North Towers of Saskatchewan

August 12, 2015

2972m

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 ascent route for North Towers of Mt. Saskatchewan

The ascent route for North Towers of Mt. Saskatchewan

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”.

Hiking along the rubble plateau

Hiking along the rubble plateau

A small tarn providing nice evening scenery

A small tarn providing nice evening scenery

Looking upwards towards the North Towers

Looking upwards towards the North Towers

From NT/TAV col, looking back down the Terrace Creek Valley

From NT/TAV col, looking back down the Terrace Creek Valley

The main summit of Mt. Saskatchewan from NT/TAV col

The main summit of Mt. Saskatchewan from NT/TAV col

Sunbeam behind the glacial shoulder of Mt. Totally Awesome View

Sunbeam behind the glacial shoulder of Mt. Totally Awesome View

And, this is the easy scree plod up the North Towers

And, this is the easy scree plod up the North Towers

Partway up the scree, looking towards Mt. Saskatchewan Junior

Partway up the scree, looking towards Mt. Saskatchewan Junior

More scree plod

More scree plod

The last few meters to the first tower

The last few meters to the first tower

The Sun

The Sun

Summit Panorama from the first tower. Click to view large size.

Summit Panorama from the first tower. Click to view large size.

Cleopatra's Needle

Cleopatra’s Needle

Mt. Saskatchewan, my previous objective

Mt. Saskatchewan, my previous objective

Mt. Forbes sticking out

Mt. Forbes sticking out

Mt. Spring-Rice behind Terrace Mountain

Mt. Spring-Rice behind Terrace Mountain

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…

As you can see, I had to lose some height and couldn't stay on the ridge crest

As you can see, I had to lose some height and couldn’t stay on the ridge crest

The typical very chossy rock on the second tower

The typical very chossy rock on the second tower

Looking back from partway along the traverse

Looking back from partway along the traverse

Summit Panorama from the second tower. Click to view large size.

Summit Panorama from the second tower. Click to view large size.

The mighty Mt. Bryce

The mighty Mt. Bryce

The three highest peaks on Mt. Lyell - Rudolph, Edward and Ernest

The three highest peaks on Mt. Lyell – Rudolph, Edward and Ernest

This is another tower on this peak. That one looks considerably lower

This is another tower on this peak. That one looks considerably lower

Cleopatra's Needle and the glacier north of Mt. Saskatchewan

Cleopatra’s Needle and the glacier north of Mt. Saskatchewan

Cirrus Mountain behind "Spine Peak"

Cirrus Mountain behind “Spine Peak”

Mt. Saskatchewan again

Mt. Saskatchewan again

Visually the first tower does look lower from here, so it's time to rely on the GPS device...

Visually the first tower does look lower from here, so it’s time to rely on the GPS device…

Big Bend Peak in foreground

Big Bend Peak in foreground

Me on the summit of North Towers of Saskatchewan

Me on the summit of North Towers of Saskatchewan

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.

A review shot of the crux near the summit of 2nd tower. The exposure to left is huge!!

A review shot of the crux near the summit of 2nd tower. The exposure to left is huge!!

Traversing back to the first tower

Traversing back to the first tower

Very beautiful evening views!

Very beautiful evening views!

Looking back

Looking back

Another shot of Mt. Saskatchewan

Another shot of Mt. Saskatchewan

Alexandra and Bryce

Alexandra and Bryce

Sunset over the horizon

Sunset over the horizon

Castleguard Mountain

Castleguard Mountain

Mt. Columbia

Mt. Columbia

Another shot of sunset over Columbia Icefield

Another shot of sunset over Columbia Icefield

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!

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