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A Late Season Ascent of Mount Kelsey

Easy Winter Scramble
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Dense and Marshy Around The Peak
Friday, October 28, 2016

Much of Jasper National Park closes down over the winter months for caribou conservation.  This includes virtually all of the (self descriptive) North Boundary Trail.  There are quite a few nice looking peaks along the NBT, but the unifying factor is a long (and often marshy) approach.  One of the better possible viewpoints on the trail is Mount Kelsey, a peak right across the river from The Rajah north of the Snake Indian River.  The closest way to get to Mount Kelsey is take the NBT starting at Rock Lake.  Long time readers might think this sounds familiar to a trip with Eric earlier this spring.  If so that is true, same plan as before with tackling the NBT in the shoulder season when overnight freezes lock down some of the marshyness!  Back in the spring there was far too much snow on the trail to make for a decent pace.  I hoped things would prove drier this time around.

Starting off from Rock Lake a little later than planned (more in the city work this semester has made for less wakefulness come the weekend...) there were numerous horse trailers in the parking lot (either heading also up the NBT or into Willmore Park).  At the first trail junction they veered into Willmore so it seemed likely I would have the trail to myself.  The first 5 km to the park Boundary went quite quickly and before long it was into the marsh which delightfully frozen.  At the 7 km mark came the crossing of Rock Creek (which for some reason I was mentally adding a guitar riff after thinking Rock Lake or Rock Creek, "Crossing Rock Creek?  Totally righteous, rock on dude!") quite chilly indeed but thankfully running quite low.  After Rock Creek the trail winded slightly up and down skirting the edge of less frozen marshy terrain to reach the Willow Creek Warden Cabin.  There was no sign of life in the cabin and the register didn't show any signatures over the last few weeks (though recent horse prints could be found in the mud).  A quick snack and drink on the patio and it was time to get going,  still 13 more km to get to Welbourne Campsite my base for the next two nights.


Leaving the parking area, lots of horse traffic into Willmore!


Usually you have a good view of The Rajah from this viewpoint, not so much today.


Wonderfully frozen ground.


Crossing Rock Creek, not high but still quite chilly.


Winter slowly working its way to close up these pools.


The gate that marks the edge of the Willow Creek Warden Cabin grazing area.


Between Willow Creek and Welbourne, the trail was in much better shape than in the spring with only small patches here or there of snow.  The bridges on this part of the trail are still in good shape and with water levels low some even seemed luxurious (the second half of the NBT is a much different story nowadays).  At about 7 hours from the car I made it to the campsite (only 250/280 m of gain/loss over the 26 km of distance).  With a few extra hours before dinner I went in search of dry wood and got a cozy fire going.  Back in the spring I crossed over to the south side of the Snake Indian River and found a giant stash of dry driftwood, things seemed a little to brisk in the river to try that this time!


Not a bad place to spend a few days if you were a warden.


Grass in the fall does have a very nice color to it.

At the 9km from Welbourne mark.


Lots of nice lighting between trail, grass, and sky.


There was still some snow on the trail, thankfully only a bit though.


At the Welbourne Warden Cabin.


Looking from the patio towards Mount Kelsey.


Zoomed in towards Mount Kelsey.


I do quite like river-adjacent campsites like Welbourne.


Mount Silma is quite the sight from the campground.


The main decision for the next morning was when to get going, balancing the two factors or dark-bushwhacking is horrible with a forecast calling for worsening weather rolling in after noon.  In the end I got rolling out of camp just before sunrise hoping the weather would stay decent for interesting pictures from the summit.  Leaving the trail about 3.5 km from the campsite to start the bushwhack towards the peak seemed like a good plan.  The bush wasn't too fearsome (mostly frozen marsh lower down and then relatively open forest with lots of dead fall higher up).  I made a mental note to come down further west, that marsh might be quite deep when not frozen!  Working up towards the ridge descending SSE from the summit was slow going (especially battling alders passing across a creekbed) but 2.5 hours after leaving the trail open grassy/snowy terrain was dead ahead and pointing the way to the summit.  Up to this point there really wasn't much point looking backwards (just more bush) but breaking through treeline showed some impressive sights!  Peaks such as The Rajah, and Mount Stornoway stood out but lots of others, named and unnamed are worth the look.  The long ridge of Mount Kelsey itself would also make quite the ridge-scramble.


