Steven Song's Peak-bagging Journey

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Lake Louise

Area surrounding Lake Louise, Canadian Rockies' center of tourism.

Steven Song
Mount Whyte
Aug 17, 2012

Due to the big plan on Saturday, I decided to either rest or do a short objective on Friday. My orig ...more

inal plan was Mount Jimmy Simpson but as I drove west towards Lake Louise, I decided to change my plan to Mount Whyte as I wanted more scrambling. I gave my mom a call for the last minute change of plan, just in case I got injured and couldn't walk down...

I did Mount Niblock less than a month ago, so I had all of the fresh memories regarding the entire route. I don't want to describe the approach for too much, as everyone who can walk should be able to make to Lake Agnes Tea House without problem...

This was my 4th time at Lake Agnes, and the first time getting bluebird sky. Before venturing onto the boulder field at the west end, look for a faint trail going into the trees. Take it and follow it to the base of rock pile, trudge up the rock pile to the first rock band.

The rock band involves 3-4 of 5m moderate climb. If wet, then use caution. I recommend you to put on your helmet at this point. Follow the cairns and path up the next rock band by traversing towards climber's left, and the trudge up loose terrain to gain Niblock - Whyte col. Looking back you'll see the different colors of Lake Louise and Lake Agnes. In between them is The Beehive. You can call it a summit if you want. Once at the col, you'll be amazed by the view towards Yoho side.

To get to Whyte, descent a short distance while following the connecting ridge all the way to the base of Mt Whyte, where you'll be blocked by a short wall. Traverse climber's right for 10m then you'll spot a line regaining the ridge. Look for cairns here. Follow the ridge up, shortly after you'll see a beaten path traversing climber's left horizontally. Follow this path to the obvious loose down-sloping gully that Kane warns not to get into. Climb up the moderate but loose terrain on the climber's right side of this gully, then get into the gully at the very top part, get over a short col, drop down the other side. Now, traverse on beaten path for 20m towards the crux.

Looking for cairns near the crux. You'll encounter a similar col as the one you've just done, do not drop down the other side, instead climb straight up the steep wall to re-gain the ridge crest. This is the crux. The terrain is also loose so use caution, especially when soloing. I think this part is easy side of difficult, but you have to do a good amount of hands-on work on this mountain.

After the crux, balance over a 2m exposed ridge section, follow the ridge up. At the next wall, traverse again on climber's right on beaten path. As soon as you can spot easier terrain to re-gain the ridge, go up climber's left to re-gain ridge crest. There's a not-so-obvious gully which is the easiest line (I used it on the way down, but I used the rock on the way up). Follow the ridge up again, circumventing several pinnacles, usually on climber's left. A short upper moderate section leads you to the summit.

There's nothing to rush, and I took my time on the way down the loose terrain. Once back to the col, I decided not to do Mount Niblock as I've already done it. Because of the big traverse plan the next day, I had to save as much energy as I could. From the col down, it was easy to lose the path. Look for cairns. But with the basic sense of route-finding, it won't be an issue. Again, if not because of the plan on Saturday, I should have done Devil's Thumb to finish my Lake Agnes area considering the weather, but obviously this wasn't a smart idea for this day. I leisurely walked back to car, and drove to Canmore.

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Steven Song
Saddle Mountain
Sep 1, 2012

My original plan was doing Lion and Lioness Peaks (Resolute Mountain) on Saturday. However, I waited ...more

at the trailhead until 8:30am and my partners still didn't show up... We were planning on meeting at 7:30. Alright, I wouldn't solo ascend this mountain in rain anyway, so I drove back to Saskatchewan Crossing. The rain got heavier further towards west and it was very hopeless. I knew all of the mountains nearby are big, so I decided to drive to Lake Louise to see what was the weather forecast first. It was snowing hard near Bow Summit and yeah, summer is really gone... Oh no...

