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Explor8ion’s Top Ten Page

A wild scene involving Mount Douglas and its larch covered lower northern slopes.
A wild scene involving Mount Douglas and its larch covered lower northern slopes.

I’ve been asked many times for a list of my top 10 hikes, backpacking trips, scrambles, climbs and so forth. I thought about it for a bit and decided that it would be best to separate my top 10 lists into several categories, so here goes. Please note that I will update these lists as I continue to find “better” options. These are obviously very subjective and are rated as much based on the weather and mood I was in at the time, as the actual trip itself.

Another thing to be aware of, as long time followers of this blog will already know, I am a bit weird when it comes to what types of trips I find especially satisfying. Some of the peaks on my top 10 lists will leave you scratching your head wondering, “is Vern sane?!”. For example, I rate Recondite as a top 10 easy alpine climb. Most folks avoid that loose, distant peak until they ‘have’ to climb it to finish the list of summits over 11,000 feet. I apologize in advance for having a soft spot for long, off trail approaches and more distant and somewhat obscure summits than some folks would like to spend their weekends and free time chasing.

  1. Top 10 Overall Scrambles
  2. Top 10 Kane Scrambles
  3. Top 10 Nugara Scrambles
  4. Top 10 Easy Scrambles
  5. Top 10 Remote Scrambles
  6. Top 10 Day Hikes
  7. Top 10 Fall Trips
  8. Top 10 Backpacking Trips
  9. Top 10 Bivies
  10. Top 10 Alpine Climbs
  11. Top 10 Easy Alpine Climbs
  12. Top 10 Winter Alpine Climbs
  13. Top 10 Ski Summits
  14. Top 10 Ski Tours
  15. Top 10 Honorable Mentions
  16. Top 10 Least Favorite Scrambles

Top 10 Overall Scrambles

As you can imagine, it’s very hard for me to choose just 10 scrambles as my overall favorites. I’m suspicious of the fact that two of them were done this year (2016) – it makes me think that maybe I’m biased towards more recent ones simply because I’m remembering them clearer. Another thing you’ll notice is that my top favorite scrambles are either remote, difficult, or both. I think the reason for this is simply that I get the most satisfaction out of long trips that aren’t done too often and aren’t too easy or boring.

This is looking back at Capricorn Lake after hiking alongside it. An outlier of Aries on the left and unofficial “Capricorn Peak” on the right. As far as I’m concerned anything past this moment was a bonus on Breaker Mountain.
Near the summit of Mount French – we will drop to our right and find a loose gully to access the summit from here.
Phil climbs the crux on Molar Mountain on good holds and solid(ish) rock.
Sunrise on Bryce, Tsar, King Edward and Mount Columbia from the summit of Mount Amery.

 

Scramble Difficulty Rating Short Description
Molar Mountain Moderate Stunning views, not ascended often, very long day trip. Despite being in Nugara’s guidebook, the elevation gains alone will keep traffic down to a minimum on this peak.
Mount French Difficult Amazing upper mountain scrambling with great Kananaskis views. Again, this one was very special to me as so few bothered doing it. Now that it’s in Kane’s new book I’m sure it’ll get more attention. The views and scrambling are excellent.
Mount Vaux Difficult Huge mountain with huge views of the Yoho / Ottertail Ranges. This one was special for me because so few had documented it before Kane put it in his new Scrambles book.
Mount Brussilof (+ Alcantara) Difficult After dreaming about this venture for many years, Phil Richards and I finally got it done in 2018 in a spectacular 1 day approach and ascent of both peaks. Brussilof is much harder than Alcantara, both peaks are nice enough to make it onto my all-time favorite scramble list.
Cataract Peak Moderate Remote with a long, but lovely approach through some of Banff’s most beautiful meadows.
Little Alberta Difficult The mountain itself is quite easy, but accessing it requires a long and difficult route including river crossings, the Woolley Shoulder and even a glacier running along the south side of Mount Woolley.
Mount Drummond Moderate Remote and wild views of the Drummond Icefield and the Skoki / Red Deer Lakes area. Route finding is key on the lower mountain – as is good weather on the upper part.
Mount Amery Difficult This is a top scramble, despite having a short glacier crossing. Trust me, crossing the river, approaching up the untracked valley and then climbing through the cliff bands and the amphitheater will make the glacier look seem like a walk in the park. Which it literally is.
Breaker Mountain Difficult Long and demanding 100% off-trail with stunning views both on approach and from the summit. The long approach via Mistaya Lake, Capricorn Creek and the gorgeous Capricorn Lake make this mountain a winner in my books.
Mount Chephren Difficult A wonderfully huge peak with equally huge views over the Icefields Parkway. Lots of scrambling along the way to this summit and a gorgeous bivy if you choose to use it.

Top 10 Kane Scrambles

Just as I stated in the previous section, when I’m choosing only 10 out of 170+ peaks, it’s very hard to choose a favorite! Again, most of these are difficult scrambles and make the list because they’re more remote or in gorgeous areas or I just had a great time on them.

Panorama looking north and east down Redearth Creek and over Shadow Lake from Mount Ball. Summits include Storm, Little Copper, Copper, Pilot, Brett and the Pharaoh Lakes area at right.
Incredible views from Carnarvon (L) to Balfour (C) and the true summit of Daly (R) from the summit of Mount Daly.
Gorgeous views over the Howse River towards Mount Forbes and Outram from the summit of Mount Sarbach. Glacier Lake at right, Mount David Thompson at left.
Erasmus, Amery, Willerval, Alexandra, Bryce, Saskatchewan, Columbia, Athabasca, Cirrus, Stewart and many other peaks visible from the summit of Mount Coleman.

 

Kane Scramble Rating Short Description
Mount Smuts Difficult A beautiful area and a fun hands-on scramble. I did this one feeling great and we combined it with The Fist for a memorable day out.
Mount Ball Moderate A beautiful peak with good scrambling on the upper mountain and a prime bivy location.
Mount Carnarvon Difficult Another beautiful Yoho peak with great views over Emerald Lake and the Yoho area.
Pilot Mountain / Mount Brett Difficult A great two peak solo trip in the fall. Excellent approach and tricky scrambling combined with a long day, a classic Rockies outing.
Mount Coleman Difficult Another gorgeous scramble on the Icefields Parkway. My first scramble with Eric Coulthard, which led to us falling in love with Mount Amery and another top 10 trip.
Fisher Peak Difficult Very fun, hands-on scrambling to one of the best views in the eastern Kananaskis peaks.
Mount Galatea Moderate / Difficult Fun scrambling on the upper mountain and it’s height / central location provide great Kananaskis views.
Mount Temple Moderate There is very little not to love about Mount Temple – especially if you do it with fall colors.
Mount Daly Moderate / Difficult Views of the Wapta Icefield and a great scramble with my brother in crisp fall air. What could be better than that?
Mount Sarbach Difficult Fun scrambling down two chimneys and sublime views over the Saskatchewan crossing area along the Icefields Parkway.

Top 10 Nugara Scrambles

I haven’t done a ton of Nugara scrambles, but enough of them to have a top 10 list. Many of these are from the southern Rockies, which is the area that Nugara specializes in.

