Author Archives: drdirtbag


Field church, with Stephen behind

[More Canadian catch-up. — ed.]

Mount Stephen rises steeply east of the small town of Field, just west of Kicking Horse Pass along the Trans-Canada Highway and Canadian Pacific Railroad. Its bulk shadows the town well into the morning even in summer, and must make it crushingly dark and grim in winter. The town was established during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, at the base of Kicking Horse Pass, and named for a hoped-for investor who never gave the railway a dime. Since then, it has somehow survived as a summer tourist destination, first with Swiss guides, and now with a visitor center for Yoho National Park. Fewer than 200 people actually live there, while hundreds of thousands pass through.

Entering restricted zone

Stephen is a fairly straightforward climb, with a trail leading above treeline and some fourth-class scrambling and route-finding near the top. The crux is probably getting permission to climb it, as the route passes through the trilobite fields of the Burgess Shale. Amateur fossil collection is a crime, and the Canadian authorities want to make it very clear. The permission process is simple: show up at the Field visitor center the day before, show your ID, review the rules with a warden, and sign them. The actual rules are what one would expect — stay on the trail and don’t harvest fossils — but a couple of strong recommendations seemed excessive — don’t stop in the restricted area, and don’t take photos — and the warden’s emphasis on prison time seemed unnecessary. (Though her stressing that this was “Canadian prison” made me, as a citizen of the US, think that it did not sound so bad.)

Sunlight across SE ridge

I signed the forms, left the park to camp, then returned early the next morning to park at the visitor center and hike through town to the trailhead near the top, where I found more signage explaining the restricted and forbidden zones. The trail climbs steadily through the woods, then more steeply as it gains a sometimes-narrow rib. The start of the restricted zone has another sign and a game camera. Near treeline, there is another sign at a spur trail leading into the forbidden zone, with accompanying camera. I continued right up the loose, steep trail, passing numerous fossils. Even being relatively fit, I had to pause for breath at times, and in my hypoxic state, I may have forgotten the rule against photography.

Exposed summit ridge

Above the restricted zone, the trail wraps around to the right to reach the peak’s broad south face, becoming less distinct in the talus, but still easy to follow as it climbs steadily along the face’s left side. Stephen’s summit is guarded by some cliff bands, and the route traverses right to get around them via a gully before returning to the narrowing southeast ridge. In a normal year there is often snow to climb here, but the route was completely rock in this historically dry year. After returning to the ridge, the route traverses a narrow catwalk, then crosses a gap and climbs a short steep step. Above, more exposed walking and moderate scrambling along the crest leads to the broad summit.

Field and Kicking Horse River

Stephen’s summit is flat and large enough to house a wooden helipad and a decent-sized shack with some antennae. I dropped my pack on the helipad to check out a rock wall farther on, from which I could look down the huge east face to Field. The summit views of the Daly Glacier to the north and the Lake O’Hara peaks to the southeast would no doubt have been impressive on a clear day, but smoke from fires to the west obscured both, making for a dismal scene. I thought the hut would be locked, but it was merely wired shut, and inside I even found a nice summit register book. I added my name, then took some time to dig through the ancient emergency supply boxes, which included an informative and sometimes amusing booklet on survival in various situations. I was tempted to take some of the 30-year-old chocolate, but ultimately left it for someone more in more desperate straits.

View down SE ridge

I followed a slightly easier line on the descent, dropping farther east of the crest. Entering the restricted zone, I skittered my way carefully down the steep and hard-packed dirt, wondering if I would see a warden or any other hikers. Once below treeline, I hike-jogged the pleasant trail back to the trailhead, then walked the streets to the visitor center. I saw neither hikers nor wardens the entire day; perhaps I should not have been surprised, but it seemed like a good day for one or the other to be out and about, and an interesting and worthy hike and scramble.


North ridge with subpeaks

[More Canadian catch-up. — ed.]

Mount Louis and friends

Cascade Mountain is a a prominent peak near the Lake Louise ski area, just across the Bow River from Banff. After a full day and an unpleasant encounter with an aggressive park warden related to camping where I should not have, I needed something easy and mindless, and Cascade, with a trail to its summit, fit the bill. I drove back up from legal camping, parked at the ski area, and got a comfortably late start jogging the dirt through the ski area, then the broad trail down to 40 Mile Creek. I almost regretted not starting by bike, but the legally bikeable portion was too short to be worth it. I was feeling reasonably fresh, so I didn’t mind jogging the wide trail, which leads frustratingly away from the summit.

