Sunwapta’s erosion profile

After a long day to Brazeau, I was looking for something short and nearby, and Sunwapta fit the bill. While over 5000 feet above the highway, it is only a few miles via a steep trail, and normally has good views of the peaks north of the icefield across the valley to the west. From the Poboktan trailhead, I drove a few miles south to park at Beauty Creek, then packed my pack and almost immediately left the Stanley Falls trail to hop across a bog/stream, soon picking up a mix of cairns and flagging leading me to a well-used trail.

Water sheeting down slabs

The trail follows the left side of a ravine, climbing steeply along the edge of the woods above some cascades, eventually emerging above the trees where the ravine emerges from Sunwapta’s broad west face. From there, cairns and a use trail lead steeply up an interminable scree slope, which thanks to foreshortening looks much shorter than it is. The trail fades and branches as the scree turns to talus, eventually reaching the peak’s north-south summit ridge. The other side is consistently steep, with some parts improbably overhanging despite the poor quality rock.

Tangle Ridge

From where the trail reaches the ridge, easy terrain leads to the summit, with a large cairn and a pink ammo can holding the summit register. I was hoping to see Woolley and Diadem across the way, and perhaps Brazeau to the north, but the smoke was bad enough that I could barely make out Tangle Ridge, some four miles southwest. The air quality was therefore not pleasant, but probably not outright unhealthy. After a snack, I retraced my route, finding some decent scree-skiing, then easy shuffling down through the woods.

Just as I reached the car, I heard someone remark that “he came a long ways,” and introduced myself to the two kids in the next car over. They were from Edmonton, and had just returned from an unsuccessful attempt on Sunwapta, having followed the tourist trail too far and failed to find the climbers’ route. They turned out to be budding mountaineers, and we spent some time talking about peaks in the States and Canada, the value of mountaineering courses, and the necessity of partners. I am somewhat ambivalent about encouraging people to follow my path, but always enjoy encouraging young people with so much enthusiasm, time, and potential. Afterward, I drove down to the icefield visitor center to catch up on internet things for as long as I could stand the milling sightseers and their mewling spawn, then packed and prepared for a fuller day in the hills.

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