Elevation Reached (m): 2520
Elevation Gain (m): 900
Round Trip Time (hr): 5
Total Trip Distance (km): 8.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 4 – you fall, you wish you were dead
Difficulty Notes: Our attempted route involved a slab section that would severely injure or kill if you fell. The south ridge to the summit is certainly 5th class climbing which has been confirmed by another attempt by climber friends of mine. Note: We attempted this peak from a camp near the Whitegoat Creek valley as part of a 2 day trip combined with Mount Stelfox.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (4th)
After an easy day on Mount Stelfox, Mike Mitchell and I were pretty excited to find a scramble route up it’s higher northern neighbor – Bright Star Peak. As far as we knew there are no recorded scramble ascents of this peak – as a matter of fact, I don’t know of any online trip reports of anyone getting to the summit although I’m sure some folks have, over the years. As it turns out, there is good reasons for the lack of beta on this peak. We got up early at our bivy along Whitegoat Creek and by 05:00 we were on the familiar approach trail towards Whitegoat Pass. Why bother redoing this trail and not bivy higher? Simple. There’s no easily available water anywhere from Whitegoat Creek to the Pass, or even beyond. As far as I’m concerned you should not count on any water source from Whitegoat to Coral Creeks at all. You might get lucky with snow melt or recent rains, but this is obviously not dependable enough to count on.
We had scouted a possible route the day previous from Stelfox (one of the main reasons we ascended it first) and were quite keen on giving it a go. Stelfox had awesome views but was kind of easy and straightforward. We were in the mood for some nice routefinding and interesting terrain. We certainly got what we desired! We knew from the day before that there was three key sections to cracking Bright Star. First was gaining a high col that led to a false summit, well short of the peak that almost looked like part of the south ridge from Stelfox. There were two viable routes to this col. The most interesting was via a treed slope leading to a narrow access gully which looked to be fairly easy and low angled. This was our preferred route. There was also a ridge that looked as if it would work, rising north from near Whitegoat Pass. I thought it looked a bit slabby and was probably not as easy as it appeared from a distance. The second key was getting to the summit block. Again, there were two viable routes from our vantage on Stelfox. The first was the obvious south ridge. It looked fierce – even from 1.5km away. The second was a traverse along the west face of the south ridge to the west ridge. This looked doable from Stelfox, but parts of the route were blocked by terrain so we had no good idea of the whole thing. The third key to cracking Bright Star’s summit was the summit block itself. From a distance it looked doable with some difficulties in the form of slabby terrain with broken scree gullies. We hoped one of the gullies would go.
After all this planning and scoping out routes, it was fun to finally be going for it. I hadn’t had great luck with trying new routes this year (turning around on King Edward and my first try at Whirlpool Ridge). Trying new, unknown routes definitely puts a big dent in the ol’ peak bagging success rates! Kudos to all the guidebook authors and beta-sharers out there who are the first to find scramble routes up so many of the Rockies peaks. It’s not an easy enterprise and results in a lot of “failures” for every success.
When we got to the small blow-down section just before Whitegoat Pass, we diverted as planned, heading up to climber’s left through thinning forest towards an obvious drainage leading to what we hoped was the first of many weaknesses to the summit ridge of Bright Star. We were expecting very strong winds this particular day, which made us somewhat apprehensive about tackling a likely difficult and long route, but so far the weather was perfect with very little wind. We groveled up the obvious gully on smatterings of sheep trails before gaining the headwall guarding the shallow gully to the first col before the false summit. At first the headwall looked pretty straightforward. Mike especially seemed to think it would go pretty easily. I wasn’t as convinced. I’d spent a lot of time in DTC over the past few weeks and was starting to recognize a pattern in the rock there. Ledges and slabs that appear easy from a distance, usually aren’t as straightforward when you get on them. The exposure can quickly creep up and you’re left hoping your Vibram soles work as well as they’re advertised. 😉 There’s also scree on most of the slabs, making them a bit more desperate than you expect until you’re on them. As we got closer to the headwall and I tried the first obvious tactic of going straight up, I realized we were once again dealing with the “tougher-than-expected” slabs of DTC.
