July 26, 2021. Waterton scrambling on a dusty, smoky day.
Region: Waterton Lakes National Park. Traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, Tsuu T’ina, and Blackfoot First Nations
Distance: 12.3 km round-trip
Total Ascent: 1230 m
Elevation of Objective: 2673 m
Total Time: 7h 6m
On the spur of the moment this week I decided to climb Mount Glendowan. Nugara describes it as a Moderate scramble, though there are areas that may be “moderate to difficult” depending on the route you pick. Online trip reports seemed to have a generally favourable opinion of the trip. Just last week Dave McMurray posted a report of his trip to the mountain, and he seemed to have a blast.
Glendowan is in Waterton Lakes National Park. Access is from the Red Rock Parkway. From the main parking area at Red Rock Canyon I set off along Snowshoe trail. Just over 2 km from the trailhead a major drainage crosses the trail. Off to the right (north) there are clear views of the southern face of Mount Glendowan and an unnamed southern outlier. This is the start of the route. I set off to the north, initially following the dried creek bed, then bearing left into the forest. A rounded ridge began to rise and I climbed onto it and followed it until I got out of the trees. This section of the forest was burned in the recent fires. All the old deadfall has been consumed and now there is only sparse new deadfall and relatively light vegetation among the burned trees. As the years wear on, this section will likely become pretty miserable to traverse as dead trees fall and clutter the forest floor.
Once I was out of the trees, there was a very short walk up scree and rubble to the start of the scrambling. The entire remainder of the ascent was spent scrambling up successive rock bands on the ridge. Wherever things looked too risky for me I traversed left a bit to find a more agreeable route. Basically all of the scrambling could be avoided by staying far left from the ridge, but that would have turned this into a boring slog up scree on a hot and smoky day. Not exactly the reason anyone goes to the mountains. The rock along the ridge was mostly decent quality for scrambling, though the abundance of rubble on some ledges was aggravating. In a few places the rock was pretty awful – at one point I was very alarmed to pull a thick wedge of football-sized rock off a face I was about to climb.
Like essentially all of the mountains in Waterton and the Castle, the rock changed to a black colour with green lichen near the top of the ridge. Nugara suggests departing the ridge at this point and traversing left to a boulder-filled gully, ascending it through the black rock band. I ended up staying on the ridge for some distance beyond that point (mostly because I forgot the advice) and engaged in some trickier scrambling. Eventually, while still on the black rock, I left the ridge and crossed to the left across a bay of rubble. On the other side of the rubble, I rounded a corner on the black rock and then traversed further until I found a weakness and ascended. Once back on sand-coloured rock I went left until I found a weakness. After ascending a scree slope I saw the summit a short distance ahead above one final rock band. A bit more moderate scrambling and I was up.
The smoke was thickest to the west and south when I reached the summit. Views to the north in the middle-distance were not bad. I had a good look at some of the peaks in the Castle. On a clear day I imagine there would have been great views all the way to the Crowsnest Pass in the north, B.C. to the west, and Glacier National Park to the south. I didn’t stay on the summit too long. It was very hot, the air smelled of smoke, and there were innumerable flies buzzing around.
For my descent I retraced my steps. I bore a little to the right to bypass some down climbing, but I think I didn’t go far enough. I ended up dealing with annoying terrain that was scree-covered, but also strewn with slabs and ledges. I should have gone farther right to avoid the troublesome terrain then cut back to the ridge just above the tree line.
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