An epic 3-day backpacking, hiking and scrambling trips from Ya Ha Tinda up the Red Deer River and McConnell Creek valleys.
Honestly, I’m not sure what I was expecting from our day on Clearwater Mountain but in the end it highly exceeded anything I anticipated. The day was flat-out gorgeous and the mountain was flat-out fun.
People might wonder what the big deal is for me and these silly peaks that few people are even aware of but that’s the whole point for me. Who can say they’ve seen Mamen Peak and Mount Malloch from different angles or even laid eyes on Roaring Creek?
A long awaited journey up one of Banff’s more remote and hard to access mountains.
After biking, hiking and scrambling for many hours and many kilometers in the past 28 hours or so it was finally time for Phil Richards, Joanna Ford and I to attempt the highlight objective of our so-called “Three Passes” trip.
When we crested Shale Pass we were surprised by the dramatic NE aspect of Chirp Peak with its unique rock formations and many water courses running down its sides into Peters Creek far below.
Finally, after 1.5 hours of steep hiking we topped out on a high point on the southwest ridge with the summit of Wapiti still looking a long way off and distressingly snowy.
After enjoying a nice supper break at our Tomahawk Pass bivy site, Joanna, Phil and I set off up the easy looking western slopes of Tomahawk Mountain.
Where do I even start with this report? I guess I’ll just start at the beginning and see where this story goes as I access my overloaded memory banks…
I’ve been a bit obsessed with the Ya Ha Tinda region this year. I’m not sure exactly why, but I’ve been there 4 or 5 times since my first trip in November 2014 up Evangeline Peak / Rum Ridge with Steven and Ben. While hiking Labyrinth Mountain and Mount Minos with Wietse in April, we looked across the Ya Ha Tinda road at a lovely ridge, rising directly over the road with no bushwhacking and no approach and wondered how easy this would be. I remembered looking at the lower slopes every time I drove into the area, wondering the same thing. A friend of ours, Dave Salahub decided to try it out and reported back that it was easy and pleasant. I needed no more prompting and decided that this would be the perfect trip to introduce my family to the Ya Ha Tinda hiking experience.
After a very pleasant scramble on Labyrinth Mountain, Wietse and I still had plenty of gas in the tank to go for a second summit. Due to the crossing of the Red Deer River and a shared approach via horse track along Wolf Creek, it makes very good sense to tackle both Labyrinth Mountain and Mount Minos on the same day. I do have some advice if you follow our idea though. Definitely do NOT ascend Minos first. If you ascend Minos first, you will not ascend Labyrinth afterwards. You will be largely unmotivated after Minos, I think!
On Wednesday, April 8 2015, I climbed Mount Athabasca with Ferenc in perfect spring conditions. This left me wanting more in the way of snow ascents, hopefully on skis, for the weekend of April 11/12. Alas, the weather report didn’t bode well for a nice summit on skis. Rather than a suffer-fest in blizzard conditions, I decided another hike in the front ranges was in order. You probably can’t tell, but this year has been all about one area when it comes to hiking / easy scrambling in front ranges – Ya Ha Tinda.
The wind was forecast to be strong all over the Rockies on Sunday, March 29, 2015. The forecasts were right. I woke several times in the Bighorn Campground near Ya Ha Tinda by the sounds of a gusty west wind. When the alarm went off at 04:00 it was still gusting pretty strong but at least the sky over us was clear and the air temperate was quite warm at around 5 degrees Celsius. Our plans for the day were to ascend Warden Rock by an untested (or at least unreported) line on it’s northeast side and summit ridge traverse.
