Richardson, Pika

Richardson from Pika

[I am back in the States, but still catching up on my Canadian outings. My totals were 12 11ers (plus a repeat of Temple) and about 20 other peaks — a pretty good haul.]

Temple in the distance

Mount Richardson is the highpoint of the area east of Lake Louise. While it is lower, drier, and therefore less spectacular than the 11ers surrounding Mount Temple on the other side of the Bow River, it is a moderate scramble with a bike approach and excellent views of its greater neighbors. I was staying at the Lake Louise campground with Mike and his family, so while they did “family things,” I rode over to the ski area, then circled around its right side up a steep dirt road, continuing several miles past the gate. Just beyond the trailhead sign, the road turns dramatically worse and a trail takes off climbing gently up Corral Creek. I locked my bike to itself next to the “no bikes” sign, then took off hiking and jogging up the popular trail.

Cutthroat trout are not mean-spirited!

Though it is only a few miles from the trailhead (or several more without a bike), the trail junction below the pass is a popular developed campsite, and there were a half-dozen “bear piñatas” hanging from a metal pole, a couple of tables, and tents at a number of the sites. I hiked through, quietly shaking my head at people who choose to lug a bunch of gear a few miles in order to sleep badly amongst the bears and rodents, and continued to Hidden Lake, where the official trail ends. I saw no one fishing or ahead of me on the route to the peak, deepening my incomprehension of the tents. I did, however, appreciate the cutthroat trout interpretive signs, informing me that they are not named for their vicious nature.

Temple, Hungabee, Lefroy, Victoria

Though there is no real use trail, I found some signs of traffic as I continued past the lake and up to the saddle on Richardson’s south ridge. The ridge itself was mostly easy, with a couple rock bands that I could probably have avoided, but which I took on more directly to add some scrambling. Along the way I stumbled upon a herd of mountain goats, who sullenly shuffled out of my way, then gave me dirty goat-looks as I passed. The upper mountain was a pile of horrible loose scree, so I instead climbed a steeper rock buttress to the right, then hiked back left to the summit. It was thankfully not smoky, and the view back to Lake Louise, Temple, and its neighbors was as fine as anticipated. Hector dominated the view to the northwest, though I did not recognize it from this angle, and beyond I could see the Wapta and Waputik Icefields.

Skoki Lakes

Rather than returning directly, I headed down the east ridge toward Pika and Ptarmigan Peaks, two sub-summits in the Richardson massif. The initial descent was mostly annoying dinner-plate talus, with one step that required a bit of scrambling. From the saddle, I found bits of trail and some scrambling leading to Pika. Though it is a lower summit than Richardson, Pika lies on the other side of the “Wall of Jericho,” a choss-fin pointing northeast, so it looks down onto the colorful Skoki Lakes, fed and colored by two small glaciers on Ptarmigan’s north side.

Hidden Lake and Temple from Pika

Dow Williams mentions traversing to Ptarmigan, but my brief exploration of the ridge toward it led to scary choss with dim prospects for continuing. I instead retreated to before the saddle with Richardson, where a goat/use trail makes a descending traverse along the base of the cliffs above Hidden Lake. Once past Pika and the nasty notch on its east side, I could have climbed Ptarmigan from the traverse, but it looked like a thousand feet of wretched scree, and I was not feeling sufficiently motivated. Instead I headed down to Hidden Lake, where I picked up the trail back through the campground. Feeling energetic, I jogged much of the way back to my bike, passing a few hikers in both directions. Back at the trailhead, the Arc’teryx puffy I had found in the morning was still where I had left it, so I considered it fair booty and a fine Canadian souvenir. I joyously flew down the dirt road, pitying the bike-less walkers, and returned to the Lake Louise campground by mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to shower and relax.


Main gully from base

Chancellor Peak is Mount Vaux’s slightly shorter neighbor to the southwest, south of the Trans Canada Highway between Field and Golden. Their routes are roughly similar — bushwhack a bit, follow a gully to the ridge, then turn left — but Chancellor’s is more involved and technical. It is also relentlessly steep, gaining almost 7000 feet in about 3.5 miles. Vaux had been somewhat of a slog in the rain, so I returned for Chancellor rested and with better weather. I had been vacillating on whether or not to attempt Mount Goodsir, an 11er a few miles south of Vaux and Chancellor, and the view of the Goodsirs from the summit of Chancellor was sufficient motivation.

Nearing middle cliff band

Driving back into Yoho Park one last time, I parked near a closed campground next to a much smaller one, then took off at a lazy hour along the old campground loop. At a somewhat arbitrary point where the loop is heading toward the peak, I took off to the right, crossing open fields, woods, and a very short stretch of bog, following game trails to eventually reach the base of the ascent gully. There was some additional hiking to get out of the woods, but a steady supply of fresh rubble from the gully kept the undergrowth in check. I continued rock-hopping a short distance in the open, then bashed my way up the left bank to find a faint use/game trail.

Direct route through cliff band

I followed this trail off and on for what felt like forever, usually staying right along the edge of the gully, but sometimes deviating left. The trail deteriorated as I climbed, and seemed to disappear completely higher up, where I negotiated some frustrating pickup-sticks deadfall through an old burn. This section was slow and frustrating, but it soon enough gave way to a steep gully and open woods, which led efficiently to the base of some cliffs. There turned out to be an easier way to the left, but I attacked fairly directly, climbing a gully on reasonable fourth class rock, then gaining a rock rib. I found a cairn, traversed another gully, then climbed another rib to the edge of the main drainage.

Ledge returning to main gully

The reason for the side shenanigans is some steep dryfalls in the main chute, but that chute remains the best route to the summit ridge, so the route traverses back in via some steep side-hilling and a narrow rubble ledge. Once back in the gully, I made my way up generally stable boulders and clean rock in the dry watercourse, deviating right to get around a blob of lingering snow. The drainage steepens into a bowl below the ridge, with leftward-trending ramps leading toward the summit. I scrabbled up some terrible dirt to get to the ramps, then wove my way up and left, finding some class 3-4 steps and a fair amount of scree.

Slab traverse

Reaching the ridge, I peered down the sheer south side to a glacier, then headed along the crest toward the summit. It started out easy, but the rock was fairly bad, a vertical step required traversing left onto the face. This part was the psychological crux, crossing rubble-covered slabs steep enough that one feels only barely stuck on, until it is possible to climb through a break in a short, vertical rock band. I am not sure if a person would pick up speed if he fell, or just slowly slide to a stop, but the rocks I dislodged certainly got going fairly fast. Once through the short step, more wandering third class climbing led up the face, returning to the ridge just shy of the summit.

Goodsirs and Ice River

While the weather was pleasant, clouds unfortunately interfered with the views of Vaux and the Goodsirs. However, ten minutes’ patience on the summit rewarded me with a nearly-clear view of the latter. Other than a bit of fresh snow lingering on north-facing ledges, they were totally dry, and hugely imposing, rising almost 7000 feet on the other side of the Ice River valley. Seeing them, I knew that I would kick myself forever for not giving them a try.

