Summit Elevations (m): 2423, 2436
Trip Date: September 30 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 1750+
Round Trip Time (hr): 9.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 45 (17 on bike)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you tripped on your shoelaces
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties other than finding a relatively windless day and the energy for the numbers involved.
Technical Rating: TL2, OT4
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
I am quickly approaching the ascent of my last officially named mountain in Waterton Lakes National Park. I suppose there are also more than a few unofficial ones but I’m closing in on most of those too. Even though this is also the case in more areas of the Alberta Rockies, somehow the fact that I’m almost ‘done’ Waterton is producing mixed feelings. Of course, as many people have pointed out to me, there are many other areas that I have yet to explore such as the wonderful and nearby Glacier National Park just across the US border to the south but I have a strange fondness for the Alberta Rockies. There are obvious reasons that I have always prefered sticking to the mountain ranges in Alberta – especially those within 3-4 hours driving from Calgary. I have a family and a full-time job that makes traveling further challenging and unappealing for me. Even though my kids are now grown, I have grown extra fond of the Alberta Rockies over the past 20 years of ascending so many hundreds of them. As I walk the dozens and dozens of familiar trails and untracked valleys from Waterton, Castle, Crowsnest, Kananaskis, Banff, Lake Louise, David Thompson Country, Ram Country and north to the Icefields and Jasper it’s like visiting with old friends. Sure! I know there are many new friends to be made but at my age making friends is more un-appealing than it used to be – and I’ve never been very fond of that basic human function. In any case, as the last day of September rolled towards me in a week off work, I set my sights on a long planned trip in Waterton National Park and Wietse agreed to join me.
Kishinena Peak and Lone Mountain have developed a mixed reputation. In 2011 Andrew Nugara produced a trip report on Kishinena Peak that certainly put it on more than a few folks radars. Since then the peak has also been added to his “More Scrambles” guidebook and attracted even more attention. Soon after completing Kishinena Andrew posted another trip report on Lone Mountain. Just as for Kishinena, he also added Lone to his 3rd edition scrambles guidebook. Even though Lone sounded pretty decent from Andrew, reading other reports from folks in the scrambling community didn’t make it sound that appealing as a destination on its own. I decided a while ago to combine the two fairly remote (for Waterton) peaks into one long(ish) day. My initial plans had us biking the 8.5 kms up the Snowshoe trail / Bauerman Creek to the Snowshoe Campground. From the campground we would hike up Kishinena Peak via Sage Pass before heading back to the Tamarack trail junction and continuing a long out-and-back to and from Lone Mountain via the Tamarack Trail / GDT. Even though the total numbers were fairly big (~47 kms, 2k vert) most of it was on trail and easy travel and 17 kms were on bikes. As we drove to the trailhead we did what we often do – we changed plans a bit. Wietse made the excellent suggestion to start with Lone Mountain as the less desirable peak and end on a high note with Kishinena. I agreed and by 08:20 we were biking up the easy trail to the Snowshoe Campground.
Despite recently hiking the first 1km of the Snowshoe Trail on my solo scramble of Cloudy and Dundy Peak, it’s been many years since I’ve been further along it. Way back in 2009, Wietse and I joined Keith and Anne-Marie for a traverse of Newman Peak, Spionkop and Avion Ridge. At the time we didn’t bike the approach to the Goat Lake turnoff but I remember wishing we had. This time we were smarter and were on our two-wheel steeds. The bike ride was easy and fairly quick to the empty and very quiet Snowshoe backcountry campground. There were a few more downhill sections than expected but overall it was very bikeable and we only pushed uphill a handful of times.
After locking our bikes to a couple of sturdy trees just across the bridge at the campground we continued up the trail to Twin Lakes. The trail started gaining height right after the campground – a good thing since we didn’t gain too much on the bike ride along the Snowshoe trail. As we hiked through unburned forest towards Twin Lakes we were delighted to see a larch forest on the north side of Mount Bauerman – unexpected to say the least. How the heck did this tiny part of Waterton survive the Kenow wildfire in September 2017 considering it burned up to Sage Pass from the west and all around this area to the south and east?
