Sunday, October 21, 2007

Read's Tower/Mt Sparrowhawk

trailhead 5642ft 10,239ft summit vert gain 4597ft

My first attempt at a 10,000 footer

The picture at left was the last picture my camera took before the batteries ran out! Its 5:56am and I'm taking one last look at the maps before I set out. I guess I'll blame forgetting extra batteries on the early hour but the route was long and I needed every ounce of daylight for this solo trip.

With Suz out in Tofino learning how to surf, I thought I'd try a solo trip to Read's Tower and up if conditions allowed to the summit of Mt Sparrowhawk. Both are on the east side of Spray Lakes.

In lieu of my own pics, I'm relying on pics I found on the net of the route. This led to an amazing coincidence...

this is Mt Sparrowhawk as seen from Spray Lake, I was surprised to discover its just as orange as shown on my map.

Here is a nice view of Spray Lake on the way up to Read's Tower.

At about 9000 ft on Mt Sparrowhawk, I found myself on the final pitch to the summit. The snow however was substantial and wind polished to a marble finish that was really too dangerous to try by myself without an ice axe. The really weird thing is that through the snow pack were two sets of footprints set like concrete. That's not so weird but when I went online looking for pictures to show where I had been, I found this one on the left dated 3 days before my trip! The footprints in this picture are the very ones I was following! The internet is pretty cool. So as it turned out I was following William Marler's footprints. I don't know him but it blows my mind that I found out who's footprints those were. Sherlock Holmes himself would be impressed.

And so I enjoyed the view of the surrounding peaks including a great vantage of Mt Galatea 10km to the south. It was pretty cold to stay more than 10 minutes before making my way back down.

A funny thing happened in the cirque. The cirque has a very narrow opening before it drops straight down to the watershed. In the doorway that I was forced to go through, I thought I could see a brown animal sitting a prominent rock. It was 50ft away from me and I was joking to myself that that rock looks like it has a cougar on it. What a perfect spot to hunt in this bottleneck. Then I saw the brown shape move and I realised that there was an animal on it! I did a quick scan and realized I had no where to go and no way to avoid this spot. I gave a low yell and started throwing rocks into the ground beside me. Before I could get properly terrified though, it jumped off its perch to reveal itself- a mountain goat. I laughed with relief but was puzzled it was perching like a hunching cat on this promontory.
Scare and all, I'll definitely go back here when there is less snow. I'll make sure I have camera batteries too.

Mt Indefatigable

7.6km 5658ft trailhead 8150 summit vert gain:2508ft

This was our season finale trip, our first attempt of Mt Indefatigable or Mt Fatty as its called locally. At left is an aerial shot (not mine) that I've drawn the route on though the summit is out of frame. Suz's friend Karen and her dog Rocky joined us on this trip.

The view from the lower hog's back of Upper Kananaskis Lake is stunning. Behind Suz is Mt Surrail whose buttress we climbed on our Rawson Lake trip. I'm always in awe how beautiful this area is and how few people there are here.

left: The last push to the summit was one of those optical illusions that made it seem like it was only a hundred more feet to the top. Karen puts her back into the final push to the top. In the background, the Opal range stands on its hind legs. The route follows a brutal drop off most of the way, the girls didn't seem to mind walking right along its edge which of course gives me the willies. Rocky also had no problem peering down into the void, enjoying the sure footedness of four legs.

Suz rewards herself with some kibbles at the top of Mt Indefatigable. The summit is bounded on three sides by knee- weakening death drops. I was dying to crawl on my belly to the edge behind Suz and gaze straight down to the valley but I just couldn't manage.

left: This is the picture I'm going to send my surgeon. I was pretty pleased.

Like many season finales, this one didn't disappoint. Once off the summit block, Karen and Suz used a plastic bag as a sled and rocketed down the snow-filled cirque. Their laughs were punctuated with screams as they covered a couple hundred feet in a minute. A perfect end to a great day!
here's a short vid I made of the summit panorama. Its not the best quality, but it gives an impression.