Ridiculous views from Bison Peak along the Icefields Parkway looking north (L) and south (R) including Sarbach, Wilson, Murchison, Corona Ridge, Bison, South Totem, Spreading, Waterfowl Lakes, Marmota, Noyes and many others.
As I work my way above the cliff bands on Victoria Ridge, this is looking west over Mill Creek over the brilliant colors of the Castle Wilderness towards Windsor and Castle Peaks at left.
Looking back at the traverse – it’s already quite a long ways back to Vimy Peak.
Pincher Ridge is across Drywood Creek to the NE from the summit of Drywood Mountain. Victoria Peak and Ridge are hidden in cloud beyond.
Cornelius takes the last few steps to the summit of Lougheed I.
This is a very colorful area! Three Lakes Ridge at left with Miles, Krowicki and Middle Kootenay at center and Rainy Ridge NW at right. We ascended the easy slope at lower left from the upper lake.

 

Scramble Rating Short Description
Bison Peak Moderate Another gorgeous view along the Icefields Parkway including views of Murchison’s many towers.
Ribbon Peak Difficult Includes one of my favorite day hikes to Memorial Lakes and some fantastic scrambling on the upper mountain.
Vimy Ridge Traverse Moderate A long, gorgeous ridge including three peaks and great Waterton views.
Mount Lougheed I Difficult A great scramble with route-finding and exposure. Highly recommended for small parties only due to the looseness of the upper mountain.
Mount Roche Difficult A great hands-on scramble with intricate route-finding and all the great Castle area colors.
Victoria Peak Traverse Moderate A great scramble up Victoria Peak followed by a meandering ridge walk to Victoria Ridge. All followed by a mellow hike back to the car. An excellent outing.
Drywood Mountain Moderate Awesome gully scramble with a great alternate descent.
Rainy Traverse Moderate Gorgeous Castle area colors and fantastic scenery on a long day of scrambling that can include up to five peaks or even six depending on your energy levels!
Pincher Ridge Difficult Great hands-on scrambling with amazing colors and views.
Mount Richards Difficult A great Waterton scramble with some route finding and stunning views. Full disclosure: the route I took wasn’t Andrew’s route but he is updating his latest guidebook to include the route I took.

Top 10 Easy Scrambles

For some less fierce options that many hikers will enjoy, these are my top 10 favorite easy scrambles that don’t involve a ton of bushwhacking or exposure. You shouldn’t feel like you’re going to die on any of these or you’re off route. 🙂

Descending the ridge with scenery for miles including Pipestone Mountain at left.
The snow squall is literally just blowing away at left as I summit Greater Pharaoh Peak. Egypt, Mummy and Scarab Lakes along with a million larches contribute to my camera overheating.
McArthur Lake is stunning in the early morning lighting from Schaffer Peak. Park and Owen are very attractive mountains.
Summit views from South Totem include Phil down climbing into the notch and the lower false summit. Spreading Peak at left and Bison at right with Mount Chephren rising over the false summit in the distance at center.
Another small drop before the final slopes to the summit with Peyto Lake showing up at right.
Another small drop before the final slopes to the summit of Silverhorn Mountain with Peyto Lake showing up at right.

 

Scramble Rating Short Description
Cyclone Mountain Easy This mountain isn’t very close to the road, but it is deep within some of the most pristine landscapes of Banff National Park. Visit in the fall for the best views.
South Totem Peak Easy / Moderate An easy scramble along the Icefields Parkway with a sting in the tail to the true summit. Unique views of the Murchison Group.
Numa Mountain Easy / Moderate A longish approach but views of Floe Lake and the Rockwall are worth the effort on this one.
Wonder Peak Easy / Moderate A no-brainer for this list, but you have to somehow get into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park which makes this a wee bit harder than it appears.
Mount Schaffer Easy Another no-brainer, especially in the fall. I’ve done this peak 3 times – more than any other on my list of over 500. Do it in the fall.
Boundary Peak Easy Tucked in front of the Columbia Icefields, this peak is a no-brainer just for the views it offers. One of the best “bang for your buck” peaks out of all the peaks I’ve done.
Mount Jimmy Jr. Easy Another gem along the Icefields Parkway. Some bushwhacking on approach but short and easy otherwise.
Greater Pharaoh Peak Easy This peak is a long way for a day trip – but if you time it right your camera will overheat! Combine it with Lesser Pharaoh or do that one separately for similar, but different views.
Mount Noyes Moderate A great scramble along the Icefields Parkway with excellent views.
Silverhorn Mountain Moderate Unbelievable views off this relatively easy scramble, provided you follow the route I took.

Top 10 Remote Scrambles

Wow – I didn’t realize that so many of the more remote scrambles that I’ve done are only rated as ‘moderate’. Most of these are well beyond a simple day trip from the parking lot, with the exception of maybe Breaker, Poboktan and Corona Ridge, all of which will have you pretty bagged by the time you drag your tired carcass back to your car! 😉 These scrambles all left me with an impression of mostly untouched, undisturbed beauty, special alpine views and solitude. Most of these also come with a generous helping of alpine tarns, meadows, flowers and wildlife. All of my favorite things.

A fantastic panorama of the Brazeau Icefields includes Mount Brazeau, Warren, Valad, Henry MacLeod, Coronet, Mary Vaux and Replica Peak. At left are many more distant giants including Edith Cavell, Fryatt and Woolley / Diadem.
Incredible summit ridge views as Steve is barely visible nearing the apex of Fortress Mountain at left. The Chaba River and Glacier visible at center distance with Chisel Creek leading to Clemenceau at right.
The summit of Mount Drummond at left with Drummond Lakes below.
The summit of Mount Drummond at left with Drummond Lakes below.
Probably my favorite view from the entire weekend is this one, looking north off the summit of Arctomys Peak at the Lyell Glacier draining into Arctomys Lake and Creek before running off down a lush valley (Valley of Lakes) towards countless distant sparkling lakes nestled beneath the brooding hulks of Erasmus and Amery.
From the summit of Cataract Peak, left is looking north down the Roaring Creek Valley lined by very obscure summits such as Deluc, Dip Slope and Smoky Mountain. At center is the McConnell Creek Valley which is lined by beauties such as Snort, Bleat, McConnell and Boar Station. At right is the Drummond Icefield and Mount Drummond itself.
Phil on the west ridge descent of McConnell with a barren desert Rockies landscape fading in smoke to the north.

