1 August 2016
With Trevor & Richard
Like neighboring Maze Peak, Eagle Mountain is a perfect introduction to the beautiful Ya Ha Tinda area west of Sundre. The trailhead is easy to find (Eagle Lake parking lot), there’s a very good approach trail, and the mountain itself is hardly more than a strenuous hike, interspersed higher up with a few sections of moderate and/or difficult scrambling, all of which can be avoided if you so desire. And on top of that, the hike grants very nice views of the expansive green meadows of the Ya Ha Tinda ranch below. Trevor and Richard had never been to the area, so when we were looking for an easy objective that also avoided the craziness of long weekend traffic, Eagle Mountain certainly fit the bill!
Our hike started on an easy-to-follow but muddy horse trail right from the parking lot. After a small creek crossing, we came to a wooden sign where we headed north in the direction of “Scalp Creek”. After a short hike in the forest, we turned right to another, smaller trail (orange flagging) and after some 5 minutes we then left the trail and simply went straight up the broad ridge through light forest. The angle gradually steepened and we were soon huffing and puffing. Trevor, who set off like a rocket in his usual speedy approach, left Richard and me in the dust… breathless and quietly hoping that he would finally stop for a sip of water and take a break!
We made very good progress as the terrain is easy to negotiate (light forest followed by partially grass-covered firm scree) and the weather was perfect for hiking – a pleasant 20 degrees with a balmy breeze. Although there is no trail, it’s impossible to get lost as you simply follow the crest of the ridge all the way to a false summit. Soon after, we reached the optional crux which I awkwardly downclimbed: it’s a 4-5 m high vertical cliff with good holds in the upper 2/3, but the lowermost bit has poor holds and the rock is loose – several pieces actually crumbled away as I tested them. I would therefore not recommend scrambling the crux at all. Richard and Trevor were smarter (and faster) than me and simply backtracked a bit and went around climber’s left. A few more short steps of easy to moderate scrambling followed, but the rest was simply a trudge up broad piles of rock all the way to the summit – with one annoying intervening bump of brown shale requiring additional elevation gain and loss.
That “bump”, nonetheless, was quite fascinating for the fact that there were some fossil-rich beds about half way up with very well preserved examples of shells (bivalves, brachiopods), crinoids (sea lilies), gastropods (snails) and other marine life. I don’t know what the age or formation of this layer of rock is, but it’s certainly interesting to look at. Poor Richard, who has zero interest in fossils, had to wait again as Trevor and I got sidetracked and excitedly searched for samples for a good 20 minutes here.
From the summit, we enjoyed fabulous views over the broad meadows of the Ya Ha Tinda ranch, surrounded by a range of peaks now all familiar to me, including Warden Rock, Wapiti Mountain, and Scalp Peak to name but a few. Rum Ridge is further to the north along the same massif, but the ridge walk connecting Eagle Mountain to Rum appears as if it could be quite a lengthy affair. To the south, Maze Peak looks rather impressive and certainly more involved than it actually is – just an easy scramble.
On return, we opted to try out the SW ridge, making a small loop out of our route today. We first descended back over the brown shale bump and then veered skier’s left, just before the vertical cliff (crux), sidesloping around this false summit block on scree ledges. It was a bit awkward to traverse as the rock was loose in places, but after 20 minutes or so we reached the south side of the block to connect with the SW ridge. There was a small high point to ascend first, followed by a short, vertical cliff similar in appearance to the crux on our ascent route, but much more straightforward to climb (very good holds here; a moderate scramble). For a much easier alternative, it looked like you could also just hike around it on skier’s left. The remainder of the descent was an easygoing ridge hike, partially on a faint trail, and again through light and mossy forest on the lower slopes. Down in the valley we hooked on to the Eagle Lake trail via a broad grassy plain. Note that a sign on the other side of that plain (it was pointed backward to us) advises visitors to stay off the grass, presumably as this is an environmentally sensitive and particularly fragile area. So if you chose to do the loop route just follow one of the intervening horse trails when you arrive near the valley, instead of crossing the meadow. The area to avoid is highlighted on my map below.
This was a wonderful outing in a very charming area. It involved lots of steep hiking and we certainly had to work for this one, but the terrain is gentle and there’s the added bonus of optional scrambling sections.
DISCLAIMER: Use at your own risk for general guidance only! Do not follow this GPX track blindly but use your own judgement in assessing terrain and choosing the safest route.