Once at Lake Louise Info, I could clearly see the intense system moving in from BC, pushing across the Parkway on Saturday... Lake Louise was at the boundary of this system, so? With the afternoon thunderstorm in forecast, I figured I only have 2 choices: Saddle Mountain or Devil's Thumb. Because I've been to Lake Agnes for 2 times already this year, I decided to do Saddle Mountain. I've done Mt. Fairview last year so this trip is purely for bagging a named summit. I thought there won't be any new view, am I correct?.. Not really.

Anyway, I quickly made my way to Saddleback Pass Trail. I only brought up 0.5L water, one sandwich, and one jacket. Because I didn't start too late, there weren't too many tourists on the trail, good. Oh man, this mountain is so short.. There were several good viewpoints on the way up. This time there were both some low clouds and also a high ceiling.

Near the pass, there was fresh snow on the trail. The sky cleared briefly and I took some nice photos of Mt. Fairview. The rain turned to mixed precip. Minutes before the pass, I left the trail and boulder-hopped up towards the mountain. It was very short and I didn't take long to make to the summit. Surprisingly, this little peak offers better view towards Temple and Paradise Valley than the nearby Fairview. The clouds made things more interesting at times.

Due to the thunderstorm concern, I quickly made my way down after taking these photos. I didn't get soaked on the way down. If you look for a day to kill time or simply a 2-hour-peak, you should consider Saddle Mountain.

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Steven Song
Tower of Babel
Jul 30, 2012

The sky cleared up after I got down from Mount Niblock. I still had energy and time for another peak ...more

. Tower of Babel jumped into my mind. I quickly made my way to Moraine Lake. Probably because of the heavy thunderstorm, some tourists had already left, so I could park easily. Usually, it's hard to find a spot to park in Moraine Lake in a sunny afternoon...

Note that the group restriction is in effect now and you have to be in a tight group of 4 to use Consolation Lakes Trail. I was soloing so I had to start the ascent from the rock pile. From the lookout, drop down to the boulder field below, and traverse horizontally towards Tower of Babel. Do not start gain elevation too quick. I directly aim for the correct gully which is a diagonal line up. I came straight down and traversed horizontally, and this way is much better. So I recommend you to go horizontally until reaching an obvious trail. Side-sloping on boulder field and talus slope isn't fun though.

The next thing to do is simply slogging up the gully. The ground is loose but generally okay for ascending. It's the type of terrain that's both good up and down. However, rock fall is a real hazard in this gully. The steep wall on climber's left appears overhanging. Any piece can fall at any time of the year, so I suggest you to bring a helmet. The gully is also foreshortened, so be prepared. You gonna have to get up most of the elevation in this gully, so keep an eye on the mountain itself. Near the end, the gully narrows and becomes more rocky. A few hands-on moves are required, but nothing hard. I would still rate this as easy. Once topping out of the gully, the summit is only 5min away.

The summit is very flat, so you have to walk around the edge to soak in the views. There're several large cairns (larger than your body). I guess it's because this mountain is so short so that people have time to enjoy the summit stay. Despite the low elevation, the summit view is awesome towards all direction. Due to the sun direction, I didn't get a good view of the Ten Peaks, Larch Valley and Mt Temple, but other than that, the view is awesome. I forgot my jacket and it was a bit windy on the top, therefore I quickly made my way down. The gully offers a very fun scree run down. In no time I got back to the rock pile. It started to cloud over again... On the drive to Canmore, I stopped at Rundle / Vermillion Lakes viewpoint. Awesome view!!

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Steven Song
Mount Niblock
Jul 30, 2012

Due to the forecast thunderstorms, I was planning on staying in Calgary for a day. But when I woke u ...more

p, I still wanted to do something. I knew I can avoid the storms by starting the day at 4AM, but that's just theoretically. When I go solo, waking up early is almost an impossible thing, not to say that I have to drive to the mountains from Calgary. I talked to Marko briefly via Facebook in MacDonald, about Devil's Thumb. It has only a short section above treeline so even though thunderstorms come I'll still probably be okay. Note that I've done quite a few ascents under the same forecast (60% chance of thunderstorms), and got charged on Powderface Ridge and Mt. Collembola.

