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Tag : SC5

“Vista Peak” (Arnica)

Yes, Vista Peak is unofficial, lowly and unremarkable in almost every way. BUT. Its location made it worthwhile for the boundary commission over 100 years ago and it should make it worthwhile to you as well. With a trail leading up through the worst of the bush and an easy route with stunning views from there and from the top, I think it should be on most Rockies hikers and scramblers hit lists.

Prairie Mountain for Dummies (NEW EDITION!)

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.

Onion, The (Summer Route)

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.

Profound Peak (Simpson) & Mount Osgood

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 (Anteus)

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 (Mount Perren)

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.

In the Footsteps of Sergeant Kowalski (Laughing Bears Creek)

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.

Smoky Mountain (Roaring Creek)

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. 

Skye Peak (Beauty Creek, Wilcox Lake)

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.

Struan, Wurzburg & Andover (Beauty Creek)

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.

Fuhrer, Mount

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?

Siffleur Mountain

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. 

Elch Peak (Stud, GR851-335)

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.

Screed Peak (GR796–032)

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.

“HH89” (Totem, GR831-380) Peak

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.

Forbidden Peak

I couldn’t believe I was standing on top of Forbidden Peak – only 7 hours from the truck! Phil’s ascent line couldn’t have worked better, making this peak surprisingly accessible considering how darn remote it is. Thx again Phil! I owe you man.

Tessa Peak & Landslide Ridge

I highly recommend this easy hike to anyone with half a day on their hands and some energy in their pockets. Don’t underestimate the height gain or the angle – this is a bloody steep hike! The views at the top (and even very part way up) are more than worth the heartbeats you will expend on route.

Gates of the David Thompson

Wietse and I took advantage of a dry spring to ascend this small peak between Mount Wilson and Cline that didn’t feel quite as “small” as we were expecting.

Merlin Ridge / Peak (Sectional)

On hindsight I’m happy to have “missed out” on my first two opportunities to hike and scramble Merlin Ridge. Both of those opportunities were in less than ideal conditions and very likely would not have included the highest point or the fascinating journey around Merlin Castle and Tower. I am still amazed by the conditions of the Rockies this late in the season – many of the highest peaks were absolutely bone dry and other than daylight hours it’s still go-time for hikers, scramblers and climbers. The fall of 2022 has certainly more than made up for the crappy spring we endured!

Owen, Mount

It felt great to finally scramble this mountain that’s been on my radar for so many years and planned so many times over those years. If I have to be honest, Owen was a bit too easy considering what I thought it would be like. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but I was expecting more of a challenge from this peak. In the end it’s about as easy as peaks over 3,000 meters come. Simply bike 12kms up a road, turn left and go up and up and up a gully on a huge avalanche path. Keep going up steeper scree and rubble. Traverse to your right to SSE ridge and then go up again to the left on easy dinner plate shale. Boom! You’re there. Mount Owen is the “easy  Mount Stephen” – similar height gains and simple route lines with stellar views with a much easier scramble and no permits required. A very highly recommended bike, hike ‘n scramble for the Rockies crowd.

Cautley Traverse, The (Cascade Rock, Gibraltar Rock, Ely’s Dome, Wonder, Towers)

It’s always bittersweet completing a busy trip like this one with all of the experiences still fresh and knowing that I’m closing many chapters of my Rockies adventures simply because I’ve done so many peaks and trips in so many areas of the Alberta Rockies at this stage of my life. People are always encouraging me to go to other ranges like the Purcells or the Columbia mountains but I love the local Rockies and I love all my experiences from Waterton to Jasper. I don’t need to open another massive range of landscapes to enjoy what I do. I love walking familiar valleys, wading through familiar rivers and streams and revisiting old mountain friends with great memories from almost all of them. As I get older I realize that numbers don’t mean anything – nobody cares how many peaks you’ve climbed or how fast you climbed them or even how much fun you had while you did it. The only thing that really matters IMHO is what kind of person you are and whether doing what you do in life makes you a better or worse human to all the other humans. The peace and beauty of the Canadian Rockies has given me countless hours of meditation and reflective opportunities to become the best version of me and that is something I will always cherish and be thankful for.

Jutland to Sage Mountain Traverse (Matkin, Font)

As we drove slowly back to the hwy Sara and I agreed that this was one of our more relaxing multi-day outings of 2022, actually it was by far the most relaxing one. With the first day only coming in at 9 hours 1650 meters of ascent and the second at less than 8 hours and only just over 1000 meters ascent we didn’t feel too stressed. I’m sure that for me the ultralightweight backpacking system had a lot to do with it – I decided to test it on a 2 night trip immediately after this one. A highly recommended late summer or fall trip for fit parties wanting to experience some of the Castle Wildernesses more remote peaks and valleys.

Scarpe Mountain (Sunkist Ridge, La Coulotte)

Wietse and I were shocked that our total time for this trip was only 11.5 hours with an average pace of 4.2 km/h for the day! Despite being painful we agreed that this is a pretty good outing for hikers and scramblers who don’t mind a long bike approach and a bit of work. Instead of carrying a much heavier overnight pack you can squeeze 2 days into 1, bag three summits and get some pretty sweet views for all your efforts. There is very little (i.e. none) water along the route once you leave the West Castle River lower down, so you should budget your water carefully and think about how much you might need. I highly recommend this trip for larch season – looking back on my photos from Jake Smith Peak I realize how many there are along the ridge between La Coulotte and Scarpe Mountain.

Whiskey Papa & Minnow Peak

My feet were feeling pretty chewed up as we completed the final hour of fast hiking to the parking lot. Despite more discomfort than I’m used to, from the heat, my feet and my tired mind I find myself reflecting very fondly on this trip only days later while writing this report. Things are never guaranteed to go perfectly in the hills and some trips simply hurt more than others for a variety of reasons. The trick, I find, is to push through the pain and try to enjoy them as much as possible. Now that the pain is receding and the memories of discomfort are fading I realize that this trip was amazing and I want to go back.

Forgotten Peak

Within just over 5 hours of starting our ascent we were back out of Fossil Creek towards the Pipestone River. I was hurting more than I should have been from a 33km, 2100m day. Although that isn’t a small day by any means, most of it was on trail and the off trail part was pretty darn easy and straightforward as far as these things go. I’ve had a lot of big trips lately so I think I was suffering from a form of burnout (mental and physical) and I just had an “off” day in the strong summer sun and heat. I did enjoy Forgotten Peak (my 900th summit if you must know) despite the slight setbacks. The views on route took me by surprise. For some reason I didn’t expect the north end of the Drummond massif to be quite so impressive.