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’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.
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. 😉
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 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.
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.
I enjoyed this early season hike mostly thanks to the great weather we had. Less snow would have been preferred but you take what you get at this time of year. It was nice to see some of the more remote peaks in the eastern Banff range as well and remember some good trips on them over the past few years.
“Hiking directly into the brilliant morning sun was blinding but the views to our left over the Ya Ha Tinda ranch helped assuage any discomfort from either our planets life-star or the opposing bitterly cold breath caressing exposed skin with biting kisses from distant lands to the west.”
Jap Mountain won’t go down as a major objective in anyone’s books but as a late season objective in a gorgeous area of the front ranges it delivered exactly what I needed this particular Remembrance Day.
As I wandered back along first the small Headwall Lakes trail and then the much larger Snowdrift trail to the Chester Lake parking lot I reflected on all my 2021 scrambles and trips and the ideas that I’m considering regarding explor8ion and lifting all of the restrictions I put in place last year. For me it’s come to a point where being grumpy and upset about others using, or even overusing and/or oversharing (whatever that means) the landscape gets more tiring and depressing than the actions themselves.
I loved this hike even more than I thought I would. Sure! It’s overused and over photographed and definitely overshared but that doesn’t change the fact that I had a wonderful time with my daughter enjoying some of the best views of my year from this lowly objective. And that’s what it all comes down to in the end isn’t it? Sharing nature and fresh air while exercising with loved ones and being amazed over and over with stunning views of wild landscapes in all directions. The fact that thousands of others have shared this experience shouldn’t lessen it but should encourage us to seek out new experiences rather than going back to the same ones over and over. I won’t be back to Smutwood in the fall any time soon but I sure am thankful for this particular trip.
I loved this traverse. The only thing that would have made it slightly better would have been clearer skies and a drier route. The mix of challenging terrain and conditions, great views over low-lying clouds and wild landscape scenery in every direction is what I look for in a scramble and on that front this day delivered in spades. A highly recommended trip for fit parties with enough scrambling experience to tackle some stiff moderate sections of very loose Rockies treasure.
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.
I was hoping to take advantage of one of the nicest, clearest days of August 2021 with a big trip on Sunday the 29th but alas, my body wouldn’t allow it. 🙁 After almost 5 weeks absence from mountains and then a big day with Cornelius on Aldridge and Courcelette the day before, my body was letting me know that if I pushed it too hard I’d regret it for my favorite month of the year – September. I couldn’t simply sit at home either though, so I finally pulled the trigger on a front range peak sitting in my backyard only ~45 minutes from my house.
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. 😉
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.
I enjoyed the ascent of Apparition Mountain very much. The early evening lighting, the sneaky route through the cliffs and the exposed ridge walk near the summit block all added up to more engagement than I expected when planning this scramble. At less than 2.5 hours round trip from a camp at Spectral Lakes it’s an obvious no-brainer for anyone brave enough to stay overnight in such a ghost themed area!