I struggled to get out today (Saturday April 8). I got my gear together, then sat down again and did another hour of work, and it could have stayed that way. Except I saw that a friend Ryan had completed a 10km race on Nose Hill, and he did really well, and Joanna was on her way to winning the Diaz 100km race in BC. I guess I was out of excuses at that point! So I sucked it up and got my gear together again. I was going out after all.
I had been looking into a route up Mount Charles Stewart from the west. After Cornelius showed that the route from the south end of the ridge was tough, I knew that if I was doing this mountain it would be via a different route.
From the west there are three drainages between Princess Margaret Mountain and The Tit, each of which might grant access to the west face of Charles Stewart. Also the ridges between these drainages could also give some elevation to make the ascent a simpler task. The bedding in these two ridges were tilted at about 45 degrees due to the stacked thrust faults. This meant that access along these ridges there would likely be a series of downclimbs.
So, today I went on a scouting mission. I should point out that I was without my camera today, so these are only from my phone - quality is not as good as I am aspiring for.
My target summit
My route today.
I started at Cougar Creek, because it would make for a nice trail run along Montane Traverse, there are obviously much more direct routes. When I reached the outwash from the first drainage I could see my target - I'll call it Tibitts Ridge in honour of the guy who 50 years ago had a quarry just below the ridge - the creek and trail are named after him, so I guess that works fine. It was mostly treed, but had a craggy look to the last 100m or so. It also looked to be mostly snow free, which was great, and ended up being pretty important. The steep slab sections would be nasty with ice and snow.
Immediately after crossing this drainage I turned upstream and found a basic trail. It guided me up beside the outwash at first before cutting a bit further into the trees. I was prepared for a bushwhack, but this was great. This trail leads to "The Alcove" climbing area, and someone has maintained this little trail very well, branches have been cut back and deadfall cleared away. After 1km I could see that the trail was beginning to bypass my target ridge. I don't know how far up the drainage "The Alcove" is – I will have to come back to explore one day. But on this day I turned off trail and worked my way up fairly steep vegetation and short runs of talus. It was 400 m vertical to my target, so really it wasn’t that far, I had plenty of time, the sun was shinning - I didn't want to rush headlong through this part. It was nice to just pick lines through the trees and soak up the energy of the environment.
General scheme of the trails immediate to where I went off trail, as well as my ascent line.
But that first part of the ascent was all just the preparation for the fun. The last 100m of ascent was a pleasure of scrambling. Firm, blocky rock, steep angles and plenty of options. It was great limestone, it was engaging, I felt comfortable, although I was certainly sure to make sensible choices since I was solo, I allowed my line to take me through the interesting features. Up to this point everything was just a hike (class 2 I guess), but the scrambling took it firmly into class 3 or 4 depending on the line. I didn’t necessarily follow the simplest terrain line, I just followed where the fun took me, which did involve a few steps of class 4. I could have climbed on this kind of rock all day! But, I was also happy to see it suddenly come to a snowy summit.
Scrambling on good rock in the trees. This is where the steep hiking started to become more engaging.
The Tit was my partner to my right. Above me was good rock with lots of good lines.
The slope narrows to a point, I could tell that I was nearing my summit.
This was sublime scrambling terrain.
As I rounded onto, all-too recently familiar, knee-deep postholing, I stopped and just soaked up the views, immediately to my left was a large dead tree - long dead. The spots of brilliant yellow moss were fantastic, and framed by a storm up-valley near Banff just gave me one of those special "in the moment" moments. Ahhhhhhhhhh.
Moss on bleached tree, and storm. It's good for the soul.
Looking back at my tracks from the summit. There was a little cairn here.
Views from the summit back over the valley were great, the entire Rundle massif spread directly before me, and the line down to the Lougheeds was nice. I really enjoyed the bedding evident in The Tit and Buffalo Point.
The entire east face of the Mt Rundle massif spread out before me. With Lawrence Grassi to the far left and Norquay to the far right.
The Tit and Buffalo Point to my south, with Canmore nestled in the valley below. *Excuse the poor aligned stitch - I only had my phone this day*
Princess Marge at left and Charlie boy Stewart at right.
My scouting objective was to look across the gully immediately to my north at the ridge below Princess Margaret Mt, and how it might be used for access to Mount Charles Stewart. In the photo above, I had hoped that a line rising from the valley near the snowline would provide a path to the summit slopes, however, it appears that there is one band down climb that may prevent that line from working. It seems that I would need to head a little further upstream before taking to that ridge, but from there it should work. Neat.
Downclimbing, I tried a different route, to see if there would be a more moderate way, and I spied a simple terrain feature that would do that. But descending the summit crags to access that terrain was still upper class 3 with a bit of 4 for that line also. This was the same blocky, excellent rock, so I was not complaining, for sure! From that point down to The Alcove access trail was once again simple off trail hiking, if a bit steep.
The smells of the forest were really evident today. This was my first properly “summer” scramble of the year, and I made sure to sit and bask in the suns rays on nice limestone rocks while I was still up high. There was no wind, and I was treated to a very fulfilling sensation of getting it done.
The run back along Montane Traverse was nice and steady, and I had the energy to detour to Benchlands and the Hoodoos for a bit of variety. I reached Cougar Creek inside 4 hours with 17km and 850m elevation.
If you started from the Legacy Trail parking area near Harvie Heights it would be roughly 8km and 650m elevation - Taking the Connector Trail, Ridge Traverse and the Tibitts Quarry Trail to meet Montane Traverse, and the point where I located The Alcove access trail. From there follow your nose and pick a line up the west face.