Trans-Canada from summit

The descent was predictably slow. I crab-walked and side-stepped down the upper steep terrain, then carefully picked my way back across the slabs, taking a slightly different route. I found a few cairns traversing down the bowl to the watercourse, on what may have been a slightly easier line. I knew the traverse out of the ravine led to a point just above a small but distinctive tree, but it took me a couple of tries to find my exact line. I tried to find an easier way down below, mostly without success: the cairned route through the cliffs was less technical but more annoying than my line on the way up, and I found no better route through the pickup-sticks.

Back at the car, I briefly talked to a guy from Calgary looking for a place to go for a short bike ride. I made food and hung out, so I was still there when he returned, informing me that the old Ice River Road, which weirdly takes off from near the campground, was choked with deadfall and miserable. We talked for awhile, and I found out that he knew the mountains well, and had done a number of the 11ers. When he left, I finally packed up and headed back to the familiar Beaverfoot Road, driving farther to the Ice River spur. I made sandwiches, packed, and tried to get to sleep quickly, excited and apprehensive about the “real day” ahead.


Most of Vaux on return

West of Field, where the Trans-Canada Highway exits Kicking Horse Pass, it is bordered on the south by the northern end of the Ottertail Range, represented by two almost equally-high neighboring peaks, Vaux and Chancellor. Both are steep and direct climbs from the highway, with Vaux being the easier of the two. I had hoped to check out the Lyells while up the Bush River, but the Valenciennes spur went somewhat underwater in a flood plain before the Ice River turnoff. Rather than risking getting my car stuck, or trying to hike-a-bike the rest with a questionable forecast, I decided to have a rest day and save the Valenciennes for another trip.

Vaux from creekbed

As forecast, the next day’s weather was gloomy, but I felt sufficiently recovered for another peak, and Vaux fit the bill. I drove back into Yoho Park, taking an unsigned turn into what looked like an unused gravel pit, and parked at the far end, leaving a note on my dashboard to let any bored park wardens know that I was not camping. I could not see the peak, but it was not yet raining, and I had a GPX track to follow. I crossed a cut-block (apparently Yoho is a recent park), then followed game trails in the woods until I could cut back through a bit of brush into the rocky creekbed leading almost all the way to the summit. This started out as boulder-hopping on stable river rocks, then turned to slabs that might be covered by water in early season, but were dry by mid-August.

Upper mountain from scree-field

The channel eventually faded into a broad talus fan, which became less stable as it narrowed and steepened. I looked back when I stopped to catch my breath, watching the fog and clouds below me evolve, sometimes blocking my view to the valley, sometimes forming two decks, one below and one above. As the talus became more unpleasantly loose, I trended right to firmer ground, then back left at the hum of an unexpected rock whanging by. I was not expecting rockfall in a broad scree-field, and it took me a minute to find the source, a steep chute on the right side full of old melting ice. I watched as several more rocks bounded down the right side of the slope, having gained enough speed in the chute to shatter and generally cause mayhem.

Pinnacles west of gully

It had started drizzling, but it was not cold, and I had a raincoat, so I had no real reason to turn around. Following the track, I bore slightly left, finding some slabs to ease the climb, then some more solid fins with steep gullies between. The climbing was never too hard, but the rock was poor, the rain was picking up a bit, and my gloves were soaked through to my cold hands. I could not see the summit ridge, of course, but I knew I was only a few hundred vertical feet below, so I put in a steady effort up some more class 3-4 terrain, finally emerging on the summit ridge next to the edge of a glacier, maybe 50 yards from the summit. I hiked up the ridge, looked at the cairn, and turned around — the view is probably spectacular on a clear day, but I just wanted to earn my peakbagger points and get dry.

Clearer returning down scree-field

I tried to follow my upward route on the way down, but I soon lost it in the clouds and complex terrain, and settled for heading in roughly the right direction. I eventually saw a cairn, and was able to use common sense and a few more of them to descend until visibility improved enough for me to recognize the slabs and other features. The upper scree-slope was deep enough for some decent plunge-stepping, and I stayed well skier’s right to avoid more potential rockfall. The lower slope was somewhat tedious, but by now it was much warmer and the rain had stopped. Finally reaching the car, I hung my things to dry a bit as I ate, then drove into Golden to dry out more thoroughly and get a bit of fresh food. I can fight the weather if I must, but it is not sustainable.

Goodsir (19.8mi, 9300ft, 13h13)

Goodsirs and Ice River from Chancellor

The Goodsirs are one of the great landmarks of the Canadian Rockies. Though not quite as high as Mount Assiniboine, their distinctive two-horned shape, massive east face, and position west of the main range make them clearly visible and easily identifiable from the Kananaskis region to the Columbia Icefield, and even from the neighboring Purcells and Selkirks. They have a reputation for bad rock — a real distinction in the Canadian Rockies! — with Corbett’s guidebook claiming it as “among the rottenest of all the 11,000ers, rivaled only by Alberta and possibly Deltaform,” and calling the main (south) peak “among the most nerve-wracking of all the 11,000ers.” That and an approach involving a swamp keep the crowds away from these peaks, despite their lying only a handful of miles from the Trans-Canada Highway and the excellent Beavertail Forest Service Road.

It’s lush here

The two summits have been traversed in a day from a camp at their base, and I had at one point hoped to do this from the car myself, but old age and fatigue have tempered my audacity, and simply tagging the main Goodsir seemed like enough. This took me a bit over 13 hours, so in retrospect the whole traverse would almost certainly go in under 24, and probably more like 18. I found the rock no worse than average for the Rockies, though some of the choss knife-edges looked unnerving. And while the swamp did indeed contain standing water and squishy muck, the Ice River trail was fairly fast despite the blowdowns, and the old trail around Zinc Peak is excellent for a climbers’ route. Had I not lost the route in a couple of places and had to course-correct through truly wretched terrain, I might have been a half-hour faster.

Start of trail

As it is the closest convenient camping to Yoho Park, I had been staying along the Beaverfoot Road for a few days to do some other nearby peaks (about which more later), so I drove another ten miles, then turned on the obvious but poorly-signed Ice River road. I poked my hood down the road a bit, then decided to bike it in the morning, pulling off to camp just off the main road. I had seen the Goodsirs the previous day from Chancellor Peak, and while there were bits of fresh snow in north-facing corners, they looked unsurprisingly dry, so I left my crampons and axe at home, packing just wading shoes and a bunch of calories. While the days are rapidly shortening, there is still about fourteen hours of daylight, so I figured I could leave at first light.

