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.
It was nice to see so many folks out enjoying a beautiful late summer day. Bow Lake has gotten more and more popular as a summer destination – likely overflow from a way-too-busy Lake Louise area. It deserves the attention but for those who want a little more peace and quiet with a lot more views, The Onion is a great escape.
Takakkaw Peak is like many other peak in Yoho National Park. It’s incredibly scenic with far reaching views over glaciers and snow fields to other, very scenic peaks. As someone who has ascended almost every named peak in the park I can assure you that this one is well worth the effort to attain but oddly in this case it’s not really about the peak itself. Sure! It’s always nice to stand on another high point and remember so many other trips to all the high points surrounding you, but in this case Takakkaw Peak is about more than the top. The Angel’s Staircase Falls are incredible in their own right and as Liz warns – they add a significant number of minutes to your day due to terrain and scenery that begs to be gawked at constantly. The views of Takakkaw Creek and Lake from the south end of the south ridge are well worth a slight detour and cost more minutes. The scenery over the Balfour and Daly Glacier is the icing on the cake, as are the views of the Iceline Trail and Little Yoho Valley from a vantage that is fairly unique to the area. Put it this way – we were very surprised by the amount of time this “small peak” took us, despite Liz’s warning that it would happen. This is a trip to take your time on and let the magical landscape that few others can get to soak into your soul to linger a while.
Despite tagging both summits, Profound and Osgood will not go down as my favorite ascents of 2023, simply due to my silly routefinding mistakes on both peaks. Some days are like that – I just wasn’t on top of my game for whatever reason.
Mount Antevs was a lovely afternoon ascent with no pressure to go quick under a perfect late summer sky. I was expecting it to be the easiest peak of the weekend based on Rick’s assessment and it was.
Abstruse Peak is like many other big, remote peaks I’ve done this year. The ascent was almost anticlimactic compared to the getting to the base of it but the views and the remoteness more than make up for the simple route to its lofty summit. At only 47 meters shy of the magical 3353m mark it is the highest peak I’ve ascended in quite a while.
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.
Doug Lutz recently scrambled the entire north ridge of Whistling Rock Peak and reported back a straightforward descent down west slabs to valley bottom. I knew I had to give that route a try since there was no way I was going to follow him all the way along that north ridge. Since Zeke’s Peak is right there it made sense to combine them. Devan Peterson put up a track for Zeke’s on Strava and confirmed it was F 3rd but quite exposed. I was intrigued and excited to try them sooner than later. I strongly recommend this trip for confident scramblers with a good head for heights and exposure and sure footing. Try to pick a warm, windless day and enjoy the fun routes and great views.
I’ve had an idea for a few years now, to replicate a trip that So Nakagawa did years ago when he ascended both Andy Good Peak and Chinook Peak from the Ptolemy Creek and Andy Good Basin trails. Looking at the stats and considering a bike approach, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t easily be able to treat this as a day trip from Calgary and so that’s what I planned. With a few days off at the beginning of September I finally decided to make the trip happen on the very first day of the month.
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.
Some days in the hills turn out far better than expected given the forecast conditions. Other days turn out exactly how you thought they would given the forecast conditions. This day was one of the latter. We knew before getting out of bed that morning that we’d have clouds and thick smoke all day and yet we both still decided to go for it. Was it 100% worth it? Nah. Not if I’m totally honest. On the other hand, I can’t say I hated this outing – it had moments of beauty and fun like any other. In the end I won’t overthink it but I also will try to take the lesson learned that sometimes it’s better to simply stay in bed a little longer and do something else when the forecast promises doom & gloom.
It was incredible to exit that huge south face of Puma Peak, knowing the route not only went – but went very smoothly. We relished in the success of our day, slowly wandering back to the dried up lake and making our way down alpine meadows to the upper stream. As I rode the familiar 14 kilometers back to the Lake Minnewanka parkway, I meditated on how darn lucky I am to be free to do whatever adventure motivates me, pretty much whenever I can. Life goes by very fast and I am grateful for the Rockies and the sense of exploration they still offer in a modern world with very little true “unknowns” still there. Now I just have to hope my poor body can keep up with my spreadsheet as I continue to seek these adventures out. 😉
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.
Cuthead Peak was a very good outing for many reasons. The campout with a cheery fire and good company, getting out on another obscure peak with Phil and fun, challenging scrambling on the summit block. There are very few reasons why any hardcore Rockies scrambler / backpacker shouldn’t have this one on their list.
