Jackson, Gros

Gros from head of Granite Creek

Real Life has been a real headache lately, interfering with peak-bagging plans, but I have managed to get out a bit, experiencing northwest Wyoming during the snow-free late summer for the first time. I normally use the Gros Ventres as a late spring warm-up, as they are both lower and gentler than the neighboring Tetons and Winds. I had tried to tag Gros Peak this spring, only to be turned back by uncooperative snow, bogs, and general misery. With most of the snow gone and the wildflowers out it proved much easier, with the route past Goodwin Lakes involving about 11 miles of mostly gentle terrain each way.

Tetons from below lake

Curtis Canyon is the closest legal camping to Jackson, so the popular Goodwin Lakes trailhead was much more convenient than the Little Granite trailhead I had used in the spring. I followed the popular trail to the lake, then briefly lost it as it circled around the far end, instead following an indistinct boot-path and some open terrain along the base of Jackson’s east ridge.

Flowers need mowing

I rejoined the trail near the head of the drainage, then took a side-trip to Jackson’s summit. I had already been there in June a few years ago, but figured I might as well make a minor detour for the morning view of the Tetons. I followed the trail back south, then took off cross-country along the ridge to rejoin the Goodwin Lakes trail as it contours around the head of Flat Creek to meet the Cache-Granite trail. These trails see relatively little use, and are therefore partly overgrown with wildflowers, but they are still easy to follow, and the trail junction signs are all intact.

Looking north from Gros

I jogged a bit, but mostly just walked fast on the rolling traverse around to the head of Granite Creek, from which the remainder of the route to Gros is visible to the south. The trail drops down to well-hidden Turquoise Lake, but I left it to head cross-country on a bench leading to Gros’s northeast ridge. I passed east of a large, unnamed, turquoise-colored lake, then found a few cairns as I made my way up the class 2-3 ridge to the northern false summit, passing a tarn nestled a bit above 10,600′.

I found a bit of a use trail along the final summit ridge, and a cairn and benchmark on the summit, but no register. The weather was behaving itself, with the monsoon storms slower to build over the Gros Ventres than their higher neighbors, so I took my time on the summit before retracing my steps, taking advantage of some lingering snowfields to avoid the loose scree. I had the trail to myself up to the turnoff for Jackson Peak, then met a steady stream of hikers heading up as I made my way down past the lake to the car.

Maidenform (and the Eclipse)

The total eclipse of August 21 was notable not just for crossing the whole contiguous United States, but also for the crossing several popular mountains, including Mount Jefferson, Mount Borah, and the Grand Teton. Jefferson was in the middle of a fire, and I suspected that any popular peak would be a zoo, as would the entire Wyoming side of the Tetons. Fortunately I have some obscure peaks on my to-do list, including Maidenform, reachable from a couple relatively obscure trailheads on the Idaho side of the range. This turned out to be a good choice — there were 40-50 cars at the North Leigh Creek trailhead, but I had my peak to myself for a once- or twice-in-a-lifetime event.

Dawn comes late on this side of the range, and I was coming from a timezone to the west, so I got an almost fatally late start a bit before 7:00 AM. There are two similar approaches to Maidenform, so for variety I took the Tin Cup trail to Granite Basin on the way out. I passed some cows and a group of dayhikers just above the trailhead, then a party camped on the trail at the pass over toward Granite Basin, hiking at a steady pace and feeling the altitude a bit after so long near sea level.

Granite Basin and the plateau north to Green Lakes remind me of the nicer parts of the Sierra, with granite slabs and boulders among grass and open woods, and plenty of lakes and tarns. I saw a few more campers in Granite Basin, then left humanity to head cross-country west to the ridge at the head of Leigh Canyon. When I finally got a look at the climb up Maidenform, it looked chossy and slow, and I was a bit worried about making it to the summit on time. I picked up the pace a bit, suffering up some fairly unpleasant class 2-3 choss, and made it to the summit a bit after 10:30, when the sun looked less than 25% occluded.

I had most of an hour to kill before the totality, so I alternately looked at the sun through my eclipse glasses, and experimented with trying to photograph it. I got some mediocre shots through the glasses using manual settings, though nothing spectacular with my wide-angle pancake lens. I tried taking some photos without the glasses, but even at over 90% occlusion, my lowest-light settings of f/22 and 1/4000 exposure were not good enough. I guess that demonstrates how it is a bad idea to watch a partial eclipse without proper glasses…

Maybe 5-10 minutes before totality, the light was noticeably dimmer than mid-day. Even before that, I could tell the eclipse was approaching by my camera’s settings on full auto: f/4 and 1/160 near mid-day, instead of a more normal f/4 and 1/2500 or so. I emerged from my sheltered spot just east of the summit, and prepared to try to capture the thing on video. Maidenform has a clear view of both the Idaho plains to the west, and the main Teton peaks to the south. I hoped to see a dark line approaching along the plains at over 1000 MPH, but the lingering forest fire smoke made that impossible, and it might not be visible even with clear air.

