I enjoyed this hike quite a bit. It’s very similar to something like Healy Pass / Egypt Lakes or the Skoki Lakes area but much shorter. I’ll admit that I was a wee bit disappointed in the lack of larches almost the entire way until just below Gibbon Pass but this isn’t unlike many other larch marches in the Rockies. If you are a fit hiker and don’t mind a 25km day with over 1600 meters of gain, than this trip is definitely for you. I would time it a week better than I did to catch the larches at their prime but this is always a bit of a “hit-and-miss” game.
Mount Allenby is a trip I won’t soon be forgetting. I can’t recommend the south ridge as a scramble due to its disturbingly loose and exposed nature. I’ve noticed a trend on Social Media where folks with limited technical climbing experience are confidently giving 5th class ratings to their scramble routes. I won’t do that, but I’ve been up enough mountains to know what’s safe and what isn’t. Mount Allenby’s south ridge is not a safe place to be, no matter what technical rating you might attach to it. When holds are falling into the abyss underneath you and moves are made downwards to avoid pulling critical holds off the mountain as you ascend it, this is cannot be called safe terrain. I certainly used some of my luck coins on this trip. The hike up Bryant Creek and into the upper Mercer Creek valley with its larch forest was beautiful and exactly what I needed out of one of my last trips of the year before snow starts falling in the Rockies.
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.
Laughing Bears Creek will always stand out in my mind as a quintessential Rockies backcountry adventure. I’ve been planning and dreaming of it for so many years, it had the potential to disappoint but instead it exceeded even my best ideas of what it might be. It will stand out as one of my favorite trips of all time and certainly a highlight of 2023.
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 in the end. 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”!
Smoky Mountain is likely one of the easiest peaks I’ve ascended in the area other than maybe Whimper Peak, which felt much bigger since we didn’t camp 350 meters below its summit the night before. What makes Smoky Mountain such a rare gem is simply the process of getting onto its easy south rubble ledge. In our case that involved a 48 kilometer, 11.5 hour approach with over 1200 meters of height gain with overnight packs. Once you’ve managed to work through that ‘little’ problem, there are no more difficulties other than a few hundred additional vertical meters and some loose rubble to get to the top. Easy peasy.
This trip lived up to everything I thought it would be. A fantastic backcountry adventure in pristine landscapes, exploring some of the last remaining untouched and largely untraveled wilderness along massive Cambrian Cliffs of the Alberta Rockies along the source streams of two of Banff National Park’s major drainages – the Red Deer River (McConnell Creek) and the Clearwater River (Roaring Creek). Thanks as usual to Dr. Phil, the trip planning guru and to me the routefinding drill master dragging us up peaks along the way. As long as our bodies and life allows, I’m sure we’ll continue to stumble and bumble our way into new corners (for us) of the Rockies somewhere or another – as rare as those corners seem to be getting.
What a great little scramble! Mount Wardle felt much easier than I expected but not in a bad way. The views off the south ridge were incredible and don’t get mentioned (or seen) in trips up the bushier SW ridge. I highly recommend this mountain and this route if you are a capable Rockies scrambler. If you are looking to up your game from moderate to difficult terrain with some route finding, this would be a great objective to try. Exposed, but not too difficult and you should never feel like you’re in danger of dying with a tiny slip – you’re off route if that happens.
This will be one of those early summer trips that sticks with me for a while. I highly recommend this area for folks wanting to get out of the busier Banff and Lake Louise areas of the Rockies to experience a different kind of quiet. The kind that you have to earn and the kind that sticks with you long after you arrive home again.
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.