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Mount Oliver

Difficulty: 
Easy Winter Scramble (With Avoidable 5.0 Rock Step)
Elevation [m]: 
2887
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
53.4
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1788
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
3170
YDS Difficulty: 
3
Ascent Time: 
5:00 From Car to Pass, 7:30 From Pass to Summit
Bushwhackyness: 
Surprisingly Good If Sticking To Swampy Clearings
Tripdate: 
Saturday, September 26, 2015

Long had I been talking about a return to Elysium Pass, one of the less traveled areas in Jasper. This weekend the grand plan took shape with Eric and I setting our aim on Mount Oliver as an ambitious (work schedule constrained) two day trip. Given the distance, elevation, and bushwhacking involved this would no doubt shape up to be a tiring trip, a fresh smattering of snow made thus doubly true!

Leaving the trailhead (which is shared with the much more popular Dorothy and Viril Lakes trail) a bit before sunrise we made good time up the initial bit of the trail before the Elysium turnoff catching up with all sorts of happenings as of late.  Soon after the junction there became clear sign of horses up here sometime recently. Horses are fell beasts bent on mangling hiking trails and this trail is no different. Before long we were slogging through countless patches of deep mud which eventually faded into deep patches if snow covered mud. About 2/3 up the trail the proper snow started and travel slowed somewhat.

 

Setting off from the trailhead just across the train tracks.

 

Nice fall colors lower down, the trail is not that swampy at this point.

 

Getting closer to winter, surprisingly well-maintained trail.

 

Getting higher up, a nice dusting of snow.

 

Getting close to the pass now, very quiet forest.

 

Looking down on Elysium Pass from the highpoint of the trail.

 

Once at Elysium Pass (some 5 hours from the road) we sloshed our way through the surprisingly wet marsh (given this time of year) slowly rising climbers left to minimize the amount of bush travel. The downside of our high line was lots off loss and gain, though avoiding entering the dense bush is its own reward. There was one section of extra slippery snow covered boulders below Elysium Mountain required to keep to the high line with the rest being gentle snow walking (amidst many lakes and presumably nice looking terrain).

Eric in the pass looking back at Emigrants Mountain.

 

A bit past the pass, clear blue skies for a change.

 

Looking across the valley towards Oliver and Consort mountain.

 

Traversing near treeline leads to some bouldery slopes.

 

From the next ridge over looking at prime ski terrain.

 

Looking further down the valley towards Monarch from the last of the ridges.

 

All throughout the day weather varied between clear and sunny and bone chilling blizzards with our hopes of bagging Oliver rising and falling thusly. By the time the last ridge bump had to be gained below the outlier of Mount Pattison lots of new snow had fallen and older snow moved around by stiff breezes, up on the mountain there was sure to be post holing. After that last ridge we decided to head into the bush at last making a line for hitting the less forested area beneath the bowl below Mount Oliver. Travel conditions varied from dense overgrown forest to swampy marsh while we descended and eventually came to the river. The bush route might not be so bad in winter on skis with the swamp frozen over.  Crossing the river we made good time coming up clearings to gain our intended bivy site.

 

More wintery weather on the way as Eric descends down into the bush.

 

Looking back towards the southern Victoria Cross peaks.

 

The bush can be pretty tight down near the river.

 

The river was still flowing quite swiftly even given the season.

 

Across the river looking up at Mount Oliver.

 

From a little ways up Oliver looking back at the open marshy slopes.

 

From the bivy we went straight up the ridge on snow covered slippery rocks to gain the upper slope which is then traversed to reach a short ridge the connects to Olivers main ridge. The connecting ridge had the crux of the route, an icy open chimney requiring a few sequential stemming moves to downclimb. With a bit more post-holing you could have gone downwards and bypassed this crux if required (see image below). After that the rest of the route was one foot in front of the other knee to waist deep post holing (heavy on the waist deep near the summit).  Eric was hanging back due to cold weather asthma so I plodded along breaking trail (most regrettably without gaiters...) little knowing that the wind was filing them up before Eric could use them!

 

Higher up the slope, you have to traverse around the bump in the foreground.

 

Looking to the unnamed peaks around Mount Griesbach.

 

Another view of Monarch.