I got a couple of interesting videos, of the eclipse onset:

and of the eclipse end:

I tried to catch a still photo of the corona in between, as well as simply enjoying the brief period where I could stare at the sun without glasses. Those photos sucked, unfortunately. I notice that someone, in a particularly well-timed and baller move, had flown a jet around the Tetons right at totality:


One thing I had not planned for is how much it would cool down during the eclipse. I had climbed in a t-shirt, and been fairly comfortable in an overshirt and windbreaker until totality, but my hands were aching by the time the sun returned, and it took awhile for the mostly-occluded sun to warm me back up afterward. It looks like temperatures dropped at least 5 degrees in Jackson, and may have cooled as much as 15 degrees on the peak. (Update: More on eclipse-related cooling.)

I had originally intended to tag Cleaver Peak as well, but by the time I had warmed back up, I lacked the energy to do the mile-plus brushy traverse. I returned to the plain above Granite Lakes instead, then took the Green Mountain trail back to the trailhead, meeting various eclipse-viewing parties instead. Since I had plenty of time, I enjoyed talking to a solo backpacker with his dog on the way down. The “crowd” was beginning to disperse as we reached the trailhead, but I decided to give things a bit more time to clear out. I washed up a bit in the creek, then found a quiet spot to camp for another night before heading back to civilization.

Glacier (North Sauk, 8h38)

Ptarmigans and Glacier

Glacier Peak is the most remote of Washington’s Pacific Rim volcanoes. I first climbed it in 2014, taking about 12 hours on a semi-casual outing, and found it to be one of the most scenic hikes in the Cascades. After about 5.5 miles passing through old-growth forest by the North Sauk River, the trail climbs to meet the PCT in alpine meadows near White Pass. From there, the route follows the Foam Creek trail (not on any maps) below White Peak, then leaves it to cross the ridge north before Point 7520’+. There are bits of climbers’ trail beyond the col, but since the talus plain is covered in snow for most of the summer, most of the long talus traverse is pathless. The summit, rising 1000′ or more above its neighbors in the center of the range, would have a great view on a clear day.

Moss everywhere

The FKT on Glacier, 7h58, was set by Doug McKeever back in 1998, using the now-abandoned White Chuck River trail to the Sitkum Glacier. The new standard route, via the North Sauk, is significantly longer, but I thought I had a chance to beat the venerable record. After a couple of easier days along the Mountain Loop, I settled in to sleep at the North Sauk trailhead. Sometime around 2:00 AM, I woke to the sound of a mouse in my car. Since I had not kept the mouse traps from the last time I had this problem (two years ago, also in the western Cascades), I lay awake until the mouse went to sleep around 5:00 AM, then got a couple more hours’ sleep before downing my beet-enhanced breakfast and hitting the trail at the ludicrous hour of 8:00 AM.

Approaching White Pass

The mornings are surprisingly cool in the wet west-side valleys, so I was comfortable jogging the 5.5 miles to the cabin at the base of the climb, then hike-jogging the switchbacks to the PCT, reaching the junction in almost exactly two hours. I put on sunscreen, moved food to the front of my pack, then continued past a couple scruffy PCTers and a large cluster of mountaineers returning from Glacier with all sorts of heavy gear. The last of these, an attractive young woman putting on sunscreen at the pass, seemed concerned about my safety tagging Glacier with so little gear. She was not entirely convinced by my protests that I knew what I was doing, and skeptical of my fast-and-light evangelism.

First view of Glacier

I continued mostly jogging along the Foam Creek trail, then left at a cairned junction to cross the ridge north, finally getting my first view of the peak. I was nonplussed to see the summit covered in a lenticular cloud, promising cold, wind, and no views. I had done the peak a month earlier in 2014, so the long snow traverse I remembered was mostly obnoxious moraine, barely runnable with extreme concentration.

Broken ice at Gerdine-Cool saddle

After some ups and downs around 6600′ below the much-diminished White Chuck Glacier, the route climbs to a popular camping site around 7200′, then over a minor ridge to finally reach the edge of the Gerdine Glacier. A well-worn track follows the lateral moraine to where it becomes nasty, then drops to the edge of the glacier. I followed the boot-pack left by the several recent parties, putting on crampons near the headwall where the snow is slightly steeper. I remembered the glacier climb as being mostly snow, with one easy crevasse to avoid, but found quite a bit of bare, broken ice on the saddle with the Cool Glacier, making me glad to have brought crampons.

Crossing Gerdine Glacier

Continuing up the Cool, I jumped warily across one widening crevasse on the bootpack, then left my crampons near the summit ridge. It was slow going on the volcanic sand and loose boulders above, but I had no trouble avoiding snow on my way to the summit. I reached the top in almost exactly 5 hours, and spent about 30 seconds in the clouds before hurrying down to get out of the cold. I had both my overshirt and jacket on over shorts and a t-shirt, and was barely warm enough while moving. Also, while there was no way I could do the round trip in under 8 hours, I still wanted to put in a decent effort.

All snow last time

I jogged the upper glacier in crampons, then sat on a rock lower down to take them off and empty the volcanic sand from my shoes. I stopped again below the bivy site to refill my water at a stream and take off my overshirt, but otherwise maintained a steady effort on the return. It would have been hot if it had remained clear, but broken cloud-cover and a breeze kept temperatures comfortable as I descended back to the forest. I was slower than I probably should have been on the rolling downhill jog through the woods, but managed to reach the trailhead in a respectable 8h38. This is a runner’s course, so a better trail runner could probably do Glacier in under 8 hours.

