Mount Coulthard

August 29, 2021. A scramble in the Crowsnest Pass featuring 3 summits, an outlier, and the debris from a plane crash.

  • Region: Crowsnest Pass. Traditional territory of the Tsuu T’ina, Ktunaxa, and Blackfoot First Nations
  • Distance: 22.9 km round-trip
  • Total Ascent: 1493 m
  • Elevation of Objective: 2640 m
  • Total Time: 6h 50m
  • Safety and Disclaimer

Note: The Total Ascent was measured somewhat differently by different apps (as much as 1770m in one), so I went with a moderate measurement. There are ups and downs moving between the summits as well as on the ATV trails to and from the mountain.

Summer 2021 is nearing its end, along with the two hottest, smokiest months I can recall. The past week has seen a little bit of autumn crispness enter the air and the smoke has finally cleared. I took the opportunity to climb Mount Coulthard, an objective I had been putting off until a clear day came along. The mountain has four cairns arrayed across three summits and one nearby outlier. Each spot has slightly different views of the surrounding landscape and I found that it was definitely worth tagging all four.

Access to this peak is a little convoluted, involving going through Coleman to a fairly rough access road leading to an area primarily used by ATVs. Ask Google to guide you here – the pin is dropped near a pull-out to the left of the road as you drive in. This is a good place to park – the route properly starts a short distance down the road, where it descends to North York Creek, but there are No Parking signs there . Some older resources may have different advice. I went with Nugara’s suggestions from Popular Day Hikes: The Castle and Crowsnest since it’s the most recent publication in my collection dealing with that area. Vern Dewitt over at Explor8ion parked in a slightly different area and had no problems. His trip report detailing his adventures in cycling this approach is here.

From the parking area I followed the road down to the creek. Here the road splits with the left branch going over a yellow bridge, and the right becoming an ATV trail marked 111. Either direction will lead eventually lead to a confluence of the two routes at another bridge about 4 km west. I read a variety of opinions about which way was best to go, but I settled on following 111 on the way in. I found it so miserable and muddy that I decided to check out the other route on the way back. That way was also muddy and miserable, but only for about half its length. Describing these routes is a little tough without a map so:

This is a part of the official Livingstone PLUZ Motorized Summer 2021 map. The website to find up-to-date maps of the area is here. These are presumably updated yearly. I added a pointer to where the yellow bridge is. On my way in I followed 111-110-108. On my way out I followed 108-109-111. It’s only after the fact that I found this map and realized that I could have driven my car (it has good ground clearance) all the way to 109. I brought a bike since Nugara mentions that it can speed up the approach, but 111-110-108 was basically impossible to ride except for a short distance at the beginning. Any place that wasn’t a series of big mud puddles was too rocky to ride over. On my return I found that 108-109 was the same way and it was going somewhat steeply uphill. 109-111 was ridable, though. In the end I’m not sure I saved any time with my bike, but carrying the thing up and down the trail made for some decent exercise. ATVs and dirt bikes were zipping back and forth as I made my way along the trails so I had to move off into the bushes from time-to-time.

From 108 there are signs pointing the way to “Plane Crash”. I didn’t bother bringing my bike beyond this point and hiked along the steadily climbing trail without difficulty. The wreckage of an RCAF DC-3 sits at the base of Mount Coulthard. It crashed in bad weather in 1946 resulting in the deaths of all 7 airmen on board. Their bodies were recovered, so the site is not a final resting place. However, the wreckage has become something of a memorial, with an information sign and 7 crosses present. Unfortunately, the memorial has had to suffer the indignity of years of graffiti. There are even several bullet holes.

The ascent to the top of Mount Coulthard starts immediately beyond the crash site. Where the ATV trail ends there are obvious dirt trails ascending a steep slope. These ascend to the right of a waterfall and eventually enter a broad cirque under Mount Coulthard, Andy Good Peak, and the connecting ridge in between. The northern outlier of Mount Coulthard towers to the left as you enter the cirque and the idea is to ascend the steep grassy slopes leading to the col between this outlier and the centre summit of Mount Coulthard. Aside from having the sun in my eyes i didn’t have any problems with this ascent. I kept to the grassy areas of the slope as much as possible so I didn’t have to treadmill in any scree.

From the col I began my clockwise circuit of the four cairns, first heading left (north) to the outlier. Then I went south and east on a faint trail passing under the rocky face of the central summit, heading towards the east (true) summit. From there I went west, toward the central summit. Seen from the east it looks daunting, but there was an easy way up. I traversed to the right, under the rock face, then hooked around onto scree slopes which allowed reasonably easy access to the top. From there I descended to the west and followed the ridge to the final cairn on the western summit. This last ascent had some brief exposure to the left. The footing was secure, but a slip and slide could be disastrous. From there I returned to the col between the west and central summits and rode the scree back down into the cirque.

It was great to have clear skies. There was only the slightest bit of haze, except to the south where a little bit of smoke still lingered in the sky. I stopped at each cairn for a time to take lots of pictures and enjoy the views. There was some gain and loss of elevation involved in doing the circuit but it didn’t feel too onerous, and the views from each cairn are different enough to make it worthwhile to visit each one. Descending out of the cirque I returned to the ATV trails and made my way back to my car.

Click on the images below to access higher resolution images.