Mt Yamnuska

5km 4511ft trailhead 5905ft end vert gain:1500ft

I felt so guilty when this gorgeous fall day called me out to the mountains while Suz was at work. When she got home looking quite tired, I actually chickened out telling her right away knowing what a nice day it had been to be working inside!

That being said, I've often been curious about Yamnuska, the closest true mountain to Calgary. The south face is a rock climbing hot spot due to its rock quality and verticality as the picture shows. The route I chose traverses to the east and approaches the summit block from the north.

left:hiking up to the summit block

The best feature of this trip is that you're really perched on the edge of the prairies

left:Bow River leaves the Rockies on its way to Hudson Bay

left: on Yamnuska looking north into CMC valley.

I was very intrigued to finally see north of the trans Canada and the bow valley! There's no roads north of Canmore so its sort of a Shangri-La to me to finally see what was on the other side. As it turns out, CMC valley is a Shangri-La, and I'll certainly drag Suz here for a longer amble through here.

Guinn winter ascent/Lillian Lake

18km 5084ft trailhead 8000ft col vert gain:3000ft

For Thanksgiving weekend, my friend Jim came out for a backpacking trip. Its been a long time since I carried around a big pack. When I'm working in the bush, I usually have helicopters and quads to carry my life around so I was paranoid about weight. Above, Jim proudly sips a take-out coffee that lasted from Calgary.

After gaining around two thousand feet, the crux of the trip faced us. A very steep gully for a thousand feet taking us over a pass and then down the next valley to our proposed camp.

Here we are taking a break, fuelling up with chocolate for the big push. The snow though had drifted and in places was knee deep. Climbing a 45 degree slope through deep snow is very hard. Couple this with altitude and we would take 10-20 steps and rest for 10 seconds. We didn't talk much and I kept thinking that I'd try and go a bit further but was doubting whether we'd make it up.

The pictures above are above the treeline. At this point, the temperature has dropped to around minus five and the wind is blowing very hard. There was nothing enjoyable about this part of the trip. It was really a test of will in a binary world of up/down, quit/go on. And so, at 4pm we crested the summit and stared down into the valley we were going to camp in and had a quick assessment of conditions. We thought that the snow was very deep on the other side and perhaps we might not be able to climb out if we went in. This was complicated by the fact that our backcountry permit technically only allows us to camp in that valley. Of course when its -15 with windchill and you're standing at 8000 feet surrounding by nothing but the overwhelming, the park bureaucracy seems pretty meaningless.
Prudence prevailed though and we ended up hiking back down the way we came and over to Lillian Lake where we pitched our tent as dusk enveloped us. We were proud of the ascent but we sort of felt as though this campsite was our second place. Amazingly, there was two other groups camping in the snow and they had a passable fire going already. When they asked us where we had come from, we filled with pride when their mouths dropped as we pointed up at the mountain we had just retreated from. With hot coffee brewing we looked up at the route and answered their questions. Success is relative. The next day we packed up the tent and hiked back to the road

Saturday, October 20, 2007


11km 4700ft trailhead 6986ft summit ridge vert gain 2200ft

The day began with a first hand look at a chinook formation. I've seen a few "chinook arches" from the east looking west but this was the first time I've been right underneath it. This picture is a 6 picture composite I made to get a 180 degree view and it really deserves to be clicked to get a close-up look. The wind pummeled us with gusts I can only guess were close to 90km/hr.

The route (I've drawn it in red) starts off the highway on the east side of Barrier Lake (Lac d'obstruction as we like to call it) and quickly launches you above the Kananaskis valley. The photo here shows the first half of the route tracing its way along the top of the Wasootch ridge giving you constant 360 views.

The snow wasn't much of an impediment and really only served to make the vistas more dramatic. At the left Suz pauses with the Wasootch creek winding its way far below.

Its a testament to the area that in spite of the wind punishment, Suz still has a smile!

Here's a typical example of the ridgeline. For the most part its wide enough to navigate while still gawking around. In places however, it narrows down. One six foot long section is only two boots wide and a couple thousand feet down on either side. Suz pranced across this like a mountain goat but I found myself with both hands down crabbing across not liking things at all.

