Trip Date: Saturday, August 26 2023
Elevation (m): 3113
Reference Trip: Trekking along McConnell & Roaring Creeks
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something.
Difficulty Notes: An moderate scramble up very loose terrain with some exposure and route finding.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
After spending a wonderful summer morning on Smoky Mountain for the first recorded ascent in over 23 years, Phil Richards and I were barely getting started. We still had to travel the remote Roaring Creek valley and ascend a second peak before continuing even further to a planned camp under the east face of Little Cataract Peak for the night. Nobody can accuse us of having no ambition even if we seem to possess very little in the way of intelligence. After a hike that will surely be one of the highlights of summer 2023 we finally got eyes onto the 2nd objective of the day.
Mount Goodair is interesting for its many names – it has almost as many names as it has ascents! Rick Collier and Glen Boles call it “Roaring Creek Ridge”. Bivouac dubs it “Snort Peak”. And the 1985 Parks Canada Centennial Commemorative Climbing Camp consisting of 16 wardens (and 30 horses) proposed an official name of “Mount Goodair” in memory of one of 6 game wardens killed in the line of duty between 1885 and 1985 – Percy Goodair. (Interestingly, they misspelled the proposal as “Goodiar” but I think it’s obvious that this was unintentional as they also clearly state who they meant to commemorate with it.) For whatever reason the names never became official but I choose to honor them.
The wardens ascended Goodair from a camp at “Two Lakes” from north McConnell Creek to the east. This route sounded like a 3rd or 4th class scramble – certainly nothing of note other than leaving a register in a cairn and noting that it was almost certainly a first ascent like all the others completed in the area by the group. Rick Collier found the summit register in 2000 and ascended a route from Roaring Creek. Initially I thought he ascended the NW ridge as I had planned, but a more careful read suggests that he and Bob ascended climber’s left of a large north glacier before scrambling the upper NNE ridge to the top. I was really hoping to find that register too.
Phil wasn’t entirely convinced of my route. The satellite map indicated that Rick’s route would be easier but I had a feeling about the NW ridge. After traversing under the west faces of Mount Leblanc, Colgan, Marak and Brink on our traverse from Smoky I was nervous about any direct ascents from the west. The west faces looked much cliffier, looser and steeper than Google Earth had promised. I assured Phil that everything would be peachy and after dumping the majority of our gear under a stunted tree we continued up the ridge with light packs. We were many hours into our day already at this point – it had taken longer than planned to get here on the untrailed, rough terrain and we were feeling it. Time to suck it up and ignore our bodies. My favorite quote from Laird Hamilton on the subject,
Fear is good, failure isn’t bad, and you should treat your body like a truck, not a temple.
The lower NW ridge was easy hiking and scrambling. We could clearly see where things ramped up and sure enough – 45 minutes after starting they did. The ridge continued to be relatively straightforward with careful routefinding but that was definitely the key to keeping it that way.
There were more than one spot along the ridge where Phil’s sighs grew loud behind me and the muttering became more constant. Thankfully my bluffing worked out and every time I managed to find options to keep the scrambling relatively moderate. One thing my clevernous couldn’t hide however, was the disturbingly loose nature of the terrain. Holy cow – it was a little unnerving in spots. As we approached the upper summit block time was quickly passing and we noted some easier and faster terrain options to our right for descent.
Despite looking difficult the summit block was easily attained by deviating off the ridge to climber’s right before ascending steep scree to the left and topping out on a crumbling pile of choss. We found the remnants of a cairn but alas, it was all falling apart at the apex of this peak and the register very likely took a fall either down the north glacier or the other side. I even traversed some pretty manky terrain to see if the register was on another point but it wasn’t there either. For some reason I was very disappointed by this but what can you do? (Interestingly, Devan Peterson found many other warden registers on his traverse of Colgan, Marak, Brink, Goodair and Lee – only a day after our ascent believe it or not – but also didn’t find one on Mount Goodair.)
After taking in wonderful, if now somewhat familiar, summit views we started a loose descent of the route. We kept things moderate and even avoided the crux of the ridge with a bypass on rubble slopes just below the crumbling crest about half way down. After returning to the packs we still had hours of travel to our planned bivy for the night. It felt great to figure out what was likely a first ascent route up the NW ridge of Mount Goodair that kept to a moderate level.
Standing on yet another remote peak with yet another likely 3rd ascent also felt pretty darn good. In a time where folks like Devan are doing routes that I can only dream of and tagging 10 peaks in 4 days (!!!!) to our 2 in 3, I realize that the era of 2nd, 3rd and 4th recorded ascents is very quickly ending. And I don’t mind – there always has to be an end to things. The next generation always brings new light and new challenges to old ideas, making what we did on Smoky and Goodair look like nothing more than a simple afternoon stroll in the park – which I guess it literally was.
Folks like Rick Collier, Glen Boles, William Putnam, John Martin, Jason Thompson, Graeme Pole, Tony and Gil Daffern and Alistair des Moulins and so many others got to enjoy the last of the 1st and 2nd recorded ascents of many of the Rockies front range peaks and folks like Phil and myself got to follow in their footsteps 20 years later. Now the ascents will start accumulating faster and faster with more beta, more lightweight gear, more fitness and more interest from a younger, more energetic and bolder generation of explorers. And I say to them,
Enjoy and have at it!