 

Scramble Rating Short Description
Poboktan Mountain Easy Incredible views of the Brazeau Range and buried behind the Waterfall Peaks in Jasper National Park. Doable as a 40km day trip with a great approach trail and no difficulties.
Mount Drummond Moderate Another peak buried behind a popular area (Skoki) with an amazing approach hike and views of the Drummond Icefield and some rarely ascended peaks along the east Banff boundary.
Mount Stewart Moderate Tucked deep within the special White Goat Wilderness Area nestled between Jasper and Banff National Parks, this summit is only for the determined peak bagger to ascend and enjoy.
Fortress Mountain Moderate Speaking of determined… Especially now that the suspension bridge over the Athabasca River is out of commission, Fortress Mountain, looming over Fortress Lake in Hamber Provincial Park in BC is not going to see many ascents. The views from the top are spectacular though.
Cataract Peak Moderate / Difficult Cataract Peak is one of the most remote scrambles on this page. It includes 51km of hiking through some of Banff National Park’s most lovely alpine meadows along great trails most of the way and easy bushwhacking the rest of it. The views from the summit are unique and worth the work to attain them.
Arctomys Peak Moderate I’ve rated this one ‘moderate’ but it’s easy once you get there. The issue is getting there. You can walk 20-30km from either the east or the west but either way, you earn some of the best views I’ve ever had on a scramble.
Mount McConnell Easy This sucker is remote folks! It’s been on my list for many years and in 2018 we finally knocked it off. The only fly in the ointment as smokey views but as one of the most remote named summits in Banff National Park, this one’s a winner.
Watermelon Peak Moderate Watermelon Peak is a spectacular mountain which involves everything from alpine meadows to a tame glacier to a fun ridge. The views from the summit elevate this more remote peak even more.
Castle Rock Easy / Moderate Castle Rock is a front range peak in the Ghost Wilderness Area. What makes this easy / moderate scramble so appealing is that although it’s visible from a city of 1.2 million people, it sees very few ascents thanks to a long, spectacular approach.
Breaker Mountain Difficult The approach up Capricorn Creek after slogging along Mistaya Lake rewards you with a spectacular hike along Capricorn Lake and then up Breaker’s west slopes with stunning views of the Wapta, Mummery, Freshfield and Lyell Icefields.

Top 10 Day Hikes

I probably need more time with this list. I’ve just started to realize how many hundreds of day hikes I’ve done, mostly as part of approaches to either scrambles or climbs over the past 15 years. I plan on greatly expanding the list of hikes on explor8ion over the next 12 months so this list will change over time. The ratings here are based on hiking, not scrambling or climbing.

Zigadenus Lake.
Zigadenus Lake.
One of my favorite shots from the entire Castle / Crown Wilderness Area – incredible lines and colors in this view towards Loaf Mountain.
Mary, O’Hara and Yukness Lakes. (L to R) Wiwaxy at far right
A gorgeous view of the third, and final, Memorial Lake with Bogart Tower (L) and Ribbon Peak (R) standing guard over it as we pass above it on our way to the cliffs (oos at right).

 

Hike Rating Short Description
Lake Agnes / Big Beehive / Valley of Six Glaciers Moderate A long day that involves hiking a good trail to Lake Agnes and great views from the Big Beehive before dropping down to the Valley of Six Glaciers before the long hike back along Lake Louise.
Victoria Ridge Easy If you forego Victoria Peak and follow the egress trail I used from Victoria Ridge as an approach, this hike will expose you to the fantastic Castle / Crown area’s red / yellow and pink rocks. Do it in fall for the best scenery.
Loaf Mountain Easy Another Castle Wilderness Area gem. The hike is easy and passes a lake along the way.
Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit Moderate / Difficult This hike should not be underestimated – especially for the views. My top favorite hike in all the Rockies, especially in the late fall (October) when the crowds are gone and the larch needles are frozen into the many ponds and tarns along the way.
Memorial Lakes Moderate One of my most-visited hiking areas for a reason. Gorgeous views and a haunting reminder of nature’s beauty and life’s cruelty when it comes to plane crashes and losing the people we love.
Headwall Lakes / Chester Lake circuit Moderate / Difficult A long day trip, but the views and terrain will leave your jaw on the ground. Classic Kananaskis with some steep scree to the high col between Chester and Fortress peaks.
Sparrowhawk Tarns Easy A great hike along fantastic open alpine meadows with a myriad of Marmots serenading you.
Packer’s Pass Peak / Skoki Lakes Easy A great Skoki area destination with huge views despite it’s diminutive stature. Carrying on to the Skoki Lakes will induce serious overheating in your camera.
Iceline Trail Moderate / Difficult A very long day trip with pretty big elevation gains, best done as a loop that starts along the Yoho Valley and loops back to the parking lot over the Iceline Trail. Views are stunning.
Picklejar Lakes Easy This classic Kananaskis hike will leave your feet sore but your mind whirling with amazing views of sublime lakes and soaring peaks. Plus maybe a Grizzly bear or two. 🙂

Top 10 Fall Trips / Areas

These areas are among the very best to experience during the fall, which I generally consider to be September / October with the last two weeks of September being the best time of year for spectacular larch and alpine fall colors. The disadvantage of fall in the Rockies is the extremely unpredictable weather. But trust me. If you get lucky and experience one of those special days when the sky is blue and the sun is warm, you will not soon forget any of the following areas. The ratings here assume hiking, i.e. ‘moderate’ or ‘difficult’ is on a hiking scale, not scrambling or climbing.

Looking back over Howard Douglas Lake towards Fatigue (L), Citadel Peak (C) and Mount Assiniboine (R).
View of the Lake O’Hara core area from All Souls Prospect. Odaray, Cathedral, Wiwaxy, Huber, Lefroy, Yukness, Glacier, Ringrose, Hungabee and Biddle visible.
Lake Oesa with Victoria, Lefroy, Glacier and Ringrose (L to R) rising above.
One of my absolute favorite views from the entire day. From L to R, Mount Owen, Schaffer Lake, Walter Feuz, Odaray, Steven and Cathedral.
Myosotis Lake and trail.
Myosotis Lake and trail.
Looking across the Highwood Pass at Rae, Arethusa, Storm, Highwood Ridge, Grizzly Ridge and Tyrwhitt (l to r).
The long Pharaoh Creek and Redearth Creek valley is another approach for the Egypt Lakes area.

 

Fall Trips / Areas Rating Short Description
Valley of the Ten Peaks / Sentinel Pass / Eiffel Lake Moderate The best bang for your fall color buck is the obvious and very popular Sentinel Pass / Eiffel Lake hikes in the Valley of Ten Peaks in Lake Louise. Come early to avoid crowds.
Lake O’Hara Region / Alpine Circuit Moderate Another Rockies classic fall hiking destination. You may have to walk the 11km approach road, but it’s easily done in less than 2 hours and if you get there early you can still beat the bus. It’s worth it.
Skoki Lakes and Skoki Area Moderate The views along the Skoki Lakes in the fall are pure landscape magic. I’ll never tire of them.
Tent Ridge Moderate / Difficult Sublime Kananaskis fall colors and the Spray Lakes views make this a fall classic. Don’t underestimate this one.
Pocaterra Basin / Ridge Moderate / Difficult Hiking into the basin beneath Pocaterra is already worth it for all the larch goodness. Extending this to include the ridge high above will leave your jaw on the ground. 😉
Rainy Lakes Moderate The Rainy Lakes area in southern AB / BC is a remote and beautiful bike ‘n hike. The reason I’m rating it “moderate” is that it’s not a short day trip.
Sunshine Meadows / Simpson Pass / Healy Pass Easy / Moderate I can’t think of a more stunning day hike than heading into Healy Pass, up the Monarch Ramparts and then back along Eohippus Lake, Simpson Pass and / or Sunshine meadows in the fall. This is a long loop that will fill your camera’s memory card!
Egypt Lakes via Healy Pass Easy / Moderate It’s a long way in but the Egypt Lakes area will knock your socks off in the fall. If you hike in over Healy Pass you’re in for a real treat.
Berg Lake – Robson Area Moderate Backpacking during the fall in Robson Provincial Park is pure bliss. When I went in late September there were no crowds and getting camp sites was easy – even at the popular Berg Lake area. Stunning views and many options for day hikes including Snowbird Pass / Titkana Peak. Note: There are no larches in Robson Provincial Park.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park Moderate I recommend approaching this Rockies area gem from Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park. Your camera will be smoking as you walk towards and through this mind-blowing landscape dressed in fall colors.

