Summit Elevation (m): 2729
Elevation Gain (m): 1550
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 16.5
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 3 – You fall you break something or worse.
Difficulty Notes: Moderate scrambling with some route finding to keep it moderate. With snow these peaks quickly become difficult.
Technical Rating: SC6; MN6 (conditions I had)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Way back in 2011, Wietse and I spent a cold, blustery mid-November day on Shunga-la-she in the front ranges of the Rockies high above the Sheep River in Kananaskis Country. The weather was so dismal most of my photos from that day are in B&W. Fast forward a few years and Shunga-la-she became much more popular than when we first did it – a trail even formed through the lower forest. With more folks doing the peak, other options in the area also opened up as they usually do. Rafal Kazmierczak and friends named a higher neighboring peak to the SW “Jägermeister” after one of their favorite bevvies. Online trip reports from Cornelius Rott and Sonny Bou were not that positive for the direct ridge route between these two summits and I wondered if there might be an easier option. Cornelius took 11 hours and Sonny’s party took a whopping 14 hours to complete the traverse! I was hoping to complete the trip in 9 hours or less considering the total distance was only around 16kms. Of course I was relying on the previous party’s beta which always helps make one more efficient with routes. 😉
After studying both trip reports I realized that there might be a slightly easier route up Jagermeister’s NW ridge. Rott descended the ridge pretty much directly from the summit while Bou’s party descended slightly back down the NE ridge and then took a horribly loose scree / boulder slope down to the bowl between Jagermeister and Shunga-la-she. Both parties then bushwhacked down an unnamed stream / valley NW of the peaks before joining back to the Sheep River Trail. I remembered this alternate exit from 2011 as a bit of a thrash (although I use the word “pleasant” in my report ;)) and both Bou and Rott weren’t exactly glowing in their descriptions either. My plan was to ascend the north ridge of Shunga-la-she before cutting down across the north scree bowl and finding my way up the scree ramp that Bou’s party used on descent. Originally I was planning to do this trip in late season but with Spring arriving horribly slow in 2022 I decided Friday June 3rd was a good day to try this front range trip. Armed with a proposed GPS track I set off from the parking lot at the end of hwy #546 on my trusty 2-wheel steed. It was an early start to avoid forecast clouds and rain in the afternoon and there wasn’t another soul around.
I’m not sure why people don’t seem to use bikes on approaches but if there’s a rideable trail or road for at least 2km each way, I think bikes are a no-brainer. Put it this way – I’ve never regretted bringing a bike on a trip but I sure as heck have regretted NOT bringing one more than once. After an initial grind the Sheep River Trail undulated nicely to the one and only bridge over the Sheep River along its length. I last traveled this road on my bike a year previous in late June 2021 on a solo venture up Mount Burns. I can confidently state that the trail gets much, much worse after the bridge. After locking my bike to a tree I started up a very steep trail in scree and moss from the road. As I’ve seen elsewhere, there was almost too many ribbons showing me the way up the treed lower north ridge of Shunga-la-she. Sometimes I’d follow a set of ribbons and a faint trail only to look around and see other sets of ribbons to the side with another faint trail. Oh well. The forest here is light and the trails were obvious enough to get me to treeline pretty quickly. I couldn’t really believe my eyes when I encountered my first large snow slope already just at treeline. This didn’t bode well for later…
I kicked steps up fairly solid snow to the start of the north ridge proper. I was glad to be in my boots – I was expecting snow today and came armed with boots, crampons and mountaineering ax. Views up the Sheep River towards the east outlier of Gibraltar were stellar from this angle.
Thankfully the ridge dried up as I crested it and continued to the NW junction high above. I circumvented any difficulties on climber’s right, hoping to keep my speed and get eyes on my proposed route to a very snowy looking Jagermeister ahead. Remember – my original plan was not to ascend Shunga-la-she at all since I’d already done it a decade previous. I don’t mind repeating peaks if necessary but considering my proposed route, it wasn’t necessary at all today.
I had forgotten how “moderate” the route on Shunga-la-she is. I admit that I didn’t take the north ridge seriously enough when planning, and I even left my helmet at home. I should know better by now! When you’re packing crampons and mountaineering ax you should definitely bring the brain bucket too. As I set eyes on Jagermeister’s north aspect I quickly realized that my route was a no-go for today. There was simply too much winter snow hugging the scree slope and even the summit block looked pretty darn snowy. I spent some time deliberating my next move. Turn back? Descend to the creek? Eventually I decided that the day was so gorgeous and young that I might as well tag Shunga-la-she in good weather and get some better photos for my site.
Despite the setback it was hard to be grumpy as I enjoyed the terrific scrambling on Shunga-la-she’s NW ridge. The rock was dry and grippy, there was no wind and the sun was shining. Sure! There was a depressing amount of snow around but there’s not much I could do about that so I simply tried to enjoy the day for what it was. It beat the office – that’s a fact. After a short traverse to the summit I enjoyed great views in every direction.
