Summit Elevation (m): 3148
Trip Date: September 02 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 2100 (from parking lot and return to Fossil Creek)
Total Trip Time (hr): 12 (from parking lot and return to Fossil Creek)
Total Trip Distance (km): 33.5 (from parking lot and return to Fossil Creek)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your ego
Difficulty Notes: A long way from the trailhead but about as easy as these things go once you arrive.
Technical Rating: SC5; RE5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Back in 2017 when Phil Richards and I ascended Cataract Peak things were quite different in my life than they are now. Back then I was still focused on the Rockies 11000ers and thought that Cataract was pretty remote and hard to reach. Fast forward half a decade and I found myself musing aloud to Sara McLean as we hiked down to the Pipestone River from Fish Lake how “accessible” the area felt compared to how I remembered feeling back then. I guess when you’ve focused on peaks that most people have never heard of, much less traveled, your perspective changes on what’s “accessible” or not. So far in 2022 I’ve done some pretty remote beauties including Malloch, Melanin, Bonnet, Afternoon, Lonely, McDonald and Cheshire Peak among many others. I used to think many of these remote summits had almost no ascents and despite this being true for a good many of them, I now realize that many have had more human visitors than we’ll ever know about. Before the advancement of the Internet and easy ways to share beta with the world there were very few public trip reports written on many of these objectives and folks just wandered up and down stuff without anyone else knowing about it. This was certainly the case over the September labor day weekend when Sara and I went for a couple of peaks I’d never heard of before doing some research through my many varied sources over the winter of 2021/22.
Forgotten Peak is labeled as “Cataract S2” on many maps. This makes sense as it’s a south outlier of the near-11000er just to the north. It’s an unofficially named peak, dubbed “Forgotten” by Graeme Pole in 1988 when he documented its first recorded ascent (FRA). Apparently this lofty summit is visible from many areas around Lake Louise which is what put it on Graeme’s radar and got him interested in it. Things have changed in the hiking and scrambling community since 1988. Graeme writes in his report that;
If you’re out to ascend this peak, you will already have spent a day or two plugging along trails.
Not anymore Graeme! Nowadays people are traveling much, much further and faster than many folks were back in 1988. This is partly due to lighter and more comfortable gear, partly to updated methods of approaching and ascending objectives and partly due to new ideas of what’s reasonable and attainable in a day by a reasonably fit person. Techniques such as wearing approach shoes or runners instead of boots, crossing rivers and streams without taking shoes off or switching to water shoes and not carrying water when traveling along water sources save a lot of time and effort. The latest lightweight gear has likely halved pack weights too. My overnight pack has a base weight of less than 10 lbs. Many folks chasing peaks nowadays are also insanely physically fit. I’m too old to consider myself really fit but I’m in reasonably good shape for my advancing years. Klaus Haring repeated Graeme’s route in 1990 while on a solo mission to ascend Cataract Peak. Who else might have wandered up this secluded summit in the intervening years? I was hopeful to find Graeme’s summit register and find out.
Sara and I planned to approach and ascend Forgotten Peak in a day. We had a number of choices for our approach but we chose the Mosquito Creek / North Molar Pass option which allowed for a circular route back over Whiskey Papa and Minnow Peak. Biking and hiking up the Pipestone River from Lake Louise would be the other obvious choice if planning this objective on its own. I picked Sara up in Canmore at 05:45 and by the time the clock rolled over to 07:00 we were hiking the Mosquito Creek Trail. I have hiked and skied this silly trail WAY too many times over the past few years but it’s quick, easy and gives access to a lot of Banff’s remote landscapes so here I was yet again. The trail was its familiar hardpack self, better than wet and mucky and full of horse damage and detritus though. Within a couple of hours we were hiking the lovely Molar meadows towards North Molar Pass with the sun rising in our faces. I pointed out the various peaks I’ve done in the area including Mosquito, Molarstone and The Fang.
It already felt like it was going to be a hot day as we sweated our way up North Molar Pass. The views over the pass towards Minnow Peak are always pretty impressive and today was no different. Even though I’ve seen these many times before I still found myself marveling as usual. We hiked quickly down the pass and towards Fish Lakes. When planning the trip I had to chuckle at the elevation profile as detailed in my trip report for Cataract Peak. After gaining nearly 800 meters to NMP we were destined to lose almost all of it back along the Pipestone River before arriving at the “Fossil Creek” junction. We hiked past the upper and lower Fish Lakes before continuing on a narrowing trail down to the Pipestone River.
