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.
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.
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.
In 2019, Phil Richards and I made our first foray up Baril Creek to the Fording River Pass area to scramble Mount Armstrong and Bolton. A year later we were back. This time we tagged Baril Peak and debated about adding Mount Cornwell to our day, but a number of factors made that idea unattractive. In keeping with a yearly sufferfest to Fording River Pass I returned to the area with Cornelius Rott again in 2021, ascending Mount Aldridge, Courcelette Peak and Fording Pass Peak. As 2022 rolled into view there was only 1 remaining peak in the area left for me. For some reason known to nobody, I decided to tackle Cornwell only 1 day after scrambling Bearskin Peak with a wicked summer cough and bruised rib. I try to treat injuries as a training opportunity to teach my mind and my body a lesson. Don’t ask. It rarely works but for some reason I like to keep trying.
As someone who’s done most of the peaks in Waterton I can confidently say that you’ll be hard pressed to top this traverse. As a 6-peak circuit it’ll pad your summit stats very nicely but it’s the views, the terrain and the ease of access that makes this trip really stand out for me. On the one hand I’m sad that for the most part scrambling in Waterton is now done for me, but on the other hand I can’t think of a better way to finish.
Another great adventure up the Cascade fire road! There were many highlights to put this trip into a top category. Wildlife galore, including deer, dogs, elk, bison and grizzlies. Warm temperatures and clear skies. Not too much snow and easy scrambling conditions on a rarely ascended peak with views forever. A wonderful campsite at a brilliant backcountry lake that hardly anyone has heard about. Hours and hours of pleasant hiking with a good friend and a (relatively) healthy body. What’s not to love about all that? Indeed.
The south ridge descent offered full-on views up the Roaring Creek valley over the tiny falls to giants such as Mount Drummond and Cataract Peak. The deep green of the valley with brown and shades of gray in the rocky slopes above to blue skies and white clouds made for vistas that only happen a few times in a year. Watching Phil hike back along the giant scree slopes with Clearwater Lake and Mount Hector and Cataract looming over it all was a highlight moment of the entire trip for me. We are incredibly lucky to enjoy such wild, pristine and accessible places in a world that is very quickly becoming the very opposite of these things.
Finally, around 4 hours from camp we found ourselves with no more elevation gain ahead and no obvious cairn indicating previous ascents either. There were some rocks just under the summit that could have been the remains of a very old cairn so I’m certainly not claiming an FA on this one. There is a good chance that the 1919 geological team ascended here to garner views of surrounding peaks but I can almost guarantee that very few folks have stood on this particular summit over the past few thousand years. Summit views were great to the east and somewhat muted everywhere else thanks to lingering clouds but the scene was wild and I almost prefered a bit of mystery that the clouds provided.
I can’t stress enough how difficult biking up the series of OHV, horse trails and roads from Cutoff Creek up the Clearwater River is. I know everyone can do everything but this is next level suffering – especially with an overnight pack on your back. You might wonder about using paniers instead of a pack, but good luck hoisting your bike onto your shoulders with this option. Or bushwhacking. Put it this way – this trip is among the hardest on this site and there’s a few doozies available to choose from! Don’t get me wrong. The bike ride is a spectacular, wild approach along pristine valleys, soaring peaks and vast alpine meadows brimming with wildflowers. It is also, however, a tough, painful grind along rough horse trails, muddy OHV tracks and unbridged water crossings. My GoPro smoothes out the bumps but I think you can get a good sense of the effort by watching the movie I put together on our explor8ion.
Standing on Sufi Peak a week ago, I was struck by the amount of fresh snow still sitting on peaks to the west. Heck! Nevermind other peaks, I had plenty enough snow to endure on Sufi – a very front range summit that should be among the first to melt off every year along the Rockies front ranges. Originally my plan was to stay overnight and attempt either Canaria or Finch Peak with a bike approach up Canary Creek but they both had so much snow I didn’t trust that I’d be able to bike very far, making the trip more work than I was in the mood for. Only days later I was already trying to recruit other suckers – er, I mean friends – to return to the Upper Clearwater / Ram PLUZ for some quality suffering. Er, I mean fun. Alas, I didn’t do a great job of selling it and after working out on Prairie Mountain Friday (1 lap), Saturday (3 laps) and Sunday (2 laps), I was ready for something a little different on the holiday Monday. Despite feeling off all day I still managed a 9.5 hour round trip without feeling rushed. I highly recommend this loop in any of its many various forms as an early or late season trip. Views are excellent and the hiking easy. What more do you need to get you off the proverbial couch?
Despite driving 7 hours to hike for under 6, I enjoyed my day out to the Hummingbird Creek area. As usual for this time of year it was very quiet and I enjoyed spending a few extra hours at Ram Falls taking in the views and the atmosphere of the Rockies front ranges. Getting lucky with snow conditions and nearly running into a giant Grizzly on the bike will ensure this small trip stays in the memory banks a bit longer than usual.
Despite the unexpected and sometimes unnerving winds that we experienced all day, I quite enjoyed both Mount Scrimger and Etherington. Combining these peaks into a day trip makes perfect sense for fit parties who don’t mind 25km of cycling as part of their day. If I had to pick one peak it would definitely be Mount Scrimger for a more engaging route, better views and the bonus of the NW outlier. Mount Etherington isn’t nearly as tragic as Nugara implies but I have to admit that it’s also not the most pleasant peak I’ve been on this year. Just as with Nugara however, I don’t know how much of my feelings for it are a result of weather conditions or the actual mountain itself. The wind was getting mighty annoying by the time we summited our second peak of the day.
Finally, 8 years after first planning it I managed to knock both Zombie and Otuskwan Peak off my list in one solo day trip. Despite the nasty experience of upper Sheep Creek I recommend my route for anyone interested in these two peaks. It’s a fun, mostly easy scramble with some incredible scenery. If you only need one peak I would recommend Zombie over Otuskwan for a host of reasons including a much better approach, it’s quite a bit higher (better views) and it has nicer landscapes as well. I am very happy to finally have done both of these summits – doing something 8 years after first planning it is very rewarding.
What a great day! I highly recommend this trip for anyone with strong biking stillz and a desire to suffer a bit. You have the option of adding even more peaks to the day such as Bolton or Armstrong. If you are currently hating on loose rock or scree I would set up camp at one of the gorgeous tarns along this route and take out a good book or a glass of wine and call it a day.
Solstice Peak far exceeded my expectations both on the approach with almost no bushwhacking and on the peak with interesting routefinding and some difficult scrambling to the summit. I’ve said this on a few scrambles so far this year, but Solstice had just enough of everything I look for in a scramble and not too much that I don’t look for.
I really enjoyed this three or four peak outing despite the lack of a good approach trail and the thick smoke on Cone Mountain. It always surprises me how many fairly prominent peaks continue to stand on their own for many years between ascent parties (recorded anyway). This trip summarizes what I love about the Alberta Rockies – accessible but remote. Over a very popular trail system but rarely ascended. Views to die for, acres of wildflowers and cascading waterfalls hidden by high rock walls on all sides. Lakes and tarns that are only visible from nearby or from space only add to the attraction.
Obviously dry conditions and knowing there’s a trail and roughly where to find it is key to keeping Mount Oliver to a reasonable day trip. I really enjoyed this front range scramble (apparently the highest front range peak in Banff) and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to get off the beaten path and onto a much more rudimentary one. The highlights of the trip for me weren’t even the mountain but rather the upper stretches of North Burnt Timber Creek, the sidewalk east ridge and the remote and very quiet nature of the area.