Cornwell, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 3000
Trip Date: August 03 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 1500
Round Trip Time (hrs): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 30
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something (or worse).
Difficulty Notes: This peak involves 400m of height gain along a mix of good trail and rough horse mud on a bike before a bushwhack approach and several unbridged stream crossings. The east ridge is mostly avoided by steep, loose scrambling on the south face.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE3/4
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

In 2019, Phil Richards and I made our first foray up Baril Creek to the Fording River Pass area to scramble Mount Armstrong and Bolton. A year later we were back. This time we tagged Baril Peak and “discovered” a very cool ice cave on our return from the Baril / Cornwell col. At the time we debated about adding Mount Cornwell to our day, but a number of factors made that idea unattractive. On hindsight we likely should have but c’est la vie. Now I had an excuse to go back. In keeping with a yearly sufferfest to Fording River Pass I returned to the area with Cornelius Rott again in 2021, ascending Mount Aldridge, Courcelette Peak and Fording Pass Peak. As 2022 rolled into view there was only 1 remaining peak in the area left for me. For some reason known to nobody, I decided to tackle Cornwell only 1 day after scrambling Bearskin Peak with a wicked summer cough and bruised rib. I try to treat injuries as a training opportunity to teach my mind and my body a lesson. Don’t ask. It rarely works but for some reason I like to keep trying.

Mount Cornwell Route Map

I was feeling pretty pumped about my day as I bombed down hwy 22 to Longview and from there the 541 to 940 through Kananaskis Country. By the time I arrived at the parking lot I could tell that today wasn’t the cloudy, cool start that yesterday was. No, today was going to be a proper summer day with clear skies and heat already hitting my neck as I prepared for the long bike ride up Baril Creek. In all my excitement for the upcoming objective I forgot just how bloody much work the Baril Creek Trail is! As part of the GDT it is well maintained and when dry it’s in pretty decent shape but it’s a grind on the bike.

I was sweating mere minutes into the ride and didn’t cool off very much the rest of the day. The Baril Creek Trail ascends around 400 vertical meters and travels just over 10km before the bushwhack to Cornwell / Baril starts. It took me 75 minutes of steady riding to make the pain stop. I met more people than ever before along the trail – high summer hiking season in the Rockies I suppose. Many of the folks were still in camp for some reason – the largest camp of 4 or 5 tents were situated in a large open meadow and didn’t budge all day. I chose an open(ish) looking line and set off for the bushwhack to the north access valley. I remembered fairly nasty bushwhacking from our Baril Peak trip and wasn’t looking forward to this next part of my day.

After a steep descent and crossing of a lively Baril Creek, I surprised myself by settling into the bushwhack and finding peace with it. This doesn’t always happen with solo bushwhacks but when it does it makes life a lot more pleasant. For some reason I enjoyed the deep moss and cool shade of the trees while finding a fairly open line up above the feeder creek to my left. (Don’t get me wrong, this is still a classic Rockies bushwhack, it just didn’t feel that bad for me today for whatever reason.) Instead of following our Baril exit line down the feeder creek, I followed a hunch and stuck to climber’s right of the creek high above. Not only was this a much better line in lighter forest, it led to open rocky slopes much sooner than expected, cutting the bushwhacking effort in half. As I hiked over the rocky slopes my day kept getting better and better until I spotted a clear line into the north access drainage ahead. I love it when a day comes together like this! As I hiked up the drainage things only improved with fast, easy travel upwards on karst pavement. My peak slowly came into view and looked very dry. One tiny fly in my ointment was how parched I was becoming. I really hoped that I’d find some running water in the access drainage or I’d be a very thirsty scrambler! I breathed a huge sigh of relief when part way up the drainage I heard a waterfall. Phew.

After quenching my thirst with clear water running over the karst slabs, I continued slowly up to the distant Baril / Cornwell col. The easy pavement terrain gave way to rubble and scree and I started working a bit harder on the steep, loose terrain to the col. 

Views back down the north drainage from near the col. Mount Cornwell rises at left. Bolton and Armstrong in the distance.

As I crested the Baril / Cornwell col the views up the east ridge of Cornwell were intimidating. It looked very steep and very loose where the cliffs broke down. I knew right away that I’d be spending a lot of time on either side of the ridge proper in order to keep things at a scrambling level. It quickly became obvious that the first half of the final ascent would be spent on the south face of the east ridge so there I went! The terrain was never more than moderate scrambling, but it was bloody loose and steep in sections. I wouldn’t want to be here with a large group, that’s for sure.

After a few hundred vertical meters on the south face of the east ridge I transitioned to the ridge proper and then onto the north side before scrambling to the summit ridge. Views in all directions were not crappy as I made the final few steps to a small summit cairn with a register. I was surprised to be only the 3rd signature since Rick Collier placed the register in 1991. One of the entries was from a pair who admitted to taking a heli within 25m of the summit so they don’t really count.

Summit views include (L to R), Henretta, Etherington, Farquhar, Scrimger, Gill, Courcelette, Aldridge, Shankland, Bolton, MacLaren, Armstrong.
Distant views to Minton, Marconi, Abruzzi and Joffre.
Views back down the approach drainage at lower left. Baril Creek at center between Armstrong and Baril Peak (R).

After enjoying the views and the cool summit breeze for a while it was time to head back down the loose east ridge. I generally followed my ascent line down the ridge and the south face before traversing back to the col. Delicate hiking on rubble led to the lower karst pavement and my highline route above the bush and then through forest above the feeder stream. I briefly considered visiting the ice caves but I wasn’t in the mood to lose height and bushwhack to it so I viewed it from afar and kept moving instead.

The incredible Baril Ice Cave just visible below me at center with Baril Peak rising above. My line stays high above the creek.
The ice cave we discovered while descending Baril Peak is an incredible landscape feature that you should visit if nearby.

I managed to follow my ascent line through the lower forest before ascending to the road and my bike. As usual the bike ride out was much quicker than the approach ride but still involved more uphill pushing than I wished for in the brutal heat of the day.

Despite having a nasty summer cold / cough and a bruised rib that bothered me especially while riding, I really enjoyed this last outing to a peak over the Fording River Pass. Yes, the bike ride is long and tough but the rewards are some large peaks with grand views on the Great Divide. I am sure that some day I’ll go back to camp at or near the pass and enjoy the area without sweating my way up a peak nearby. 

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