5 December 2015
With Elias, Marcelina, Priyesh, Sarvan and Wen
This was our first time to the Ya Ha Tinda area, which we thought was a long and boring drive away (Google says something like 3.5 to 4 hours from Calgary!), but we made it in about 2.5 hours there and 2 hours back. What really surprised me about this area was how empty it is! Devoid of people, cars and houses… and we didn’t even see a single animal except perhaps a bird or two. The gravel roads leading into the area were well maintained and in good condition, but we didn’t see any other vehicles on the way in (and only 2 on the way out). After our successful snowshoeing trip up Mount Haffner a week earlier where we met Priyesh, Sarvan and Elias, we decided to do another group hike with our new friends and my colleague Marcelina came along for the first time as well. We all brought our snowshoes, but in the end they were completely useless and we left them in the cars: there was barely any snow left on the slopes of Maze Peak! In fact, the whole area seemed to be fairly dry and wind-swept, and this has been an unusually warm start of the winter with a forecast of 6 degrees plus today, so it felt much more like a late season hike than a December winter scramble!
We used Bob Spirko’s GPS track to help us locate the start of the route as there is no obvious landmark along the road here. There’s actually a small cairn that sits on the right bank above the road. I felt so tired when we started our hike… it was 9am, but getting up at 530am on a Saturday is always tough for me! And the long drive in the dark didn’t help – except the wonderful company of Wen and a good strong cup of coffee. From start to finish, this was a really easy and straightforward hike – no bushwhacking, no approach to speak of, no technical difficulties (only optional ones) and no routefinding. A simple hike for beginners, with various scrambling opportunities along the way – perfect for a group that has never scrambled together. I find that you never really know how you get along with people you’ve just met on a hike and you usually have no idea about each other’s physical fitness and risk tolerance levels until you actually go out and do a trip with them – and it’s always smart to start with low expectations and an easy objective. Today we were lucky to have a great, well balanced group of friendly and easy going people, who all got along and had fun on this trip despite barely knowing each other! And Priyesh’s cheerful laughter and hilarious jokes made it especially entertaining and fun for everyone 🙂
After heading up the south slopes of Maze Peak through open forest and rubbly shale slopes, we steered to the right of a crumbly cliff and reached the top of the south ridge in less than an hour. Small patches of snow actually made going up the loose scree a lot easier, but the ridge proper was largely snow free. We passed an active bear’s den (also described by Vern Dewit et al on their Oct 2014 trip), something none of us had ever seen up close. The musty smell and bear tracks in the snow were unmistakable and the den looked like the perfect hideout for the winter. We followed the gently undulating ridge along its crest – a few short cliff bands made for interesting scrambling challenges but all avoidable on the left – all the way to a high point where we turned right (east) towards the obvious summit mass of Maze Peak. By now the sun was finally showing its friendly face, warming us up and shining a warm light on the surrounding peaks in the distance, which include Eagle Mountain and Evangeline Peak to the north and Warden Rock, Barrier, Dormer and Labyrinth Mountains to the east. From the high point we descended some 30 m to a broad saddle and then started the gentle and steady ascent on the final slopes to the summit. There were a few interesting friction slabs and two short cliff bands to negotiate, but nothing too challenging and all can be avoided by going around climber’s right. Summit views were quite nice (there was no register), but the wind had picked up and after a group photo shoot we hastened to get back down.
Wen and I explored the short NW ridge as we had time and energy to spare whereas our friends decided it was time to head home and took the same route back to their cars. The NE ridge is similar in character to the whole mountain – an easy hike on gentle terrain with a couple of fun scrambling opportunities thrown in. The high point of the NE ridge grants a peek at the tiny frozen lakes between Maze Peak and Eagle Mountain (called Eagle Lake and James Lake) and a closer look at the expanse of the Ya Ha Tinda ranch to the NW. On our way back we initially followed the south ridge for a short way, then descended on the west slopes straight down in the the valley. It was a quick and easy way down, mostly on soft snow through open forest. I suspect one can essentially descent from the ridge almost anywhere, such is the gentle nature of the terrain here. After some backtracking alone the road we returned to our car 7 hours after setting off in the morning. It was all in all a great easy-going hike and a perfect choice for the short winter days.
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.
IN MEMORIAM: Priyesh Menon
My dear friend and hiking partner Priyesh passed away in a tragic accident on Mount Lawson in Kananaskis on May 23rd, 2016. He was only 30 years old. He touched on countless lives with his most generous and loving spirit that will be remembered by many, many people in Canada, India and around the world. Like many other hikers and scramblers from Calgary, I feel hugely honoured to have met him and to have had the chance to hike with him. To preserve some of the beautiful moments we shared, I have decided to keep the reports of my trips with him on my site (after consultation with his family). We would like people to remember him for who he was: the most joyful, uplifting, kind, and selfless boy who never stopped smiling. As many of his fellow-hikers recounted, he had the unique ability to bring people together and bring positivity into their lives. There was genuine happiness wherever he was. A true ray of sunshine in our world! Thank you, Priyesh, for enriching our lives. You will be dearly missed.