Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy Birthday Blair!

A tribute to Blair courtesy of Trevor. Are you sure you brought only water up Glendowan?

Friday, August 21, 2009


Height: 8,770
View-o-meter: 4/5
Scrambling Difficulty: Difficult
Total Trip Difficulty: Moderate
Best Feature: Nice summit pyramid
Worst Part: Deadfall before gaining the ridge

Glendowan and other nearby peaks as seen from Anderson

Glendowan is located just north of Red Rock canyon. It sits along the front range ridge that houses several other popular scrambles, like Dungarvan and Galwey. This is a quintessential scrambler's summit. There are no technical (5th class) routes to the summit, but neither are there any walk ups. All approaches require good scrambling skills.

A number of routes to the summit are possible:
1. The west ridge from Newman peak (short exposed, difficult sections with most of the route being 2nd class)
2. The south ridge from the Snowshoe cabin trail (lots of deadfall at the start and some good scrambling near the upper purcell)
3. The east ridge from Cloudy Ridge and the unamed 8500+ peak (expect to run the most difficult ridgeline in the park)
4. The north bowl from the south fork of Yarrow

From my perspective the most aesthetic and enjoyable way to the summit is via the south ridge of the unamed 8500+ peak which lies between Glendowan and Cloudy Ridge. This ridgeline starts on the west side of the Red Rock canyon. It avoids much of the nasty bushwhacking which characterizes Glendowan's proper south ridge. Instead of spending time on the Snowshoe cabin road, you spend extra time on the ridges. Peakbaggers and those who are out of shape may not relish the extra unamed peak that is (nearly) ascended, but if you are looking for some high quality scrambling and some fun, semi-technical ridge running, that just keeps on going, this is probably a good route to try. The suggested finish is down the west ridge over to Newman and out Goat Lake, but this is merely one among many options.

Glendowan via the South Ridge of the Unamed 8500+ Peak
Park at Red Rock canyon and take the paved trail that heads up the canyon. When you cross over to the west side of the bridge, hop over the fence and start bashing up the ridge. The deadfall through here isn't very nice, but it is a heck of a lot better than the stuff you'll find in many other places above the Snowshoe cabin trail (think South ridge of Glendowan or any of the other side valleys from here up to Lost Lake).

The deadfall just after hopping the Red Rock canyon fence. It gets worse further up the Pass Creek valley. You can also bypass all deadfall by hiking up the Snowshoe trail for about 1/2km to the first open hillside - HT Blair.

The open hill side provides a welcome relief. Expect maybe 15 min of bushwacking.

The open slopes looking back down to Red Rock

Follow the ridge line though the intermittent groves of trees. The trees tend to be thinner on the windward, left hand, side.

Looking at some spectacular scrambling terrain on the south ridge of the Unnamed 8500+ peak which sits between Glendowan and Cloudy Ridge

The first crux comes at a junction of Black Purcell Lava.

The first crux band. 4th class

As with most things in the Park, it looks much harder than it is. Getting to the shelf on the right hand side of the first limestone band is not too tough (hard 3rd class- maybe 4th class). This lets you duck around right on what looks like a game trail. 15 feet or so of 4th class terrain gets you on top of the Purcell Lava. If the route finding on this crux section stymies you, or the scrambling is at your limit, you may want to think about cutting the day short instead of getting hung up in the more exposed but technically easier ground that is found near the ridge crest.

While the ridge continues to look intimidating numerous easy ledges can be threaded to make for easy going with little if any backsliding. One band of rotten brown limestone looks challenging, but is easily threaded up a talus gully on the left. In general the left side of the ridge usually has the line of least resistance.

Ledge threading at it's best. How can something that looks so hard from afar prove so easy up close.

The next difficulty is the notorious Fossil Algae band. Luckily a moderate bit of 4th class climbing heads through what otherwise would be a technical show stopper. A small spruce tree marks the weakness left of the arete's headwall (in this picture the small tree is almost hidden in shadows). The hardest climbing lasts only up to the first ledge (20 feet), after which things ease up a bit while the exposure continues to grow. Luckily the rock is pretty good and holds are relatively plentiful (from a climber's perspective)

The 2nd crux through the fossil algae (4th class)

Some more easy scrambling gets you up towards the ridge line. At the ridge crest, you will probably want to cut right to gain one of the many false summits of the unamed 8500+ peak. While the true peak lines a ways back along the ridge, getting to one of the small summits is easy and gives you nice views down to Cloudy Ridge and Glendown. The Yarrow side of the ridge looks like it has a nice shale traverse that leads to the actual peak. You can continue over to Cloudy Ridge and Dungarvan this way, but expect things to be exposed and technical.

