August 26, 2012
Icefield Parkway (North), AB
Mt. Coleman is one of those “big ones” in Alan Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies requiring difficult scrambling and elevation gain of more than 1700 m. At the same time, it’s incredibly scenic so needless to say, I’d been wishing to give it a try for quite a while already.
After finishing Mount Carnarvon, Andrea and I drove all the way up Icefield Parkway to Rampart Creek Campground, where we got the evening photos of Mount Wilson. We set up alarm to 5:45AM to give an early start. The morning was so cold that I had to use my winter closing including the bulky gloves… It took us a while to get ready and we finally started at 7AM. I felt much better than the day before on Hamilton lake trail, and we set up fast pace up Sunset Pass Trail. The fairly steep trail gave us 500m elevation gain by climbing up the headwall towards Sunset Meadows. The Meadow is a lovely place that I’d like to go back in the future (too bad Coleman is the only scramble in this area)… Looking back, Mt. Amery looks impressive. I wonder if that’s a scramble or not from the backside.
The trail braided a bit before Norman Lake Campground, which confused us a bit. We crossed a stream by a foot log and soon arrived at the campground. Further along the trail we had our eyes on the ascending drainage closely. According to Alan Kane, we had to go far towards Sunset Pass before entering the big drainage. But I also knew from Eric and Vern’s trip reports that ascending the smaller drainage to the left of the big one was another possibility. Since this was closer we decided to started ascending from here. Immediately we had to cross the entire meadows. Due to the frost, we got soaked pretty quick. It was not walking on grass though, instead we had to bushwhacking that was typically knee deep. We were too lazy to try finding a trail. We tried to ascend the drainage but the young grown slowed us quite a bit. After terrible bushwhacking we finally decided to give up ascending this drainage, instead we started ascending the treed slope on climber’s right. Good call! Even though this was still bushwhacking, it was much better than the whacking through young grown… We on purposely ascended towards climber’s right to aim for the big drainage. This section was much longer than I thought and we eventually broke through the forest and started the even longer gully walk…
From Sunset Meadows to topping out the big gully, there’s 900m elevation gain, so don’t be lured by foreshortened view. The top of the gully has almost the same height as the miner peaks on climber’s left, so keep an eye on it rather than the gully itself… It took forever to just get closer to the end. We didn’t go the end though, instead we started trudging up the face / slope sooner. We got an excellent viewpoint higher up. Most of the Columbia Icefield peaks showed up and that was a big “wow” moment to me as I haven’t done anything in this area except for Castleguard Mountain.
From here, we still had 250 vertical meters to go. I had to say Mount Coleman is more of a slog than scrambling. It’s rated as difficult but only for short section (if you go up the bigger gully on climber’s right). I made it harder by trying to stick to the ridge crest. There’s a shallow gully just to the right of ridge crest that offers better scrambling. It was still loose though but at least you gotta do some hands-on stuffs. I rate this gully lower difficult scrambling. Andrea went up the bigger gully which was merely a slog.
Eventually we topped out on the summit ridge, the “official” start of difficult scrambling. The ridge gets exposed at places. If careless, you can slide down the entire east face glacier and possibly be sucked into one of the big crevasses. There’s some slabs to negotiate as well. This reminds me of the summit ridge of Mount Burstall, although easier than Burstall.. The final summit block offers some slab scrambling. Andrea found an bypass from further climber’s right, but I tackled the slabs head-on. After Mount Northover last weekend, this big of slab felt so simple though. The summit offers great view towards Columbia Icefield, Cirrus Mountain, and the front country of David Thompson. Cline, Forbes, Lyells, Alexandra are also clearly visible.
It was very cold so we decided to go down soon. We used the bigger gully to descend. It’s indeed easier than sticking to the ridge. From here on, it was mainly a talus slog (downhill though). We did manage to find scree run here and there and that helped our knees a lot. Lower down, we managed to get into the snow section. It wasn’t steep and I could use my poles to control speed while glissading (I didn’t bring ice axe). That “snow patch” went on much longer than I thought though. Once back to the trees, we tried to find paths here and there and followed it down to Sunset Meadows. The meadows look even better in afternoon. Even if you’re not a scrambler, you’d better go here and check the views.
Like the day before on Hamilton Lake Trail, Sunset Pass Trail went on forever… Good thing there was a big waterfall down that added to the boring hike out, and eventually we made back to our cars. Awesome two-peak-weekend, and thanks Andrea for accompanying.