Summit Elevations (m) – Boswell: 2439, Wilson: 2505, Crypt: 2610, Vimy Ridge: 2500, Arras: 2423, Vimy: 2385
Trip Date: Friday, July 1 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 2300
Round Trip Time (hr): 13
Total Trip Distance (km): 45.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something or worse on Crypt Peak.
Difficulty Notes: Somewhat difficult to rate overall. 95% of the day is class 2 hiking and easy scrambling. The remainder of the day is tricky routefinding with some SC7 scrambling.
Technical Rating: OT5, SC5 except Boswell (SC6) and Crypt (SC7)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Back in 2015, Phil Richards and I completed what was then considered a pretty long day trip on the Vimy Ridge traverse. I thought it was a pretty long day and for me at the time, it was. I remember wondering what the Crypt Lake trip was like and also remember wondering what that large red peak to the south of Vimy Ridge was. Years later after hiking Crypt Lake and figuring out that there was an even bigger traverse to be had there, I found myself planning another trip to the area. If you’re from Alberta you know that the spring and early summer of 2022 has been about as opposite as you can get from the same period in 2021. As the July long weekend rapidly approached, Wietse and I found ourselves having to change our plans a few times thanks to lingering snow, flooding closures and a deteriorating weather forecast. After a wonderful 2-day trip into Melanin Peak the weekend before, it was going to be tough to match it again on a much wetter weekend forecast. As I was perusing weather forecasts I noticed a gorgeous Friday shaping up down south in Waterton Lakes National Park. I dared not hope for low snow levels as I fired up the Sentinel Satellite Hub and selected a cloudless day. YES. We were in luck! My one remaining officially named summit in Waterton was looking pretty darn snowfree, as were the other 5 peaks we’d be tagging on this traverse. Game on.
I suggested the Crypt Circuit to Wietse and sent him Cornelius Rott’s trip report that we would be basing our trip on for the most part. Even before reading Cornelius’ report in detail I had one suggestion to switch things up – I wondered if we should reverse his and Raf’s route by starting with Mount Boswell and ending with Vimy Peak. I had a few reasons for this suggestion. Firstly, the one area that could be problematic with snow was the east face of Boswell. If this was our 6th peak at the end of a long day and we couldn’t find a safe way down, we’d be sort of hooped. Secondly, I would rather do the apparently overgrown and lengthy Wishbone Trail to Crypt Landing in the morning with energy than in the evening when tired. Thirdly, I didn’t read the trip report closely enough to worry about the downclimb of the north face of Crypt Peak. Wietse agreed and also agreed to leave YYC at 04:30 to give us plenty of daylight for the traverse. Sara texted me and decided a high traverse in perfect weather sounded like great day in the hills. When I told her I was going to bag my last Waterton peak she replied that it would be her first one. Cool. Plans were set and rides arranged.
Friday morning dawned early – the birds once again waking me in my backyard even before my alarm went off at 04:00. After picking up Sara and Wietse and their bikes, we bombed the rest of the way to Waterton, arriving at the Wishbone Trail parking spot on hwy 6 at around 07:00. Riding the first 7km on the Wishbone Trail was good early morning fun in warm sunshine through green grasses and brightly colored wildflowers. The trail was a bit more vegetated than I remembered, but the last time I was there was in September so that made sense. Towards the end of the ride my pedals were hitting the sides of the deep single track which almost threw me a few times but I managed to save it each time. Within 30 minutes of the hwy we were at the signed junction of the Vimy and Wishbone Trails. Based on Cornelius’ report and others over the years, I was expecting the Wishbone Trail to be fairly horrible. It wasn’t.
Despite getting soaked from vegetation crowding both sides of the trail, my overall impression of the 7 kilometers from the Vimy junction to Crypt Landing was of a good track with some vegetation crowding in places but otherwise easy to follow and well defined. There was one junction along the way to a faint trail leading to Wishbone Landing and “Bosporus” – the narrow channel between the Upper and Middle Waterton lakes. This would be the place to paddle to if you wanted to avoid the bike ride and hike to Crypt Landing instead of taking the boat shuttle.