After gaining the ridge crest you will need to drop west down towards Glendowan. This presents no problems. Several good goat trails exist over here, and chances are pretty good you will see some of the herd.

The west ridge of the Unamed 8500+ peak which leads towards Glendowan. This is what you descend on your way over to Glendowan

The ascent back up Glendowan's east ridge has some fun scrambling. The going is easiest on the intermittent goat trails on the right (Yarrow) side of the ridge.

The east ridge of Glendowan as seen from the Unnamed 8500+ ridge.

Scrambling back up towards Glendowan is mainly 3rd class. A few short sections of knife edge ridge are 4th class. They are reminiscent of Crandell's knife edged south ridge - albeit much shorter. This section can be largely avoided by staying low on the right via the goat trails.

The rock is entirely purcell lava and while broken and lichen covered tends to be fairly stationary. This is as close to a "granite" experience as you'll have in the park.

Fun times on good rock. 3rd & 4th class

The Purcell lava helps to give the peak an ominous flare. It guards the flanks to the brown shale summit pyramid rather nicely. You are never really sure if there is another way down besides the one you just ascended. As you traverse around to the left (west) of the pyramid several possible weaknesses open up. Routes range from 3rd to 4th class. Chances are pretty good that near the top you will need to traverse left to gain the actual summit. Different, more direct descent routes from the summit are possible.

The routes up this shale face start off as stiff 3rd class. Around the corner to the left, other more sustained 3rd and 4th class routes are possible. A nice chimney/gully can be followed directly down from the summit although you may need to cut east (climber's right) to avoid some of the more vertical sections

Descend either via the south ridge (watch out for lots of deadfall at the end), over to Newman or via the ascent route. If your route finding skills and scrambling confidence aren't quite good, picking your way down through the purcell and fossil algae along an unknown route like the south ridge (or if that is ascended the south ridge of unnamed) may not be the wisest idea. I would suspect heading down the south ridge of Glendowan blind is easier than heading down the south ridge of Unamed 8500+ blind. Scrambling down the face of the upper purcell to gain Glendowan's south ridge may be a bit long and exposed, but a blind descent of the fossil algae band on the south ridge of the unnamed 8500+ is probably more dangerous and intimidating.

Other Route Descriptions

Nugara's scrambling page - A very good description of an ascent of the south ridge of Glendowan.

Bob Spirko's scrambling page -An early season ascent via the south ridge and descent via the drainage ?north? of the south ridge

Club tread trip report

Trevor Helwig's blog - Mainly pictures of the south ridge with a short description of the traverse over to Newman.



Monday, August 17, 2009

Traffic Changes I'd Like To See

Driving into the park can sometimes be frustrating. I suspect most people have gotten trapped behind some oblivious tourist doing 40kmh under the speed limit. Here is what I would like to see

Post more speed limit signs
- in particular another 80km sign going up knights hill and another 80km sign just past the Pass creek bridge. Too many people are looking at the gorgeous views of Vimy as they pass the park gate and miss the 80kmh sign. Similarly soooo many people just inch long after the Pass creek bridge. Because it is the standard deviation from the speed limit that causes accidents not just the rates above the speed limit, I think this is pretty dangerous and very easy to fix.

Signs to use pullouts
- Since the park is there for people to enjoy, I really can't complain too much about people enjoying the views. However, if you are going well under the speed limit, please use the pullouts to let others pass. It is very easy to do, and is required by the law for motor homes to do if more than 10 cars are following. Simple courtesy can go a long ways.

Similarly when people stop to look at bears deer, etc, pull over to the shoulder. I can't stand people that just slam on the breaks in the middle of the road to snap some pictures preventing anyone from getting past. If I'm a tourist in New York and stop in the middle of the road to look at the sky scrapers, what do you think people would do?

Old speed limits on Red Rock and Cameron
- Over the years the speed limit has been dropping on these roads. As a kid I can remember the speed limits were 80km. I thought this was a bit high, but it was a true maximum. A few years ago it was 60km and now its 50km. I just miss the good old days....

Passing Lanes
-I miss the passing lane going up Knights hill. I also miss the passing lane past Pass creek. Those turning lanes may make things safer, but a passing lane right there really was nice.

The stop sign at Kilmorey
I know a non-fully regulated T-intersection isn't kosher, but I don't think the extra stop sign really makes things that much better.

