On Saturday, May 19, 2018, Wietse and I finally completed a nice front range hiking / scrambling loop that I’ve been eyeing up for several years. The loop starts with an pleasant hike / easy scramble up Porcupine Ridge before leading over moderate terrain to a few more summits west of Tiara Peak. From just north of Tiara’s summit the route ascends to Boundary Peak along an undulating Boundary Ridge before finishing off with a nice moderate scramble over Midday and Midnight Peaks.
On Saturday, May 12 2018, Wietse and I managed to summit a peak that’s been on my to-do list for quite a few years now. Over the years, since Bob Spirko first published an easy scrambling route to its summit, Cougar Peak (in the Fairholme Range rather than in the North Highwood) has slowly become a surprisingly popular Spring objective for people like me, eager to bag something more than a front range bump when many other deeper range peaks are still plastered in a mushy white coat of unpredictability.
The weather during the work week (of course) has been gorgeous so far in late April and early May 2018. Sitting in the concrete jungle, looking out at another gorgeous day made me leave the office 20 minutes early, jump in my truck and start driving to the mountains to see what I could hike in the evening. I knew from doing Hell’s Ridge and Etherington Baril Ridge on the weekend, that although there was still snow on the ground in the Eyrie Gap area of the Highwood Range, there wasn’t a copious amount of it.
Saturday, April 28 2018 was forecast to be summer time in Alberta! After a bitterly long and cold winter, April was ending on a high note with several days pushing 25 degrees above zero, even in the mountains. Of course, these temperatures were too warm to safely enjoy the snow pack so I was left wondering what to do on Saturday. Any meaningful scrambles weren’t in shape yet (way too much snow). I’d had Etherington-Baril on the list for awhile already and decided that since I was going to be solo, this was the day to try it.
It had been a while since Phil and I had gotten up to anything and when plans for a big backcountry ski day in the Rockies fell apart thanks to an unpredictable weather forecast, we started looking at hiking / scrambling alternatives. At first we settled on a repeat of Midnight Peak with a bit of a traverse for Saturday, April 14.
Already on the ascent to the south ridge of Kink Peak, my eyes were turning towards the surprisingly impressive form of Fallen Peak (Sheep Meadow Mountain). Phil, predictably, agreed with me to make it our second objective of the day. After a great ascent of Kink Peak, we found ourselves looking up at the ~250 vertical meter ascent, trying to pick the best line. We decided to stick right on the ridge as long as possible since it was almost snow-free. This plan worked even better than expected.
I wasn’t totally feeling it when Dr. Phil contacted me regarding a possible scramble for the Remembrance Day weekend, 2017. The weather looked pretty good for a front range peak and even promised light winds for once, so eventually he wore me down with his incessant texting and I agreed to slog up something just to make him happy. Ok, ok, I was kind of in the mood for a nice day out and with the wx looking so lovely, it was hard to say no despite my SAD disposition. After the usual flurry of invites were sent, it was Wietse, Raf, Dave, Phil and I who were joining forces on the front range Kink Peak.
After grunting my way up Serendipity Peak, I didn’t linger long in the fierce winds at the summit but turned my attention quickly towards a distant looking Patterson’s Peak. Actually, my first glance towards Patterson’s made it appear much closer than I was expecting. It’s not until I actually started descending to the Pyriform S5 / Patterson’s col that I realized it was further than I first guess. Typical.
After several weekends in a row of very low motivation, I finally felt the call of the mountains again as the last weekend of October 2017 approached. My apathy the weeks previous had been mostly due to typical fall conditions – hurricane force winds in the front ranges, despite warm temperatures. I’ve done a lot of front range hikes and scrambles in these conditions and they’re never as fun as you imagine they’ll be when planning them. It’s like peak bagging in Waterton. The peaks are always more enjoyable afterwards, when looking at the photos without the wind trying to blow you off the peak!
With the upcoming Thanksgiving long weekend and some unexpected days off work beforehand, I was looking to take advantage of a pretty nice wx with a scramble or two before the snow starts to pile up in earnest around the Rockies. Lucky for me, I received an invite from Cornelius and Trevor inviting me for a jaunt up the relatively obscure front range mountain, “Castle Rock”.
After approaching and ascending Cyclone Mountain the day before, Phil and I woke up to a frosty but clear morning on Friday, September 29 2017. After Phil took a few hours to collect soil samples from Douglas Creek, we packed up our camp and headed back along the trail towards the core Red Deer Lakes area in the Skoki backcountry of Banff National Park. Our destinations for this glorious fall day were Pipestone Mountain and Merlin Lake. These two things are not very close together, in case you were wondering.
Over the years, Dr. Phil and I had been eyeing up a couple of easy ascents, rising over the Red Deer Lakes in the Skoki backcountry of Banff National Park and on the western edge of the Drummond Icefield. When we finally scrambled up Mount Drummond in late September, 2015, our interest in Cyclone Mountain and Pipestone Mountain increased. In late September 2017, it was finally time to go check them out a bit closer. Rick Collier details a trip that he and Mardy Roberts did back in June of ’92 where they traversed from Pipestone to Cyclone Mountain as a day trip.
As I started my annual week off in late September 2017, I didn’t know what I was in the mood for. The weather wasn’t fabulous, but it wasn’t horrible either. Being solo, I didn’t really feel like a huge day – not to mention Phil Richards and I had some pretty big plans for later in the week and I didn’t want to ruin those with too big a day already on Monday. Of course, being September, I wanted larches to be part of the landscape. I’ve often looked at Mount Howard Douglas, either while skiing at the world class Sunshine Village resort, or from various trips nearby such as The Monarch, Ramparts, Healy Pass or Twin Cairns.
