Steven Song's Peak-bagging Journey

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Highwood / South K-Country

Steven Song
Mount Rae
Sep 23, 2012

Mike got blisters due to the 44km traverse on Saturday, so I had to do a solo ascent on Sunday. Moun ...more

t Rae is on my radar for a while and finally I got a chance to attempt it. This is also my first time visiting Highwood Pass. Being able to start at 2200m elevation means, all of the ascents in this area are short. Rae isn't an exception, despite the fact it is the highest peak I've done in this year (out of 104 so far)...

The trail up Ptarmigan Cirque was very short and it only took me less than 20min to get there. The morning sun wasn't great for picturing the impressive rock formation, so I kept going without being distracted by the views. Looking back, Trywhitt to Pocaterra shows up, with Highwood Ridge in the foreground. The view was very smoky...

The path led me up to the back side of Ptarmigan Cirque. Once around the corner, the huge scree slog shows up.. Trudging up towards the col is very tedious. The higher I got to, the looser the ground is.. I took a necessary sunscreen break when the sun got to me, and that was the only break during the ascent. I managed to use rock rib at the upper section which helped a lot.

There was still a lot of ground to cover from the col. I followed a path traversing climber's left. The path eventually ended up at a very very loose rubble section, and bashing up that slope towards summit ridge was the worst part of the day... I should just stick to the ridge crest. About 50m before the summit, the ridge gets exposed. If you don't want to detour towards climber's left on down-sloping rubble covered slabs, you gotta have to encounter some moderate but very exposed steps.

The view was very very disappointing due to the smoke. Joffre, King George, and Sir Douglas weren't even visible, and the sky was white-gray rather than blue... Oh well, since I got the peak done, I won't complain.. I stayed for near 1 hour but the view didn't get any better... Descending was not too bad and I quickly made down to the col. Then I saw a group of 4 going up. I used another gully on skier's left of them to avoid knocking down rocks to them. However, just after I passed them, they started to knock down rocks to me. I managed to dodge though. I was glad not to forget to bring helmet for this peak... At least the upper slope was good for surfing down. It wasn't scree though, so if you want to surf down, you'd better have good balance skill. The afternoon sun was good for picturing Mount Rae itself.

There were at least 50 tourists at the cirque already... I quickly made my way down to the trail. And what.. Hundreds of cars had already parked at the shoulder of the road... Geez.. I thought I was in Lake Louise... Round trip time: 5 hours including a near 1 hour summit stay.

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Steven Song
Junction Hill
Apr 29, 2012

After finishing Mount Burke, we still had lots of time and just enough energy to bag another peak. O ...more

ur original plan was Raspberry Ridge, but seeing how much snow up there, we decided to do Junction Hill. Park at the winter closure gate at Highway 541 / 940 Junction. Walk down the highway for a few hundred of meters, then head directly up the grassy hill. Once you get to the first major high point, the objective still appears far away... And you have to dip down into the trees. The north facing slope often holds lots of snow, and as a result, our boots got soaked.
The summit offers fine view towards Elk Range and High Rock Range on the Continental Divide, as well as, Mount Head and Holy Cross Mountain. It's my first time in this area, so every view is new to me. We can also see Mount Burke and Livingstone Range towards SW. We met a huge group on the summit.
We decided to go down via another ridge. This ridge is more pleasant than the one we came up. There're no up-and-downs and we decent in a steady pace. Near the end of the ridge, head down towards ridge on a huge grassy slope to avoid cliff bands, and you will be back in half an hour. Our round trip time is 4 hours.

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Steven Song
Mount Burke
Apr 29, 2012

Mt. Burke is a prominent peak in Livingstone Range. The weather forecast predicted afternoon rain so ...more

