Phil Richards and I decided that Commonwealth Ridge would make a nice first summit of 2016 – and we were right. We started in beautiful predawn light from the Smuts Pass parking area along the Spray Lakes Road in cold temperatures of around -23 degrees. The cold was a bit of a bummer as we were expecting warmer temps – but we warmed up soon enough as we snowshoed towards the ridge on a highway of ski and snowshoe tracks. Initially we were following So Nakagawa’s GPS track, but soon we started questioning this decision and turned back to find a more direct trail up the ridge. Thankfully we found another highway track going in the right direction which I’m sure saved us hours of deep sugar-snow trail breaking which is as much fun as it sounds – i.e. not much!
On Friday, October 09 2015 Phil Richards and I decided that we should do a “pre-turkey” workout. Well, actually only I decided that, since Phil doesn’t eat turkey, but you get the point. Originally the weather was looking perfect. Naturally, as the day approached the weather deteriorated a bit but still looked reasonable enough to make the effort. We downgraded our original plans a bit and settled on Mount Nomad in Kananaskis Country, near the Upper Kananaskis Lake and Mount Indefatigable.
Raf told me I should climb Mount Sir Douglas this year (2015) since it was my 40th birthday and Sir Douglas is the 40th 11,000er in Corbett’s book. Who am I to argue with the crazy Pol? I tentatively made plans to attempt this peak at some point this year, and that point came to fruition with the usual crazy planning that Ben, Steven and I usually end up doing. Our plans changed at least 3 times over 2 days, including a phone call and last minute weather checks from Red Deer as they drove out to my house!
After skiing up Healy Pass Peak the day before, I decided to take the family on a snowshoeing trip on Sunday, December 15 in preparation for our trek to the Elk Lakes ACC hut in one week. Bob Spirko indicates that the elevation gain is only around 300 meters on Gypsum Ridge so I figured this was a good candidate to bag a peak and get the family out. I also liked the fact that we’d be in the trees because the day was shaping up to be fairly cloudy and windy – but warm.
For the past few years, I’ve had Smutwood Peak on my radar. I originally wanted to do it in the fall, due to the stunning location and the two Birdwood Lakes that make fall photos look amazing from this area. Alas, fall season (and larch season in particular), only lasts about 1 month if you’re LUCKY so this peak got relegated to a ski trip since I’m running out of peaks I can attain in 1 day on backcountry skis from any roads! 🙂 Originally Wietse and I planned to ski Smutwood the week previous but thanks to a brain fart on my part we ended up discovering a ski circuit that we didn’t know existed and bagged Pig’s Back instead… 😉
So how does one end up on a peak about 4km due east of one’s original objective when one actually left the correct trailhead and there was clear weather and an obvious ascent track? I’m not 100% sure. But it happened. Wietse and I originally intended on skiing as much of Smutwood Peak as possible before slogging up to the summit in our ski boots. We would approach the mountain via Commonwealth Creek and the Birdwood / Smuts col – it should all be very obvious. The weekend before I had seen at least 10-15 cars parked near the winter trailhead so I assumed we would have no issues.
I’ve wanted to do a traverse around the Tent Ridge Loop for years already. When the family was heading out to the mountains to do a hike I decided this would be a perfect chance to do it. All I can say is follow Gillean Daffern’s guide TO THE LETTER. This includes walking BACK along the road from the parking area on the Mount Shark road. If you’re only going up Tent Ridge, take the obvious trail up the logging road a wee bit further UP the road and follow directions, but if you’re doing the loop ignore this obvious trail and walk BACK along the road, following her directions.