Steven Song's Peak-bagging Journey

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Kananaskis Lakes

Steven Song
Little Lawson
Jan 6, 2013

The 5th day in a roll of snowshoeing trip, I was looking for a short and relaxing ascent. Marko was ...more

planning on Little Lawson Peak and that would be an ideal objective for a relaxing day. So I met Marko, Amelie and 4 others at trailhead in the morning. Following Matt's GPS track, it was hard to get lost. We almost went up wrong ridge though but that was because we didn't pay attention..

Once on the ridge, the ascent was fairly steep. You probably want big teeth on your snowshoes or you would have trouble catching up your partners. It was surprisingly dry in Kananaskis and the snow was just deep enough for snowshoeing. You could do this trip without snowshoes but the big teeth definitely help on the way up. We went up at a not-so-fast pace. The weather was way worse than forecasted, and we didn't get good view throughout the day. We didn't stop at the false summit, and the final push to the summit wasn't bad. A little narrow for a few meters. Other than that, it's a walk up frozen scree. But if you don't have scramble experience, you would feel it a bit dicey..

On the way down, I took off snowshoes so I could plunge-step and glide a bit. My knee would hurt if I kept snowshoes on. I felt hard to slow down on the descent especially on snow covered terrain, so I went down on my own pace and drove back home early. Overall, a good day out, and a perfect finish for the 5-day snowshoeing trip. Succeed on every single peak attempted.

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Steven Song
Mount Fox
Jul 29, 2012

Andrea Battistel and I had a big plan on Sunday, July 29th. We agreed to do a long and difficult mou ...more

ntain, but uncertain of objective. I wanted to do Mount Smuts to The Fist, the most difficult scramble in Kane list. However, I wasn't 100% confident on the snow condition as the descending gully might still have snow or ice which would make the climb tricky. Andrea threw out her objective, Mount Fox. Okay, that's an equally exciting mountain, therefore I agreed. According to Vern and So, Mount Fox is as difficult as Smuts and Northover. (I haven't done them so I can't make detailed comparison now).

We met in Calgary at 6:30AM, and started the day at 8:10AM. The forecast called for a sunny day so we didn't actually need to start this early. One of the reason was to see the calm Frozen Lake in the morning. Andrea has done lots of cross country skiing in Kananaskis Lakes - Elk Pass area, so she knew exactly where we should go. We set up a fast pace and arrived at Frozen Lake in under 1.5 hours. We passed several large meadows where we could see the entire scramble route. Glad we left our ice axe in my car. It was bone dry. PS: From the junction of Frozen Lake Trail to the summit of Fox, we were following Alberta / British Columbia border, so we could see lots of provincial boundary signs. Now I know why this lake is named Frozen Lake. It's late July and the Lake is still partially frozen... We did get the calm water but due to the ice bergs we didn't get a good view of the reflections... Despite that, the morning view of the lake is still awesome.

We followed a trail skirting around the lake, soon we were facing a steep gully. Andrea took the bypass which was side-sloping on steep grass slope. I wanted some warm-up so I chose to ascend the gully. Man it was so loose... I should just follow Andrea to the grass slope but on the other hand, I'm glad she didn't go up the gully with me. It's unavoidable to kick down rocks to each other, especially on the upper part. We re-grouped at the saddle above the gully. A faint trail / light bushwhacking brought us to the treeline.

The mosquitos kept us going uphill without taking a necessary break at this point, and we soon started the initial moderate scrambling on steep grass and rock. The scramble got more and more involved as we went up. At one point, Andrea lost her camara bag and it slid down the south slope for a long distance. She did go down to find it but failed... I think she was more concerning about the upper slope so she didn't search carefully (she got it on the way down). As the scrambling becomes more serious, we put our helmets on, and poles in pack. A slight overhanging 1.5m step marks the official start of difficult scramble. From here to after the crux, it's consistant serious hands-on scrambling. You don't want to make any mistake in this long section both up and down. Exposure is not bad as a fall would be on the previous step or the rubble slope on both side. I don't remember any technical move involved neither. Therefore I say this long part is easy side of difficult. But as I mention above, you shouldn't make any mistake. This reminds me the East ridge of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, except for much easier. Trudeau involves several quite technical moves and the exposure is more severe, not even mentioning the wet quartz rock...

Two famous rock pinacles indicate the crux step. I gonna separate the crux into several small pieces:

1. Balance over a 5m long exposed ridge
2. Step over an exposed rock (crack below) to the base of chimney
3. Climb up the chimney
4. Drop down the other side of chimney sligtly, look for a rock window on skier's right
5. Squeeze through the window
6. Climb down the other side of window, traverse over exposed ledge to safer ground.