Okay, I arrived at Lake Louise near 11AM, and the parking lot was almost full... Oh man it was Monday. I can't imagine the situation in Canada Day.... I hesitated a bit and decided to bring both helmet and Alan Kane book just in case I ended up doing Niblock to Whyte. There was still some snow in the upper bowl but I decided to leave ice axe in my car. I quickly passed a million tourists on the trail to Mirror Lake, and then another thousand tourists on the way up Lake Agnes... This is my third time doing Lake Agnes approach (first time for The Beehive, second time for Mt St Piran) and I don't want to describe it for too much. The sky was mostly cloudy.

I didn't bother to check the Tea House, and quickly made my way circumventing the north side of the Lake. While doing so, pieces of blue sky appeared above Mount Whyte, and the sky quickly turned partially cloudy from overcast. There were lots of stuffs going in my mind and I thought maybe the forecast was wrong. It might be the time to do Niblock to Whyte, and save Devil's Thumb for a rainy day or a day with short energy. At the backside of Lake Agnes, before the boulder field, I managed to find a faint trail. It basically going around the rock pile on its north side, while staying on firm ground for a long distance. But eventually you still have to ascend the loose rock pile though. At this point, more and more blue colors appeared above me... It could be a death trap though...

If you can deal with loose scree, then Mount Niblock is pretty much a walk up on well trodden paths, with the exception of first cliff bands (ie. the waterfall). Lots of cairns mark the way through this obstacle, so route-finding isn't an issue. However, there're two short sections requiring hands-on scrambling. It's not a big issue though, and it's much easier than Mount Temple's crux, even if wet. Once through the waterfalls, I was in the upper bowl, where lots of snow remained. The terrain is very gentle and the snow actually offers better footing. You go slightly climber's left to circumvent the next obvious rock band, and then turn sharply climber's right, following one of the several obvious paths and cairns, towards Mount Niblock. Everytime you lose the trail, you can find a cairn somewhere up. At this point, I started to lose blue sky... The trail eventually led me to Niblock - Whyte col, on Niblock side. Just about to top out on the col, I heard the first thunder, way in the distance in Yoho. I got my first view of the other side once at the col, and man, it was way worse. Yoho was already soaked in.

From the col, Mt Niblock is only 15min round trip if you go fast. It was so close that I didn't want to turn back. I pushed on. The storm came much faster than I imagined. From sunshine to first buzzing sound on my pole only took 15-20min. I also started to hear more thunders from Mt Victoria and Mt Daly direction. It was so fast (well, based on what happened next, this storm was very intense). To get to Niblock was easy, but there're several spots that I had to top out on the ridge crest briefly. As long as I was on the ridge, I could hear buzzing sounds on my poles. I left my poles at one point and did the final push without them. Soon I arrived at the summit. I didn't stand above the cairn as my hair was starting buzzing... I used 15s to take a necessary panorama, and during which, my camera started to buzzle... I ran down the upper ridge for as quick as possible. I didn't even bother to linger at the col, but descended for about 20min down the talus slope, where I finally could relax a bit.. Hail started to fall by this time. I briefly looked at Mount Whyte for a few seconds. Dude it was not okay to traverse, as I didn't want to die on the ridge. Next time when I do Whyte, I have to re-do Niblock for a better view. After putting on my jacket, I started running down the upper slope.

Even though I got away from ridge crest, this area is still far above treeline so still very dangerous. Thankfully the terrain wasn't too hard, and I could run down the upper slope. I didn't bother to follow the trail, but entirely used the talus / scree slope (which is safer), directly down. There were lots of 1-2m minor rock bands, and I just jumped down. More and more thunders came, and they were getting closer. After about 20min down the col, thunders started to appear right above Niblock and Whyte. I also saw a lightning striking Mount St. Piran, or maybe somewhere in Skoki. I couldn't tell exactly as they're in the same direction. Once down the upper slope, the snow on the basin helped for a faster run down. I soon arrived at the top of the waterfall. I followed the cairns down the waterfall, and ran down the rock pile below to the trail. I finally could relax now, and I knew I was safe by this point. Okay, I didn't count how many thunders I heard, but for the least, a hundred. The hail turned into heavy rain soon. I was joined by a group of 4 coming down The Beehive at the west end of Lake Agnes. I made my way quickly towards the tea house. By this time, the rain was getting heavier and heavier. I waited in the tea house for about half an hour. Oh gosh, if I was out in this time period, I could get soaked as badly as the day on Mount Collembola... There were also a million tourists waiting in the tea house...

