There’s a lot to be said on the topic of backcountry gear after 25 years of tripping. I want to stress that these are all just my opinions and my personal experiences – yours will be different and only you can decide where you chose to follow a similar path to mine or forge something that looks quite a bit different. I also have to mention that if you are new to the backcountry it’s better to pack a little bit of extra gear rather than get into trouble with too little. Experience has to be earned, there are no shortcuts for that. In the end we’re all just trying to get away from the stresses of everyday life and into the calm of the wild. However you choose to do that must suit you and must satisfy the very reasons you’re out there in the first place.
After hundreds of laps on Prairie Mountain, I wanted to write a short article on the do’s and don’ts and tips and tricks for folks who might be headed to this small peak for the first time. This is called a “dummies guide” rather than a “beginners guide” for a reason. As an endless user of the mountain and various of its trails, I have some advice for those who might not realize they are behaving in ways that degrade the experience of myself and the hundreds of other hikers who come after them. The advice all comes down to one thing. Please. Don’t be a dummy.
What a day! I can’t think of a more appropriate or better way to end the main 2022 summer season. This trip has it all and requires the exact set of circumstances that we used to complete it. A very highly recommended trip for parties that can move quickly through typical Rockies terrain with a light pack. Just make sure you’re well-hydrated before leaving that valley floor towards Barrier Mountain!
On hindsight I’m happy to have “missed out” on my first two opportunities to hike and scramble Merlin Ridge. Both of those opportunities were in less than ideal conditions and very likely would not have included the highest point or the fascinating journey around Merlin Castle and Tower. I am still amazed by the conditions of the Rockies this late in the season – many of the highest peaks were absolutely bone dry and other than daylight hours it’s still go-time for hikers, scramblers and climbers. The fall of 2022 has certainly more than made up for the crappy spring we endured!
It felt great to finally scramble this mountain that’s been on my radar for so many years and planned so many times over those years. If I have to be honest, Owen was a bit too easy considering what I thought it would be like. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but I was expecting more of a challenge from this peak. In the end it’s about as easy as peaks over 3,000 meters come. Simply bike 12kms up a road, turn left and go up and up and up a gully on a huge avalanche path. Keep going up steeper scree and rubble. Traverse to your right to SSE ridge and then go up again to the left on easy dinner plate shale. Boom! You’re there. Mount Owen is the “easy Mount Stephen” – similar height gains and simple route lines with stellar views with a much easier scramble and no permits required. A very highly recommended bike, hike ‘n scramble for the Rockies crowd.
It’s always bittersweet completing a busy trip like this one with all of the experiences still fresh and knowing that I’m closing many chapters of my Rockies adventures simply because I’ve done so many peaks and trips in so many areas of the Alberta Rockies at this stage of my life. People are always encouraging me to go to other ranges like the Purcells or the Columbia mountains but I love the local Rockies and I love all my experiences from Waterton to Jasper. I don’t need to open another massive range of landscapes to enjoy what I do. I love walking familiar valleys, wading through familiar rivers and streams and revisiting old mountain friends with great memories from almost all of them. As I get older I realize that numbers don’t mean anything – nobody cares how many peaks you’ve climbed or how fast you climbed them or even how much fun you had while you did it. The only thing that really matters IMHO is what kind of person you are and whether doing what you do in life makes you a better or worse human to all the other humans. The peace and beauty of the Canadian Rockies has given me countless hours of meditation and reflective opportunities to become the best version of me and that is something I will always cherish and be thankful for.
I’ve been dreaming of scrambling Nasswald Peak for many years now. It felt great to find a beautiful and straightforward route to the south face from the Valley of the Rocks Trail. Despite an easy ramble up the south face the final hundred meters of SE ridge to the summit was very loose and exposed terrain. A perfect fall day for a long sought summit!
As we drove slowly back to the hwy Sara and I agreed that this was one of our more relaxing multi-day outings of 2022, actually it was by far the most relaxing one. With the first day only coming in at 9 hours 1650 meters of ascent and the second at less than 8 hours and only just over 1000 meters ascent we didn’t feel too stressed. I’m sure that for me the ultralightweight backpacking system had a lot to do with it – I decided to test it on a 2 night trip immediately after this one. A highly recommended late summer or fall trip for fit parties wanting to experience some of the Castle Wildernesses more remote peaks and valleys.