Loud Harleys and Trucks
I'm going to have to save a full post for these. They just destroy the whole atmosphere of the park just so some 50 something poser bikers and red neck riggers can feel cool. One of these days I wish they could get some of their own noise right back at them.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Height: 8,599
View-o-meter: 3/5
Scrambling Difficulty: Easy
Total Trip Difficulty: Moderate
Best Feature: Oceans of red rock
Worst Part: Temporarily losing the trail in the Goat lake basin

Newman is a very easy peak to ascend. The only difficulties is the moderately long approach up to and past Goat Lake. Most people ascend this peak from Red Rock Canyon via the Snowshoe cabin trail and the Goat Lake turnoff. It is also pretty easy to get up Newman from the Yarrow valley.

Newman as seen from Goat Lake

Hike or bike about 5km up the Snowshoe cabin trail. Take the Goat Lake turnoff and ascend this relatively steep and hot trail to the lake. Near the campground on the north shore of the lake a trail continues up the valley's backside. As you approach the purcell lava bands be careful not to lose the trail. At the first band, it cuts back right to head up a fairly easy weakness. The trail through the talus on the backside is in pretty good shape. Once at the saddle cut right to gain the peak.

Many people link Newman with other peaks such as Avion Ridge or Spionkop, Loaf, Yarrow, Drywood, etc. The ridge that runs north of Newman makes for some very pleasant, easy ridge running. Going via Avion ridge makes a nice loop trip.

Beautiful views looking back down Goat Lake's hanging valley. The fishing is pretty good, but don't expect anything very large

The Spionkop ridge running over to Spread Eagle Mountain on the north side of the Yarrow valley. These rounded backs are typical of the ridges in this area.

Newman as seen from the east (Yarrow Valley)

Other Route Descriptions

Dave Stephen's Page - some pictures and associated descriptions of an early season ascent

Vern Dewitt's Page - very detailed route descriptions from Goat Haunt Lake with lots of pictures

Vern Dewitt's Page - description from Spionkop Ridge across Newman and over to Avion Ridge with lots of pictures

Bob Spirko's Scrambling Page - Route descrption, trip report, google map routes, pictures of an ascent up Avion Ridge.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Waterton News

PARKS Community Bulletin - Blakiston Valley Project Open House

In Brief:
§ The public is invited to an

Open House in the park on
Saturday, August 29th from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
@ Waterton Park Community Centre (former school.)

The purpose of the Open House is to inform people about current concepts
and options for the Blakiston Valley Project. Information exhibits will
focus on presenting several conceptual options for a proposed
welcome/orientation area at the beginning of the road and on final concepts
for improvements in the Red Rock Canyon area.

Waterton Lakes National Park is receiving $3.0M over the next two years as
part of the federal Accelerated Infrastructure Project to make important
improvements to visitor facilities in the Blakiston Valley, including the
popular Red Rock Canyon area. Preliminary planning work for this project is
already well advanced, with construction proposed for the summer of 2010.

This investment will contribute significantly to visitors’ experiences as
they travel through the Blakiston Valley, considered to be Waterton’s
signature ‘Where the Mountains Meet the Prairie’ experience.

For Further Information:
Jim Lambe
Blakiston Valley Project Manager

If you were making improvements or self-guided trail signs, what type of information or features would you add?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Old Hunting Map

Over at New Scientist they have a short article on what appears to be a very old map (14,000 years) to some hunting grounds and a cave. After spending some time wading through maps this month trying to write up some of the scrambling descriptions I found it pretty interesting.

On a somewhat tangental note, I can never figure out why anthropologists and archaeologists doubt the ability of ancient people to travel great distances (see the buzz on the book 1421) or be a little bit more sophisticated than we imagine. I have enjoyed the discovery series on old machines - especially the ones on the water siphons and related gadgets.

If I ever was really bored, I think spending some time to re-invent those old gear driven and pulley based gadgets would be fun.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Scrambling Dangers

Here is an article based on an interview with Brent Kozachenko about some of the recent accidents scrambling in the Park. The last one apparently was in June!

Prairie Post Link

The knife edge route on Crandell seems to get quite a few rescues. It is a gorgeous and obvious ridge that seems to suck people into getting over committed. To that once people get spooked on the first knife edge they tend to bail off to the climbers right (east) and then get hang up on some slabs with undercuts at their base. If you haven't heard someone relate an epic about this, just ask - it doesn't sound like fun.