After the heaviest rain passed by, I went out and started down the trail, together with other tourists. I was concerning about another heavy downpour so I made my way down quickly. To my surprise, pieces of blue sky and sunshine started to appear as I got back to Lake Louise. I waited at lake shore for a while and it turned sunny quickly. Since I still had lots of energy, I decided to give Tower of Babel a shot. Because Tower of Babel is a completely different mountain, I gonna write another trip report for it, a short late afternoon ascent in perfect weather. Overall, not quite a successful day as I bailed on Mt Whyte, but not a failure neither.

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Steven Song
Panorama Ridge
Jul 8, 2012

I went up Panorama Ridge via Kane's direction, so theoretically I didn't make to the true summit, wh ...more

ich is 2km further south along the ridge. For the route up that peak, please see Marko's trip report.

On Sunday, I woke up in Banff, short on energy due to the tiring ascent of Mount Aylmer the day before. If this was my last day of the trip I could have pushed up on things like Mt Cory, or even Storm Mountain, but since I decided to stay few days longer, I chose a relatively easier objective, Panorama Ridge near Moraine Lake.

I was quite surprised that the parking lot wasn't full yet by 11AM. The day started by a visit of the Moraine Lake viewpoint. After taking some familiar photos I started the 3km hike on Consolation Lakes Trail. There were several groups of hikers on the trail helping to scary away the bears. Oh yeah, one important reason why I chose Panorama Ridge was, to get it done before the 4-person-restriction starts. This is another area subjected to a seasonal quota system. Soon I arrived at the outflow of Lower Consolation Lake. Kane says to cross the scream by logs or boulders. Oh man, it was more like a river now, 15m wide. This is my first time wading a river actually, and the water was pretty cold. The deepest part was thigh deep, thankfully the water wasn't flowing fast, or I would lost balance.

Once on the other side of the river, there's about 5min of bushwhacking waiting for me. I had to start yelling loudly here. Clearing the bush, I was facing the big gully, the real game of the day. This is a gully of more than 900m elevation gain, straight line up, with views slightly improving as you going up. It was already afternoon by the time I got to here and the temperature was approaching 30 degree. Under this condition, it was a real undertaking. There were avalanches on Mounts Temple, Fay, and Quadra, and they just sounded like thunders. Three features describe the view on this slope: Temple, Quadra, and Consolation Lakes, as they are the most eye-catching. Due to the sun and the tiring legs I had to take a break more often. Big boulder fields on the upper one third of the slope also slowed me down quite a bit as it requires consentration. I took more than 2 hours just to clear this gully...

Once topping out on the ridge, the views to Skoki area, Protection Mountain, and Castle Mountain suddenly open up. I had to traverse horizontally over big boulder fields to get to the summit. This part also took me quite a while. There's no register on the summit.

After admiring the views I retraced my steps down. I was thinking about doing the traverse to the true peak but I decided to go bag Tower of Babel instead so I didn't linger any longer on the summit. However, the descent went slow. The terrain is mostly boulders, rubbles, and dirt, with very few scree run. My knees hurt on this type of terrain. By the time I got down, I had very little motivation to continue to Tower of Babel, so I just boulder-hopped to the lake shore of lower Consolation Lakes for some photos, then walked leisurely back to my car. Round trip time 6.5 hours.

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Steven Song
Mount Temple
Sep 24, 2011

I was hoping to stand on top of Mount Temple, the big daddy of Canadian Rockies classic scrambles, b ...more

ut I didn't expect to finish it in 2011 though. I was planning it as my ultimate scramble of 2012, oh well, what's my ultimate scramble of 2012??

