Summit Elevation (m): 3063
Trip Date: July 30, 2023
Elevation Gain (m): 1600 (from camp on the Siffleur River to the peak and exit to Siffleur Falls staging area)
Round Trip Time (hr): 13.5 (from camp on the Siffleur River to the peak and exit to Siffleur Falls staging area)
Total Trip Distance (km): 37.5 (from camp on the Siffleur River to the peak and exit to Siffleur Falls staging area)
Related Trip: Siffleur Mountain
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain something
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: Download (mountain) & Siffleur Trail (exit)
Map: Google Maps
Wietse and I had originally planned to ascend Mount Heinrich as part of a two day exploratory excursion up the Siffleur River trail. I use the word “exploratory” intentionally – there was very little beta available to us on this route and almost none that was recent. It seems like most folks avoid this end of the Siffleur Wilderness Area and the day before, while approaching Siffleur Mountain, we found out why! I knew that Heinrich was likely an easy ascent from the Siffleur River and knew of one recent ascent from the Escarpment River by Sara McLean in 2021. As we ascended the easy and vast south slopes of Siffleur Mountain I kept looking back across the Siffleur River valley to a slightly more dramatic and higher looking peak just south of Heinrich. Mount Fuhrer sounds a bit ominous at first but it’s named for Heinrich’s brother Hans and their family name. I’m not sure why “Mount Hans” wasn’t an option?
It’s hard to find beta on Mount Fuhrer. I remembered that Collier had ascended it in 2000 on a 7-day solo venture with his hardcore buddy Kowalski. I had a planned ascent route for Fuhrer on my Gaia app, but it came up from the Laughing Bears Creek rather than the Siffleur River and I couldn’t remember any other details. We scouted a route that looked reasonable up burned west slopes traversing into a stunning upper NW valley giving access to the summit via several different routes that we’d decide on site. After coming home and doing some more research I can’t find any other ascents besides Ricks. Bill Putnam and Glen Boles traveled the area in 1972 as detailed by Dieter Von Hennig in the 1973 CAJ (pg. 112) but they don’t seem to have ascended the peak;
Bill Putnam and Hans Gmoser’s “Third Annual First Ascent Week” got underway from Banff late Saturday afternoon, 22 July. Our objective was to further the theme of the previous two summers (CAJ 1971, p. 86; 1972, p. 90) by visiting relatively forgotten areas that still contain unclimbed peaks. This year’s area was just to the south of the headwaters of the Escarpment River in the Siffleur Wilderness.
Putnam suggested the name “Fuhrer Peak” in his 1973 guidebook and it has been adopted by the mountain community ever since, but as far as I can tell they never actually ascended it on their exploits in the area. In “The Rocky Mountains of Canada South”, Bill writes on Mount Fuhrer;
A minor point (2895m) E of the main peak was ascended from camp as for Kahl (2) in July 1972 via easy SW slopes by Miss F Chapple, D von Hennig, E Johann, V Mahler, R Gertsch, F Stark.
He never writes that they ascended the peak, which they would have had to do from the other side (west) due to severe cliffs on its east face. Rick doesn’t claim an FRA which he usually would if he thought it was, so perhaps he knew of someone else who’d done it before him. It’s therefore possible that our ascent could be a 2nd or 3rd (recorded).
As we ascended Siffleur Mountain we continued to plan for the following day. I’m not sure why we do that, but we do. We also tend to change our plans, almost always to something bigger and further away. This would drive some people nuts but for some reason it keeps us excited and engaged on our trips. If you ever go out with either of us be forewarned that our plans change rapidly all the time. We’ve been known to hike completely different mountains that we only planned out on the approach drive after accessing more recent conditions. The main reason I suggested the change was due to Fuhrer’s access. Heinrich is an easy ascent from the Escarpment River valley which is on my radar for another time. Since we were all the way out here I strongly preferred the more remote and harder-to-access Fuhrer and Wietse agreed so we changed plans.
We woke early at our camp along the Siffleur River and slowly prepped for the day ahead. After a morning coffee we started out from camp, hoping to cross the Siffleur River nearby. Alas, this idea quickly faded. For the next km or so we kept trying different crossings of a fast flowing, milky river and every time we’d get over knee deep and back out of the strong currents. Odds of the river calming during the day while we were on Fuhrer were low and we wanted a fairly easy crossing in the morning to ensure we could return hours later. After the 4th failed attempt I got an idea. I knew that Porcupine Creek would have substantial flow based on melting snow and icefields upstream and suggested we first cross it and then the Siffleur River upstream of the confluence. We made a beeline through burned forest to a very lively Porcupine Creek and managed to find a reasonable crossing a few hundred meters upstream from its merging with the Siffleur. After descending back to the river we realized it was not only substantially tamed but also braided into 3 or 4 channels and the crossing became trivial. We were pumped now!
In almost a carbon copy of the day before, our onsighted ascent route to what Collier dubbed, “Chortling Mamots Creek” valley worked perfectly. Collier doubted this route would work but we hiked easily up steep, burned slopes until traversing into the upper creek and long rubble valley leading to a far col that was our next target. This is the same col that Rick used to ascend the peak, but he got there from the Laughing Bears Creek valley.