As I surveyed the peaks around me from the summit of Shunga-la-she a thought crept in. Why not take the hours I still had ahead of me and try a line up Jagermeister Peak despite the snow and the low odds of making it to the top? In these situations I often think of something that Wietse and I figured out years ago while musing about what to do when we found ourselves way off route on Mount Brewster. Our choices at the time were to descend over 500 vertical meters and then re-ascend a completely different route. At the time we sure didn’t feel like continuing our day but then Wietse made a great point. Sure! We could hike all the way back and drive home, defeated, then we’d have to come all the way back some day to complete the route. Obviously even if we took hours to re-ascend the proper route this would take far less time and energy than repeating the whole darn thing from Calgary! Using this logic has resulted in some long but usually successful days in the hills and I decided to follow it on this day too. Already while ascending the NW ridge of Shung-la-she I’d spotted another few options to get me across the north bowl and onto the NW ridge of Jagermeister that I remembered Cornelius using for his descent.
As I dropped down into the NW bowl between Shunga-la-she and Jagermeister I debated which ledge to cross to the far NW ridge of Jagermeister. Remember – I didn’t even have a helmet today, something I wasn’t loving as I crossed some big snow runouts in the bowl and noticed several rocks zinging down from melting action high above. As I hiked towards a series of ledges I ended up choosing a higher one than I’d first considered and lower than the line that Sonny’s group used to descend.
My chosen ledge worked even better than I first thought it would and soon I was ascending steep slabs and scree to the NW ridge above. The terrain stayed a solid “moderate” as I worked my way up broken terrain to the ridge, leaving small cairns to guide me back down. When I finally popped onto the ridge I took a few extra swallows at the sight of the distant summit block before continuing slowly upwards on a mix of snow and rock.
I couldn’t remember every detail of Rott’s report but I thought I remembered two difficulties he had on the NW ridge. The first was the summit block, which looked pretty interesting already from way below. The second was the bailout to the valley below – this part I already figured out an easier route from my ledge approach. I decided not to overthink things and just slowly ambled up the scenic ridge, taking in the views to Shunga-la-she and Crumble Peak.
Before long I was off rock and onto a beautiful line of supportive snow leading relentlessly to a very steep and snowy looking summit block. Kicking steps up the snow was great fun under a blue sky with mountain views in every direction. I was having a very pleasant day at this point and patting myself on the back for sticking to it and taking the time and energy to find this great line. As usual the summit block only grew steeper as I approached. I sat under a very steep runout before donning crampons and taking out my ax to tackle what looked like more than just scrambling to the top.
As I started up the summit block I realized that this was going to be an alpine snow climb rather than a simple scramble. Signs of sloughing from the day previous made me nervous enough to set a rapid pace up the lower choke before topping out on a shallow snow arete that was even steeper than the runout below! Any slides or slips here would take me over cliffs directly below and clearly wouldn’t end well for me. I didn’t overthink it while rapidly kicking steps up to the small summit, taking in wonderful views for the second time this day. I was amused to note that even with all the height loss, traversing and messing about with crampons and ax I was still faster via my alternate route than either Sonny or Cornelius had been with the direct traverse!
Knowing full well what was waiting for me below, I didn’t linger at the summit for long. I delicately retraced my steps down the very exposed and rapidly warming snow on the summit block before breathing a sigh of relief at reaching tamer ground.
I was in very good spirits as I followed my tracks and cairns back down the NW ridge to the ledge traverse and into the NW bowl. This spring has been brutally slow on the hiking and scrambling objectives thanks to a lingering snowpack and crappy weather on weekends. I have very few front range objectives that are close to Calgary that hold my interest and Jagermeister was one such peak that felt really great to finally attain. Bagging it in these conditions only made it that much sweeter.
For my exit I had originally planned to link back up with the approach route up Shunga-la-she’s north ridge. This would mean some height gain but was the most straight forward option. So naturally I changed my mind and set off for a 2nd shot at the bushwhack exit below – it just looked too tempting not to try again! 😉 To be honest, I was in no hurry and such a good mood that even the moderate bushwhack down the unnamed creek didn’t bother me much. I took my time and just enjoyed the smell of spring in the air.
Eventually I traversed light forest to link back up with the steep trail leading down to my bike at the Sheep River Trail bridge. The ride back to the parking lot was very quick and fun – once again I had zero regrets bringing the bike. My round trip time of 7.5 hours surprised me as I never felt rushed or like I was pushing hard. A combination of great conditions and interesting scrambling and climbing kept me moving all day. The views from these front range peaks always take me by surprise – they’re better than you’d expect. I highly recommend my route considering the other options and what they seem to entail. I think I found a combination of routes for these two peaks that utilize their best features without getting too dangerous. Just bring your brain bucket and don’t forget ax and ‘pons if there’s any snow still laying about!