Siffleur Mountain

Summit Elevation (m): 3129
Trip Date: July 29, 2023
Elevation Gain (m): 1900 (from Siffleur Falls Staging area to peak to camp on the Siffleur River)
Round Trip Time (hr): 11.5 (from Siffleur Falls Staging area to peak to camp on the Siffleur River)
Total Trip Distance (km): 31 (from Siffleur Falls Staging area to peak to camp on the Siffleur River)
Related Trip: Mount Fuhrer
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something – i.e. your ego
Difficulty Notes: Technically nothing more than easy scrambling but getting there via the ruined Siffleur River Trail is the real challenge.
Technical Rating: SC5
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

According to a 1949 Canadian Alpine Journal article written by Elizabeth Parker (pg. 35), the Earl of Southesk spent the month of September, 1859, in the Rockies on a hunting expedition. The article goes into great detail on the appearance of the individuals comprising the “colorful caravan” before continuing;

On the 2nd of the month, they were well into the hills and counted eighteen bighorn in one herd on a mountainside. Southesk, M’Kay and Antoine rode off and climbed in pursuit, but the swift sheep disappeared over the cliffs. Soon a goat appeared, but they missed again and had to be content with humbler quarry, though probably more tender eating. Thus, in camp, they dined on “delicious siffleur” which tasted on the tongue like “very delicate mutton or the fat of sucking pig.” The next day it was porcupine and a bird killed with a stone, probably a fool hen; but before the day was done, Antoine shot a sheep.

I’m not sure I can say that Wietse and I were thinking that Siffleur was “delicious” as we struggled along the massively ruined Siffleur River trail to the mountain named after the French word for “Whistler” or “Marmot” but we were obviously very hungry to get to the top of the mountain or we’d never have made even this far along the approach. I’ve done several peaks in the Siffleur Wilderness Area and on its border with Banff National Park including Quill, Marmota, South Totem, Spreading, Cheshire, Recondite, Augusta and Kentigern. As I remember those trips they all have the same thing in common. They are not common, and of course this is their main attraction for folks like myself.

Siffleur Mountain route map with the long approach from Kootenay Plains.

I can’t remember when I first started dreaming of Siffleur Mountain but it was likely upon reading one of Rick Collier’s many trip reports from the Siffleur Wilderness, back when it was somewhat accessible in the late 80’s and early 90’s. When I started hiking extensively in David Thompson Country just to the north and east of the Siffleur Wilderness, the three peaks of Peskett, Loudon and Siffleur often featured prominently on my photos and drew me to start researching routes. Despite all three peaks sounding reasonably easy from the scrambling perspective, there were two things making them more difficult. Beta and access. The only recent beta I had as 2023 rolled around was Sara Mclean’s trip report from her incredible solo venture up the Escarpment River in 2021 where she hiked part of the Siffleur River trail on approach. Rick made most of the approach sound horrible already 20 or 30 years ago with quotes like;

…biking was feasible for only about 10 km (in the past I’d been able to ride 12-13 km) because of increased deadfall and the soft ground being punched up by elk hooves – this trail (really an old road) is very definitively going back to nature and will, within a few years, be nearly impassable.


once at the boundary between the park and the ecological reserve, the condition of the trail degenerated considerably, there being frequent and massive deadfalls across the path and sufficient confusion about what really was the trail that it was all too easy for me to lose my way on the spongy ground of this rapidly glooming old-growth forest.

Way back in 1898 this valley was a REAL bugger to travel, check out this quote from the 1975 CAJ (pg. 74);

With Peyto again leading, they followed the Pipestone River to its head, crossed Pipestone Pass, and followed the Siffleur River down to the Saskatchewan River. The deadfall was dense, crippling one horse so it had to be shot.

I knew from quotes like this and the complete lack of recent beta that the approach would likely be horrible. I also knew that bikes weren’t permitted in the wilderness area so even if things weren’t terrible, I assumed bikes wouldn’t be worth it – that part of my assumption was completely wrong as I’d find out. I just hoped when I finally got to it, nobody in my ascent party would get crippled and subsequently have to be shot!

It’s hard to get a sense of how many previous ascents there are of Siffleur Mountain. Obviously there’s the first recorded ascent in 1924 by Morrison P. Bridgland’s topographical survey which I should have read beforehand for some key ascent beta;

Perhaps one more peak might be mentioned, Mount Siffleur (10,280), the last peak on the west side before entering the Saskatchewan Valley. Although it offers little attraction to the mountaineer, as the ascent is very easy, it affords a splendid view of the Saskatchewan Valley and the surrounding mountains. The easiest point of ascent is from the mouth of Porcupine Creek or a short distance below. (CAJ, 1929 pg. 60)

Finding mention of any other ascents besides Rick’s is not an easy task and I could not find any. As the years slowly ticked by, I realized that many of my mountain friends had very similar goals to mine but we were all scared off by rumors of horrible trail conditions up the Siffleur River from the Siffleur Falls staging area and there are limited options for getting to the base of these peaks from any other direction. Events like the 2018 Porcupine wildfire didn’t help matters.  For some reason I was a dog with a bone and somehow convinced Wietse to join me on a 2-day excursion to bag Siffleur Mountain and Mount Heinrich over the last weekend of July 2023.

