September 23, 2012
Kananaskis – Highwood Pass, AB
After a 14-hour traverse of Oyster Peak to Skoki Mountain on Saturday with Mike, I still had lots of energy for another ascent on Sunday, but something not too overly strenuous would make the most sense. Mt. Rae is one of the highest peaks in Kananskis Country and has been on my radar for a while and finally I got a chance to attempt it. This is also my first time visiting Highwood Pass. Being able to start at 2200 m elevation means, all of the ascents in this area are short. Mt. Rae isn’t an exception, despite the fact it is the tallest peak I’ve done in 2012 (out of 121)…
Mike had some serious blisters from the long trek so opted to wait for me in the car. The trail up Ptarmigan Cirque was very short and it only took me less than 20 min to get the approach done. The morning sun wasn’t great for picturing the impressive rock formation, so I kept going without being distracted by the views. There’s some nice views looking back, but overall the view was very smoky…
The path led me up to the back side of Ptarmigan Cirque. Once around the corner, the huge scree slog showed up.. Trudging up towards the col was very tedious. The higher I got to, the looser the ground became.. I took a necessary sunscreen break once the sunbeam started to shine on me, and that was the only break during the ascent. I managed to use rock rib at the upper section which helped a lot. There was still a lot of ground to cover from the col. I followed a path traversing climber’s left. The path eventually ended at a super loose rubble section, and bashing up that slope towards summit ridge was the worst part of the day… I should just stick to the ridge crest. About 50 m before the summit, the ridge got exposed. If you don’t want to detour towards climber’s left on down-sloping rubble covered slabs, you gotta have to encounter some moderate but very exposed steps.
The view was very very disappointing due to the smoke. Joffre, King George and Sir Douglas weren’t even visible, and the sky was white-gray rather than blue… Oh well, since I got the peak done, I won’t complain..
I stayed for near 1 hour but the view didn’t get any better… Descending was not too bad and I quickly made my way down to the col. Then I saw a group of 4 going up. I used another gully on skier’s left of them to avoid knocking down rocks to them. However, just after I passed them, they started to knock down rocks to me. I managed to dodge though. I was glad not to forget to bring helmet for this peak… At least the upper slope was good for surfing down. It wasn’t scree though, so if you want to surf down, you’d better have good balance skill. The afternoon sun was good for picturing Mt. Rae itself. There were at least 50 tourists by Ptarmigan Cirque already, and hundreds of cars had already parked at the shoulder of the road…
My round trip time was about 5 hours including a near 1-hour summit stay. Since Mike was waiting for me in the car I did ascend/descend at a faster-than-normal pace. All in all I’d say this is a good objective if you’re short on energy and at the same time, want to bag a tall peak, but I’d recommend avoiding the crowds by going on a weekday. The popularity of this area did impress me especially given the Highwood Pass isn’t even part of a national park.