Summit Elevation (m): 3148
Trip Date: August 16 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 1800+ (from Nigel Pass trailhead on hwy #93)
Round Trip Time (hr): 4 (from bivy under peak), 7.5 to approach from Nigel Pass trailhead
Reference Trip: Wandering the White Goat Wilderness
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall – or something falls on you – you break something or worse.
Difficulty Notes: A very remote peak with dangerously loose, blocky terrain that is all funneled 500 vertical meters down the entire route.
Technical Rating: SC6+; RE5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Afternoon Peak first came onto my radar after a 2015 ascent of Mount Willis with Eric Coulthard. Seeing the brilliant reddish / purple color of this lofty peak looming over a lovely and unique plateau with dozens of differently colored lakes got me interested in an ascent. In 2016 Liam Harrap ascended the peak, the only person I know who has. Liam kindly shared some beta with me indicating a pretty straightforward ascent. As the years ticked by and I never got back into the White Goat I started to think it might not happen. Then in the brutally long and cold “Covid” winter of 2021/22 I dug into all my sources of mountain information to compile a large list of remaining summits that interested me. Afternoon Peak once again raised its head and I started planning a detailed trip to finally get me up to its lofty, obscure summit.
After spending almost 8 hours and 22.5 kilometers approaching the lower SE slopes of Afternoon Peak via Nigel Pass, Cataract Pass and the Afternoon Lakes plateau, Sara McLean and I weren’t sure about ascending Afternoon Peak. It’s not that we didn’t want to ascend it or didn’t have the energy to ascend it, it was simply that we weren’t 100% sure where the heck it was! As we shouldered our light day packs and donned helmets for the steep ascent, we noted how high a couple of outlier peaks looked compared to the one I’d marked as our objective. Hmmm. Should we trust Gaia’s contours? We didn’t have much choice at this point did we?!
The clouds were moving in as we contoured up lower SE rubble slopes to one of 3 candidate gullies on the south face of the lofty peak above. Liam Harrap had only told me that the route went up an “obvious gully” and I think he might have mentioned that it was loose. That’s good beta but it’s characteristically vague at the same time. In the end he was right of course. With our experience we targeted the most viable looking shallow gully and started a long traverse on horribly loose rubble slopes towards it. The approach slopes would prove to be a harbinger of what was coming.
As we struggled into the bottom of the south gully we realized just how terribly loose this freaking red giant was. I’ve seen many loose slopes over the past 20 years of scrambling in the Rockies and I can assure you that Afternoon Peak has some of the very finest you’ll find anywhere. There was another strange thing going on with our peak. I still don’t know what the heck it is about this particular mountain but the gully was extremely foreshortened – as was the peak itself. We kept asking ourselves if we were in the right gully on the right peak! It just didn’t look lofty enough compared to its immediate neighbors. Oh but it was.
As we ascended into the gully we got a couple of shocks. First was how damn loose it all was! It was dangerously unstable. OXO (Puzzle) Peak dangerous – only many more hundreds of vertical meters higher than that gully was. Our views were stunning back over the plateau and the brilliant red and purple colors reminded me of many Waterton and Castle Wilderness peaks that I’ve done over the years in southern Alberta. Every time we stepped into the middle of the gully we’d be reminded to avoid it all costs – especially on ascent. We stuck to more moderate scrambling terrain on climber’s left of the gully, taking interesting lines up steep ledges and small cliffs, sometimes bordering an SC7 rating. Even here the holds were extremely friable and needed to be treated with great disdain and distrust. It took us over 2 hours to ascend the peak from directly under it but the views once we finally reached the summit were completely worth the effort involved. We were the only other party to sign Liam’s 2016 register, not a huge surprise given the location and demeanor of this remote peak.
After taking in stupendous evening views from the summit we reluctantly turned back to our ascent gully. On descent we chose a more direct line in the middle of the gully to take advantage of the terrain. It worked but it wasn’t the safest thing I’ve done this year. We started rock slides that kicked rocks on us from many meters above and slid for 30 seconds into the gully below as a river of scree and rocks.
We slowly hiked back to our packs, arriving about 4 hours after leaving them. It was now 19:30 and we were ready to set up camp for the night. So we did. It felt incredible to finally ascend a peak that’s been in my dreams for the past 7 years or so.
There are so many peaks on my list that sometimes it’s overwhelming and they can seem like checklist items that just need to be done because they’re there. This is anathema for me and I’m happy to say that climbing Afternoon Peak once again reminded me that I will never get all the peaks on my list and that I’m 100% OK with this fact. It’s the ones I do get that matter – and even then only very temporarily until I am no longer around to remember them any record of my ascents are relegated to forgotten corners of the Internet or wet tatters of paper scattered on lofty summits throughout the Alberta Rockies.
And that’s OK too. It’s all about the journey, even if it’s over a loose pile of reddish purple Rockies choss.