Top 10 Backpacking Trips

Strap on a backpack and give any of the following trips a shot – but only if you like adventure and some of the most in-your-face views in the Canadian Rockies. They range from more remote and difficult to access (Devon Lakes, Fortress Lake) to easy with good trails and established campgrounds (Berg Lake, Assiniboine Provincial Park). As with any Rockies trip, late August and September might be the best time of year, but these areas are good any time you might try them. These are rated using hikers in mind, not scrambling or climbing folks.

Stunning views of Rearguard, Waffl, The Helmet and Robson over Berg Lake.
More of the Brazeau River with an unnamed summit rising beyond. The entire Cataract Pass trail is on climber’s left of the river.
The gorgeous fourth Geraldine Lake where we crossed the outlet stream. Fryatt in the clouds – we’re hoping it’s drying off!
Huber, Lefroy, Yukness, Hungabee and Biddle reflect in Lake O’Hara.

 

Backpacking Trip Rating Short Description
Berg Lake – Mount Robson Provincial Park Moderate It’s a long way into Berg Lake but I can’t think of more impressive views than Emperor Falls up close or the Milky Way and Mount Robson reflected in Berg Lake! Lots of top hikes around this area as well including Snowbird Pass.
Aster Lake, Northover Ridge Loop – Kananaskis Difficult A classic Alberta Rockies backpacking loop that will take you through some fairly remote country, high above treeline.
Skoki Region – Banff National Park Easy You can’t go wrong with pretty much any backpacking trip through the Skoki region of Banff National Park. Beware of recent horse traffic on the trails – this is the only fly in the ointment. Mosquitoes can be bad at Baker Lake.
White Goat Wilderness Area Moderate The White Goat Wilderness is a random camping area that is tucked in behind Banff and west of the front ranges. It’s not a huge area, but it is special. There are trails and you will likely be alone with the bears. 😉
Devon Lakes / Molar Pass Area – Siffleur Wilderness Moderate / Difficult There are different ways to access the Siffleur Wilderness Area but once you’re there, it’s a special place of sparkling tarns, rushing streams and jagged peaks.
Fortress Lake – Hamber Provincial Park, BC Moderate / Difficult Fortress Lake is huge but is hard to access thanks to a key suspension bridge across the Athabasca River collapsing in 2013. Camping along this lake provides some pretty special views and the Cutthroat Trout are world class so pack your rod!
Geraldine Lakes / Meadows – Jasper National Park Moderate / Difficult The Geraldine Lakes area is gorgeous but not for the faint of heart to get past the third lake. Accessing the Sydney Valance Hut via a high col west of Mount Fryatt won’t be easy either, but the views and landscape are worth it.
Lake O’Hara Region – Yoho National Park Easy / Moderate An excellent network of trails and sublime series of lakes, ponds and rushing streams overlooked by towering rocky peaks makes this area one of the premium backpacking destinations in the Rockies. It’s busy though so late fall is best.
Iceline Trail / Yoho Valley – Yoho National Park Moderate A great network of trails in and around the Yoho Valley make for a wonderful backpacking destination. Another very popular area – best done outside of high tourist season if possible.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC Moderate There is no better backpack that Banff to Assiniboine through the Sunshine Meadows IMHO. Views to knock your socks off and great trails.

Top 10 Bivies

There’s nothing better than sleeping under the stars in a bivy sack, or near a rushing stream under my HMG Mid. The feelings of isolation and connecting with the landscape are heightened when you’re not in an official campground or with anyone else around. Many of these bivy sites are the norm for climbing bigger or more remote peaks like the 11000ers and is one of the prime reasons I like chasing after these mountains in the first place.

The ratings here assume hiking, i.e. ‘moderate’ or ‘difficult’ is on a hiking scale, not a scrambling or climbing one. If you’re a hiker / backpacker trying any of these, please don’t underestimate them. Most of them involve river crossings, possible flirtations with glaciers, ice or snow, steep slopes, untracked wilderness and / or heinous bushwhacking. You’ve been warned. 😉

Vern takes in the awesome views from his bivy site. Murchison, Wilson, Sarbach, Chephren, White Pyramid, Howse and Erasmus are all visible here.
Looking at our bivy with Fryatt SW2 on the right and peak 9900′ rising on the left.
Sunset over the Catacombs Meadows. Mount Alberta at center-left.
A gorgeous morning over one of the loveliest bivies I’ve experienced in the Rockies.
Amazing sunset on (L to R) Narao, Popes, Collier, North Victoria, Victoria and Huber.

 

Bivy Location Rating Short Description
Mount Fryatt (Iceberg Lake) Bivy Moderate / Difficult This is one of the nicest bivies I’ve stayed at in the Rockies. Perched about 30′ above Iceberg Lake, beneath the hulking SW face of Fryatt with waterfalls plunging down all around, you will feel privileged to fall asleep here.
King George (SW Glacier) Bivy Moderate / Difficult Another top bivy location. Getting here is hellish (especially in the dark!) but when you wake up the next morning it’s like you’re living in a dream.
Catacombs Meadows Moderate / Difficult I can’t begin to describe the beauty and remoteness of these meadows. Tucked between the imposing east face of Fortress and the west slopes of Catacombs near a couple of peaceful tarns, this is another special Rockies bed and breakfast that only costs you sore legs.
Warre Pond Moderate / Difficult I didn’t expect this one to be so delightful. Many years pass between visits to this gorgeous backcountry tarn, mainly due to its obscurity and the bushwhacking required to attain it’s shores. And the bears. Lots of bears in this area!
Woolley / Diadem Bivy Moderate / Difficult A classic 11000er bivy site with views of Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom Peak. The biggest challenge is crossing the North Saskatchewan River. BEWARE THE PACK RATS. (Shudder…)
Mount Alexandra Bivy Difficult You will earn this delightful rest – trust me. Unless you chopper in with an ACC group. Then you won’t quite enjoy it as much as taking the jaw-dropping highline traverse through the area.
Mount Forbes Bivy Difficult Another well-earned bivy site with views of Banff’s highest peak. The approach for many 11000ers turns my crank as much as the summit – Forbes was no exception.
Mount Amery – East Shoulder Difficult Bivying at well over 10,000 feet on the east shoulder of Mount Amery is a highlight of my scrambling career. Views of Forbes, the Lyells and so many other giant Rockies peaks will keep you up late – as will the chilly temps if you don’t pack a warm enough sleeping bag. 😛
Mount Cathedral Bivy Moderate One of the easiest bivy sites to attain on this list, Mount Cathedral can be done as a day trip, but why do that when you can watch the sun set on Narao, Victoria and Huber from the comfort of a bivy sack?
Northern Columbia Icefields Bivy Difficult I’ve spend quite a few nights bivying on the north end of the Columbia Icefields in everything from full-on blizzard conditions to t-shirt weather. I can honestly say that I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Obviously there is a long process involved with getting to this area and setting up a safe winter camp.