Non of these requires technical moves, and the exposure is tolerable. The chimney and window might be tight especially with a large pack, but still managable. This part is definitely not easy side of difficult, probably the middle to upper range of difficult. I haven't done Smuts nor Northover so I can't do more comparison. Compare to the several hard parts on Trudeau, Fox's crux is not much of a challenge.

After the crux, the difficult scramble section is almost done. The rest of the climb to the summit is just easy to moderate. However, the looseness of the ground makes this part as demanding as the hands-on section... Tediously tedious rubble slog. A pair of ski poles helps a lot. The high point you see from below is the false summit, which is only 5min away from the true summit. The view is excellent towards each direction. British Millitary Group - Kananaskis Lakes - Kananaskis Range - Opal Range - Elk Range (All of the Highwood scrambles in Kane list are visible) - Petain Glacier & East face of Joffre. Too many names to describe. Assiniboine is also visible. We could see the mountains south of Joffre. I don't even know their names as they're rarely seen. The next high mountain west of Fox is Mount Foch, which looks scramble-able. In between Foch and Sarrail we could see the Royal Group in the distance.

The old register was brought up by Alan Kane. Apart from him, there're lots of familiar names: Dave, Raff, Vern, Marko, Wil, etc. We stayed on the summit for more than 1 hour. Before getting down, we said to each other to take our time, no rush. Coming down was very tedious. Except for the crux, most of the terrain is same. We had to repeat the same type of movement again and again. I got mentally exhausted, not to mention that any error isn't allowed. We also had to keep our eye on the route. Sometimes we had to traverse slightly to skier's left to overcome more difficult terrain. Generally the ground is loose which doesn't help especially on the way down... Once done the difficult stuffs, Andrea managed to get her camera bag back! Going down the lower steep grass wasn't easy neither. Grass is more slipper than rock, and and slipping and sliding on this mountain isn't allowed... Okay, we took our time here. On the lower part, I followed Andrea side-sloping on the grass slope. This route is for sure better than the loose gully but still not easy.. Then we got back to Frozen Lake. We took another energy break at the Lake, and soon set a fast pace down the trail. We almost went all the way down to parking lot without a break. Overall, a very enjoyable scramble recommended to experienced and fit scramblers.

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Steven Song
Mount Northover
Aug 18, 2012

After finishing Wapta Mountain, Yukness Mountain, and Mount Whyte in the previous three days, I was ...more

supposed to take a day off to rest.. So? The entire Northover Ridge Traverse plus 3 scrambles was in order, oh well :)

The previous evening, I drove back to Canmore, and turned on my laptop in MacDonald. Then... I saw a very sad news that almost made me want to bail this trip... The Canadian Rockies legend Rick Collier died on Mount Geikie.. But this trip was not just for myself, I had to consider my partner. It was me who planed this traverse so unless there were obvious reasons like the weather, I couldn't bail out. Plus, I don't think I can find another volunteer to do this traverse with me, car to car in one day. It's almost as crazy as the 8 peak traverse in Waterton...

Scott warned me the south ridge of Mt Northover is the scariest in Kane List and there's a specific spot where you have to force a friction move (that's typical in a 5.6 pitch) to get over a slightly overhanging slab corner. This really made me nervous but on the other hand, it helped me get mentally prepared. I had a hard time on Mt Pierre Elliot Trudeau because almost all of the difficulties were unknown, basically Eric and I did an exploratory ascent without rope. The crux move on Mt Northover is more technical than any of the moves I've done on Mt Pierre Trudeau, but again, given the mental state, I didn't find Northover that serious. Even the steep exposed snow on Kiwetinok Peak is more serious than the crux on Northover, to me. But, don't get me wrong, Alan Kane shouldn't include the South Ridge of Northover in his scramble book. If Fisher and Wapta deserves their rating of 5.3-5.4, then Northover is not a scramble, as it's much more technical and exposed.

Okay, if I say I wasn't nervous then I'm obviously lying... I couldn't fall asleep for a while and as a result I only got less than 2 hours of sleep the previous night. I woke up at 3:30AM, and met Grant at North Interlakes Parking Lot at 5AM. We carpooled to the Upper Lake Day Use area, started at 5:30AM.

The initial walk around Upper Kananaskis Lake went by quick. It was mostly dark so we couldn't get distracted by the views. We made to the Hidden Lake turnoff in 1 hour. Oh man, that trail is so bad. You can easily miss it if you're not paying attention.

