Day 4: July 4/21 Twin Lakes Camp up Sage Pass; Ridgewalk to Scarpe Pass Camp
The alarm went off at 6:30am and we lay cozy in our sleeping bags for a few minutes and talked about if we should pack up before going to food prep for coffee and breakfast. The urgency to use the washroom and the need for caffeine made the decision easy. I was feeling pretty lazy, so I didn’t even change from my sleep clothes, just put on my puffy jacket and toque due to the early morning chill. The lake was like glass, and I captured a few pictures of the early bluebird morning as Mark boiled water for our coffee. I add coconut powder and hot chocolate mix to mine for a nice backcountry coffee. Relaxing the in the scenic food prep, we boiled a second round of water for our freeze-dried breakfast – Mountain House Breakfast Skillet which we jazzed up with shredded cheese, instant potatoes (usually four cheese or buttery), and yellow peppers. As far as backcountry breakfasts go, its one of the best we’ve tasted, and with our additions, makes for a 400-500cal start of the day, each. I always scoop a few more spoonfuls into Marks bowl, since he requires more caloric intake.
About an hour later, after cleaning up, we returned to our tent, and pack the packs for the days journey to Scarpe Pass. On our way out of camp, we grabbed a quick pic of ourselves at the meadow food prep, and then grabbed water for the day from the lake outlet on our way out to the junction that would lead up to Sage Pass, our first pass of the day. We were happy with our “on trail” time of 8:20am, since we didn’t have a particularly long day ahead of us. Turning onto the Sage Pass trail, we switchbacked up through the forest, gaining better views across the valley, and spotted our last ridge crest that we had come down the evening before. A grouse, AKA trail chicken, was playing the victim as we inadvertently chased it up the trail. We tried to shush it off gently, as we were obviously stressing it out. Often you don’t see the grouse before it takes off into the bush, with a LOUD flurry of feathers that’s startling enough to make your heart leap into your throat. As the trees thinned out, we approached the red-rocked Sage Pass and paused briefly to take a video of the sign indicating the elevation of 2131m. It wasn’t a terribly scenic pass, but as we hiked through it to the north, the views opened up and we spotted the interesting looking mountains that we would be hiking by later that day.
The trail headed east through another burned section and headed down through bear grass tufts. As the trail turned north again and started to head down into the valley, our guts told us to check the GPS app – sure enough we were to NOT follow the trail down, but instead head up through the forest to the ridgeline. Once we realized the way to go, we spotted a few small cairns that we had initially missed, which eventually led us up the hill to the ridgeline, and an awesome view down to Lost Lake. The air smelled smoky, and appeared hazy to the SE. As we were standing there looking around, Sean caught up to us and we all sat down for a snack together on the scenic ridge. After a few photo ops, we put the packs back on and headed up the ridgeline.
There wasn’t much of a trail, but it was obvious from the GPS track that we were to more or less follow the ridge. Every now and then a trail would appear and justify our decisions. Looking back at Sage Pass, and the big mountains to the south (in Montana), I paused to take the camera out of my chest case and snap a few shots; the scenery was spectacular. I took many pictures this day, as most of the hiking was above tree level. We came to a flower filled meadow and paused to capture the bright red/pinks of the Indian Paintbrush, and then a few hundred metres later, an abundant display of Glacier Lilies. There were the most perfect white clouds accentuating the blue skies, and what with the ridge walking and vast views, I paused often to take a video on my phone. The goal was to capture footage for an eventual video compilation that I would upload to my YouTube channel.