Unnecessary signage

I set off riding the road, which started off excellent and slowly deteriorated as it wound its way uphill past a gravel pit. By the time I reached the clearing with the quad track heading off to the left, it was grassy and looked seldom-used. There were several blowdowns on the quad track, and I almost left my bike there, but the disused logging road beyond was still quite rideable. I left my bike at a tree freshly blazed with an “I” and an arrow, then followed a nicely brushed-out trail down to the Ice River, where I picked up the old trail just after it crosses to the right side. Though it has been freshly flagged, this trail has not been maintained in years or perhaps decades, so I immediately began hopping blowdowns. Most climbers, coming in with overnight packs, would find this laborious, but with a day-pack it is usually quick and painless to size up the tree, then either crouch under or vault over with barely a pause. The trail enters Yoho Park in less than a mile, and while their is an old “no bicycles” sign, there is no more evidence of maintenance than outside the park. Perhaps Parks Canada could divert some of their Gun Ranger budget to hire a few trail crews…

Patrol cabin

It is about four miles to the old patrol cabin, and it took me about two hours at a steady pace. The cabin and storage shed were apparently still in occasional use: both were locked, but I saw a COVID fact sheet through one of the windows. I sat on the porch for a minute, then followed Corbett’s advice to take a use trail down to the river rather than trying to find the old trail up-valley. I found a single piece of flagging by the water, but no use trail beyond there, and things seemed little better after I cut a bend to regain the river farther up. It looked like things might be more open on the other side of the stream, but I did not want to cross once only to have to cross back later, so I set out for the old trail. I found it, but it quickly turned awful, with little tread and endless blowdowns, so I returned to the flats.

Sunrise up-swamp

After a bit of experimentation, I learned that the best course was to stay right on the bank of the river, where there were few willows and often a bit of a game trail. The normally marshy ground was mostly dry in this drought year, but that did not matter, because the thigh-high grass had collected dew overnight, and the frigid early-morning leg-washing was far worse than mucking through a calf-deep swamp. Venturing away from the edge of the woods, I made my way through open fields to get around a lake, and finally found the bog. It was little more than ankle deep, and my feet and legs were already wet enough that I did not care. I had not bothered to put on my wading shoes, and at this point it would have been a waste of time to do so, even if my hands were warm enough to deal with wet laces. I eventually found a flowing stream, and stayed on its bank for drier and more solid footing.

The guidebook mentions going up the north side of an “obvious” slide path and angling left to pick up an old trail. So when I saw a big slide path, I gratefully left the frigid meadow and began climbing. I did not see any obvious exit to the left, and eventually realized that I was higher than I wanted to be to reach the fork in Zinc Creek. I brutally corrected my course, thrashing down and right through Cascades-level alders, pushing one down with my foot and another up with my hand to squeeze my body through. I eventually reached the woods on the other side, and immediately saw some old flagging. I thought I had found a mere use trail, but some sawn branches and a bit of a tread suggested that this had in fact been an old build trail, perhaps put in by one of the Goodsirs’ first ascent parties.

North Fork Zinc Creek

I easily followed the trail around Zinc Mountain’s shoulder to where Zinc Creek becomes faintly visible and audible, but missed the indistinct turn down to the crossing, instead following fading trails upstream. Realizing my error, I thrashed down to the creek, easily hopped across, then made a long, grim traverse across forested slopes thick with deadfall, thrashing down the steep bank to cross the north fork, then climbed the open ground on its left side into the bowl below the peaks. Rising 5000 feet above in a short distance, they are seriously foreshortened, and I had to look at my map to recognize the sharp-looking peaks in the broad slope ahead of me.

Goodsirs from bowl

Finally above the green hell, I steadily made my way up and right toward Goodsir’s southwest ridge. While the terrain was open and relatively easy, it was a long climb, and the meadow hid bits of loose rubble. It was also infested with burrs, which quickly infested my pant legs and shoelaces, and which I ignored with some difficulty. I knew they were using me to spread their seed, and hated rewarding that bad behavior. Toward the top of the vegetation, I crossed a minor stream to the right, angling just below a small cliff-band toward the ridge. This looked like the obvious route, as was confirmed by finding a minor use/game trail.

Lower SW ridge

While Goodsir has a reputation for bad rock, that really only applies to the last 2500 feet or so. The bulk of the southwest ridge is fairly solid rock covered in turf, reminiscent of many Colorado peaks. While this made for efficient progress, it was also somewhat discouraging: I come to the Canadian Rockies for sprawling glaciers and terrifying choss-cliffs, not gentle strolls through flowers and grass, which I can find in the Weminuche without driving several thousand miles north. Corbett’s “shortcut” couloir, to the left, was rubble topped with dirty ice that periodically ejected deadly rockfall, so this was the only way.

Arch at south ridge

The gentle ridge eventually steepened and merged into a face below where several minor ridges join to form a single south ridge. I found a few short fourth-class steps here, but nothing particularly difficult, and the rock remained decent, with the bedding angled favorably. This was the worst part of the climb, more tedious than treacherous, a steep slope covered in just enough rubble to backslide, but not enough to plunge-step on the descent. I crawled my way up, pawing at the junk rock, trying to link exposed slabs and solid-looking outcrops. I frequently knocked off rocks, which gained speed and companionship to create deadly showers plummeting down the bowl; fortunately there were no tents below or other cars at the trailhead, so I knew I had the mountain to myself. I eventually traversed up and right, exiting via a bit of a scramble to the south ridge and a small stone arch.

Summit from south ridge

The ridge was impressively narrow for the poor quality of its rock, and steep on both sides. The best route therefore stayed on or very close to the crest, where the rock was most stable. There were occasional bits of fourth class climbing, but nothing too severe, and I only made one mandatory detour below the final scramble, contouring right into a small bowl to get around a tricky-looking step. The rock quality took a final turn for the worse in the final few hundred feet, where the normal gray choss was striped with some particularly rotten red rock. I carefully balance-beamed several sections here, figuring that the crest itself was unlikely to collapse, and that if it did, I could catch myself in some uncomfortable way. I saw some hardware on the final headwall, but opted to traverse right onto the southeast face, where a fourth-class mix of gullies and outward-sloping ledges returned me to the ridge at an old piton just before the top. A couple short steps and some narrow blocks later, I was on the long, narrow summit.

West to Columbias

I glanced over at the north ridge, but it was already almost 2:00 PM, a bit over seven hours since I had left my bike, and the traverse looked time-consuming. I opted instead to celebrate the main summit and enjoy the unbelievably expansive views. To the west, I could see the Columbia Mountains from south of Farnham (highpoint of the Purcells), to the Bugaboos, Sir Donald, Sir Sandford, and possibly even the Monashees. To the north, I could make out Forbes, Clemenceau, Tusk, and Columbia, 70 miles or more away. To the south beyond Assiniboine being its usual obvious self, I could make out Sir Douglas and Joffre. And close to the east I could easily identify the Lake Louise area peaks, all depressingly dry and glacier-free from this side. All in all, I could probably see more than half the Rockies’ 11,000-foot peaks, and a host of others of similar height across the Columbia.

Bowl between ridges

The descent began as slowly as I imagined it would, first with careful downclimbing of the ridge, then endless crab-walking down the choss and rubble-covered slabs, which are so much easier going up than down. Finally back on turf, I was able to make better time, though tired legs kept me at a fairly pathetic pace. I stopped to empty my shoes and refill water at the creek in the basin, then hobbled down the turf with hidden rubble, my shoelaces tucked away against the burrs. This time I descended the north fork of Zinc Creek until the left bank disappeared, then crossed and made my way through dry channels to the south fork. I even found a convenient log bridge, though it involved brief but savage savage alder-tunneling. On the other side, I almost immediately picked up the trail, and proceeded cheerily on autopilot for awhile. I followed flagging and decaying trail all the way to the Ice River bog, thrashing through berries down low and emerging a hundred yards north of the slide path.

