Summit Elevations (m): 2760, 2918
Trip Date: September 03 2022
Trip Time (hr): 10.5 (from Fossil Creek)
Elevation Gain (m): 1700 (from Fossil Creek)
Total Trip Distance (km): 27km (from Fossil Creek)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: The only difficulties on this hike are finding the motivation to cover the distance and elevation gains in a day trip – it would work great as a side trip from the Fish Lakes campground.
Technical Rating: SC5; RE3/4
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
After hiking over North Molar Pass, past the Fish Lakes, down to the Pipestone River, up Fossil Creek and then up and down Forgotten Peak, Sara McLean and I set our sights on an oddly named peak to the west. While researching my source materials for trip ideas over the winter, I came across a mountain dubbed “Whiskey Papa”. The peak was situated in an area that I’d always meant to return to anyway, after disappointingly cloudy views on Minnow Peak in 2019. While researching 2-day trips for the labor day weekend at the beginning of September I got the idea to combine Whiskey Papa and Minnow Peak with an ascent of Forgotten Peak, located just across the Pipestone River. This would form a fantastic 60km loop with 3700m of height gain. The FRA and naming of “Whiskey Papa” was by Glenn Reisenhofer and some national army cadets in July 2008. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what the name might refer to, as this blog is too polite to get into it.
We started out along the Pipestone River Trail, hoping it would avoid willows downstream of Fossil Creek. It did, for the most part. After a few kilometers of pleasant early morning hiking we arrived at the drainage I’d marked to get us to the south ridge of Whiskey Papa. Originally when planning the trip I thought we might have to hike up the large valley between Molar Mountain and Whiskey Papa before heading up the peak but Sara remembered from her recent jaunt up Molar Mountain that we might be able to ascend the south ridge directly. This would save us a lot of time and energy so we really hoped it would work out. While the original ascent party had ascended from the Molar Creek Trail into the hanging valley, I didn’t see why that route was advantageous over ascending a drainage directly west of the Pipestone River. As we started up the drainage I realized we might be in for a bit of a ‘whack. It wasn’t as horrid as it looked but it took us an hour of steady bushwhacking, staying climber’s right out of the creek and ascending steep slopes in the forest before finally breaking out of the bush. We were delighted to find ourselves at the bottom of the south ridge on an open rubble slope – this would work out perfectly.
From the bottom of the first rubble slope we easily ascended a few hundred vertical meters of steep terrain with views of Molar Mountain and the lovely valley between it and us opening up. Smoke was also clearly visible, hiding some of the large peaks towards Lake Louise in its haze. Looking across the Pipestone River towards Cataract and Forgotten revealed just how big those peaks are.
There was no rocket science or even scrambling needed along the south ridge of Whiskey Papa – we simply put one foot in front of the other long enough to finally arrive at the summit. Some days are easier than others and after the sufferfest in brutal afternoon heat the day before, I was more than OK with a simple objective this morning. Views from the top were quite good considering the smoky air. There were enough big peaks, green valleys and sparkling ponds and lakes around to keep one satisfied on this diminutive peak.
We spent some time in the nice cool summit breezes before moving on down the northwest ridge towards our next objective – Minnow Peak. Even from the summit of Whiskey Papa we could see that the next hour or so was going to be the highlight of our day. The north ridge looked like a very pleasant ramble way above treeline with the upper plateau between us and Molar Mountain looking very scenic to our left and the Pipestone River valley looking sublime down to our right. Huge east cliffs of Minnow Peak plunged hundreds of meters down to lakes and tarns below, providing us with more unexpected views.
As we slowly approached the low point between Whiskey Papa and Minnow Peak we passed a beautiful little tarn tucked into the rock and reflecting a few morning clouds on its still surface. Once again we were reminded why it’s almost always worth getting to these out-of-the-way places despite the effort they demand.
From the low point we could see an easy route up south scree and rubble slopes to Minnow’s SW ridge high above. As we started up I was worried about my water situation as the day was heating up quickly. Thankfully we managed to find a small seeping puddle which allowed both of us a refill of cold, refreshing water. Despite the slope looking horribly loose from afar, once we got our feet onto it, it was surprisingly stable. We first followed a staircase drainage path up the middle before getting onto slightly looser terrain to the SW ridge.
Views from the SW ridge were great as we made our way easily to the summit. Back in 2019 I’d had almost zero views from this peak and I was worried that today would be no different with all the forest fire smoke in the air. Thankfully the views of nearby peaks such as Cataract and Deluc were still stunning.
From the summit we could see down on the Fish Lakes Banff warden cabin and could pick out the snaking line of the Pipestone Pass highline trail avoiding the river valley below. It was also neat to see a tiny slice of Three Brothers Lake and look at the endless rubble slopes of both Cataract and Forgotten Peak.
After some time relaxing and once again cooling down in the nice summit breezes we started a descent of the SW ridge to a large NW rubble bowl leading down to the Fish Lakes below. Thankfully I still had my GPS track from 2019 and used it to avoid some cliffs lower down in the bowl before traversing above the upper Fish Lake to a familiar gorgeous viewpoint of the lake.
We sat above the upper Fish Lake for our last break of the day, taking in the quiet atmosphere and views over the deep blue lake. Considering it was a perfect weather long weekend I was very surprised how quiet it was – we didn’t hear or see anyone moving around the campground below.
I wasn’t looking forward to the final 300 meter height gain to North Molar Pass in the heat of the afternoon sun but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. A stiff breeze helped immensely as we passed a couple of hikers with their dog on the way up to the pass. Descending through the upper meadows we met a few more groups of hikers before the trail ran clear all the way to hwy #93. The Mosquito Creek campground was full of families enjoying the perfect camping weather which was neat to see.
My feet were feeling pretty chewed up as we completed the final hour of fast hiking to the parking lot. Despite more discomfort than I’m used to, from the heat, my feet and my tired mind I find myself reflecting very fondly on this trip only days later while writing this report. Things are never guaranteed to go perfectly in the hills and some trips simply hurt more than others for a variety of reasons. The trick, I find, is to push through the pain and try to enjoy them as much as possible. Now that the pain is receding and the memories of discomfort are fading I realize that this trip was amazing and I want to go back.