Hungabee route on return

Mount Hungabee is one of two 11ers accessed from Lake O’Hara, the other being Mount Huber. I had avoided them on previous trips because the road to the lake is closed to cars, and the mandatory shuttle runs at times that basically force one to camp out. This time I had hoped to bike that road, but arrived the night before to find it is stupidly closed to bikes. Not wanting to do the seven-mile road-hike twice, I decided to do Hungabee, the more independent and interesting of the two peaks. I am coming to accept that I probably won’t complete the Rockies 11ers, and with that mindset, I have little interest in climbing peaks like Huber, which is sort of a wart on Mount Victoria’s side.

Moonset roadwalk

Somewhat concerned about afternoon showers, I got a fairly early start up the road, then had to jog back to the car when I realized I had left my bike on the rack. The Lake O’Hara road is generally uphill but rolling, and I jogged the downhill and some of the flatter sections. The moon was setting over the peaks to the west as the sun began to hit them, and I had plenty of time to enjoy the juxtaposition in the long northern dawn. Lake O’Hara is a bit of a zoo, with a lodge and cabins, a large campground, and a ranger station. However few people were stirring when I passed through in the morning, not even photographers up to capture sunrise on the lake.

Hungabee Lake

I hiked the well-used trail around the right side, then headed up the East Opabin Trail, apparently the more direct of the two ways to reach Opabin Lake. There is a maze of trails and signed alpine routes above Lake O’Hara, though they seem to be well-signed, and one talus section near Hungabee Lake even had blue and yellow painted equals signs showing the route. Much of the upper trail is a series of well-laid stepping-stones to prevent erosion of the meadows. Looking back, the Wiwaxy Peaks that looked so imposing from the road seemed minor compared to their higher neighbors.

Opabin Pass

The official trails end at Opabin Lake, and I did not find any sort of use trail to Opabin Pass. The route crosses a large talus-field, then a low-angle and retreating glacier before climbing a short, steep headwall of snow and dirt to the saddle between Hungabee and Biddle. I followed a line of prints across the glacier, sinking annoyingly into the surface snow, which I assumed from a distance were human, but looked like a bear up close. They took a direct line from the pass, and even made a glissade on the steeper snow. There was a tent platform at the col, with an old sign saying that this “campsite” was closed due to bear activity, so perhaps I had been following the local bruin, still wistfully traversing the pass and remembering past campsite raids.

Hungabee from Opabin

Above Opabin Pass, I followed a faint use trail through the talus and occasional cairns to the new campsites atop “Opabin Peak,” a minor bump on the ridge. Perhaps the scree slope was annoying enough to dissuade the bear, but I found it only mildly unpleasant. Ahead of me, Hungabee looked intimidatingly steep, with the route not at all obvious. After a slight descent, the ridge began steadily climbing again, growing steeper as the rock turned to quartzite. The route remained non-obvious, even with Corbett’s description of cutting left where things got steep, then climbing the right side of the southwest face. Fortunately I found a few cairns indicating the correct band to traverse, as the south ridge gets more difficult only gradually.

Hungabee summit

The southwest face is kind of a mess, but I found decent rock on the “indistinct rib” at its right, which slowly became more distinct and steeper. At a very solid anchor made from two old pitons and a fixed nut, I decided I must be at the place where one can either climb the direct ridge at 5.6, or traverse back right at 5.choss. I probably should have done the former, but I was still getting my scrambling head, so I opted for the latter. I traversed right on some partly snow-covered ledges, heading gradually upward, and eventually climbed straight up a garbage chute to reach the upper black scree-slope. Despite the face still being mostly shaded, a spontaneous rock whanged down and hit my pack, making me hurry up and slightly regret my route choice. The scree above was precariously close to the angle of repose, so I crawled up and left to reach a sort of ridge where the rotten rock underneath showed through, then climbed that to gain the summit ridge. The easiest route apparently traverses below, but I was unhappy with that prospect, so I climbed some crumbly black slabs to reach the slightly better yellowish rock on the ridge above. I found a low-fifth-class chimney leading through a more solid black rock band, which led to a cairn and the final summit ridge.

Biddle with Goodsirs, Stephen, Cathedral behind

The haze unfortunately marred the view to the east, where Temple rose above lake-filled basins to either side, but the smoke was faint enough that other views were relatively clear. To the west were Biddle and Lake MacArthur, with glacier-clad Cathedral, Stephen, and the always-imposing Goodsirs behind. To the north, I could make out the toe of the Waputik Icefield behind Mount Niles. It was pleasantly calm, and no storms seemed to be brewing, so I hung out for awhile on the summit before beginning the long march home.

Free boats?

I retraced my steps, climbing steeper rock to one side of the garbage chute, then somehow traversed too high and downclimbed part of the direct ridge. The rock was much more pleasant, some bulging, featured, sticky yellow stuff, and felt pretty easy for “5.6.” If I were to do Hungabee again, I would definitely take the direct ridge finish. I took a slightly different line down the moraine below Opabin Pass, which felt about the same but took me past some old metal poles (measuring glacial movement?). There were three people taking photos at Opabin Lake, and quite a few more doing the Yukness Ledges route. I moved quickly and avoided much interaction, slowing only to take in the unexpected scenery of a couple women in bikinis on the boat dock.

The final road slog was every bit as frustrating as I had anticipated, even jogging most of the flat and downhills, and listening to the most interesting podcasts I had left. My body was not used to so much jogging, and did not appreciate its sudden reintroduction. The only justification I can think of for the bike ban is that cyclists would get in the way of the shuttles. Parks seem paranoid about this, e.g. Zion has an absurd rule where cyclists must stop and pull off the road to let buses pass, and shuttle drivers get rage-y when they don’t do so fast enough. But there are only a handful of buses per day going to an from Lake O’Hara, not shuttles every few minutes. In fact, in my hikes/jogs up and down, I saw a grand total of zero other people and one pickup truck within yards of the lower gate. Many people would enjoy riding the road, and the park (or concessionaire?) could probably make a bundle renting e-bikes at its base. But I don’t rule the world, which is probably for the best.

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