Goodsirs from the marsh

I followed a similar path back through the marsh, not caring enough to deal with wading shoes. The Ice River was higher and an angry gray-brown, but the grass was dry and the bog no deeper, so I found the crossing significantly more pleasant. Rather than following the river all the way to the flagging, I thrashed directly toward the cabin at its final bend to the right, and was soon rewarded by picking up the old trail. I sat at the cabin to wring a bit of water out of my socks, ate my last granola bars, then took off down the trail. I felt I was moving quickly, but the four miles still dragged. I wanted to put on some listening material, but was mindful of bears: my bear spray was probably in Kinbasket Lake, and I had left my spare can back in the States. I reached my bike without seeing any wildlife, and had a fun ride and coast back to the car. My legs and hands had the usual scrapes and bruises from a full-on outing in a wet range, but it had been a rewarding day, and a fitting end to my summer in the Rockies.

Alexandra (approach hike)

South side of Bryce

I was still tired from the previous day’s outing to King Edward, but with only three days of good weather, I had to make full use of my time up the long Bush River Road. My initial plan was therefore to go for Mount Bryce via its classic northeast ridge, the most “stylish” thing in the area. I woke to my alarm in the dark, ate a premade breakfast, and started riding up the Rice Brook Road by headlamp. I switched off the lamp partway up the initial climb, passed a 4Runner parked at the mouth of the canyon, then continued on the rolling climb up the somewhat-worse road above Rice Brook. The road was still perfectly drivable for a capable vehicle; perhaps the 4Runner’s owners were worried about getting trapped by rockfall, but someone else had driven up this season. I paused at a sort-of fork in the road: the branch continuing straight had been partly buried by a landslide some years ago, while the one turning back uphill was in fine shape and had seen recent use. It felt like the wrong direction for Bryce, but the guidebook described the road as drivable to the former bridge. Only after continuing on for awhile did I realize that I should have kept going along the buried road. I thought of turning back, then decided instead to change plans and try for Mount Alexandra, as I was already headed in that direction. I did not have the route description on my phone, but I had read it recently enough to remember, and did have a track of unknown provenance.

Unnamed peaks near first lake

I stashed my bike where the road became overgrown, then continued hiking across a cut-block, bashing through some healthy fireweed. My track climbed the near side of the block, but it made more sense to me to follow the old road-bed to the far side to reach an open talus slope. There was a bit of a thrash getting from the logged area to the rocks, but it worked as well as one can expect for a BC thrash, and I was soon climbing freely out of the Green Hell. I even saw some bootprints along the way.

Second, wretched descent

Once I reached the ridge, I followed it toward a cliffy buttress, then traversed right across some steep dirt to reach a small hanging pond. From there, the route descended a steep slope to an odd three-toed lake, where I saw some recent bear prints in the mud. I had lost my bear spray swimming home from King Edward, but I did not feel particularly at risk in open country. Beyond the lake, the route climbs again to another ridge, then drops down a miserably loose and steep slope to a glacial stream before climbing again to another col. I was feeling my fatigue, climbing toward the next “pass” at a pathetic pace, frequently pausing to pant and let the ache in my legs drain away.

Alexandra from turnaround

The view from the top was discouraging: after another loose, steep descent, I had to cross a rubble-strewn plateau, then do some indeterminate amount of side-hilling before dropping across South Rice Brook above treeline to begin the actual climb of Mount Alexandra. There’s a reason Corbett half-recommends taking a helicopter. The peak was only four air miles away, but I doubted I had the energy. I sat down to have a snack and think, and found myself eating all my food, then finding a tolerable place to lie down for a nap. This happens to me sometimes toward the end of a season, and is a clear sign that I am some combination of mentally and physically depleted. I usually recover, but there was nothing for it but to plod home. I consoled myself with having spent a good part of the day in a seldom-visited slice of the alpine. I also knew the correct approach to Bryce, and that the “standard” south glacier route was not an option, as the couloir connecting the lower and upper glaciers was a gray streak of bare dirt and ice. My tentative plan of using that as a descent route as out, and the only option for Bryce would be going both up and down the long northeast ridge.

Bryce (NE ridge fail)

Bryce from center

Returning to the car from a failed jaunt toward Alexandra by mid-afternoon, I was determined to make the most of my last good weather day with a solid attempt at Bryce. I repacked with a more generous amount of food — closer to 4000 calories instead of the 2500 I had brought the day before — then focused on recovery, eating plenty and going to sleep early. When my alarm woke me again (I was definitely getting run down), I ate a breakfast and a half, then started riding again as soon as it was light enough, taking it a bit easier on the climb to save energy. The previous day’s 4Runner was gone, so I would have the peak to myself.

Smoky dawn on
Rice Brook road

Stashing my bike at the fork, I hiked along the destroyed road, finding some new and useless flagging leading toward the stream crossing. Someone had even done some recent cutting along the bank. Corbett’s guide glosses over the King Edward ford as “short but cold,” while implying that the Rice Brook one is treacherous, so I was worried about how to get across, but fortunately that proved simple. A number of large trees had recently fallen across the main branch, so I could balance across one of them, then switch into wading shoes on a gravel bar to cross the remaining shin-deep channel without even taking off my pants. Too easy!

Glacier below Queant

I left my wading shoes on the other side and took off up the old road. It had looked worryingly green and overgrown from the Alexandra approach the day before, but there was a decent trail, and most of the greenery was just grass and fireweed, not evil willows and alder. I suspected that most of the trail maintenance was done by wildlife, i.e. bears, but someone had recently sawn through some of the deadfall. The trail faded slightly past the cairn parking the south glacier route, but it was still fast walking for the most part to the final cut-block, other than one stretch passing through a collapsed moraine. It was much smokier than the day before, unfortunately, so I could barely make out Bryce’s hanging glacier far above, and the cirque extending from Watchman around to Queant on the other side of the brook, sheltering a badly-shrunken glacier.

Above the green hell

The guidebook instructed me to go to the “upper left” corner of the cut-block, but I was not sure what that meant. I followed a switchback in the road, which looked more used than a faded branch straight ahead, and passed a couple of cairns before it ended. From there I headed straight up through the woods, aiming to get above the green as quickly as possible, then traverse right as necessary. This worked for awhile, as the woods were surprisingly open, but I eventually found myself in a classic thrash, pulling myself up a steep hill through krummholtz. And when I finally emerged above the green, I found myself faced with an extended side-hill across steep dirt, loose talus, and sloping ledges. I found the occasional goat-track, but I had clearly done something wrong.

Traverse below col

I eventually worked my way around a southeast buttress, and found myself at the toe of a small glacier, one of two parts of what was once a larger mass of ice below the base of the northeast ridge. I traversed below it, crossed some tiring moraine and slabs, then made my way toward the other piece of the glacier below the start of the ridge. I found a couple of cairns here, and disturbed some resting mountain goats, but the route was not obvious. At the toe of the glacier, I had a sandwich and debated a bit, then put on my spikes and picked my way up some steep ice onto the glacier’s surface. While it was fortunately largely bare, it was also badly broken up, so I spent some time weaving through a crevasse maze, even ducking through an icy arch, before I reached easier ground. Crossing the flat part of the glacier, I made my way for some northeast-trending slabs on the other side, took off my crampons, and zig-zagged up and back left to emerge near the col.

