I’ve heard of the Observation Sub Peaks for many years as a pretty tame but highly recommended ski objective along the Icefields Parkway near Bow Summit and Bow Lake in Banff National Park.
After braving fairly cold temperatures the last weekend of February 2019, I was ready for some more bravery on the first weekend of March 2019. When I say “ready”, I really mean I was desperate enough to get my ass off the couch and out of the city to suffer -30 temps – frostbite be damned! When I contacted Ali to find out what she was up to, she mentioned Matt Clay was planning something.
I somehow convinced Hanneke to join me at least to North Molar Pass and we set out on a cloudy, misty morning from the Mosquito Creek parking lot, following another group of 3 hikers. The long jaunt up Mosquito Creek to the campground was made lovelier than usual with cool temperatures and a moody atmosphere. If I’m honest about it, I’m getting a bit bored with the 5.5km stretch to the campground, but chatting with Hann and it being her first time helped with the drudgery that is a flat, rooted, muddy trail along the creek.
Long before Andrew Nugara made Silverhorn Mountain much more popular than previously with his new guidebook, I’d been interested in it after reading Rick Colliers report years beforehand. Funnily enough, before I asked Brandon Boulier about his recent ascent and for a possible GPX track, I didn’t even realize this peak was in Nugara’s guidebook, but it certainly explained its recent popularity for me! Friday the 13th would be a solo outing for me and I was really looking forward to it. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a whole mountain all to yourself.
On Saturday, September 02, 2017 I completed one of the most dangerous mountain ascents of my life and was only the 8th recorded ascent of a peak that is very distinct and recognizable and highly visible from a major highway corridor (#93) and yet not very well known in the climbing or scrambling community. I was joined on this dubious adventure by Wietse and Phil. OXO peak has been on Wietse’s radar for several years. I remember discussing it with him for at least 3 or 4 years, since he first saw a Rocky Mountain Rambler’s trip report on it in 2013.
8.5 hours after leaving the car along highway 93, Phil and I were finally done with Quill Peak and turning our collective attention towards a distant Conical Peak, rising through the smoky skies to the SE of our little perch at the edge of Quill’s access glacier. Conical Peak had been on my radar for many years already – mostly due to a rumored shortcut route over, or near its summit from hwy 93 to the Dolomite Creek valley and Isabella Lake. We were planning to use this shortcut for our Recondite trip in 2013 but decided a trail approach via Helen Creek the was better option – thank goodness for that decision.
I was feeling quite ill the week of August 7th 2017. I’d probably been on one too many long day trips with Dr. Phil – or I was just allergic to work. Probably the latter. Of course, as the weekend approached and looked to be quite clear and warm, we started throwing around plans despite my current illness. After finally settling on a pretty fantastic trip that excited both of us, we were discouraged to find out that despite its relative obscurity, this particular peak was being visited by another party on the very same weekend. We decided we didn’t care (even though we really did) and upheld our plans for a two day trip.
Andrew Nugara had told me about a new peak he was adding to his latest guidebook already in 2016 in exchange for some of my photos in said book. He claimed that the views both on route and on the summit of this peak were some of the best he’d ever had in the Rockies – an opinion us peakbaggers seem to have alarmingly often about every new peak we ascend! 🙂 Of course with that sort of ringing endorsement, I had no choice but to add Molarstone Peak to my summit list and secretly planned to combine it with Cataract Peak.
From the summit of South Totem Peak, Spreading Peak looked pretty darn sweet. I remembered looking up at Spreading Peak from our long traverse towards Marmota Peak in 2015 and thinking the same thing. A beautiful line of snow highlights the ridge to the summit cap and it looked pretty easy to boot. The issue – as with any peaks in this part of the Siffleur Wilderness – is access. There is no quick or easy way to access the gorgeous summits in this area. Or is there?
After a very successful and somewhat tiring 5 day trip with my daughter in which we traveled approximately 57km and over 4500m of height gain, I was ready to put my feet up for the remainder of my week off. Then Phil texted me… When Phil sends a text, it’s usually some idea for an exhausting day trip involving many kilometers and many hundreds of meters of height gain, usually on an objective that nobody has ever heard of. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when we settled on a day trip of South Totem and Spreading Peak in the Murchison Group just east of Totem Creek in Banff National Park.