We hiked briskly past the Twin Lakes campground and the lakes themselves before continuing along the so-called “Tamarack Trail” leading up to a low col under the east face of Kishinena Peak. As we hiked up the trail to the col, I wondered aloud if rather than hiking all the way back to Twin Lakes and up to Sage Pass to ascend Kishinena, why not take the scramble route up the east face? I knew that Nugara had taken this route and didn’t remember it being too difficult. I also didn’t think it looked horrible. Wietse agreed that this seemed like a logical plan. Change #2 on the day! 😉
We finished the steep hike up to the col before getting our first good views of the still distant Lone Mountain. The hike down from the col was very pleasant and we continued to scope out our later route up Kishinena’s east face / ridge. As we continued along the Tamarack Trail we entered burned forest.
As we continued to hike to the distant south end of Lone Mountain we started throwing around ideas to descend into upper Bauerman Creek and ascend the easy looking north end of Lone – saving ourselves quite a bit of total distance. We kiboshed the idea for two reasons. Firstly we’d end up losing more height on this route and secondly the forest looked fierce – even the burned sections. A trail is always quicker and mentally much easier than bushwhacking and the Tamarack Trail was lovely. We were surprised to hike past another trail leading up to the Great Divide, signed “Kootenay Pass South Trail”. WTF? This trail wasn’t on the Gaia basemap and we weren’t aware of it. Why not ascend this trail to the upper ridge and then follow it to Kishinena on our return? This would be very efficient – provided the trail went where we expected it to. Hmmm. Change #3 was in the works. We decided to scope things out from the summit of Lone Mountain before committing to the idea.
Eventually the Tamarack Trail descended out of the burn and through more peaceful forest before finally ending up at the Lone Lake warden cabin above Lone Lake. We took a short break here before turning our attention to the south ridge of Lone Mountain.
From the warden cabin we simply started up. No use overthinking things! The forest on the lower south slopes of Lone was pretty tame and soon we were on more open slopes right along the ridge. Views down Lone Creek to Mount Blakiston, Hawkins and Festubert were awesome. For some reason I was thinking we would have limited views from this lowly peak but so far the views were pretty great. There was a nice larch forest above Lone Lake under Mount Festubert that was also unburned. The Tamarack Trail is likely one of the most unburned trails in Waterton, other the Crypt Lake trail.
There were no difficulties whatsoever to the summit of Lone Mountain. TL2 or 3 at most. This is one of the easiest scrambles in Waterton but the views are unexpectedly great. From burned out valleys to the east and west to giant peaks in Montana, we both commented more than once that this mountain was certainly not one of the worst viewpoints we’ve been on. The terrain was quick and easy to travel too.
The winds were light for Waterton on the summit (~30kph) and much lighter than forecast so we enjoyed the summit for a few extra minutes before turning our attention to Kishinena Peak. We could spot what we assumed was the South Kootenay Pass area and easy looking terrain towards Kishinena from there and decided that we would try the South Kootenay Pass trail as part of our route. It had only taken us ~3.5 hours from the Red Rock parking lot to the summit of Lone Mountain – much quicker than expected.
The hike down the south slopes back to the Lone Lake warden cabin was quick and easy and soon we were marching back along the Tamarack Trail to the South Kootenay Pass trail junction. We were feeling great about our choices so far on this day. Considering that Lone Mountain was supposed to be the inferior objective and that we were about to take a different route than planned to Kishinena added some excitement. Once again we were proving that being too rigid about plans in the mountains can limit your enjoyment there. On-the-spot decisions and changes to original routes can provide new and fresh ideas and save you a lot of time in the process.
After a wonderful morning bike ‘n hike in cloudier but much less windy conditions than expected, Wietse and I turned our attention to an ascent of Kishinena Peak from the Tamarack and South Kootenay Pass trails. Originally we were planning a much different ascent line from Twin Lakes / Sage Pass but considering we were passing right by the South Kootenay Pass trail this was a much more efficient line. The return along the Tamarack / GDT from the Lone Lake warden cabin to the South Kootenay Pass trail intersection was warm and windless on the east side of the great stone wall of the Divide looming above to our left. Soon we were grunting back up the trail over the east shoulder of the ill-named “Kishinena” on the Canadian Topo (I can’t see this point being a “peak” of any kind). We arrived at the South Kootenay Pass trail and slowly started upwards to the Divide on a faint, but obvious track in the burned forest.