Ridge from col

Finally, I was at the base of the route. I traversed right below the first headwall, finding some bootprints and a two-pin anchor, then climbed a chossy but dry gully, stemming between the sides to hold the rock and dirt in place. From a three-pin anchor at the top, I traversed back left to the ridge crest, then stayed close to it, steadily gaining elevation on lousy but tolerable rock. I eventually reached the crux, a harder gray band of rock, which I overcame by cutting left, climbing perhaps thirty feet of face, then traversing back right to the crest, finding the promising four-pin anchor. Perhaps there used to be five- and six-pin anchors higher on the ridge, but this was the last one I found.

Center and main peaks from NE

The route is described as a mix of rock and snow, and the first ascent of the complete northeast ridge involved some thirty crampon transitions, but I used my crampons only once, sketched across two flatter bits of ice, and cut a few steps across a couple of ice saddles. Expecting frequent transitions, I had clipped my crampons into my chest strap for easy access, but they mostly just poked me at inopportune times. Above the crux step, the route was rarely harder than fourth class, mostly hiking and staying close to the crest, with occasional short stretches of climbing. The ridge flattened out on some red dirt, then steepened again to the indistinct northeast peak. From its summit I could finally see the central and main (southwest) summits, the former looking mostly dry, the latter still capped in grayish-white. Kaufmann and Outram, on their first ascent in 1902, had dropped left to the south glacier to save time, skipping the central peak, but with the shrunken glacier that looked somewhere between treacherous and impossible now. Besides, the center peak is worth peakbagger points.

Climb to center peak

Continuing, I traversed left of the jagged crest on some remarkably poor gray rock, then dropped slightly before climbing steeper terrain with bits of fifth class here and there to the central summit. While none of the climbing was particularly difficult, the exposure and poor rock demanded constant focus, which was mentally taxing, but which also distracted me from fatigue and hunger. At least as I saw it, the “skill” this route mostly requires is being able to stay “on” for hours at a time. I skirted the center peak’s icy summit blob to the left, tagging the highest rock point, then began dropping to the saddle with the main summit. This part required a few short, steep downclimbs, but the limestone was sharp and sticky. I found a large boulder with a long sling around it, but was not sure which direction people hoped to rappel. The crest cliffs out, so after checking out my options, I retreated just past the slung boulder, downclimbed a loose gully to the north, and traversed along some chossy ledges and extremely rotten rock to the col between the central and main summits.


From the final saddle, I picked my way up some awful, steep, loose yellow dirt and talus, which eventually steepened to the usual mix of walking and short alpine boulder problems. Earlier in the day, I had been worried about how long I had taken to reach the base of the ridge, but it looked like I would reach the goal in less than eight hours from my bike. Estimating that this would correspond to a six-hour return, I would be back to the car around full dark. I was feeling awfully proud of myself… until I finally got a close look at the summit “snow arete.” When the guidebook described an “spectacular snow fin [that] is not as bad as it looks,” I had assumed that it would be something like Eldorado in the Cascades, which requires balance, care, and a head for heights. What I should have anticipated was that, with Canada’s pathetic winter and early summer, the “snow fin” had melted down to its icy core. With boots, crampons, and perhaps two axes, I would have easily and securely traversed across the south face, but I had just my running shoe crampons and a single axe. I started along the ridge à cheval, knocking down the weird fin of snice along the crest to make a better seat, but this tactic would not work on the steeper parts, or on the remaining hardened cornice. With no way to reach the bare rocky slopes south of the summit, no desire to cut steps across the south face, and no other tactics coming to mind, I admitted defeat.

Columbia Icefield

Strangely, I was only mildly disappointed to turn back so close to the summit. I knew what I would have had to do to succeed: carry my heavy mountaineering gear the whole way for the final two hundred yards, costing me an hour or two on the other nineteen miles of the route, some of that by headlamp. I also knew that, in its current dry condition, the northeast ridge was not enjoyable enough to repeat. Going up the ridge and down the southwest glacier might be fun in the right conditions, but I am not expert enough to predict when that will be possible. While some rock routes in the ever-drier Canadian Rockies are becoming easier or better, traditional mountaineering routes like this are usually worse.

Approach glacier

I had my second-to-last sandwich, then began picking my way home. I was sluggish on the climbs by now, but fortunately only had one big grunt over the central peak. Needing a bit of self-manipulation, I promised myself the last sandwich when I made it past the climbing, down the ridge and below the glacier. The ridge went about as expected, slow on the uphills and quickly on the flats and downhills, except when the choss-on-slabs was more difficult down than up. Downclimbing the crux required thoughtful and careful movement, but at least the small holds were mostly solid. The dirt-chute around the first headwall was worse going down, but again just required patience.

Steep part of approach glacier

I was determined not to reverse my route over the glacier, so after retracing my way down the ramps, I continued to zig-zag down and left, searching for breaks in each layer. Some required low-fifth-class downclimbing, but I made steady progress, eventually descending below the glacier’s steep bulge. It looked from above as if I might be able to avoid the ice entirely, but that eventually proved difficult and tedious, so I put on crampons one final time to walk down the low-angle glacier to its toe, where I finally sat down, stowed my axe and spikes, and ate that last sandwich.

Balance-beam moraine

Though the “dangerous” mountaineering work was done, I still had a long ways to go, and more route-finding. I continued down the valley below the glacier, crossing as many streams to the right as I could before they joined to become too formidable. I soaked my feet on a couple, but did not really care, as I did not have too much distance to cover. I traversed back to my upward path at one point, followed it, then left it to follow the crest of an old moraine, which seemed like it would get me well below treeline before I had to engage in vegetable combat. This proved tricky but also engaging and amusing, as the crest of the moraine was balance-beam narrow. I eventually dismounted where it descended into shrubbery, crossed a final cascade, and entered the fight. I had hoped to bash straight down to an old roadbed, but I was not so fortunate. The woods here had much more undergrowth and deadfall than on the other side, and the old cut-block was littered with old debris and badly overgrown with brush and berries. Mindful that I was bashing through prime bear-grazing terrain, I occasionally yodeled, but mostly just let my spontaneous cursing at bashed toes and shins announce my presence.

Queant cirque again

Fortunately I had recorded a track on the way up, so I could just bash my way back to its closest point, finally emerging on the road. From there it was a long but mostly easy downhill walk back to Rice Brook, which was still less than knee-deep, then a short plod up to my bike. Worn though I was, the cruise down to the car still cheered me up. I did not bother with dinner or an alarm: whatever the weather, tomorrow would be a rest day.

PS: If you have some spare time, I encourage you to read James Outram’s account of the same climb in August 1902, from his book In the Heart of the Canadian Rockies.