The first 8km of the Siffleur River Trail are a highway and should definitely be biked. This section is on the Kootenay Plains overlooking the North Saskatchewan River.

As we drove the 3+ hours from YYC to the Siffleur Falls staging area we were disappointed by thick cloud cover and obvious recent rainfall throughout the Rockies. This would not make our approach any more pleasant! We started along the popular trail over the narrow bridge crossing a huge, milky North Saskatchewan River. After hiking the boardwalk we turned right rather than continuing up the Siffleur Falls Trail like I was used to from several scrambles and hikes in the area over the years. I first started wondering why we didn’t bring bikes as we hiked a literal road above the river. Several kilometers later I was really wondering.

By the time we approached Hailey and Katie from Alberta Parks replacing an old Siffleur Wilderness Area boundary sign we knew we’d regret not riding the first 8 kms of this approach on return. For some reason, I’d thought that the Siffleur Wilderness Area boundary would be much closer to the start of the Siffleur River trail than it is. This is because when I used a bike to access Mount William Booth I was cautioned that I wasn’t actually allowed to ride there due to the WA as it encroaches much closer to the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve on the northeast side near the Siffleur Falls trail. Lesson learned I guess!

Hailey and Katie were very surprised to see us and warned us of rapidly deteriorating trails conditions ahead. We got our first taste of what was coming pretty quickly after crossing into the wilderness area in the form of standing water and bog along the cutline. As the trees on either side of the cutline closed in on us we also realized that with the overnight rain we were in for a good soaking from both sides in addition to the ground. Dang it. We also wondered why Alberta Parks just installed a “Welcome to the Siffleur Wilderness” sign. (It seemed like a bit more of an “f u” than a real welcome and we pictured parks staff laughing maniacally as they planned installing it.)

Did I mention the bog? If you value dry feet you should not be here. Siffleur Mountain rises to the right with Heinrich and Fuhrer already visible at far distant left.

Shortly after the wilderness boundary the trail deviates off the cutline as the Siffleur River interferes with it. There was no way to keep dry as we slowed our pace and tried settling into things – knowing it was only going to get worse. After the brief deviations we found ourselves back on the cutline and pretty good conditions. Yeah! This was going better than expected. And then we got into it – big time. The next many kms were a mixture of tough conditions to absolutely horrid ones – some of the worst “on trail” hiking I’ve ever done and that includes recently burned portages in NW Ontario which are only a few hundred meters rather than kilometers long.

I know many of you are going to be tempted to downplay how bad the Siffleur trail conditions are – but do this at your own peril. I was carrying a ridiculously small and lightweight overnight pack (maybe 13-15 lbs and 25 liters in size) and I was seriously struggling. This was also not my first rodeo when it comes to difficult travel conditions, as you well know. I honestly believe that most folks would turn around or get into trouble if they encountered what we did. Even when the deadfall wasn’t absolutely horrid, the new growth on the cutline was so thick in places that we kept our jackets on just to protect our arms from getting de-skinned from sharp branches. After almost 2.5 hours of brutal conditions we finally came to an intersection with another cutline heading off to the SW and eventually our destination. This cutline was no better than the previous one – eventually we got into the result of the 2018 Porcupine Wildfire which certainly didn’t help. The funny part is that this section of trail will only get much worse as more and more trees fall down. In another twist the entire approach only had 1 or 2 viable water sources, only adding to the pleasures of approach.

Finally, after 4 hours of very tough travel conditions we found ourselves near the south ascent slopes of Siffleur Mountain. Although 4 hours doesn’t sound that long, I truly believe that most folks would double this time with bigger packs and less “Dutch” in their genes. I can’t even imagine ducking under and climbing over all the trees we did with a regular size overnight pack. While passing my planned ascent line up a gnarly looking drainage, we’d decided to hike a bit further to a more friendly looking one and indeed, the slopes above us looked benign. On hindsight this is the exact recommended route from the original ascent party I quoted above. We took our overnight gear from our packs and started hiking slowly uphill through the burn, wondering what lay ahead.

As we suspected, it turns out that the actual ascent of Siffleur Mountain is by far the easiest part of the whole endeavor. As we neared treeline on steep, burned south slopes we were met with a steep ridge abutting our slope overhead. Our choice was right or left and we chose climber’s right, hoping to find a route into the upper hanging valley.

Nearing tree line we had a choice – left or right of the bump at upper right. We ascended on climber’s right and descended on climber’s left. Both worked well.

Despite some very steep grass and shale slopes, travel remained easy as we traversed under the ridge and into a lovely alpine valley under the summit. A large goat greeted us along with a chorus of whistling marmots, for whom the mountain is named. Despite some clouds building overhead, they remained friendly as we slowly worked our way through this alpine paradise.