After completing the long approach trek up Healy Pass and then Whistling Pass and the subsequent ascent of Lesser Pharaoh Peak (don’t forget about “Tiny” Pharaoh), Phil and I grunted our way back up Whistling Pass and set our now-tiring bodies towards Scarab Lake and the diminutive and unofficial Sugarloaf Mountain. I haven’t been able to find out where “Sugarloaf” comes from, but it’s on enough references to be official enough for me to bag and claim it. We noticed quite a few people on the main Pharaoh Peak above us as we passed under it on our way back to the Scarab Lake turnoff.
With larch season comes great responsibility for the Rockies hikers, scramblers and photographers. The responsibility comes from having two weekends (at most) to take advantage of the very limited and short-lived phenomenon of what’s commonly called,
On Sunday, September 10th I joined Cornelius Rott for a jaunt up a Kananaskis peak that’s been on my to-do list for many years now – Mount Lougheed I. 2017 has been all about getting out and trying Rockies adventures that have been on my mind for years and never got around to for some or another reason. Originally Phil was going to join us for another (longer) objective, but plans changed so I asked Cornelius if he was interested in Lougheed. As we’d never done a trip together before, you might be surprised that we choose a difficult Nugara scramble for our first outing. I wasn’t worried because in looking at his web site you realize pretty quickly
On Saturday, September 02, 2017 I completed one of the most dangerous mountain ascents of my life and was only the 8th recorded ascent of a peak that is very distinct and recognizable and highly visible from a major highway corridor (#93) and yet not very well known in the climbing or scrambling community. I was joined on this dubious adventure by Wietse and Phil. OXO peak has been on Wietse’s radar for several years. I remember discussing it with him for at least 3 or 4 years, since he first saw a Rocky Mountain Rambler’s trip report on it in 2013.
I first spotted the impressive hulk of Mount Lyautey in 2006 from an ascent of Mount Putnik as part of an engaging and entertaining Northover Ridge backpacking and peakbagging adventure. At the time I was only around 5 years into my scrambling career and wasn’t very familiar with the peaks all around me. Now, over a decade later I’ve been on most of their summits – but as of the morning of August 20th, 2017 I still had not stood on top of Mount Lyautey. In August of 2009 my interest in the mountain was once again sparked by two reported ascents in the span of just a few days – on a peak that had only seen a handful of total ascents since the 90’s!
Ever since I first read about Mount Ogden (likely from Nugara a decade ago), it’s been on my endless to-do list of peaks. Nugara added the peak to his second scrambles book. When Kane added it to his latest book, with a different lower access route than Nugara’s, it only peaked my interest (pun intended). Earlier this year I joined Liz and Mike for a delightful trip up Divide Mountain, which granted me excellent views of Ogden. Based on negative trip reports from Kane’s route via Sherbrooke Lake and a manky avalanche slope, I knew I wanted to utilize Nugara’s approach up the south ridge directly from the Trans Canada Highway.
8.5 hours after leaving the car along highway 93, Phil and I were finally done with Quill Peak and turning our collective attention towards a distant Conical Peak, rising through the smoky skies to the SE of our little perch at the edge of Quill’s access glacier. Conical Peak had been on my radar for many years already – mostly due to a rumored shortcut route over, or near its summit from hwy 93 to the Dolomite Creek valley and Isabella Lake. We were planning to use this shortcut for our Recondite trip in 2013 but decided a trail approach via Helen Creek the was better option – thank goodness for that decision.
I was feeling quite ill the week of August 7th 2017. I’d probably been on one too many long day trips with Dr. Phil – or I was just allergic to work. Probably the latter. Of course, as the weekend approached and looked to be quite clear and warm, we started throwing around plans despite my current illness. After finally settling on a pretty fantastic trip that excited both of us, we were discouraged to find out that despite its relative obscurity, this particular peak was being visited by another party on the very same weekend. We decided we didn’t care (even though we really did) and upheld our plans for a two day trip.
I wasn’t sure if I was in the mood for another peak as the August long weekend came to a close. I’d spent the weekend relaxing with family and was still feeling the effects of some pretty long days in the hills the weeks previous. Thanks to wildfires in BC and especially in the Verdant Creek and Ball Pass areas, the air was also very smoky in much of the Rockies. But I had the Monday off and family stuff was done, so how could I realistically just sit there and not take advantage of another beautiful day in my beloved Rockies? Precisely.
I capped an awesome 9 days off in July 2017, with a long-sought adventure up the distant, obscure and somewhat neglected Cataract Peak, just across the Pipestone River Valley in Banff National Park. This mountain has been on my radar for many years now – mostly because it’s high (almost 11,000 feet) without being so high that it gets more attention (i.e. 11,000 feet). When Ben and Steven did it back in September of 2014 I was fairly bummed that I didn’t get to join them.
From the summit of South Totem Peak, Spreading Peak looked pretty darn sweet. I remembered looking up at Spreading Peak from our long traverse towards Marmota Peak in 2015 and thinking the same thing. A beautiful line of snow highlights the ridge to the summit cap and it looked pretty easy to boot. The issue – as with any peaks in this part of the Siffleur Wilderness – is access. There is no quick or easy way to access the gorgeous summits in this area. Or is there?
After a very successful and somewhat tiring 5 day trip with my daughter in which we traveled approximately 57km and over 4500m of height gain, I was ready to put my feet up for the remainder of my week off. Then Phil texted me… When Phil sends a text, it’s usually some idea for an exhausting day trip involving many kilometers and many hundreds of meters of height gain, usually on an objective that nobody has ever heard of. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when we settled on a day trip of South Totem and Spreading Peak in the Murchison Group just east of Totem Creek in Banff National Park.