King Edward

King Edward

The spine of the Rockies forms the boundary between Alberta and British Columbia, so their western side is accessed through what is effectively a giant timber operation. On my first visit in 2014, I was taken aback by the scale and ferocity of the logging, with the landscape checkered in endless cut-blocks, and piles of slash lying in new-growth forests of small trees interspersed with large old stumps. Looking past the ugliness, however, BC’s economic engine has two benefits to the dirtbag mountaineer. First, while the capillary roads are ever-changing as new tracts are cut, the arterial roads are well-built and -maintained, and extend far into remote valleys. Second, while Canada’s National Parks are an extractive industry of their own — pulling money from tourists rather than wood from forests — the BC side of the Rockies is mostly Crown Land, meaning recreation is free and unregulated. I had long meant to visit the network of roads up the Bush River, which extend sixty or more miles from the Trans-Canada Highway near Golden, and I was sufficiently sick of dealing with the parks to make the drive.

Clemenceau and friends

While the Bush Road is well-maintained and suitable for any car, it is long, and I do not have the tires or suspension to drive it at high speed, so I spent the better part of an afternoon puttering north, occasionally pulling over to let someone in a pickup truck blast by. One is supposed to beware of logging traffic, as the trucks communicate with each other via radio and drive like they own the roads (which they do…), but I saw none in over two hours on a Friday afternoon. The road eventually reaches Kinbasket Lake, a long, thin reservoir that backs up into several river valleys, and turns east along the Bush Arm. Where the main roads splits, I continued north up the Bush River rather than looping back west toward the Sullivan Arm, an even longer road that used to offer some semblance of access to the Clemenceau Icefield peaks. The road deteriorates slightly, but remains in good shape past the bridge crossing back to the east bank of the Bush River, where I made my camp for the next few days. The “trailheads” for Mounts King Edward, Alexandra, and Bryce are all within an hour’s bike from this spot, and I was sick of driving.

Only thigh deep…

I knew I had 2-3 days of good weather, and did not want to destroy myself the first day, so I started with King Edward, which sounded like the easiest peak. Despite being an 11er, it is infrequently climbed thanks to its remote location and uninspiring character. Corbett describes driving to a removed bridge over an unnamed creek, which is crossed by Tyrolean on a cable or a “short, cold ford,” after which one continues along an old logging road. I thought perhaps I could carry my bike across and ride some of the disused road, significantly speeding things up. However his guidebook was published in 2016, and much of its content is based on his climbs in the early 2000s. Thus its information can be badly out-of-date, especially on the BC side, where in addition to receding glaciers and drier winters, changes in logging and fast-growing brush alter the landscape. I found that the last couple miles of road to the creek crossing are, while bikeable, no longer driven, and the road on the other side is severely overgrown. Worse, the creek crossing at the road was at least thigh-deep in the morning, and the Tyrolean cable is a rusting tangle on the near side.

Glacier comes into view

I had taken off my pants, put on my wading shoes, and found two good sticks for balance, but after poking at the stream, I decided I did not want to wade it. I followed a quad track a short distance downstream, but the ford did not look much better there. The brush upstream was brutal, and I gave up one attempt at exploration, but tried again, staying farther from the bank, hoping that I could find a fallen log or reach a point where the stream split. I thrashed through brush and woods for awhile, then made my way back toward the steep bank, and saw a complicated but dry crossing. I thrashed back down to the creek, crossed a short log to a rock, stepped gingerly over to an old stump, then made a slow, nut-crushing à cheval ascent of another log to the other bank. From there, I regained the old road with more grim thrashing, and left my unused wading shoes on a rock.

Alpine donuts

While what I found was hardly a trail, the old logging road was at least level, and some mixture of occasional mountaineers and more frequent animals maintained a sort of path that followed it, climbing steadily up the side of a ridge between the Bush River and the creek I had crossed, which originate in two tongues of the large glacier south of King Edward. The road ends at a cut-block far up this ridge, where I found an old cairn marking the start of a faint game trail leading through the slash and regrowth. Beyond the block, I thrashed through deadfall and blackberries for a bit before picking up a promised quad track. Whoever built this track had gone to considerable effort, sawing through dozens of fallen logs. Though it fades, I saw signs that the track continued well into the alpine — someone had, at some point, even driven donuts in a post-glacial mudflat well above treeline. As I was saving battery by not listening to anything, I had plenty of time to ponder why any of this was built, and found no good answer.

Columbia and retreating glaciers

The long ridge I was following ends in the icefield lying south and west of King Edward, which used to connect to the Columbia Icefield via their exit glaciers in the valley to the east. These glaciers are now much diminished, with old moraines hinting at their former extent, and it seems that the ski traverse between the Clemenceau and Columbia Icefields, which passes through here, will soon be impossible. Passing through the quad playground, I made my way across slabs and debris toward the point of rock closest to the peak, where I donned crampons and easily mounted the ice. I zig-zagged my way north, avoiding some long and obvious crevasses on my way to more level ground. Fortunately for me, the holes were mostly open, so I was able to plot a safe course through the regular holes, which appeared even in the flatter parts. Part of this safe course led me through some knee-deep slush near the peak, evidence of relentlessly warm days and a lack of overnight refreeze.

Approach ridge from climb

I was worried about the transition to the rock of the peak, but fortunately the snow and ice had not completely separated from it, and I was able to weave through the more broken glacier near the base. The initial climb up the near corner of the southwest face was outward-facing slabs, but they were relatively clean and made of sticky limestone. Above, I stuck near the right-hand side, where there was the most exposed rock, but still had to deal with some horrible loose limestone scralus. I listened to the steady rattle of rocks down the southeast face, and admired the turquoise terminal lake slowly emerging from behind Columbia’s snow-free east west face, in the hole between it and the Twins. I found a bit of fourth class climbing getting through a short cliff band, but nothing particularly difficult until reaching the tilted summit knob. As I had read in the route description, I contoured around to the right on a rubble-covered ledge, then stemmed and climbed my way up a short pitch of low-fifth-class rock of poor but adequate quality. Beyond, it was an easy trudge up more scree to the highpoint, at the near end of a long, rotten, serrated ridge.

Columbia and its icefield

It was fortunately not too smoky, and I could admire the expansive and seldom-seen view in all directions. To one side were the “backs” of Columbia and the Twins, at the northwest end of the Columbia Icefield. To their north I could see Woolley and Alberta, looking just as unassailable from this side, with the headwaters of the Athabasca River seven thousand feet below the peaks. Far to the other side, I could make out Tsar, Clemenceau, and Tusk, the three most remote 11,000-foot peaks. Between me and Clemenceau lay a lifeless landscape of lesser peaks and glaciers. I tried to enjoy the summit, but was mindful of the long return. I skipped down the scree, carefully downclimbed the crux, then thankfully found more boot-skiable scree than I had expected on the way down. At the small intermediate cliff-band, I removed and packed up an enormous wad of tat wrapped around a boulder, doing my mitzvah to atone for other climbers’ sins.

