Saturday, 29 August 2009

Tent Ridge Horseshoe -- Scrambling with Celebs

The Tent Ridge Horseshoe has been on my list of things to do for a while. Gillean Daffern says:

This is one of the most enjoyable ridgewalks you'll ever do

While I'm sure glad we did it, it's not a walk, folks. It's a hand over fist scramble in places. I quote the following from Wikipedia. This is the actual classification system that brought you the 5.0-5.10 rating system used in climbing:

Class 1: Walking with a low chance of injury.
Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possibility of occasional use of the hands. Little potential danger is encountered.
Class 3: Scrambling with increased exposure. A rope can be carried but is usually not required. Falls are not always fatal.
Class 4: Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.

Class 5: Technical free climbing involving rope, belaying, and other protection hardware for safety. Un-roped falls can result in severe injury or death.

Tent Ridge is Class 3 scrambling with sections of Class 4, driven by the difference between scrambling & climbing, and that "fatality of falls" issue.

It starts with a couple of kilometers of trail with more sections of deadfall than open trail. Winding up in cutblocks, it's getting seriously overgrown -- the source of the first of my cuts for the day.

Then you start the scramble, There's a trail-ish, or at least a path. Climbing it takes you straight into the blinding sun, so it's a bit a challenge at times to find the route. The eastern ascent ridge is best seen in this photo from the western ridge.

Within the first few minutes you reach the first challenge. Again, Gillean says this:

"Above is the first step. The steepest.... After this, the route unravels beautifully, long grassy promontories alternating with scrambly rock steps"

The second, third, fourth and fifth rock steps are as steep or steeper, and several are Class 4, as the route for the fall goes straight down severely pitched rock avalanche chutes. To give you a flavour of the challenge, here's some shots of KC on her way up.

The first summit you reach has a very attractive bright red communications repeater on it.

The views from the first peak are pretty fine, to the east of Mt. Engadine, the Tower and Galatea... the south, Mt Commonwealth, Pig's Tail, Mt. Birdwood, Mt. Sir Douglas & the Robertson Glacier, The Fist -- the list is long.

From this first peak, 660 m above the parking lot, you descend 100 m down a mild scree slope to a saddle. The Copelands in their book "Where the Locals Hike" would have you hike the valley straight up to this saddle. Think about that route for a moment. Here's a shot from the saddle.

From the saddle you climb another 250 m to the high point of the day. This is steep but non technical.

At this point, having climbed 825 m, we sat. We watched two falcons (probably Perigrines) argue with a hawk (probably a Broad Tailed). We watched scramblers tackling The Fist.

And we were joined by Malgosia and Marcin, authors of M&M Hikes. Malgosia shoots fantastic picture, Marcin posts excellent GPS tracks of their hikes (one of which I was following today), and if you like hiking in the mountains, you need to visit their website, MMHikes (a link is also available at the top of my blog). We had a nice chat about the subjective nature of trail reviews. You can be the judge about my subjective reviews.

At this point, though tired, one has to realize that this is about the halfway point, and for a while, it doesn't get easier. Here's the west ridge.

There's occasionally a trail-ish footpath, but where there isn't, watch out. There's two nasty downclimbing sections (note KC in the extreme lower right hand corner for scale)...

...and several places where the ridge is a true knife edge, a bootwidth wide and 1,000' down in both directions on unstable sharp scree, and it's not until the last half kilometer or so that the ridge broadens out and gets grassy. The redeeming part are the pretty views of Watridge & Opal Lakes, Cone Mountain, Mt. Assiniboine, Spray Lake (including views up to and including West Wind Pass to Grotto Mountain) and Mt. Nestor, where they are burning out the pine beetles.

The route down from the end is just that: down. First, one heads straight down a steep face on slippery gravel. Then comes a hard right turn to cut diagonally down along below the face of the peak to a junction with a well worn trail heading across the face -- neither direction of which is actually the correct route. We tried following the GPS track, but couldn't figure it out as my useless GPS was "lost" and couldn't tell me where I was. The topo map wasn't much help, and Gillean's book was unclear ("it helps to be familiar with the regular route up Tent Ridge"). We cut north about 50 m from the trail intersection, and found a weak trail made by humans heading down, and followed it down the slope. It petered out, then in another 20 m and slightly to the right, we found another weak start of a trail that turned out to be the correct one, but amazingly did not match the GPS track. The led us right back to the car without any difficulty at all, and was actually a pretty good trail if very steep in some sections of the forest. I think they call it Gawby Gultch, but then again, who knows?

So are we glad we did this? Yes. But if you're considering it, understand the following: Hands are required. Falling would have dire consequences. There is exposure, and while not on a purely vertical cliff face, certainly on something where the steepness is severe. Routefinding at the start, in spots on the up and downclimb, and on the exit is quite challenging; a good GPS (not my piece of junk) and a good track to follow (say, one downloaded from MMHikes) verges on essential. Do it clockwise as recommended in Gillean's book, as counterclockwise would put the nastiest pitches into bad down-climbing territory.