There isn’t much else to say about the trail to South Kootenay Pass other than, “it’s there and it works”. 😉 Switchbacks make the ascent much easier than the steep east face direct to Kishinena would be and is even more gentle than the Sage Pass trail – although much less used. As we approached the pass we deviated up to the spine of the Divide along a series of sheep tracks to our right (north) rather than hike longer than necessary.
The rest of the route towards Kishinena Peak along the spine of the Great Divide was pretty darn straightforward and pleasant. Once again, the winds were light for this area at 30-40 kph and the views were cloudier than expected but still wonderful in every direction. The best views were down the steep east face of the Divide over the Tamarack Trail and larch forests far below and further down the burned out valleys and peaks of western Waterton Park. There were no unexpected surprises along the route and bits of trail appeared and vanished randomly as we wandered along.
The only surprise came as we approached the final ascent slopes to Kishinena Peak from the south. A rather large cliff ran from the edge of the Divide down to the west below our vantage. Neither of us noticed an obvious route up the spine of the ridge along the cliff so we both started descending to an obvious break about 50 vertical meters below our position.
The cliff was easily overcome where it collapsed into a pile of red scree and we clambered up and turned right, hiking through light forest back up to the summit. The views off the ridge became more and more dramatic as we approached our 2nd peak of the day and took in the expansive summit views.
As on Lone Mountain, we enjoyed the summit views from the lowly Kishinena Peak much more than expected. Combining these two peaks was quickly becoming an excellent idea considering how well they link up from the Tamarack / South Kootenay Pass trails. From the summit we slowly wandered down the north ridge towards Sage Pass, taking in the small larch forest and the incredible devastation of the Kenow wildfire on the west side of the Divide.
As we hiked down from Kishinena towards Sage Pass we commented more than once that even more surprising than the Kenow fire damage all around us was the amount of nearby forest that survived it! I’m only guessing but I wonder if either these areas were soaked down enough from the fire prevention efforts between August 30 and September 10 since they were closest to the Kenow fire at the time or if the winds were so strong that the sparks from the fire blew right over this area and the ignition points didn’t back burn due to the strong winds? In either case, hiking in this area is greatly enhanced by the fact that some of the forests survived.
The views continued to impress as we descended to Sage Pass. Views over Twin Lakes and down Bauerman Creek were stunning. As usual the pink rocks of the area, combined with deep blue sky, aquamarine lakes, yellow larches and green forests combined into a landscape palette that has to be experienced in-person to truly grasp.
Once we finally got to the Sage Pass trail we quickly followed it steeply down towards Twin Lakes before joining the Tamarack Trail that we were on much earlier in the day. This trail was easily followed back to the bikes and the Snowshoe campground. We were a bit surprised by the number of people on the trail considering how far this area is from a parking lot but it turns out we all used bikes to access it so that made more sense.
The bike ride down the Snowshoe Trail to the Red Rock Canyon parking lot was MUCH quicker and easier than either of us expected. Despite thinking that there would be too many uphill sections on return to be that quick, there were only a few and we managed to ride up them all (no pushing on return). It only took us ~20-25 minutes to return along the trail and that included a brief stop to see if we could assist someone with a flat bike tire (unfortunately we had different sizes). Compared to the 50 minute approach this was pretty darn speedy for 8.5 kilometers. There is no way I’d ever want to hike this trail – it’s more of a road and very hardpack. We returned to the parking lot in 9 hours, 15 minutes, or around 2.5 hours faster than we’d planned. Despite moving steady all day we never really felt rushed.
As you can hopefully tell by this report, it was a fantastic day in the hills that turned out even better than I’d hoped. Originally when planning this trip I’d been worried about the lowly stature of the peaks involved but I should have realized that it’s a very rare day that Waterton doesn’t serve up enough beauty to fully satisfy. As I close out the peaks in this little corner of paradise I can’t help but think that I will continue to find excuses other than summits to make the 3 hour drive from Calgary.