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Wandering Around The Whitegoat Wilderness With Ascents of Mount Willis and Mount Stewart

Difficulty: 
Moderate Scramble
Elevation [m]: 
3318
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
54.0
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1400
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
3420
YDS Difficulty: 
4
Bushwhackyness: 
Essentially None.
Tripdate: 
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Some time ago Liam asked if I'd be in for a trip up into the Whitegoat Wilderness for the August long weekend with some of his coworkers.  Sounded like a cool scheme, as it got closer turned out there were quite a few coworkers!
 
Setting off from the Nigel Creek trailhead in a few waves, 18 folks trudged the 16 or so km into a basecamp in the valley below Cline Pass.  Weather was rather grim for the first few km with thunder and lighting raining down on top of us.  Thankfully the storm passed and the sun was briefly shining ad we gained Nigel Pass (always good to be thunderstorm free when hitting the alpine!).  From the junction leaving the Brazeau Lake/South Boundary Trail terrain was actually kind of interesting with scrambly boulder sections interlaced with scenic creekside walking.  Liam and I had radios to keep track of our respective groups with Liam's group picking up the more westerly weather.
 

Heading out from the Nigel Pass parking area, quite a busy place even without our group.

 

Up at Nigel Pass after the storm had passed.

 

Crossing the Brazeau River, a little less fearsome here than in the foothills to the east!

 

Up on the Cataract Pass trail now, it is quite nice in places.

 

One of the more bouldery bands to be crossed to reach Cataract Pass.

 

Lots of marshy flat sections around here.

 

Blue sky, what luxury.

 

Just start to see Cataract Pass in the far left view.

 

Just as we get to the higher elevation windy section the weather started to turn again.

 

There are quite a few cairns marking the trail upwards.

 
We made pretty good time getting to the base of the grunt up Cataract Pass (some 200 meters in the last push from the flats) and weather conspired to start pouring again just as we started up the steep scree (Liam was saying after his group had sun for the pass, what luxury!).  After hitting the park border the rain seemed to lose some of its ferrosity and the views opened up.  The valley below Cline and Cataract Passes is a verdant beauty with lush alpine terrain, towering peaks, and flowing creeks.
 

Well at least the chill wind was keeping things comfortable on the grunt up.

 

A good day for pack covers as the crew marches upwards.

 

It was downright frosty at the park boundary, didn't even stop to read the register on the way in.

 

Looking down on the main northwestern valley of the Whitegoat Wilderness.

 
The next order of business was finding a campsite.  Random camping is fully allowed in the Whitegoat so 'official sites' don't really exist.  After getting a look from above and confirming the views down below I reckoned a flat spot near one of the inflows of Cataract Creek seemed like a good place and we set our course.  In a manner reminiscent of the scene at Beorns Cabin from The Hobbit more folks kept trickling in to the site until our crew was fully assembled.  After gobbling from grub we all got some rest resolved to see what the weather was like in the am before making any solid plans.
 

Once things cleared off the prettyness of the area became obvious.

 

Not a bad place to camp at all.

 

Not a lot of light polution around here thats for sure.

 
The next morning it was thankfully not raining (a big plus for this year).  After getting the camp up (a process in itself) and deciding plans it seemed like everyone was up for heading towards Cline Pass with the majority interested in the summit of Mount Willis.  Liam and I split into two groups, each leading a gaggle upwards spreading out enough to mitigate rockfall.  Somewhere along the line after a few steep switchbacks on more decent rock my group got a ways ahead and reached the false summit/summit col while the other group was ascending the ridge.
 

Cool valley cloud in the distance, would have been nice to set up a time lapse.

 

Off we go northwards to Mount Willis (in the cloud on the far left).

 

Really nice gentle rolling terrain around here.

 

The crew marches onwards past a couple lovely tarns.

 

Michelle quite content on a boulder.

 

A while later almost at the col before the false summit on Mount Willis.