The Hidden Lake trail is in a really bad shape. I would say it's a path through forest. You have to get over hundreds of deadfalls and it's almost half bushwhacking... 20min later, we arrived at Hidden Lake. Normally people go around the lake shore if water level is low, but for us, we had to use the poor trail skirting around the lake. However, we did got very good views of the lake and Mount Lyautey. I wonder if that's a scramble or not. After Hidden Lake, the trail gets better and better. It rises steeply uphill over a headwall, then starts to ascend the left side of the valley. The terrain soon becomes rocky and exposed (for hiker's standard). At one point, we had to cross a very awkward snow slope that was almost ice...

Grant has done Northover Ridge traverse at the exact date, 5 years ago, so he had some memories of those unsigned branches... Anyway, to get to Aster Lake, you gotta have to do some research before, or you'll easily go off-route. Somehow we made through the maze of trails to Aster Lake, 3 hours 20min after leaving car. The morning light was perfect for photographing. The reflections of the surrounding mountains is probably one of the best I've ever seen.

Instead of fording the ourflow, we decided to circumvent the lake on the south side. The path / trail gets dangerously close to the lake at places, and obviously, it's not an easy hike. Now I understand why this area is not suit for newbie backpackers. With huge pack I would have trouble as well... I was glad we did the south loop as it was perfect for taking pictures, given the morning sun. As we moving further along the lake shore, the impressive south ridge of Mount Northover started to show up. It's intimidating but also exciting.

Except for being jizzed by the views, we were surprised by how far Warrior Mountain was. Grant wanted to grab Cordonnier and Warrior first, then Northover to Worthington to McHarg. I would say, if this was my first day of the trip, we should be able to do that. But, given my energy level I didn't agree with this variation. Most importantly, you cannot do the South Ridge of Mt Northover with tired body... I came here to conquer Mt Northover via South Ridge and that's the main goal for this trip, so we agreed to do Northover first. Warrior and Cordonnier can be left for the back-up plan for Mount Joffre, so we finally made the decision to stick to original plan, Northover to Worthington to McHarg.

Kane mentions to gain the ridge, while that's very vague. Grant went straight up the ridge, while I followed the cairns and paths up to the south end of the south ridge, then left the Northover Ridge trail and ascended the south ridge. We re-grouped together somewhere on the ridge.

The route-finding on this mountain is easy, as you basically follow the ridge up. So unlike Mount Smuts where you have to route-finding. We did a bit of warm-up, this is Grant coming up a step. Soon we were facing against the first significant exposed section. I would compare this with Mount Lady MacDonald's crux, but with longer drop-off distance towards each side, though both are deadly. Continuing up the ridge, more fun stuffs are coming. We also on-purposely ascended a crack for warm-up.

Soon we arrived at this corner slab... I thought there's an easier ledge on climber's left so I went that way. OH NO!!! It's down-sloping and no hold... I was forced to backtrack by several awkward moves... Oh okay, we had to ascend this corner slab now. As you can see on the pictures, it was too narrow and we had to place our foot on both sides and use friction, while the drop-off is 500m+ for the least...

Not far after this, we were staring at the crux. It's much bigger when you see it from right below, compared to seeing it from Northover Ridge Trail... We took a break while studying the route. I took out my Kane's book and compared the route photo with the view, and I quickly spotted the correct line. The entire line is steep and slabby so pretty much we had to give it a single shot or we could tired out on the ridge which could be very dangerous. This is why I say you cannot do this with a tired body... I took out my secret weapon, climbing shoes, and put everything else inside my pack, including poles and camera. I gave it a single shot, no stop, no hesitation. When I encountered that "5.6 slab move", the detail is this. Firstly I had to force a friction move to get into a position where my left hand, left feet, right feet all on friction sticking to very high angled slab, with a slightly overhanging corner above. My right hand could grab a vertical hold somewhere but that really was just for balance as if I slipped that hold could not hold anything. But since I had climbing shoes and climbing gloves, I didn't find it too sketchy nor scary as described by others. Without hesitation, I pushed my left hand, lifted my left feet, lean towards right side, push left feet, then over the corner, then I got better holds here and there. From here on it was still climber's scramble. Eventually I topped out on the ridge, YAY!! I made it.

