Mount Aylmer is my major objective of this trip. I messaged several friends but they all had other plans. Soloing this mountain is a bit nervous because of the lengthy approach in active grizzly country, but considering the group size restriction starting at July 10th, I couldn't wait for another week. I can imagine how hard to gather 4 experienced and fit scramblers on Aylmer, with no bike approach (I won't do any biking unless someone from Edmonton has a bigger car that can take my bike. I have to sleep in my already-small-car. If I really want the peak done, I won't care about approaching on foot or on bike, skis or snowshoes, walking or post-holing. I have a very high tolerance about lengthy approaches and long days). Also, gathering 4 people together requires arranging weeks ahead of time. Mt Aylmer is one of the peaks I'm really caring about the views, because there's simply no other objectives in that area. If you care about the view, you gotta have to be weather wise, if so, planing weeks ahead isn't smart. If the weather turns bad you have to cancel, and then all of your partners will be pissed off. Okay, that's my theory though.
Despite the very-long-day-description in Kane's book, I didn't feel like doing an early start. Last week I did a trip of 43km distance 3700m elevation gain in less than 16 hours, so a trip of 35km distance 2000m total elevation gain shouldn't take me more than 12 hours. Therefore I slept in a bit and started at 8:30AM. The first 8km approach along Lake Minnewanka shoreline trail isn't a piece of cake. I didn't know there were so many up-and-downs including a big hill with about 150m elevation. If adding these gains both on the way in and out, you gotta have to do at least 300m more elevation. Bringing a bike can reduce the pain but the trail is narrow, rocky, rooty and rough. I don't know if I can bike comfortably on this terrain as I've only done biking in city. 1 hour and 40 minute later, I arrived at campground Lm8, where the trail to Aylmer Pass branches off. Due to sun direction, the views in the morning is not breath-taking. The best view is towards the east face of Mount Rundle.
I was yelling during the past 1.5 hours on Lake Minnewanka Trail, and now, I have to yell at a much more frequent pace. Compared with Lake Minnewanka Trail, Aylmer Pass Trail is much more less traveled. Seeing those signs just made me more nervous. Normally if you don't surprise a bear it won't attack you (unless it has been fed on human food), so making lots of noise is the best weapon. I yelled about once in every 10-15 seconds. Upon reaching the Aylmer Lookout Junction, I decided to take the faster way up, which is via Aylmer Pass. Yes it's a faster way, but I soon realized that this trail leads you to a more active grizzly country. Oh well, at least I knew I would be out of the trees in 40min, so not too bad.
Yes 40min later, I reached a huge avalanche gully, according to Alan Kane, I had to leave the trail and ascend this gully. There was supportive snow in it. I didn't yell that often but I still had to yell, because of the huge grassy slope ahead. Life became a game of slog since here. It was mainly a steep slog up endless slope to the summit. I suggest you to divide the game into several pieces. At the end of game 1, you gotta be treated with the first full view to Lake Minnewanka. During game 3, you can see most of the unnamed peaks towards NW (part of Palliser Range). The downclimb in game 4 requires difficult move on down-sloping and overhanging ledges, friction move, definitely not a moderate by any means. The final slog in game 5 requires 40min so be mentally prepared.
1. slog up avalanche gully followed by grassy slope on climber's right to ridge crest
2. slog up brown scree to the saddle (where different color rocks meet)
3. slog up talus and boulder fields to the difficult down-climb
4. down-climb rock bands (difficult scramble for one of them)
5. slog up the final 300+ meters to the summit
Finally, after 6 hours trudging, I stood on the summit of Mount Aylmer, a peak more than 3100m elvation. The views are awesome as I could look down at most stuff, but mostly unnamed peaks though. The most imposing feature towards East is Devil's Head in Gohst River area. Towards south is Lake Minnewanka, Mt Giouard, and Mt Inglismaldie. Familiar 11,000ers like Assiniboine and Temple are also visible. Anyone interested in doing Inglismaldie in late September please email me. It's miserable, but a major mountain in Banff area that should be on any peak bagger's list. The view was a bit smoky. I don't think that's because of forest fire, but rather the high humidity of the air. The register was placed in 2005, and there are not so many ascents since then. Lots of familiar names.
I stayed 40min on the summit soaking in the views before descending. Coming down the summit block was fast. I skirted around the difficult section on the way back, side-sloping on the scree and boulders. It's just an easy scramble, but again, I suggest you to take the difficult route at least on the way up, assuming you have the skill to handle it. I chose the Aylmer Lookout trail on the way back. The ridge went on forever, and the trail on teh ridge was in very bad shape. Lots of dead falls to negotiate. Despite that, this route is much more scenic than the direct route. Once at the lookout, a good trail led me back to the major Aylmer Pass trail, where I was joined by two other hikers. We hiked down together to the campground Lm8. It was a sunny Saturday night so there were lots of bikers and campers around, so I was not worrying about bears by this time.
I didn't speed on the last 8km back, but rather took time taking photos of Lake Minnewanka and Mt Inglismaldie. The afternoon and evening sun is much better for shooting them. This week is my first trip to Banff area in this year, so not surprisingly I was amazed by how many people there around the lake shore. Round trip time 11.5 hours including all of the stops.