I haven't heard of too many rescues off Galwey or Blakiston. I suspect the difficulties just aren't sustained enough to lead to the anxiety that gets people into trouble on Crandell. Even the harder scrambles like Dungarvan and any of the ridges north of Red Rock just don't have the sustained nature to get people quivering enough that they get scared to move. It also doesn't seem like any of the alpine routes in the park get rookies on them.

Back when I used to work at Tamarack mall in the late 80's we used to hear of a few people getting rescued off the face of the hump. That really has seemed to change in the last few decades. I remember meeting one odd fellow who only would head up the face of the hump with crampons! Apparently he felt he could stand on smaller edges with them than with hiking books or climbing shoes! He also related a story of getting rescued off the face because he got too scared to down climb and couldn't even turn around to get properly set up for going down. If that sounds strange to you - you can just imagine what his skill and judgement levels were like.

So time to let the old rumors of stupid rescues fly.

Labels: ,


Height: 7,992
View-o-meter: 3/5
Scrambling Difficulty: Easy
Total Trip Difficulty: Moderate
Best Feature: No scrambling
Worst Part: How much water did you bring?

Lineham is probably one of the easiest peaks in the Park to ascend. Difficulties are similar to Carthew Peak. This means it is even easier than the trail up Vimy! A few people incorporate an ascent of Lineham peak with Blakiston and Hawkins making for a full day ridge run coined the "Hawkins Horseshoe". However many people that try this link up also get to the Tamarack trail junction above the backside of Rowe meadows and falter in their conviction for another peak.

Lineham peak as seen from the north from Mount Hawkins

If you are just interested in heading up Lineham, take the Rowe lakes trail to Rowe Meadows. This is a fairly gentle hike which is known for its beargrass. If you have energy you can make a short detour into lower Rowe lakes before continuing up to Rowe meadows.

Lineham peak as seen from part way up the Rowe Lakes trail

From Rowe Meadows an established and marked trail sidehills up the back bowl by tending right. This gets you to a pleasant saddle above Lineham lakes. In spring be aware of snow and falling cornices from the ridge to your left. If the cornices are big and the day is warm, you may want to exercise some caution and catch the trail a little bit past this exposed terrain. We were skiing here one summer when a couple of cornices unloaded a hundred meters to our right. Luckily we had chosen to avoid that terrain for this exact reason.

From the top of the bowl, the trail continues a short distance to the west to ascend a minor high spot which is worth getting to. It gives you better views down along the Tamarack trail. Cut back east along the broad flat ridge that leads to Lineham peak. From the peak the preferred descent is a scree slide back to the Lower Rowe lakes junction. There will be a little bit of bush near the bottom to wade through.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Kishinena Peak

Height: 7,992
View-o-meter: 1/5
Scrambling Difficulty: Easy
Total Trip Difficulty: Moderate
Best Feature: No talus
Worst Part: Long hike for a treed ridge line

This minor peak sits at the head of Blue Grouse basin. An established trail heads up the South Kootenay pass just south of the peak. Other than bagging named summits there really isn't much reason to wander up this peak.

The peak is behind the foreground's ridge. The South Kootenay Pass trail heads up the forested slopes to the saddle. Kishinena Peak is to the right of the saddle.

Hike into to Blue Grouse basin either via Snowshoe cabin and twin lakes or the Blakiston Creek (South Kootenay Pass) trail. Follow the signed juntion up to South Kootenay Pass. At the summit head north through the trees and some minor deadfall. Near the top the ground opens up a bit. There is no scrambling on this summit.

As the continental divide trail and Y2Y hikes are becoming more popular, more people are walking the section of ridge that continues on up to Sage pass and the Castle valley.



Height: 8,809
View-o-meter: 2/5
Scrambling Difficulty: Moderate through Blakiston with an easy ridge walk
Total Trip Difficulty: Moderate
Best Feature: Lots of time above Lineham Lakes
Worst Part: The peak is exactly at the halfway point of the loop - are you in shape or not?

Most ascents of Hawkins come as part of the popular "Hawkins Horseshoe". This pleasant ridge run connect Blakiston-Hawkins-Lineham together as a pleasant 19km ridge running day that is more of a hike than a scramble. Hawkins can also be climbed directly from Lineham lakes and with lots of effort from far up Blakiston creek. The Hawkins horseshoe is similar in character to the Dragon's back above Forum and Wall lakes. Views are of the drier front ranges and less of the dramatic snow capped peaks around the Kintla and Starvation areas.

Hawkins as seen from Lineham ridge looking across Lineham's North Lake. Hawkins is to the left, Blakiston is to the right.

