Livingstone South Peak

April 17, 2021. A ridge walk to a summit, featuring epic views of the Crowsnest Pass.

  • Region: Crowsnest Pass. Traditional Territory of the Blackfoot, Tsuu T’ina and Ktunaxa First Nations
  • Distance: 12.3 km round-trip
  • Total Ascent: 1042 m
  • Elevation of Objective: 2294 m
  • Total Time: 5h 15m
  • Safety and Disclaimer

Topo map of the route

May 2023 Update: Since my last visit, some work has begun down at the area of the trailhead to widen the cutline significantly. Apparently there will be a pipeline expansion in the area. I had no problems accessing the trail and there were no No Trespassing signs, but I imagine once they start digging public access won’t be allowed until the project is done.

Original Post:

Livingstone South Peak is an objective that isn’t well covered in guide books. Ambrosi’s Southern Rockies Trail Guide only mentions it in a supplementary paragraph in his description of the Livingstone Range Chert Quarries. Bob Spirko’s trip report form 2019 says that the route is described in the old Hiking the Historic Crowsnest Pass book, which is out of print. Although this trip has elements that would qualify it as an easy scramble, with an avoidable moderate section, neither Nugara nor Kane cover it in their books. Based on internet chatter, though, lots of people have discovered this gem of late and it has been getting more and more visitors. Last fall All Stone Adventures posted a video trip report that put it on my radar. I took advantage of a one-in-a-million warm, windless April day to check it out. (Update: since I first published this post, Nugara has covered this hike in his book Popular Day Hikes: The Castle and Crowsnest.)

Access is straightforward. From highway 3, turn north onto the access road to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. The paved road eventually turns abruptly, heading toward the Centre’s parking lot. A gravel road carries on straight ahead, across a Texas Gate. AllTrails’ route map has the hike starting just past the gate. However, thanks to Spirko’s report, I knew that it was possible to drive beyond here to a more convenient parking spot. Follow the gravel road 1.6 km beyond the gate to a fork in the road. Turn left at the fork and park in the clearing in the cutline uphill of the road. This road is rough and rutted in places, but not like the awful Atlas Road…hopefully it doesn’t deteriorate to that point. See the pic below (click to get a full size/zoomable image):

From the parking area, the route is very straightforward. A broad cutline with an ATV track proceeds northeast, ascending in a slow, steady manner. After 1 km, the route bends slightly north and enters a broad gravel-filled gully. It then bends back to the east, and ascends sharply to a saddle. At this point there’s the option of following a road that charges straight up the hill, or following a (slightly) more gently graded switchback road to the climber’s left.

To this point, the trip isn’t unpleasant, but it is a bit of a sustained uphill slog. If you can make the climb up to the saddle, though, the views start to pay off your efforts in a big way. On a clear day, the rest of the trip is a non-stop feast of mountain scenery stretching north-to-south occupying the entire western horizon.

Beyond the saddle, the ridge carries on to the north and continues to ascend. Eventually, 2 landmarks come into play: the Dragon Back, and the Notch. These are referred to by several people online, and I think they originate in the old Historic Crowsnest Pass hiking book. However, exactly which spiny rock formation is the Dragon Back, wasn’t clear to me. Up on the mountain I found myself first encountering a crest of red lichen covered rocks which marked the spot where one could either continue straight ahead to a rocky pinnacle or deviate directly towards an obvious gap (the Notch) in a black rock band in the distance, bypassing the pinnacle. The red rocks and the black rocks both looked sort of look like dragon backs, so I decided there are 2 Dragon Backs: red and black. As for the Notch – it is the route through the black rocks that form the “Black Dragon”. There’s a big obvious one, and also a more obscure notch that some people use, marked by a cairn. I used the big one on my way up, and the obscure one on my way back. This whole paragraph will probably make more sense after you see the pictures below.

Beyond the Notch, there’s a short area where the ridge narrows. Staying on the ridge top doesn’t present too much of a challenge if you’re confident moving on narrow, uneven rock. There are a couple spots where there’s exposure to the left, though. This is the “moderate scrambling step”, but it’s avoidable by staying off the ridge slightly to the right. However, that’s the lee-side of the ridge where there will be more snow load. Early in the season the easy path may be snow covered and thus treacherous in its own way. A slip would result in a bit of a prolonged downhill slide, not a death-drop, though.

After the narrow ridge, it’s a straightforward climb to the summit. A large cairn marks the objective. There was still snow on parts of the cairn. I didn’t see a register, but maybe it was embedded in the rocks under the snow. I spent a nice long time up there. A few other parties were on the mountain that day, but it’s a roomy summit and everyone had space to contemplate the expansive and dazzling views of snow-covered mountains.

