Steven Song's Peak-bagging Journey

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Isolated Peak

About 1 month ago, Andrea Battistel asked me to join her group for all 6 scrambles in Little Yoho over 4 days. Of course I'm interested in, but doing those over 4 days is a bit luxury so I threw out The Presidents to her group, which was not surprisingly, being rejected. Oh okay, I might gonna shorten the scrambles to 2 days then, and by this way, I could be weather wise and more flexible. Mike Mitchell (Arcturus) also showed interest to this trip, and he agreed with me to do them over 2 days instead of 4. However, we were busy buying gathering camping gears till the last minute. I spend hundreds of dollars buying a Fly Creek UL1 tent, a sleeping pad, and a bulky synthetic -12 degree sleeping bag. Well the tent and sleeping pad are good enough, but obviously I still have to buy a better sleeping bag for the future overnight trips. Mike and I didn't even have a stove, so we didn't pack things that require heating. I packed 8 sandwiches and 6 muffins, and obviously, they're extremely heavy for camping trips. Anyway, the approach is only 10km one way, and I really didn't feel like buying all camping food. Sandwiches and muffins are really cheap compared with compacted food. One week ago, I took several close shots of Mt McArthur area from the summit of Mt Niblock, and not surprisingly, Little Yoho was still snowy. Judging by the difficulty of our objectives, we wisely chose to bring ice axe and crampons. My pack is 70L and I couldn't pack all the stuffs inside (obviously). I had to hang my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and slippers outside (please don't rain or they would all get wet)... Adding all the factors, my pack feels like a stone. Apart from that, I had to wear my stiff winter boots (-35 degree) instead of hiking boots as my hiking boots are not crampon compatible. (I didn't feel like spending another 250$ to buy a pair of backpacking boots). Anyway, this is my first backpacking trip and I have lots of stuffs to go through.

Obviously the hike in and out would be much harder than expected... We didn't finish the trip in 2 days. It turned out to be:

Friday: Hike in via Yoho Valley, then Isolated Peak to Whaleback Mountain
Saturday: Kiwetinok Peak to Mt Pollinger to Mt McArthur to Mt Kerr (both official and true summits)
Sunday: Hike out via Iceline Trail, then go home...
Monday: Write trip reports, relax. Thunderstorms in the Rockies anyway...

This trip reports is for the first day.

We got a good sleep in Canmore ACC Hostel the night before. Honestly I don't like to spend money on this part, and I always do car-camping. My parents and I even managed to squeeze into my small car for 3 nights in 2009, the road trip to Canadian Rockies, and we felt okay for that. (I'm sure my style will change after I get a job)... But I have to admit that the Hostel is more comfortable than car, for sure. And to get a good sleep before an intense backpacking trip is essential.

We woke up in rain Friday morning... I didn't check the forecast for Canmore though, so I still felt optimistic about the weather in Yoho, which was predicted to be sunny. As we drove west, the clouds indeed lifted up and the rain stopped after passing Sulphur Mountain / Mt Norquay. Patches of blue sky appeared above Bourgeau and Brett which showed positive sign. We arrived at Takakkaw Falls parking lot at 9AM. Because we had done packing, we soon started the first crux, the hike in...

It was not as bad as I thought (I thought it would be the crux for the entire trip)... But it was still very painful. Going uphill with heavy pack was not as bad as going downhill, so that's another factor why I felt okay for the hike in. The Yoho Valley trail is flat and easy to negotiate. In no time we arrived at the Laughing Falls junction. I need to point out here, this approach is very boring and has almost zero view. I'm glad we chose Iceline Trail on the way out. From Laughing Falls, we went up the left branch. A steep 1.6km switchback section brought us to the upper hanging valley, followed by another 3.5km nice gradual uphill hike to Stanley Mitchell Hut. The camping ground is 0.3km past the Hut. We finally could relieve by this point, and we quickly set up our tents and stuffs. I was surprised that Andrea's group hadn't been here yet. After a lunch break, Mike and I started the trudge to Isolated Peak.

We first had to go back to Stanley Mitchell Hut, and we soon found the trail started on the east side of the hut, according to Alan Kane. The trail is well developed and quickly led us to the upper meadows, and we were treated with spectacular views to all directions. As I only brought 1L of water up from Parking Lot, I was glad to find a mini waterfall where I could re-fill. The trail gets faint upon reaching the alpine, but the abundant cairns mark the way correctly. We had to find a way to cross the stream, which could present some problem in early season. Not far up, we arrived at the base of Isolated Peak.

From here, we had to skirt around the base of the peak on its south side. The snow was surprisingly supportive at this time of the day. While ascending the snow, we had to make sure we were not on the adjacent glacier therefore don't venture too far into. We just walked on the edge of the snowfield. A big scree cone coming down from the mountain indicates where we should leave the snow and trudge up the tedious scree.

Soon we were facing the ascending gully that Kane mentions. The description has no details from here on, and we had to find our own route up. The gully was snow filled and we made a poor decision of staying on climber's left of the snow. The gully eventually ended at a 3m waterfall step. It was too wet to climb up. I tried to climb 2m up and to go through I had to force a jump move on wet holds, which was definitely not a moderate scramble... Therefore I backtracked. Mike could see an easier line towards climber's left from below. But to get there, I had to cross a very exposed and narrow ledge, with loose scree and dirt on. This was even more sketchy... So what, we had to cross the snow to the other side of the gully then. The snow was more like ice and we had to put our crampons on (glad we brought crampons up). The terrain on the other side (climber's right) was still uncertain but we have figured out it would be the only possible way. Not far up the other side, we spotted a less steep line to get up the next step, where we found another wider ledge back towards climber's left. We traversed on that ledge for about 30-40m or so, and we were facing another snow gully. This one looked better than the one before, and I carefully kicked step across it without crampons. Mike followed me but slipped and got wedged in between snow and rock. He was able to pull himself out and crossed the gully safely. I felt much more nervous watching others doing exposed steps rather than doing it myself. A cairn helped confirming we were on correct route now.

The next step was going up a narrow gully / chimney. After that, a long loose section brought us to the west ridge. Then it's merely a hike to get to the summit.

We retraced out steps on the way down, and it was not faster particularly because of the looseness. We had to be careful not to kick down rocks to each other, but it was almost impossible. For the first snow gully crossing we carefully used my steps made on the way up. For the second snow gully we stayed on skier's left to completely avoid it. The terrain below is not easy scree run neither, mainly rubbles on solid ground... Getting to the snow below was much of a relieve of our knees, and we quickly made our way down. Now, the second objective of the day, Whaleback Mountain.

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Photos taken by Steven