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Wapiti Mountain

Difficulty: 
Moderate Winter Scramble
Elevation [m]: 
3033
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
56.2
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1340
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
1900
Bushwhackyness: 
Not Bad
Tripdate: 
Friday, October 11, 2013

With more of the Rockies tending closer to winter, a holiday upon us, and a variable forecast Steven and I were hard pressed to come up with a good objective. In the end we decided upon Wapiti Mountain, the highest peak near the Red Deer River on the eastern edge of Banff National Park. To get to the trailhead you have to drive to the Ya Ha Tinda ranch, a property operated by Parks which apparently is where all the ranger's horses hang out when not roaming the trails. The road from Sundre is in pretty good shape with a few washouts at the drainages near Maze Peak but is quite traversible!

After getting to the trailhead long after sunset we decided to stick to our recent habbit of grinding through some of the approach trail by starlight and managed about 18km before stopping to get a few hours sleep. The trail from the parking lot to the park boundary is huge, a road in all but name, and if you are heading this way it is almost certainly preferable to take a bike to reduce the tedium.

Arising the next morning a little before sunrise we headed up Tyrell Creek (along a narrower but still excellent trail) and quickly were beneath the ascent ridge on gradual grassy slopes which eventually yielded to boulders and finally gave way to the snowy realm of winter. Up on the ridge the route was neither as direct or flat as we were expecting but made for quick travel until the last few 100m of elevation was reached. Near the summit there are a few scrambly sections (the first a downclimb would be moderate-difficult in summer) and then a narrow ridge traverse with just enough snow to be slippery but not enough to be supportive (careful footwork required). After the narrow section of the ridge the summit was just a walk up and a big cairn was there to great us complete with a PVC register but alas the notebook inside was waterlogged at some point and more ice than paper and we were unable to remove it. With limited views and a frosty breeze our summit stay was limited and swiftly we descended back the way we came. Once back on the wide ridge the weather improved and views opened up again.

There are tons of under-explored named peaks and likely unascended unnamed peaks in this area, enough for a bunch of return trips! Mount Saint Bride and Cataract Peak were probably the most impressive peaks visible, the dark shadow of Cataract looked almost like Alberta from this vantage point. Plodding down the snow we made our way back to the trail till we passed the park boundary, got a little more sleep, and did the rest of the deproach on the wide trail/road the next morning. Overall probably the best objective we could have hoped for given the weather and a great introduction to a new area!

 

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