The trail past the junction of the highline Pipestone Pass Trail down to the Pipestone River narrows because it is not the recommended way to approach Pipestone Pass. Parks Canada has decommissioned the Pipestone River Trail through the valley upstream of the junction with the Fish Lakes Trail to protect the Grizzly population. This decommissioning makes the trail less traveled but still used by folks completing a loop down the Pipestone River to Lake Louise or arriving from there. Once we finally reached the Pipestone River after 18 kilometers of hiking it was much smaller than I remembered. We crossed the river easily – getting wet feet of course as there’s no bridges anymore at this point of the hike. I was still feeling surprisingly fresh and even commented to Sara how “accessible” the area felt compared to what I remembered from my Cataract Peak trip. From the river crossing the Pipestone River Trail was an unpleasant surprise if I’m honest about it. Sure! There’s a trail, which is great. But the trail goes through a few kilometers of thick willow stands and it hasn’t been maintained in many years. We felt like we were willow-whacking while technically still on a trail. We were both in shorts due to the sweltering heat which admittedly didn’t make the tight willows more pleasant to walk through.
We spent over an hour traveling the ~5.5 kilometers down the Pipestone River towards the “Fossil Creek” (unofficial name) inlet. As we hiked through thick willow stands with brief (but very welcome) reprieves through small stands of mature forest I noticed something that I didn’t like one bit. The light trail runners that I was wearing were digging into the tops of my feet in such a way that they were starting to feel bruised. I’ve walked and hiked hundreds of kms this year and never had this issue. I knew almost immediately that it was the combination of new(ish) runners and crappy socks that was resulting in the discomfort. The issue wasn’t necessarily the pain – I can handle quite a bit of hurt. It was that the pain didn’t seem to go away or dull at all. I almost couldn’t walk without adjusting my shoes often. Since this was a “light and fast” trip I didn’t have extra socks either. This was going to be interesting in another 30 kilometers or so! As we approached the Fossil Creek junction we noticed impressive glaciers on the north end of the Drummond Icefield that were going to be front and center during our ascent. At least our views would be good even if I was a hurting unit.
Finally at 13:00 we crossed the Pipestone River one last time and started hiking up the gravel flats of Fossil Creek towards our towering objective to the east. Sitting just south of the giant Cataract Peak, Forgotten’s west slopes looked endless already from valley bottom! The good news was that as we hiked closer we spotted a fine line up a dragon’s back ascending from lower Fossil Creek giving us a much more direct option than the one Graeme and Klaus used. After a short bushwhack along Fossil Creek we started up steep slopes on a ridge below the dragon’s back in light forest. The heat and sun were overwhelming at this point. Combined with my shoe and foot issues I was now feeling ill. I’m not sure if it was the heat or my stomach but I was not feeling my usual energy as we slowly made our way up the west slopes. Sara led a slow but steady pace upwards as we traversed climber’s right onto the bottom of the dragon’s back and kept ascending on a mix of slab and rubble. Distracting us from the intense heat and relentless grind of our endless ascent slopes were incredible views to the north end of the Drummond massif to the south. An impressively huge waterfall along with soaring cliffs and a hidden tarn was unexpected. It’s these features that keep us coming back to these remote areas time and again.
Despite feeling sick and dealing with the incredibly hot sun overhead it still only took us around 2 hours to ascend the endless rubble WSW slopes to the 3148m summit of Forgotten Peak. The elevation profile of this peak is the smoothest and most consistent I’ve ever seen! Alas, Graeme’s summit cairn and register were completely blown to bits by a lightning strike which left a pretty impressive crater in its wake. We rebuilt a small cairn but had no register to leave. We needed some time to relax in the cool summit breezes and I felt much better after 30 minutes spent eating, drinking and taking in the views of some of Banff’s more remote vistas.
We could clearly see the Dormer prescribed wildfire that Parks Canada had started sending up columns of smoke to the SE. Thankfully we still had pretty clear views but we wondered if that would last in the hot windless conditions the labor day weekend was forecast to experience. I continued to feel better as we descended the still incredibly hot slopes down to the creek below. My feet were still having issues but I loosened them to the point where they were more like slippers and at least the pain in the tops of my feet went away. Now the issue was my toes getting slammed into the fronts of my shoes due to the lack of support. Yeah – this was going to hurt later! Future Vern problem.
Within just over 5 hours of starting our ascent we were back out of Fossil Creek towards the Pipestone River. I was hurting more than I should have been from a 33km, 2100m day. Although that isn’t a small day by any means, most of it was on trail and the off trail part was pretty darn easy and straightforward as far as these things go. I’ve had a lot of big trips lately so I think I was suffering from a form of burnout (mental and physical) and I just had an “off” day in the strong summer sun and heat. I did enjoy Forgotten Peak (my 900th summit if you must know) despite the slight setbacks. The views on route took me by surprise. For some reason I didn’t expect the north end of the Drummond massif to be quite so impressive. Someday I’ll be back to visit the lake that is visible on maps at the head of Fossil Creek. It looks possible to traverse into the same valley that Phil and I used in 2018 to access Mount McConnell. We followed up a great day on Forgotten Peak with a highline traverse back to North Molar Pass over the oddly named Whiskey Papa and Minnow Peak.