Upper mountain with Brewster behind

Where the trail crosses a bridge over 40 Mile Creek, it narrows somewhat but remains well-maintained, climbing north in a series of switchbacks to a broad ridge. The unofficial trail ends at something-or-other, maybe a minor lake, but a clear unofficial trail turns back southeast toward the peak, climbing more steeply along the ridge and eventually emerging above the trees. Here the trail splits into multiple routes, the most prominent of which traverses right across grass before climbing through some talus. The best route probably stays closer to the ridge, as one would expect, but I followed the beaten path before realizing it was not the best. Cutting back to the ridge, I found easier travel to a small sub-summit, then a few scrambly steps descending the other side to a saddle where the various trails reconvene.

From the saddle, the trail variously follows the east ridge or traverses south of it to avoid cliffs. It is generally easy to follow, but there are a couple of braided sections where people have taken different routes through small cliff-bands. I passed several groups on their way up, and one large one on its way down just below the summit. I had the peak to myself, finding a perfect bench just beyond the summit cairn looking south. The ridge extends north, with several points that look nearly as high as the official Cascade. I knew it had been traversed recently, but was not interested in a big or challenging day, so I ceded my bench to a couple of girls, traded photo duty, then took off jogging down the now much more crowded trail. At the saddle, I followed the main trail traversing around the bump, then contoured back to the ridge for easier travel down to the trees. From there it was a pleasant run down the switchbacks, then a hot slog along the road/trail to the ski area. I took my time on the last part, though jogging some of the flats, then continued north to Lake Louise to shower and meet a friend in the luxury of Legal Canadian Camping.


Broadwood from bike in

[More Canadian catch-up. — ed.]

Smoky sunrise

Mount Broadwood is a prominent peak just north of the Canadian border, which had a track on Peakbagger and looked like a good bike-n-hike at a convenient point along my drive. Rather than continuing south to Eureka, Montana, I headed slightly toward Fernie, then turned off on some very active logging roads to camp. The smoke, which had spared me on Indian Head the day before, was unfortunately drifting directly over this area, so the views were limited and the morning light was a grim orange. I had hoped to ride the active road before the loggers started working, but they get going early, so I also got to enjoy being passed by high-speed pickup trucks and large empty logging semis. Eventually I turned off onto a spur road not in active use, and the traffic stopped.

Thrashing toward cliff-band

This spur road descends to a gated road in some kind of preserve, which drops yet further as it passes Broadwood. This side of the peak is ringed by a cliff band with an obvious gap, which is the key to the route. I stopped where my GPX track started, stashed my bike in the woods, then looked around for a use trail, cairn, flagging, or any sign of human passage. Finding none, I began bashing up the steep, dusty, grassy, occasionally brushy slope. I occasionally found old footprints, but this peak clearly sees far less traffic than Indian Head. Between the smoke and unpleasant travel, I was not feeling the previous day’s enthusiasm.

Into the gap

I eventually reached the base of the break in the cliff-band, and found a faint trail across a scree-field. Beyond, I continued on a faint game trail, which I lost in more scree and shrubs, staying generally right of the drainage to avoid the worst of the vegetation. Once out of the woods, travel improved somewhat, though it was rarely fast. At least the views improved, with another cliff-band guarding the summit to the right, and terraces on a gentler slope to the left. I continued to the head of the valley, where class 2-3 scrambling led to a saddle, and more of the same along the ridge to the summit. I found a cairn, but no register, and the cool breeze urged me to snack quickly and head back down.

Summit view NW

The descent was tiresome but uneventful. Fortunately I had been recording a track, because I had done a bit too good a job hiding my bike even from myself. Riding out, I was surprised to find that this is a modestly popular park. On a weekday, I passed a couple bikepacking with a kid trailer, some fishermen, and several groups of hikers. Why they would choose to drive to far to walk along this particular old road on a smoky day is a mystery. Maybe there is good wildlife viewing or something.

Indian Head

Indian Head from near saddle

[More Canadian catch-up. — ed.]

