June 13, 2015
Kananaskis – Kananaskis Lakes, AB
With some mixed weather forecasts it’s apparent either alpine objectives or technical rock climbs would be pushing our luck with the risk of failure too high for my like. A day-trip scramble would be a realistic shot and I also figured it’s a perfect opportunity to take my parents out for a hike. There were many possible options but eventually we settled on The Turret – an impressive, but small pinnacle viewing from Kananaskis Lakes guarded by high mountains to its south (Fox, Foch and Sarrail). Our inspiration mostly came from Vern’s trip last year (and his excellent photography) but I’ve been wishing to ascend it ever since reading So Nakagawa’s winter ascent a couple years back.
Despite the frightening “front side” view, The Turret offers a straightforward scramble route via the “back side” with very minimal hands-on terrain, but by a moderately-long approach with some bushwhacking. To me myself this would be nothing but a half-day weekly exercise, but given my parents’ lack of exercise recently I had to plan extra hours in case they couldn’t keep up a reasonable pace. Not liking to take a chance on the forecasted afternoon thunderstorms we decided to start our day at a little before 4:30 am from the parking lot, by headlamps. The approach followed Elk Pass Trail to a critical junction and then took the right fork towards “Blueberry Hill”.
Once the cross-country ski trails reached a “high point” we left the trail and started bushwhacking, following roughly So’s GPS tracks. The bush was tougher than expected and we had to deal with a lot of underbrush and some dead-falls. I was lazy to search around for an easier line so kept charging more-or-less straight up, probably due to the lack of sleep and the coldness in this morning. There had been even a layer of frost at this elevation, quite contrary to the weekend prior. Higher up we came across some game trails and followed an obvious one for a long while before I got tired of the leftward contouring. We went back climber’s right and reached open terrain below an impressive rock face after ascending some steep ground (even had to pull up using tree branches sometimes).
Now we still had to contour climber’s left, on steep grass now. The grass was wet and slippery and my mom did not feel very comfortable on this type of terrain so our progress was slow. Thankfully I managed to spot another animal trail at about 20 meters downhill – very narrow but still much easier than the wet grass. Around the rock face the trail came to an end and we were back on wet grass side-hilling. Maintaining a diagonally traversing line we also had to deal with short rock steps, some loose scree and bushwhacking in krumholtz (wet and coated with a layer of fresh snow)… Eventually at pretty much the last vegetation my parents called a quit since it’s apparent they’d need another 1-2 hours to crest the summit ridge on the current pace.
My original plan was to keep traversing climber’s left and intersect the summit ridge more on the Foch side of Turret/Foch col. It’s technically slightly easier and offers better views but since we were running a bit late than planned I opted for ascending straight up towards the summit block. It’s “easy scrambling” only but did get loose near the top. I ascended the climber’s left side followed by a short traverse to the summit. Weather held nicely and the two Kananaskis Lakes stole the show but I did not linger long on the top.
For the descent I switched footwear to mountaineering boots (it was indeed a bit too wet and slippery for hiking shoes). I brought the boots up in case of steep snow so figured might as well use them… Shortly after I was back to where my parents were waiting. We then carefully descended the steep grass/scree and wet bush and then back on the game trails. Lower down in the bush I opted to find a brush-free line more on the skier’s right side. I did manage to avoid most of the brush but also increased our bushwhacking distance. The rest of the return along the well-maintained trail was uneventful except for meeting probably 20 hikers on their way up.
In the end I can’t say I’ll highly recommend The Turret for a family objective, nor for taking newbies up a scramble. There’s minimal hands-on scrambling indeed but the steep grass (can be wet) and the scree is nothing “hiking” neither. Scramblers will find it easy but hikers may have trouble on those types of terrain. On the other hand, I’d recommend it for scramblers looking for great views and some variations from Kane’s book.