Top 10 Alpine Climbs – Non Winter

The cream of the crop are on this list. Mountains that I’ve dreamed about for years before ascending them. Mountains that I never thought I’d stand on top of. At heart I’m nothing other than a hiker / scrambler, so any alpine climbing I’ve done is a gigantic bonus for me and I’ve managed to grovel up a few beauties, including the ones on this list! Of course, I owe the folks who are more climber-oriented than me, who have been willing to drag me along on most of these trips. Ratings here include the approach and the climb itself in alpine climbing terms as rated by guidebooks / real climbers (i.e. not me).

One of my favorite pano’s from all my climbs – looking across the east face / ridge of Assiniboine at a smoky morning sunrise.
Finishing another rappel on the SW face of Fryatt.
One of the nicest panos I got, thanks to the weather at the summit. Note the storm just clearing over Willingdon.
A wee bit of exposure off the snow arete looking down to the Woolley Tarn and our bivy site way below us now.
A brief view down the Spray River Valley and over Burstall Pass. All the surrounding peaks look tiny!
Billion dollar views from the summit of Mount King Edward with Ben and Ferenc coming up along the easy ridge.

 

Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Mount Victoria / North Victoria Alpine II, 5.3 I’m cheating a bit with this one by linking two trips on the same mountain, but honestly, North Victoria should not be considered a separate summit from the main South Peak. Both are classic Lake Louise climbs – I found the north summit to be more involved than the main one which was pretty much just a scramble, even with snow and ice on the rocks.
Mount Fryatt Alpine II, 5.4 Another of my all-time favorite trips in the Rockies. Mount Fryatt has everything that makes Rockies alpine climbing so great. A myriad of lakes on the approach. Bushwhacking. Open alpine meadows. Acres and acres of wild flowers. A world class bivy site. Some chossy scrambling followed by 1 pitch of real climbing (!). Jaw dropping summit views. Repeat on descent.
Mount Edith Cavell Alpine II, 5.3 Edith Cavell is easy as far as climbing goes, but it absolutely makes the top 10 list simply because the quartzite rock holds are pretty bomber for Rockies choss! 😉 The views down to Cavell Lake and the north face and into the Verdant Pass and Tonquin Valley areas are also awesome.
Recondite Peak Alpine II, 5.3 The fact that this peak is on this list should tell you something about me. I’m much more of a hiker / backpacker at heart than a hardcore climber. Recondite has some of the crappiest rock you’ll ever find, but the remoteness, wild beauty and experience of it all vault it into one of my favorite trips and peaks.
Mount Sir Douglas Alpine II, 5.3 I am the only person on earth who would put Sir Douglas on any kind of “favorites” list. 🙂 Seriously. I’m not kidding. It’s a chossy, icy, nasty peak and most people feel lucky just to survive it, no matter which route they take. I have to say that I loved it. The approach via Burstall Meadows. The bivy – even through I forgot my sleeping pad. The climb itself and the feeling of accomplishment. It’s what Rockies climbing is all about.
Mount Assiniboine Alpine II, 5.5 Duh. Mount Assiniboine is a world class climb. The fact that I did it with a good friend in perfect conditions, soloing and with the entire massif all to ourselves is a huge bonus that the universe conspired to grant us. I will never take this peak off my favorites list. A top 5 summit by any means for me, and that will very likely never change.
Mount Alexandra Alpine II, 5.2 Another glimpse at what I love about the Rockies – Alexandra isn’t on too many favorites lists either! I dreamed about this one for many, many years before finally standing on her apex. With a high line traverse granting stunning views of Mounts Bryce and Columbia along with a remote and gorgeous bivy site and beautiful day in the mountains with friends – there’s many reasons for this summit to be on my top 10 list.
Mount King Edward Alpine II, 5.3 Mount King Edward is one of only a very few alpine climbs on the Columbia Icefield that isn’t best done in winter conditions on skis. After trying twice to climb it as a winter / spring objective, I was finally successful treating it as a summer alpine climb instead.
Mount Woolley Alpine II This is another peak that might not be on many folks top 10 lists, but the views of Mount Alberta and the gorgeous weather we had put it ahead of many others. Some challenging conditions and the fact that we managed to bag both Diadem and Mushroom Peak on the same day make this another fond memory. The bivy site is also prime now that the pack rat king is dead. 😉
Mount Cline Alpine II, 5.4 Cline isn’t considered a very difficult ascent by hardcore climbers, but trust me, the notches were enough to give me some pause! I had a lot of fun on this peak and we did it in one day return from the parking area. The approach is quite nice, especially around the tarns.

Top 10 Easy Alpine Climbs

The following is a list of my top 10 easy alpine climbs – either not requiring special climbing gear, or a very minimal amount of it (i.e. short rappel or easy glacier crossings). Again – a very challenging list to settle on only 10, since this is my favorite type of activity! I’m rating this somewhat subjectively as easy, medium or hard from what I think a confident scrambler or novice alpinist would think.

Summit views from Cirrus, west and north include the Big Bend in hwy 93 at center, the Columbia Icefield at distant center-left and many familiar summits including (L to R), The Lyells, Oppy, Alexandra, Saskatchewan, Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca, Twins, Snow Dome, Kitchener, Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Nigel, Brazeau, Poboktan, Willis.
Amazing sunrise with Stephen on the far left, Cathedral Crag at center and the lower ridge of Narao on the right.
The impressive view from the Silverhorn to the true summit of Mount Athabasca.
Dawn breaks over the glacier and Hector (L), Balfour, Yoho and The Presidents (R).
Our tracks are visible going up the east ridge of Ernest Peak in this view from Edward Peak.

 

Easy Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Cirrus Mountain Easy / Moderate Cirrus Mountain was on my list for many years before I finally managed to stand on its impressive summit. I like pretty much everything about this mountain, including the approach past Coleman Lake and the excellent bivy site.
Mount Murchison Difficult (5.2) Murchison was another very special peak for me. After Rick Collier pretty much proved that the SE summit was up to 20m higher than the previous ‘official’ NW one and Andrew Nugara measured it at 3353m (11,000 feet), I’ve wanted to climb it. Raf and I became some of the first folks to summit the SE summit and sign the register there.
Devil’s Head Moderate (5.2) A fairly straightforward climb in the Ghost Wilderness Area. This is a mountain that is very recognizable from the east and it was pretty cool to stand on its summit after years of looking at it.
Catacombs Mountain Easy / Moderate Possibly the second ascent party to summit this gorgeous, remote peak in Jasper National Park. This trip was good for all sorts of reasons, but mostly the remote terrain and unknown nature of the mountain climb itself is what makes this one stand out.
Cathedral Mountain Easy Another classic, easy alpine ascent in Yoho National Park. Cathedral is a gorgeous peak, especially the upper mountain as it curves off the easy glacier approach.
Ernest Peak (Lyell III) Moderate (Alpine II) The Lyells aren’t difficult for the most part (Lyell IV being the exception) but getting all the way into them without using a helicopter can be the crux! The excellent approach via Icefall Brook and views from Ernest combine to make this a favorite easy alpine climb.
The Presidents Easy (Alpine II) Two more classic Rockies ascents in Yoho National Park, the President and Vice President were among my first alpine climbs and very enjoyable.
Mount Athabasca Easy (Alpine II) I waited many years for the right conditions to align with my schedule for this Jasper classic 11,000er – possibly the most popular 11,000er next to Mount Temple. The views and the classic nature of this mountain combine to put it on my top 10 easy climbs.
Mont Des Poilus Easy This is one of the more beautiful looking and hard-to-access peaks on the infamous Wapta Icefield. Before the addition of another hut on the western edge of the icefield, Des Poilus was much harder to climb in the winter than it is now. I enjoyed the hike and the easy glacial ascent in summer conditions.
Mount King George Moderate (Alpine II) I had a ton of fun on this peak. Not too difficult but the approach and the SW glacier was great fun to crampon up – as was the final gully to the summit ridge. A fairly old register and the fact that I dreamed of climbing this mountain ever since spotting it from the Northover Ridge route combine to put it in my top 10.
Mistaya Peak Easy I combined both Mistaya and Cauldron into one long day trip from the Peyto Lake lookout. This is a gorgeous area and is a highly recommended peak.