Indian Head is a prominent peak southeast of Windermere along US/Canada Highway 93, which runs west of the Rockies and up the Columbia Trench. After my desire to climb Mount Farnham was thwarted by the lingering fire in Horsethief Creek (which I had seen blow up on the return from Sir Douglas some weeks earlier), I panned around on Peakbagger and picked out Indian Head at random as a last-minute alternative. It has almost 4000 feet of prominence, and had a trip report with a GPX track. As it turns out, it also seems to be a locally popular peak, with a deteriorating logging road leading to an excellent trail leading above treeline.

Well-maintained trail

Rather than fight with the deteriorating road, I parked near a slash pile just off the pavement, then took off up the dirt road by bike. It quickly deteriorated to the point where my car would have been unhappy, but remained drivable for quite awhile as it climbed steadily up above Madias Creek. There are many branching roads, but fortunately I had the GPX track for the hike itself, and my offline maps were accurate enough to lead me along the correct route. The road slowly deteriorated as it climbed, though I continued to see tire tracks surprisingly far up. After a significant descent, a washout blocked anything larger than a quad from continuing, but fortunately I was on a bike. I carried my bike across, then continued. I finally reached a well-developed campsite with a fire ring, benches, and woodpile, continuing a short distance farther before the trail became too steep for cycling to make sense. I simply leaned my bike against a tree — who else would be up here? — and began hiking.

Upper scramble

I was expecting some sort of western Rockies thrash, but the old quad track was in good shape. Where it ended, a good trail continued through the woods, with logs and branches sawn, and enough wear to indicate regular use. The trail climbed steeply to the saddle with Peak 2339, then turned left to ascend Indian Head’s west ridge. The trees thinned, and I eventually emerged in the alpine, with views of the Purcells behind me and the summit ahead. The trail faded somewhat, dodging and weaving around rocky outcrops on the crest. Sometimes I followed it, and sometimes I scrambled straight up the rock, which was never harder than class 4.

Distant high Rockies

The peak has two summits, each with its own register. The farther one looked a bit higher, and involved a bit more scrambling along a ridge, none of it particularly difficult. Reaching it, I saw that Indian Head is almost the local “workout peak,” with many ascents each summer. One person had even cycled from Windermere! Mount Harrison and the other high Rockies peaks were visible far to the east, while closer there were exposed layers of Rockies limestone. I took my time on the summit, then retraced my route. Other than the climb back above the valley, the bike descent was fast and fun, just rough enough to keep my mind occupied without being sketchy or slow. Some locals in a side-by-side were the only other people I saw. I returned to my car, then continued the hot drive south along the Columbia and east toward the border and Montana.

Flatirons: 2nd, 1st, 3rd, Sorta Satan’s Slab

Good morning, Flatirons!

While there is much to dislike about the Front Range in general and Boulder in particular, there is also the Flatirons. This is the perfect time of year to visit them, and as I have been staying with a friend nearby, I made the drive up to Boulder early on a weekday, finding shady street parking near Chautauqua. I put on my pack containing rock shoes, water, and a few snacks, and started hiking the now-paved trail toward the rocks in an overshirt and gloves. It had been punishingly hot, but a cold front promised perfect scrambling temperatures later in the day, cool enough to wear long pants to defend against the poison ivy should I choose to get adventurous.

Starting up the First

I started as I usually do, scrambling up Freeway on the Second, an easy route that links well with the First, and gives me time to warm up, get my head in the right place, and accustom myself to the featured but somewhat slick Flatiron rock. As usual I stayed in my trail runners, as the route is mostly class 3-4, with only a few fifth class bits and plenty of generous hand- and foot-holds. I passed another group of three scramblers near the top, the only other climbers I would meet all day. I was sweating by the time I got to the top, and stopped at the top to take off my overshirt and put on sunscreen.

Upper First

I met a few people on the trail between the First and Second, then stopped at the base of the First to switch to rock shoes. Plenty of locals scramble the First in trail runners, and I had on good ones (Kaptivas), but I have always worn rock shoes, and usually find the slabby first third somewhat delicate. Being somewhat out of practice, I was more nervous than usual, but took my time cautiously picking my way up the route, and eventually reached the big ledge with a tree that signals the end of the hard stuff. From there on the rock becomes more featured, though the climbing is harder than that on the Second or Third.

