August 8, 2015
Siffleur Wilderness, AB
“Marmota Peak” is an an unofficial name (according to bivouac.com) of a massive bulk of rubble and scree buried deeply in Siffleur Wilderness just to the east of Banff National Park. It’s not a sexy-looking objective from the ascent side (W. slopes) but does boast an impressive cliff face on the NE side, as well as a small glacier, or more accurately, a permanent ice patch on the summit plateau/ridge. It’s also one of the higher (by elevation) and bigger (by mass) peaks in its vicinity, but due to the access difficulty and the lack of official name I hadn’t heard anybody ascending it yet. A quick search on Google revealed literally no information at all. Vern and I were curious about this mountain so decided to give it a try after a successful ascent of the nearby Corona Ridge, on the 2nd day of this trip exploring the surroundings of Totem Creek and the upper Spreading Creek valley.
Since Vern wanted to get back home early if possible we decided to skip the second bivy and make the summit bid on Marmota Peak plus the hike-out all on Day 2. That’d require an alpine start (for a non-alpine objective)… So by 4:30 am we woke up and shortly after we were on our way towards an imposing cliff band. Based on our earlier observations from Corona Ridge we knew both the high and the low traverse routes would go and we opted for the low one. Realistically it’s impossible to tell which would be the better option by just looking at them from afar so it’s pretty much a gamble. The low route turned out not too bad in terms of elevation gain/loss/regain but did have some tedious side-hill bashing towards the end. Upon reaching a creek we followed it up to a small tarn, circumvented on its left side and then bashed a long ways up another tediously loose rubble to the upper basin.
The upper basin looked innocent from Corona Ridge but upon examining up-close it’s quite a bit different than expected. We were hoping for those broken shale (dinner plate rocks) as on Corona Ridge but that’s not the case. It’s entirely filled by rubble and moraine and every step was hard on our knees. Adding to that there’s more additional elevation gain/loss/regain on micro-terrain and it’s frustrating and tedious like hell. Eventually we did clear this mess but ahead would be another few hundred vertical meters’ grind up again, loose rubble to gain the ridge ahead. We trended climber’s left about halfway up in search for better footings but everything was just horribly loose.
And once gaining the ridge we had to realize there’s more up-and-downs. It’s a nice and scenic ridge walk though but at this point I was getting tired of this monotonous terrain. Towards the end of this broad connecting ridge we had to down-scramble a loose Class 2/3 step followed by walking down an icy, but flat glacier. And now what? We had another pile of rubble ahead to gain the final summit ridge (covered by frost and some verglass/water this time making some slippery footings). Thankfully we kept our perseverance and made to the final ridge where the views were opening up considerably.
The summit ridge traverse was again, foreshortening and involved a few moderate scrambling sections (with bypasses mostly on climber’s right side). We were pleased to eventually reaching its apex and to discover the first-ascent register placed in 1972 by Tony and Gillean Daffern. The next bump looked a little bit lower but we decided to check out anyway just in case (and for some better views). It required a few scrambling steps on again, horribly loose rock but there’s no additional difficulty afterwards. From observation it did look slightly lower than the first summit but our GPS devices were recording the same height for both summits.
After soaking in the views it’s time to focus on the long way back home… It’s tired to just think about reversing all that rubble side-hilling slog, but oh well, we didn’t have a choice. There’s not much to describe as we basically followed the GPS tracks back via the exact same route. There were a few places that we took some short-cuts but generally we managed to stay on the path. A couple hours later we made back to the camp.
We did take a long break but in less than 1 hour we were moving again. Slogging back up “Totem Pass” felt like forever but once reaching the pass we were glad to have finished the last significant elevation regain. (There’s still many, many short sections of elevation regain though). We quickly descended to the upper Totem Lake, circumvented on the left side and then followed the creek down to the first Lake. We again, circumvented on its left side but at the outflow we crossed the stream to the right side. To descend the initial cliff band just below the first Lake we had to slog back up the scree on right side for about 50 meters in order to access that gully system. Down the gully we opted for staying high above the vegetation on skier’s right to avoid those nasty bushwhacking. The price we paid was kilometers of side-hilling on unpleasant terrain. And once finally down into the forest it’s still mostly side-hilling and seemed to drag on forever. And once back to the highway we still had about 1 km of road walk, and then only to discover a traffic jam on the Parkway thank to the constructions…
Overall I’m very glad to have ascended two remote summits. It’s not a horribly remote area so I think there might be more people visiting this area, but according to the summit registers we were the 7th or 8th recorded ascent party on Corona Ridge and we made the second recorded ascent on Marmota Peak. I’m glad to have seen this cool area but thank to the unpleasant and miserable terrain I’m sure this place will never see me again…