Screed Peak (GR796–032)

Summit Elevation (m): 3075
Trip Date:  July 14 2023
Elevation Gain (m): 1500
Round Trip Time (hr): 4.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 10.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you might sprain your big thumb
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties – this one is a long, steep hike. 
Technical Rating: OT4; RE2
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps
First Known Ascent: Roy Funk, George Hrabar, William Kelly, Orvel Miskiw. August 15, 1976 CAJ

On April 8 2006 I scrambled the lofty Sunwapta Peak with the infamous Sonny Bou and the only slightly less famous Kelly Smith with almost no views. Apparently I thought it was such a good idea to ascend lofty peaks next to some of the most amazing scenery in the Rockies with no views that many years later, on July 14th 2023 I did it again. But of course I wasn’t hoping for no views when I originally planned things out! Originally I was hoping to combine Screed Peak with another scenic Jasper ascent to make the 7+ hours of driving (return) from my house worth it. As a family holiday in Vernon loomed large in mid-July 2023 I realized that I have not done as many peaks as usual for me at this time of year. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, I did a 2-week canoe trip at the end of May taking away three weekends of peak bagging for a very worthwhile cause. Secondly, I didn’t ski anything over the winter – although I did nab a likely first winter ascent of Poltergeist Peak with Jay and Sara. Thirdly, every 2nd peak I do now seems to be a 65+km day to bag something nobody has even  heard of, nevermind seen, and that takes a lot of energy. So I decided that pretty much no matter the forecast, I was going to bag a peak or two on Friday July 14 a day before driving to Vernon for a 10-day beach holiday. Great. Everything was looking pretty darn good until a thick blanket of wildfire smoke rolled over the Rockies. I decided to roll the dice and attempt my trip anyway – hoping for a miracle like the one I got on Mount Ogden back in 2017. Alas, this miracles don’t always happen when you want them to…

Screed Peak Route Map – it doesn’t get much easier or more direct from hwy #93 than this folks!

As I made the long drive from YYC up an empty icefields parkway I noted how soaked the highways were. It had rained from Jasper to Banff to Kananaskis and all that rain hadn’t dissipated the smoke one bit. I drove past the Columbia Icefields remembering many great trips up there over the years. The glaciers looked very old and tired with dirty ice and little to no snow showing anywhere. I drove past the parking area for Sunwapta and finally pulled into the small pullout at the lookout for Tangle Ridge and shut off the car. I felt a little bummed by the thick clouds overhead and the smoky air. SpotWX had gotten this one wrong, promising blue skies. Unfortunately firesmoke.ca got it 100% right promising gross air all day. I was here now and it was only 08:00 so I decided to start up and see what happened.

Dramatic morning lighting as I start up open forested slopes on Screed’s lower SW slopes off highway #93.

What happened was a great hike in a moody and very wet forest. I knew the route had to be pretty darn steep simply due to the math. The summit wasn’t much more than 4.5-5km from the road and was 1450-1500 meters of gain. That’s over two Prairie Mountains (1350-1400m) in less distance than 2 PM’s (6.5km) – so it was gonna be hella steep! It was also going to be hella easy. I knew from the beta I had that it was F 2nd and satellite images confirmed that rating. The first (recorded) ascent was apparently when I was 1 years old in August 1976 by Roy Funk, George Hrabar, William Kelly and Orvel Miskiw. I had never heard of anyone else doing this peak although I’m sure folks have wandered up it considering how straightforward it is. After hiking through the lower forest I might as well have hiked right in Grizzly Creek I was so wet from the rain soaked bushes. Things steepened fairly quickly and before long I had some views back over the cloud-covered Sunwapta River below.

After snapping a few photos I turned back to the forest and started up a series of more open ridges that kept wanting to push me off the fall line to the summit – still out of sight high above me at this point. I resisted the pushes and kept angling slightly to my right, sticking to open sections of forest and low ridges running through. Soon I had an even better view opening up behind me.

More incredible views over the Sunwapta Valley including (L to R), Tangle Ridge, Cromwell, Engelhard, Mushroom, Diadem, GEC, Smyth, Gong and McGuire.

Unfortunately this was about as good as that view was going to get today.  The views to Diadem Creek plunging hundreds of meters from the glacier were unbelievable. Seeing Mushroom and Diadem Peak brought back some pretty good memories from 2014. It took just over an hour and I was breaking treeline with views to the impressive north face of Sunwapta Peak appearing over screed slopes leading steeply ever upward.

Breaking treeline, views up the SW ridge to the summit, still out of sight here.

I grunted my way up the easy scree, hoping to see the summit at some point. When I finally did see what I assumed was the summit, I kind of wished I didn’t see it after all. It looked high, very “screed” and very smoky. The north face of Sunwapta looked huge and scary to the south.

Finally I worked my way onto the shallow SW ridge running up the summit block on easy scree slopes. If nothing else, this peak is geared to efficiency. The lower forest is dirt slopes and the upper mountain is fairly stable scree making for fast and easy travel. As I crested the summit ridge I could see a small cairn ahead and incredible views far down to the Jonas Creek valley below. Alas, other than Sunwapta most other peaks around me were shrouded in either clouds, smoke or both.

Summit photo, views over Jonas Creek to the Waterfall Peaks (L) and Sunwapta (R). The striking brown peak with glacier in the foreground right of center is unnamed and slightly lower than Screed.
Summit views over a smoke covered Sunwapta River valley with Sunwapta Peak at left.
Dark clouds and smoke make for a dramatic scene towards the 3315m Sunwapta Peak with its striking north face. Jonas Creek far below at lower left.

The cairn was built old school and I don’t think it’s seen too many visitors over the last 47 years since it was erected. Despite hunting around I did not find a register. Dark clouds were racing in from the north and with afternoon tstorms a possibility I didn’t linger and made my exit down the screed slopes to treeline below. (See what I did there btw?)

An easy descent down SW scree slopes.
Smoke brings out the greens and browns of the forest as I continue down SW slopes to the icefields parkway far below.

I exited the forest across from some very surprised tourists snapping photos at the viewpoint. I think they wondered who this disheveled old dude bursting from the forest was and what he was doing. I didn’t bother enlightening anyone. I drove to the 2nd trailhead for the day but simply could not force myself to do another summit in the conditions I had. As a peakbagger I really wanted to but as someone who also likes to enjoy the journey to the top, I couldn’t do it.

I highly recommend this peak for anyone who’s traveling the area and has a half day on their hands. I bet the views are grand enough to even justify it as a stand alone day trip – but I don’t know for sure.

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