We moved very quickly along the Wishbone Trail and within 1.5 hours of leaving the bikes we could hear the loudspeakers on the boat shuttle to Crypt Lake. Apparently the trail was now open and we were going to be behind the first crowd of hikers on the deservedly popular trail. By 09:00 we were at the now-quiet Crypt Landing feeling great about the day and ready for a more open trail ahead.
I knew exactly what to expect from the Crypt Lake trail from my hike with Hanneke the previous fall. Almost immediately we started passing other hikers who were already very spread out on the trail. We got more than a few funny glances as people wondered where we were coming from if we were moving so quickly. As we approached the Burnt Rock Falls we all started giving nervous glances at the north ridge of Mount Boswell. Once above the falls we would finally know if our route would likely go or not. The rest of the route that we could see from the trail looked very dry and reasonable.
After passing a number of folks along the steeper ascent above Burnt Rock Falls (also called “Swirling Mist Falls”), we continued straight off the trail onto a faint animal trail that quickly faded in the forest towards Hell Roaring Creek and the small tarn below Crypt Falls. The bushwhack was light as we approached the creek – the one other unknown. We didn’t bother hunting for a better crossing and ended up crotch-deep in the cold, but slow moving water. After a short alder-thrash we found ourselves under the east face of Boswell, looking much drier than we’d dared hope for.
Despite looking fairly dry, the SE face was still holding enough snow that we weren’t 100% sure how our runners would handle it. We were equipped with axes and icers just in case we needed to do a short traverse up the face but I was confident we’d make it as soon as we got clear views from valley bottom. The next hour or so was easy to moderate scrambling up scree, ledges and steep dirt to the north ridge of Mount Boswell.
By wandering along ledges and choosing the most reasonable lines we never got onto anything difficult despite some sections looking otherwise. We had to traverse one short section of exposed snow lower down but this wasn’t an issue. The views were incredible in every direction as we finally popped out on the north ridge at noon. Even more incredible was the almost complete lack of wind – very rare for the Waterton area as anyone who has spent time here will know.
From the lower north ridge the upper section to the summit ridge looked fierce! I wasn’t expecting it but as usual once we started ascending, easier routes opened up. After starting on the ridge proper we traversed back onto the upper east face (climber’s left) to get around some annoying sections before ascending back onto the ridge and over a small cornice that would have caused issues a week earlier, I’m sure. From there we turned right for the short hike to the summit of my last official Waterton peak!
Summit views from the near-windless apex of Mount Boswell were incredible. Puffy clouds, a blue sky reflected in a huge blue lake below and clear views of almost all the prominent Waterton Peaks made this a perfect last named summit for me in the park. We also got clear views of many peaks in Montana and even the Goat Haunt Landing at the extreme south end of Upper Waterton Lake. (Unfortunately it is still closed for Canadian visitors via the lake as of 2022.) After admiring the rare sight of an entirely calm Upper Waterton Lake it was time to continue our traverse towards Wilson Ridge.
Traversing to Wilson Ridge from Mount Boswell was fairly straightforward for us. From afar there seemed like there might be a problematic cliff band from from up close it was no issue. Views were absolutely spectacular through the traverse, especially over to Goat Haunt Mountain and Mount Cleveland. Part way up the to the summit of Wilson Ridge we crossed the international border between Canada and the USA which is an interesting part of the traverse. We also got great views of the Crypt Lake Tunnel hike which looked pretty much snow free in the exposed places, explaining why it was open for the public. I would not want to hike the section between the tunnel and lake with any snow or ice on the exposed chain section!
Wietse and I kept reminding Sara about how lucky she was to be enjoying such a calm day at elevation in the park. I think she probably still has some doubts that it’s usually THAT windy but she’ll find out on subsequent trips just how lucky she was on her first.
After a brief stop atop Wilson Ridge we continued on to the highest peak of the day – Crypt Peak. The peak looked stunning already from Wilson, almost glowing red in the strong summer sunshine. Views to Kaina, Miche Wabun and Sarcee were awesome but the views that really stole the show were down to Crypt Lake.