Being the first to sign the register in three years, of such a prominent peak with some good trip reports available was surprising. Mike pointed out that it could be the 18 hour trip times previously posted scaring people off and he could be right. I’m sure someone with my GPS track could put in this trip at under 10 hours without trying too hard but I loved our pace and our day overall. The terrain was never more than SC6 at most and the views were stunning for much of it. The highline traverse includes plenty of painful sidehilling but also plenty of sheep trails and easy terrain with views to Abraham Lake and Vision Quest Ridge. This is a very highly recommended trip for late summer when water levels are reasonable and snow shouldn’t be an issue.
Overall this trip went much better than I thought it would despite some unforeseen challenges and the complexity of the terrain. Some of the SC6 sections were at the top end of moderate, hence my “+” overall rating. Many people assume this trip is easy and straightforward because the stats and elevations make it seem like it should be. It’s not. If you treat it as a full day and take your time routefinding you will have a very enjoyable outing. If you tackle these peaks as a backup plan in shitty weather and non-ideal conditions you might start hating your life choices. With good weather, the great views up remote valleys and over Abraham Lake make this a more scenic outing than you might expect – that is certainly what happened in my case. I’m very satisfied with my decision to reverse the usual clockwise direction, ascending 2 of the 3 difficult sections rather than descending them. Rhine Peak is an option for a 4th peak if you are braver than I am, or use a rope on its NE face / gully. A highly recommended route for experienced Rockies scramblers.
Wietse and I were shocked that our total time for this trip was only 11.5 hours with an average pace of 4.2 km/h for the day! Despite being painful we agreed that this is a pretty good outing for hikers and scramblers who don’t mind a long bike approach and a bit of work. Instead of carrying a much heavier overnight pack you can squeeze 2 days into 1, bag three summits and get some pretty sweet views for all your efforts. There is very little (i.e. none) water along the route once you leave the West Castle River lower down, so you should budget your water carefully and think about how much you might need. I highly recommend this trip for larch season – looking back on my photos from Jake Smith Peak I realize how many there are along the ridge between La Coulotte and Scarpe Mountain.
My feet were feeling pretty chewed up as we completed the final hour of fast hiking to the parking lot. Despite more discomfort than I’m used to, from the heat, my feet and my tired mind I find myself reflecting very fondly on this trip only days later while writing this report. Things are never guaranteed to go perfectly in the hills and some trips simply hurt more than others for a variety of reasons. The trick, I find, is to push through the pain and try to enjoy them as much as possible. Now that the pain is receding and the memories of discomfort are fading I realize that this trip was amazing and I want to go back.
Within just over 5 hours of starting our ascent we were back out of Fossil Creek towards the Pipestone River. I was hurting more than I should have been from a 33km, 2100m day. Although that isn’t a small day by any means, most of it was on trail and the off trail part was pretty darn easy and straightforward as far as these things go. I’ve had a lot of big trips lately so I think I was suffering from a form of burnout (mental and physical) and I just had an “off” day in the strong summer sun and heat. I did enjoy Forgotten Peak (my 900th summit if you must know) despite the slight setbacks. The views on route took me by surprise. For some reason I didn’t expect the north end of the Drummond massif to be quite so impressive.
Within 2 hours of leaving our overnight packs along the South Ram River Trail we were back at them, proving that Aires really is just an “add on” peak. On hindsight I’m glad that we ascended it – it was the one bright spot on an otherwise very challenging and dreary day.
A rare ascent of a little known, very remote peak named for the Alice in Wonderland theme of the area – Cheshire Peak. A gorgeous approach, sneaky difficult step and hiking at over 3000 meters with views of the most remote and hard to access east faces in Banff National Park make this a highlight day in the mountains in 2022 for me. Dormouse Peak felt like a pretty simple add-on after all that.
It’s a heckuva long way into the front ranges but once you get to the old Headwaters Patrol Cabin a horse track leads up the Dodo valley to easy south ascent slopes. Views from the lofty 3067m peak make the work worthwhile and will have you dreaming of many more adventures in this pristine area of the Alberta Rockies. The mysteries of “Ladder Falls” will have you wondering about going further up valley.
