Summit Elevation (m): 2901
Trip Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Round Trip Time (hr): 11.5
Elevation Gain (m): 2125
Total Trip Distance (km): 27.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 / 3 – you fall, you break something small like your pinkie
Difficulty Notes: An intricate route with overhead hazards and some limited exposure and loose rock on the north end of Hawk Ridge. I can’t really call it class 2 so consider it easy moderate or hard easy. Your choice. 😉
Technical Rating: SC5+, OT5, RE4
GPS Track: Download Zip
Map: Google Maps
I first planned a trip into the Egypt Lakes area when I read of a long day trip that Matthew Hobbs did back in 2015 via Redearth and Pharaoh Creek. Since there seemed to be so many larches around, I planned my trip for September 2016 via Healy Creek / Pass and it did not disappoint! Since then I’ve completed many other Fall trips into this area, most of them solo. I did a gorgeous trip into Lesser Pharaoh and The Sphinx with Phil in mid September 2017. Then, after a year off from the area in 2018, in 2019 I followed a route that Rob Schnell provided up the east face of Scarab Peak. In 2020 I was back – this time for the obscure “Natalko Peak” just east of Scarab – again via a route that Rob Schnell kindly provided me. I was keenly aware of the one remaining (official) summit I had left in the Egypt Lakes area as the end of summer 2021 approached. Haiduk Peak became a bit more popular than usual in 2020 after Matt Clay posted a trip report from his ascent via Honeymoon Pass and Verdant Creek – a horrid bushwhack by the sounds of it. (Matt used an older report from Rick Collier in 2005 to plan his ascent.) Since Matt’s posting, however, two other parties (that I knew of) had taken a much different route to access the same easy south slopes that Matt used. Paul Zizka forged a very ingenious route from the Ball Pass / Hawk Creek trail that ascended steep slopes to the north end of Hawk Ridge before traversing larch forests to the south end of Haiduk. Brandon Boulier followed Paul’s route and I planned to follow it too. The only question was – when and with whom? The when was obviously the last day of summer 2021. The “whom” was obviously myself.
I drove a very busy Banff-Radium highway (thanks to a closure east of Golden on hwy 1) to the very full Floe Lake parking lot up hwy 93 and started hiking under a cloudy sky around 07:30. The first few hundred meters of hiking are along the busy road, off to the side along an old roadbed in the forest. Soon I turned up Hawk Creek on a good trail, bringing back memories from my last time up here many years ago while approaching Isabelle Peak in 2007. I had good memories of the trail but the growth beside me certainly seemed a bit higher than 14 years previous! The trail crossed the Vermillion flats before ascending steadily across the south and then southeast slopes of Isabelle. About 75 minutes into my day it was time to cross Hawk Creek and ascend somewhere on the other side. It wasn’t immediately obvious just where this somewhere was but I made my way over to the rubble slopes beneath a steep looking gully and switched from approach shoes to my ultra lightweight mountaineering boots for the rest of my day. I was expecting snow and a lot of sidehilling – hence the switch.
The grind up rubble slopes to the bottom of the gully went by easily and quickly and soon I was enjoying an easy to moderate scramble up a steep gully with some loose rock, solid steps and steep dirt. The boots were instantly a hit with the soft dirt and provided firm steps compared with what the shoes would have given. Sometimes I get lucky with a good decision or two…
Although the lower gully was good fun scrambling, the section of very steep terrain above it was not as pleasurable. Despite stunning views back to Isabelle’s south cliffs the view ahead was less inspiring. There really wasn’t any proper bushwhacking but ascending steep dirt slopes with low willows and some dirt covered slabs wasn’t exactly ideal either. No matter. When you tackle routes such as the one I was on today you must expect to be on less-than-perfect terrain every once in a while. This is precisely the reason this is a relatively untraveled route – it’s not exactly easy.
Eventually I worked my way up the steep slope and started towards a larch forest with views of the north peak of Hawk Ridge above. I stuck left before contouring slowly right to the col ahead. I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of a lovely larch forest along the north slopes of Hawk Ridge. Today was looking like a very good one indeed. Just over 2.5 hours from the parking lot I was in a wild place in the Rockies, high above Hawk Creek to the north and the upper reaches of Verdant Creek to the south.
Isabelle Peak towered behind me with Hawk Ridge stretching out to the south, west of Verdant and Haiduk on the east side of the valley. Sunlight shone through clouds and mixed with a brilliant blue sky in between. Yellow and fluorescent green larches glowed in all directions with snow capped giants beckoning from afar and hinting at lofty summits above the cloud cover.
Some days are made long before attaining a summit and today was one of these. I have to admit that Haiduk Peak looked a depressingly long way off as I started my traverse and descent to its distant SW ridge from the high col. It was tough to feel too down however, with the stunning views along Hawk Ridge and towards Mount Shanks down the only unburned reaches of Verdant Creek. The sun was warm on my neck as I walked through expired flowers and yellow larch forest. It felt as though the yellows were bursting off the needles – it was that bright.
I tried to maintain elevation as I crossed the upper north end of the Verdant Creek valley to the SW ridge of Haiduk but of course this only worked for so long before I was forced to lose height around the lower SW end of the ridge to avoid cliffs.
