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Cutoff Peak

Summit Elevations (m): 2304
Trip Date: July 01 2023
Elevation Gain (m): 1050
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 28
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you sprain something or worse depending on the route you took up the summit block.
Difficulty Notes: A simple scramble with decent bike approach. Options at the summit block to make things spicy if you want.
Technical Rating: SC6, RE3/4
GPS Track: Download
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Cutoff Peak has been on my radar for a few years now, ever since first hearing about it from Cornelius Rott. Of course it’s yet another unofficial summit, monikered after the creek and trail that run along its north end. I always thought it would be part of a multi-day trip, as an add-on peak on my way back. As it turned out, it would be the add-on for Forbidden Peak, another unofficial but much larger objective I ascended solo on June 30th, the day previous. After spending a peaceful night under the stars at CC4 near an outfitter camp, I awoke at 04:45 to the sounds of a deer munching grass beside my tent.

Cutoff Peak Route Map

After a quick breakfast of black coffee I was ready for the 3 km bike ride to the bridge over Cutoff Creek and the start of the route to Cutoff Peak. The bike ride went really quick, as expected, and soon I was filling my water bottle from the creek and starting up the forested west slopes to the north ridge of my peak.

The forest was a bit thicker than I expected but still easy travel. It was also a bit boggy and buggy compared to anything I’d experienced the day before. I wasn’t sure what was going on with the weather either. It was obviously still very earlier in the morning as I started up the north ridge but clouds seemed to be lingering over the Clearwater River valley and the front ranges. It felt a bit humid for so early in the day. I was delighted to break out of the bush rather quickly and started a very steep ascent on a mix of mossy forest and patches of scree and rock. I could already see the first false summit as well.

Everything was going great to this point except one small thing. I could clearly see rain clouds moving out of the Rockies both to the south and the north! This was not in the forecast the day previous and was not great. It was early enough in the day that there was no energy in the rain clouds but they were looking more and more like thunderstorms as I ascended to the first false summit on the north ridge.

Gorgeous views back down the north ridge over Cutoff Creek and the Clearwater River as it exits the Rockies.

It took about an hour from the bridge to the first high point and the view from there was already pretty darn good, especially up the Clearwater River. The only issue remained the small storms moving around me at this point and the distance that I knew I had left. The north ridge isn’t horribly lengthy but I still couldn’t see the summit. I wandered off, hoping the terrain would remain efficient.

Views back down the north ridge as I continue along it – small tstorms are building and exiting the Rockies behind and around me at this point.
A series of high points along the north ridge. Forbidden Peak at distant right and the summit not visible yet.
Another high point along the ridge – there are many false summits before you even see the true one. This is where the north ridge turns slightly left to the SE becoming the NW ridge.

It took another half hour or so and I was standing on the high point marking where the north ridge becomes a NW ridge leading to the SE. I could also finally see the summit and as I expected, it looked to be a bit of a hike yet. The good news was that the ridge looked pretty straightforward, other than the actual summit block which was looking terrifying. But I knew there was an easier way.

I worked my way along the scenic NW ridge, losing height before gaining it back towards the summit block. At the summit I descended to my right (west) along an obvious 5th class cliff band to an obvious break. This break offered a fun hands-on SC7 scramble route to the west ridge and summit block which I followed on rubble and steep slab to the cairned summit containing not one but two summit registers!

View up summit slabs from my top out just under it on the west ridge.
Views along the N and NW ridges of Cutoff Peak at right with Scalp, Forbidden and Lost Guide at left.
Views south to the Tinda peaks including Scalp Peak at right.
Incredible views up the Clearwater River to Forbidden and Lost Guide Peak. Scalp at left.

After taking in some very nice summit views, I hastily returned down the summit block along the west ridge before finding a much easier escape down the cliffs guarding the traverse back to the NW approach ridge. The next hour or so was spent racing a thunderstorm that was rumbling its way past me just to the north. 

Descending the north ridge with more storms exiting the Rockies.

As the tstorm rumbled off to the SE to eventually merge with other storms to form one of Alberta’s largest recorded tornadoes (!!), I completed my thrash through the boggy forest to my waiting bike. The 10 km ride back to the North Cutoff staging area was quick and relatively straightforward.

Just before the Cutoff Creek staging area, Cutoff Peak in the far distance right of center, mid photo.

As I pulled up to my waiting truck I was struck – and not for the first or the last time – by just how far one can travel in 1.5 days with the use of lightweight gear and a decent bike! This trip couldn’t have worked out any better. I drove home in driving tstorms through the Sundre area, missing the giant tornado by about 25 minutes. This will be one of those summer trips that sticks with me for a while. I highly recommend this area for folks wanting to get out of the busier Banff and Lake Louise areas of the Rockies to experience a different kind of quiet. The kind that you have to earn and the kind that sticks with you long after you arrive home again.

 

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