Other trip reports to check out, some of which feature options for extending the trip:

Click on the pictures in the gallery below to access full-sized images:

Route overview looking north along the ridge, pointing out the relative positions of the landmarks.
An overview of all the peaks to the west of the route – a few of which I’ve already climbed, all of which I’d like to climb.
Elevation profile, just to illustrate that there’s some gain and loss of elevation along the way. While the difference in altitude between the parking area and the summit is 825 m, the route has you ascending a total of 1042 m.
Early morning at the parking area. There’s lots of room to park here, and by the end of the day there were a fair number of vehicles parked. The route follows this cutline, so you’ll spend no time at all walking through trees or underbrush.
May 2023 update: This is what the parking area looks like now.
After a brief initial climb, the route continues through this more level grassy area. You can see a truck parked in the distance. High clearance vehicles can continue beyond the “usual” parking area, I guess.
May 2023 update: this is the same area. You can see how much they’ve widened the cutline.
Entering the gravelly gully. The short, sharp climb to the saddle is around the corner ahead.

The climb to the saddle. Straight ahead is the direct route, which I used on the way up. On the left is the start of the gentler switchbacked ascent, which I used on the way down. The direct route is steeper than it looks here, and I figured I’d probably slip descending on tired legs.
Looking west from the saddle at the top of the ascent. Turtle Mountain is directly across the valley.
Looking north from the saddle. The ridge climbs steadily. The high point on the left with the thin snow cap is referred to as “The Dog”. Some people tag that, but the direct route to the summit stays on the ridge to the right.
A look to the south from a short distance above the saddle. Peaks of the Castle region are visible.
The first glimpse of the summit. This is also when I first saw the 2 rock formations I which I decided were both “Dragon Backs”. The black dragon is obvious curving black rock along the contour of the mountain on the right. The main notch is obvious. The red dragon is on the left – the arched reddish rocks where the trees end.
Further along the ridge, there’s the option of staying up near the Red Dragon Back and continuing to a rocky pinnacle, or deviating away and heading directly for the Notch in the Black Dragon Back. The arrows are illustrative, not precise route advice. I went to the pinnacle, then down climbed some straightforward scrambling terrain to carry on to the notch. Alternatively, you can retrace your steps and avoid the down climb.

Where the Red Dragon Back ends, there’s a nice view of the summit (right). The high point on the left is called Morin Peak.
Plentiful lichen gives the landmark its distinct red colour.
Panorama from the pinnacle. Until you’re here, it’s easy to think that the ridge line connects, but there’s a sudden drop. You can down-climb to the right on some straightforward scrambling terrain or backtrack and descend.
Telephoto view of Crowsnest Mountain and Seven Sisters from the pinnacle.
Looking back at the rocky pinnacle (right) after down-climbing and carrying on towards the Notch.
Heading for the Notch. I went through the big obvious one, but there are other “notches”. One is toward the left of this image and hard to appreciate from this angle. I went through it on my way back and found that there was a little cairn marking it.
Crossing through the big Notch.

On the far side of the Notch. Looking back to the south the changing light made more of the peaks stand out. Victoria Peak and Castle Peak are clearly discernible.
Beyond the notch, the ridge narrows for a time. There’s actually a bit of exposure to the left. Sheep trails are just off the ridge to the right according to some reports, but they were under the snow when I went across. I didn’t find this very hard, but the exposure may trouble some people, and in inclement weather this would be unnerving. On my return I decided to see what it was like to go below the ridge to the right…and I ended up climbing up to get to safe terrain because the snow made things hazardous down below.

It’s a little narrow, but you can see there’s plenty to hold on to.
Looking back after traversing the narrow area. Note the hiker up on top of the Black Dragon Back. You can opt to climb up and over instead of using a notch, but the down climb may be tricky. The Red Dragon Back and rocky pinnacle are to the right in the background.

The final sustained climb to the summit.
With views like this of the Flathead Range to the west, you’ll have plenty of excuses to stop for a breather.
Almost to the top. Crowsnest Mountain and Seven Sisters immediately draw the eye.
Almost to the summit.
The summit cairn.
Looking north from the summit, towards Cauldron Peak and Centre Peak.
Looking back to the south. Snowy peaks of the Castle region.
Summit panorama looking west over Morin Peak.
Tornado Mountain
Crowsnest Mountain and Seven Sisters
Mount Tecumseh
Sentry Mountain
Mount Coulthard, Andy Good Peak, Mount Ptolemy, Mount Parrish, and Mount McLaren. The two farthest left are Ptolemy outliers, I believe.
Mount Darrah, Mount Pangelly, Mount McGladrey, and outliers of Darrah and Ptolemy. I think.
Castle Peak’s square “turret” is clearly visible.
Mount Haig and Mount Syncline are at centre. The ski runs of Castle Ski Resort are visible left of centre.

A last shot of the Flathead peaks as I headed back down. It was an amazing day on the mountain.

6 thoughts on “Livingstone South Peak

    1. I climbed Crowsnest a long time ago, but I’ve been meaning to do it again. I’ve never been on Seven Sisters, and I’m not sure if there are any non-technical routes.


Leave a Reply to Geri Lawhon Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s