Here's one of the reasons I wanted to do this route, the rare Limber pines, Pinus Flexis (sometimes latin sounds made up) They only grow at high altitudes and especially on ridge crests. I've only seen a few and these certainly were astounding. Twisted into bonsai shapes over hundreds of years, the ridgeline is littered with them. This species is very draught tolerant and nearly impervious to winterburn allowing it to grow in perfectly inhospitable environments.

click on this pic to get a closeup of this ancient survivor.

I couldn't resist trying to dangle my legs over the abyss on this rock ledge that was cambered slightly back from the ledge. I could only force myself to get my feet over the edge which I counted as a small victory over my acrophobia.

Even though we were wind whipped we loved this trip. The terrain was the perfect challenge to our ability level and the view was superb. Added to that was the thrilling overtones provided by the chinook though I occasionally worried about being blown right off the ridge. It wasn't likely to happen but I worried about it anyway.

Suz wants to return here on a nicer day and perhaps we'll scramble up the peak connected to the ridge.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ptarmigan Cirque

4.5km 7239ft trailhead 7938ft cirque vert gain: 700ft

Our trip to Ptarmigan Cirque began with a snowstorm which isn't too surprising at Highwood pass as its the highest public road in Canada. The trailhead begins where the pocaterra cirque trip begins (trip # 3 in the blog) and we were anxious to get a view of that previous route on this trip. In this snowy picture of Suz, you can just make out the unnamed peak we climbed to get the view of the valley (see pic #4 of Grizzly Peak/Col entry)

I was a little nervous as well owing to Suz's parents being with us and I didn't want to drag them up a mountain in a snowstorm!

After a half hour the snow let up and the sun came out long enough to enjoy the larch trees turning their famous hue of orange.

Up in the cirque we found this purple flower making a go of things at around 7500 feet. From this photo you can see that spring and summer have winter breathing down its neck. Summer really only lasts a couple weeks at this altitude.

Sun is finally out giving us the view we came for. Grizzly col (the second part of trip 3) is the saddle between the two middle peaks. The water in the creek behind me was some of the best I've had. I bottled some and took it home.

Suz pauses in front of Mt Arethusa beside a larch in full bloom. For a short trip this was pretty satisfying. Suz's parents enjoyed it which pleased me. The weather was perfect right down to the snowstorm which put the finishing touch so to speak on the surroundings. For a two hour hike this trip has got to one of the most underrated as it launches you right into a high alpine ecosystem without having to climb several thousand feet of vertical. For us it was pretty cool to stare across the valley at our route from the previous trip.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Guinn Pass

16km 5084ft trailhead 7940ft Guinn pass vert gain: 2900ft

Guinn Pass was a fantastic trip starting at the foot of Mt Kidd, a K-country landmark. The trail crosses Kananaskis river and hops back and forth across galatea creek. Before reaching Galatea lake the trail veers straight up to Guinn pass which is actually a southern extension of the Mt Kidd outlier. We were pleased to time ourselves at 1 hour/ thousand vertical feet.

Suz negotiates a short rock band

view of Mt Galatea as trail climbs up to the sub alpine zone

at around 6500 feet we attracted some curious mountain sheep who to a sheep wore an expression of "what are They doing here?"

Here we are at the saddle between Mt Kidd and the unnamed summit in the foreground. From this picture you can easily see the steep pitch we climbed to get up here and why we were so tired at the top!

drinking in the view from around 8000 feet

had to splice three pics to get this 180 degree view. Overall this was our favorite hike of the year. The approach trail was very interesting with many fine vistas, waterfalls, outcroppings and varied forest. The ascent wall was a bit harder than required due to my zeal for fresh drinking water, I traversed across to a waterfall to drink and then sort of missed a traverse. We ended up scaling a pretty hairy section only to intersect the traverse higher up and continue on a more calming pitch. On the way down we had a pretty good chuckles seeing how much easier the traverse was.
At the top one is treated to 360 panorama with the Opal range( my favorite) spread out like a turkey dinner. Our highest score for this trail:9 Hoagies out of 10