27 January 2016
I wish there were more mountains like this! This little peak is a real treat: it’s short, very enjoyable, without an approach and with absolutely no bushwhacking, despite the absence of a trail. And it’s perfect for the winter as this area seems to enjoy an abnormally high amount of sunshine that, combined with frequent winds, result in very little to no snow cover.
This was my second time to the Ya Ha Tinda area – an unexpected lull at work and a forecast of 9 degree Chinook weather didn’t make me hesitate very long to head out to the mountains again and explore a little more of this beautiful area. Just about 2 months earlier we had hiked up Maze Peak and on this trip I had noticed a smaller peak just to the south of Maze. It was unnamed on maps and I couldn’t find any information on whether there was a route or if it was possible to scramble to the top. It looked fairly easy though, so I decided to go on an exploratory tour.
Armed only with a satellite image and a few pictures taken from Maze Peak, I arrived at the southwestern base of the mountain on the Ya Ha Tinda Road after a swift 2 hour drive from Calgary. From below, it looked like there are a whole number of options for ascending the main ridge. I parked right where the two SW ridges converge near the road and headed up the one closer to me (the more southern one). There is no forest but also no trail and the route basically takes you straight up the grassy ridge scattered with a few dead tree trunks. After 20 minutes or so there was a steep, rubbly section with frustratingly loose scree, that lasted for about 15 minutes and ended in a short downsloping cliff band that was easily overcome along one of several cracks – probably some moderate scrambling here and I don’t think there is a way around that on either side. After that it was just a pleasant hike along a lightly forested ridge that led to a set of three “craggy bumps” just before the summit ridge. Looking left (north), there were some impressive steeply dipping strata forming a slabby wall underneath the summit ridge, complete with several small caves. The three bumps can all be circumvented on the left (north side), but I chose to scramble the second and third one for a more direct route and some challenging (moderate to difficult) scrambling.
The southern high point of the N-S summit ridge sits at 2218 m, some 45 m below the main summit which is just a 20-30 minute walk away. A fairly large cairn greeted me, but there was no register so I placed the one I had brought. (Edit June 2017: I have now discovered that Vern Dewit ascended this peak back in 2015, calling it Wildhorse Ridge.) The views were very nice on this day – an ever changing display of light and shadow in the fast moving clouds. Dormer, Barrier, Labyrinth, Minos and Maze were some of the mountains appearing in full splendour.
It was a bit windy, so I didn’t linger and started heading down the more northerly of the two parallel SW ridges. I wasn’t sure at first whether this would work as from a distance there seemed to be a very steep cliff just below the summit. The cliff was indeed there, but it was easily avoided on the right (north) side on steep rubble, with minimal exposure only. The remainder of the descent via a small intermediate bump was easy and straightforward. The gentle slope and beautiful views down into the Red Deer River Valley made it a very enjoyable hike, which was easy on the knees due to a thin layer of soft snow along the upper part of the ridge. There are lots of dead trees here, the result of a forest fire a long time ago, but the deadfall isn’t too bad and doesn’t really present any obstacles. I was back at the car in under 5 hours and I guess if you’re fast and don’t stop for photos/lunch you can probably do the whole thing in 3 hours. A thoroughly enjoyable day out on a neat little mountain – and I did not see a single person or car the entire time I was out there!
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.