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MacLaren, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 2850
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 11
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 : you fall, you sprain your wrist or break your arm
Difficulty Notes: The most difficult part is the chained section to Carnarvon Lake. After that the most difficult part is looking at the true summit from the false one. Note: Distance and elevation gain includes an ascent of Mount Shankland and is measured from Carnarvon Lake.
GPS Track DownloadDownload GPX File
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (3rd)
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After approaching the stunning Carnarvon Lake and setting up our little camp, Kaycie and I had a decision to make. It had only taken us just over 3.5 hours to hike into camp and we were left with many hours of daylight. Of course this was a good thing, but we wanted to use our time and the great weather we were having to our best advantage. The wx was calling for a clear day followed by up to 24 hours of rain / tstorms starting the next day around noon. Originally our plan had been to scramble Strachan on our approach day since it looked to be easy and short from the bivy site. On our second day we were planning a pretty long loop involving ascents of both Mount MacLaren and Mount Shankland.

Mount MacLaren and Shankland Route Map from Carnarvon Lake. 

After thinking about it a while we decided to push ourselves a bit and do MacLaren and Shankland on this first day. This would allow us to do Strachan the following morning and be back at camp before any storms moved in. On hindsight this decision was a bit aggressive. Our approach was far more work than it seemed at first – being 700m of height gain and 11km with a heavy pack. KC hadn’t done any hiking or scrambling yet in 2017 and I shouldn’t have pushed her so hard on our first day. Oh well – we obviously survived. Couldn’t have been that bad right?! 😉

Looking back down at the valley between MacLaren and Strachan, which is rising in the distance to the right. The ridge running from left to the center of the photo is the alternate descent ridge for Shankland.

The route up MacLaren started straight out of our tent and soon we were grunting up grass and scree on the lower part of the ridge above Carnarvon Lake. It was hot and it was windy. It felt wonderful to have light packs on. I was carrying a bunch of water since there was no guarantee of snow melt on the dry traverse we’d be doing. Thankfully we had no smoke issues with our views either and soon we were grinding up the final scree slope beneath the first (false) summit of MacLaren. The views east and north off the ridge were fabulous. We could also enjoy as much or as little exposure over the east face as we were comfortable with.

Gorgeous views south to the true summit and the lovely valley between MacLaren, Armstrong and Bolton.

I’m not gonna lie. The view of the true summit from the false one was a wee bit depressing. We’d already had a long day and this certainly didn’t help make it any shorter. There was nothing to do but lose some height and regain it to the true summit. Views throughout the easy scramble between summits were very acceptable, now looking towards the surprisingly lofty foursome of Courcelette, Aldridge, Cornwell and Baril – all at near 3,000m high. We also gave some nervous glances over at the intervening ridge / summit between the false peak of MacLaren and the false peak of Shankland. The terrain there didn’t look that easy.

From L to R, Baril, Cornwell, Aldridge, Courcelette with Bolton in the foreground and Veits at far right.
Pretty darn sweet views north (L), east (C) and south (R) off the summit of Mount MacLaren. No smoke today!
Another view over the lush Highwood River Valley and Hwy 40 towards the Highwood Range at peaks including Serendipity, Patterson’s and Lineham Peaks.

The summit views were pretty sweet from MacLaren, including many of the Kananaskis peaks I’ve stood on like Holy Cross, Head, Gunnery and even all the way to the Highwood Pass with lofty summits like Rae and Mist showing up. After enjoying a break we started back down to the col with the false summit. From the col with the false summit we made a decision to side-hill towards the first summit along the traverse towards Mount Shankland. On hindsight, re-ascending the false summit of MacLaren would probably have been easier and even quicker but we were trying to save our poor legs.

At the col with the first false summit. MacLaren at left with the tarn and two false summits of Shankland at center and right. We didn’t make it far up the ridge at left before starting our scree ledge traverse.

Soon we were at the col with the first bump and the false summit of MacLaren. Little did we know how much work was still ahead of us as we started up.

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