Fresh Front Range snow

Reaching the summit, I saw that the high peaks were receiving a dose of snow, signaling the end of summer mountaineering season in northern Colorado. My memory of the downclimb off the First was more or less correct: descend a steep section on huge rails, then follow some ramps to the left, dropping from ramp to ramp where possible, before finally cutting back right on bad holds to reach the ground. The only sketchy part is the final couple of moves, and my friend Ted had fallen on this section in the Spring, causing himself some damage. I put my trail runners back on then, bad person that I am, took the climbers’ trail directly to the base of the Third.

Angel’s Way is over there

I opted to use rock shoes for the Third, though I probably could have done it in trail runners — I had them with me, and they made the whole experience much more relaxed, so why not? I took a different line than usual, staying near the right side until it merges with the main face, then cutting left to the normal line. It was fun as always, but I was slow, my heart and lungs not keeping up with my hands and feet. It was surprisingly cool and breezy on the summit, where I hid for a bit to eat half of a Mr. Beast Bar (freebie). I found the start of the downclimb much easier than I had a couple days previously, and was soon back on the ground.

First roof on Satan’s Slab

Tired and slow though I was, it was still early in the day, I had more food, and this would be my last Flatirons day of the year. I had both heard and read good things about a 5.2 route called Angel’s Way on a formation farther south. I had never visited that part of the Flatirons, and it seemed lame to just repeat my usual circuit, so I willed myself to head down to the Mesa Trail and follow it to Skunk Creek. As promised, on the other side of a rock wall I found a nice climbers’ trail along the north side of the creek. I had photographed Ted’s guidebook, which gives a highly detailed description of how to reach the base of the formation. I followed it for awhile, but my eyes began to glaze over as I wondered whether I had passed the “large boulders” and “unpleasant slot.” The picture of the start of the route was similarly unhelpful: a pine tree below a slab.

Looking down Satan’s Slab

I eventually settled on a formation that had a faint climbers’ trail to its base and seemed vaguely correct. The route description basically said to traverse up and left through a weakness to reach the arete, then stay on or near it to the top. I (fortunately) put on rock shoes, then climbed up and left from some point above the base of the formation to reach its crest. The climbing was slabby and delicate, and felt a bit sandbagged for 5.2, but as promised, there were more holds on the ridge.

Hand traverse

My next landmark was an “oddly shaped pine hanging over the eastern side of the ridge 380 feet up.” I kept scrambling for awhile, dodging some difficulties to the right and thinking “wow, this feels hard for class 4-5,” but attributing that feeling to my being out of practice. I eventually found a tiny pine perhaps a foot high in a nook, and desperately concluded that it was the tree in the route description. The mentions of 5.0 and 5.1 cruxes were odd, as I felt that most of what I was climbing was harder than that, but I was tired and out of practice, so maybe I just sucked. In any case, the climbing was engaging and varied, with everything from jug-hauling along the crest, to some balance-beam flat sections, to delicate slab climbing on the right to pass vertical steps.

Second and third bits from first

Unlike on the First, though, I was in the zone: thoughts of falling disappeared, and I methodically made upward progress with total focus. One particularly memorable section was a 100-foot ascending hand traverse with mostly smears for feet. Angel’s Way is supposed to be one of the longest routes in the Flatirons, and this was certainly taking me a long time. But I no longer felt the day’s earlier fatigue, focused as I was on the task at hand, reading the rock rather than the book. The formation had a final summit blob separated by a wide chimney, but I saw two higher formations separated by short forest sections ahead, and skipped this blob, descending the chimney to take a short rock-shoes walk to the second formation.

First through Third from top of… something

This one was generally easier than the first, and much shorter, so I made quick work of it, dropped easily down the back, and had another short forest walk along the ridge before descending to the final section. This started out with some moderate slab, eventually reaching a ledge with a vertical step between it and the summit. I searched back and forth, eventually settling on a burly pull-up with two hands on a knob and smears for my feet to surmount the short wall. Beyond, I found more moderate climbing, then a bit of shenanigans to reach the actual summit, where there was a helpful (to other people) rappel anchor.

Now to get down… I dropped down the uppermost summit blob, dismissed a steep crack climber’s right, then circled around left and found a steep sloping chimney that looked even worse. I eventually descended farther on the north edge of the formation, doing a slightly sketchy reverse pull-up, passing an old piton in a crack on the north face, and finally finding a place where I felt comfortable cutting back west to the ground. As I put my trail runners back on I was shaking with adrenaline, still wired from the climb. That was some hard 5.2!

