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Mount Assiniboine and Lunette Peak

Difficulty: 
Mountaineering (Glacier Travel, Technical Rock)
Elevation [m]: 
3611
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
28.5
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
2200
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
2600
YDS Difficulty: 
5.5
Ascent Time: 
5:30 Car to Hut, 4:30 Hut to Assiniboine, 4:00 Assiniboine to Lunette
Bushwhackyness: 
A small patch around Lunette Lake otherwise nothing
Tripdate: 
Tuesday, August 11, 2015

 

Mount Assiniboine is the seventh highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and certainly one of the most striking.  The view of its bulk rising from Magog Lake is one of the most iconic to be found in the Rockies and gives the peak the nickname of 'The Matterhorn of The Rockies', high praise indeed.  The standard route up Mount Assiniboine follows the North Ridge up from the Hind Hut across several colored rock bands before reaching the summit ridge.  For our trip, Ken and I planned to traverse the peak, ascending the North ridge and descending the Southwest Face.  This plan would allow for us to also ascend Lunette Peak, an outlier of Mount Assiniboine in the 11000er club which would otherwise require a great deal of effort to reach.  While the North Ridge has a good reputation as a classic rockies line the SW face is often likened to a nightmarish very loose scree slog-a-thon.  We were optimistic that the face would be a bit better than rumored!

The BC side approach to Mount Assiniboine trades extra driving for less hiking and is reached by following excellent logging roads (Settlers road) for 37.5 km and then a good logging road (Aurora Creek) for 5 km.

After reaching the trailhead and forting up the car with chicken wire we were in for our first surprise of the trip.  Another car pulled up and we thought we may no longer have the approach route to ourselves but lo and behold it turned out to be none other than Bill Corbett, author of The 11000ers Of The Canadian Rockies.  I had been sending Bill some elevation measurements from recent 11000ers but had never actually met him which was quite neat.  Regrettably we couldn't stay and chat for too long as the day was already getting late (and very warm!).  After saying goodbye Ken and I finished armoring the car against the dread beasts know as porcupines and set out.

 

The car fully porqupine-proof.

 

The approach to Assiniboine Lake was quick along a good trail (if a touch muddy in places).  There are a couple crossings of surprisingly large creeks one not so bridged and one with a pair of stout logs and even a hand line to aid the crossing.  There is a fair bit of elevation gain quick on the trail but it soon levels out and gradually plods upwards towards the lake.  4.6 km from the trailhead there is a junction between the Assiniboine and Lunette Lake trails, stick left for Assiniboine.

 

One of the less ideal bridges.

 

The excellent dual-log and handline bridge.

 

Almost at Assiniboine Lake.

 

Once you reach Assiniboine Lake the views really start to improve, even just a hike into the lake is worthwhile.  To reach the Hind Hut a climbers trail follows the eastern shore to the base of a scree slope which is then followed to a moraine which finally grants access to the Sturdee glacier.

 

Very nice viewpoint here.

 

Looking up at Mount Sturdee.

 

Good place to take a break.

 

Half-way along Assiniboine Lake.

 

Past the lake looking back towards the trailhead.

 

The far end of the valley, the route ascends the gully right of centre.

 

Part way up the gully, interesting colors on the rock.

 

Looking back down towards Assiniboine Lake.

 

On the moraine, the glacier is just visible right of centre.

 

The glacier crossing is usually quite a tame affair but given how warm it has been this summer there were a few more anklebiters  (and man eaters) evident than would usually make an appearance.  Sticking far left wasn't an option due to a bunch of widening holes so we weaved a path a bit more towards the centre and made our way towards a broad scree slope that allows for safe passage over to the Hind Hut.

 

Almost on the glacier, Mount Assiniboine in view right of centre.

 

A few decent sized holes around here!

 

Past the glacier, this scree slope must be ascended to reach the hut.

 

Atop the scree slope the first views of Lake Magog and Assiniboine Lodge show up and they are quite impressive  (though naturally overshadowed by the North Face of Mount Assiniboine looming above).  After a short plod we reached the Hind Hut and were in for our second surprise of the trip.  When we had booked the hut a couple nights prior we were the only folks scheduled to be in their but two sets of bags and gear were laid out, another party was on the mountain.  While brewing up some coffee and grub we got out the binoculars and tried to find them.  It took a bit of searching but eventually we saw man like figures a little below the grey band, still a long way up the peak.  By the time the sun set they were still just below the  red band and seemed to be bivying for the night (not a good prospect as their sleeping bags were in the hut).  We were getting a little bit nervous for them and radioed down  to Assiniboine Lodge to let them know and apparently the folks down their had been watching their progress and said they looked well prepared for bivying.  Regardless we would be meeting them in the morning on our way up the ridge and hoped their bivy wasn't too unpleasant.

 

Atop the scree slope, the hut is barely visible in the far left.

 

Looking down towards Assiniboine Lodge from the Hind Hut.

 

The impressive north face of Mount Assiniboine.

 

Looking down towards Magog Lake at sunset.

 

Zoomed in towards Assiniboine Lodge.

 

Looking up to the mountain just after sunset.

 

Waking up the next morning we left the hut a bit before 6 just as it was light enough to navigate without headlamps and set out up the North Ridge.  As with pretty much every Rockies peak you can't have a route without a scree bash and Assiniboine is no exception.  Thankfully the scree slope is relatively short and soon ultra fun scrambling terrain is reached.

