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A Victoria Cross Traverse (Pyramid Mountain, Cairngorn, Mount Kerr,and Mount Henry)

Difficulty: 
Easy/Moderate Scramble
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
43.9
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1692
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
3576
YDS Difficulty: 
4
Ascent Time: 
4:50 to Pyramid, +4:05 to Cairngorn, +3:50 to Kerr, +2:15 to Henry
Bushwhackyness: 
Harsh by Saturday Night Lake, Otherwise Good
Tripdate: 
Monday, June 24, 2013

The Victoria Cross Range encompasses mountains to the north west of Jasper townsite flanked by the visually dominant Pyramid Mountain and distance its close geographic distance to the town is one of the least well travelled regions in the Rockies. Given the long daylight at this time of year Eric, Steven, and I were planning on a long trip and after some discussion settled on trying to traverse the most southerly of the Victoria Cross Range peaks starting at Pyramid Mountain and ending at Elysium Pass. Suffice to say most of the trip was pretty excellent with interesting views of rarely seen terrain but things really fell apart at the end. While we did this as a daytrip (21 hours RT time) it is almost certainly a better idea to go over 2/3 days.

Our trek started from the Pyramid Fire Road using the normal scramble route up Pyramid Mountain. Starting out at 1am allowed for a nice refreshingly cool temperature which let us make good time up the fire road and eventually top out on Pyramid's summit after about 4 hours or so, just in time for excellent sunrise views. Once on Pyramid here is where the trek went off into the mostly unknown. From Pyramid we descended down the ridge towards a col between the false summit and true summit of Mount Kinross. From the col is looked like it would be a difficult scramble up downsloping slabs to Kinross and given the rain soaked slippery holds we decided that probably wasn't a good route to try and carried on towards towards Cairngorn. From the north east side Cairngorn is mostly a big pile of boulders and from the north west a network of slabs so we decided to head up the north east and then see if we could spot a line down. Once on Cairngorn the clouds started to roll in obscuring our views southwards but the north was still wide open granting great images of the even more remote Victoria Cross Range peaks and beyond. Our descent down Cairngorn was interesting as we traversed to what we thought was a good scree line which eventually turned into many meters downsloping slabs, luckily the slabs were dry and there were plenty of holds so descent was possible, it just took a while. While descending a thunderstorm rolled in from the north and was looming over Snaring Mountain. After we made it down the slabs we raced towards a nearby section of forest as it seemed the storm would be on top of us within mere minutes, luckily the mountains protected us and the clouds drifted on towards BC.

From the valley below Cairngorn we took an obvious line up some red rock to a col that was beneath Mount Kerr. The rocks were somewhat loose and our progress was fairly slow but we were rewarded with great views of Mount Kerr above a frosty lake and plenty of sunlight upon us. Heading up Kerr once again involved more climbing up boulders eventually giving way to a snow field, and our third summit of the day. The views from Mount Kerr alone are worth the trip and getting a feel for the area around Snaring Mountain was quite rewarding. With a long day still ahead of us we waited for a while taking in the views and then carried on our trek descending the south side of Kerr to get back on the ridge, and make our way towards Mount Henry.

Our descent was fairly uneventful with more scrambling across very bright red coloured boulders until we eventually regained the ridge and bottomed out between Henry and Kerr. During our descent another thunderstorm had been building up to the West, we were getting ambushed from all sides! Once at the lowpoint of the ridge we slowed down and talked about the storm, figuring that based on the clouds it was probably going to drift down the parkway but we should pick up our pace regardless if we were planning on bagging Henry. In short time we made our way up even more boulders to the summit of Henry and were rewarded by sunny skies, the storm had decided not to cross the valley and there was not even a drop of rain to be seen on the summit! After admiring the views from Henry we decided that the day had gone on pretty long and we were all getting pretty tired and after looking at Steven's map decided to head down the ridge using one of Henry's gullys which should put us out in a direct line to hit the Saturday Night Lake loop trail with 1-2 km of bushwhacking. Suffice to say this is where our problems started.

Initially the descent went quite well with red scree changing to grass, and then boulders with grass, and then light bushwhacking. Once down past treeline though we made some errors. Knowing that we eventually had to cut skiers left to gain the trail Steven and I were following bush in pretty much a straight line left while Eric opted for following a less dense line straight and then crossing over. In our previous trips we had often took slightly different lines in the bush and would keep track of each other by yelling back and forth. This system worked pretty well for a while so Steven and I kept on trucking onwards eventually finding the trail giving a holler to Eric getting a quite response that eventually I realized was an echo from a nearby rise. As the mosquito were swarming we kept moving and eventually giving a yell with no response at all. Unbeknownst to us Eric had crossed over the SNL trail at a not very distinct section and was now on the other side of a hill in swampy bush. After a while Steven and I went back but by this point Eric was thoroughly out of earshot. The next few hours became a mess of running back and forth on the trail yelling and then driving to possible trailheads Eric could have popped out at looking for him. Several hours later after some gruelling slogging through swamps and then eventually down the SNL trail he turned up at the Jasper townsite trailhead, managed to get his cell to work, and then Steven and I showed up to provide some much needed water and shelter from mosquitos.

There was a lot to learn from this trip, especially that excessively long day-trips can lead to impaired judgement (I should not have been going so fast in the bush when Eric was getting further out of shouting range and consider that the prime cause of our troubles...) and suffice to say our bush-travel habits are now corrected to what they should have been.

 

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