Gear notes

I used the same setup for Glacier that I used for Olympus: running-shoe crampons and no ice axe. This is perfect for moderate-angle terrain that might include bare ice, as my crampons are light (600g) and compact enough to strap on my running pack. I thought about leaving the crampons at home, but am glad I did not, as it would have been difficult to work my way around the ice at the Gerdine-Cool glacier saddle, and incredibly sketchy to cross it in trail runners. Going crampon-free on Adams last year worked only because it is popular enough that other people put in stairs.

Is everything a dayhike?

End of project

For the past few years, I have been seeking to demonstrate that every peak (for some version of “every” and “peak”) in the lower 48 is a dayhike. From Gannett in the Winds, to Oso and the Guardian in the San Juans, to Whaleback in the Sierra, I have put in countless hours of morning (and sometimes evening) headlamp time in the pursuit of type II fun. The Northern Pickets are arguably the most remote peaks in the lower 48, so my recent traverse can be seen as a fitting end to this project.

Along the way, I have learned what is necessary to accomplish this goal, developed the necessary physical and mental skills, and also learned my limits. I am a decent distance runner, but nowhere near fast enough to compete with modern ultra runners. I am a decent scrambler, but any semi-serious climber can get up things far harder than I can. Yet I see few people doing the kind of fast and light peak-bagging I enjoy, leading me to believe that, with a bit of patience and determination, most people can accomplish far more in the mountains than they realize.

So, is everything in the lower 48 a dayhike? I smile at having left the question somewhat unanswered by taking more than 24 hours for the Northern Pickets. I believe that I could pick them off one-by-one in less than 24 hours apiece, and it seems possible that I could do the traverse in under 24 hours by exiting via Hannegan Pass, but I will not try to demonstrate these things. Someone else is welcome to do the math, then make it happen.

Northern Pickets traverse (East Fury to Challenger, VI 5.7, 28h32)

Northern Pickets pano

The central northern Pickets are arguably the most remote peaks in the lower 48, so it was only a matter of time before I had to try them. I had visited both ends of the northern Pickets: Challenger in 2014, Luna in 2015, and East Fury in 2016. On this last effort I had been planning to go for more, but I was stopped after a single pea by route-finding errors, a lack of drive, and the realization that I had underestimated my objective.

And so it begins…

While it is possible to pick off the peaks one-by-one, for the sake of efficiency and style I wanted to nab them all and claim the coveted Northern Pickets Traverse. I had estimated that it would take me 24-30 hours with a shuttle from Hannegan Pass trailhead back to my car at Ross Dam. Unfortunately I was unable to set up a shuttle on short notice, forcing me to either hitch, or use a different route. Not liking my chances of finding a ride first thing in the morning after rolling in late to Hannegan and taking a dirt nap, I used a significantly longer and harder route, descending the cross-country Eiley-Wiley ridge to Beaver Pass, then “running” 20 miles of trail back to my car. This put me at the upper end of my estimated time range.

Smoky dawn on Luna

I got a few hours’ sleep at the Ross Dam trailhead, but it is noisy right by the highway, and I was too wired to sleep, so I turned off my midnight alarm, drank my Cup of Sadness fortified with beet nitrates (found at a Walmart full of obese tweakers in Bellingham), and started down the trail around 12:15. The toads seemed more numerous than last year, and I even met a few on the trail down to the dam. It is around 17 miles to where you leave the trail for Access Creek, so this would normally be far too early to start, but I had a good GPX track of the cross-country route from last summer, so I could do it at night without losing too much time. This was key to giving myself as much daylight as possible to deal with the ridge and unknown de-approach.

Upper East Fury

The approach worked about as well as it ever does. I bashed down to the river, where I almost immediately found the remnants of the log bridges I had used in 2014. I wasted only a bit of time dithering (I still hate getting wet), then forded barefoot to try to keep my feet dry and minimize the damage they would suffer in the evening. I found a bit of a boot-pack along the subtle ridge right of the creek that is least brushy. My worst mistake was crossing south one slide path too early, but that did not cost much time. As a result, I reached East Fury’s summit in only 10h15, vs. the 11h30 I took last year.

Luna, East Fury from West Fury

Now it was time to launch into the unknown. The final scramble up East Fury consists of shockingly mobile large talus, and the same continues on the way to West Fury. Beckey’s guide suggests that this traverse takes multiple hours, but I found most of it to be standard chossy 4th class, and reached West Fury in under an hour. The first ascent register was still in good shape, and I was surprised to supposedly be the 19th “party” to visit.

West Fury descent

Up to this point, the best exit would be to retrace my steps. Once I headed down the west ridge, things would become more complicated, possibly involving a long and unfamiliar cross-country route around the north end of the range. I steeled myself, then followed the first ascent route down the west ridge. Starting slightly east of the summit, I descended a chute, then made a descending choss-traverse back west to the ridge. I followed that a bit, then made my way down dirty, ledge-y terrain on the other side to gain the small glacier northwest of the peak. From there, I easily kicked my way back across to the saddle with Swiss.

Good rock on Swiss

I made my way more or less up and over several small pinnacles of mediocre rock on the way to Swiss, a broad NW-SE summit with a permanent snowfield on its southwest side. I found the rock pleasantly solid, climbing a line on its southwest face and descending near the northwest ridge. I stuffed some snow in my Camelbak, then tossed that out when I found running water below the snowfield. This was a valuable find, as running water is scarce on the rest of the ridge, and it was hot enough to be sweating in shorts and a t-shirt on the crest.

