Pond and this is likely why so few obviously bother coming in here, much less keeping the trail cleared. We managed to move pretty quickly despite the overgrown sections but be aware if you’re coming this way to tag Mount Loomis that it’s not quite the pleasant hike you might think it is. It reminded me of the Mount Bishop approach but slightly less bad.
I loved this traverse. The only thing that would have made it slightly better would have been clearer skies and a drier route. It would have been great to tag Running Rain Peak along with the other two but the approach is short and fairly straightforward for that one so I’ll likely be back someday. The mix of challenging terrain and conditions, great views over low-lying clouds and wild landscape scenery in every direction is what I look for in a scramble and on that front this day delivered in spades. A highly recommended trip for fit parties with enough scrambling experience to tackle some stiff moderate sections of very loose Rockies treasure.