What can I say about this 3-day trip? I am so lucky to enjoy trips like this in these pristine areas of the Alberta Rockies. Yes, this is an OHV and horse traffic area but once you get off the main drags and into the back valleys this is as pristine a landscape as you’re going to find pretty much anywhere on earth. I will not soon forget walking through alpine meadows at sunrise or under soaring rock gates straight out of a LOTR movie. This is the kind of country that sits deep down in your soul and refuses to leave once you’ve experienced it.
Oval Peak was a quick and easy 5th summit from the north shoulder as Sara and I passed by it on route to the Brazeau River and the South Boundary Trail far below. Views of Afternoon Peak’s north face and over the meadows towards Mount McDonald, Frances and Lonely Peak make this peak a worthwhile objective if you’re in the area anyway. On its own it’s a pretty lengthy march to nowhere for a lowly summit.
Mount McDonald is one of those peaks that once you find out about it, it grabs your attention. Or at least that’s what happened to me. I’m not even sure how or why, but I was perusing bivouac.com one day and came across Rick Collier’s photo trip report from a 2011 excursion into the area with David P. Jones. What caught my attention immediately wasn’t even the peak – it looked a little dreary and very easy. It was the large lake located south of the mountain that really got my explor8ion juices flowing and I immediately started dreaming of visiting this obviously special place at the headwaters of a pretty major drainage.
Many folks would have no idea where Lonely Peak is. I certainly didn’t until I started researching remote peaks up the Job, Coral and McDonald Creek areas of the Alberta Rockies. When planning an ascent of Lonely Peak I only had a 2011 trip report from Rick Collier to go on. By the time Sara and I started up Lonely we’d been up and at it for 9 hours already, exiting the Afternoon plateau and valley, ascending Mount Frances and finding our way into the McDonald Creek valley. Despite being pretty keen peakbaggers, I’ll admit that I wasn’t totally feeling another ascent right away. This changed quickly of course, as it usually does for me!
Sara McLean and I spent a lovely Wednesday morning wandering down the Afternoon Plateau and exiting the high meadows under Afternoon Peak before finally hiking down “Afternoon Creek” and arriving at our planned ascent line to Mount Frances. I’d only seen a report from 2011 by Rick Collier when planning the trip but it didn’t sound difficult. By the time we found ourselves under this diminutive peak it was no longer looking so small and the forecast heat was clearly on – big time. Good thing we were planning to ascend a south facing gully on this one!
Afternoon Peak first came onto my radar after a 2015 ascent of Mount Willis with Eric Coulthard. Seeing the brilliant reddish / purple color of this lofty peak looming over a lovely and unique plateau with dozens of differently colored lakes got me interested in an ascent. In 2016 Liam Harrap ascended the peak, the only person I know who has. Liam kindly shared some beta with me indicating a pretty straightforward ascent. As the years ticked by and I never got back into the White Goat I started to think it might not happen. Then in the brutally long and cold “Covid” winter of 2021/22 I dug into all my sources of mountain information to compile a large list of remaining summits that interested me. Afternoon Peak once again raised its head and I started planning a detailed trip to finally get me up to its lofty, obscure summit.
In 2015 I was invited by Eric Coulthard to do a trip into an area I’d never been before – or even really heard of. He suggested we tag a couple of lofty summits in the White Goat Wilderness Area. I’d seen a few of the peaks in this area from nearby summits including Mount Stewart from Mount Coleman (the first trip I’d done with Eric way back in 2009) and Mount Willis which I’d spotted from Corona Ridge earlier in 2015. We had a fantastic trip and ever since I’ve been planning to go back.
I highly recommend Battleship Peak for those looking for a unique mountain that sees very few visitors. It’s best done as you hike along the GDT but also very worthwhile on its own or as part of a multi day trip in the area. As far as difficulties go I’d say it’s slightly harder than Tornado Mountain and easier than Gould Dome – right in the middle where it also physically sits.
Wolverine Peak is one of the best stiff moderates that I’ve done in the past 5 or 6 years or even longer. A wonderful, scenic approach on a good trail followed by some of the best exposed hands-on scrambling in the area should elevate this peak on any Rockies scrambler’s list.