An epic 3-day backpacking, hiking and scrambling trips from Ya Ha Tinda up the Red Deer River and McConnell Creek valleys.
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…
After braving fairly cold temperatures the last weekend of February 2019, I was ready for some more bravery on the first weekend of March 2019. When I say “ready”, I really mean I was desperate enough to get my ass off the couch and out of the city to suffer -30 temps – frostbite be damned! When I contacted Ali to find out what she was up to, she mentioned Matt Clay was planning something.
On Wednesday, September 27 2017 I was joined by Trevor Boyce for an easy hike and traverse of Odlum Ridge, deep in Kananaskis Country just east of the Continental Divide and south of Highwood Pass. Our plan was to take advantage of the great weather with views of larches and aesthetic mountains in the background. We were not disappointed! Why such a tame objective? First of all, this was our first time out together. Trevor is the person responsible for getting Cornelius Rott into scrambling. After recently scrambling Lougheed I with Cornelius, I was keen to meet the guy who’d gotten him so interested in our favorite pastime.
Pasque is another low, front range mountain that has been on my radar for quite a few years now. A few weeks ago I managed to ramble up Isola and Monad in very little snow and pretty good views, and decided there and then that it was time to hike up Pasque – a mountain just to the north. A few weeks passed before Phil texted me that he wanted to do a scramble on Sunday, November 27. We were initially interested in something a bit tougher but settled on Pasque after the weather forecast proved a bit unstable and a dump of snow came through the Rockies on Friday.
After staring wistfully to the east at the dry terrain around Whistler Mountain the week before while hiking and scrambling the snowy and long Lys Ridge with Phil Richards, I was back near Beaver Mines Lake with Wietse on Saturday, October 29th to try something else in the area. Dave McMurray (peaksandstreams.com) seems to be inspiring a lot of my trips lately (Racehorse, Lys Ridge) and this day would be no different.
As part of the “Whistler Loop”, Wietse and I first bagged two unofficial summits, both of which are higher than either of the two official summits they sit between! Table Top is located south of Table Mountain and the two Whistable Peaks are between Table Top and Whistler Mountain. Despite not having official names, we enjoyed the gorgeous views and sublime weather as we sat on top of each of them on our way towards the extremely under whelming apex of Whistler Mountain. After reading the controversy on the exact location of the summit, I’m still not 100% sure which it is, but since we bagged every high point on the ridge, I know we stood on top of Whistler at some point!
After leaving the summit of Table Top Peak, Wietse and I followed a delightful ridge towards the twin summits of Whistable Peaks. Dave McMurray named the more southerly of the twin peaks, “Eagle Peak” but Wietse and I politely decided to rename it due to a plethora of peaks already named after that majestic bird of prey. It took us a while to come up with “Whistable” but it seemed to fit the fact that the summits are pretty much the same height and located nicely between Table and Whistler Mountains.
After being turned around on a traverse from Mount Cautley to Gibraltar Rock and somehow completely screwing up where Cascade Rock was, I started the traverse south from the summit of Cautley, heading towards Ely’s Dome and what I thought was the traverse from it, to Cascade Rock. Confused yet? Apparently, so was I…
I woke up on Sunday, September 25 2016 in the Lake Magog Campground and poked my head out of my tent only to be immediately disappointed. This was supposed to be the day of my long-awaited Mount Cautley Traverse – 4 new peaks in one stretch – all located along the same, fairly easy ridge and all with stunning views over the Mount Assiniboine area, including of course, the mighty Matterhorn of the Rockies.
After summiting McGillivray Ridge in better-than-expected weather conditions, Wietse, Dave and I turned our attention to Ma Butte – a nice looking ridge to the west of McGillivray, sitting pretty in front of the impressive Crowsnest Mountain massif. Ma Butte looked intimidating from the southern part of McGillivray but from the summit we could see that the north end of the ridge would be easier – just as Bob indicates in his report. The descent to the McGillivray / Ma Butte col was quick and easy. From there we found ourselves looking up several hundred vertical meters at Ma Butte.
After squandering a perfectly good weekend, followed by a disappointing May long weekend, I was more than ready for some time away from the rat race in Calgary by the time the last weekend of May rolled around. Both my kids were also ready for a break and with Hanneke home studying and writing assignments, we decided that a two day trip to the Castle / Crown area was just the ticket for us. The original plan – given a sunny forecast – was to scramble Southfork and possibly Barnaby Ridge on Saturday, followed by something short and easy on Sunday.
Thrift Peak has been on my radar for a while now, it was cemented as an objective while on a drive back from Cabin Ridge (Twin Peaks) with Wietse in November of 2015. I didn’t even realize this was the Livingstone Fire Lookout until doing some research later! There are three approaches to this summit, two of which require a crossing of the Oldman River. One goes up the south ridge from near the gap with Thunder Mountain. The second goes up a fire road from the west. A less well known and less traveled route that does not require a river crossing at all, was discovered by the indefatigable Bob Spirko in April of 2008 when he also ‘discovered’ Camp Creek Ridge. This is a longer route, but potentially involves another summit / ridge which is always nice.