From Blakiston via the Hawkin's Horseshoe

Hike 2/3 the way up the Lineham trail and make the long talus slog up Blakiston passing a short (5m) 4th class chimmney through the black Purcell lava. A little bit of 3rd class leads to the talus summit. Run the ridge back to the west passing through one unamed summit. The ridge run is about 4km. It is mostly an easy walk on a broad rounded talus ridge.

The ridge connecting Hawkins (foreground) to Blakiston (background)

After Hawkins the ridge continues to the west for another km or so before cutting south. You'll pass through a gully that is the backway into Lineham lakes before encountering the Tamarack trail. From here you can either head down the established trail to Rowe meadows or follow the ridge to the east the jaunts up Lineham peak. The main purpose of running the Horseshoe via Blakiston is because few people ascending via Rowe meadows want to divert over to Lineham before continuing over to Hawkins and Blakiston. While the Blakiston ascent is a bit of a talus slog, ascending Lineham peak and then sliding down the talus down to the Lower Rowe lake junction is actually easier on the knees than following the established trail down the backside of Rowe meadows.

To really shorten the day, it is possible to ascend Blakiston, hike up to Hawkins, drop directly down into Lineham lakes and come out the cliff on the frontside of the Lineham valley (established trail with lots of exposed 3rd and serious 4th class traversing).

A number of avid fishermen use this trail to make it in for the fabulous fishing in these lakes - however most people come in via the log hike into the backside. The original trail was put in by Frank and Linea Goble who use to run Franks restaurant in the park. The old trail used to head up the left hand side of the falls. They got their directions mixed up and ended traversing in from the right (current trail). Locals kids (12 and up) used to grab their 60-80lb packs and three foot wide bed rolls and scream across the cliff for a night's fishing. My grandfather used to carry his kids across the cliff in his backpack. I think I first scurried across when I was about 8. In the crux sections my dad used to climb down underneath and put his hand up for a foothold. I think there were only two steps that both my brother and myself had to rely entirely on his hand as a foot hold because we were too small to reach the actual holds. The rest of the time he used to just secure our feet to the cliff by pushing in under the soles or pressing our hands down onto the holds. You can protect the crux traverse with some gear, but the rock isn't too reliable and traverses are always bad for both the leader and second. Our little terrier mut used to jump across this cliff on his own until his legs gave out from arthritis.

Hawkins' North aspect in all its bushwacking glory

Other Route Descriptions

Trail - basic trip report with a basic route description with an excellent google map layover and lots of pictures.

Bob Spirko's scrambling page - Lots of pictures illustrate a simple route narration.

Vern Dewitt's scrambling page - Lots of pictures illustrate a simple Hawkins Horseshoe route narration

Dave Stephen's Scrambling Page - a very abbreviated trip log of the Hawkins Horseshoe

Linda's Scrambles & Rambles page - Interesting story of a very snowy September ascent.

Calgary Outdoor Club - brief trip report.


Labels: , ,

Scrambling Hints For Waterton

If you are planning on doing some scrambling in the Park, here are a few general hits that may help you plan your routes.

There are two main bands of rock that determine the feasibility of any route - the grey fossil algae band and the black purcell band.

Fossil Algae
-This is the remnants of an old coral reef. The rock is very textured and is generally pretty solid. While there are usually weakeness through this band you may have to do a bit of traversing to find them. When you are descending, this band of rock is often tricky to negotiate. This is because overhangs near the base of the band are common near. Water worn gullies are usually the weakest point through this band. These gullies tend to have eroded bases which produce the described overhangs.

Beside active gullies there are usually one or two older channels nearby that don't have undercuts.  They also tend to not to be as steep. Rock climbing at the upper tier of Drywood is a good way to get a feel for this type of rock. The rock is sharp, featured and, until you get used to it, holds are hard to read. If a rope is needed, tri-cams and friends generally work well. Most of the peaks north of Red Rock have a prominent band of fossil algae that must be broken through.

The fossil algae band as typically encountered (Dungarvan's southern ribs)

Sometimes finding a way through this band can be challenging (upper tier at North Drywood)

Black Purcell
-This is a volcanic rock that is only present among the taller routes in the park. This band of rock can hang you up. When consolidated it can be quite challenging. When fractured it makes for good scrambling among large detached blocks which, thankfully, tend to be solidly emplaced. Chimneys tend to be the main, but not only, way through this band.