The next hour was delightful alpine hiking through the upper hanging valley under our summit. It’s hard to explain the feelings of accomplishment and adventure as we walked the upper valley towards distant ascent slopes. Rock walls rose on both sides of us and the sun was warm at our backs as we sussed out various options to the col and above – all looking pretty darn easy at this point. The only thing that could dampen our spirits now would be thick smoke or tstorms and neither were an issue as far as we could tell.

Siffleur Mountain rises to the right, out of the upper hanging valley.

The angle ramped up as these things tend to do with mountains and I tried to find solid slabs and rubble to ascend. Views back over the approach were stunning, as was the sight of Mount Fuhrer rising in the distance. At this point we started wondering if perhaps Fuhrer rather than Heinrich was a better choice for the next day.

As we ascended above the col that Rick ascended from the opposite valley, our views of Mount Loudon and Peskett opened up. We continued wondering if Mount Fuhrer was a better choice for tomorrow’s adventure – it looked higher than Heinrich and could only be ascended from the Siffleur River valley. Heinrich can also be ascended from the Escarpment River valley as we knew from Sara’s trip report. It’s funny that while we were struggling up our first peak we were already changing our minds and scheming the next one. Sometimes I wonder if we have all our mental faculties. 

Ascending the slope above the col with Loudon at center and Peskett at distant right. Rick Collier ascended the col from the right, we approached from the left.

The upper south slopes of Siffleur remained very easy scrambling. As I finally topped out near the summit the views over a dying glacier to colorful tarns far below were stunning. There was no smoke or clouds to interfere with far-reaching views as I approached the summit cairn and reached for a familiar looking register sitting pretty-as-you-please as if placed only yesterday. Nervously I opened it and unwrapped what I now knew was definitely a Collier artifact. As I flipped the first page – indeed signed by Collier 30 years ago – I was delighted to note no more entries.

I don’t like to admit it, but there’s a unique thrill to opening a Rick Collier summit register 20 or 30 years after he last closed and placed it in a rock cairn in the middle of nowhere. I’ve had my fair share of these rare occurrences, but I’ve also narrowly missed out on more than a few of them over the years. You know you’ve done something reasonably difficult when nobody else has bothered doing it for 3 decades! I’ve written about the end of true discovery in the Rockies before, but opening a summit register that hasn’t been seen for 30 years makes me think that not everyone has done everything just yet. It’s silly to feel like this in 2023 but sometimes I think I was born 150 years too late. Moment like these fulfill me in ways my desk job never, ever will. 

Summit views include (L to R), Abraham Lake, Ex Coelis group, Hatter, Whelk, Cheshire, Mamen, Icefall, Heinrich, Fuhrer, Abstruse, Osgood.
Summit views include (L to R), Cline, Resolute, Minster, Hensley, Whirlpool Ridge, Ernest Ross, Abraham Lake, Michener, William Booth, Ex Coelis.
Mount Loudon and Peskett belong to the same group of peaks as Siffleur and are also rumored to be quite straightforward ascents once you get to their routes.
Incredible views up the Escarpment River at left and Siffleur River at mid-right. Peaks include Cheshire, IB79, Heinrich, Fuhrer, Abstruse, Osgood, Quill, Noyes and Loudon (R).

Summit views were spectacular – as experienced already by the 1924 ascent party. After almost an hour at the top we started down, enjoying the soft scree and dirt next to the more solid slabs and rubble we’d ascended. Some peaks are like this – pretty solid on ascent with loose, fast options on descent. These are rare gems that should be greatly enjoyed when you’re lucky enough to experience them. As we walked out of the upper hanging valley we wondered what the other side of the abutment ridge would be like for descent and decided to give it a try.

There’s an obvious risk when taking a different line on descent than the approach but there’s also more exploration and excitement that way. We descended very steep scree slopes into another valley before exiting steep forest (burned) to our waiting gear below. Everything about Siffleur Mountain had worked spectacularly well and despite our exhaustion we felt a great sense of accomplishment despite the ease of the actual ascent. We’d now decided to make Mount Fuhrer our objective for the following day and descended to the Siffleur River to find a place to camp for the night.

Our lovely camp next to the Siffleur River. Normally you should not camp so close to the river but we had limited choice due to the burnt landscape and late hour. Mount Heinrich and Fuhrer rising across the river.

We couldn’t find anything far enough from the river, so we ended up right beside it with great views to Heinrich and Fuhrer across a deep, fast flowing Siffleur River. We wondered what the crossing might be like – it didn’t look very easy. Partly due to the previous days’ rain, the river was swollen and the current looked fierce. Future Vern and Wietse problem. After a late supper we crawled into our sleeping bags for a night under a very bright moon with the river drowning out any noises that might normally keep me awake.

3 thoughts on Siffleur Mountain

  1. That’s one impressive story, set of photos, and vision of sogginess! Well done taking on the suffering and sharing the results Vern!

  2. Outstanding. Your photo’s are great as was your route finding . . . impressive. I live in Rocky and this hike/scramble is worthy of consideration so thanks for the heads up. Glad you nailed some smoke free days “23” had been my worst air quality experience in this part of the country ever. Continued success on your mountain adventures (great video).

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