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.

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