Spectre (l), Phantom (r)

Given the time and my longer-than-desired descent route, I skipped “Spectre Peak” without a second thought, then spent some time considering my route to the saddle with Phantom. The ridge itself looked unusably steep, the gully to its west at least somewhat navigable. Looking back, I think a line just right (east) of the ridge would have been better, blocky low 5th on decent rock. My chute was a garbage-fest with a tricky chockstone, and the traverse back to the ridge was outward-sloping dirt and death-choss.

Challenger and Crooked Thumb

The rock was somewhat less chossy on the way up Phantom, but still not great. I mistakenly climbed a lower summit to the northeast, earning zero bonus points, then found the original register on the true summit. It was in bad shape, and probably not long for this world, being protected by only a bashed-up tin canister and a plastic bag. There appeared to be even fewer entries than on West Fury, but I was concerned enough about my position that I did not pay much attention. Phantom is about one third of the way from West Fury to Challenger, and if things continued apace, I would be lucky to make it off by dark.

The misery continued descending off Phantom, with tricky route-finding on rotten rock on its left to bypass steps in the ridge. Considering the prospect of a bivy or a very long night made me think of efficiency: I turned off my GPS to save batteries for night-time navigation, and skipped the ridge crest whenever I thought it would save me time. As I made my slow way north, I was examining my escape route down the west side and up between two of Challenger’s lower summits.

Challenger from Crooked Thumb

Fortunately things improve considerably at “Ghost,” a subpeak of Crooked Thumb. I could have gone up some line along the south ridge, but Beckey mentions that Roper had climbed an “exposed class 4” route on the west face. Good choice! The rock reminded me a bit of the Tetons’ golden granite, and I had my first fun in awhile romping up steep, solid rock with incut holds.

The ridge from this point looks long, but the climbing remains mostly fun, with the best route generally on or near the ridge, and the descents to the north usually easier than the climbs from the south. Reaching Crooked Thumb, I found quite a bit more traffic in the register than on previous peaks, though still only a party or two per year.

Final ridge to Challenger

Since I was not rappeling, I had to make a substantial deviation west to reach the first saddle on the way to Challenger. From there, I stayed near the ridge to enjoy the fine, exposed climbing, deliberately not thinking of the grim headlamp time that awaited. Challenger’s summit ridge is a wonderful finale, a series of narrow fins with the holds angled so that the easiest route climbs right along the spine. I let out a whoop of joy, looked around for a summit register, then made the short downclimb to the Challenger Glacier.

Eiley Ridge

I had three options at this point: exit to Hannegan and hitch (16 trail miles), traverse to Whatcom Pass and take the trail back over Beaver Pass (25-30 trail miles?), or descend Eiley Ridge directly to the pass (20 trail miles). Given the time, I should have sucked it up and chosen the second, but I optimistically and foolishly took the new-to-me Eiley Ridge descent. Things started out great, with a nice hogsback of snow providing a clear path around the yawning summit crevasses, and easy jogging on the lower glacier to Challenger Arm.

I climbed Point 7374′, then was forced to sketch my way down a dirt-chute to the snowfield on its northeast side. I got more water at a tarn near frozen Wiley Lake, then continued making good time on snowfields south of the ridge to Eiley Lake. So far, so good — I thought I would be near the final bushwhack down to Beaver Pass by headlamp time.


Unfortunately I made a mistake here, straying too far southeast of the ridge. There are several places where it is temptingly easy to descend directly east here, but they lead to Luna Creek, which is supposedly one of the worst places in the world. When I realized what had happened, I tried to fight though some scrub pines back toward the ridge, then tried side-hilling across steep grass and flowers to rejoin the ridge. Unfortunately the ridge rises again; maybe the correct route goes over Point 4984′, but I have no idea, and that was not an option for me now.

Before it got dark, I had programmed my GPS with a point a bit south of the pass, so I turned it on, turned on my headlamp, and continued via IFR. My strategy was to traverse until the point was directly down-slope, then bash my way toward it. I found plenty of wretched scrub, blueberries, and alder, but also some surprisingly open groves of big trees. Unfortunately all of it was steep and slick, but I suppose sliding on your butt is an efficient way to lose elevation.

I’m a size 10

There was much less devil’s club than I expected when I finally reached the valley bottom, but I reached my random point without hitting the trail. I did my best to bash due east, and almost fell as I stumbled out onto the trail. At the first stream that seemed safe-ish to drink, I got some water, downed a couple ibuprofen, rinsed my feet, and switched to my dry socks. My calluses were all white, soft, and wrinkled, so I knew my feet were in for a beating, but I hoped that the clean (and thinner) socks would reduce the suffering.

Moonset from Ross Dam

On a normal outing, this return would take about 4.5 hours, 3 to Ross Lake and 1.5 back to the dam. I started off at a reasonable jog, but realized shortly after Luna Camp that it would not last. I could motivate myself to jog with a mixture of Rammstein and reminders that the more I jogged the sooner it would be over, but it was a pathetic shuffle. As I neared the lake, I tripped more often, and was worried I might face-plant into one of the toads, which are even more disturbing after 3 hours’ sleep and 27 hours on the move. I could probably have gone to sleep curled up on the trail, but I wanted to do this in a single push, and did not want to be woken by a ranger’s boot or the splat of a toad to the face. I took in the moonset while crossing Ross Dam, and for once was grateful to be finishing in evening headlamp time — at least it wasn’t quite dawn.

