For my first outing in Bob Creek Wildland, I decided to visit Thunder Mountain. Nugara includes it in More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies 3rd ed., and All Stone Adventures over on YouTube had a great trip report last fall. The trip qualifies as a scramble, though there’s sufficient traffic that numerous boot (and hoof) trodden trails can be seen along the way. With the forecast calling for an unusually calm day in the Southern Rockies I decided to give it a shot.
The land on which this trip takes place holds special significance for the Blackfoot people. I wrote more about that in a companion post on my other blog, which I hope you’ll check out.
Access is off of Hwy 22. Turn west onto Township Road 101 immediately south of the bridge over the Oldman River. There will be signs pointing toward a number of campgrounds before the turn: Recehorse Creek, Dutch Creek, Oldman River North, and Livingstone Falls. This road isn’t too bad to drive – it alternates between gravel and pavement. A little under 18 km from the turn, after passing signs notifying that you’re entering the Bob Creek Wildland, the road turns sharply north then bends gradually back to the west coming alongside the Oldman River. Look to the left for a parking area at the base of a ridge. Ask Google Maps to drop a pin on 49.873484, -114.354953, or click here.
The parking area is at the foot of a ridge which extends south, all the way up to the summit of Thunder Mountain. A path sharply ascends a few dozen meters from the parking area to flat area adjacent to low cliffs and a field of rubble. I saw an evident path in the rubble and followed it to a steep dirt track alongside the cliffs. The damp ground, with its exposed roots and very steep grade actually made this the most treacherous part of the trip. On my ascent, I slipped and fell on my face (that’s not a figure of speech – my face hit the ground). On my descent I careened into a tree and scraped myself up pretty good.
The initial ascent leads to a rocky shoulder featuring a collection of cairns. From this point it’s possible to trend right and ascend, which involves a bit of scrambling, or head left into some trees and eventually encounter a tree with flagging wrapped around it which leads the way to a hiking trail ascending through the woods. On my ascent I went the scrambling route, and I took the trail through the woods on my descent. On the way up, I found myself doing an ascending traverse, with occasional sharper ascents to go above the level of some intervening gullies. This eventually got me to a broad, clear area of the ridge. For about 1 km the grade was much more gentle, with footpaths criss-crossing around the terrain. More distant views start opening up around here, with the big peaks on the Continental Divide becoming visible to the west.
Beyond this area, the ridge ascends sharply and is tree-covered for a time as it heads toward a high point. Here, I ended up going a little to the right, but ended up having to crash my way left (uphill) after a while because it was clear I was on the wrong line. On my descent, I found a nice trail in the trees, indicating that I should have trended a little left on the ascent through his area. Whatever route you take, the bottom line is that you need to ascend towards the exposed rock outcropping at the apex of the high point. Beyond there, the next visible high point is a false summit. The best strategy is to stick to the rock on the ridge all the way to the false summit and beyond. Here and there it’s necessary to deviate left or right to avoid gaps in the rock or avoid a few precarious places but overall I found it safe, easy, and fun to stay on the ridge top.
Once at the false summit, the true summit comes into view with a little sensor station perched on top. Climbing up to the station, I saw that there was a slightly higher spot a short distance away with a small cairn perched on it. I reached the summit cairn at 2h 55m which included a fair amount of stopping to take pictures. I was astounded to find that there was no wind on the summit. I actually took a video recording just to prove it. The views were great, with the Livingstone Range stretching off to the south. Crowsnest Mountain and Seven Sisters were easily seen – the usually very familiar peaks looking a little different when seen from the north. In the far distance I could see familiar peaks in the Castle region. Referencing my maps I made myself familiar with peaks like Mount Secord, Mount Eris, Gould Dome, Tornado Mountain, and Beehive Mountain to the west.
I made my descent after a nice long stay at the summit. I did end up taking slightly different lines on the descent in a couple of places, which I describe above. Remember that the cairns on the initial rocky shoulder mark the spot where you should head right on the descent, into the trees to find the dirt trail that takes you back along the base of the cliffs to the parking area. I overshot and had to wander a bit before finding the right place to descend.