North Towers of Saskatchewan
August 12, 2015
Icefield Parkway (North), AB
The North Towers of Mt. Saskatchewan is one of the more difficult objectives documented in Andrew Nugara’s Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies book. Having already done the nearby Big Bend Peak and the Junior of Mt. Saskatchewan on snowshoes I was not overly keen to climb the N. Towers on snowshoes or skis. The summit ridge traverse looked insanely tricky in Nugara’s trip report so I figured the most secure way to bag this one was to combine with an ascent of the much-bigger Mt. Saskatchewan in dry conditions. Having climbed the main prize I had the entire afternoon and evening ahead of schedule. I took a nap and did a last minute decision to make an ascent of the N. Towers at sunset time hoping to get some cool views.
The peak immediately to the west of N. Towers was named as “Mt. Totally Awesome View” by Eric Coulthard so I will stick with his name. It sounds a bit better than the word “unnamed”. From the base camp to NT/TAV col was nothing more than a plod and I made progress fairly quickly. From the col I turned sharply right ascending the obvious scree slope towards the summit. It appeared like just scree and turned out to be nothing more than scree neither. The last few meters to the summit was a bit exposed but again, nothing more than “easy scrambling”.
And now what? Having Nugara’s trip report in mind I guessed I was not on the summit since I hadn’t encountered anything terrifying yet. There’s a second tower at roughly 50 meters down the ridge with very broken ground in between, but the problem was, that tower looked lower than the one I was standing on. I still had a bit more time so decided to check it out anyway just to be sure… I’d have GPS readings on both summits to see whether that’s the true summit or not. I tried to stay on the broken ridge but immediately the terrain forced me to descend skier’s right to bypass a couple pinnacles (loose, but not difficult). Ascending the second tower was quite tricky though especially when dealing with the chossy rock. The crux came near the end – a section of stiff 4th class climbing on very exposed and extremely loose rock. And once making that commitment I checked my GPS, the readings showed roughly 1 or 2 meters lower than the first peak. So what… I guess all that hard stuffs were unnecessary after all…
I carefully made my way back to the first tower and once back I waited for a couple minutes for the sunset views. It’s a spectacular moment to watch sunset at such a remote and unique place.. And once the sun got down I started the scree run hoping to beat the darkness. The scree was super fast to descend and in no time I was back at NT/TAV col. The rubble slog back to camp wasn’t nearly as fast but still mostly downhill. It took me only 45 minutes to get back to camp on a fast pace and I did beat the darkness. I even had enough time to cook dinner before headlamp time.
Overall I’d highly recommend the North Towers of Mt. Saskatchewan as a diversion from the main peak of Mt. Saskatchewan’s ascent, or a consolation prize if the big one is out of shape or the weather being marginal. It’s the highest and one of the sexiest among the many satellite peaks of Mt. Saskatchewan (including Terrace Mountain) so definitely worth a shot if you have the time. If you do it in winter then you have a good news that the traverse to the second tower is unnecessary, but still, you’d be very confident on the snowpack as that scree slope was very steep!