October 20, 2013
Bow Valley / Ghost River, AB
Association Peak is not a popular objective by any means, but it’s a peak visible when driving into the Rockies via Highway 1. It isn’t a particularly prominent peak by elevation, nor a difficult objective speaking technically, the reason why most people don’t even bother to think about it is the approach. There’re two approach routes. One goes up and over Yamuska’s shoulder followed by going up and over East Wendell’s shoulder, while the other route has considerably less amount of elevation change, but goes into First Nation’s private land. Not liking to obtain a permit, nor to risk getting a trespassing fine, Ben and I would use the former route which essentially follows Bob Spirko’s route. Since most of the approach is not on an official trail and we had no clue how easy to find those trails, we opted to load up Spirko’s GPS track just in case.
Having a long day ahead, we started at 7am with headlamps on. The initial 3.5km was following a heavily travelled Yamuska’s east shoulder trail. Near the crest of Yam’s shoulder we got great lighting on the horizon. Apparently we were a bit too early for alpenglow or sunrise, but instead of waiting for morning photos we pressed on. The next critical point was aiming for the cutline that joins the shoulder. We somehow missed the excellent trail on the shoulder and ended up doing some light bushwhacking, and the cutline was a bit further east than we thought. But anyway, the bush was short lived and we were soon on the cutline working our way down towards CMC valley.
The cutline was in a much worse shape than expected. It’s super muddy thank to the horses and the warm weather. But it did lead us quickly down towards CMC valley. Near the end we got surprised by a couple barbed wires. Without paying much attention I thought they were bush… But thankfully my pants didn’t get much of a damage from that. Once we crossed the creek we automatically picked up the excellent trail on the other side.
The trail up and over Wendell’s shoulder was in a good shape. There’s no distracting branches nor indistinct section and we followed it easily to Old Fort Creek. We met a solo hunter at this section. After crossing Old Fort Creek, it came the next critical point of this approach. According to Bob Spirko, we had to look closely for a horse trail on the north side at a couple hundred meters downstream. It’s a bit further than expected but once there it’s hard to miss. This trail was also in a good shape (with the exception of a couple muddy spots near the start). This trail led us all the way to the “high col” on Association’s east shoulder.
At the crest of this col, the trail joins an old road. Here we left the trail and began the long diagonal traverse. We firstly went up to treeline, and then traversed sideways towards climber’s right. After seeing more of the other side we started to gain elevation directly over a short rock band, but after that we came to a realization that the “main band” was not breakable on the near side and we must use Spirko’s route. So we started side-hilling again. It’s not very pleasant on the sideways terrain on frozen rubble. Near the break we weren’t very patient and came through a hard line that required two axes and crampons. We wasted at least half an hour here but fun scramble! An easy walk-up exists further down the traverse that we discovered on the way back. After this bit of excitement we were not far from the top. Great views despite the cloudy weather. Checking the register, we were the first party up here since June 2012.
Many people have comment the possibility to traverse to End Mountain and the consensus is, it’s impossible due to a big notch presenting in between. Well, since we had a lot of time to kill we decided to check it out. We weren’t count on summitting End Mountain but it’s good to gather more route beta. The connecting ridge went easily initially but soon it narrowed down. This part really reminded me the southwest ridge of Mount Cline. Up and over a couple short rocky steps we came to a notch that looked awfully like Cline’s notches. We tried, but it’s definitely 5th class to just get into it (more difficult than Cline’s 1st notch). So we concluded that it’s not gonna work without even reaching the “infamous” big notch.
(According to the summit register entries, some people like Bill Corbett had done the traverse from End to Association. Well, from my observation and from Rick Collier’s trip reports, both mountains can be done from the drainage west of End Mountain. I think they initially started the trip from South Ghost River and between the two peaks they must have lost a ton of elevation.)
Time to go home. Descending and side-hilling the frozen rubble slope was painful but thankfully it’s not “that” long. Near the end we decided to go straight down to avoid more side-hilling. This brought us to the quad road below and then we followed it easily back to the col. Picking up the trail, the rest of the day was pretty much simply putting one foot in front of the other, under the hot sun though. Up and over two hills, we were back. Our round trip time was 10.5 hours including everything.
Association is a good shoulder season objective. Surprisingly I really enjoyed this “slog” and it’s really not as lengthy as described by other sources. Well, having just done Drummond and Wapiti I certainly would appreciate the “short” approach of this one so don’t take my voice. It’s still a long way up there.