We crossed a swath of snow and crossed paths with a large group coming from “Paradise Camp” which we later figured must have been either the camp at Font Creek or Jutland Creek. It was strange to see so many people (8?) after not seeing anyone but Sean since we left Lineham Overlook. As we continued to wrap around the ridge, we’d periodically stop for a photo op when the cliffs would jut out and give us a great view – which was often. I was keeping my eyes pealed for the ridgetop canyon that so intrigued me from a picture in Dustin Lynx GDT Book and as we hiked down to a lower section of ridge, I was pretty sure that I could spot a geographical area that looked similar to what would be expected. After a short snack break we continued onto the snow covered ridge, and sure enough came to the canyon. It was SO neat. Mark went first so that I could get some photo and video footage and then Sean and I followed through. The snow was slippery as we made our way between the wide canyon walls, with the northern peaks rising out of the head of the canyon.
After exiting the canyon the trail headed to the eastern side of the ridge and descended the mountain to the meadows at Font Creek. We stopped in camp to refill water from the cold stream. The black flies were quite annoying but there was a nice spot to sit in the shade by the stream for our 30min lunch. We crossed the stream and did a bit of sleuthing to find the trail, which we finally did. It led up through a larch and pine forest to a ridge crest with nice views of Mt Matkin through the trees. Heading down, I marveled at how green this forest was – not burned like in Waterton, and not red and grey like the pine beetled trees back home in Jasper. Winding down and down, we hit a trail junction and one of our first GDT emblem nailed to a tree. I saw it as I came down the hill and was so excited – it was the first “proof” that we were on this great journey. We carried on through the trees past a pretty stream or two until we arrived at Jutland Creek camp. It was a soggy entrance into the camp at food prep, but otherwise it would have been a fine place to camp. We sat down on the log stools for a snack and a coffee to boost our energy stores.
There was a trail that led up trail through some campsites and some old camp trash (looked like an old stove), but dwindled as we came to a wet area. Not able to find the trail, we back tracked back to food prep and then to the wet area – there had been a trail marker there that I had noticed, and sure enough it led up to the trail. We headed up through the trees and crested the ridge as the trail worked its way down through a large boulder field (the boulders were large, the field just a normal size). It was quite warm out and that “are we there yet” feeling was popping up in my mind as we trudged – I mean hiked – along. There was an open bedrock area that we feared was the camp, but we didn’t spot Sean (he had gone ahead), so we pressed on. In another couple hundred metres we came upon a clearing, another trail marker, and Sean. Happy to be at camp, we set up our tents and had a nice warm afternoon nap with the fly off and the flies buzzing outside. After our afternoon siesta, we went in search for the elusive water source that was purported to be a couple hundred metres north of camp. Water source found, although really just a trickle, we rinsed the sweat off and filtered water for supper. Mark had found a good bear hang before our nap, so went to retrieve our food and we sat in the meadow away from our tents and prepared our freeze-dried meals. We had tried dehydrating some meals (spaghetti) but it ended up being more work and less flavourful than we had hoped, so we had mainly Mountain House and Alpine Air meals for the duration of the summer, supplemented with instant potatoes and cheese for both of us and ichiban noodles for Mark (to increase his caloric intake). Sean had dehydrated his meals and seemed to enjoy them well enough. We chatted away and gazed up at the ridge that we were to ascend the following morning. Deciding on a 6:30am departure, we tidied up and rehung the food bags before heading to bed.
The start of the ridgewalking up to La Coulotte Peak (at Scarpe Pass)
Matkin and Font from the north
Font Mtn from the north
Font Mtn from the south
Distance: 17km Elevation: up 840m down 740m
Day 5: July 5/21 Scarpe Pass Camp up La Coulotte to Barnaby Ridge
We woke up early as planned to get a start on what was supposed to be a big day to Southfork Lakes. The weather had other plans for us - the clouds were low and our meadow was enshrouded in fog. As we ate our breakfast and had another cup of coffee, the clouds lifted enough so that we could almost see the top of the ridge we were to ascend. Deciding that was as good as it was going to get, we packed up our tents and bags and set off at around 8am. After ascending the very steep ridge, we popped up into the clouds on top and had some relatively easy ridge walking, if not a bit wet from the moist air, for a few kilometers. Although we had no views of the surrounding area, due to the low cloud, it was still not a bad way to spend the morning.
