As Phil and I drove home from our successful scramble up Mount Berland in Kootenay National Park on Saturday, May 11, my thoughts turned to the following day.
As the weekend approached, Phil Richards and I were getting a wee bit desperate to find a peak that didn’t involve obvious avalanche hazards or post-holing hell.
On March 23, Phil Richards and I hiked up a snowy Sheep Creek and scrambled Winchester Ridge. From the ridge we enjoyed spectacular views over the Dormer River towards Dormer Mountain and started to plan what kind of adventure would get us to its summit.
Even before Cornelius Rott forged a route to the summit of Winchester Ridge, it was on my radar. This has happened with a number of relatively obscure peaks over the past 3 or 4 years as Cornelius is attracted to the same types of objectives as Phil and I and usually manages to nab them before we do.
Astral Peak has been on my radar for many years now, ever since climbing Devils Head in 2012 and looking back over my shoulder as I walked onto its surprisingly spacious summit. The views from this very distinctive and well-known Ghost Wilderness peak provided me with a list of relatively unknown summits to the west including Poltergeist, Astral and Castle Rock Peak.
I very rarely repeat mountains. Very, very rarely. I just don’t see the point. The name of my web site provides insight to the whole point of hiking, scrambling, skiing and climbing for me – exploring new areas. But every once in a while I get an itch to do a repeat for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s just that the mountain is that much fun but usually it’s because I didn’t get great photos or views the first time. Such is the case with Mount Cory.
After the crappiest September on record, I knew we’d likely get some good weather in October. Sure enough! After a pretty bad start, October turned gorgeous and by the third week the forecast was all sunshine. After a series of emails and texts, Wietse and I were the last two standing and started making plans for Saturday. We settled on Chimper Peak.
Phil and I weren’t sure where “RA” Peak actually was! After returning from the summit of Jake Smith Peak, I was feeling a bit more energy than before the short scramble and we decided that since we were in the area, we might as well tag both the west and east “RA” peaks. From the col with Jake Smith Peak, Phil and I regained part of RA Peak’s south ridge before traversing easy SW slopes to the col on smatterings of sheep trails worn into the scree.
From the summit of Three Lakes Ridge we had a choice to make. Despite the gorgeous weather Phil and I were obviously enjoying, it was already past 14:00 hours and we were a long way from the parking lot. We could descend Three Lakes Ridge via west slopes before joining the track back up to Middle Kootenay Pass and decide from there whether or not Middle Kootenay Mountain was a “go”, or we could take advantage of the ridge we were already on and continue towards Jake Smith and Red Argillite peaks. Why was it even a choice?
After approaching the Middlepass Lakes and scrambling up Rainy Ridge it was time to traverse towards the creatively named, “Three Lakes Ridge” – the professional cartographers must have been on holidays when these peaks were monikered. Nugara mentions the traverse between Rainy and Three Lakes Ridge as doable but not highly recommended, especially in the direction we were going to be doing it. How difficult could it be right?
A day after ascending close to 1800 vertical meters and biking / hiking and scrambling almost 30km up and down Mount Coulthard and McLaren in the Crowsnest Pass area, I was back at it with Phil Richards. We were planning a very full day of biking, hiking and peakbagging in the South Rockies within the newly formed Castle Wildland Provincial Park, near the Castle Mountain Ski Resort and just outside the other newly formed park, Castle Provincial Park.
Whenever I looked into the Mount Coulthard scramble, I always ended up wondering why nobody seemed willing to combine it with its easy neighboring peak, Mount McLaren (not to be confused with Mount MacLaren in the High Rock Range further north). I decided it was time someone tried it and posted it as a good idea – provided it was a good one of course. As it turns out – it was a very good idea. Initially, I thought I’d have to start up to the Andy Good / McLaren col from lower down on the North York Creek Road, even lower than the plane crash site.
September 2018 was not the best ending to a hiking and scrambling season that I’ve ever had – not even close. To be blunt, it was pretty crappy and the worst end of season so far for me! September is usually my favorite time of year in the Rockies. The touron hordes go home and even normally busy areas such as Skoki, Lake O’Hara and Assiniboine see less and less visitors and more and more yellowing larches and bright fall colors in the vegetation coating the mountains. The combination of clear blue skies (no more wildfires), snow-capped peaks and bright vegetation is usually what keeps me going for the next 5 months of winter. Not this year.
After a great bivy at the lovely Lyall Tarn, Wietse and I awoke at around 06:00 to an extremely windy, cloudy and dark sky beneath the brooding rock walls of Mount Lyall. We both commented on the quality of our sleep – the night was very calm and quite warm for September and we both got over 9 hours of shut-eye. Just as forecast on SpotWX, the wind picked up fiercely in the early morning hours, and by 06:15 we were feeling rain drops outside the tent. Darn it. I seem to be getting a lot of rain on my trips in 2018!! I can only remember packing up a few dry camps this year and I’ve spent a lot of nights under the sky, as usual.
