January 2, 2012
This was my first scramble in 2012, done on my 19th birthday. Although I successfully summitted this mountain, I should say, I was neither physically nor mentally ready for this ascent. Grotto Mountain was not on my winter to-do-list originally, until I was ‘convinced’ by a local guy met in Grotto Canyon (who oddly enough, was Travelin’ Jones who I knew later)… He summitted this mountain in December via the “direct route”. The direct route involves several steep slab sections even below the treeline with a few cliff bands, so I decided to give it an attempt via ACC route, a longer but safer route. The scramble section is merely a very steep hike and the few hands-on steps are all avoidable if staying on the ridge. However, the 1425 m elevation gain makes it a demanding ascent even in summer time. Note this elevation gain is almost the same as Cascade Mountain’s.
There were two trails that could ruin your day. The first one was the trail to the direct route, bigger and flagged. I went off-route here, and wasted about 20 minutes. The second one was the Horseshoe Traverse, which continues horizontally all the way to Cougar Creek. In these days, it seems like most people were hiking this trail instead of Grotto Mountain. Too bad I went off-route again, and wasted about 1 hour here. When I was back to the correct ascent rib, it was almost 11 o’clock. And on top of that, after roughly 200 m elevation gain I completely lost the trail. I could see flaggings here and there but I had to break my own trail. Some bushwhacking was also involved and as I slowly gaining elevation the post-holing had become knee deep.
Once above the treeline, I finally can relax a bit. Due to the lack of snow on upper section, the rest was just like a late season scramble (although still a long way to the summit). I didn’t stay on the ridge during ascending, instead I traversed around several false summits on west slope which actually led to more interesting terrain. I had to take my ice axe out for a snow slope crossing. By the time I eventually reached the summit, it was 2:20 pm, which indicated I only had about 2 hours of daylight time. I checked the register, and the last ascent was done on Dec. 27th, so I’m the first one successfully ascended Grotto Mountain in 2012.
On the way down, I stayed on the ridge all the way until the last false summit and this route proved to be both easier and more scenic. I retraced my footprints once entering the woods and I couldn’t believe I made the trail all the way to the treeline. Hopefully there would be people doing this mountain in the following several days, so they don’t need to do the massive trail breaking thing. Even though I tried to run down, I was forced to watch sunset on the mountain again. But it wasn’t too dark by the time I made back to parking lot.
Now I was practically exhausted but since the Rockies is such a long drive from Edmonton I had to figure something else out to do for the next few days. The decision was made to attempt Mt. Fortune as a snowshoe ascent but I again, didn’t manage to wake up early enough, and the deteriorating weather forced me to turn around right after crossing the lake. After that I was very demotivated to drove home.