Top 10 Winter Alpine Climbs

These mountains will make you work for their summits. The hardest part on most of them is simply surviving the approach and the winter camping that’s usually required! Many of these have pretty severe avalanche slopes and / or crevasses and should not be underestimated. Ratings are the generally accepted alpine ratings from guidebooks or experienced climbers.

Most of these are rated difficult simply because of the effort required to get to them and then the exposure to avalanche risk / crevasses to ascend them and get back to camp safely. From a technical climbing perspective, none of these are especially hard (i.e. a Mount Robson level of commitment).

From L to R looking north towards Mount Alberta, Charlton, Unwin, Woolley, West Twin, Twins Tower, North Twin, South Twin, Warren, Brazeau, Stutfield, Stutfield East and Poboktan at far right distance.
Mount Columbia casts an early morning shadow towards the lower Mount King Edward.
This is what it’s all about! Great fun on the final ridge to the summit of one of my favorite peaks of all time.
From the col, looking up at North Twin (L) and the other team still descending Twins Tower (R).
Anton descends the snow arete that gave us wind slab issues on ascent – thanks to our “cornice hockey” on the way up, it was a breeze to descend.
Descending Resplendent with million dollar views – exactly what you want for this particular 11,000er! There’s really no reason to climb Resplendent unless you’re going to see this IMHO.
This was probably the most exposed section on Trapper’s NE ridge – you definitely didn’t want to slip or have bad snow here! Thankfully this is the north side of the ridge, but the snow was a bit less consolidated here which made it a bit spicy.

 

Winter Alpine Climb Rating Short Description
Mount Columbia Alpine II Of course the highest peak in Alberta has to be on this list! I waited many years for the right conditions to climb this beauty. We ascended it in the evening on the same day as our approach, getting some great lighting on the surrounding peaks – all of which were lower than us. Although technically a fairly easy ascent, don’t get too casual about it, as the final 600 vertical meters are steep enough to slide and there are some big holes hidden throughout the slope – we found some of them.
South Twin Peak Alpine II Probably my hardest won peak of all the peaks on my summit list. It took three trips to the northern Columbia Icefields before I finally topped out on this beautiful and esthetic mountain. It was a great climb and made much easier by perfect snow conditions which aren’t guaranteed each year.
Twins Tower Alpine II You will earn this one. 90% of you will experience some “tightening” as you glance up at the gorgeous, exposed arete leading to the tiny summit from the North Twin col. Depending on conditions, your nerves might be already a bit frazzled thanks to navigating huge slots and tricky snow conditions on the descent from North Twin Peak which must be traversed before arriving at the Twin’s Tower arete.
Trapper Peak Alpine II Trapper is one of the more difficult snow climbs on the Wapta. Most people think the Columbia Icefields has harder peaks than the Wapta due to the much bigger terrain, but in reality some of the Wapta peaks give most of the Columbia peaks a run for their money when the objective hazards of the larger icefield aren’t factored in.
Peyto Peak Alpine II / 5.3 Admittedly we probably overestimated the difficulty on this peak when we first did it. It can feel exposed and tricky when covered in fresh snow and ice. Compared to the “ski summit”, the real summit of Peyto isn’t nearly as straight forward and is ascended far less often. I was super stoked to complete this climb.
Mount Collie Alpine II The summit ridge of Mount Collie has a fierce reputation and it’s well deserved! Everything else about the mountain is fairly easy – although the approach isn’t short from Bow Lake. A cornice the size of several school buses with terrific exposure, that must be traversed to the summit, is one of the scariest objective hazards you’ll face on the Wapta Icefield.
Mount Ayesha Alpine II / 5.0 Another difficult Wapta ascent, Ayesha will test several of your alpine skills including perseverance (it’s a long way), snow climbing (it’s bloody steep) and snowy rock scrambling (loose and exposed) to the summit. The classic, beautiful snow arete was very fun.
Mount Balfour Alpine II The king of the Wapta Icefields! There’s nothing about my climb of Balfour that I didn’t like. We had perfect weather conditions and a great team. Honestly, one of my favorite winter climbs to date. A majestic peak that should be on every Alberta winter alpinist’s hit list.
Mount Forbes Alpine II / III I waited many years to ascend Mount Forbes. I’ve been dreaming of standing on its summit so long that when I finally did it didn’t feel real. In some ways it still doesn’t. Banff’s highest peak is well-earned with a long approach and steep snow slopes but it’s technically not that hard if conditions are solid.
Resplendent Mountain Alpine II Another well-earned peak, especially if you ski it in the spring like we did. The approach via Berg Lake is long and usually by the time spring rolls around the lower half is completely melted out so you’re carrying your snow sticks a long way. The upper mountain is very crevassed and there are steep snow slopes and exposure to seracs.

Top 10 Easy Winter Alpine Trips

The following are easier winter alpine trips, many are snowshoe trips in some pretty big alpine terrain. As with the harder winter trips, these should only be attempted by alpinists who have some training and experience on an Alberta snow pack and are well versed in traveling safely through avalanche terrain and on glaciers.

Views west include many of the ice fields peaks and 11000ers including Forbes, the Lyells, Bryce and Columbia. From L to R major valleys are the Glacier River, Arctomys Creek (Valley of a Thousand Lakes) and the Alexandra River at center.
We ascended the false peak for views. This is looking back at Steven coming up to the false summit with the main summit of BBP in the background. As you can see, our views were improving.
Ferenc is tiny in the huge terrain just above the AA Glacier headwall.
Looking back over the Mangin Glacier to the west (L) and north (R) including peaks such as (L to R), King George and the Royal Group, Mangin, Assiniboine, Cordonnier, Warrior, Sir Douglas, Northover, Robertson, French, Lyautey, Marlborough, Foch, Sarrail and many, many others.

