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