A nicely broken up section of Purcell on Anderson

Red Argillite
- There are a number of bands of red argillite running through the park. Rusted iron deposits in the old inland sea are responsible for the fabulous colors. The rock tends to be crumbly. Don't trust holds, and ensure you climb smoothly with three points of contact. Because argillite weathers so easily, you are usually better doing some traversing to find one of the many weaknesses which occur along these bands. Red argillite with steep exposed 3rd class ledges make me nervous and probably will make for some thought provoking re-assessments. If the face you are climbing is not close to vertical, generally the red argillite won't present too many insurmountable problems (unless you route finding skills are weak).

Near Kootenai Brown Peak

An easy weakness through a band of red argillite

Green Argillite
-There are very few places in the park when the green argillite presents any challenges. In those few places where it sits on a steep, exposed slope you will get a chance to enjoy the full looseness of Waterton Rock. This rock is typically super crumbly and dip sloped. Footings are never solid. Add moss and dirt to this recipe and even old time locals have been known to call things "interesting" and vow never to return.

In general the rock in the park is much loser than that found elsewhere in the rockies. You should be comfortable pulling on lose blocks and knowing how to distribute your weight. Sliding around on talus above 3rd class ledges is an art that takes lots of practice. Being able to read the depth of shale over bedrock is a good trick to know for any descent.

There really aren't any easy to learn secrets for sliding around on talus in 3rd class terrain. If you have some safe ground on which to practice, one trick is being able to keep your momentum going. If you have built up a skill set, it is often easier to glide over loose footings than it is to try and take slow methodical steps. Looking for, and trying to kick in firm footing can sometimes be a challenge in Waterton's loose talus. The ground will just keep sliding out from under you. If things are safe, you can often just skip over the loose stuff for a pace or two in order to skim to better rock. The danger with this is that speed and instabilities grow as the amount of skimming increases. Generally you don't want to do this for more than two or three steps. As the ground gets more exposed, the fewer steps in a row you skim the better. Being able to skim a step or two is actually pretty useful for getting around the talus covered 3rd class ledges in the park. It makes traversing around for weaknesses much more appealing and efficient in terms of overall time spent on a peak.

In the park, you are usually much better running ridge crests than descending down into valley bottoms. There tends to be a lot of deadwood down the steep sided valleys. This can make for tiring going. The other thing to remember is that even though intermediate peaks may look like long hard climbs, they typically go much quicker than one would expect. In the Park linking ridges between neighboring peaks will give you the most bang for your buck. From my perspective peak bagging is much less fun than ridge running.

Game Trails
If you have the right feel for the mountains you will run into a lot of game trails. I have come to find out what may be an obvious trail for one person may be totally invisible for another. Game trails typically are hard to follow if you are worrying about being on the perfect route. They tend to wander to weaknesses in bush up ahead more so than what is easiest at any given moment. If you look for the best path a few meters in front of where you are at when a trail disappears, you will usually miss the right path. Similarly if you are looking too far ahead, you will wander off route. The ideal distance changes with tree cover, slope steepness and deadfall. Once you get a sense of how far ahead game plot their points, following trails becomes easy. On established game trails always try predicting where the trail will go and then test your predictions. Another very good learning trick is to continually look back on you game trail. This gives you a sense of what signs are important for following the trail the "wrong way". Often trails are much easier to pick up in one direction than another. Is the trail you are following mainly formed by game going down or up the valley? The subtitles of the path change as a result.

My strategy is not to fret things, keep moving fast and head towards what seems like the easiest ground. Almost as a rule game trails are easy to find on the way down than on the way up. For some reason human trails are just the opposite.

Getting Started
If you don't happen to live in the Park or spend a lot of time here it can be hard to just pick up line up a peak. Scrambling guides like those by Allen Kane and Andrew Nugara have definitely increased the traffic on the mountains. This means some peaks have routes that are actually pretty easy to follow (Galway, Crandel, Alderson, Forum, Vimy). Trip reports readily available on the internet have also broken down a lot of barriers. If you are new to scrambling in the park a good start may be to try one of the longer established hikes like Carthew-Alderson or Avion Ridge. If time or fitness is an issue, Goat Lake and Crypt Lake give a good feel for what the terrain is like.

Figuring out what first peaks to run will obviously be a matter of taste and experience. The classic scrambles, from easiest to hardest, might include

Mostly a trail
1. Lineham peak from Rowe lake trail
2. Vimy via the trail

Little to no route finding
3. Alderson from Carthew Lakes
4. Blakiston form the Lineham creek trail

More technical terrain without too much route finding
5. Sofa via the NE buttress
6. Galwey

Advanced scrambles
7. Crandell's knife edged ridge (south ridge) from Bear's Hump
8. Dungarvan

If you want to go to an area that requires more exploration, route finding and undocumented adventure, try heading in to the Starvation area around the Akamina-Kishenina Provincial Park in BC (just past Wall Lake). Long Knife Ridge and other peaks (including Kinnerly and Kinta on the US side) stretch the definition of scrambling and really should be considered moderate Alpine routes. Access has to be earned and routes appropriately sized up and plotted.

