Nasswald Peak (Citadel Pass)

Summit Elevation (m): 3042
Trip Date: September 26, 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 2250 (to Og Lake)
Round Trip Time (hr): 11.5 (to Og Lake)
Total Trip Distance (km): 34 (to Og Lake)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break a leg or die
Difficulty Notes: Almost the entire route is F 2nd (easy) until the summit ridge where things take a more serious turn. It’s hard to rate the whole mountain as SC7 for a few meters so I’m going with SC6+.
Technical Rating: SC6+; RE4
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

Nasswald Peak has been sitting on my radar for more than 10 years. Ever since “missing out” on a possible 2nd ascent of Golden Mountain (to Robb Schnell and Chris Moneypenny), I’ve wanted to tag Nasswald and see if anyone’s been up there since Rick Collier and Mardy Roberts’ 1993 ascent. I knew Robb made an attempt from Og Lake back in 2021 and turned back but it turns out that once again I missed my target. But I’m getting way ahead of myself here – back to the start. While planning an ascent of Nasswald Peak it was tough to gauge how difficult it might be. Rick’s report is a giant nothing burger for Nasswald, only mentioning the traverse to Golden as difficult but I had questions. I guess we’d have to stick our noses into it in order to find out. After completing a fairly chill and easy 1.5 day trip with Sara McLean on the Jutland to Sage Mountain traverse I found myself packing and hydrating for another multiday trip starting the very next day. I don’t usually do back-to-back multiday trips but with Hanneke gone to a wedding in Manitoba I figured, what the heck? The weather forecast continued to be the definition of hiking and scrambling perfection and despite turning late this year, larches were rapidly yellowing all over the Rockies. Wietse was joining me on his first adventure into the Mount Assiniboine area – perfect timing on his part. Other than planning a scramble on Nasswald we were planning the Cautley (aka “Wonder”) traverse for the 2nd day, rectifying a suboptimal solo attempt of mine in the fall of 2016 where I’d missed out on many of the summits.

Nasswald Peak Route Map via Sunshine Meadows and Citadel Pass.

I’ve completed a few approaches to the Assiniboine area and documented others but I don’t think any of them can surpass the Sunshine Meadows / Citadel Pass route in the fall. In 2016 I was completely blown away by the sheer brilliance of the larches and the undergrowth and was really looking forward to a repeat trip. I hoped my 2022  forecast was a little more accurate than the one back in 2016 which promised nothing but sun but delivered nothing but clouds the first few days… As is very normal for me in 2022, we decided to bike the first part of our approach since the Sunshine Meadows gondola stopped running on the 11th. Many folks don’t realize that bikes are permitted on the Sunshine Village road. Bikes aren’t allowed in the village or above in the meadows and they aren’t recommended but they are allowed on the road itself so we decided to try it. It was my turn to drive and after getting up at 04:45 I picked Wietse up and we made the familiar drive up hwy 1 to the Sunshine parking lot. We could have waited 10 minutes to avoid headlamps but we’re not built like that and started up the dark road at 06:45. At least 3 or 4 trucks passed us in the first few kilometers and by the time we finally got within sight of the village at least a dozen vehicles left us in their dust. It should be noted that we had to push our bikes at least half the distance – the road is bloody steep!

Here’s where things got a bit tricky. Since bikes aren’t allowed in the village, we figured we’d best lock them to trees along the road just before the village. So that’s what we did. Seems strange but that’s the wording on the FAQ site so we decided to stick with it. From the bike drop we hiked through the busy village (hard to believe it’ll be full of skiers in 6 weeks) and continued up the path to the Sunshine Meadows. The larches were showing full yellow and the undergrowth was also colorful as we started the magical hike from Sunshine to Citadel Pass. I knew what to expect from the first part of the day but Wietse had no idea other than seeing the Gaia stats. I knew we’d be gaining and losing a TON of height before ever setting foot near Nasswald Peak. The first order of the day was ascending to a shoulder of Quartz Hill before losing more than a few meters to Howard Douglas Lake.

After a stunning hike across the golden Sunshine Meadows we ascended the good trail up the Quartz Hill shoulder before taking in the views over Howard Douglas Lake to a still very distant Citadel Peak and Mount Assiniboine beyond that. The great news was that there were no clouds to speak of and the morning sun was heating up quickly. We dropped down the braided trail to an empty Howard Douglas campsite and after snapping photos of the lake we continued on.

The always scenic Howard Douglas Lake.

The height gain to Citadel Pass surprises some people but I was more than ready for it. I’ve skied this area and hiked it many times before and it can no longer take me by surprise. My ultralightweight backpacking system was sitting nicely on my shoulders. After testing my Zpacks tent and pack the 2 days previous I was now ready for a more hardy test – a 3 day excursion with much more elevation gains and losses and more gear and food. My pack was still light at around 15 pounds and it felt very comfortable resting on my shoulders. Wietse was both impressed and disgusted by the new gear. Citadel Pass was absolutely stunning with color in early morning sun. WOW. I can never get over the fact that so many folks take a heli ride into the Assiniboine area, missing out on the incredible landscapes beneath. It’s not just the scenery, it’s the slow soaking in of nature as you spend a day approaching on your own two feet instead of a 10 minute flight… We’re all in such a hurry nowadays!

From Citadel Pass the descent into the upper Simpson River valley and towards Golden Valley and the Valley of the Rocks is always a bit depressing. It’s not so much the height loss as the dulling of colors as we entered green forest again. But the downer doesn’t last long here! It was fun watching Wietse’s reaction to the highline section of trail running above Golden Valley along south slopes of Golden Mountain. The fall colors here are not from larches but they’re stunning nonetheless.