It wasn’t looking good as I sat in the Tim Horton’s in Sundre on Saturday, March 28 2015. It was around 11 in the morning and it was pouring outside! Not just a mist, but a full on down pour. I was waiting for Steven and Ben to arrive from Edmonton before we continued our drive to the Bighorn Campground in the Ya Ha Tinda area of the front ranges. Our original plan was to sleep over on Saturday night, at the free equine campground, before arising early on Sunday and scouting a proposed route up Warden Rock. As the weather maps adjusted themselves on Friday afternoon, I started to get more ambitious and proposed that we scramble Eagle Mountain late on Saturday afternoon / evening, since we’d be in the area anyway. The weather was supposed to clear off around 15:00, which should give us enough time. Ben and Steven agreed to the adjusted plan and we planned to leave the Eagle Lake parking area around 1 or 2pm.
After looking at our options for the weekend, Ben, Steven and I decided that it made the most sense to try for a hiking or snow shoe trip on Sunday, December 14th. Considering the snow conditions everywhere, we settled on Maze Peak in the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch area of the Rockies, west of Sundre Alberta. Our initial plan consisted of meeting in Sundre on Sunday morning before driving to the trail head. As I was puttering around the house on Saturday afternoon I over heard something about meteor showers in the area for that night. I immediately went on the web and discovered that the Geminid Meteor shower was indeed occurring now, with the most intense shower being the night of December 13th. Ya Ha Tinda is an isolated place with very little light pollution. Since I was planning to be there the next day anyway, I couldn’t think of any reason not to go the night before and try to witness some of these meteors myself. I contacted Ben and Steven about my plan and they agreed to also drive all the way to the (free) Bighorn Campground where we would spend the night meteor and star gazing before ascending Maze Peak on Sunday.
When I heard there was a major winter storm coming down through Calgary and the Rockies to the west on Sunday, November 9th I decided that as much as I didn’t feel like getting up early on Saturday the 8th – I should probably try to make it a priority before the deep freeze. One last warm fall hike / scramble in 2014! After emailing with Ben and Steven we settled on Evangeline Peak in the Ya Ha Tinda region of the front ranges, west of Sundre, Alberta. I’d never been to this area, while Ben and Steven made a few excursions there in 2013. Sundre is an easy enough drive from Calgary (~1.5 hours) but that’s only about half way, time-wise. After picking up Steven and Ben we drove another hour to the parking lot near the Big Horn Campground. This campground is free to stay at – somewhat rare nowadays.
Our plan was to summit not only Willingdon, but also Crown Peak and Southeast Tower – two outliers of the main summit and impressive peaks on their own. Crown Peak is known to be very close to another 11,000er and I wanted to check my altimeter to see how close it could be. Because we were planning on the two additional summits, it made strategic sense to ascend the south ridge route on Willingdon, rather than the normal west ridge route.
After enjoying a spectacular summit on Mount Willingdon it was time to head over to two sub peaks (and separate peaks) to the south east of the main summit. These peaks both have unofficial names – Crown Peak and South Tower and should be considered somewhat official, considering that they are some work to attain and well over 100m vertical separates them from each other. What makes them very interesting is that they both measured over 11,000 feet on my GPS with Crown Peak coming in almost 40 feet over! On my calibrated altimeter watch only Crown stayed in the 11,000er club with South Tower falling just short. In the end – who cares? But the views from the summits make both these peaks worth the effort and they even have some short scrambling sections and route finding.
I’ve had plans for years involving a trip into the Devon Lakes area near the Siffleur River Valley and the head of the Clearwater River in eastern Banff National Park. My plans involved summits such as Dip Slope, Three Brothers, Clearwater and of course the 11,000er in the region, Willingdon. Originally the plan was to go in the fall when all the brilliant color was at full height but when an opportunity came up to go with the 3 amigos from Edmonton (Ben, Eric and Steven), I couldn’t say no.
After years of dreaming what it would be like to climb Recondite, I finally managed to organize and trip with some great guys from Edmonton. Eric C, Ben N and Steven S all agreed to attempt the slog with me and we arranged for a 3 day trip, leaving the Helen Creek parking area on Friday, August 16 and hopefully returning on Sunday, August 18. I warned Hanneke before I left that it could be Monday before we made it back, depending on conditions.