The next morning waking up just as it was getting too bright for stars.


Looking southest towards peaks on the south side of the Snake Indian River.


Looking up at Mount Kelsey from a frozen-marsh with attatched lake.


Much of the lower down bush was actually quite open.


Things do get more dense when trying to cross over creekbeds though.


Eek a copse of alders higher up!


After coming across a steep dry avi path the views quickly opened up.


Carrying on upwards I was in a race against the clock as clouds were rolling in (when ascending a peak mostly for the views an obscured sky would not do!).  Snowy sections made for good step kicking and while bashing upwards I rounded a tree clump and came across a family of sheep out for a stroll.  Peakfinder claims the first ascent of Mount Kelsey was in 1971, I'm sure the first sheep ascent was much much earlier! After hitting the false summit the rest of the route came into view, just some mellow thin snow slopes to the top. Mellow as they were still quite the puff to get up moving at a brisk pace!


Looking west to the prominent ridge descending from Mount Kelsey.


Not bad views at all even from below the false summit.


Solar aspect slopes are quite obvious with this level of melting!


Didn't have the slopes to myself.


Only a few minutes from the top at this point.


Gaining the summit itself a large cairn and survey stake were to be found but, after a fair bit of digging, no visible register.  Now onto the summit views, in short Mount Kelsey certainly lives up to expectations.  Having nearby giants like The Rajah not to mention Mount Robson and Whitehorn share the same frame as Rock Lake is quite the sight!  It is kind of neat and depressing to see the height difference between Rock Lake and the NBT too.  Quite a few peaks to try to pick out in the far distance too.  After admiring the views it was getting quite chilly so I rambled down taking a 'scenic route' sticking high and ascending the unnamed peak to the SE to get more views in different lighting.  Heading back down the bush was still bushy but much nicer to be falling through it than fighting up it.  I stuck fairly close to my ascent line higher up and then followed a slew of different game trails lower down to try to avoid the worst of the marsh. Suffice to say there was still marsh just a little less soggy than the terrain by those lakes would have been.  Hitting the trail again a quick 4 km and I was back to the campsite for soup, a fire, and hot chocolate.  In total about 9 hours with 18 km of distance and 1200 m of gain so still not a short day.


Summit panorama from Mount Kelsey.


Zoomed in towards the west.


It is pretty cool to see Robson at the end of the valley.


Heading back down, I decided to traverse the ridge from center to center-left for more exercise.


A little more snow and this would be prime skiing!


Panorama from the unnamed lower summit.


Liam made me a hat, isn't it nifty!


Back down into decently open forest.


The Parks trail around here is quite wide and open.


Back at camp for some coffee, grub, and boot-drying.


The next morning there were some things to back in the city in the evening so waking up dark and early was needed.  In the end I woke up around 5am and after some much needed caffination set off on the trail heading back towards Rock Lake.  Often moving in the dark distance seems to go by quicker than during the day and this was very much true here with the sky starting to be bright enough to see clearly by the time I passed Mud Creek (which flows much more clearly than you might expect).  From there to the warden cabin things were still nicely frozen and travel was swift.  After a quick early lunch break at the warden cabin, and jotting a few lines in the cabin register, it was time to finish the ramble back to the road.  On the way back I even took a nice downed tree to avoid having to take boots off to cross Rock Creek (the tree being just out of view on the way in), what luxury!  After that it wasn't long before hitting the park boundary sign and then back onto the horse-ravenged road to the parking area.  Lots of neat peaks to explore on the North Boundary Trail, have to come back for some trips south of the Snake Indian River and not to mention more trips further along the trail closer to Mount Robson!


The next morning, to get out at a decent hour much headlamp travel was needed.


Crossing the mighty Mud Creek (which does have surprisingly clear water).


Not too far from the Willow Creek Warden Cabin as the sun really started to rise.


Looking back towards the peaks around the river from near the cabin.


A last glimpse of Daybreak Peak from the Warden Cabin.


Not too far from the crossing of Rock Creek at this point!


The view west from the cloudy viewpoint on the way in.


Horses really mangle roads and trails, much worse than even ATVs.


A fair bit of distance to get up Mount Kelsey but well worth the trip for the summit views.

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