Gates of the David Thompson

Summit Elevation (m): 2743
Trip Date: Saturday, May 13, 2023
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Elevation Gain (m): 1360
Total Trip Distance (km): 13.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Make sure you follow my track closely or you could be in for a long sufferfest through thick burn.
Technical Rating: SC5; RE3
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps

It’s no great secret that I’ve had a terrible winter 2022/23. I mean, “first world problems” but the mix of bad avalanche conditions, bad snow conditions and just general bad conditions had me get out on only a handful of unique adventures in the 6 months from mid-October to May. This used to be the norm for me when my family was younger but nowadays I don’t have to hibernate and doing so took a huge mental toll. With 82 Prairie Mountain ascents in 2023 alone (so far), I thought I had the physical side of things covered until too much early season golf threw my back out a few weeks ago! Dang it! Talk about brutal timing! As soon as conditions and weather in the mountains aligned for a big trip, my body wasn’t ready. With a big backcountry canoe trip coming up at the end of May I had to be careful with my back injury and suggested something relatively short and easy to Wietse that Doug, Devan and Emilie had just completed.

Gates of the David Thompson Route Map

In a newly released guidebook, “David Thompson Country: A Scrambling Guide“, Brett Pawlyk describes some unique and interesting peaks and routes along the Hwy #11 corridor through DTC. Many of the peaks are familiar to Rockies scramblers and most are somewhat “official” but there are some unofficial outlier peaks also mentioned. The “Gates of the David Thompson” are oddly named, if only to exclude “Country” from the end, but they promised a relatively straightforward early season route with spectacular views so we agreed to give it a shot. Thankfully we had a GPS track from Devan and description from Doug which helped us avoid some pretty horrid terrain lower down. 

In his description and map of the route, Brett doesn’t mention that this scramble starts along the Great Divide Trail (GDT) and calls Owen Creek, “Owen’s” which is slightly misleading. Judging by his route line it appears that there is a more deadfall navigation along his route than the one Doug sussed out after two back-to-back attempts. We started from Hwy 11, hiking up a rough single track along Owen Creek. It was hot already at 08:00 and my back brace didn’t help cool me off.

It didn’t take long to find the spectacular gorge / narrow canyon along the GDT where Owen Creek roars 100 feet underneath an opening only a few feet wide in places. We spent some time taking in the amazing landscape as we hiked slowly along it.

As we continued up Owen Creek, the trail deteriorated rapidly. Considering this is part of the GDT we expected more maintenance but as it was we had to climb over and duck under a lot of deadfall. In some places the trail was completely washed out by the creek with new routes marked with flagging. At one junction there was fresh flagging both ahead and upslope. We went above the creek before realizing we didn’t need to gain that extra 25 meters.

The terrain around Owen Creek is a bit of a mess. Gates to the DTC rises at right with an outlier of Wilson at left.
Believe it or not, Wietse is on the trail here!

After approximately 3kms along the GDT we finally turned uphill towards the lower SW face of our peak, starting in willows before the forest cleared out to some pleasant hiking.

I continued to struggle with the heat – for some reason I wasn’t ready for it on this particular day. My back brace was too tight, restricting my breathing which also didn’t help things. Then we hit the suck. The “suck” on this scramble is an unavoidable section of burnt and fallen matchstick forest that is thankfully also very short. After slowly navigating the matchsticks we started up steep rocky slopes with less fallen trees but still through a burn. I agree with Doug that this slope is going to get worse once the trees start falling on it. Our views started opening up at this point, back over Owen Creek to the immense eastern slopes of Mount Wilson and the looming massif of Mount Murchison across the North Saskatchewan River. It’s been almost a decade since I ascended both of these monsters and it tired me just thinking of it. 

The slope was majorly foreshortened and it took a lot longer than expected before we finally broke through a last stand of unburned trees to rubble and slab slopes leading up to a still unseen summit high above. We did however spot the namesake “gates” – large cliffs off the SW face with great views into DTC down Hwy 11.

The “gates” at left with David Thompson Country ahead including Hwy #11 and the North Saskatchewan River. Corona Ridge and Mount Murchison at right.

We spent the next 30 or 40 minutes ascending easy rubble slopes past a mysterious giant cairn on the ridge to the broad summit. Views along the way continued to be spectacular.

It felt more like July than early May as we strode to the summit in t-shirts and took in the incredible views to local giants such as Cline, Resolute, Corona Ridge, Murchison, Forbes and Wilson. As usual, a small peak surrounded by larger ones gave us great panoramas.

Summit view to the east includes (L to R), Owen, Cline, Resolute (Lion), Lioness, Hensley, Two o’clock, Whirlpool Ridge, Cheshire, Peskett, Corona Ridge, Spreading and Murchison.
Summit views west include (L to R), Corona Ridge, Spreading, Murchison, Epaulette, Kaufmann, Sarbach, Outram, Forbes, Mons, Survey and Mount Wilson.
Towers of Mount Murchison include (L to R), Hall, Cromwell, Engelhard and the SE and NW summits at right.

The wind was cool and at this point we were still entertaining a 2nd summit in the area so we didn’t linger long at the summit. Initially we were hoping for a 5-6 hour trip but it was clear that we would be closer to 7. Descent went well, the matchstick section was about as fun as we thought it’d be. Not much.

Taking in the views over Hwy #11 and the North Saskatchewan River on descent.

On the way down the lower forested section to the GDT I told Wietse that I didn’t think I should add another objective to my day. My back was OK but not 100% and I worried that pushing it with a 2800m day would take me backwards in my recovery. It was smoking HOT as we hiked back along the creek but with no time pressure anymore we took our time and even had a short nap along the way out.

So what do I think of this scramble? The views are certainly spectacular but you will pay for them with some mankiness on approach. There is no scrambling per se, you might find some if you seek it out but I didn’t see any. As an early season objective it has a lot going for it including a scenic approach, slopes that dry out relatively quick and fun exposure off the SW ascent slopes – if you seek it out. A solid 3 out of 5 stars for me but it sure felt nice to get out in that fresh mountain air again.

4 thoughts on Gates of the David Thompson

  1. Great report Vern. As usual, spot on! I too wondered how the GDT is in such bad shape – maybe it get love as the season progresses… should just sic Foresty Forest on it 🙂

  2. I loved watching this video! This is on my list for 2024. Now that I figured out how to download the GPX and upload to GAIA GPS I will follow your routes on the mountains I would like to climb. Curious though, it looks like a smooth 45 degree uphill at one point? Is it slippery?

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