Summit Elevations (m): 2942, 3002
Trip Date: August 02 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 1250
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 13
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 3 – You fall you break something.
Difficulty Notes: Mostly easy scrambling and hiking to the summit of Bearskin Peak. The traverse to Noseeum Mountain was upper moderate on steep snow in a tight gully that would be much safer in crampons with an ax.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
After a lengthy set of family vacations and over a month away from summer mountain adventures, I returned to Calgary on Monday August 1 with a wicked cold and a bruised left rib. Family vacations always seem to wreck me for some damn reason! I managed to bruise a rib on a paddleboard ffs. How does that even happen?! My cough was likely from spending a week in 39+ degree temps in Vernon, BC and sleeping with A/C every night. The best part about having the relentless cough was that every time I did it, it felt like someone was punching me in the ribs. I really picked two well-tuned ailments this time around. FML. I have to admit that visiting with family after 2 years of Covid nonsense was worth the pain and suffering these things inevitably involve for introverts like myself. I hate to admit it but mountains alone aren’t enough for me to have a fulfilling life and family fills a different kind of void than the mountains do.
Despite feeling like I got hit by a city bus I was determined to get out and test my fitness against some mountains in my remaining days off. I needed to start with something relatively short and easy so “Bearskin” got the nod. Back in 2011 I ascended Noseeum Mountain as a solo venture in mid-September. At the time Andrew Nugara had posted an excellent trip report that inspired me and many of my friends to follow his beta to this scenic area along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. The scenery from the summit of Noseeum was stunning despite mixed weather and I always resolved to return some day despite an aversion to repeating peaks. One day while perusing endless possibilities from David P. Jones, I came across an interesting summit dubbed, “Bearskin Peak”. This small outlier of Noseeum Mountain was first ascended in 1940 by Douglas Arbuckle, Ted Baker, Hugh Boucher, Don Campbell, Rex Gibson, Maurice Goodeve, Ken MacKenzie, and John Wheeler. Quite the group!
After driving the 6.5 hours from Vernon to Calgary the day before and feeling like garbage, it wasn’t the most awesome thing in the world to wake up at 06:00 on Tuesday morning and get back in the car. On the other hand I was driving off to my beloved Rockies on a gorgeous summer day after almost 5 weeks of no mountain activity. Put it this way – I was way more pumped than I had any right to be. I made the drive to the small pull-out along Hwy #93 at Noseeum Creek and started hiking up the creek. It was one of those typical summer mornings in the Rockies. Birds were chirping in the forest around me. The creek was bubbling cheerfully next to me. The vegetation was soaked from an overnight storm. There was a good trail all the way up Noseeum Creek and before long I was looking ahead to the lower headwall with its characteristic waterfalls. I remembered a moderate scramble up beside the largest falls on climber’s right and the trail I was on seemed to go directly towards it.
I wasn’t too concerned about difficulties as I made my way up the headwall. I ended up taking a slightly steeper route than necessary but it felt good to be back on rock again and I didn’t overthink it. Clouds were whipping overhead as I made my way along a pretty obvious trail across the creek and up a 2nd headwall before entering a gorgeous plateau below the lake.
Mount Andromache and the Molar Glacier looked awesome from the plateau. I turned my attention to the 3rd and smallest headwall and made short work of it before finding myself at the south end of the always scenic and lovely Noseeum Lake.
The lake alone is worth a visit if you’re not interested in peakbagging. The water is a deep shade of green and the views are stunning – especially towards the Molar Glacier and Mount Andromache and back over the Icefields Parkway to Bow Peak. I am never content without a summit for some reason, so I kept hoofing it around the south shores of the lake towards easy looking south slopes of Bearskin Peak. As expected, I encountered no difficulties as I slowly ambled up scree and rubble with views only becoming better the higher I went.
Coughs and ribs were forgotten as I made my way up summit slopes while the sky continued to clear giving me the views I was more than ready for. Only 2.5 hours from the highway I was on my first summit of the day. Many familiar peaks and surrounding valleys greeted me, looking green and lush without their winter coats. It felt like summer 2022 had finally arrived.
After taking a few minutes to enjoy the wonderful views and remember many previous trips up so many countless other peaks near and far, I had a decision to make. Part of me was plenty happy just returning to the lake and taking a nap along its quiet shores. Another part of me wanted to try the traverse to Noseeum Mountain, which despite the topo map was looking quite a bit higher than Bearskin Peak. Guess which part of me won? I sighed deeply, took one last lingering look at the lake and started the traverse towards the SE end of Noseeum.
I knew right off the bat that ascending the SE ridge directly was going to be more than scrambling. (This route is rated PD+ 5.4 and clearly out of my league as a free solo.) Instead, my plan was to traverse onto the SW face of Noseeum before hopefully finding a break in the line of cliffs running along it. If not, I knew I could pick my way down to the lake from the traverse. It’s not like I hadn’t already bagged the peak 11 years ago anyway!
As I traversed the cliffs on the SW face I crossed under a steep snow-filled gully that looked promising for some reason. Now I know that after a 5 week break from anything mountains I was a bit rusty with routefinding and scrambling senses, but for some reason I really felt like this gully was the way to go. Without ax or crampons. In scrambling shoes. Ah well, life is short and I was feelin’ it so I started up the barely softening snow. As always the gully was massively foreshortened and much more difficult and exposed than it looked from below. But I stubbornly pushed higher and higher, my approach shoes just barely getting the job done.
Finally I could see the snow running out above me. The gully kept getting steeper and steeper and there was no way out but up at this point, so I clambered on, silently questioning my life choices but also enjoying them. After some last desperate lunges and stem moves on a mix of snow, ice and rock I found myself escaping the gully. On hindsight I know that this is the route that Eaton and Georgia Cromwell took in 1950 rated “PD 4th”. Who knew? From the top of the gully I ascended loose rubble to the summit of Noseeum and even more stunning views.
The summit register on Noseeum indicated a great many folks have made this lofty peak a priority since my ascent over a decade previous. This is a good decision on their part! It’s hard to beat the views for the effort on this mountain, situated as it is in the heart of the Rockies with views of some of Banff’s largest peaks and greenest valleys. I greatly enjoyed my second ascent of this peak. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have to try the 5.4 route some day too.
The descent of the SE ramp back to Noseeum Lake was quick and simple, especially compared to the manky SW gully I ascended! I met two hikers on their way up who asked me where the summit was. “Which one?”, was my helpful response. They looked confused so I assumed they meant Noseeum and pointed the way. I can be helpful like that sometimes.
From the bottom of the SE ramp I ambled to the lakeshore and enjoyed the stillness of the day for yet another break. This day was turning out to be exactly what I needed – it feels great when a plan comes together.
Descent through the various headwalls and plateaus to the lower waterfall went smoothly along the established trail. I met another couple of hikers coming up the 2nd headwall who were planning to spend some time at the lake. After a brief chat I kept descending. Getting off the lower headwall was more interesting than it had to be but I managed. There are many trails and routes here so make sure you find one that suits your abilities before committing to it.
As I walked back out of the Noseeum Creek valley I meditated, not for the first time, how darn lucky I am to experience days like this in times like these. So many people struggle every day just to survive and here’s me, spending time alone in the Canadian wilderness with not a care in the world. I only hope that others can also put down their busy and stressful lives and make an effort to find peace in a way that works for them and their loved ones. Otherwise, why are we here and what is the point of any of it? Indeed.