After I wasted almost 4 hours of driving the weekend before, I was ‘ready’ to once again make the drive from Calgary, down past Okotoks and Black Diamond to Longview and along the Highwood River into Kananaskis from the south on hwy 40. Unlike the weekend before, this time the weather forecast was 100% chance of sun (instead of 90%?!) so I figured the odds of running into a blizzard at the trailhead was slim. Thankfully, I was right. Truth be told, I’d have much rather been on my skis – seeing as it’s February – but I have a policy that I don’t do back country skiing if the avalanche hazard is ‘considerable’ or ‘high’ so the latest forecasts made my decision to stay off the boards easy.
The weather in mid October 2015 was sublime. So sublime, in fact, that with the weekend fast approaching, I found myself invited on a number of trips that would normally be done in the summer – certainly not in the last half of October! Phil and I have been on a bit of a roll the past month, so it seemed appropriate to continue on it that vibe. Poboktan Mountain first came onto my radar while climbing Mount Brazeau with Ben this past August. As the sun was setting on us near the summit of the 11,000er, we got a great glimpse of Poboktan’s twin summits and they looked wonderful. I wondered aloud if Poboktan was a scramble or a climb, but neither Ben nor I knew anything about it at the time. Since then, I’ve also had a great view of the other side of Poboktan from Mount Stewart and Mount Willis.
On Friday, October 09 2015 Phil Richards and I decided that we should do a “pre-turkey” workout. Well, actually only I decided that, since Phil doesn’t eat turkey, but you get the point. Originally the weather was looking perfect. Naturally, as the day approached the weather deteriorated a bit but still looked reasonable enough to make the effort. We downgraded our original plans a bit and settled on Mount Nomad in Kananaskis Country, near the Upper Kananaskis Lake and Mount Indefatigable.
After a few weekends of general laziness, I was in the mood for some moderate hiking with my family on Saturday, August 29 2015. I was hoping the recent smoky conditions would be calmer than they were over the week previous, but as the day approached we realized that we wouldn’t have the clear views we wanted. Oh well. We still wanted to get the exercise and I wanted to scope out the fall colors that I was sure would be starting in the alpine.
Chickadee Peak has been on my radar ever since seeing Raf’s trip report on it. Back when Wietse and I did Boom Mountain, I remember looking at all the skiable terrain further up the Chickadee Valley and wondering if there were any other peaks we could ski in the area. Well, it turns out that there is! As Wietse, Ferenc and I drove to the parking area, Wietse started asking what we’d do if there wasn’t any snow on the approach! We weren’t laughing so hard when we finally parked. There wasn’t a lot of white stuff around anymore… 😉
On December 22, Wietse and Dave did a snowshoe ascent of Rawson Lake Ridge. Wietse kindly let others in our group know that they had laid a snowshoe track up the ridge, which lies just to the north of Rawson Lake, and that we should take advantage of it since it was earned with a lot of sweat (and swearing?!). I was too busy spending time with family over the holidays to get to it earlier, but finally on the last day of 2014 I had a few hours to spend alone in the mountains again.
On Saturday, April 19, 2014 a group of us took advantage of low avy hazards and warm spring temps to attempt the Pumpkin Traverse near the Lake Louise ski resort in Banff National Park. The Pumpkin Traverse usually involves ascending three summits, but due to conditions we didn’t bother going for Unity Peak (I completed that one with Mike Mitchell in early 2016). We started up the ski out in much warmer temps than we were expecting. The forecast had called for -8 but it was almost 0 already at 08:30! We made good time and were soon crossing the ski run above Temple Lodge. Lipalian and Purple can be done quickest and easiest via the Larch ski run up to Lipalian and then traverse to Purple and out via the Purple Bowl between Wolverine Ridge and Redoubt Mountain.
On Saturday, February 1 2014 I was joined by half of Calgary and part of Deadmonton for a ski / snowshoe ascent of Heather Ridge in Skoki – behind the Lake Louise ski hill in Banff National Park. Ok – it wasn’t quite half of Calgary, but close! It started with Steven, Wietse and I and ended with Steven, Wietse, Raf, Andrea, Mike, Sonny, Spencer, Brandon and myself. We met up in the Skoki Lodge parking lot in chilly temps of -28 degrees Celsius. Yikes. After laying up it was time to warm up with a ski up the ski out from the Lake Louise Ski hill. The last time I was on this road was way back in September 2005 when cousin Jon and I managed to knock off all the Kane scrambles in Skoki within a 72 hour period.
Any time you see the keywords “ski” and “bushwhack” in the same trip report you should never ever try to repeat it yourself. You’ve been warned! 🙂 As part of his Opal 35 Project, Kev Barton had his eyes fixed on a winter ascent of either the main peak of “Opoca” or it’s eastern outlier, known locally as “East Opoca” or “Elpoca Creek Hill” by Bob Spirko. Since we were attempting an unknown peak in winter, via a tight approach valley I knew that our odds of summiting were very low, but I didn’t really care. This is the sort of trip that’s done for the adventure, not the summit. We got some adventure all right… On hindsight we made two blunders which cost us the peak.
In order to get to Titkana Peak (my objective for the day), I first had to hike to the Snowbird Meadows and perhaps Snowbird Pass. Considering the number of people that must do this hike each year, I was quite surprised to discover how few trip reports are out there on this relatively easy peak. I think part of the problem for most folks is how far the hike to Snowbird Pass is (over 20km return) and as it turns out – how much bloody work it is! The views from the pass and the approach are so good already that I think most people are content to turn back at the pass rather than continue up Titkana.