I was initially pleased to find a good climbers’ trail, but soon lost it in the brush, bashing my way down bits of what could have been game trails, or just erosion. There were some brief stemming shenanigans, but I mostly worried that some of the brush I was bashing might be poison ivy, endemic to the Flatirons. I emerged on a trail sooner than expected and, taking out my phone, learned that it was the Royal Arch trail. Whatever I had done, it had landed me in a convenient place to return to Chautauqua. I started fast-walking down the trail, passing groups of hikers, then started jogging, still full of the energy of the climb. Part of me wanted to head-bang to the music in my earbuds as I ran the road back to the park. My pace was a pathetic jog by local standards, but it felt like running to me.

I uploaded my Strava track, texted a bit, then booked it for Ted’s place, eager to get away from the possible urushiol coating my skin and clothes. By the time I had showered, a friend on Strava had figured out that I had in fact climbed something on Satan’s Slab. The actual Satan’s Slab, which starts at the base of the ridge and goes left of the first big roof, is 5.8, while neighboring Purgatory, staying well right of the roof on the slabby face before joining the ridge, is 5.6. I started somewhere between the two, joining them for the remainder of the formation. As far as I can tell, I skipped the 5.8 bit, which is left of the big roof, but had probably climbed a bunch of 5.5 and 5.6. No wonder it felt hard for a 5.2! I still don’t know what the upper two blobs I climbed are, as they don’t seem to be part of Satan’s Slab. In any case, it was a huge, fun, varied, challenging route that I probably wouldn’t have done except by accident. Sometimes you should just accept the win.

Richardson, Pika

Richardson from Pika

[I am back in the States, but still catching up on my Canadian outings. My totals were 12 11ers (plus a repeat of Temple) and about 20 other peaks — a pretty good haul.]

Temple in the distance

Mount Richardson is the highpoint of the area east of Lake Louise. While it is lower, drier, and therefore less spectacular than the 11ers surrounding Mount Temple on the other side of the Bow River, it is a moderate scramble with a bike approach and excellent views of its greater neighbors. I was staying at the Lake Louise campground with Mike and his family, so while they did “family things,” I rode over to the ski area, then circled around its right side up a steep dirt road, continuing several miles past the gate. Just beyond the trailhead sign, the road turns dramatically worse and a trail takes off climbing gently up Corral Creek. I locked my bike to itself next to the “no bikes” sign, then took off hiking and jogging up the popular trail.

Cutthroat trout are not mean-spirited!

Though it is only a few miles from the trailhead (or several more without a bike), the trail junction below the pass is a popular developed campsite, and there were a half-dozen “bear piñatas” hanging from a metal pole, a couple of tables, and tents at a number of the sites. I hiked through, quietly shaking my head at people who choose to lug a bunch of gear a few miles in order to sleep badly amongst the bears and rodents, and continued to Hidden Lake, where the official trail ends. I saw no one fishing or ahead of me on the route to the peak, deepening my incomprehension of the tents. I did, however, appreciate the cutthroat trout interpretive signs, informing me that they are not named for their vicious nature.

Temple, Hungabee, Lefroy, Victoria

Though there is no real use trail, I found some signs of traffic as I continued past the lake and up to the saddle on Richardson’s south ridge. The ridge itself was mostly easy, with a couple rock bands that I could probably have avoided, but which I took on more directly to add some scrambling. Along the way I stumbled upon a herd of mountain goats, who sullenly shuffled out of my way, then gave me dirty goat-looks as I passed. The upper mountain was a pile of horrible loose scree, so I instead climbed a steeper rock buttress to the right, then hiked back left to the summit. It was thankfully not smoky, and the view back to Lake Louise, Temple, and its neighbors was as fine as anticipated. Hector dominated the view to the northwest, though I did not recognize it from this angle, and beyond I could see the Wapta and Waputik Icefields.

Skoki Lakes

Rather than returning directly, I headed down the east ridge toward Pika and Ptarmigan Peaks, two sub-summits in the Richardson massif. The initial descent was mostly annoying dinner-plate talus, with one step that required a bit of scrambling. From the saddle, I found bits of trail and some scrambling leading to Pika. Though it is a lower summit than Richardson, Pika lies on the other side of the “Wall of Jericho,” a choss-fin pointing northeast, so it looks down onto the colorful Skoki Lakes, fed and colored by two small glaciers on Ptarmigan’s north side.

