Summit Elevations (m): 3167, 3018
Trip Date: Friday, August 26 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 1700 (from camp near waterfall)
Round Trip Time (hr): 10.5 (from camp near waterfall)
Total Trip Distance (km): 20 (from camp near waterfall)
Reference Trip: Exploring the Upper Ram River
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you sprain something or worse
Difficulty Notes: Easy to moderate scrambling with some routefinding. A short, difficult step on Cheshire with no easy workaround.
Technical Rating: SC5, SC6, SC7, RE5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Waking up to rainfall on my tent at 04:00 somewhere in a patch of trees far up the Ram River was NOT how I wanted my day on Cheshire Peak to start! After approaching the Cheshire access valley near the upper Ram River Falls and ascending Dodo Peak, Wietse and I had high hopes for our 2nd day. Phil Richards was the first person who got me dreaming about the 3167m Cheshire Peak quite a few years ago already. His plans for ascending it were always on our agenda but never came to fruition. When researching objectives over the winter of 2021/22 I realized that there was a recorded F 3rd route via a completely different approach than Phil had always planned. I was very interested in the route from the Ram River side as it sounded kind of sneaky. When I researched it further on satellite maps I could see that it was indeed, very sneaky and somewhat convoluted. Just the type of route I love! I was concerned about an obvious line of cliffs along the lower access at the NW end of the access valley already from looking at the satellite maps. A rating of “F 3rd” doesn’t mean much with most of the folks who give it – especially on remote and rarely ascended peaks. It just means they didn’t use a rope in most cases. Nothing left to do but find a trip partner and go check it out for myself, so that’s exactly what I did.
After sleeping in until almost 05:45, Wietse and I got up – thankful that the rain had stopped. Everything was soaked but the sky was breaking up which was good news. After getting rain on Dodo Peak and more rain than expected overnight (we didn’t expect any tbh) we were not trusting our pre-trip weather forecast anymore. Not a great feeling when you’re well over 40 kilometers from the trailhead!
Breakfast was quick and soon we were headed across the stream near our camp. Soaking our feet first thing in the morning certainly woke us up quick! The trail was obvious but the vegetation was so wet that we might as well have dunked ourselves all the way in the creek. Thankfully our rain gear kept us mostly dry and warm as we worked our way up the steep trail into the Cheshire access valley. Within an hour or so from camp we were passing lower south slopes of Dormouse Peak – our planned 2nd peak of the day. Within another hour we were experiencing pure hiking magic in alpine meadows between Cheshire and Dormouse.
I won’t soon forget the incredible atmosphere of those alpine meadows as we hiked through foliage just starting to turn into rich Fall colors. The sun rising through clouds behind us and the soaring forms of Dormouse, IB79 and Cheshire rising over us combined into a special moment that doesn’t come cheap but sure was worth every breath to attain.
Hiking past the south end of Dormouse Peak we were delighted to spot a viable route straight up from the alpine, negating the need to hike further down trail on exit and saving us time and meters to its summit. We continued to follow my planned route line, wondering what surprises waited for us around the next corner. The surprise was another incredible landscape in the form of a “rock gate” between two outliers of Cheshire. From afar it wasn’t obvious, but we sure hoped there was a clear path through them.
There was. As we continued to hike up the NW valley through the rock gates we could see what was very likely going to be the crux of our entire trip. A line of cliffs with thin waterfalls plunging down their faces greeted us as we rounded the rock gates. Hmmm. At first glance we were totally screwed. The cliffs were high, very steep and even had problematic snow and ice in places. My eyes were eventually drawn up a scree cone to the right of the main wall towards a smaller waterfall with what looked like a series of shelves just to the left that could be scrambling terrain. We agreed there wasn’t much to do but go check it out. As usual, the crux looked hard or easy depending on our position and mood as we slowly approached it. Once I was standing right under it I could tell it was much steeper than first appearing from a distance. Again, nothing to do but give it a try. With brain bucket strapped on I made the first move – needing every bit of my 6 foot frame to do it! Working my way carefully up and right to the edge of the waterfall I managed to find ledges and holds to a scree bench above. The holds were loose as heck and watching Wietse come up below me I realized there were 2 or 3 “no fall” moves that would injure or kill. This deserves the “SC7” rating.
From the top of the crux I could see the easy scree bench traverse out of the curtain cliffs that I’d spotted from below would work perfectly. We were likely home free from this point on based on satellite maps and contour lines. It felt awesome to be finally ascending this remote and obscure mountain on a beautiful summer morning. There is an extra kick when ascending an unknown and unpublished route that is hard to explain. I’ve said it before but there aren’t many of these routes left in the Alberta Rockies. There are just too many of us peakbaggers and explorers out there for these routes to last another 10 years. I think that within the next 5 years most of the obscure routes and peaks will get tracks and trip reports published – not to mention guidebooks. It is what it is and I can’t ignore my roll in all of that. It’s the end of an era! Folks like Rick Collier, Graeme Pole and Alistair des Moulins did their part by publishing reports on bivouac.com but now there are so many other sources of information.
