February 20, 2012
After finishing Roche Miette, Morro Peak, and Signal Mountain in the previous three days, I had my eye on a bigger objective. Morgan and I were talking about Hawk throughout throughout this trip, and we even did a short recon on the second day, so I’d like to give it a try. The forecast called for a sunny day, and it would be perfect if I could get up there. Too bad Morgan couldn’t do this ascent due to physical exhaustion and he decided to wait for me and practice rope work at the parking lot, and I would be going solo. Due to the laziness I didn’t start early. I woke up under sunshine in Jasper, and after breakfast in A&W, I eventually started my day at 9 am. Considering this was in February, I only had a bit less than 10 hours daylight time.
Hawk Mountain is one of my most serious winter ascents due to the extremely exhausting snow-wallowing… However, in terms of views, this is one of my favourites. I’ve prepared for this mountain for a while, and I almost can remember the exact route without using Kane’s book. But, I forgot one thing, that was, the route has a section of forested ridge often holds more snow than appears. BAD BAD BAD.. I didn’t bring snowshoes with me. The approach took me roughly half an hour with some elevation gain and loss along Overlander trail and then I started going up. There were some dead falls to negotiate not far up, followed by some miserable ice, snow, dirt, scree, slabs and vegetation covered ground. That led me up angling climber’s right behind a small treed area. The higher I went, the more slippery the ground got. Not far after that I found myself staring at the crux chimney. I came straight up the chimney, which definitely deserves the difficult rating, especially given the fact there was some ice, but not exposed. The section above the chimney was terribly loose. Again, it’s mainly slab with ice, snow, vegetation, dirt, clay, scree, and rubble on top. This section was mostly zig-zagging traverses on some ledges so better don’t fall or slip.
When I topped out on the main ridge, the crux section was done. Most parties can relax from here but not me… A 2-hour-knee-to-waist-deep post-holing was waiting for me. Come on man.. I knew retracing my steps down this section would be way faster according to my previous experience on post-holing, so I didn’t have to worry too much about time (yet) although it’s starting to look like I might not be able to get down before dark. I knew I probably wouldn’t turn around after passing the so-called “turn around time” anyway based on my previous experience. Fortunately the post-holing lasted only for 2 hours. It definitely exhausted me, and after this section, I was only half way up the mountain.
I topped out on a rock outcrop and the ridge ahead didn’t look continuous.. There’s more forested area to deal with. There’s no way I gonna start another post-holing section so I just decided to deviate from the proper scramble route and did some exposed slab scrambling on the west face (not too difficult though), to avoid most of the snow on the treed ridge backbone. It took me another 40 minutes to finish this section and finally I was out of the trees. Now I could see Morro Peak is getting smaller and smaller the farther up I go.
There’re many many false summits to overcome. I saw several groups of bighorn sheep on this part. Good thing they’re not cougars… Once you can see Roche Miette topping out behind Jacques Range, you are getting closer to the final summit block. The final summit block is quite steep, and has elevation gain of 300m… I pushed myself up, almost without a break except for taking pictures. It’s mainly a moderate scramble to the top from here, but due to the snow, it’s more like difficult. Note some snow slopes are quite steep and do not have good run out zone. Ice axe is definitely mandatory here for safety. Eventually, after 5.5 hours trudging I managed to stand on the summit. The last ascent was back in Sept, 2011. I spent 15 min or so on the summit, having an energy break, soaking in the views and taking numerous panoramas, as well as, signing the ACME Register.
I basically retraced my steps on the way down. I had to down-climb those exposed slab ledges that I’ve mentioned above, before getting into the real post-hole part. Coming down the post-holing section was quite fast (30 min) comparing to going up (2 hours). Coming down the loose area above and below the crux was actually slower than coming up (need to be more careful due to physical tiredness). I bypassed the crux on the way down. This bypass was definitely easier, as I could face downhill all the time, but definitely more exposed. Another half an hour or so I made back to the deadfall field, and the sun fell behind the horizon at this point. I speeded up on the final de-proach and made back to car just before needing to use flashlight. Note I didn’t have head lamp so I carried a flash light up. The whole descend took me a bit more than 4 hours in total, so I spent 10 hours on this mountain.
Kane’s book says it’s 5-8 hours round trip time, while it’s way too optimistic. Considering the previous three days’ hard work, the winter condition, and the terrible post-holing, my round trip time seems like way too long. If I do this in summer in good condition, I might can finish in 7-8 hours. I guess the proper time would be 8-11 hours for most parties. If you gonna try this in winter, I would say starting at 8 and bring your snowshoes even though the entire route appears dry from Yellowhead Hwy.
I had to say sorry to Morgan since I let him waiting 10 hours at the parking lot.. He was worrying about my safety by the time I made back, since it was already dark. He even went up a bit to search for me but unfortunately lost his head-lamp. He remembered it being “on” so we decided to go up and retrieve it. Luckily it didn’t take us long to get it back in the bush. Morgan was afraid of animals and he fired a bear bang during the search. And on the way back home, we stopped at Hinton for some food. Overall, it’s a very satisfying 4-day trip. I have to thank Morgan a big time for accompanying.