June 23, 2013
After an awesome weekend in Invermere, Ben, Eric and I were keen on another trek on this weekend. However, the mother nature had other plans. The downpour over Wednesday to Friday pretty much destroyed all of Kananaskis and Banff. All roads were severely damaged including Highway 1. The news were all over the internet and it’s apparently one of the most severe floods in Alberta’s history. Here I feel very sorry for everyone that got affected. However, living in Edmonton means I have complete freedom to choose between different areas because the driving distances are not different by too much. The south was out of consideration, then why not go north.
As the weekend came closer, we were down to just a day-trip because not everyone could take both Saturday and Sunday off. We were looking at Sunday hoping to avoid the possible thunderstorms, but again, the weather forecast changed at the last minute as usual. By Saturday afternoon, the Weather Network had predicted 60% thunder showers. We decided to go anyway as we’d been looking at Victoria Cross Range traverse for a long time. There was no trip report available but we’d heard that other groups had done it, over 2.5 to 3 days with only 1 peak bagged. After examining the distance and elevation, we figured that three of us had the potential to traverse the entire thing plus 4 to 5 peaks in just one day. It’s on the longest daylight time of the year, and with the excellent Pyramid Fire Road and not-so-bad Elysium Pass Trail on both ends, we should have no problem negotiating both approach and deproach in dark, and that would give us pretty much 24 hours to complete. None of us had done something this long, but based on our fitness level, we’d also be very happy to test out what we actually can do in one day.
The next legitimate question was, should we start at Elysium side or Pyramid side. I voted for Pyramid side since the Fire Road is much easier to negotiate in dark, and none of us had been up Elysium Pass so we were not familiar with that trail. We also increased our ambition to traverse over Pyramid Mountain in the morning. That would give us an extra 500-600 meters elevation gain on top of the already insane plan. However, since Ben and I hadn’t done it, we had the desire to grab it first, plus, being high on the north ridge of Pyramid Mountain at sunrise hours was too alluring. This road is bloody long, and Pyramid Mountain is lofty, we decided to “wake up” at 1 am, and start our day before 1:30 am. The place where we car-bivyed was super hot and none of us got any sleep.
Both Eric and Ben had been up this road multiple times, and they did a great job getting me mentally prepared for the never-ending. At some points I thought we’d missed some turn-off since we were obviously not aiming for the mountains. But I was wrong, that was just the way this road goes. The sky was bright enough that we didn’t really need head-lamp. There was a full moon hanging above the crystal clear sky. Despite the boring slog, it was such a peaceful environment. It reminded me two of my favourite moonlight ascents earlier this year: Marmot Mountain and Mount Hector. We were apparently boosting up the road. I called for a break not far up since it felt like I gonna have a cramp pretty soon. Once I fully warmed up my legs were good for the rest of this day. Another thing to take note was, you don’t really feel the elevation gain especially in the first 5km or so, while you’ve actually gained a lot. We quickly passed the branch towards The Palisade, and up the endless switchback section. We soon would get a head-on view of our objective. It still looked big, but much closer.
We kept following the road to its end. It wasn’t easy to find a trail in dark, but since Pyramid is that easy, we just went straight up over a short bushy section, and then traversed climber’s right aiming for the broad north ridge. Once on the ridge, it was a steep ascent up a mossy slope, and then the theme of this day started, boulders!! If you love big quartzite boulders, then go Jasper, and you will find plenty of playgrounds! Our 4km/hr pace would soon come to an end. This ridge was also foreshortened. It felt like we’d hit the summit too early, but actually, we were still quite far away. The ever-changing scenery kept our mind busy. There was already bright orange/red colours showing on the east skyline. There were apparently some clouds hanging around, and also, a bright full moon. There really isn’t much to describe, just let the plenty of photos to tell the story. It took me a long time to sort all of these photos to select the ones that deserve to show up on my trip report. I took almost 300 photos on this ridge, and that must says something. The boulder never came to an end until we were 10 meters from the top. It felt so good to stand on this lofty summit at 6:20am, not to say we’d just knocked off 1600 meters elevation gain. The views were just mind-blowing even if it’s not in morning hours, with a ton of peaks showing up all around.
If you only have time to do one of the Jasper Kane scrambles, then I highly recommend this one. It’s a bit of a slog, but the boulders on the upper ridge will keep you hands busy, and the view is just amazing and you will appreciate the hard work you’d done. For us, it was just the start of this day, and we didn’t stay long on top and immediately started the way down its southwest ridge and then west face. Our next objective, Cairngorm, looked to be quite far away and we must move quick.