Thankfully our GPS was working fine, as we had to keep checking it to make sure we were on track still, high above the mashed potato clouds. Stopped by the end of the ridge, we checked the GPS, and then did a scree ski down to a broad saddle. After emptying out our shoes, we ascended up the next ridge, eventually wrapping around to the base of La Coulotte Peak. We had a snack and a sit down and surveyed the scene - the clouds had lifted a bit so that we could see the majority of the ridge leading up to the summit, but the summit ridge was still obscured by clouds. Heading up the steep summit wasn't technical, but it was tiring. There were wildflowers and singing birds along the way, and the clouds drifted by in a pretty manner. Breaking up past a small cliff band, we realized we were on the last of the summit ridge when we saw the large summit cairn. Although our views were almost completely obscured, we felt accomplished for making it to the peak.
Ready to tackle the peak Route up La Coulotte Looking back at the ridge leading up to La Coulotte Looking back at the route Lots of reasons to stop tp take a photograph on the way up (thank goodness) Summit wildlife Valley bottom through the lingering cloud cover Summit ridge
We had lunch and watched an entertaining chipmunk, but then decided that we should probably continue on our way since it was after noon and it's not like we were enjoying the view. As we were trying to figure out the best route off, the clouds started to clear and we were afforded sunshine and blue sky. Sean took the cliffs to the east of the summit block down, and we wrapped around to the west to cross under the summit block and met him on the ridge leading north. There were a few more sketchy cliffs to get around, one requiring Mark & Sean to backtrack and ascend back up to wrap around to where I had found a safer weakness in the cliff. Soon enough we were making our way down the ridge towards the red rocks of the next one. A little gem of a lake (West Scarpe Lake) was siting at the base of the cliffs to the east, and looking south back up at La Coulotte Peak, we could finally see the morning's ridgewalk that we had done - it looked much more impressive without the clouds.
Because of the hard hike up to the peak paired with the tardy start due to the weather, we were a bit behind schedule Sean offered to drop down to Grizzly Lake to get us all water, and we continued on, at our slower pace. Another ascent up to a peak, with some more clouded in views, and then down the ridge to more red rock and peekaboo views through the clouds down to the valley. This time it was Ruby Lake that shone brightly in the green valley below.
I was completely pooped due to the steepness of the trail and that 35lbs on my back, but not as tired as Sean was when he rejoined us on the trail after dropping down 1000ft to get the water. In retrospect, a person should definitely end their day at Grizzly Lake Camp, but we pressed on hoping to make it past the high point on Barnaby Ridge, although I as starting to seriously doubt those chances. There were a few spots of interesting maneuvering to get around and off the cliffy portions, one which involved Mark passing my pack back to me once I got down and around the sketchy area. Luckily it was flagged, as I would not have believed that was the way we were to go - evidently the flagged route was much preferred over the past work around.
After a bush whack of the most irritating kind (also wet), we made it through the forested ridge top and started to see sights of the (clouded in) summit of the next ascent. Pausing at an opening in the forest, we noticed an old fire ring and decided to stop for a snack. In the span of about 10 minutes, the sky was thundering and lightning and then opened up for a pour. We were able to get the tarp up on time that we didn't get wet, and we got cozy underneath and checked the weather report. Not good news - lightning storms and rain was forecasted for the rest of the evening. We decided it would be stupid to make for the summit, so we had a light supper and set up our tents after the rain stopped; I was so tired that I wasn't that disappointed that we couldn't continue on. Luckily we gathered some of the rain water from the tarp, but we were still low on water (Mark and I split a Freeze Dried meal to conserve). We all remembered there being a large pile of snow about 1km back, so after setting up camp we went in search. Confusingly, we made it all the way back to the end/start of the bushwhack, and had no desire to revisit those shenanigans, so we gave up. Slightly deflated, we returned to camp in the rain and headed to bed.
Distance: 16km Elevation: up 1380m down 1250m