we had to give it a morning shot. We slept at Cataract Creek trail head and woke up at 6am. It was still winter in the morning though, and we got all windows iced up. As usual, we had breakfast and packed up and started the marching. Seeing the upper slope, we decided to leave crampons in the car. It's almost May and in the front range, so we kept the bear spray in our backpack.
We had to walk an extra 1km because the last part of the road was closed. The trailhead is located just before getting into Cataract Creek Camping Site. Follow Salter Creek and stay on the east side (left) from here. You are supposed to walk 2.5km along the creek bed. However, since it was my first time in this area, I turned left uphill after following the creek for only 0.5km... Note if you make the same mistake on other mountains, you might gonna put yourself into a serious bushwhacking position, or even ascending a wrong peak. We followed a faint trail steeply uphill for a short section, then it starts to drop down. Well, not too far down, we might only lose elevation of 50m or so. This trail is a bit weird, it has no switchback but lots of deadfalls. I soon realized that, it's not a trail, instead it's a cut line. I knew we are on the wrong route, but according to the map, the broad treed ridge leads to nowhere except Mount Burke, so if we keep going uphill, we will breaking out treeline anyway, so we went up the cut line. The cut line eventually crosses the proper trail about 40min up.
Lingering snow patches start to appear at this elevation, and we could see fresh tracks. Not bear's, they are human's. It looks like a solo scrambler has been up this mountain recently. The cut line soon disappeared after crossing the main trail, so we were forced to follow this lone hiker's footprints. The more we went up, the more snow we had to deal with. At about 100m below treeline, the trail disappeared due to the snow. Thankfully that guy had made the trail for us, so we didn't need to do any post-holing. The "holes" he made were sometimes waist deep...
Eventually we broke out of the trees, with NO wind. It's quite unusual to have calm day in this area. I still remember how did I battle against the howling wind on Coffin Mountain not far away from Burke. Other people's trip reports also mention the crazy wind in Livingstone Range. As you going up, the ridge narrows considerably. Mom stoped at the point where the ridge narrows to within 5m. I wouldn't consider this as exposure though, and a drop to either side won't kill you. Most important, with no wind, there's no chance you will fall.
There's a big shelter you can go in if the wind is crazy. From the summit, you can look down on the adjacent Livingstone mountains towards south including Plateau, Sentinel, Hailstone Butte, Saddle, Windy Peak, and Mount Livingstone. Towards west are the mountains on Continental Divide. I also went to the edge to check the impressive east face. It's a shear drop so don't get too close if the wind is strong. On the way down, more blue colors showed up in the sky, so I took more photos. At treeline, we decided to stay left (southwest) to avoid the snow. This isn't a good call because we were not following the ridge down. We soon realized our mistake and started to traverse towards right. We had to do some bushwhacks for 30min to regain the trail. We decided to follow the trail down instead of the cut line. The trail swings more towards left and drops down to Salter Creek. Too bad there are still lots of snow on the creek bed, and as a result, the hike back wasn't pleasant.

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Steven Song
Indian Graves Ridge
Mar 10, 2012

I slept at the RR 940 winter closure gate the previous night, hoping the wind would cease a bit. But ...more

in the morning I found the wind was actually getting stronger and stronger. There was no way to start the same game again as the day before on Coffin Mountain, so I abandoned the thought of ascending Mt. Livingstone. Since it connects with Saddle Mtn, Mt. Hornecker, and Windy Peak, it makes perfect sense to do them together in a calm day. So I decided to drive back. Indian Graves Ridge is actually the smallest summit in this area, located easternmost. After coming down the “big hill” on Highway 532, the wind speed descreased significantly. So instead of just going home, I found myself parking at the west side of Willow Creek Bridge, and getting ready for this small summit. It’s well described in Mike Potter’s Ridgewalk in the Canadian Rockies.

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Steven Song
Coffin Mountain
Mar 9, 2012

Trip Report:
Due to the high avalanche ris ...more

k in most part of the Rockies owing to the snow storm in the previous week, I decided to head south to Livingstone Range. Despite the relatively short driving distance from Calgary, this area rarely sees visitors. The approach road, namely Highway 532, is not paved and is much rougher than Smith-Dorrien Road. And the most important, it’s not maintained in winter. With good driving skill, I had no problem driving up it with my car, however, I still recommand using a 4x4 truck. At the junction of RR 940, turn left (south) and drive about 7km to the winter closure gate. Park at the gate. According to my map, RR 940 is also called Forest Truck Road, but I think it’s better than Hwy 532 though. The gate is at the southern boundary of Kananaskis Country, so technically Coffin Mountain is located outside K-Country.
If you come here in summer, the road won’t be closed and you can save 2.5 hours walking by driving further into RR 940. I ascended via NW ridge, which is the proper scramble route. But due to the dead trees, the entire ridge is exposed to the gusting wind... And once breaking the treeline... OMG... I can't describe it here, and you won't know unless you really experienced the 100-150kph wind by yourself. Under this nasty condition, I would say summiting it was quite lucky due to the serious risk of being blown off the mountain. I got knocked off my feet more than 5 times by the wind.
There's no way I gonna descend the same way (directly facing the wind) as I came, so I have to use an alternate descent route based on my early observation. Near the summit, I got knocked off and blown 2m towards the edge... Thank god I wasn't too close to it. By the way, I'm not sure if the other side is cliff or just steep scree slope, because I never got too close to the edge to check it. I stayed at least 5m away from the edge, so there’s no good photo of the prairie side... Well, staying alive is more important than taking a nice summit panorama though.
Descending from the summit to treeline is the worst part of the trip. Although my descending direction is towards SSW, which is only partly against the W wind, it was still almost practically impossible. The good thing was it’s not too far down to the treeline, and the temperature was all above freezing. Or it would be a survival thing rather than recreation. And once hitting the treeline, the snow got all the sudden to waist deep. Thank god again I brought my snowshoes up with me rather than leaving it at the bottom of the ascending ridge. Or it wood take me infinite time and energy to get down. Plunging step down with the snowshoes was not too bad, but on the other hand, it would be practically impossible to break trail all the way up with this unsupportive snow. That is, I couldn’t use my descending route for ascending.
A good lesson for this day: do not go to Southern Rockies when chinooks are howling. Under this condition, I decided to leave Mt. Livingstone, Saddle Mountain, and Windy Peak for a summer day when the wind is not that crazy.

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Photos taken by Steven