We did stay long but soon made our way to the slightly lower north summit, where we also got better perspective of the north side. The descent route is rated as upper moderate to lower difficult. Because it's that "easy", we decided to find our own way down, as I was too lazy to take out my scramble book again.. Anyway, we followed the north ridge down for 10m or so, where we encountered a very exposed section (see Marko's TR). Grant was ahead of me and he went straight down that section. It feels like the corner slab section on the south ridge, only with looser rock, so I thought this shouldn't be the correct way. I dropped down a very loose gully on skier's left and butt-shuffled down. I traversed further skier's left, balance over a ledge and found climbing devices. I shouted at Grant and told him to backtrack to my position. Form there on, it was only moderate down to the scree slope, followed by a very enjoyable scree run down the the high col. Now we were back to civilization... haha.

Okay now, let's enjoy the scenic Northover Ridge traverse then. The summit view of Mount Northover pretty much includes everything but once you're down to the ridge, you'll be amazed by the snow and rock formation. Looking back at Northover, the NW face is impressive as well. We met groups of tourists and they were amazed by our decision to traverse in one day, not to say we also added 3 mountains.

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Steven Song
Mt. McHarg & Worthington
Aug 18, 2012

We followed the Northover Ridge trail down to the valley north. Now I've done the alpine part of tra ...more

verse, and this is definitely not a good choice for beginner hikers and backpackers. This involves scree, exposure, rubble, and some scrambling elements. It's like an easy scramble on a poorly defined trail. If you go for Cascade Mountain you'll find it's similar... Okay, once we got down, we had to pick up a line towards Worthington & McHarg. Obviously the ridge doesn't connect. We were not sure the terrain on the west side, so we decided to skirt around on the east side while hugging around treeline. However, by the time we got down to treeline, Grant decided to stay higher and side-slope. I followed treeline further down, which turned out to be a good call. Eventually Grant had to come down and join me as his line didn't work out..

We finally traversed to the big drainage and followed it up. It was foreshortened. I almost never get lured by foreshortened view as my reference is other mountains and elevation. I knew Mount Worthington is just slightly lower than Mount Northover... At least we had to get higher than Northover Ridge though. It was mainly a rubble and talus slog. Slog and slog, we made to the col. Turn right, without a break, we started a longer slog up the south slope. I decided to grab McHarg first as it's lower. By this time of the day, we were both beat and we went slowly. It also feels like 30 degree, and I was pretty dehydrated. I managed to eat snow though. There are 3-4 false summits on Mount McHarg so make sure you're mentally prepared... False summits are very discouraging...

I re-filled my water bottles with snow. We glissade and plunge-stepped down the mild glacier between McHarg and Worthington to save time and energy. It's not recommended to do this though, you should always try to avoid glacier travel by skirting around the edge. But for this one, we descended towards skier's right and I don't think there'll be any issue. We quickly made our way down to McHarg - Worthington col. From there, it was a 10min slog up the tedious rubble slope to Mount Worthington. The view down towards Three Isle Lake is the most attracting.

We took a long break on the summit. It was very discouraging to see the Upper Kananaskis Lake from the summit of Worthington, oh man, it's a long way home... Getting mentally ready, we started the descend down the rubble slope. I descended to McHarg - Worthington col first and managed to use snow for as much as possible. Grant joined me on the snow as well. We boot skied down for a short distance but it soon turned to rubble slog again. We took our time and made back to treeline.

We were too tired to try finding a trail or whatsoever. We just decided to bushwhack straight down the slope. The forest was pretty thick and there were 2 or 3 very steep sections involved. Again, nothing worse than the bushwhacking down Southfork Mountain, so I'm okay with that :) It feels like forever to finally break through the trees and re-joined the Northover Ridge traverse trail. We followed trail down to Three Isle Lake. This lake is also very pretty.

By this time, I was very beat. Considering this was my 4th day in a row of intense peak-bagging, it's understandable. Descending the steep headwall almost killed my knees... I had to descend step by step. What was more frustrating, there're tens of uphill sections involved. I think this trail has to be re-designed. Eventually we made down to the wider and more pleasant trail. This trail goes on forever, we passed Maude - Lawson Trail, Forks Campground, more up-and-downs, and finally joined by the Upper Kananaskis Lake Circuit trail. Another 2km brought us back to my car. Round Trip Time: 16 hours car to car. Overall, awesome climb, awesome views!!! I'm more comfortable and skillful on dry rock than steep snow, and that's why I say this is an exciting and enjoyable climb, not scary climb. This 3 peak traverse gave an awesome finish to my 4-day-bluebird-peak-bagging trip. I couldn't ask for better condition. And a big thank to Granticulus for accompanying!!

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Photos taken by Steven