Hozomeen the hard way (SW and N peaks)

North peak from SW

Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I ever seen. — Jack Kerouac

South peak from SW

Welcome to the North Cascades. Have some choss and a face full of alders. — Hozomeen Mountain

Though not especially tall, Hozomeen’s sheer, isolated twin peaks draw the eye from many North Cascades summits. The peaks are normally reached from the north end of Ross Lake, at the end of a long Canadian dirt road. Since I was passing by on the Trans-Canada Highway, I decided this was my best chance to tag these hard-to-reach peaks. I had hoped to tag both the north (higher) and south (harder) summits, but thanks to some route-finding stupidity, I only climbed the north and lesser southwest peaks. Canada’s flagged climbers’ trails, and especially the Rogers Pass trail system, had made me complacent; Hozomeen reminded me that you need to bring your A game to the North Cascades.

Nice flower

I found the dirt road to Ross Lake in surprisingly good condition, so it only took a bit over an hour to drive to the Hozomeen Lake trailhead, which has both water and nice free camping. I believe the normal route on Hozomeen these days goes up the border swath, but since I was thinking of doing both peaks, this route seemed to make more sense. I woke to horrible smoke, but started up anyways around 6:00, hiking a well-used trail to the lake. So far, so good.

Peak from the wrong place

Beckey says to follow a trail around the east side of the lake to a prominent gully, but I found nothing, not even a fisherman’s trail. As expected, the ground near the lake is a miserable sea of deadfall and devil’s club, so I instead started climbing diagonally northeast, hoping to run into the obvious gully. I found a couple of smaller ravines, but no large, obvious gully, and between the vegetation and the smoke, I had no view of the peaks. It turns out that I should have followed the lake all the way around past its north end but, expecting a straightforward approach, I had not bothered to bring my map, and the guidebook’s aerial photos were not helpful.

North and SW peaks from ridge

After quite a bit of brush-bashing, the trees finally thinned enough for me to figure out that I was well south of where I should be, on the southwest peak’s south ridge. I figured I might as well keep going, and eventually found a class 3-4 path up to the crest. The ridge was fairly pleasant, with fast travel along the crest mixed with short bits of class 3-4 climbing up some steps, and one short, unpleasantly rotten headwall below the summit.

N, SW, S peaks

From my unexpected vantage point, I eyed the steep route on the south peak, then the long ridge to the north, and debated what to do. The south peak is a seldom-climbed Cascades prize, but the day had been longer and harder so far than I had anticipated, and it looked like there might be more difficulties getting to the north peak (and my best exit), so I decided to head directly to the north peak. I descended the horribly rotten ridge to the south-southwest saddle, then made a loose traverse on ledges to the ridge connecting the two main summits.

It turns out there is a reason that people don’t take this ridge. While never especially difficult, the climbing is loose and time-consuming, with several bumps to climb and descend along the way via often-rotten class 4-5.easy scrambling. I was tired but relieved to finally reach the base of Hozomeen’s southeast face, a straightforward third class scramble. Reaching the summit, I found a 1992 register showing only a couple parties a year visiting the peak, mostly via the border swath or northeast ridge.

Starting down gully

I returned to the base of the face, then started down Beckey’s “class 3” gully. It started out about the choss-fest one would expect from a gully filled with snow most of the year, and better than some I have seen. Lower down, however, I found some chockstones and wet steps that were definitely harder than class 3. I even found some remaining snow where I had to stem in the moat.

Beckey says to traverse to another gully farther south between 4000 and 4500 feet, but I was forced out of the main gully a bit higher, making a descending traverse through more- and less-pleasant woods. I did finally reach the other gully, somewhere below 4000 feet. It was blessedly free of vegetation, being filled with unstable talus, so it was faster than hopping blow-downs, but still slow. Where it flattens and becomes brushy near the lake, I angled out to the left, figuring I would hit the lakeshore. However, continuing the day’s theme of Doing It Wrong, I missed the lake entirely, finally following my GPS to bash through a swamp and pick up the trail below the Hozomeen Lake turnoff. What I had hoped would be the shorter of my two days out of this trailhead ended up being almost 12 hours. Ugh.

Canadian workout peaks

I usually go for a leg stretch on days off, and try to use these shorter outings to reach a summit of some kind. Sometimes I bring a camera, and sometimes I try to run them for time. In any case, some people might be interested in these shorter, easier outings, so here are some from this summer’s travels through Canada.

Whistlers Mountain (Jasper)

Just outside Jasper, Whistlers (i.e. marmots, though I heard none) Mountain has a tram most of the way to the summit, which costs an absurd $45 CAD. However, there is also a trail that costs only 3700 vertical feet and 4.6 miles. I did this Strava style, so there are no photos, but there are great views on a clear day, and the smoke was mild enough that I could just make out a ghostly Robson, impossibly tall and white 50 miles away. I was surprised to nab the fastest time on Strava while still somewhat fried from Fryatt the day before, since I know there are numerous Canadians who can crush me.