Hidden Lake and Temple from Pika

Dow Williams mentions traversing to Ptarmigan, but my brief exploration of the ridge toward it led to scary choss with dim prospects for continuing. I instead retreated to before the saddle with Richardson, where a goat/use trail makes a descending traverse along the base of the cliffs above Hidden Lake. Once past Pika and the nasty notch on its east side, I could have climbed Ptarmigan from the traverse, but it looked like a thousand feet of wretched scree, and I was not feeling sufficiently motivated. Instead I headed down to Hidden Lake, where I picked up the trail back through the campground. Feeling energetic, I jogged much of the way back to my bike, passing a few hikers in both directions. Back at the trailhead, the Arc’teryx puffy I had found in the morning was still where I had left it, so I considered it fair booty and a fine Canadian souvenir. I joyously flew down the dirt road, pitying the bike-less walkers, and returned to the Lake Louise campground by mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to shower and relax.


Main gully from base

Chancellor Peak is Mount Vaux’s slightly shorter neighbor to the southwest, south of the Trans Canada Highway between Field and Golden. Their routes are roughly similar — bushwhack a bit, follow a gully to the ridge, then turn left — but Chancellor’s is more involved and technical. It is also relentlessly steep, gaining almost 7000 feet in about 3.5 miles. Vaux had been somewhat of a slog in the rain, so I returned for Chancellor rested and with better weather. I had been vacillating on whether or not to attempt Mount Goodsir, an 11er a few miles south of Vaux and Chancellor, and the view of the Goodsirs from the summit of Chancellor was sufficient motivation.

Nearing middle cliff band

Driving back into Yoho Park one last time, I parked near a closed campground next to a much smaller one, then took off at a lazy hour along the old campground loop. At a somewhat arbitrary point where the loop is heading toward the peak, I took off to the right, crossing open fields, woods, and a very short stretch of bog, following game trails to eventually reach the base of the ascent gully. There was some additional hiking to get out of the woods, but a steady supply of fresh rubble from the gully kept the undergrowth in check. I continued rock-hopping a short distance in the open, then bashed my way up the left bank to find a faint use/game trail.

Direct route through cliff band

I followed this trail off and on for what felt like forever, usually staying right along the edge of the gully, but sometimes deviating left. The trail deteriorated as I climbed, and seemed to disappear completely higher up, where I negotiated some frustrating pickup-sticks deadfall through an old burn. This section was slow and frustrating, but it soon enough gave way to a steep gully and open woods, which led efficiently to the base of some cliffs. There turned out to be an easier way to the left, but I attacked fairly directly, climbing a gully on reasonable fourth class rock, then gaining a rock rib. I found a cairn, traversed another gully, then climbed another rib to the edge of the main drainage.

Ledge returning to main gully

The reason for the side shenanigans is some steep dryfalls in the main chute, but that chute remains the best route to the summit ridge, so the route traverses back in via some steep side-hilling and a narrow rubble ledge. Once back in the gully, I made my way up generally stable boulders and clean rock in the dry watercourse, deviating right to get around a blob of lingering snow. The drainage steepens into a bowl below the ridge, with leftward-trending ramps leading toward the summit. I scrabbled up some terrible dirt to get to the ramps, then wove my way up and left, finding some class 3-4 steps and a fair amount of scree.

Slab traverse

Reaching the ridge, I peered down the sheer south side to a glacier, then headed along the crest toward the summit. It started out easy, but the rock was fairly bad, a vertical step required traversing left onto the face. This part was the psychological crux, crossing rubble-covered slabs steep enough that one feels only barely stuck on, until it is possible to climb through a break in a short, vertical rock band. I am not sure if a person would pick up speed if he fell, or just slowly slide to a stop, but the rocks I dislodged certainly got going fairly fast. Once through the short step, more wandering third class climbing led up the face, returning to the ridge just shy of the summit.

Goodsirs and Ice River

While the weather was pleasant, clouds unfortunately interfered with the views of Vaux and the Goodsirs. However, ten minutes’ patience on the summit rewarded me with a nearly-clear view of the latter. Other than a bit of fresh snow lingering on north-facing ledges, they were totally dry, and hugely imposing, rising almost 7000 feet on the other side of the Ice River valley. Seeing them, I knew that I would kick myself forever for not giving them a try.