Bryce on return

I followed my out-track most of the way down the glacier, then headed right to the top of the ridge rather than returning through the post-glacial plain. This turned out to be no easier, and did not save any time, but at least it was different, and gave me a better view of the large and fractured glacier at the head of the Bush River. I rejoined my outward path before reaching vegetation, and followed it back to my wading shoes, which I strapped to my pack unused. I thrashed down through the woods to the river, and most of the way upstream to my previous crossing, then stopped in dismay. The river was flowing much more strongly than in the morning, and the already-precarious step between the rock and old stump was awash in churning water, making the crossing useless. I retreated a bit, then returned in disbelief to take another look. Other than waiting until the middle of the night, my only option was to ford the river at a safe-ish place.

“Safe-ish” meant reasonably calm with a decent runout, and the former bridge location seemed like the best option. It had been at least thigh-deep in the morning, and would be significantly worse now, but it had to be done. I returned to where I had left my shoes, then thrashed downhill until I hit the old road-cut, which I followed to the bank. In preparation, I took off my pants, put on my wading shoes, and double-bagged my phone in my pack. To save weight, I dropped the mess of tat I had harvested on the bank, undoing the good I had done. I also grabbed a stout pole as tall as I was, intending to use it to brace myself against the current in the deepest part. Before I could think too much, I strode out for the other side. The water soon came to my waist, then to my chest. The pole worked for a few plant-and-pivots, but the combination of current and buoyancy eventually overwhelmed me, and I was swept downstream when about halfway across. I had some runway before joining the Bush River, and began swimming toward the far bank, but progress was slow. Fortunately the river is shallower downstream of the old bridge, and after a couple of tries, I managed to steady myself and plow ashore through knee- to thigh-deep rapids. I had lost my bear spray, sunglasses, and some granola bar wrappers, but fortunately still had the rest of my gear.

I followed the quad track back to the road, stripped naked to wring out my clothes, then fetched my bike and re-dressed for the ride back to the car. Somewhat to my surprise, two guys on motorbikes passed me headed toward the creek, perhaps out for a joyride. I passed the same assortment of cars parked at a junction along the main road, presumably mountaineers headed to peaks along the Icefield. Back at the car, I lay my gear out to dry as much as possible, then made sandwiches and plans for the next day. I was tired and somewhat shaken, but determined to make the most of the good weather.


Bow Summit from Observation

Observation Peak is an easy peak east of Bow Summit along the Icefield Parkway, popular enough to have a good use trail to its summit. As the name implies, it offers fine views of the more impressive terrain west of the Parkway, including Bow and Peyto Lakes, and the peaks around the Wapta Icefield. After a long-ish day to Crown, I was looking for an easy hike on my way back south, and Observation seemed like a good option.

Peyto Lake

I parked along the abandoned road opposite the turnoff to the Bow Hut, then followed it over a bridge and past a marsh. Where it turns north, I found a trail leading through the woods, leading eventually to the right side of a gully. The trail stays right of the gully, meandering up a ridge and disintegrating into braids as the terrain becomes steeper and more challenging. I found a bit of class 3-4 climbing, but it can probably be avoided by traversing farther right around some small cliffs. Above the steep band, the trail reemerges in steep talus-fields, and the climb becomes a straightforward slog to the false summit.

Recondite above smoke

The sharp false summit has a perfectly fine view across the gentle divide between the Bow and Mistaya River drainages, but it is not the highpoint. Another half-mile or so of walking leads to the true summit, a mount of scree with a minor glacier on its east side. The promised views, though marred by wildlife smoke, were worth the small effort. The northeast was dominated by a sharp peak that I identified as Recondite, an 11er requiring a 50-mile round-trip with a fair bit of river-crossing and bog-stomping. To the south was Hector, a peak I had skied on my last trip to the Great White North. Across the valley to the west were the Wapta peaks and, behind them, Barnard and the higher range sheltering the Freshfield Icefield.

Freshfield peaks

I took in the view for awhile, then skipped back down the trail. Perhaps not surprisingly, I ran into a family on their way up, stopped to deal with their complaining child. Most of the peaks I had done up to this point in Canada — the 11ers — required enough effort to keep casual hikers away, and I had had them to myself. Therefore almost all the people I had encountered were the teeming hordes within shouting radius of their vehicles. While I enjoy my solitude and uncrowded wilderness, and avoid Colorado-level crowds, it is pleasant to occasionally see someone else putting in a bit of effort to enjoy the mountains.

Charles Stewart traverse

North from Lady Mac

Mount Charles Stewart is the highpoint of a ridge east of Canmore. I had not climbed any of the peaks east of the Bow River, and was in the area, so when I learned of a traverse of the peak, from its south end at Mount Lady McDonald to its north at Princess Margaret Mountain, I naturally added it to my to-do list. With a bike-shuttle between the endpoints, it would make for a good day through some new terrain. I was hoping to start with the 5.5 southeast ridge on Lady Mac, but a massive construction project appeared to block its approach, so I ended up taking the standard trail. I regret missing the climb, because the rock north of Lady Mac was solid and enjoyable, and the 5.5 route is made of the same stuff. I also learned that, if one plans to take the Lady Mac trail, the route is more pleasant in the other direction.

Rundle and Charles Stewart’s shadow

I drove up to a neighborhood at the north end of town and locked my bike to itself in some bushes next to an unsigned but clear trail. Parking back at the big Cougar Creek lot, I read the signs about blasting and bears, then followed the flagged detour around the construction fence to rejoin the normal Lady Mac trail. Apparently a big flood destroyed some rich people’s homes, so the government is spending a lot of money to make sure it doesn’t happen again, blasting, digging, and building an enormous dam. Beyond the machinery, the trail climbed steeply through the woods, easy to follow except in one stretch that crosses a boulder-field, where people have cairned several paths. The various trails that emerge on the other side converge again shortly below treeline, from which the route is obvious.

Looking down Lady Mac trail

I had started in fog and clouds, and hoped it was just an inversion from which I would emerge higher up. Things turned out exactly as I had hoped, and as I neared treeline, I emerged above a cloud-deck filling the Bow Valley as far as I could see in either direction. Above, the morning sun shone on familiar peaks from the Lougheeds to Rundle. As I climbed, the view opened up, and the jagged shadow of the Charles Stewart ridge became clear on the top of the clouds. Pausing frequently to turn and take pictures, I enjoyed my morning as I ground out most of the day’s elevation gain to Lady Mac’s summit.

South along traverse

Like Princess Margaret, Lady Mac is less a peak than the end of a ridge. Looking north, I could see that the ridge was narrow and jagged for awhile, then changed to broader choss before “Charles Stewart South” (or “Buffalo Point”). Starting along the ridge, I found consistently enjoyable scrambling, with long stretches of “sky sidewalk,” some balance-beaming, and the occasional hand traverse or bypass on the left. The distance went quickly, with the only real difficulty being a downclimb below a rappel anchor. I probably could have gone around to the left, but instead downclimbed some low-fifth-class rock below the anchor, deviating right to get around an overhang near the bottom.