 

Alpine Trip Rating Short Description
Mount Hector Moderate My favorite ski summit in the Rockies. 1600 vertical meters of skiing from the summit of an 11,000 foot peak. What could be better than that? Beware of crevasses though – people have died skiing down this one.
Mount Baker Moderate The approach via Peyto Lake and the steep slopes to the summit ridge are what make this a moderate winter objective. If you’re lucky with conditions you can even exit via Peyto Canyon.
Mount Wilson Moderate It was tough for me to “give in” and snowshoe Wilson rather than ski it. The reality is that with good conditions in the steep shortcut gully, you are likely NOT to have good ski conditions there. Only you can decide if it’s worth carrying skis on your back half way up this mountain. The glacier is definitely great ski terrain. The slopes under the summit are steeper and more exposed than I expected and there’s crevasses there.
Cirrus Mountain Easy Cirrus Mountain was on my list for many years before I finally managed to stand on its impressive summit. I like pretty much everything about this mountain, including the approach past Coleman Lake and the excellent bivy site.
Mount Habel Difficult Except for the final section to the true summit, Habel is as easy as Rhondda and a very pleasant Wapta peak. Unfortunately for those who care about reaching summits – there is the final section that must be dealt with. Not hard for serious alpinists, but hard enough for me!
Mount Olive / St. Nicholas Moderate A classic Wapta winter climb. We did it in February on a beautiful, clear and warm day in the Rockies. Our views went on for kilometers and the group was a blast to climb with. Combining both summits of Olive with St. Nicholas makes for a longish day trip from Bow Lake but it’s well worth the tired legs.
Mount Athabasca Moderate Another toss-up for me between skis and ‘shoes. Skis would have been great on the glacier but shoes were good everywhere else. We cramponed up to the main summit, leaving the ‘shoes lower down.
Mount Patterson Moderate / Difficult Don’t underestimate this peak on the northern end of the Wapta Icefield. The views are stunning but there is some pretty severe avalanche terrain on the lower canyon section.
Mount Joffre Easy Joffre was a perfect snowshoe alpine trip. Skis would have been a PITA to lug all the way up there and the snowshoes worked all the way to the summit. Having heel-lifts on the 35-40 degree roll was excellent!
Mount Gordon Easy Mount Gordon is one of the very few peaks I’ve repeated. The reason? What other peak can you easily ski to the very summit and then ski 15km downhill back to your car? Yes – it’s that good in the right conditions. As one of the highest Wapta summits, it also sports a pretty nice 360 degree panorama.

Top 10 Ski Summits

One of the best feelings in the world has to be pointing the snow sticks downhill after completing a winter or spring climb and swooping down on stable snow, covering hundreds of meters of terrain in mere minutes, all while taking in the stunning scenery around you. Some of my favorite moments in the Rockies have been spent like this. I am not an extreme skier by any stretch of the imagination so most of these are rated “easy”. This doesn’t mean there’s no hazards in getting there though – consider a mountain like Resplendent which has a long winter approach and a ton of crevasse and avalanche exposure but only “moderate” skiing terrain.

I’m assuming you are at least a novice alpine climber and a competent snow assessor and are familiar with a Rockies snow pack in rating these. By definition they are all exposed to avalanche risks and other objective winter mountain hazards.

Looking east and south down the Alexandra River Valley. Views include Saskatchewan, Forbes and the Lyells. Cockscomb visible at distant right.
Descending the summit ridge of Androlumbia with the lower south ridge of Andromeda in front of us. You can see why this is the easy route on Andromeda – but it’s much further to the summit than it looks here as the summit visible is a false one and there’s two more before the true summit is finally attained.
A bit more scale for you. Kev follows up the south ridge of Cromwell with the Stutfields behind him. Mount Alberta on the right.
Stunning views of Mount Balfour from Little Crowfoot. Balfour is the highest peak on the Wapta Icefield.
A great shot showing the scale of this place, with Liz ascending one of the bumps along the interminable east ridge on descent.

 

Ski Summit Rating Short Description
Castleguard Peak Easy Although this is a longish day trip, Castleguard Peak is one of the easiest summits to attain on the Columbia Icefield. It’s also definitely the lowest. But the views from the summit and the excellent ski down from high on the summit ridge more than make up for it’s diminutive stature.
North Twin Peak Difficult The skiing is fairly benign on this Rockies giant, but it is remote and hard to get to and the slope hides some pretty big crevasses which is the only reason it’s rated this way.
Mount Hector Moderate My favorite ski summit in the Rockies. 1600 vertical meters of skiing from the summit of an 11,000 foot peak. What could be better than that? Beware of crevasses though – people have died skiing down this one.
Mount Cromwell Moderate Cromwell probably isn’t quite 11,000 feet but if you get lucky you can ski all the way to it’s summit before realizing that you’re a LONG way from your vehicle and standing in a pretty wild place with some pretty wild views!
Mount Rhondda Easy Another easy Wapta day trip with great views and skiing right off the summit.
Ramp Peak Easy I really enjoyed Ramp Peak. An easy approach via Mosquito Creek combined with an excellent slope and fun terrain make this another peak I’ll probably repeat some day.
Chickadee Peak Moderate This unofficial summit near Boom Lake is a wonderful skiing destination. Big avalanche terrain but fairly mellow as far as backcountry skiing goes and usually has pretty good coverage.
Mount Androlumbia Difficult The same issue as North Twin Peak. Access is via the Athabasca Glacier which is very crevassed and exposed to objective winter hazards. There are crevasses on the main peak too but this is one of the easiest and quickest ski summits on the Columbia Icefields and can be day tripped.
Little Crowfoot Easy An easy day out but does involve some complex avalanche terrain. Views of the Wapta are great from here!
Emerald Peak Easy Another favorite, this ski ascent goes right up (and down) a massive avalanche gully near Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. If you get good snow, you will want to go back!

Top 10 Ski Tours

A ski tour might still involve a peak but is more focused on the “tour” part of the ski rather than full-on snow climbing. Obviously all the winter ski ascents in the previous section also included tours, but in general the following trips are more benign and less exposed to serious avalanche risk and / or crevasse hazards, but obviously still somewhat exposed in several cases.

Ratings are somewhat subjective but assume you are familiar with Avalanche risks and how to mitigate them and are an intermediate level of experience traveling on an Alberta Rockies snow pack – which is vastly different than a BC one! 🙂

At the Healy Meadows now, looking back down the skin track. TONS of larches in here – I have to come back in the fall some day.
Gorgeous views down the Asulkan Valley over the hut.
Gorgeous morning lighting on Balfour from just under the Balfour Hut.
Crossing the Wapta, Gordon on the left. Still a LONG ways to go from here!
Wietse climbs up to the Robertson / Sir Douglas col on the French Haig Robertson traverse.

 