Utopia Mountain (Jasper)

Probably not recommended. Bridge construction made this mountain an even longer drive east of Jasper than distance suggests, and at least the way I did it, the climb is a hideous scree-slog. From Miette Hot Springs, follow the tourist trail just past the bridge over Sulfur Creek, then head right up its south fork on a mostly unmarked but well-trodden use trail in and left of the streambed. Eventually the trail fades at a slide path that looks like an old cut-block. Head up the left side here, either along the slide path or through the woods to its left, and you will soon find a clear path in the scree. I slogged up this, but it might be better to traverse to the ridge to its left on the way up. From the top of the scree-field, an indistinct trail leads to a survey marker on a false summit, then to the true summit beyond.

I had hoped that heading east would avoid the worst of the smoke and thunderstorms. While there was no sign of a thunderstorm, the smoke remained unhealthily thick.

Valemount area

Valemount is the closest town to Mount Robson Provincial Park and, being off the normal tourist route, is blessedly calm in the summer. It is also outdoorsy, with a network of downhill mountain bike trails east of town, as well as numerous trails up nearby peaks. The visitor center in town has an up-to-date map. Since this was supposed to be a rest day, I chose a peak with a high start, and hiked up either McKirdy Mountain or a false summit with a big cairn. I wish I had had an excuse to spend more time in the area, as there are many impressive peaks in the Cariboo Range to the west, and far fewer tourists than in the Jasper-Banff corridor.

Paget (Lake Louise)

The south shoulder of this mountain near Lake Louise is home to an unused but still intact fire lookout. From the lookout, a well-defined but steep and loose use trail leads to the summit, with views of the Lake O’Hara peaks to the south, and the Waputik mountains to the north. I did it as a way to kill time on a smoky day, and was surprised to have my only on-trail bear encounter in the Rockies. Less than a mile from the trailhead, I came across an oblivious black bear cub standing on the trail. After a good 10-15 seconds of one-sided conversation, he made his way downhill off the trail to climb a tree. Continuing carefully, I saw at least one more cub up a different tree, with mom standing nearby watching me pass. Fortunately, unlike grouse, black bears are not mindless rage-monsters, so our encounter was calm and brief.

Lawrence Grassi (Canmore)

Located just above Canmore, this is a slightly more challenging and far less crowded alternative to Ha Ling Peak, with a bit under 4000 feet of elevation gain, mostly on a good use trail. Starting at the Goat Creek parking lot, cross the canal then, instead of climbing along the Ha Ling trail, head south down the east side of the canal until you find a well-used trail marked with a cairn and flagging. Follow the trail to Grassi’s southwest ridge, which is mostly easy slabs and scree with a final, slightly steeper and more exposed finish on pebble-covered slabs.

Little Beehive (Lake Louise)

This is the former site of a fire lookout above Lake Louise, reached via a spur trail off the Lake Agnes trail. The summit has a good view of the local peaks, and a sign naming the peaks on the skyline across the Bow Valley. I ran these popular trails because I was bored on a rest day. I noticed what was probably a use trail up Mount Saint Piran on the left on the way up, which would be another good, easy objective for someone with more time and/or energy.

Sir Donald (NW ridge, III 5.4, 2h24m45 up, 4h38 RT)

Sir Donald from near Abbott Hut

Mount Sir Donald is the jewel of Rogers Pass, a quartzite wedge whose northwest ridge rises 2300 feet from the saddle with Mount Uto. I had first climbed it in 2014, approaching via the long traverse from Avalanche Mountain, and it remains one of the best routes I have climbed anywhere. It would be a shame not to climb it while I was in the area, and I figured I might as well try for speed.

I drove up to the trailhead early, packed my pack — two packs of pop-tarts, 1 liter of water, windbreaker, bear spray — then waited for it to warm up a bit before starting around 7:45. The Sir Donald trail is not optimal for gaining elevation, starting out flat along the Illecillewaet River before climbing nearly straight up toward the Uto-Sir Donald saddle, and I was still feeling a bit sore, so I only managed about 3200 ft/hr on the climb to the saddle. A better runner could probably get closer to 4000 ft/hr.

I was slowed a bit by a tricky crossing of the Vaux Glacier’s outflow stream on slick rocks, then got a bit off-route between the camping area and the ridge. There are multiple, confusing use trails of various quality here; the fastest route probably starts heading up just before the green outhouse. I passed an off-route couple on their way to Uto, scrabbled up some moraine, and rejoined a clearer trail where it crosses a ledge below the saddle.

I reached the saddle in 1h22, where a short boulder-hop leads to the base of the day’s technical climbing. Though there were no tents at the campground, I passed three parties on the ridge, one simul-climbing lower down, and two just below the summit. The climbing was as I remembered, with positive holds and clean rock along the crest, and chossier ground to the left. The best route stays close to the ridge, deviating left or (surprisingly) right to get around a few vertical steps. I reached the summit in 2h24m45 from the trailhead, having taken about 1h02 for the ridge, a substantial improvement over the 1h20 or 1h30 it had taken me in 2014.