On Wed or Thu the usual flurry of emails went out regarding plans for the weekend. When the dust settled, Phil Richards and I were left choosing between two lengthy day trips. In the end, Watermelon Peak won out. Most people do Watermelon as part of an overnight bivy at Lake Alice, and while this is a wonderful way to experience this peak and this lovely area, we simply didn’t have the schedule to allow it this time. It was while we were poking around at the route and planning the trip that Phil wryly texted me – “you realize that Bobac is also in the area”.
Summit Elevation (m): 3088Elevation Gain (m): 1650Round Trip Time (hr): 14.5Total Trip Distance (km): 28Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break your leg or possibly dieDifficulty Notes: The south ridge route that we took involves difficult, loose scrambling with exposure. There are easier routes but they are longer and cannot be done safely with the amount of snow they had when we were there.GPS Track Download: Download GPX FileTechnical Rating: SC7; YDS (4th)Map: what3words After spending an amazing morning approaching and ascending Watermelon […]
There are some mountains that really stir my gut when I think about doing them. For some reason Molar Mountain has been one such peak ever since I first saw a trip report and the corresponding stunning photographs from Andrew Nugara back in 2007. Nugara’s online trip report is no longer available (he has added it to a recent guidebook – something I didn’t find out until after our trip) but Josee and Fabrice repeated his route in 2014 and posted it on their website which increased my interest in the lovely Hector Pass / Molar Creek area and in the mountain itself.
After a long day on Corona Ridge where I was dealing with a stomach flu, we awoke at 04:30 surprisingly willing to tackle another long objective in the area – Marmota Peak. After staring at it for hours from our scramble of Corona Ridge, we were excited to see if our chosen route would go. The route was easy enough to spot – a high-line traverse (more side-hilling!!) along ridges and cliffs beneath Spreading Peak before ascending a gully to a ridge abutting the west face of Marmota. From here we’d gain the upper ridge and traverse to the summit – one of two high points at the southern end. Unfortunately it was obvious from Corona Ridge that the cooler looking south peak was lower than the other two, and our GPS units confirmed that it was about 80m lower.
As I drove out to meet Steven on Friday, August 7, 2015 I could see that we were probably not going to be climbing our original objective for the next two days. Originally we were planning to do Mount Saskatchewan but even as I drove past the Saskatchewan Crossing junction I could see that Mount Cline was plastered in new snow thanks to the system that came through the previous day. Sure enough! My first glimpse of the mountain showed a lot of new snow above 10,000 feet – way too much to melt off in the next 24 hours or less. When I met Steven at the Big Bend parking area we both agreed that we needed to change plans. After some deliberation and looking at maps, we decided to lug the bivy gear up Totem Creek and check out one or two peaks in the back country of the Siffleur Wilderness Area behind Mount Murchison. Corona Ridge would be our first objective, we hoped to still bag it on day one before bivying and attempting a second peak before coming out the next day.
Mount Murchison has been tempting Raf and I ever since we first got a really good look at her summit from across highway 93 while sipping Starbucks on Mount Sarbach in 2009. Already in 2008 my appetite for this mountain was wet by Andrew Nugara’s trip report of him and his brother’s ascent. Murchison is a huge massif, covering a main mountain with two summits plus 7 other towers which are adjacent to the two main summits. Something else that is fascinating about Murchison is that it’s listed height (3333m) is actually not the true height of her highest (SE) summit.
On Friday, July 12 2013 I was joined by Wietse for an attempt up a relatively unknown peak along the icefields parkway – Bison Peak (see the interesting facts above for a discussion on the naming of this peak). All we had to go on was a terse description by Graeme Pole on Bivouac.com. Well, as it turns out this terse description is pretty much all you need to summit this mountain! The day started out nice enough from the pull out along the parkway (roughly across from Epaulette Lake, just north of Chephren / White Pyramid and south of Bison Creek). It was a cool morning and we were surprised to see fresh snow high up on the surrounding peaks, including our ascent slopes. This wasn’t a huge concern but we knew that part of our route ascended steep cliff bands and this could present a problem if there was too much ice. We shrugged our shoulders and started off.