Ski Tour Rating Short Description
Little Temple / Paradise Valley Moderate Ski touring throughout the Paradise Valley is pretty mellow. To challenge yourself a bit, head up Little Temple. This tour is exposed to some avalanche terrain and even serac fall off Mount Temple.
Sunshine Meadows / Citadel Peak Easy This is a long tour but a lovely one. There is some limited avalanche exposure on Citadel’s summit ridge but it’s quickly passed over. Save it for spring and enjoy beautiful temperatures and a feeling of solitude – once you’re out of the resort area anyway.
French / Haig / Robertson Traverse Moderate One of my favorite ski tours. Big terrain and great turns down the Robertson Glacier. There is some route finding up French Creek if you’re not lucky enough to have a skin track to follow and severe avalanche terrain up to the Sir Douglas / Robertson col. The Robertson Glacier has some crevasse and serac exposure.
Youngs Peak Traverse Moderate My first ski tour in Roger’s Pass. I got crappy snow conditions, but was still impressed. This classic tour covers some big terrain so don’t underestimate it.
Healy Pass / Monarch Ramparts Easy One of the easiest and lowest key ski tours you can do and still have fun doing it. Very minor avalanche exposure and some great views but don’t expect any epic skiing because without avalanche terrain you’re on pretty mellow angles. 😉
Burstall Pass / Burstall Pass Peak / Snow Peak Moderate Burstall Pass and surrounding peaks are a classic Kananaskis ski tour that I’ve done more than any other in the Rockies. Views are stunning and the skiing around the pass is usually pretty decent. People have died in avalanches on this terrain so do not treat it too casually.
Wapta Traverses (Peyto HutBow HutBalfour Hut) Moderate / Difficult Another classic ski touring area of the Alberta Rockies. The Wapta Icefield has two classic traverses with variations. The Classic or Extended Wapta Traverse goes from either Bow or Peyto Lake to Sherbrooke Lake via Peyto, Bow, Balfour and Scott-Duncan huts. There is another traverse of the Wapta known as the Bow-Yoho Traverse that will become more popular with the addition of the new Richard Guy Hut on the western edge of the icefield.
Sunshine Meadows / Twin Cairns / Wawa Ridge Easy / Moderate Sunshine meadows are quite benign ski touring for the most part. If you want to spice it up a wee bit you can either ascend Wawa Ridge or Twin Cairns and get some limited turns in before either repeating or skiing back out of the resort.
The Dolomite Ski Circuit Easy / Moderate The Dolomite circuit takes you up Dolomite Creek and around the entire Dolomite Peak massif. There is some big terrain in here that has the potential to slide so be aware of your surroundings. The views from the pass are very respectable and this is a good option for a quick tour.
Spray Traverse Moderate / Difficult The Spray Ski Traverse is a serious undertaking in Kananaskis Country, mostly due to the unstable nature of the snow in that area. Waiting for a spring snow pack isn’t a bad idea. I’ve only done part of the traverse and will be going back for more.

Top 10 Honorable Mentions

The following are trips that were memorable and fun and just didn’t squeak into any of the above categories for whatever reason. Some of these are easy snowshoeing or scrambling trips and some are full-on alpine climbs.

Amazing lighting with the shadow, sun beams and even a blue moon thrown in! Brazeau Lake in the distance, is one of the largest wilderness lakes in Jasper National Park.
Amazing views down the Lyell Creek valley with Walter and Ernest on the right. The spine of the North American Continent (Great Divide) can be clearly seen marching away on the right side of the pano – including the summits of Walter, Farbus, Oppy, Alexandra, Bryce and Columbia.
Looking over the headwaters of the Bow River that flows through Calgary and eventually into Hudson’s Bay.
Stunning views from the summit over Abraham Lake.
A wild scene of rock, snow, ice and clouds around the Lyells area including the infamous Alexandra Glacier between Ernest and Farbus which is part of the Great Divide Ski Traverse and one of the gnarliest bits of it.
Sublime views off the ridge with Nestor at center and Simpson Peak at right with a tarn sparkling beneath.

 

Trip Rating Short Description
Mount Townsend (Traverse) Difficult A delightful traverse of four peaks from Townsend to Epic, Mythic and Little Mythic up the far reaches of the Cougar Creek drainage from Canmore.
Mount Andromeda Alpine II I really enjoyed this peak on the Columbia Icefields. We ascended the easy west ridge and approached on skis as a day trip from the parking lot.
Nestor Peak Difficult Quite remote and easy from Ferro Pass, forest fires in the area have rendered access even more complex than usual. Not ascended often with unique views of the Assiniboine area.
Mount Brazeau Alpine II An easy, classic 11000er with a gorgeous bivy and approach.
Farbus Mountain Alpine II Difficult to access with very good views of distant giants such as the north side of the Lyells, Oppy and Alexandra.
Portal Peak Difficult This peak is very loose and steep but the views along the way and from the top are well worth the effort expended to get there.
Mount Morrison Moderate This scramble definitely deserves more attention than it currently receives. Situated over the Mount Shark area it isn’t a short day, but provided a remote feeling and some stunning views.
Mount Willingdon / Crown & Tower Alpine II, 5.0 The Devon Lakes area is gorgeous. Climbing three of the highest peaks in the area, including two 11000ers, in one day will make you a very tired and a very happy alpinist!
Abraham Mountain Moderate Abraham Mountain is one of my favorite David Thompson Country (DTC) scrambles. It offers interesting scrambling and routefinding and stunning views over Abraham Lake.
Mount Ishbel Difficult One of the more difficult scrambles around the town of Banff, this peak offers excellent hands-on scrambling and great views. Just don’t pick a really hot day as water sources are lacking.

Top 10 Least Favorite Mountain Trips

By popular demand – some of my readers thought it was only fair that since I posted so many awesome and favorable trips, I should include at least 10 of my least favorite outings in the Rockies. I agree. Following are some mighty fine, crappy days spent wasting my time in the hills. 😉 Looking at them, I realize a pretty common thread going on. A good number of these are snowshoe trips. That’s no big surprise. I also notice that they’re all fairly easy trips – probably chosen because of crappy conditions / weather when I really didn’t actually feel like being anywhere other than my warm, comfortable couch.

This is the best summary of how I felt on Cockscomb Mountain.

This was the rest of our day – traversing in gray, windy, rainy, cold conditions. It was great fun!

 

Trip Rating Short Description
Cockscomb Mountain Easy / Moderate A long, dumb approach via choked up creekbed with no good trail and miserable ascent slopes. This mountain should be unnamed and taken off of all maps – it’s that crappy. I’m not kidding around here.
Middle Sister Easy Guess what? Another long dumb approach via a creekbed with miserable ascent slopes. Doing it in unfavorable weather is like punching yourself in the face. It’s a complete waste of time and it hurts afterwards.
Mount Kidd Junior Easy A horrible bushwhack on unconsolidated, crappy snow on snowshoes with a recent cougar kill to keep me feeling panicky all the way down. Why do it when there’s already TWO other summits of Kidd offering much better views and more fun?!
Mount Bell(via Boom Lake) Moderate A long, boring approach to Boom Lake followed by a long, loose, boring ascent, all accompanied by a painful, boring stomach flu. Good times all around.
North Castle Peak Easy Oy. Bushwhacking over Alders with our ice axes to assist in the task. Need I say more? Oh yeah – the summit is buried in thick, gnarly, twisted trees with no views.
Horseshoe Ridge Easy There is no good reason on this Earth to do this ridge other than you’re “nearby” and want to increase your summit stats. That’s it. That’s literally it.
S.O. Isola Easy This little bit of Rockies magic isn’t even a “real” summit. How’s that for crappy? We invented the name so that a miserable day on snowshoes in bad conditions wouldn’t feel like such a complete waste of time.
Mount Fortune Easy The gem is anything but “fortune”. On snowshoes, during winter, it’s a crapfest of unconsolidated sugar snow combined with steep slopes that had us swimming uphill at about 1km per 3 hours. This was some of the least fun I’ve ever had in my LIFE. Never mind in the Rockies!
Mount McNab Easy Why? Why would anyone feel the need to do this insignificant bump that requires crossing an un-bridged river on snowshoes in winter to no views whatsoever?! The drive to the trailhead is infinitely more interesting. Just do that and go home and you’ll have a more productive day. I promise.
Festubert Mountain Easy / Moderate What a crappy day this was! Another terrible idea with Phil Richards. Almost like we’re suckers for punishment or something. Jeez. This snooze-fest of a mountain only ever offered us hours of painful slipping and sliding on boulders and rocks while following a grumpy Grizzly Bear’s tracks, and then summiting in a total whiteout with cold winds. A terrible, terrible idea. Who’s was it again?