I had mixed feelings about the round-trip FKT, partly because the view from Sir Donald’s summit is worth savoring, and partly because speed-downclimbing the northwest ridge feels risky. I spent about 10 minutes on top, eating my last pop-tarts and flipping through the register, then started back down at a steady pace. There is some sort of bypass near the top, but I just reversed the ridge. I remembered losing time on the chossy ground to either side of the ridge last time, and deliberately stayed near the crest, resisting the temptation to take easier-looking ledges to either side.

Back at the saddle, I was surprised to see that I had taken only about 1h10 descending, and was inspired to put in some effort on the run down. The trail is also sub-optimal for descending, with quite a bit of tricky running over boulders and hard-packed dirt. I scared a ranger and a couple of backpackers, then motored through the flatter section in the woods, making some noise to give the bears a few seconds’ warning as I came around the blind turns. I had expected to take about 5 hours round-trip, so I was pleased to return to the Wheeler Hut in only 4h38. This time could definitely be improved with better fitness, less enjoying the summit, and slightly better route-finding. However, I don’t think carrying a light cord to rap the ridge would be faster overall.

Swanzy, Clarke, Bonney

Bonney from Swanzy

Mount Bonney is a striking sight from Asulkan Ridge, its sheer north face rising above and between lobes of the heavily-crevassed Bonney Glacier. After the MacDonald experience, I was looking for something a bit more moderate, and Bonney is one of a few less-visited peaks that does not require crossing the Illecillewaet Névé. While it looks fairly flat and tame, and there are some very interesting looking routes on the other side (e.g. north and east ridges on Mount Fox), it looks like 4-5 miles each way across the Névé, with an uncertain dismount across the glacial tongues on its other side.

Running along Abbott Ridge

I got an early-ish start around 5:30, hiking the familiar Abbott Ridge trail and talking to myself occasionally to warn the bears. As the trees began to thin, I looked back and was startled to see someone slowly catching me. I wasn’t in full race mode, but I am not used to being caught on climbs. The person turned out to be a fast local, out with a friend for a quick morning run across Asulkan Ridge. He assumed that I was doing likewise, and was a bit surprised when I told him I was headed for Bonney. He had skied it in the winter, but never scrambled it in the summer. The three of us talked as we scrambled up a shortcut to Abbott Ridge, discussing local scrambles and speculating about a reasonable FKT for Sir Donald. We parted ways at the saddle before Abbott Peak, where I descended to fill up my water at the tarn before beginning the traverse around Asulkan Ridge.

Lily Col, Swanzy, Clarke, Bonney

There may be a good line around to the Lily Glacier, but I didn’t find it. After gaining Afton’s northwest ridge, I generally stayed between 7300′ and 7500′, I performed a long, laborious side-hill on a mixture of slick heather, hard-packed dirt, krummholtz, and a bit of lose talus. I more or less kept pace with my companions on the ridge, who appeared occasionally silhouetted against the eastern sky. I finally reached Lily Col around the same time they reached the nearby summit of Dome, making me wonder if it would have been faster to follow Asulkan Ridge over the Rampart.

Across east face to Fox and Deville

From the col, I climbed a mixture of snow and talus until I could make my way left to Swanzy’s slabby upper east face. This was the best climbing of the day, a moderate slab with cracks and positive rails. Below the overhanging summit knob, I traversed left until I could ascend a chimney to the summit plateau. I tagged the cairn on the rock highpoint to the right, then, after failing to traverse around the edge of a weird little summit glacier, walked carefully along its crest, which is higher than the rock summit.

Nice anchor…

Next up was Clarke Peak, which is basically a false summit on the way to Bonney. I descended a mixture of snow and rock to the head of the Clarke Glacier. Near the head of the Tuzo Couloir, I found a uniquely sketchy anchor: accessory cord tied around a foot-long flake of rock, which had presumably been wedged between some other boulders, with the other end of the cord extending over the lip of the partly-melted ice gully. Christian Bohren had guided Heniretta Tuzo up this couloir in September 1904, probably cutting steps, back when the glaciers were larger and the snow deeper.

Transition to bad rock near Clarke

I climbed a mixture of snow and off-white quartzite along Clarke’s ridge, staying warily away from the corniced edge. Unfortunately the well-behaved rock ended at the summit, replaced by chossy, clinking dinner-plate shale. I also had to cross a small extension of the Clarke Glacier that reached the crest. I did not quite need my crampons, but it reminded me why I have been carrying them around — without them, it only takes a short stretch of low-angle ice to ruin your day.

Swanzy and Clarke from Bonney

Bonney has two equally-high summits, and I found a register canister on the second. Along with the lid of a mackerel can from 1974, I found a nice book left by a party in 1988, celebrating the centennial of the first climb. The first ascenscionists were two Anglican clergy, Reverends Green and Swanzy, and Reverend Northcott of Revelstoke had been inspired to repeat the climb. For extra style points, the centennial party had used the original route, a savage bushwhack up Loop Creek to Bonney-Green col. Somehow the register was dry and in excellent shape, despite being protected by only a non-waterproof metal canister and a produce bag. I guess not many people climb Bonney in the summer, because no one had signed it since the 1988 party. I added my name, then sat back and relaxed in the perfect weather.

