July 9-10, 2013
Brazeau Icefield, AB
It’s often not so easy to find partners in weekdays, but this week was an exception. Once I got back home after the Resolute Mountain trip, I found a ton of objectives throwing around. One particular trip I was very interested in was a 1-day ascent of Mt. Warren. It sounded very ambitious to me, but after talking to Kevin Barton about the detailed plan, I decided to give it a go. We would approach Warren via a relatively unknown route, and if things went slower than anticipated, we would go up Coronet Mountain instead. Even for Coronet Mountain, we would firstly attempt the aesthetic North glacier route, and if it doesn’t go, then backtracking to the west slope. We didn’t have any information saying the west slope being a scramble or not, so that would be an exploratory ascent as well. We would still carry light bivy gears for a couple hours’ rest, and for the south face of Mt. Warren, we would carry both rock and ice gears.
Instead of meeting him at the parking lot, I drove down to Calgary on Tuesday morning, and we would drive to Jasper together, just in case we decided to do a last minute change of objective. It was a scenic drive up Icefield Parkway, and we eventually started our trip at 7:40 pm. After loading our big packs, we hiked passing the warden station into the well-maintained Poboktan Trail. The approach was very boring, and for the first 6km, we pretty much couldn’t see anything except for the creek, and the trees. We did got some view looking back, but it was mostly cloudy. At 6km mark, we came to a signed junction, and we would pick the left branch going towards Maligne Pass. We continued hiking for about an hour up this trail, crossing the creek several times. By now the forecasted rain finally arrived. We had to make the correct call as where to leave the trail. The views weren’t too open and we weren’t very sure if we should head into the bush or not. Kevin did bring a GPS but for some reasons it didn’t work. Oh well, through the trees we could sort of see a broad valley, so the bushwhacking started.
The bushwhack was generally light, but very wet and we got soaked in no time. We kinda hiked up towards a general direction, but since the valley was so broad, it was difficult to orientate ourselves. The darkness was about to come within another hour or so, and we felt like making to the high col before dark was nearly impossible. The wet bush got thicker at places and it was not fun at all. We also went too high on climber’s right side. After some discussions we decided to just go up on this side out of the bush first. The rain stopped and we wanted to dry up as quick as possible. It took us longer than expected to get out of the trees, and once at the treeline, the tedious side-hilling started. It was mostly on loose scree and rubble, and occasionally grass, for the next 2 hours or so. Our progress was painfully slow. We also had to lose and regain elevation constantly. The weather decided to give us showers just to add the “fun”. One word to describe this part, miserable…
Headlamps out and after a long time negotiating this crappy terrain, we started to encounter slabs and short cliff bands. Initially we managed to scramble through them, but we soon got blocked by a huge wet slab that we had no way to cross over. Looking up, or down, revealed no good news. Eventually we decided to bail down to the valley. It wasn’t pleasant neither as we descended the unstable rubble slope in dark. It took us forever to get down to flatter terrain. We then followed the grass and boulders up for another half an hour or so. At about 100 vertical meters from the proposed high col north of Coronet Mountain, we finally decided to take out the bivy gears. I was very sleepy at this point and I felt like I gonna twist my ankles at anytime. It took us another half an hour or so to set up this camp. We only brought a tarp, and sleeping bags up. Thankfully we managed to find soft and dry ground, so our bags wouldn’t get soaked. At this point we knew our summit bid for Mt. Warren was over and we would do Coronet Mountain in the morning. Eventually at about 2:45 am, we went to sleep.
Kevin was more awake, but I slept over till almost 6 am in the morning before finally crawling out of my sleeping bag. We quickly geared up towards the high col north of Coronet Mountain. It took us much longer than expected and once there, we were pleased to see an alpine tarn that probably rarely sees visitors. Continuing up the moraine, we saw bad news. If we wanted to gain the north glacier, we had to climb up a vertical headwall followed by vertical ice. There’s no easy way up and we had to turn around. However, I’m glad we did this bit of diversion since the view looking back at that tarn was gorgeous. Behind is the impressive Mount Mary Vaux, which I believe is only an easy scramble. So we backtracked to the west slope.
Like our earlier observation, this slope was a pure slog, especially considering our boots and the packs. From Kevin’s photo taken from Brazeau, we might need to do glacier travel between false and true summit so we decided to haul all the gears up. There’s not much to describe this slope except for patience and endurance. We aimed towards a distant snow patch, and after a long time we got closer to it, and apparently it’s quite sizable and offered some easy travelling. Not far up we gained the summit ridge and followed it to the false summit. It’s a long way up there.
Indeed, there’s glacier between the two summits. However, I think we could stay on the rock edge if we wanted to, and that would be exposed difficult scrambling for a couple sections. It was still early in the day, and since we hauled up all the gears, we decided to use them. The snow looked to be much more fun than the rock. The climb was pretty easy actually, with a couple deep post-holing sections. But since I needed to get more experience we took our time practicing some basic techniques. The summit was actually a huge snow hump and we didn’t know if that’s a cornice or not. We used a solid rock on the summit as belay and we took turn gaining the actual high point. The views were, needless to say, awesome. With the Brazeau/Warren group being right in front of us, and the entire Sir Winston Churchill Range behind including the North Face of Mount Alberta, we felt very happy to be here.
Considering the long descent we didn’t linger any longer on the top. The fun part was gone after we got back to the false summit. The rest of the descent was painful slogging on rubble except for a couple snow patches. After eternity we managed to find scree near the bottom and took advantage of it back to our camp. On the de-proach we decided to follow the creek bed. The bushwhacking was much better than expected and it was mostly open forest. However, there were a couple boulder fields to deal with. We spent a long time descending this valley, and near the end we trended skier’s left and short-cut to the Maligne Pass Trail. We were not home free yet, as we would soon lose the trail. It disappeared into a creek/river, and there was no obvious sign that it continued to the other side. We didn’t do any river fording on our way in anyway. We continued on this side of the creek, bushwhacking trying to regain the trail, but we couldn’t. After a long time Kevin got tired of the bush and forded the river (with boots on), but unfortunately he didn’t find a trail on that side, so we continued bushwhacking down. Eventually we picked a trail with a bridge. Weird… But oh well. Now what was left was about 10 km’s hike out. It took us really forever since we couldn’t get any view at this part except for the creeks and the trees. I timed ourselves that the last 6 km took us 1 hour 10 minutes which was not a bad pace. But it certainly felt like much longer than this. At 8 pm, just over 24 hours after leaving our car, we made it back. Kevin did a great job driving back to Calgary without falling asleep.
Overall, it was a great outing with an ascent of a rarely visited peak in Jasper. This is my first summit sharing with Kevin Barton, and I’d like to climb with him more in the future.