I didn't leave Edmonton until almost 8pm, and arrived at Saskatchewan Crossing near midnight. I figured out there wouldn't be any warden at this time of the day, so I drove to trailhead and slept in car. I met Marko, Alan, and Greg in the next morning. We started at almost 7.
I didn't have time to do a full warm-up, so I was very glad that Marko led a slower pace up the initial trail. This gave me a full relieve. I had a big trouble on Mt. Carnarvon one week ago for not doing warm-up, and my muscle almost got cramped on that trip... Although not as good as the nearby Sunset Pass Trail, this trail was still easy to follow. There were several deadfalls to negotiate on the way in. Trail got narrower and a little bushy higher up, and we got soaked pretty quick. We took turn to lead as non of us wanted to get wet feet at the start of the day. We entered into the fog / clouds pretty quick, and now we couldn't see anything except for trees and ourselves. Not far up, we made to Sarbach Lookout. There was a lookout station, but we couldn't see anything else. We followed a narrow trail on the other side of the station. This trail went horizontally and slightly down-hill... Oh well, after following it for several hundred meters, it disappeared into bushes. This isn't gotta be the correct way, I thought. Marko checked his GPS and his reference shows to go up about 150m after the lookout station. Oh okay, let's go straight up from here. It worked and we regained trails / paths pretty quick. There were also tens of cairns to guide us in the white-out condition. It feels like forever to gain the north ridge, and this section really reminds me about the white-out ascent on Fisher Peak. Similar terrain, similar grade, similar views...
Suddenly, sunshine!! Then, blue sky!! Omg, I couldn't believe we broke through the low clouds! We could briefly see Mt. Wilson poking out about the clouds, but soon, they rolled in again.. This gave us enough motivation and we speed up a bit and minutes later, we were officially standing above the clouds. Jesus Christ! I couldn't believe my eyes.. This was my first time seeing low clouds scenery and it was absolutely amazing. Now, photographing time! Each of us took endless photos while trudging up the north ridge. The mountains looked big with the low clouds, AND the new snow fallen on the previous night. Sarbach is rated as difficult and exposed, but non of us brought up ice axe nor crampons. However, we all had lots of winter scramble experience so we should be okay.
Soon, we arrived at the first notch. It doesn't look bad at all, and I quickly made my way through. Coming back up the notch was a bit involved due to the very loose rock. Technically it's moderate scramble but due to the loose rock, you gotta use caution. Looking back, I got some good shots of the cliff.
The 2nd notch is only 2min away from the 1st one. This one looked quite steep from above. It's a chimney climb so I took my time putting on helmet. During which Alan and Greg started to make their way down, towards skier's left to aim for less steep terrain. I looked down the most direct line - the chimney, and it looked very doable to me. Therefore Marko and I decided to down-climb this chimney. Good call. The holds are good and rock is solid. I could face outward the entire way down and it was pretty easy. Another good thing for doing the chimney is to give a good warm-up of what would come 3 days later, Mt. Smuts... By the time Marko and I made the way down, Greg and Alan still had halfway to go. So I guess our chimney is the easier route. I give it a rating of lower difficult. It's easier than the down-climb from Pollinger to McArthur, and easier than the Kane chimney on Mt. Edith.
We regrouped after this crux and the following hour was slogging up easy terrain. Going up the next step brought us up to the football field sized plateau. By now, the view towards Mistaya Valley and Mt. Chephren / White Pyramid fully opened up. Higher up, Marko, Alan, and Greg decided to have a snack break. It was a bit windy and I felt good on energy so I slowly moved up. The north ridge started pretty easy. The higher you go, the steeper it becomes. Near the top, I encountered snow covered difficult terrain. I knew Kane's warning about the terrain getting harder, so I was mentally prepared for this stuffs. I came straight up the ridge overcoming what I thought was upper difficult rock bands. There was loose rock and snow as well, so I had to use extra caution not to slip. At places a slip could send me down the east face... This part reminds me the winter wrong gully ascent on Roche Miette, although easier for sure. (Later on the way down, I learned all of those difficulties could be skirted around on climber's right side)... Oh well, I was happy to do some extra difficult scrambling, and Marko and Greg also decided to test their skill a bit on the way down by using my route. It was fun if you like difficult scramble. Topping out on the upper ridge crest, it was only minutes away from the false summit. I ascent the false summit which proved to be very unnecessary.
I managed to get down steep terrain on the north side of the false summit instead of backtracking. Further up the ridge, I also ascended the first pinnacle, which was proved to be another bad call. The ridge came to a drop-off with no easy way down, and I had to backtrack. I managed to post-hole while circumventing the base of the pinnacles, and found a less steep place to get back to ridge crest. Now it was mostly a nice ridge walk until the summit block. Due to the snow, I had to double check the holds, but nothing tricky. Soon I made to the infamous last 15 meters. Man, that was much easier than what's described in Kane's book. If you can do Lady MacDonald and Compression Ridge, then you can do this... The rock is looser than lady Mac though. The last 2-3 meters has very questionable rocks.
It was pretty cold on the top, so we didn't do a super long summit stay. Going down snow covered terrain was definitely quicker than going up. We bypassed the false summit on the left side, and looking back, Mt. Forbes finally decided to show up her shy face. That's another price for the already amazing day. While Alan went down the easy to moderate terrain on skier's left of the ridge crest, Alan, Marko, and I went down the way I came up. It was not that bad coming down as we could butt-shuffle which requires less pushing power than going uphill. On questionable rock, this could make a big difference on your confidence level. I felt coming down was considerably easier than going up this part. Alan patiently waited for us down-climbing, and we regrouped further down. Therefore, if you choose to skirt around the difficulties, then this entire section is only moderate. I was pretty amazed by Marko who didn't use poles on the entire descent. I couldn't descend without poles comfortably on any terrain except for scree run, snow, and hiking trail... Oh well. Under the afternoon sun, North Saskatchewan River Valley and the giants guarding the Crossing, namely Wilson and Murchison, looked amazingly good. They guard the Crossing just like Cascade and Rundle guarding Banff. Good thing they both are not hard ascent. We all climbed back up the crack on the 2nd notch. Alan and Greg agreed that this way was much easier than the loose rock on climber's right.
Once near the treeline, we got confused about where we came up. We were completely in the clouds in the morning so I couldn't remember anything of our ascending route. We spotted a less treed area and went down that direction. Good call as we cot scree skiing for a fairly long section. Lower down, we managed to stay in the middle of the gully, while descending grass slope. The gully ends by cliffs that could be down-climbed. We skirted around the cliffs on skier's right and after slight bushwhacking we could spot the trail. On the way back, we didn't see the lookout station, so I think we came down meeting the trail lower than the lookout. Anyway, I guess there're more than one options and they all work. The trail went on really forever. The section at valley floor was also surprisingly long. After eternity we made back to the tourist's Maligne Canyon. Another 5min then we were back to parking lot. Overall, a great day in the mountain with great companies. I'd like to go out with these guys again for sure. Thank Marko for organizing the trip as well. I know it's hard to find partners for long and difficult scrambles.