Views over the Simpson River valley to the rarely ascended Nestor Peak and Simpson Peak / Ridge reminded me of Eric, Phil and my crazy summer of 2018 adventure when we ascended all three peaks from the Police Meadows cabin via unknown and untested routes. It would have been nice to have the UL setup back then! I recalled how Phil and I returned to the Sunshine parking lot after ascending Nestor Peak via a long, arduous ridge scramble from the NE. Eric was so exhausted we left him in the cabin to hike out the next day. Folks in the Porcupine campground thought we were nuts to be returning as late as it was. Good times.

Hiking around the south slopes of Golden Mountain with stunning morning views of Nestor, Simpson Peak and Simpson Ridge (R).

Slowly we continued to lose height down to the Valley of the Rocks and before long we were back in light forest, hiking the undulating trail towards our planned access route to Nasswald’s south face. It was fun to see how much Wietse was enjoying this hike – it’s always nice to introduce someone to a new area, especially when it’s really showing off its best behavior.

When planning our route up Nasswald, I always assumed we’d be coming off the Valley of the Rocks Trail. This was a good assumption as it put me onto a great looking line with very little bushwhacking along south cliffs coming off Golden Mountain above. The Google satellite images showed a clear line up rubble slopes to the south face of Nasswald which also looked pretty darn easy. I had photos of this face from previous trips to the area and despite looking a bit steep in places it wasn’t the face that caused any concerns. The only slight concerns were the summit – where exactly was it and what was the ridge under it like? We were about to find out. We left the majority of our overnight gear just off the trail and started wandering moderate bush to the break along Golden’s lower south cliffs. Within about 15 minutes we were already through the bush and ascending a perfect bush-free line. Even better? It was nicely in the shade – delightful with the sun now at its harshest.

I couldn’t believe how great the route was working out as we quickly made our way up rubble and grass slopes under Golden’s cliffs. There was one choke point that threatened to cut us off but it didn’t happen. A goat highway from the cliffs to a giant rubble bowl under Nasswald’s south face was just another bonus in an already pretty darn good day. It was quickly becoming one of those perfect trips where everything seems to work out better than hoped for. But now the real test would begin. Did we have the best path to the proper summit mapped out?  We started up easy south rubble slopes before traversing easy angled slabs to a shallow ridge directly up the south face. We could see an easy line all the way to the SE summit ridge high above and it started to feel like this thing was “in the bag” so to speak.

As I finally crested the ridge with stunning views back over the core Assiniboine area I had to gulp a few extra times. The ridge ahead looked very very exposed and very very loose! I started slowly along it, yelling back to Wietse to watch a short section of loose ridgetop that overhung the north face. Yeah – it was like that. The next 15 minutes or so certainly upped the ante and the overall rating of the peak. From F 2nd south slopes the SE ridge was F 3rd and very loose and exposed. Many of the rocks along the ridge couldn’t even be touched, nevermind held. One step in particular was horribly exposed and required us to weight a rock that was simply wedged, not held to the mountain. Not the easiest or safest terrain I’ve been on this year.

After the delicate balancing act of the SE ridge we strolled easily to the summit with clear views in every direction. I nervously opened the summit register – obviously a Rick Collier artifact. I could tell right away that there was no register – only a sheet of wet paper with local legend Paul Zizka’s signature on it from July 2022. Paul wrote that he took Rick’s soaked register with him to dry it out but gave no indication of how full it might be. (I contacted Paul after returning and he sent a photo showing that we were the first two summit parties in the register since Rick in 1993. Ben Wards contacted me on Facebook indicating he also summited Nasswald via Golden Mountain in 2021.) Ben and Paul took the hero route from Golden Mountain to Nasswald – a route that doesn’t sound or look easy from Golden Mountain.

The Sundance Range at left with Beersheba, Allenby, Mercer, Bashan, Og, Cautley, Wonder, Towers, Assiniboine and Nub visible along with many other peaks.
Mount King George and the royal group over Wonder Pass. Mount Joffre, Cautley, Byng, Wonder, Towers, Naiset, Magog, Aye, Lunette, Assiniboine.
Views over the Sunshine Meadows to the Egypt Lakes area. Rockwall, Goodsirs and Mount Ball and many other peaks visible.

I dried the inside of the summit register tube before adding a new booklet with Rick and Paul’s ascents recorded in it along with our own of course. After 30 minutes or so at the top it was time to start our descent. We had to reverse some pretty delicate moves down the upper SE ridge and still had over 6 kilometers to hike to Og Lake once we reached the trail again. As I turned away from Nasswald’s summit I felt deeply satisfied with our efforts. I’ve wanted this peak for a long, long time and it felt really good to finally attain it. Some peaks are like that for me, much more than others. Cheshire was another that I got in 2022 and Afternoon Peak was also a deeply sought summit of mine. It’s been a heckuva year for me and I’m very grateful for it. Descend of the upper SE ridge was tricky and slow but after that we quickly exited the south face and back to the trail along Golden Mountain’s south cliffs.

The next few hours to Og Lake via the Valley of the Rocks Trail were longer and more tiring than expected but also extremely scenic and pleasing to the soul. I live for days like this, with endless kms, brilliant fall colors and a deep blue sky overhead.

We spent the evening at an empty Og Lake campground hydrating and preparing for another long day of perfect fall hiking and scrambling on the Cautley Traverse. I slept wonderfully in my new Zpacks Solo Plex tent under a brilliant night sky that literally glowed with Aurora Borealis. I was too warm and snuggled in my sleeping bag to go out and photograph the light show but I acknowledged it before going back to sleep. Sometime during the night a few backpackers came by and slept in their sleeping bags under the stars – no tent required. 

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