This is pretty much a personal preference. I don't like hauling up ropes on terrain whose cruxes are easy to avoid with some side-hilling and extra elevation gain/loss. Most crux rock bands are short and usually have a weakness. From my perspective, the gear on scrambling routes in the park is usually poor and hard enough to find that a cord may not be worth it. (This certainly isn't true once one steps out onto the steep faces and alpine rock routes around here - say North face of Anderson, East ridge of Alderson, or East face of Mt. Victoria).

If you want to bring a cord for 4th class terrain, consider just bringing 20 or so meters of 8.5mm and a rack made up of something like a #4, #7, #10 stopper and a red and blue tri cam (knife blades are great, but hammers are heavy). Bring the thin spectra slings with some ultralight biners, and think about bowlines on a bight instead of harnesses. A few extra pieces of full sized webbing can also be knotted and jammed into cracks for protection and used as rappel anchors or slinging horns.

Gri-gris are a no-no for alpine terrain. Old school belay techniques and proper selection and setting of stances are good tricks to learn. Body belays are also nice for saving time and keeping the cord on longer. One reason people often rope up on 4th class terrain is so when a hard spot in encountered while climbing/scrambling, you don't have to worry about gearing up in an impossible spot. (Being tied together without gear does tend to make one more picky about partners though!) Mike Barter's youtube videos are great for learning/reviewing some old school and alpine techniques.

Finding suitable rappel anchors above crux bands of rock will be challenging, so remember even though you got up it - you might not be able to get down it so easily - even with a rope. With shale laying over some of the ledges, gear sometimes can't be placed until you get over the lip.

Also, when simul-climbing, cords can dislodge rocks. Long distances between climbers means these rocks can end up violently ricocheting down gullies. When simul-climbing the stronger climber may go second (no pulling the leader off, no dragging the other climber into terrain that is too hard, and fewer unseen pauses which produce frustrated yanking on the cord). However if you need any of this climbing advice, you probably shouldn't be using second hand descriptions. You really need context. Black and white rules tend to eschew the judgements and common sense needed to make the mountains safe - especially when rock is bad and time is valuable.

Rating Disclaimer
Ratings, and what laymen expect from them, have been evolving for quite some time. As scrambles get bigger and terrain gets more technical, many factors complexly interact to keep grading from becoming cut and dry. The tension between consistency of difficulty and sheer technical difficulty is one such balance.

Modern rock climbing grades don't always match up with their old alpine counterparts. In some ways this is similar to the way indoor grades don't really match up with outdoor grades. Pushing near your limit or comfort level in the mountains is never a good idea. Being solid is much more important than reaching a certain standard.

Ratings for technical climbs in the park tend to be a bit stiffer than other areas. The rock quality is often thought of as a big factor for this. Loose rock creates a pucker factor that can make difficulties grow exponentially, even if "nothing" has changed technically. Edwards old guide to Glacier Park is a very good reference for getting a sense of Class 2,3,4 climbing. In the future I'll probably try to systemitize and cohere the scrambling grading a bit more, but for now consider my descriptions "rough".

I tend to view ratings as what someone who is well used to the area would describe things as. Because scrambling lies in the middle ground between hiking and climbing, it is also pretty important to know the background and traditions from which the person writing descriptions comes from. For instance I come at things more from a climbing perspective than hiking perspective. Add to that the fact 4 generations of my family have been scrambling the local mountains here, plus the fact we tend to be a bit understated about things, and that I've gone up most of these peaks for the first time before I was much of a teenager and you'll get quite a different perspective about some of my route descriptions than you otherwise would have. This doesn't mean I am good at anything, but it probably does color what I considered normal and the things I assume as being common sense.

Similarly, like many people who spend lots of time out in the mountains, a full day to me may mean something quite different from others. To me a full day isn't 6-8 hours. A friend who had just ran a marathon commented that a short 17km hike felt harder than his 26 mile run. The comfort level I tend to go by in my descriptions may take some time to figure out. We all have different strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. Increased precision of description isn't a silver bullet solution. It just leads to another type of problem.

