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Ursus Minor Mountain and Grizzly Mountain

Difficulty: 
Moderate Scramble
Elevation [m]: 
2754
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
13.3
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1425
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
2220
Ascent Time: 
4:15 for Ursus + 4:45 for Grizzly
Tripdate: 
Saturday, June 7, 2014

This was both Steven and I's first trip in the Rogers Pass area and it certainly proved to give some motivating views to come back!

Looking around at the weekends forecast conditions seemed pretty variable (denying us attempts of loftier multi-day peaks) so we were in need of a day-trip. After going through a list of possible objectives in Kananaskis and DTC we decided upon something further a field for variety crossing the border into BC and heading to Glacier National Park. We were fairly unfamiliar with possibles routes around the Rogers Pass area so decided to stick with something relatively tame, heading up towards Balu Pass to two similar summits, Ursus Minor Mountain and Grizzly Mountain. All of the peaks around Balu Pass have bear-themed names though we didn't end up seeing hide nor hair of any such critters.

Starting out from the visitor centre parking lot just before sunrise we headed mostly up the Balu Pass trail (getting on and off the trail as it was obscured by snow) on decently sturdy snow through the widely spaced forest. After only a kilometer and a bit we emerged out of the trees beside Connaught Creek and got our first views at some of the surrounding peaks. One of the odd things about this area is that it is so popular for skiing in the winter that pretty much every clump of trees has a name. Based on some pictures of ski routes from Parks Canada's website we aimed for first ascending Ursus Minor by means of the Ursus Trees. The Ursus Trees proved to be exceedingly steep and without the snow might have been much more difficult. Switching from boots to snowshoes proved useful carrying on to get a little more traction while ascending.

After an hour and a bit of steep snow and tree in the Ursus Trees we reached treeline and got our first glimpses of the wider area including the ever impressive Mount Sir Donald.  From treeline we kept our 'shoes on and headed straight on up to the high col (this was approaching the limit for how steep the 'shoes could handle given the hard snow).  From the high col it was time to switch to boots and wind up two distinct rock bands of 3rd or 4th class rock (depending on routefinding).  Getting some hands on scrambling on dry rock was a nice change of pace after being in 'winter mode' for so long.  The second rock band felt a little more difficult than the first.  Views from the summit of Ursus Minor Mountain were quite impressive. I was blown away by the sheer variety of peaks (none of which I knew what were called other than the popular Rogers and Sir Donald).  Looking down towards the road its easy to tell why the trees felt so steep, there is very little horizontal distance on this route!  After snapping a whole whack of pictures (with tons of 'new' peaks to identify) we set our sights on our second summit for the day nearby Grizzly Mountain.

When heading up Ursus we could see a nice break in the cliffs towards Grizzly which would minimize elevation loss by descending into the bowl and heading up steep snow (which could be quite sketchy in winter!).  We retraced our steps back to the 'shoes and then cramponed down towards grizzly switching from steep snow to steep moss and then eventually to steep rock.  Gaining Grizzly's ridge closest towards Ursus proved to be a possible mistake.  There was a big drop in the ridge which looked treacherous given a thin snow covering so we decided to backtrack and contour across Grizzly's lower slopes before popping back up.  Once back on the ridge nice dry scrambling rock returned and we had some enjoyable moves gaining the last few meters of elevation.  The summit of Grizzly Mountain had excellent views similar to Ursus Minor (but actually being able to see nearby Mount Tupper was quite nice).

With the snowpack getting increasingly soft as the day went on we didn't tarry too long on the summit and soon enough were descending the Teddy Bear Trees SE of Grizzly's summit which proved to be quite arduous (just the right snow to make snowshoes slide with no grip but still sink waist deep in boots). After a great number of kicked steps (avoid swiftly sliding into a tree) and some surprisingly thick bush we were back on the Balu Pass trail and pretty much at the road.

 

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