As I lost height below the larch line in the forest I encountered some light bushwhacking. It never got silly but I was thinking I was pretty far “out there” by the time I finally stumbled out of some thick Krumholz into an open avalanche slope SW of Haiduk and granting access to the south summit slopes. I was already 4 hours into my day as I finally felt like my approach was over and I was planting feet on Haiduk Peak. It felt great! I was out here in the middle of nowhere on an obscure peak that few know about, much less bother with on a perfect late summer day all by myself. Nature was painting a dramatic scene behind me as I put one foot in front of the other back up to tree line and above – towards a distant, snowy summit.
There are many options up the easy south slopes of Haiduk. Don’t overthink it. It might be slightly easier to stick to the middle of the slope under the summit block rather than straying too far climber’s right but pretty much any route will eventually have you rolling your eyes and then your ankles on unrelenting rubble slopes to the upper summit block. I don’t know if a foot of fresh snow helped or hurt me but either way I was now extra happy to have my boots on – my feet were toasty warm and dry. My eyes were burning both from the stunning views over Hawk Ridge towards White Tail and Verendrye and from the fact that for the first time in decades I forgot my sunglasses at the car.
Eventually I dragged my a__ up to a very snowy summit block and easily ascended a nice little route up a series of low cliffs, my wandering footsteps visible in the snow behind me as I ascended higher and higher. Even though the summit was taking its damn time to appear it was very hard to be grumpy about it with the views I now had of Scarab Peak just to the SE and behind me to Hawk Ridge and Mount Shanks, not to mention the glorious forms of the giants in the Vermillion Range to the west. Finally around 5.5 hours from the parking lot I was standing on the summit of Haiduk Peak with stunning views in every direction.
The summit register was much busier after Matt’s entry but this is still a pretty obscure peak and it was cool to see an entry from Hans Fuhrer in 1977 – those aren’t common to find anymore. I spent at least 30-45 minutes in the cool winds at the summit taking in the incredible vistas. As usual for me in this area, all the local and distant giants were hiding in the clouds including Assiniboine, Ball and the Goodsirs.
Ironically (or not), by far the hardest-to-access peak over the Egypt Lakes area has essentially zero views of any lakes. I could only spot the extreme southern end of Haiduk Lake but this didn’t subtract too much from the feeling of accomplishment at achieving this elusive summit. As my watch slowly proceeded towards 13:30 I decided it was time to start my long egress and started back down the summit block.
I picked my way slowly down the rubble mess of the upper south slopes – again very thankful for boots – before picking up my pace a little as things dried out lower down. For the return trip I decided to try to outsmart the bush I’d encountered lower down by sticking higher on the traverse. This worked very well until it didn’t in the form of cliffs lining a creek along the traverse.
I still appreciated my highline route more than the bushy one below as I plunge-stepped dirt slopes down to my left to avoid the line of cliffs. From this point onward the route easily traversed slowly uphill through a gorgeous larch forest rather than a boring regular one. Distraction works well to counter tired bodies!
The larch forest was a welcome distraction as I lugged my body up to the col under the north end of Hawk Ridge. It did such a great job of putting me in a good mood that I decided that I should probably check out the views from the north end of Hawk Ridge since I was so close anyway. It’s these types of decisions that make me wonder sometimes…
As I suspected, the lower NE ridge of the north end of Hawk Ridge was an easy hike. Higher up the ridge, however, things took a bit of a turn. Nothing complicated but certainly more scrambling than Haiduk presented! I made my way across the ridge and along some bloody big and loose rocks to a huge cairn, muttering something about “why do I do these things” as I went along. Of course the answer presented itself pretty quickly from the summit – in the form of stunning views.
The views from the north end of Hawk Ridge were definitely worth it, especially now that I’ve been up the south end (Mount Shanks) and the north one. The funny part is that the “summit” of Hawk Ridge is said to be somewhere in the middle over Honeymoon Pass. Sometimes you can’t win when it comes to the overly complex game of peakbagging. 😉 I made my way back down the NE ridge to the col and started quickly down to the steep access slopes above Hawk Creek.
The descent of the steep dirt slopes to the access gully went quickly and easy thanks again to the heavier boots. This was a perfect trip to bring them on! The gully was good fun and soon I was putting on the approach shoes and hiking back along a sunny, quiet Hawk Creek trail to a distant hwy 93.
I was surprised to see how dramatic the north end of Hawk Ridge looked from below and was doubly glad that I’d taken the extra 45 minutes to an hour to make the ascent. The yellows of late summer, early fall were bursting out of foliage around me as birds chirped happily in the late afternoon warmth. It was a good day to be alive and not working.
As you can probably tell from the amount of photos and superlatives in this report, I great enjoyed the convoluted ramble from hwy 93, up Hawk Creek and over to Haiduk Peak. This route might not seem very straightforward – and it’s not – but considering that it avoids almost all bushwhacking and allows you to enjoy the only remaining larch forests in Verdant Creek it is 100% worth the hassle. And can you really call it a hassle when your day involves a good trail, fresh water and air, bursting fall colors, blue skies, swirling clouds, fresh snow and distant views of hidden giants? I call that a win every day of the week and especially on a Tuesday.