Mike tried another line to climber’s left of the direct one and found an exposed traverse to some reasonably angled slabs leading up to the shallow gully, out of sight, above us. I was extremely grateful for my approach shoes (as opposed to boots) for the next 100 meters or so. The terrain wasn’t horrible, but looking back down it, I knew I was going to be trying an alternate descent. We could have descended our ascent route, but it wouldn’t have been quick or completely safe.
Once off the slabs, we traversed on another partial sheep trail towards a shallow gully which we followed easily up to the col with the false summit. Ironically, we found a perfect bivy site with running water (from snow melt) just before the col. I’m sure not very many humans have been to this delightful little spot – which always feels good. There was good news, bad news and very bad news in our views from the col. The good news was that the false summit looked to be very easy from here. The bad news was that the traverse along the west face of the south ridge to the far west ridge involved dropping down at least 200 vertical meters before groveling up a scree gully to a difficult-looking west ridge. The very bad news was that the south ridge looked very intimidating already from down a the col. We didn’t imagine it would look better from the false summit, but we gamely headed up anyway. Worst case scenario we’d tag the false summit, garner some beta and views and then descend.
The false summit was easily obtained from the col via a short scree slope and soon we were looking at the very unfriendly (to scramblers) south ridge leading off to the tantalizing summit, still over 1km from our vantage. We both knew our day was over at this point so we decided to enjoy the views, take a break and then head down our alternate descent gully. Sometimes it feels really crappy not to bag a summit, but on Bright Star we both ended up agreeing that it was one of our “best” failures. There simply wasn’t any viable scrambling route ahead of us so we didn’t feel any pressure to try it. Sometimes the decision is made easier when the terrain / conditions are so bad you don’t even feel tempted to try. After snapping some gorgeous summit pics we started back down to the col below.
Bright Star wasn’t quite done throwing us curve balls as we started down the “easy” alternate descent gully. Soon it became rather obvious that the terrain that looked dead-easy from Stelfox the day before, wasn’t. The scree ramp we’d spotted was broken by cliff bands and pretty exposed. The slabby ridge to our left looked doable, but again, it had to be at least as steep as the gully we were facing and that didn’t look easy either! We decided to roll the dice and start down the narrow gully / chimney feature, mostly because it looked very fun. We knew full well that we could be easily turned back at almost any point by a drop off, since we couldn’t see very far ahead down the steep feature. We had some ledges on our left which could be used to bail out to the ridge if we had to so we didn’t feel stuck. The steep gully / chimney feature was very fun and very unique. It was also bloody exposed to objective hazards above on our right in the form of very loose and very unstable rock / shale cliffs that were obviously eroding actively. We were both surprised by how much fun we had descending this feature, but we both agreed that we wouldn’t want to come up it due to the nature of the slick slabs on our left and exposed hazards above. After much longer than we both anticipated, we finally broke into the lower gully and bailed out to Whitegoat Pass on easy terrain.
The rest of our day was pretty straight-forward as we leisurely packed up our camp before heading back along the Whitegoat Creek OHV trail to our vehicles. The one change that made things easier and quicker on exit than on approach, was ignoring the hiking detours along the creek and simply following the OHV track. This necessitated wet feet in places (or wading) but on a hot day, it actually felt good to dip the feet in the drink once in a while. Mike and I both commented more than once how much fun we had on Bright Star despite not making the summit. I guess it proves that sometimes the pleasure really is in the journey and not the destination. Now if someone else could just try a few more routes and share the beta, we’d both be grateful. 🙂
Update: A climber friend from Edmonton attempted the south ridge with climbing gear and turned around due to the nature of the ridge so this route is likely *not* the best one to try next!