Again, we woke up at 2:30 in the morning and drove all the way down to Lake Louise. It was late September and we really started to feel the shortened daylight time. We had an awesome view of alpenglow near Canmore. By the time we made to Moraine Lake, I ran up the big boulder for photos. But too bad, the lake was in shade... Oh well, at least it gave me some sort of warm-up. By late September, there was no more group size restriction, so we quickly started the Larch Valley Trail. There were already groups of people ahead of us. Not a good sign though as they would kick down rocks to us, and we didn't have helmet by that time... Switchbacks brought us to the upper valley, and we soon got an WOW moment. This was my first time seeing the yellow larch trees. Oh gosh, we got blown by the views. The Ten Peaks are majestic as well.

At the trail junction, we took the Sentinel Pass Trail which quickly led us to the small tarn called Minnestimma. It provided some cool photos as well, but with Mt. Temple in my mind, we quickly passed the lake and started the switchbacks up Sentinel Pass. The terrain gets a bit exposed and rockier but didn't impose any problem to us. We quickly made to the pass, and were treated with the view of the other side: Paradise Valley and Mount Lefroy. Grant Sentinel is visible as well, a very intimidating rock pinnacle.

Normally, this is the place you want to get your helmet on. If I do repeat this mountain in the future (I doubt if I will, as repeating a mountain doesn't sound appealing to me), I will definitely bring my helmet! Strongly recommended! The scrambling section started by trudging up a broad gully on the climber's right side of the ridge crest. Looking back, Pinnacle Mountain looks impressive. The gully itself was easy going, but due to the people above, we had to dodge the rocks... This section went on and on and we finally got closer to the rock pinnacle (halfway point). An impenetrable rock wall appears ahead and we had to traverse horizontally towards climber's right. There's a well beaten path so you don't need to worry about getting lost. However, natural rock fall from the cliffs above is a real hazard.

By the time we could spot the two big scree paths on our right, we had to look carefully on climber's left for the 1st gray rock band. It's easily missed so you'd better do some research before going. I was caked in between several scramblers so we went up the correct rock band. My parents were fallen behind and I didn't notice until I was way above... The terrain between 1st and 2nd rock bands are very loose and we couldn't help but to kick down a tens of rocks.. I followed a guy going further towards climber's left to aim for more solid rocks. We soon arrived at the crux, the 2nd gray rock band. We quickly spotted the ascending mark, but we could spot less steep line on climber's left side of the crux. I made through a short chimney which was much less exposed. After the crux, the terrain was still very loose until we got to the brown band shoulder.

Now, I realized that my parents weren't following... I thought they would stop and turn back if they're encountering terrain that's beyond their ability, so I proceeded up with the other scramblers. By this time, Hungabee Mountain and the glacial lake below fully showed up. We quickly made towards the light brown rock band. This one is longer than the crux, but less steep and much easier to negotiate. After this band, we were staring at the broad summit ridge. Further up, we came to the last obstacle, a black rock step. Now, it was getting very windy and cold, and I was wearing shorts... I wanted to put my long pants on but couldn't find them.. Oh gosh, they were in my dad's pack... Well, since I already made to this high, there's no way I could turn around, so I pushed on in an extreme cold. There was still a fairly long section to get there but I kept pushing on. I finally made to the very corniced summit ridge, and the wind was too crazy that I could barely stand alone. After more struggling, I made to the summit. There was a big icy cornice hanging on the east side. Due to the extreme wind, no scrambler actually went up the cornice (I know there'll be lots of people doing it on non-windy days). My fingers were frozen and I could barely take summit photos. I let a girl taking a photo for myself and I quickly started the survival run, down the mountain.