The exposure down the ridge traverse towards Crypt Lake was stunning in places. Of course it’s all avoidable by sticking off the ridge proper but what’s the fun of that?! Crypt Lake was still half frozen which was a bit of a surprise but fits with the year we’ve had so far.
From the exposed sections along the ridge we started a hot trudge up red scree to the summit of Crypt Peak via easy west slopes. This section felt a little endless despite being fairly short – it was the most scree we were on all day except for the east face of Vimy Peak on descent.
After the west face ascent we traversed a rocky, bouldery ridge to the summit and entered back into Canada. We were more than ready for a decent lunch break at this point at about 7 hours into our day and spent some time enjoying the expansive summit views.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the final three summits of our day considering I’d already done them in 2015 but as we started the descent from Crypt Peak I was still pretty excited to continue. Wietse had read Cornelius’ trip report in much more detail than I had and was talking about potential difficulties ahead. This surprised me a bit because in his summary he only calls the traverse “easy to moderate”. The next 45 minutes or so were interesting scrambling down a pretty steep face that we obviously didn’t ascend. Technically it was only SC6+ but with the exposure, routefinding and a blind descent it can quickly venture into SC7 terrain.
As we exited the face we turned back and were surprised by how intense it looked. It never felt THAT bad, but again, in certain conditions and descending it blind I think some folks would appreciate the warning that it’s for sure SC6+ terrain. I really enjoyed the routefinding and the intricate little ledges and goat paths that have formed here over the years. A brain bucket and careful party are essential here due to rockfall exposure and potential all the way down the face.
From under the north face of Crypt we still had to descend quite a bit to the col between it and Vimy Ridge. The rest of the ascent to the highest point on Vimy Ridge was just one foot in front of the other.
The traverse from Vimy Ridge over Mount Arras to Vimy peak was familiar to me despite having done it almost 7 years ago. The wind picked up slightly but the cool breeze felt good at this point in our day. Needless to say, we’d been traveling at a good clip for many hours now.
We took a few minutes on top of our last peak of the day. Due to family commitments and an upcoming canoe trip this would be my only trip to the mountains until August. I guess I made the most of it by nabbing 6 peaks and 3 new summits…
Descent from Vimy Peak started very quick on loose scree but then it started dragging a bit. I takes longer than you’d think to exit the long gully and then hike the trail back to the Wishbone junction. Late afternoon lighting over the lakes and on the wildflowers along the trail helped ease some of the pain and distract from the wear ‘n tear on the body.
The bike ride went very quick as expected. I have done so many bike approaches over the past few years it almost seems like this is the only way to approach a hike or scramble nowadays! Like a ski approach, the bike is a huge energy and time boost on exit most of the time. Our round trip time of just under 13 hours should be considered on the fast end of the spectrum unless you’re a trail runner. I felt like we were running for a good part of the day – we certainly weren’t moving at a casual pace most of the time. As someone who’s done most of the peaks in Waterton I can confidently say that you’ll be hard pressed to top this traverse. As a 6-peak circuit it’ll pad your summit stats very nicely but it’s the views, the terrain and the ease of access that makes this trip really stand out for me.
Looking back over the past 18 years of scrambling and hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park, I am struck by how many great adventures I’ve had in this tiny slice of paradise. It all started for me in 2004 with a scramble of Mount Galwey. We got horribly off route and made the scramble much more involved than it needed to be. Back then I also recruited anyone silly enough not to know better on my trips. Due to its distance from Calgary and the nature of its terrain, Waterton has provided me with some of my favorite traverses and multi day trips. On some of them the famous Waterton winds conspired to make things much tougher than expected but on others we got lucky with near perfect conditions. On the one hand I’m sad that for the most part scrambling in Waterton is now done for me, but on the other hand I can’t think of a better way to finish then with some classic traversing and scrambling over the small area of the park unaffected by the Kenow wildfires.