Having done it now, I would not call Tent Ridge "one of the most enjoyable ridgewalks I've ever done". Quartz Ridge at Sunshine Meadows is far superior.

But the views are nice.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

C Level Cirque & Pikas!

Looking for a short day with scenery, we decided to head up to C Level Cirque in Banff along with a whole lot of tourists. We have been on this trail a few times; the trail itself isn't that interesting, but some of the views are. Half way up there's a great viewpoint on the old coal mine tailings which features Lake Minnewanka & Mt. Inglismalde.

It was pretty hazy (I suspect due to distant forest fire smoke) so views up the Bow Valley were limited.

It's the time of the year for cool mushrooms, and here's a monster (probably 8" across) of a type I had never seen before.

There were also a few nice birds, including this Wilson's Warbler.

The cirque itself is dominated by one whole heck of a lot of rock that used to be up on the face of Cascade.

All these rocks are full of some of my favourite critters, including Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels...

...and the bestest of all, Pikas. Pikas rate a 15 on the 1-10 cuteness scale. From great faces, to cute little furry feet, to their rabbit-crossed-with-a-squirrel look, they are just great to see and to watch, and are without a doubt my favourie animal to see in the wild. This on was happy to let me take his picture while he had lunch.

In total, we probably saw 8-10 Pikas running around the rocks. A real treat.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Sunshine (and Quartz Ridge) in the Summer

Many years ago, I was up at Sunshine in the summer. We took advantage of our midweek sneak to head up on the bus this week, then hike around the meadows. The Village is a hive of construction activity, as well as lift maintenance. Here's the new wing of the Inn which will be open at Christmas.

While we were there to hike, it's hard not to be curious about the runs we ski, like those on Divide.

So we headed out towards Citadel Pass and Quartz Hill intent on getting up Quartz Ridge. The meadow is an easy, easy walk, until you get to a 150 m hillclimb to overlook Howard Douglas Lake, Citadel Pass proper, and the valley towards Mt. Assiniboine.

But our objective was Quartz Ridge. To put the ridge in perspective, here's a shot taken May 5th 2009 from an earlier winter post of the twin snow covered summits and long ridge leading up from Sunshine.

It was actually pretty straight forwards to get up to the high rockband on the upper cliff of the farthest (left) summit, seen in this shot from back near Rock Isle Lake.

However, looking from below, we didn't like the scramble route to the top, so skipped it. The views of Simpson River Valley, other glacier and Mt. Assiniboine were fine from where we were.

We ran into two Aussies on a "bush walk" up there, and lead them back down the ridge to Laryx Lake.

In truth, this route was a mistake; I should have stayed higher on the ridge and targeted Rock Isle Lake, so there was a bunch of tough bush bashing in a bear rich environment, where we saw one very big bear dig on our way through.

Once down at the lakes, we found all the tourists on the trails. There's a reason for this; the lakes are undeniably pretty.

Aside from the bear dig, it was an OK wildlife day. We didn't see the bear that was at Lake Howard Douglas. There were about 1,000 or more Columbian Ground Squirrels, all of whom were too cheeky for their own good. There were marmots guarding Quartz Ridge. And there were 4 big Bighorn rams being lazy up on the flats under Quartz Ridge.

In short, this was a pretty nice loop and day, though in future, the easiest route to gain the ridge is to turn right immediately after descending the stairs below Rock Isle Lake, and start up the ridge from there.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Burstall & South Burstall Passes

Burstall Pass is one of the most popular trails in Kananaskis, and I can see why. We biked up the first 3 km (on the "boring fire road"), which gave us the chance to savour more time in the high alpine. The trail itself is cool; you get great views of the Robertson Glacier, and you have to rock hop about 1 km of glacial outwash plain. Note: the numerous creeks have more water in them in the afternoon than in the morning.

The valley stretches back to views of Mt. Birdwood, Pig's Tail, Commonwealth Peak, and across Hwy 742 to Mt. Chester & Gusty Peak.

The meadows at the top are fabulous, though devoid of wildlife other than Columbian ground squirrels, and the odd bear den (we saw two).

We found the pass itself REALLY disappointing, so climbed the ridge directly in front of the pass, wondering at the folks who will try Mike Potter's ridgewalk up Snow Peak and the extension of the ridge we were on. Both looked devilishly tough. But the views from the ridgetop we were on were fab, including Leman Lake and the Spray River valley, and Mount Assiniboine.

Having time, we continued up to South Burstall Pass for spectacular views of Mt. Sir Douglas and the two glaciers that flank her north side.

You also get great views of the southern extension of the Spray Valley through the Palliser Pass.

As mentioned, there wasn't much wildlife up there. But we did run across a youg porcupine, who was shy but cute.