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.

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