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post #1 of (permalink) Old 11-17-2019, 05:24 PM Thread Starter
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Default Mount Harris

This thread is discussion about Mt. Harris, elusive giant in eastern part of Banff NP. It stands at 3299m & was first time climbed by survey party early last century, utilizing Martin lakes valley for approach. My interest comes from Siffleur wilderness backpack few years ago. On that occasion I hiked down Clearwater river valley from Devon Lakes bivi to lower Martin lake. Martin valley & plateau above upper Martin lake is one of true wilderness areas of BNP & it's been climbing on my explore list ever since. Aerial view of the area:
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Mt. Harris climb is logical extension of such visit, but the hard part is breaking up into alpine plateau between Willingdon and Harris - center of map above. Once there it is presumably relatively simple talus ascent as seen on this shot:
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Years pass without anyone climbing Harris. Recently (Sep '19) there has been unsuccessful attempt by fairly experienced and capable group. They approached via Clearwater valley trail, then climbed up hanging valley SW of the peak hoping to break cliffs into Willingdon/Harris plateau above. Despite (uncertain) beta this was just a scramble, they failed to find route that did not require ropes & had to turn back. This further rekindled my interest & now I am fairly determined to break into this area next summer. Following is discussion about 4 possible routes one could use to do so:


Route 1: Martin Lakes Valley

Arguably the simplest and also first ascent original approach. Downside is very long trudge from the Highway - at least 2 days will be required to reach upper Martin Lake (Day 1: Icefields to Devon Lakes via Quartzite or Mosquito, Day 2: Devon Lakes down Clearwater River valley and up Martin Lakes valley). In addition travel in Martin valley would be off trail with likely bushwhack and braided channel fords:

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[Lower Martin lake bottom left, upper Martin lake top right]

My own image from lower Martin lake; Harris is center right:



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[Upper Martin lake close-up and likely bivi spot / base camp]

From upper Martin lake bivi only feasible option appears to be breaking into upper plateau on south side (upper center on map below):
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There is only this much one can tell from these google maps / google earth shots, but I've seen posts on bivouac "once at upper Martin lake route becomes obvious" & this slope is nothing more than steep talus. On descent back to Martin bivi one could also spend time exploring that awesome plateau dotted with tarns -- including awesome waterfall draining into upper Martin lake(photo lifted from Paul Zizka):
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Route 2: Glaciated Valley between Mt. Willingdon and Clearwater Mtn

Much shorter than Route 1, but in mountaineering domain because of lengthy glacier travel:
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One could easily reach the Icefield from upper Devon lake, by either following first portion of Mt. Willingdon approach or even simpler by scrambling talus on left side on this photo taken on my Devon bivi site:
[Low point on skyline is likely the easiest spot to reach the Icefield]

Once on Icefield it would probably be easiest to stay on west side below Clearwater Mtn; once again there is only this much one can tell from looking at Google maps, but it appears simpler to exit glacier tongue if one do so (right side on map below):
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Icefield shot lifted from Sonny Bou during his Willingdon ascent:
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Once off glacier remainder of the route would coincide with Route 1 above upper Martin lake.


Route 3: Zizka / Collier

This route follows Clearwater River valley ~6km east from lower Devon Lake, then ascends drainage to hanging valley SW of Mt. Harris:
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Cliffs separate this valley from upper plateau. Paul Zizka broke on the left side by ascending next to set of waterfalls and labeled whole thing as "scramble". Problem is - Zizka is (besides awesome photographer) also a climber, and what is scramble to him is likely technical climb for most of others! These images are lifted from Cornelius Report (one of party of 3 that failed in Sep '19 attempt):Name:  harriscornelius1.jpg
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[Waterfall center left appears to be logical weakness & labeled as scramble only by Zizka. Cornelius party searched but gave up; I repeat these are very capable people & this tells me it was not a scramble]


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[Closer look at waterfall base; wet, vertical with skimpy holds and a no go]

Other option, utilized by Rick Collier ascended cliffs at far end of the valley. Bivouac reported ropes were required because of icy conditions. Cornelius group tried this one too but, despite dry conditions, could not break through either although they came within 200m vertical to Harris summit (!)]

All this probably means that Route 3 is in technical climber domain and not feasible as scramble.


Route 4: Clearwater - Kentigern col

This route appears to be most direct. On a hike in, instead of turning east to Clearwater Pass / Devon Lakes, one would continue on Siffleur trail for couple of kms past Mt. Clearwater, then attempt to ascend via talus slope south of Mt. Kentigern:
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From maps it appears not more than steep talus with no cliffs:
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On the other side one would descend to lip of Icefield (Route 2) then intercept Route 1 above upper Martin Lake. There are many tarns in this plateau that would also provide awesome bivi site.