Route overview looking north.
A closer look at the mountain. The plane crash debris is at the foot of the ascent (DC-3). I went clockwise around the four high points.
The pull-out where I parked. Just beyond here the road descends to the yellow bridge.
Mount Coulthard as seen from the parking area. The true summit is the one on the left.
The road turns left and crosses the yellow bridge. Trail 111 heads off to the right. I went that way on my approach. It’s the most direct way to go, but I found it very muddy – in some places so much so that walking was difficult.
After crossing over a black bridge, trail 111 splits. The left branch doesn’t appear on the official map. Stay right.
Much of the trail was a series of mud holes.
Dry sections were mostly like this – not suitable for bicycle travel.
Eventually the trail reaches intersection 108. The bridge to the left leads to the alternate approach route. Signage points to “Plane Crash Access” along the right branch. I left my bike here.
The trail passes under the gnarled southern face of Mount McLaren.
Mount Coulthard’s northern outlier.
The waterfall coming down from the cirque eventually comes into view – a white line descending from the cirque.
Almost to the crash site now. The trail bends southeast under the slopes of Andy Good Peak and Mount Parrish.
The commemorative sign at the plane crash site. A replacement is definitely needed. There’s a small plaque fixed to the left post honouring one particular airman.
The tail section of the DC-3. Seven small crosses are on either side of it. Unfortunately, over the years people have scratched and painted graffiti onto the metal. There are also many, many bullet holes.
The other side.
A wing, near the foot of the waterfall coming down from the cirque.
Another view of the wing. Down in the stream are a number of other pieces. Many look like part of the undercarriage.
Part of one of the engines.
Leaving the wreckage behind, I ascended a steep dirt path that rose from the end of the ATV trail to the right of the waterfall. The trail eventually levelled and became more rocky before entering the cirque.
In the cirque. The northern outlier is on the left, blocking the sun. Andy Good Peak is on the right. Coulthard’s west peak is rising over the ridge line to the outlier’s right.
A picture from the end of the day, when the sun was in a better position. To ascend, I stuck to the grassy slopes sweeping up and then left. Things get rockier higher up, but sticking to this route kept me off treadmill scree and set me up for a clockwise circuit of the the cairns. Going counterclockwise would required slogging up the scree below the west summit. It’s much better to come down that way.
After climbing for a time I looked over my shoulder and saw that Crowsnest Mountain had come into view between Mount Parrish and Mount McLaren
Up on the col between the northern outlier and the centre summit. Looking back at Andy Good Peak. Mount Ptolemy’s distinctive summit now clearly in view to the left.
Turning north and heading for the peak of the northern outlier.
The first cairn of the day, on top of the northern outlier. Mount McLaren is across the valley. Crowsnest Mountain is in the background.
Looking down the precipitous drop to the north. The approach trail is clearly visible skirting around the base of Mount McLaren.
Andy Good and Mount Parish.
Mount Ptolemy and Andy Good Peak.
Heading south from the outlier, all three of Mount Coulthard’s summits now in view. The eastern one (on the left) is the highest. The dramatic drop-off to the left would be relevant to keep in mind if you were up here while there was still snow cover. I followed the ridge top then passed under the cliffs of the centre summit along a trail in the scree.
Traversing under the cliffs of the centre summit towards the eastern summit.
Looking down at the little tarn cupped between the outlier and the eastern summit.
Once on the ridge headed towards the eastern summit I got my first look at Ptolemy SE5.
Almost to the summit.
Cairn and survey marker (the little circle down low to the right of the cairn) on the official summit of Mount Coulthard.
Summit panorama looking west. Mount Ptolemy is to the left. Mount Coulthard’s centre summit is near the middle of the picture, obscuring most of the western summit. Andy Good Peak and Mount Parrish are to the right. In the background to the right are Mount Erickson, Phillips Peak, and Mount Tecumseh.
A closer look at Mount Ptolemy.
Panorama looking north. Mount McLaren is nearby, left of centre. In the background are Mount Erickson, Phillips Peak, Mount Tecumseh, Mount Allison, Window Mountain, Mount Ward, Crowsnest Mountain, Ma Butte, and the Livingstone Range. Rising out of the woods in the mid ground just right of centre are Star Creek Hill and The Saddle.
Looking east. Willoughby Ridge is in the mid ground. Beyond it are Turtle Mountain and Hillcrest Mountain.
Panorama looking south. The air was a little hazy in that direction. Ptolemy SE5 dominates the view, its sharp ridge defining the continental divide. In the distance to the left is the distinct outline of Prairie Bluff/Corner Mountain.
Heading for the centre summit. I went to the base of the cliffs then traversed to the right and around the back to a steep scree slope that was easily climbed.
The third cairn of the day, on Coulthard’s centre summit.
Looking toward the western summit from the centre.
The final summit of the day. This vantage point shows that there’s some exposure to the left. It didn’t feel precarious when I was on the ridge, but a slip and fall could be serious here.
The final cairn of the day, on Mount Coulthard’s western summit.
I walked a short distance beyond the summit and looked back at this view of the three summits and their cairns, all in a row.
Panorama looking west. Ptolemy SE5 and Mount Ptolemy.
A little tarn sits next to Ptolemy SE5.
The plateau area around Mount Ptolemy. The Promised Land is on the other side of that ridge. Cleft Cave emerges somewhere on these rock walls. I went through it about 20 years ago and remember looking out of the cave mouth from the other side of this valley.
Off the summit and descending the scree back into the cirque.
Back down to the waterfall above the crash site and descending to the access trail.

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