 
The terrain while ascending Mount Willis was decent (loose but not horrendously loose for the Rockies at least).  With mostly boulder fields with the occasional patch of mossy ledges to work upwards progress was slow but steady.  There is no real need to ascend the false summit and there are options of bypassing it from the climbers left or right.  The climbers right side was considerably more wet and seemed more exposed so we traversed around the climbers left with a small bit of loss/gain to avoid more scrambly moves.  From the other side of the false summit easy walking brings you to the top!  Weather was interesting throughout the day with every 46 minute cycle moving from rain to sun to hail to clouds and back and forth.
 

Pretty wide reaching views even from below the false summit (the true summit in the left of the image).

 

After traversing the false summit just a nice stroll to the top.

 

Looking south towards Mount Stewart.

 

Our first group up on the summit of Mount Willis.

 
After a summit snack and plenty of pictures we headed back down intercepting Liam's group while they were traversing around the false summit.  Liam had brought a register for the peak (there was none atop when we summited) so my crew signed in before passing the other group.  The rest of the descent went, albeit slowly managing a large group and a loose slope.  With improving weather we reckoned that sticking on the ridge crest for a while for views was a decent scheme and managed to get a pretty good look of the rest of the Whitegoat and into Jasper Park to the north.  Just around dinner time we crested onto camp and got a bunch of water going for either a late lunch or an early dinner, or a mix of both.
 

Quite a happy bunch despite the chilly wind.

 

Zoomed in looking west towards the Columbia Icefield from the summit.

 

Looking back down towards our camp.

 

Back down at the col below the false summit it felt a good 15 degrees warmer with the sun out.

 

Looking up at Liam's group just about to reach the summit.

 

Heading back down along the ridge until some decent descent scree shows up.

 

The first group of summiteers part way down the bouldery slopes.

 

Lots of frost wedging around here!

 

Quite lovely fields of paintbrush around here.

 

Almost back at camp, Mount Stewart is visible just left of center.

 

Zoomed in towards Mount Stewart.

 

Most of the crew back after our various adventures for dinner time.

 

Apparently classic ABMI procedure to form snuggle-circles for warmth.

 
The third day was supposed to have the best weather of the trip and folks planned their days for objectives with snazzy views.  I was torn between a plan with Liam and Jesse heading up Afternoon Peak or sticking closer to camp and aiming for Mount Stewart (the highest peak in Whitegoat and itself a solid viewpoint).  One of the other folks, Kieran was also eyeing up Stewart and looking for a partner so we agreed to band together leaving camp round 8ish.  From our camp Mount Stewart is quite the sight and it looked like we would actually be in view of camp for a large part of the route.  It looked like you could weasel through the visible cliffs higher up the peak which seemed like a more interesting line than a broad scree gully visible on the map around the more southerly side of the peak. 
 

Kieran and I setting off before most folks awoke.

 

A fair bit of distance to get over to the ascent ridge of Mount Stewart.

 
The terrain near the valley bottom in the Whitegoat is scenic in its own right.  Picking a high line from camp aiming to traverse over to a rubble slope at the base of the ridge worked fairly well (nothing like a good side - hill to wake you up in the morning!) and around 4 km out of camp we were starting up the ridge.
 

Up on the ridge, lots of different colors of rock as you progress upwards.

 

Looking across the valley to what Josh calls "The Murderhorn" (A Simpsons Reference), quite the peak.

 
The lower part of Mount Stewart is kind of cool for the range of rock color bands all bundled into a small area.  Sticking mostly on the ridge - proper and then below the very much 5th class cliffs we gained a slew of elevation and kept rocking upwards until the cliffs turned into more scrambly cliffish features where we could slither upwards (being quite careful to avoid ever present rockfall issues).  Above the main cliff band there are still a few more scrambly sections to head upwards.  We stuck near the ridgecrest which worked decently until a meddlesome boulder pinnacle required some loss and gain to bypass it.  After the bypass a brief patch of scree was all that was left to hit the summit.
 

Our route stuck to the scree just below the cliffs as we worked our way upwards.

 

The cliffs become much less formidable if you keep traversing higher.

 

Kieran enjoying a not exposed 5'th class solo line up!

