Old Goat Mountain
August 24, 2013
Kananaskis – Smith Dorrien Valley, AB
Located on the west side of Spray Lake, the unofficially named Old Goat Mountain is the highest in Goat Range sees few visitors unlike its neighbour, Mt. Nestor. Well documented in Andrew Nugara’s More Scrambles in Canadian Rockies, it is rated as difficult, loose, exposed and a “climber’s scramble”. Apart from that, it is rumored to be the hardest in Kane’s and Nugara’s lists combination. Ever since I’d heard of this rumor, I’d like to give it a try to see if it actually deserves this rating. Using Sonny and Raff’s trip reports, and Scott Shimonek’s recent condition update as general guidelines, Ben and I would attempt this route by a pure scrambler’s way, that is, we wouldn’t bring a rope.
After about 1 hour’s boring hike along the west side of Spray Lake in the morning, we encountered the first problem of this day, to locate the correct ascending drainage. I totally agree with Nugara that this drainage is overgrown and hard to see. We eventually gave up finding it and instead we just picked a general line in the bush and ascended the slope straight up, but slightly aiming for climber’s right side. The bush is typical Alberta styled and easy to negotiate. I’d say that any line would work as long as you’re in the correct area, that is, you start near the base of Mount Nestor. You can also use peaks on the east side of Spray Lake as landmarks. By the time you leave the “road”, you should have just passed Red Ridge, so keep that in mind.
We passed this treed slope quickly and soon we would be directly beneath the impressive north face of Nestor. From this angle Mount Nestor surely looks big. Towards our right was the open slope/ascending gully mentioned in Nugara’s book. This drainage was very foreshortened and went on forever. Unfortunately for us, by the time we officially passed all vegetation, clouds were building up. It was forecasted to be warm and sunny and we started to worry about the weather. It was still early so we didn’t think about too much but immediately focused on the waterworn gully ahead. Getting to this gully was tedious due to loose rubble and boulders but once we were there the scrambling was very enjoyable. The scrambling is difficult here but it’s just a warm-up for the east ridge. In short time we made to the “col”. Looking around revealed bad news as the sky had already turned to overcast.
Ben was more worried about the weather so he decided to stop and wait. The terrain ahead looked easy and I knew there would be an alternate descent route that can bypass the waterworn gully section so I’d like to get up as high as possible before making a call. By the time I made to the next bench I could finally see the BC side. The weather wasn’t as bad as we thought. But, it was a risky decision to continue up this route given the approaching weather, but that’s the decision we made. After about 20 minutes’ hesitation Ben decided to go up as well. We were not in a communication range by now but since Old Goat is a ridge climb we could (occasionally) see each other moving up the ridge.
We were also too far apart so essentially we all did the work (route-finding) separately. Because I couldn’t get a single photo showing any difficult section with a person on, I didn’t take many photos up. At just below the first challenging pitch I made a stupid decision to leave one pole behind. This not only made by descent awkward but also forced us to down-climb all of the hard stuffs on the way back, while we could easily bypass the last few spots by bailing down towards the big scree bowl below. Once I started the first difficult pitch, I was pretty much bolted up towards the summit. The weather temporarily cleared up and revealed sunshine, so I took one or two breaks on the way up for a couple quick photos but other than that I was moving fast. Basically I kept following the ridge up until a short pitch ahead that looked like more than just scrambling. But if you’re confident enough to solo the East ridge of Edith Cavell for example, you’ll not find this pitch being “impossible”. It didn’t look impossible to me, but having Nugara’s description in my mind I decided to check out the left (south) side first. The first thing was descending a very loose scree gully on my left side, and after losing 20 vertical meters or so I came to a break. Still difficult scrambling, but I successfully bypassed this technical pitch.
By keeping traversing on the south face, I also found an easier line up the next technical pitch. I consider this rock band as the crux for the route. Coming down the same band we were tired at searching so down-climbed a harder line which was the hardest down-climb I’ve ever done. My ascending line is further left (south) but still involves a couple very awkward moves on questionable rock. Immediately after this detouring section I regained the ridge and followed it up to the summit block, at which I did the second detour to climber’s left. This one was much more obvious, and after that I picked a line up the south face to gain the south ridge. It’s still difficult and exposed on the ridge, and I soon stood on the summit. The register was very empty. I thought there would be more people taking this challenge but apparently only a few made to its top. At this time I wasn’t even sure if Ben was still going up so I started the descent immediately. Thankfully I passed Ben on his way up at near the summit ridge. I decided to wait for him tagging the summit and we would descent together.
The descent would be the real game especially when you’re tired and lazy to search around for the easiest line. I also forget to mention the looseness of this mountain. Compared to the other few climber’s scrambles in Kane’s list, this one has the worst rock quality. As soon as we detoured to the south face the quality dropped dramatically. Combined with the sustained difficulty and complicated route-finding, this descent is the hardest I’ve ever done. Like I said above, by the time we came to the crux area we picked a harder line. After watching Ben taking a long time down this pitch, I switched to rock shoes but still, with few hold available and on chalky rocks, it was very sketchy. The descent surely tested our down-climbing skills and also, our mental endurance. With a big scree gully easily accessed to our skier’s right, we couldn’t take it since I left a pole at just below the first difficult pitch, so we were “forced” to down-climb all the way back pretty much. Fun time though..
We managed to find scree down most of this big slope. The scree gave way to hard rock and rubble, and eventually to steep grass. To some reason I got a serious stomach ache at this point and I was forced to take a couple breaks. Thankfully it wasn’t food poisoning and I felt considerably better after struggling back to treeline. Now came to the bushwhacking. Initially it was dense but soon we merged to the open forest. It was easy on our knees descending the mossy terrain and in no time we were back to the west side road. Another 5km’s scenic hike brought us back to the car.
Overall, it was a challenging, but fun scramble/climb. The ascent was easier than expected as I didn’t actually encounter much of a problem, but the descent was a different game. I think it deserves to qualify the most demanding in Kane’s and Nugara’s lists combination. I still need to do Ribbon, Dungarvan, and a couple more Nugara’s climber’s, but I can’t believe any of those can rival Old Goat. The crux on south ridge of Northover is surely more exposed and probably harder, but that’s just one move, and you don’t need to down-climb it. If Old Goat has an easy descent route, I’ll consider it being at the same level as Smuts (with good route-finding then sustained difficult). But don’t forget you need to down-climb what you had just up-climbed, and this could be considerably challenging.
Make sure you take a look at Ben’s excellent video.