 

Looking over to the true summit of Mount Oliver, still a ways to go.

 

As the sun got closer to setting the wind picked up.

 

Looking back towards the crux, if you go a bit lower you can bypass the crux.

 

Looking back at Eric on the false summit.

 

On the final slopes of Mount Oliver, very deep snow drifts here.

 

View from close to the summit.

 

The last step to the summit was the most arduous. My boots were soaked and turning into ice cubes, the wind was howling fiercely, and we were 30 minutes or so from sunset. Determined to gain the summit (mostly to scout out an access route for Snaring Mountain) I trudged on while Eric lingered in a somewhat sheltered spot. Views from the summit were actually pretty neat. Not the wide reaching views of a bluebird day but nice sunset colors and lots of clouds for texture. Given the weather and time I didn't scour the summit cairn for a register and bounded down to rejoin with Eric.

Wide summit pano looking west.

 

Zoomed in summit pano looking west.

 

Wide summit pano looking east.

 

Zoomed in summit pano looking east.

 

Looking down to the col between Oliver and Griesbach.

 

One last summit pano before heading back down out of the wind.

 

The cold was sapping the strength out of Eric and he didn't end up making the summit. Given the ice-cubes I had for boots keeping moving was key so we retraced our steps back down towards the lower ridge as daylight dwindled and the wind became truly frosty. Getting back up the crux took some interesting friction moves on surfaces without friction... By the time we traversed around the false summit after the crux it was properly dark and half way down it was time to put on the headlamps. Getting back down to treeline required carefully stepping down a combination of thinly covered bush, scree, and slab (a good variety so you never knew what your foot would step on next!) and travel was slow but steady. Once back down near treeline we were finally out of the wind and could relax for the rest of the evening (I ended up having to breath on my laces for a while to unfreeze them to get my boots off!).

Neat HDR of the last bit of sun passing on the far side of Monarch.

 

Back down by the bivy at moonrise.

 

The next morning we woke up leisuerly, less worried about making our way out as there was no peak to ascend today. The route we took down stayed further west than our ascent line aiming to gain the last ridge we ascended higher up the valley to avoid the dense bush we encountered on the way in. Thankfully this plan was exceedinglly succesful and we were able to stick to open bush/marsh for almost the entierty of the journey back to the ridge (say 5 minutes in total of legitimate bushwhacking). This route would be fabulous for a ski tour and certainly much quicker in the downhill sections! From the ridge we stayed high-ish but traversed below the slippery cliffband that we had encountered the previous day. This was of mixed utility as we traded bush for snow covered boulders but soon enough with a little elevation lost the boulders turned back into marsh (say what you will about northern Jasper, but you can always rely on the park to provide you with swamp) and it was smooth sailing all the way back to the pass.

 

The next morning looking at the marshy terrain below Oliver.

 

Lovely lack of bushwhacking!

 

We crossed the river furhter west than the day before.

 

Eric enjoying the open clearings too.

 

Higher up almost at the ridge.

 

Looking up at more unnamed peaks that are worthy of ascending.

 

Zoomed in towards cliffs on the close-side of Monarch.

 

The weather started to move in as we gained the ridge.

 

Almost back at the pass at last.

 

From the pass there is a depressing bit of elevation to regain the trail on the shoulder beneath Emigrants Mountain but after that it is (almost) all downhill from there. Getting back to the road seems to go on and on for quite some time but eventually we came back to the Dorothy/Viril Lakes junction and then soon after the train tracks (and thankfully we just dodged a train by about 5 minutes after we crossed the tracks).

 

At the pass, a fair bit of melt compared to yesterday.

 

Back down in summer-terrain.

 

Examples of the damage wrought from horses.

 

Looking up at Emigrants from the trail.

 

A wide open trail down below.

 

All in all I have to say that this was a pretty great trip. Mount Oliver is a proiment peak and well worthy of ascending but mostly being able to get some first-hand information about terrain beyond Elysium Pass has pushed the Victoria Cross Range much higher up on my list of 'ski destinations' for this-coming ski season. Who knows, in proper snow conditions Snaring Mountain itself might be skiable (provided the access cliffs could be scaled effectively).

 

A fair bit of distance but well worth it!

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