After conquering the approach to the upper valley all that remained was finding the summit. You’d think that would be obvious, but it wasn’t in this case. We had a labelled high point on Gaia but those aren’t always correct. Without any detailed research beforehand we had to trust Gaia and make up our own minds once there. A NW outlier looked to be very similar in height and was reachable from the marked summit so we weren’t too worried. The first task was the long rubble valley and ascending to the col. Once again things progressed easily and despite some loose rubble we grunted our way along and 3.5 hours after leaving camp we had our first dramatic views of Abstruse Peak (Perren) from above the col.
Views kept our energy levels up as we continued on easy shale slopes to the first high point on Fuhrer’s south ridge. I couldn’t keep my excitement contained as I got my first live glimpses of the upper two Fuhrer Lakes. I had to see if there were better views further south so I took the extra 15 minutes to descend a bit and find even better views. I couldn’t believe the grand scene that awaited me. I had views over the upper two lakes with glimpses of the lower two. The real scene-stealer was a massive waterfall coming off Abstruse Peak’s NE face, plunging hundreds of meters into the upper Fuhrer Lake. This was what I wanted out of such a demanding trip, making the suffering on approach and the nightmare waiting for us on return somewhat worth it.
I resisted the urge to keep traversing in the wrong direction and joined Wietse back up on the ridge towards our still-distant summit. I was surprised when Wietse said it was still 1km away. The ridge provided us with the only scrambling of the day but it was still very easy. Unlike Siffleur Mountain the day before, Mount Fuhrer felt a little sloggy. It likely had something to do with how tired we were but it was also the nature of the terrain – loose rubble and boulders and some scree on slabs over the traverse. Views off the sheer rock walls of Fuhrer’s east face with Wietse hiking over it were absolutely stunning in the early morning lighting.
Despite having some pre-trip concerns re: forest fire smoke, when we reached the summit (4.5 hours from camp) we had reasonably clear morning views, especially to giant peaks to the south and west. We were also delighted to note that we were clearly higher than the NW outlier and made a very quick decision not to bother with any extensions in that direction. We had the prospect of a hellish exit waiting below and didn’t want to delay that effort longer than necessary.
We still had a long day ahead of us and after 30 minutes at the uncairned summit we built a small cairn and reluctantly left the amazing scene for a stumble down harsh rubble and hardpan scree to the Chortling Marmots creek far below. We took a much different line than on ascent, avoiding retracing our steps all the way to the col and descending more direct west slopes instead. This worked well but took a long time due to the solid nature of the rubble – again not like the loose scree on Siffleur Mountain the day before.
Once out of the upper valley we descended steep grass and burned slopes to the Siffleur River. The river almost seemed a bit clearer and lower than earlier in the day and posed no issues whatsoever. Porcupine Creek was lively but also seemed a bit easier than earlier in the day. Maybe both water systems were still draining the rain event from a few days previous earlier in the day? Either way – we were happy to be done the crux of the trip and could now focus on the horrid egress waiting for us. Arg.
Trust me. If the approach was long and arduous with wet undergrowth and difficulties, the exit only a day later in the heat of the day wasn’t any easier to handle! I’m keeping 8 photos of the egress to impress on readers how long it is and how difficult sections are. Clearly Alberta Parks has zero desire to make this end of the Siffleur Wilderness any more accessible. I’m not even sure I want them to – there’s enough busy areas in the Rockies backcountry nowadays – but I’m still very surprised they bothered replacing that sign.
We had to keep our rain jackets on just to protect our skin from sharp tree branches and myriads of bugs including flies and mossies. As we hiked hour after hour, tstorms built up behind us and gave us some relief from afternoon summer heat. A few raindrops was the only result of the buildup and we didn’t mind.
Finally we reached the newly installed wilderness boundary sign (not where the maps say it should be BTW) and were left with an 8km slog wondering again why we didn’t bring our bikes. At some point in the last 8kms I developed a very painful blister on the big toe of my right foot. I could barely limp along and had to practice some focused mind tricks to fool my body that there was no issue. Thankfully it worked and 30 minutes after barely being able to walk I was striding along as if my toe wasn’t bleeding anymore (it most definitely was!). I find pain fascinating and having the ability to shut it down is very handy on 36 km days like this one. Eventually we crossed the bridge and hobbled back into the parking lot completing a 68 km, 3500m trip in 25 hours of traveling over two days – all on foot.
So, do I recommend this trip? Good question! If I say that I don’t, you might think I have regrets about doing it, and I most certainly do not. Hiking in untraveled wilderness and ascending two peaks for the first time in 20 or 30 years is what I live for – how could I have regrets? On the other hand if I recommend this trip and you get all excited and bring Aunt Edna along, you will die by her hand within a few hours of the wilderness boundary and then I’ll have that on my conscience. Maybe read this report carefully and give my video a close watch before either attempting this area or at the very least insisting on bringing good ol’ Auntie Edna along for the adventure.