After traversing Parker Ridge earlier in the day, I found myself with plenty of time and a gorgeous spring day still ahead of me on Friday May 10, 2013. Since my snowshoes had done a great job of keeping me on top of the punchy spring snow pack, I decided to try one more ridge ascent before heading home. I didn’t know exactly where “Crystal Ridge” was, but I remembered something about the Crowfoot lookout parking lot from one of Marko’s trip reports so I drove to the lookout and parked there. From the lookout area there was a ridge, just barely visible through the trees, that would be between hwy 93 and the Helen Lake, Cirque Peak area. The trail to Helen Lake curves around this ridge. I thought the ridge looked prominent enough to give it a shot and geared up before heading to the Helen Lake trailhead across the highway.
After an excellent day out on Ramp Peak a few weeks previous, I was thinking it would be a good idea to take advantage of the excellent snow pack of spring 2012 and go after Ramp’s neighbor to the north, Quartzite Peak before too much spring warmth melted all that delicious snow pack away! On this particular day I was joined by Raf and Ian Hunt. It was good to be going on a trip with the crazy Pol again and Ian and I haven’t done a trip together in around 4 years so that was cool too. Being so late in the spring, our only real concern for the day was the snow pack stability. We knew that things would be locked up pretty snug all morning due to a nice cool night time temperature but we also knew that there was a really good chance of isothermal snow in the afternoon once the sun started heating things up.
On April 15, 2012 I was joined by Kev Papke and Jason Wilcox for a ski ascent of Ramp Peak in Banff National Park, just to the east of highway 93 up the creek near the Mosquito Creek hostel. We were a bit apprehensive on the drive to the mountains. The weather forecast was rather dull for everywhere but a patch of hwy 93 and we were a bit doubting about the accuracy of it. Avalanche ratings were low and I needed some exercise but was also suffering the lingering effects of a cold / flu from the previous week. Originally we had planned a long day trip up Mount Baker but given the energy levels and the weather forecast we decided to try Ramp Peak instead.
On Friday, September 16 2011, I found myself with a day off and no scrambling partners. The weather had initially looked quite nasty for the icefields parkway regions but a glance at the weather forecast at 05:00 on Friday morning had me jumping in the truck and driving out to the trail head. I knew I’d have clouds and rain or snow, but the promise of some sunny breaks lured me out anyway.
On Tuesday, August 09 2011, Wietse and I scrambled to the summit of Mount Noyes in Banff National Park. This scramble is uncanny in it’s similarities to Mount Weed, the mountain just to the south of Noyes. As awesome as the views from Weed are, I would have to say that Mount Noyes is a more enjoyable scramble, or it certainly was for me. The main difference between Weed and Noyes is that Weed is pretty straightforward route-finding and a fairly typical Rockies approach. The route finding on Noyes isn’t nearly as straightforward and there are some hidden gems along the way. I had more fun on the Noyes approach than I can remember on any recent approach over the past couple of years.
On Saturday, June 18 2011 Wietse, Kevin (Papke) and I stole a day on Mosquito Mountain along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. The weather forecast was dreary but we all really wanted to get out and stand on a summit. I’d been planning a fall trip up Mosquito for a few years already, but since So posted a TR from early June on this summit I thought “why not do it now” and so we made plans.
Finding myself with a free weekend in the summer is a very rare occurrence, so when it happened on the weekend of August 7, 8 and 9 I arranged a 3 peak extravaganza! The first summit would be a solo effort so I chose something without a lot of difficulties and a short approach, Observation Peak.
I waited 3 years to finally accomplish what TJ, Megan and I did on Saturday, April 18 2009 – summit Mount Hector. Truthfully, on hindsight, it’s for the best that it took me this long. The ski down was much more pleasurable now that I’m more comfortable skiing powder. I’m not nearly as good a skier as TJ or Megs but I can enjoy myself rather than just do the ‘survivor skiing’ thing. Last year we made an attempt at Hector but turned around just before the headwall due to isothermal snow and a burning desire to ski something more supportive. At the time we were bummed out because the next week we found out that if only we would have struggled up the headwall we would have probably had a great ski day on the glacier.