 

Still a bit of height, and scree to contend with to the summit.

 

Summit views are pretty excellent.

 
Liam and I had planned to do a few radio check ins over the day if possible.  It seemed like the only place that would be feasible would be from our respective summits and thankfully enough after switching on about 10 minutes from the top Liam and Jesse had just topped out on Afternoon Peak (barely being proper with the name summiting at 1202 so just in the 'afternoon'!) and were squawking over the radio.  It was kind of fun to have a conversation going across the 9ish km between our summits and after seeing Liam and his Dad's entries in the thinly scribed register (only one party in 2014 and 2015 and none for 2016) I read back part of it over the radio.  Views from the summit are pretty snazzy.  Even with low ish cloud towards the west a great sea of peaks were visible also with scores of lakes (even Pinto Lake south down the valley).  Perhaps the most impressive view is the unnamed peak directly across the valley that Josh had previously dubbed 'The Murderhorn' (complete with a glacier and knifey symmetric summit ridge).
 

Quite the nice register in the summit cairn up on Mount Stewart.

 

Zoomed in across the valley towards "The Murderhorn".

 

Our camp tents are visible way down in the valley below.

 

Nice place for a summit-shot.

 

Looking towards Brazeau Lake and Afternoon Peak.

 

Down we went hitting the gully just out of view on the center-left.

 
On the way down we opted for the large scree gully on the west side of the peak.  The key here is not to try to descend too high, carrying on down towards the ascent route until a long gully can be seen skiers left that goes all the way down.  There were quite a few nice parts of scree in the gully but certainly not the best scree run ever.  At the bottom of the gully, a short traverse on boulders links up to the ascent route and then just walking the rest of the way to camp.
 

Pretty decent scree for descending back down to the base of the ridge.

 

Time to start traversing back towards camp.

 

After a few rolling ribs the camp is back in view.

 

Quite the verdant fields around here.

 
After being kind of chilly on the peak the clouds lifted back at camp and a blazing sun made things super toasty for lounging like sun basking lizards.  Soon after other folks started trickling back to camp from hanging out at a nearby tarn, wandering around the valley, and eventually Liam and Jesse from Afternoon Peak.  Clouds continued to lift through the evening giving way to a brilliant starry sky (with a literally frosty chill).  Trading stories while eating dinner people got up to a lot of different things during the day: a trip over to the valley or the lakes, Kieran and I up Stewart, Liam and Jesse up Afternoon, a swim and scrabble afternoon at a nearby tarn to name a few.
 

With the sky clearing things were pretty frosty after sunset.

 

Sunset colors on the unnamed peak to the south of camp.

 

Stars above the unnamed peak to the north.

 
The last morning I woke up around 0700 and was pleased to see a very blue sunny sky.  It was shaping up for a nice hike out!  It took a fair bit of time to get breakfast sorted out for everyone (and do a series of garbage sweeps) but eventually we were off in several waves.  I hung back with the Anna, Jesse, and Stacey in the last crew and we made our way upwards in much nicer (but much warmer) conditions than on the way in a few days earlier.  It was nice to actually be able to stop and enjoy the sights.  Looking in the register at the park boundary it seems that the Whitegoat is actually a pretty popular place with ten or so entries in the time that we were gone other than our group!  The trail from Nigel Pass had actually dried off a fair bit since the way in and was only a bit muddy in places (rather than wallowing through puddles 80% of the distance on the approach!).  Before too long we made it back to the (longer than you think it is) fire road and soon after back at the parking lot.
 

Seems that our bluebird weather day arrived one day late!

 

Quite a nice trail heading up to Cataract Pass.

 

On the other side of Cataract Pass quite the tarn.

 

So many unnamed peaks around here.

 

Almost back at Nigel Pass.

 

Anna, Stacey, and Jesse almost back at Nigel Pass.

 

Crossing the mighty Brazeau River, less fearsome than on the way in.

 

Looking west from Nigel Pass towards the highway.

 

Jesse brought along a charango and was strumming as we rambled.

 

Pretty snazzy first trip into the Northern Whitegoat.

rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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