Going down the summit ridge still required extreme caution due to the wind. I had to try not to twist my ankle while descending the boulder terrain. As soon as I made to the broad summit ridge, I soon started the run. I lost elevation quickly and by the time I made down to the light brown rock band, the coldness had gone, thank god. At the crux, I descended the same way I came up. Descending the loose terrain between the two gray bands provided some challenge to me as I constantly slipped. Further down, I finally could spot my parents waiting for me at the first rock band... Thank god again, as I was really worrying about them. I re-joined them at the 1st band and we slowly made back to Sentinel Pass. They told me that they missed the 1st rock band and ended up far to climber's right. They did try to go up but their path got less and less travelled. As they realized their route was wrong, they decided to turn back, and by the time they made back to the 1st band, they saw me coming down...

We took a lunch break at Sentinel Pass. On the way back, we took time to enjoy the beautiful Larch Valley. We also went up the giant rock at Moraine Lake for photos, but due to sun direction, those photos look bad.. In the evening, we drove up to Lake Louise for photos and then back to camp.

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Steven Song
Fairview Mountain
Jul 31, 2011

On the second day of the long weekend, we woke up in rain in Columbia Icefield. Instead of bagging a ...more

nother peak nearby, we drove all the way down to Lake Louise. Oh man, it was only 10AM and we were already having trouble parking... One big lesson for this day was, never go to Lake Louise in long weekend after 8AM... Okay, we somehow managed to park.

There's nothing to say about the hike up to Mount Fairview. Initially we followed the steep trail up to Saddleback Pass. My parents got exhausted at the pass and I proceeded up the mountain solo. There were tens of tourists hiking up Fairview on that day so it wasn't actually a "solo" ascent. It started to shower before I reached the summit and thankfully the shower quickly passed by.

I enjoyed the magnificent summit view for 20min. It was too crowded and I decided to head down. Instead of going down the scree gully, I retraced my steps down the normal hiking trail, which obviously is longer. But I wasn't too comfortable on loose ground by that time though.

I wasn't really a peak-bagger so I didn't tick-off the nearby Saddle Mountain. We re-grouped together and hiked down the Saddleback Trail with tens of tourists. At the end of the day we had to wait at Lake Louise for hours, or we would have trouble driving down the road...

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Steven Song
The Beehive & Mount St. Piran
Sep 25, 2011

After ascending Mt. Temple the day before, I decided to do something less demanding. However, I stil ...more

l wanted to take advantage of this season, that is, go somewhere with abundant larch trees. But the weather didn’t cooperate. The forecast predicted cloudy with isolated showers. My original plan was to hike to Lake Agnes, and scramble up Mt. Niblock. But if raining, the route up that mountain might be dangerous (lack of experience for sure), so we decided to make final decision after reaching Lake Agnes.

The trail head starts at the popular Lake Louise. Millions of tourists visit this place each year, but only less than 2% of them venture into the mountains 1km away from their vehicles. We passes Mirror Lake on this 3.8km trail to Lake Agnes. This is my second time here (first time was in 2009), and the weather was still cloudy. When we got to the other end of the lake, the fun part began. We saw several big white creatures on the slope above us to the right, and my parents thought they were bears... As a result, we were forced to go towards the opposite direction. That’s why we visited Big Beehive, which was not in our original plan. However, we did realize they were not bears and they were just mountain goats after talking to other fellows, so we went back. Unfortunately, a rain storm came from west. So? Instead of Mt. Niblock, we made the final decision to scramble up Mt. St. Piran, the easiest mountain in this region. I think the crux is to locate the trail. The trail is unsigned and we ended up too far to Little Beehive... Anyway, since we hadn't visited Little Beehive before, it was okay. We backtracked to find the correct St. Piran Trail. There was nothing but tens of switchbacks to reach the summit. However, mom wasn't comfortable on the wind and the big slope, so we did it slowly.

On the summit, Bow Valley and Skoki Area fill in the view to east. Looking southwest, the Lake Louise Giants are still way higher than us! The elevation here is pretty much same as Sentinel Pass, which we visited the day before. It was extremely windy at the top, and we could see another storm approaching. So we didn't linger any longer. And yes, we got soaked by this storm...

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Photos taken by Steven