Category Archives: Canada


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.

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.

Bryce (NE ridge fail)

Bryce from center

Returning to the car from a failed jaunt toward Alexandra by mid-afternoon, I was determined to make the most of my last good weather day with a solid attempt at Bryce. I repacked with a more generous amount of food — closer to 4000 calories instead of the 2500 I had brought the day before — then focused on recovery, eating plenty and going to sleep early. When my alarm woke me again (I was definitely getting run down), I ate a breakfast and a half, then started riding again as soon as it was light enough, taking it a bit easier on the climb to save energy. The previous day’s 4Runner was gone, so I would have the peak to myself.

Smoky dawn on
Rice Brook road

Stashing my bike at the fork, I hiked along the destroyed road, finding some new and useless flagging leading toward the stream crossing. Someone had even done some recent cutting along the bank. Corbett’s guide glosses over the King Edward ford as “short but cold,” while implying that the Rice Brook one is treacherous, so I was worried about how to get across, but fortunately that proved simple. A number of large trees had recently fallen across the main branch, so I could balance across one of them, then switch into wading shoes on a gravel bar to cross the remaining shin-deep channel without even taking off my pants. Too easy!

Glacier below Queant

I left my wading shoes on the other side and took off up the old road. It had looked worryingly green and overgrown from the Alexandra approach the day before, but there was a decent trail, and most of the greenery was just grass and fireweed, not evil willows and alder. I suspected that most of the trail maintenance was done by wildlife, i.e. bears, but someone had recently sawn through some of the deadfall. The trail faded slightly past the cairn parking the south glacier route, but it was still fast walking for the most part to the final cut-block, other than one stretch passing through a collapsed moraine. It was much smokier than the day before, unfortunately, so I could barely make out Bryce’s hanging glacier far above, and the cirque extending from Watchman around to Queant on the other side of the brook, sheltering a badly-shrunken glacier.

Above the green hell

The guidebook instructed me to go to the “upper left” corner of the cut-block, but I was not sure what that meant. I followed a switchback in the road, which looked more used than a faded branch straight ahead, and passed a couple of cairns before it ended. From there I headed straight up through the woods, aiming to get above the green as quickly as possible, then traverse right as necessary. This worked for awhile, as the woods were surprisingly open, but I eventually found myself in a classic thrash, pulling myself up a steep hill through krummholtz. And when I finally emerged above the green, I found myself faced with an extended side-hill across steep dirt, loose talus, and sloping ledges. I found the occasional goat-track, but I had clearly done something wrong.

Traverse below col

I eventually worked my way around a southeast buttress, and found myself at the toe of a small glacier, one of two parts of what was once a larger mass of ice below the base of the northeast ridge. I traversed below it, crossed some tiring moraine and slabs, then made my way toward the other piece of the glacier below the start of the ridge. I found a couple of cairns here, and disturbed some resting mountain goats, but the route was not obvious. At the toe of the glacier, I had a sandwich and debated a bit, then put on my spikes and picked my way up some steep ice onto the glacier’s surface. While it was fortunately largely bare, it was also badly broken up, so I spent some time weaving through a crevasse maze, even ducking through an icy arch, before I reached easier ground. Crossing the flat part of the glacier, I made my way for some northeast-trending slabs on the other side, took off my crampons, and zig-zagged up and back left to emerge near the col.

Ridge from col

Finally, I was at the base of the route. I traversed right below the first headwall, finding some bootprints and a two-pin anchor, then climbed a chossy but dry gully, stemming between the sides to hold the rock and dirt in place. From a three-pin anchor at the top, I traversed back left to the ridge crest, then stayed close to it, steadily gaining elevation on lousy but tolerable rock. I eventually reached the crux, a harder gray band of rock, which I overcame by cutting left, climbing perhaps thirty feet of face, then traversing back right to the crest, finding the promising four-pin anchor. Perhaps there used to be five- and six-pin anchors higher on the ridge, but this was the last one I found.

Center and main peaks from NE

The route is described as a mix of rock and snow, and the first ascent of the complete northeast ridge involved some thirty crampon transitions, but I used my crampons only once, sketched across two flatter bits of ice, and cut a few steps across a couple of ice saddles. Expecting frequent transitions, I had clipped my crampons into my chest strap for easy access, but they mostly just poked me at inopportune times. Above the crux step, the route was rarely harder than fourth class, mostly hiking and staying close to the crest, with occasional short stretches of climbing. The ridge flattened out on some red dirt, then steepened again to the indistinct northeast peak. From its summit I could finally see the central and main (southwest) summits, the former looking mostly dry, the latter still capped in grayish-white. Kaufmann and Outram, on their first ascent in 1902, had dropped left to the south glacier to save time, skipping the central peak, but with the shrunken glacier that looked somewhere between treacherous and impossible now. Besides, the center peak is worth peakbagger points.