I have not found any online reports of Route 4 or heard about someone attempting it.
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To conclude: Despite ClubTread not being anymore in domain of seasoned back-country explorers that have sadly migrated towards social media, I still hope someone will find this discussion useful. Optimal trip in my view would be to link Routes 1 and Route 4 for a loop that would provide most satisfying experience in the area; it would be 4-5 days affair and something I am likely to attempt next summer.

Last edited by zeljkok; 11-19-2019 at 04:38 PM.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 11-18-2019, 11:53 PM Thread Starter
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Couple more very interesting photos I found poking around:

Paul Zizka crossing lip of waterfall draining into upper Martin lake. It is just a hike (long one) to get to this valley via Route 1 & totally worth even if you don't summit anything!
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View from Willingdon South (aka "Crown" - unofficial name), lifted from explor8ion, into crux glacial valley between Willingdon and Harris. This is probably best view what kind of terrain one might expect in upper mountain. Route 1 would come up from upper Martin Lake (far center left) then probably trash up talus in center of photo. Route 3 (Zizka), after breaking above waterfall where Cornelius group had to turn back, still appears not to be cakewalk. There is glacier and steep bit of terrain (lower right) to negotiate in order to break into upper ridge.
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 11-19-2019, 04:05 PM Thread Starter
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If one is prepared for glacier travel I think Route 2 might be the least problematic. These images from summit of Clearwater Mtn, lifted from explor8ion, are from September '19 & show recent conditions


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[Willingdon icefield, clearly showing relative ease of access from low point above Devon Lakes on Route 2]


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[Length of Willingdon Icefield, much more receded than Google Maps show. Would definitely stay on Clearwater Mtn side then exit somewhere far center left]


Of course question is how badly crevassed it is & there is no way of telling from distant images like this, you gotta be there.


I believe access to Kentigern / Clearwater col via Route 4 would go; this image (also from explor8ion) shows at far bottom right lowest point on that col:
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Real question in my mind is what is on the other side. On Google Maps it does not appear too bad
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but this can be very deceptive & would be terribly disappointing to slog all the way up & realize you can not climb down on the other side (without ropes and such). Once by the biggest tarn lower right you'd be home free & probably good bivi spot too.



CandySack, if you see this, did you by any chance get a good look at Kentigern / Clearwater col? I am looking at your Clearwater Mtn Report, but don't see clear pic.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 08-07-2020, 09:23 PM Thread Starter
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I have some update now. Party of 2 have made successful approach into upper Martin Creek via Route 4 discussed above. Clearwater / Kentigern col from Siffleur side is apparently not more difficult from typical Rockies talus slope
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Larger problem is, as I suspected, drop on the other side. There is only so much one can tell from Google Maps & there seems to be plenty of short cliffs & micro-terrain route findings . Best route apparently stays on north side. This is one of shots, can't tell clearly because of shade but gives an idea
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Further down it flattens out and becomes simpler to point where Route 2 joins in. Mt. Harris is then fairly simple, just a class 2 scree plod.
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At this point I feel I have enough info. I do my hiking almost exclusively by myself, but for this one small group of 3 or 4 would be good thing. So I will put standing call here if someone is interested. Rough itinerary would be:


Day 1) Mosquito Creek over Quartzite col and Siffleur valley to bowl between Clearwater / Kentigern col. Bivi around here or in meadow below (flat, water):

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Day 2) Cross over the col and make our way down into upper Martin Creek. Setup 2 nights bivi somewhere around here:

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Spend rest of afternoon exploring. Major appeal is that waterfall feeding upper Martin Lake I want to photograph from different angles and at different parts of the day

Day 3) Ascent of Mt. Harris. Rest of day exploring, including potential drop into Upper Martin Lake (route 1). More energetic can probably go for Mt. Augusta, I wouldn't.

Day 4) Back to Highway over Clearwater / Kentigern col, Siffleur, Mosquito col. Very long day

You need to be comfortable with wild bivi, reasonably fit, class 3 terrain, creek crossings, micro-terrain route issues. We'd need 4 days of bomber bluebird as everything is very exposed to weather. It would be fantastic if someone already went over Quartzite at some point, but if not that's not a big issue I am fairly comfortable I am able to find easiest way. Do not respond here, send PM

Credits for info and photos above here
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