 

At sunrise the next morning.

 

Ken up on the scree, not long till proper scrambling terrain!

 

Once on the 'climbing' portion of the route we were gaining elevation quickly and ran into the guys who had bivied on the mountain.  They were in good spirits and had planned for possibly needing a bivy so went too worried  (apparently they had left the hut at 6 am the previous morning, if getting off route the North Ridge can take a long time!).  Carrying on upwards the rock started to get wetter and icy needing a bit of route finding to sort out the most enjoyable  (and safest) line.  Before long we reached the red band and after staring in down both agreed that 'this looks scramble-able' and soloed up both remarking at how short the section actually was!  Above the red band it took a little more effort to stay on dry rock and the occasional step was kicked in snow to keep progressing upwards.  The crux of the ascent route is the grey band, a ~20 m rock feature that is rated 5.5 along the usual line.  We hit the grey band (which has more yellow rock than we expected given the name) on the ridgecrest  (as Vern did in his trip) and after taking a short break in the sun soloed up with no problems.  Here would be another trip where I didn't actually use any of the trad gear I had hauled up!

 

Even the first handfull of moves were quite fun.

 

Shaping up to be a lovely morning.

 

Sun-warmed great scrambling rock.

 

Looking back down towards the hut.

 

Lots of different colors of rock up here.

 

Not long until you are higher than pretty much every other peak around.

 

Above the grey band the route gets more scrambly with mostly fun moves.  I ended up getting my axe stuck while ascending a narrow chimney which was quite difficult to escape from.  After the chimney only a few moves stood between us and the summit ridge (and from the ridge the summit is only a short plod away).

 

Interesting scrambling to get above the rock band here.

 

Ken above the grey band.

 

The upper mountain and summit ridge.

 

Ken ascending the short narrow chimney.

 

The summit ridge, and true summit of Mount Assiniboine.

 

Views from the summit were quite disappointing as a thick cloud of smoke blanketed the region restricting views to only local peaks.  After taking a couple pictures and signing the register we set off down the South ridge aiming for the Southwest face.  The concern with traverse routes is that you descend a line you did not experience on the way up leading to tricky navigation, the SW face of Assiniboine is no exception to this.  The first 70 m or so of elevation loss were actually much better than expected with decently thick scree over down sloping ledges.  We came across a faint cairned trail which brought us to the first rap station of the day.  Judging by the quality of some of the stations on the route, someone had gone down here somewhat recently.

 

Smoky summit views.

 

Mount King George looming in the hazy distance.

 

Looking down on Lunette Peak.

 

Down after the first rap, have to get into a good cycle of finding a safe place to hunker down before pulling the rope.

 

The rock between the first rap station and the Assiniboine/Lunette col was the second worse of the day (read below for the worst!) and took careful steps and sticking close together to lessen rockfall hazards.  We knew from Vern's beta that making an immediate beeline for Lunette was no good so weaved our way downwards until a bit above the orange rock band before traversing over to Lunette.

 

More careful downclimbing.

 

Even more careful downclimbing.

 

Ken just above the Assiniboine/Lunette col.

 

From the col Lunette was actually quite enjoyable.  Once a little higher up the rock quality improves and good difficult scrambling can be found.  There are many possible lines up Lunette, we traversed climbers right until reaching a face that seemed well scramble-able and headed up.  A few minutes later we were on the summit of Lunette with surprisingly nice views.  If you are descending the SW face, an ascent of Lunette is worthwhile if only to get a brake from the loose choss-fest that is the rest of the descent.

 

Decent scrambling up on Lunette.

 

Summit view from Lunette Peak.

 

Ken filling out the soggy summit register.

 

Looking down towards Marvel Lake.

 

To reach the ascendable part of Lunette you traverse this bench.

 

After getting back to the col we carried on downwards on rock that ranged from actually fairly decent to downright horrendous.  Hitting the orange/pink band at skiers left and then traversing under it skiers right lead to a line of cairns leading us ever downwards, closer and closer to the lovely easily descendable scree in the valley below.  Some more careful downclimbing and a couple raps later lead us to the top of the 'exit gully' a snow/scree funnel and our way down out of technical terrain.  Getting down into the gully was the worst rock we experienced that day with a blend of thin scree and even thinner dirt resting atop down sloping slabs.  After a series of unpleasant slithering moves we were down in the gully on kickable snow and shortly after on easy scree and at the high mossy plateau that marks the bivy for the SW face ascent line.

 

Below the col on actually not too bad scree for a change.

 

Ken descending some rose colored rock near the 'orange band'.

 

Ken starting out one of the raps.

 

Slowly but surely we worked our way down.

 

Interesting gargoyle-like pinnacles guard the lower reaches of the mountain.

 

Ken at the end of the ascent gully, our exit to 'easy terrain'.

 

From here on out the rest of the day was one foot in front of the other eventually descending down scree to reach the eastern shore of Lunette Lake where we gained the trail and followed it by headlamps all the way back to the car.  This ended up being a little less than an 18 hour day.

 

At the high bivy as the sun starts to go behind the ridge.

 

A hidden waterfall above Lunette Lake.

 

Looking back up at the SW face during eveningglow.

 

Not bad for a 2 day trip.

 

Overall despite the choss-fest on the SW face and icy rock on the north ridge this was still a great trip, if only the summit views were not so smoky.  Unless you are very interested in heading up Lunette I would not recommend going down the SW face.

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