After our ascent of Beehive Mountain, Wietse, Phil and I started a delightful traverse across brightly colored alpine meadows leading under towering cliffs to the west towards the NE shoulder of Mount Lyall. Beehive Mountain had gone much quicker and easier than we expected and despite thick smoke interfering somewhat with our views, we were feeling pretty pumped about our day so far. The temperatures were more mid-summer than late, and the fall colors on the vegetation in the meadows was absolutely stunning.
Once our original plans fell through for the weekend of September 7-9 (thanks to forest fire smoke), Phil Richards, Wietse Bijlsma and I had to think fast on Thursday night to come up with an alternate trip that still satisfied on some level. Smoke from BC forest fires had already been a huge issue since late July this year and we were tiring of trying to avoid it or climbing in it. After several suggestions we settled on a few easy, but lengthy and harder to access, scrambles on the Great Divide in the High Rock Range of South Kananaskis.
After approaching and scrambling Mount Townsend, I descended its slabby summit block and down the only obvious break through its intimidating cliffs before heading along a sheep track towards Epic Tower. Initially I worried that I might have to gain and lose some elevation on this traverse, but it went much quicker and easier than I expected. Within only about 45 minutes of leaving the summit of Townsend, I was scoping out a route up Epic Tower’s SW scree and slabs to the summit.
The only “peak” remaining along the ridge after scrambling up Mount Townsend, Epic Tower and Mythic Towerwas about as unofficial as a peak can get – “Little Mythic Tower” – so dubbed by Bob Spirko back in July of 2008 while on his scouting trip to find and document the Mythic Towers mentioned by Gillean Daffern in her famous Rockies hiking guide. Some people get all technical and cautious when referring to their “formal peak lists”. Meh. Who has time for such things? I don’t even count my peaks anymore – because in the end who really cares how many I’ve done or even which ones I’ve done?
After the easy to moderate ascents of both Mount Townsend and Epic Tower, I turned my attention towards the much more involved traverse and ascent of Mystic Tower – located further south along the ridge running over impressive east-facing cliffs from Mount Townsend to Mount Fable high over Exshaw Creek below. As I indicated already in my Townsend preamble, I was not about to take Mythic Tower lightly after hearing from Cornelius that it was one of his most difficult ascents. But first I had to get there from Epic Tower and this didn’t look like a very straightforward traverse to me!
My first good look at Mount Townsend was from Cougar Peak earlier in 2018 upon reaching its summit after a fun, early season scramble in mid May with Wietse – and it looked pretty darn impressive! After getting home and doing some research I also became interested in two unofficial peaks next to Townsend along the ridge towards Mount Fable dubbed, “Epic” and “Mythic” towers.
After bailing on my original plans for the weekend thanks to an unstable weather forecast, I was sitting at home in front of my computer with a long face when my wife, Hanneke walked downstairs and said, “why don’t we go for a hike instead”? Indeed. Why not go for a hike instead of moping around the house all day? The weather for Saturday was actually looking pretty decent and despite lingering smoke from BC wildfires, a hike sounded perfect. After some fast thinking (it was already around 09:00 at this point – I’d already done an 8km walk that morning too), we settled on Grizzly Ridge in the Highwood Pass area of Kananaskis as our hiking destination for the day.
After the easy (hot and lengthy) scramble to the summit of Pyriform Mountain and its fly-covered summit cairn, Wietse and I turned our collective attention to the alluring ridge joining it to Junction Mountain. The first part of the traverse was, as expected, fast and pleasurable. This was a good thing, because we were running low on water and were feeling the effects of an incredibly hot and windless summer day up high.
Wietse and I found ourselves with a day off mid-week on August 22, 2018 and decided we should probably take advantage of the perfect weather forecast by standing on a summit somewhere. The real question was which summit should get the nod? The issue wasn’t conditions – everything was pretty much in great condition – the issue was the levels of smoke we’d encounter and the corresponding lack of views or breathing issues we’d have to deal with. After going around in circles several times, we finally settled on an ascent of Pyriform Mountain in the Highwood Range of the Rockies in front range Kananaskis Country.
After a couple of very long and full days spent on a 5th recorded ascent of Mount McConnell, deep in the heart of Banff National Park, Phil Richards and I awoke at 05:00 on Friday morning, August 17 2018 with tired bodies and minds, unsure of our abilities to ascend another peak before exiting. I was feeling much better than I had a right to be, but Phil was clearly not feeling the stoke for another peak on this particular day. His head cold from earlier in the week was back and his body and mind were not impressed with him for even considering it.
Mount McConnell is one of those peaks that got onto my mountain list somehow and just stayed hovering somewhere near the top of it but never seemed to actually get done as the scrambling seasons came and went. Why was it on my list? As one of the most remote and hard to access peaks in Banff National Park with a summit over 10,200 feet high, it is rarely done (ours was only the 5th recorded ascent) and gets the explor8ion juices flowing. Why does it not get done, even though it’s on many Rockies explorers “to-do” lists? Simple – see above. McConnell is freaking remote and freaking hard to approach!