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.

2 responses to “Goodsir (19.8mi, 9300ft, 13h13)

  1. Dan says:

    This was a great read! I’m celebrating your accomplishment!

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Thanks, man! After getting shut down on Bryce, it was good to succeed on one of the Rockies’ big ones.

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