To me the precision, or lack of it, in route descriptions should match the expected accuracy of interpretation. Thus if a route is likely to have lots of variations in how it is experienced, a highly precise description is more misleading than helpful. This is also true of short technical bands. How does one ensure readers hit just the right crack and edges? If one can't assume this, then why give precise details that may encourage those who are not well equipped to deal with the unexpected?

What does all this mean in relation to the route descriptions I have been posting? Get a feel for things on a objective well below your comfort level. Always be prepared for grades and descriptions to be about a class of difficulty off - either up or down. Never push through something if you feel uncomfortable. In terms of exertion, if you have difficulty pushing through exhaustion, then make sure not to tackle something that will leave you hanging things out.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Height: 7,703
View-o-meter: 4/5
Scrambling Difficulty: Difficult
Total Trip Difficulty: Easy
Best Feature: Quick trip up a dramatic peak
Worst Part: Missing the trail through the grassy slopes at the bottom

Galwey is one of the most popular scrambles in the park. A fairly short approach, well beat out trail good exposure and a dramatic summit make for an irresistible draw. Of course being in Kane's scrambling book doesn't hurt either!

Over the past decade a significant trail has developed up the scree slopes along its face. From the Coppermine Creek picnic area, follow a fairly good trail up a steep hillside. Partway up the trail starts to disappear. It tends to stay more left than one would suspect. It you do loose it, don't worry, just make for the crest of the ridge.

The ridge crest has some beautiful outcroppings of red argillite that are easy to walk on. There is no scrambling along this section. As you progress along the ridge crest, the trail through the talus slopes on the main peak above is obvious (it cuts up and to the left)

The talus has a decent trail through it that spares you much of the misery of Waterton talus. If you have recently ascended Blakiston, you will know what this means.

Near the end of the talus slopes, the trail cuts back right up a large gully with relatively easy scrambling. Wind your way to a large flat ledge. Directly to the west lies a large pinnacle. To the east a small window can be seen along the south ridge. From this ledge you must step around to your left (east), working your way around some ledges. This is an exposed 4th class traverse that goes on for about 30 feet. After the traverse you wind up at the base of a 10-15 foot gully/chimmney (4th class). Stem your way up this to reach a short section of shale that leads to the flat summit pyramid.

Belaying the step around (#4 & 7 stoppers & red tri-cam) - although few people actually use any gear - its an exposed 4th class traverse with good solid footing

Note: Due to some of the narrow gullies, rock fall posed by other parties, or even those from your own may be problematic. Some caution should be taken. Many people stop at the first large ledge, saving the traverse and difficult scrambling for their friends. There is no water on the route.

Galwey in the fall - Note the Red Rock Canyon closes during late fall & winter and opens up on the May long weekend



Height: 7,923
View-o-meter: 4/5
Scrambling Difficulty: Moderate
Total Trip Difficulty: Easy
Best Feature: Views of snow filled, pyramidal peaks
Worst Part: A short bit of loose scrambling near the ridge top

Forum Peak and the "Dragon's Back" as seen from the popular Carthew-Alderson Summit Trail

Approach Forum by hiking up the Akamina Pass trail up to the BC border. At the border, head left (south) along the cut line. In about 1km the cut line passes near a steep hillside with a grown over trail. This used to be popular spot for skiing in the 40's.

Hike up the short, steep headwall. At the top of the ridge continue hiking through the Tamaracks. There are nice views down the left to Cameron Lake. Eventually you run into a rotten headwall. Avoid difficulties by going right. This puts you on lose 3rd class terain until the top of the ridge. The true peak lies off to the left

At the ridge top, you can go right to head down to Bennet's Pass, along the "Dragon's Back". This is a very popular and scenic ridge run. Most people do the Dragon's back by ascending the ridge between Forum lake and Wall lake, however, following Forum ridge gives you an extra peak and was the original route for this ridge run. The unamed summit to the West of Forum peak is actually several hundred feet higher than Forum.

The 1861 Boundary commission put up a boundary marker down to the left (south) of the peak. Here is an original picture from that time (courtesy John Dormaar).

John Dormaar has recently finished a book on the 49th Parallel. West on the 49th Parallel is another excellent read about the original boundary surveys. It provides some great insight into the local mountain names as well as some guessing how some of them have changed - Sheep and Sopah for instance

The cairn has long since disappeared. As a 12 year old, I found a slab of rock with some names carved in from this time period. This was part of a longer trip down to Custer and out Goat Haunt. (This is a nice way to get up Custer - although there is a fair bit of traversing on shale ledges).

Other Route Descriptions A very nice set of pictures with the associated description.


Email me