A whopping 9.5 hours later we finally reached hwy #93 and hiked the last 500 meters to an extremely busy Tangle Falls parking lot. There is no way it should take this long for us but we were obviously tired after a massive effort the day before and ended up choosing a pretty silly route. Skye Peak itself is well worth a trip, but learn from our experience and simply ascend south slopes directly from Wilcox Lake or traverse the NW ridge from Tangle Pass if you’d rather do a loop. The views from the summit and south ridge are unique with the hidden Sinkhole Lake and Wilcox Lake visible. This area would make for a stunning fall hike IMHO.
On July 27, 1893 while scouting a new pass to the Athabasca, Rockies explorer Arthur P. Coleman and his brother Lucius, joined by Louis B. Stewart ascended an unnamed peak over 3100 meters rising over the headwaters of Beauty Creek. If one of Canada’s earliest and most prolific Rockies explorer – who traversed these mountains before trains made the whole thing much easier – says a peak as one of the “finest panoramas in the Rockies”, you should probably sit up and take notice. The problem is – what peak is Coleman referring to exactly and how the heck could I get there?! Good questions. I have a source that claims this peak is sitting at GR870–936 and bivouac labels it as “Andover Peak”, named after the town in Massachusetts where another early Rockies explorer, Walter Wilcox received his education. Reading Coleman’s description of the ascent from a camp near the headwaters of the Brazeau River I can’t say for 100% that this is the peak he and his party ascended on that snowy July in 1893 but after standing on its summit I can assure you that it does, indeed, sport one heckuva fine panorama! But of course, I’m once again getting way ahead of myself.
Wietse and I had originally planned to ascend Mount Heinrich as part of a two day exploratory excursion up the Siffleur River trail. I use the word “exploratory” intentionally – there was very little beta available to us on this route and almost none that was recent. It seems like most folks avoid this end of the Siffleur Wilderness Area and the day before, while approaching Siffleur Mountain, we found out why! I knew that Heinrich was likely an easy ascent from the Siffleur River and only knew of one recent ascent from the Escarpment River by Sara McLean in 2021. As we ascended the easy and vast south slopes of Siffleur Mountain I kept looking back across the Siffleur River valley to a slightly more dramatic and higher looking peak just south of Heinrich. Mount Fuhrer sounds a bit ominous at first but it’s named for Heinrich’s brother Hans and their family name. I’m not sure why “Mount Hans” wasn’t an option?
I don’t like to admit it, but there’s a unique thrill to opening a Rick Collier summit register 20 or 30 years after he last closed and placed it in a rock cairn in the middle of nowhere. I’ve had my fair share of these rare occurrences, but I’ve also narrowly missed out on more than a few of them over the years. You know you’ve done something reasonably difficult when nobody else has bothered doing it for 3 decades! I’ve written about the end of true discovery in the Rockies before, but opening a summit register that hasn’t been seen for 30 years makes me think that not everyone has done everything just yet. It’s silly to feel like this in 2023 but sometimes I think I was born 150 years too late. Moment like these fulfill me in ways my desk job never, ever will.
Descending the braided horse trails down the Ya Ha Tinda meadows in late afternoon lighting brought back many pleasant memories from this special area of the front range Rockies. Every time I think I’m almost finished with it, the landscape drags me back out! I don’t mind. There are certainly worse places to return to and worse memories than these stored in my old noggin. As I followed a horse wagon back along an incredibly dusty Tinda road my thoughts turned to how much more popular this area is now than it was when I first started visiting it almost a decade ago in November 2014. It hasn’t gotten less beautiful as a result – thankfully – but finding a summit as quiet as Elch has certainly gotten harder. I highly recommend combining Elch and HH89 with a camp in upper Scalp Creek. The only downside of this idea is that you will not get to walk the shores of Forbidden Lake like I did, unless you do a much longer loop back along Forbidden and Skeleton Creek to exit.
I highly recommend this peak for anyone who’s traveling the area and has a half day on their hands. I bet the views are grand enough to even justify it as a stand alone day trip – but I don’t know for sure.
The first thing I noticed while standing on the 2904m summit of the remote and rarely ascended Forbidden Peak was its loftier neighbor lying immediately to the SE. What was this larger unnamed peak and could I ascend it? For some reason the idea obsessed me and for the next week I did some research to find out more. Bivouac gives it a very technical and drab sounding moniker, “HH89” or it could be known by its coordinates, “GR831380”. It turns out someone else named it too, but I wouldn’t find that out until later. I thought the Bivouac name actually suited this peak just perfectly. It’s obscure and meaningless except to the half-dozen or so folks who might know about it.
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.