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Mount Willingdon, Crown Peak, and Tower Peak

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Another week, another 11000er (or so things were looking like for the last month or so). Once again Steven, Eric, Vern and I saddled up from the parkway with our sights set on Mount Willingdon one of the lower 11000ers located in the less visited north eastern park of Banff National Park.

Setting out from the Mosquito Creek parking lot we made short work of the official approach trail and were quickly branching off climbers left (after 2 bridges) to follow a creek up the valley to the north towards the fabled Quartzite Col. The route to the col was pretty much just follow the creek all the way up and eventually we topped out at a section that looked very familiar from So's Willingdon TR a few weeks before. The col itself (at least by our route) is kind of a deathtrap and I can see why it has such a bad reputation. Rock hard ice is a boundary on one side while outrageously loose scrambly holds have to by contended with to slowly work downwards. I would strongly advise against any inexperienced scramblers taking this route down as rockfall hazard is immense! Once down the col and back on relatively solid flat ground it was time to start taking in the sights. The valley gives a great sense of scale with distant peaks such as Mount Loudon and Cataract Peak marking the boundaries to the north and south while Willingdon looms ahead to the east.

Our first objective of the trip was Devon Mountain, a prominent peak on the south side of Devon Lakes which looked to offer a straightforward way up to survey the surrounding terrain. After ditching our excess gear on the lower slopes it was time to head upwards via a route which would be familiar to any veteran of easy Kane scrambles (ie scree). The scree continued for quite a while eventually yielding at the ridgecrest to some more scrambly sections and then eventually a patch of slabs just before the summit. Once at the summit views were much better than expected, Devon mountain is certainly worth the effort if you find yourself at Devon Lakes with a few hours to spare! After getting a good look around in case the weather for Willingdon was less ideal it was time to wander back down, regain our gear, and go in search of a bivy site for an attempt on Willingdon the day after.

After getting down from Devon Mountain and setting up camp we were rewarded with some great lighting on Devon Lakes before the inevitable patch of bad weather showed up which started off as a light rain, then eventually reached full on thunderstorm complete with hail and everything, this continued throughout the night...

Waking up to a rose colored sunrise and threatening clouds to the west Friday morning we weren't all that hopeful that today would be the day for WIllingdon but gave it a go anyways. With the new snowfall that showed up overnight we strengthened our resolve to go for the South Ridge and thus bypass the climby crux on the SW ridge. Our beta described the route as a 'easy Collier scramble' which certainly understated matters, but more on that later.. After an hour or so of heading up the cliffbands the clouds to the west looked worse and worse and we decided to head back to camp before the storm returned. This proved to be an excellent decision as it rained (and then briefly snowed) for about 10 hours. The boys spent there time curled up in their bivy sacks while I (having brought a full length poncho) wandered around taking in the soggy scenery. Eventually the rain subsided briefly to let us cook some diner then it was back in the bivy sacks for an early morning start at attempt 2 for Willingdon.

On Saturday morning I woke up exceedingly early to get some pictures of the stars, around 2am the sky was completely clear and I was pretty confident that things would pan out well. By 4am when everyone woke up clouds had started to roll in but they were really high and we weren't overly worried so set off, this time going straight up the scree rather than trying the wet cliff ledges we ascended the previous day. The scree proved decent at the bottom, alright in the middle, and then downright horrible when approaching the col (the higher we went the more firm and moraine-like the texture became eventually becoming coated with a thin veneer of snow/ice to make things even spicier). After a bunch of careful plodding we reached the high col right around sunrise which gave us a good feeling for conditions namely a (seemingly) thick blanket of clouds above us which would block out the summit, oh no!

From the high col the rest of the way up the ridge became more interesting the further we went. Starting off with easy scrambling on frozen cloud-soaked scree and then yielding to kickstep-able snow slopes. With mere meters standing between us and the summit (and still lost in the clouds) we came across an exposed snow slope which seemed to be exceedingly treacherous, Vern made the call to search out a bypass which took us down climbers left ascending back up via an icy coulour which wasn't bad now that we had crampons on. After the coulour we came to the crux, a short couple meter section of somewhat icy rock standing between us and the summit. Crampons were quite an asset here and in short order we were passed the crux, up to the summit, and amazingly above the clouds!

The high cloud band that limited our views below turned out to be a great stroke of luck and just when we reached the summit the clouds had lowered to about 11000ft, so only 11000ers were visible, what luck! I must have taken 200 pictures of the clouds from the summit, views were legendary, and all of us agreed that this made for top 5 (or better) views any of us have seen! Even more amazingly was that over the course of our time on the summit the cloud bands were dissipating, so not only did we get amazing cloudy views, but also clear views, fabulous! After a long while enjoying the summit we turned our view to the two other subpeaks of Willingdon, Crown and Tower, and started making our way towards them.

Descending the crux was a little interesting (but once again crampons helped), and in short order we were back on scree slopes (which became considerably easier once the sun had melted them slightly) down to the Willingdon/Crown col and heading up towards our second summit of the day.

Not much to say about the routes for Crown and Tower, if completely dry they would be quite straightforward moderate scrambles up scree/boulders. Our snowy conditions made them slightly more interesting with some delicate footwork required in the more slippery sections. After a short while we were on to of Crown and taking in the clear wide reaching views, tons of panoramas on this trip! From the summit of Crown you have to loose some elevation to the Crown/Tower col and then regain it (return the same way after), even still it is worth the effort as Tower gives differently awesome views! After reaching our third summit of the day it was time to retrace our steps back to the Willindgon/Crown col, descend back to camp via scree slopes, and start trudging back towards the car. The journey back was via the same route as our way in (taking the same treacherous path up the Quartzite Col) but soon enough we were back in familiar territory and soon after that the harsh sounds of internal combustion engines welcomed us back to (relative) civilization. Another fabulous trip, can't wait for the next one!


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