Climb to center peak

Continuing, I traversed left of the jagged crest on some remarkably poor gray rock, then dropped slightly before climbing steeper terrain with bits of fifth class here and there to the central summit. While none of the climbing was particularly difficult, the exposure and poor rock demanded constant focus, which was mentally taxing, but which also distracted me from fatigue and hunger. At least as I saw it, the “skill” this route mostly requires is being able to stay “on” for hours at a time. I skirted the center peak’s icy summit blob to the left, tagging the highest rock point, then began dropping to the saddle with the main summit. This part required a few short, steep downclimbs, but the limestone was sharp and sticky. I found a large boulder with a long sling around it, but was not sure which direction people hoped to rappel. The crest cliffs out, so after checking out my options, I retreated just past the slung boulder, downclimbed a loose gully to the north, and traversed along some chossy ledges and extremely rotten rock to the col between the central and main summits.


From the final saddle, I picked my way up some awful, steep, loose yellow dirt and talus, which eventually steepened to the usual mix of walking and short alpine boulder problems. Earlier in the day, I had been worried about how long I had taken to reach the base of the ridge, but it looked like I would reach the goal in less than eight hours from my bike. Estimating that this would correspond to a six-hour return, I would be back to the car around full dark. I was feeling awfully proud of myself… until I finally got a close look at the summit “snow arete.” When the guidebook described an “spectacular snow fin [that] is not as bad as it looks,” I had assumed that it would be something like Eldorado in the Cascades, which requires balance, care, and a head for heights. What I should have anticipated was that, with Canada’s pathetic winter and early summer, the “snow fin” had melted down to its icy core. With boots, crampons, and perhaps two axes, I would have easily and securely traversed across the south face, but I had just my running shoe crampons and a single axe. I started along the ridge à cheval, knocking down the weird fin of snice along the crest to make a better seat, but this tactic would not work on the steeper parts, or on the remaining hardened cornice. With no way to reach the bare rocky slopes south of the summit, no desire to cut steps across the south face, and no other tactics coming to mind, I admitted defeat.

Columbia Icefield

Strangely, I was only mildly disappointed to turn back so close to the summit. I knew what I would have had to do to succeed: carry my heavy mountaineering gear the whole way for the final two hundred yards, costing me an hour or two on the other nineteen miles of the route, some of that by headlamp. I also knew that, in its current dry condition, the northeast ridge was not enjoyable enough to repeat. Going up the ridge and down the southwest glacier might be fun in the right conditions, but I am not expert enough to predict when that will be possible. While some rock routes in the ever-drier Canadian Rockies are becoming easier or better, traditional mountaineering routes like this are usually worse.

Approach glacier

I had my second-to-last sandwich, then began picking my way home. I was sluggish on the climbs by now, but fortunately only had one big grunt over the central peak. Needing a bit of self-manipulation, I promised myself the last sandwich when I made it past the climbing, down the ridge and below the glacier. The ridge went about as expected, slow on the uphills and quickly on the flats and downhills, except when the choss-on-slabs was more difficult down than up. Downclimbing the crux required thoughtful and careful movement, but at least the small holds were mostly solid. The dirt-chute around the first headwall was worse going down, but again just required patience.

Steep part of approach glacier

I was determined not to reverse my route over the glacier, so after retracing my way down the ramps, I continued to zig-zag down and left, searching for breaks in each layer. Some required low-fifth-class downclimbing, but I made steady progress, eventually descending below the glacier’s steep bulge. It looked from above as if I might be able to avoid the ice entirely, but that eventually proved difficult and tedious, so I put on crampons one final time to walk down the low-angle glacier to its toe, where I finally sat down, stowed my axe and spikes, and ate that last sandwich.

Balance-beam moraine

Though the “dangerous” mountaineering work was done, I still had a long ways to go, and more route-finding. I continued down the valley below the glacier, crossing as many streams to the right as I could before they joined to become too formidable. I soaked my feet on a couple, but did not really care, as I did not have too much distance to cover. I traversed back to my upward path at one point, followed it, then left it to follow the crest of an old moraine, which seemed like it would get me well below treeline before I had to engage in vegetable combat. This proved tricky but also engaging and amusing, as the crest of the moraine was balance-beam narrow. I eventually dismounted where it descended into shrubbery, crossed a final cascade, and entered the fight. I had hoped to bash straight down to an old roadbed, but I was not so fortunate. The woods here had much more undergrowth and deadfall than on the other side, and the old cut-block was littered with old debris and badly overgrown with brush and berries. Mindful that I was bashing through prime bear-grazing terrain, I occasionally yodeled, but mostly just let my spontaneous cursing at bashed toes and shins announce my presence.

Queant cirque again

Fortunately I had recorded a track on the way up, so I could just bash my way back to its closest point, finally emerging on the road. From there it was a long but mostly easy downhill walk back to Rice Brook, which was still less than knee-deep, then a short plod up to my bike. Worn though I was, the cruise down to the car still cheered me up. I did not bother with dinner or an alarm: whatever the weather, tomorrow would be a rest day.

PS: If you have some spare time, I encourage you to read James Outram’s account of the same climb in August 1902, from his book In the Heart of the Canadian Rockies.