Trans-Canada from summit

The descent was predictably slow. I crab-walked and side-stepped down the upper steep terrain, then carefully picked my way back across the slabs, taking a slightly different route. I found a few cairns traversing down the bowl to the watercourse, on what may have been a slightly easier line. I knew the traverse out of the ravine led to a point just above a small but distinctive tree, but it took me a couple of tries to find my exact line. I tried to find an easier way down below, mostly without success: the cairned route through the cliffs was less technical but more annoying than my line on the way up, and I found no better route through the pickup-sticks.

Back at the car, I briefly talked to a guy from Calgary looking for a place to go for a short bike ride. I made food and hung out, so I was still there when he returned, informing me that the old Ice River Road, which weirdly takes off from near the campground, was choked with deadfall and miserable. We talked for awhile, and I found out that he knew the mountains well, and had done a number of the 11ers. When he left, I finally packed up and headed back to the familiar Beaverfoot Road, driving farther to the Ice River spur. I made sandwiches, packed, and tried to get to sleep quickly, excited and apprehensive about the “real day” ahead.


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.

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.

Alexandra (approach hike)

South side of Bryce

I was still tired from the previous day’s outing to King Edward, but with only three days of good weather, I had to make full use of my time up the long Bush River Road. My initial plan was therefore to go for Mount Bryce via its classic northeast ridge, the most “stylish” thing in the area. I woke to my alarm in the dark, ate a premade breakfast, and started riding up the Rice Brook Road by headlamp. I switched off the lamp partway up the initial climb, passed a 4Runner parked at the mouth of the canyon, then continued on the rolling climb up the somewhat-worse road above Rice Brook. The road was still perfectly drivable for a capable vehicle; perhaps the 4Runner’s owners were worried about getting trapped by rockfall, but someone else had driven up this season. I paused at a sort-of fork in the road: the branch continuing straight had been partly buried by a landslide some years ago, while the one turning back uphill was in fine shape and had seen recent use. It felt like the wrong direction for Bryce, but the guidebook described the road as drivable to the former bridge. Only after continuing on for awhile did I realize that I should have kept going along the buried road. I thought of turning back, then decided instead to change plans and try for Mount Alexandra, as I was already headed in that direction. I did not have the route description on my phone, but I had read it recently enough to remember, and did have a track of unknown provenance.

Unnamed peaks near first lake

I stashed my bike where the road became overgrown, then continued hiking across a cut-block, bashing through some healthy fireweed. My track climbed the near side of the block, but it made more sense to me to follow the old road-bed to the far side to reach an open talus slope. There was a bit of a thrash getting from the logged area to the rocks, but it worked as well as one can expect for a BC thrash, and I was soon climbing freely out of the Green Hell. I even saw some bootprints along the way.

Second, wretched descent

Once I reached the ridge, I followed it toward a cliffy buttress, then traversed right across some steep dirt to reach a small hanging pond. From there, the route descended a steep slope to an odd three-toed lake, where I saw some recent bear prints in the mud. I had lost my bear spray swimming home from King Edward, but I did not feel particularly at risk in open country. Beyond the lake, the route climbs again to another ridge, then drops down a miserably loose and steep slope to a glacial stream before climbing again to another col. I was feeling my fatigue, climbing toward the next “pass” at a pathetic pace, frequently pausing to pant and let the ache in my legs drain away.

Alexandra from turnaround

The view from the top was discouraging: after another loose, steep descent, I had to cross a rubble-strewn plateau, then do some indeterminate amount of side-hilling before dropping across South Rice Brook above treeline to begin the actual climb of Mount Alexandra. There’s a reason Corbett half-recommends taking a helicopter. The peak was only four air miles away, but I doubted I had the energy. I sat down to have a snack and think, and found myself eating all my food, then finding a tolerable place to lie down for a nap. This happens to me sometimes toward the end of a season, and is a clear sign that I am some combination of mentally and physically depleted. I usually recover, but there was nothing for it but to plod home. I consoled myself with having spent a good part of the day in a seldom-visited slice of the alpine. I also knew the correct approach to Bryce, and that the “standard” south glacier route was not an option, as the couloir connecting the lower and upper glaciers was a gray streak of bare dirt and ice. My tentative plan of using that as a descent route as out, and the only option for Bryce would be going both up and down the long northeast ridge.