Sir Donald from near Abbott Hut

I had contemplated continuing the traverse to Bonney-Green Col, where I could get around the bergschrund and crevassed glacier, but the rest of the ridge didn’t look interesting, and I would have to traverse a lot of moraine and polished slabs on the long return below the Bonney and Lily Glaciers. Instead, I retraced my path, mistakenly taking a slightly lower and worse line below Asulkan Ridge. I rinsed my face at the tarn, where I met a young New Zealander on a year abroad. I encouraged him to visit the Tetons when I heard he was headed down to the Yellowstone area, then left him to scramble down the shortcut and jog the trail. At a bit over 10.5 hours crossing some rough country, this outing wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed tagging a seldom-visited summit with a bit of interesting, moderate scrambling.

MacDonald (N face sketch-fest)

MacDonald from Hermit Meadows

Mount MacDonald’s north face rises sheer and intimidating for nearly 5000 feet from the road just north of Rogers Pass. Looking at it and reading about it, I hoped it would be something like Johannesburg Mountain: essentially no approach, and a big, relentless, varied face, climbed via its 5.4 central rib. Unfortunately this is not what I found. I know I was off-route at the top, but deliberately so, since by then I was just trying to end the misery. Lower down, I think I was on the correct rib (there are several), but instead of the promised “solid, blocky quartzite with incut holds,” I found fifth class moss. I made it up and down, but it was a tough 6 miles.

Looking up approach

After taking advantage of Rogers Pass’s excellent trails for a couple of days, it was time to experience something more like the primeval Selkirks. I parked near the second avalanche shed, bashed down to the creek, and found a couple bits of flagging on a jumbled mess of fresher and older logs, the “official” crossing of Connaught Creek. From there, a closely-spaced line of flags marked a basically nonexistent trail through open forest, headed up and left to a slide path that was a mixture of grass and alders. The flags seemed to give out a short distance from the central stream and dirt-chute leading from the north face.

Looking down approach

There was still a fair amount of old slide snow in the chute, covered with enough debris that I could climb it with no crampons and my axe for security. However, I was somewhat wary of the snow, as there was running water below, and I saw a 50-foot section spontaneously collapse with a loud “whump.” Near the split, where I was supposed to follow the left branch, the terrain was a mixture of questionable snow, stream, polished rock, krummholtz, and steep dirt. Rather than fight snow and water in the gully, I climbed along its right-hand side, which started out reasonable and gradually turned less pleasant as it merged with the face.

Sucky dirt

Traversing under the toe of the central rib, I found myself farther above the gully than I probably should have been. There is a strange patch of rotten, light-colored rock here, which decomposes to deposit evil, outward-sloping dirt on the ledges below. I climbed left and up, trying to escape the choss either into the gully or above, but found myself doing a lot of unpleasant, slow, defensive climbing. It was probably no worse than fourth or low fifth class, but it was mentally exhausting.

Steep moss

I finally passed the choss, and angled back up and right to the buttress, finding the fourth class moss mentioned by the guidebook. Unfortunately things did not seem to improve much on the buttress, where I found wide cracks, awkwardly-angled ledges, and more moss. I tried climbing right on the crest, and just to either side, but did not find an enjoyable line. Maybe I was just mentally worn down from the choss below, or maybe I was off-route, but at this point I just wanted it to end.

Route from above

Improvising, I traversed left at a ledge, climbing a broad bowl scoured mostly free of moss, which was mostly fourth class with a bit of fifth here and there for spice. Near the top of the face, a broad, rubbly ledge crosses below a final headwall. The route description says to head slightly right from the rib to surmount the headwall on blocky 5.4 ground, but I thought I saw a break to the left, so I just used that. I stemmed into a moat, made a couple steep moves, then followed easier ground to finally emerge on the east ridge. Sunlight, easy ground, and impressive views of the Avalanche Glacier and Sir Donald to the south.

Sir Donald and friends

The summit register was in a PVC tube, so it was a wet mess, but it was still legible enough to make out a few names, including Colin Haley back in 2014. I knew the descent would be non-trivial, so I did not hang out for long before making my way down the southwest ridge looking for the Herdman Couloir. The ridge required a fair amount of route-finding to get around ribs and steps, with a final, extended bit of 4th class to reach a talus saddle where it flattens. I found a few slings where others had apparently given up and rapped.

Wrong (l) and right (r) couloirs

As I later realized, I should have continued past a small bump to reach a broad couloir before the larger, unnamed peak where the ridge turns northwest, but there were a bunch of slings at the top of a narrow, steep dirt-chute. This ended up requiring more sketchy, careful climbing, sometimes kicking steps in snow, sometimes stemming in the moat with a hand and foot on the rock, and an axe and foot on the snow. I passed another rap station made of two fix and equalized nuts, then finally emerged in a broad, steep heather bowl with a clear view down to the highway. Looking back, it seemed like even rapping the chute I had descended was a mistake, as pulling the rope would unleash a rain of debris.

After hours of mistakes and unpleasantness, things finally went my way for the rest of the descent. I guessed correctly that the route followed the left-hand side of the stream to avoid brush, finding a bit of a boot-pack in places where the stream-bed was too steep. I lost the route again near the valley bottom, but the bushwhack was tame by North Cascades standards, with only a bit of devil’s club. With a bit of fishing, I found another flagged mess of trees to cross Connaught Creek, then walked the highway back to my car. There are plenty of fun things to climb in the Rogers Pass area, so I see no reason to subject yourself to this.