We easily traversed the scree ledge before ascending up beside a small waterfall to rubble slopes under peak 3150m – a tall outlier of Cheshire Peak. The route beta I had indicated the ascent party went over top of both peak 3150m and a 3055m bump to access Cheshire. We didn’t think all the extra height gain was necessary. We decided to ascend the south ridge of peak 3150m for a little ways before traversing rubble slopes along its SW face. Reaching the south ridge of peak 3150m I let out a loud “whoop” of joy. The traverse would definitely go and not only that – there was blue sky above and incredible views to some of the Rockies most remote and incredible east faces to the west! What a day this was turning into – especially after waking up to rain first thing!
What can I say about the SW face traverse? It wasn’t exactly pleasant. On approach I didn’t think it was that bad – I was psyched to be going for Cheshire Peak at that point. On return it felt endless and harsh. Wietse hated it both ways. Put it this way, both Wietse and I were wearing La Sportiva TX3 approach shoes with small holes in the upper. This is very normal on these shoes when you scramble terrain like we do. By the end of the traverses on Cheshire Peak our shoes were wrecked and literally falling apart. We worried about ascending not only Dormouse but even just hiking out in them!
As usual, the traverse didn’t take as long as it felt. Within 45 minutes of the south ridge of peak 3150m we were already traversing the last steps around the 3055m bump with full on views of Cheshire Peak’s easy south ridge. We were not only going to make the summit, we were going to walk up to it in glorious summer sunshine with incredible views. It’s hard to explain the excitement of moments like this.
As I hiked easily up the south ridge of Cheshire with stunning views into the head of the Dodo valley with its three lakes I mused how good it felt to finally be here. After months of planning, drawing route lines up satellite maps and researching obscure trip reports we were actually going to stand on this summit. Amazing.
As clouds slowly built up to the west we stepped onto the spacious summit of Cheshire, happy to note that we were not only higher than peak 3150m but also higher than an east outlier towards Dodo Peak. Despite searching relentlessly in the large summit cairn we couldn’t find a register which was really too bad. I still think there’s one in there somewhere but we didn’t want to tear the whole thing apart.
Considering the FRA of Cheshire wasn’t until 1997 (by Glen Boles, Walt Davis, Leon Kubbernus and Mike Simpson) I can’t see this peak having more than half a dozen total ascents at MOST. The views were understandably stupendous. Where else can you see the east faces of Recondite, Antevs, Abstruse, Fuhrer and Heinrich at the same time?! Looking down at the Fuhrer Lakes and the summits of Henrich, Fuhrer and Erudite I thought of the amazing solo trip that Sara McLean did into that area and the very sneaky route she used to get up to the lakes.
We spent a good half hour at the summit, relaxing, taking in the incredible views and trying to name all the obscure peaks in every direction. Because of our early start that morning it was only 11:00 as we left the summit. We were planning to take our time approaching and climbing Dormouse Peak as long as the weather allowed.
Hiking down the south ridge of Cheshire towards the miserable traverse we thought of taking other routes over the outliers but that presented other issues of height gain and didn’t really eliminate most of the rubble and scree issues anyway. The views down the east face into the upper Dodo valley showed why folks are so determined to get up so-called “Ladder Falls” – this valley is amazing!
We worked our way slowly down the crux, taking care on the loose holds before exiting the headwall and hiking down valley towards our next objective – the south face of Dormouse Peak.
I was still feeling the happy buzz of tagging Cheshire Peak as Wietse and I hiked across the scenic alpine meadow landscape towards the south face of Dormouse Peak. Ephraim Roberts had shared his ascent track with me but it ascended a gully SE of the peak and much further down the valley. Why waste hard earned height gain? We knew from views from Cheshire that this route would go fairly easily.
After traversing the meadows we started up the face on a shallow ridge of slabs and scree. It worked perfectly. Despite being tired from the previous day and the morning’s efforts we started to quickly gain height over the valley. The rock was grippy and there were many opportunities to use shallow slabs and ribs to ascend off the loose scree.
As we ascended I was paying nervous attention to the sky above. Just as on Dodo Peak the day previous, clouds were building and there was rain falling in several valleys around our vantage. There wasn’t much to do but continue to enjoy the wild views and keep ascending.
Finally the upper mountain came into view and we made the last few steps to the summit. It was now almost 15:00 but the weather held and our views were respectable. One issue with peakbagging over multiple days in the same area is that the views don’t change much between objectives. Especially now that we were done with the highest peak, we weren’t going to get better views – only slightly different ones. Unlike the previous summits, this one contained a familiar pink ammo register from Eph. We were the first to sign since him and the fourth since 1997 when the Grizzly Group of Fosti, Michaud, Davis, Kubbernus and Simpson left it.
We decided to descend Eph’s track – why not try it? It was OK but it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as our ascent route had been. The giant scree and slab bowl SE of the summit required much more durability than our poor scrambling shoes had left to give at this point! Wietse was so worried he taped and super glued his shoes as best he could – the tape lasted 18 seconds but the glue lasted longer. Eventually we escaped the somewhat manky bottom of the gully on hardpan and slabs to our approach line.
Hiking back to our camp we decided to stay another night in our nice little spot rather than push things further. We were tired but satisfied after a near-perfect day of scrambling and hiking unknown routes and peaks.