North from mid-traverse

The pleasant walking and balancing continued until partway up Buffalo. Along the way, I met a herd of twenty or so bighorn sheep, who were more wary than mountain goats, but seemed basically unconcerned by my presence. One of them did take off along the ridge north, staying ahead of me and mostly following the crest. I did likewise, eventually finding a faint trail leading from the end of the good rock through scree to the summit. Looking across to Rundle, I saw that the valley clouds were dissipating. The inversion had kept the climb pleasantly cool for me, but I imagine that it would be brutally cold and unpleasant in the winter. The descent from Buffalo was fairly unpleasant, with a fair amount of crumbly, exposed third class slab. However the rock changed again on the way up Charles Stewart, with another scree-slope leading to its summit. As I hiked, I watched a helicopter make repeated visits to a spot on a grassy ridge to the east, though I could not see what it was doing.

Princess Margaret

From Charles Stewart, the route turns west, descending some unpleasant rubble and gravelly slabs, before undulating toward Princess Margaret. While not terrible, this part was nowhere near as enjoyable as the part around Lady Mac. I still managed to amuse myself, climbing the first significant bump just to the right on fun fourth class terrain. The final bump before the end of the ridge looked more serious. I traversed right, then wasted about twenty minutes trying various routes up featured and moderately-angled but rotten terrain before dropping around the corner. A low-fifth-class dihedral got me back up onto easier terrain, where I wove my way through broad ledges and small cliff-bands to the crest, then backtracked to the summit. While Peakbagger labels the farthest point on the ridge, its neighbor to the east is obviously higher, and the Canadian government map’s label is ambiguous. I found a register with one entry and no pencil, and left it as it was.

Charles Stewart from Princess Margaret

I continued to the labeled summit, then dropped left along the ridge for a bit. I should have followed the crest, but there are a web of faint trails here, and I ended up descending into a gully to the right before traversing back out to better ground. There are bits of trail along the crest, but it is steep and tiring to descend; it would have been far better in the other direction. The route more or less disappeared in the woods, and I bashed and slid as best I could, avoiding some cliffs to eventually land in the narrow canyon south of the ridge. This canyon had apparently flooded recently, and the bottom was mostly filled with deep, soft limestone gravel. I enjoyed the walk down the dry streambed, which was cool and much easier than the one descending from Rundle.

Gravel stream

I avoided a dryfall to the left, then returned to the bottom and almost immediately ran into a flagstone quarry. From there it was an easy road-jog back to the housing development, passing numerous signs telling those coming the other direction that they were trespassing in an active quarry. Fortunately the quarry was not actually active, and I emerged in the neighborhood a hundred yards below the trail where I had stashed my bike. From there, a quick drop on side streets led to a bike path paralleling the highway and leading back up to the Cougar Creek lot. Curiosity satisfied about the east side of the Bow, I relaxed for a bit, then headed back north.

Rundle (East end to highpoint)

Rundles from east end

Mount Rundle is a long ridge running between Banff and Canmore, separating the Bow and Spray Rivers, with eight numbered summits. While its most photographed part is the Banff end, the highpoint is actually Rundle 3, near the center. There are trails up the east and west ends, and the full Rundle traverse is a popular enough scramble (often with a rope for rappels) that there is a decent use trail along much of the ridge. Because Canmore is home to a bunch of Olympic athletes, I can’t touch any of the nearby records, including the Rundle traverse. And because I didn’t think ahead to stash a bike, and didn’t want to jog the 12-mile dirt road back up from Banff to the Goat Creek trailhead, I ended up just traversing Rundles 8 through 3, which are mostly just a walk.

Dawn on Ha Ling

I drove back up the nasty washboard dirt road out of Canmore toward Spray Lakes and parked at the Goat Creek trailhead. Mine was practically the only car, and I technically wasn’t supposed to park before 7:00 AM, but I ignored the silly rule. Walking back along the road a bit, I easily found the unsigned trail up the east end of Rundle, and began hiking up through the woods with a purpose. I followed various braids of use trail, turning to admire sunrise on Ha Ling and the northern Goat Range behind me. It promised to be a warm day, so I was glad to get the climbing out of the way mostly in the shade.

Rundles from east end

With a bit of a scramble near the top, I reached the east end of Rundle, and looked north along miles of gently-rolling ridge to the craggy highpoint. Fortunately the crest is fairly wide, and there is a decent use trail, so I made easy progress, even jogging some sections. The Bow Valley has long been Canada’s thoroughfare through the Rockies, and there was a steady sound of distant traffic from the east, as well as the intermittent whistle and rumble of Canadian Pacific trains, visible winding their way parallel to the highway. Between the sound and the use trail, Rundle felt much more urban and less wild than the other peaks I had done here, though not as domesticated as Ha Ling or anything behind Boulder.

Rundle 3 up close

I counted down the numbered Rundles, passing a weather monitoring station on one, while Rundle 3 loomed larger and more intimidating ahead. I had not bothered to read anything about it, beyond knowing that it was some sort of scramble from this side, and that there was a descent route into the valley to its southwest. At the final saddle before the thousand-foot climb to its summit, I found bits of trail traversing left, as seemed natural. The route works its way up by traversing left along slanted benches to find breaks in the cliffs, then climbing back up and sometimes right toward the ridge. Most of the climbing is straightforward class 2-3, but often on outward-sloping ledges covered in gravel. At one point I stemmed up a vertical chimney, which proved fun but completely unnecessary. Toward the top, I found some exposed scrambling by staying right along the crest, but this may also have been gratuitous.

North to Banff

The summit register showed several people doing the traverse, mostly much faster than myself. To the north, the character of the mountain changes, with the ridge over Rundles 2 and 1 being split by more cliff bands extending down the west side. I gather that this is the crux of the traverse, and though it can be scrambled with some cleverness, many people rappel in a few places. Rundle 1 looked relatively close, and has a popular use trail descending to Banff, so I was tempted to continue, both to descend quickly on a trail and to get “points” for the traverse. I looked at the map on my phone, though, and saw that it was around twelve miles of tedious trail from that end back to the trailhead, versus only about four if I descended directly. I regretted not having stashed my bike at the north end, since that would have made the traverse the obvious choice.

Descent bowl

Returning south, I stayed below the crest to the west, and found somewhat easier scrambling. I followed bits of use trail to near the saddle, then zig-zagged through the lower layers, seeking clean slabs and sufficiently deep scree. The terrain below was, unfortunately, rubble too large and stable for plunge-stepping, so the remainder of the descent to the creek was slow and tiring. Once at the creek, I drank some cold water bubbling out of the limestone, then took off boulder-hopping the dry bed, ducking the occasional fallen tree. I eventually found a trail on the right side, but lost it when the bank became too steep, returning to the creekbed. When the water reemerged, I took to the right side, trying to find a decent path, but mostly just struggling through shin-high krummholtz. After an unexpectedly long and unpleasant descent, I finally emerged on the trail/road just as two mountain bike bros blazed by on their way to Banff. Fortunately I only had four or so miles of trail, because it was wide and dusty, monotonous and mostly lacking views. I jogged the flats and even some of the climbs, returning to a mostly-full parking lot at Goat Creek. If I had it to do again, I would stash a bike at Goat Creek and start at Banff, so I would avoid the tiring off-trail dismount, and bomb the net-downhill trail on the return.