The Livingstone Range Traverse

Over the past several years Matt and I have fallen in love with the Crowsnest Pass area of Southern Alberta. The land in the pass is wild and undeveloped. While most mountains in the region have routes to the summit, few of them have actual trails, and even fewer have trails that are marked on a map.  I love the lack of formality. 

 

It’s a 2.5hr drive from our place in Calgary to Crowsnest Pass, and I always know when we are getting close because a distinctive rocky, ridge rises into view west of the highway.  The wall of rock extends for 35km, beginning at the Oldman River and finishing at Hwy 3 near the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. The ridge is called the Livingstone Range, and it includes 5 mountain summits – Thunder Mountain, Lightning Peak, Centre Peak, Cauldron Mountain, and South Livingstone Peak.   

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The LRT in the distance, as seen during our drive down to The Pass.

The first recorded Livingstone Range Traverse (LRT) was completed by Rick Collier. You can still find Rick’s trip report on Bivouac and I have read it several times with interest, wondering if I would be able to follow his footsteps.  Rick completed the traverse in 3 days, losing elevation each night in order to find a camp with a source of water.  This style of travel sounded miserable to me, and I knew immediately that if I were to complete this traverse I would want to complete it in a day. 

 

A couple of years ago local athletes Andrew Fairhurst and Troy Misseghers completed the LRT in a single push.  When I saw the route pop up on my Strava feed my head nearly exploded.  Andrew and Troy are on a much higher fitness level than me, but seeing their adventure made this dream of mine seem more possible. The following year Andrew and Troy completed the traverse again, smashing their previous time and completing the route in just under 12hrs! My dream had now become a goal, and I asked my adventure partner Arielle if she would want to attempt this route with me.   

 

Our first attempt on the LRT failed quickly.  It was May 2018 and the ridge was engulfed in cloud with a fresh layer of snow and verglas up top.  We made it up Thunder Mountain, but the ridge over to Lightning Peak was clearly impassable in these conditions.  We decided to bail and comeback on a better day. 

 

Our second trip up to the LRT was with our friend Philippe.  We were hoping to scope out the section from Thunder all the way over to Centre Peak, but route finding proved to be trickier than anticipated and after 6hrs of scrambling we had only made it to Lightning Peak.  This was a very enlightening day for us.  Originally we had thought that 16hrs would be a reasonable time for the traverse, but now we were thinking it would take 20hrs+.  Ugh, I don’t particularly enjoy sleep deprivation. 

 

On July 28th, 2019 the weather and route conditions finally lined up on a day when both Arielle and myself were free.  It was time to give this a serious go.  At 4am Arielle and I began our hike up Thunder Mountain.  We were travelling by the lights of our headlamps, but this was our 3rd time up this route so navigating was seamless.  By 5:30am the sun was rising and we were taking our first summit pic.  As we gazed across at the jagged ridge leading over to Lightning Peak, we hoped we would have better luck with our route selection this time around. 

Following the advice from Andrew and Troy we aimed to stay on top of the ridge as much as possible, only dropping down when it was necessary and following goat trails until we could regain the top of the ridge.  We made good decisions and moved efficiently, reaching Lightning Peak in roughly 5hrs.  We were stoked with our progress and excited to explore the next portion of the ridge which was entirely unknown to us.  Arielle’s boyfriend Vlad was going to meet us at Centre Peak with more water, however we were moving so well that we thought we would beat him there.  We sent him a text to tell him not to bother, and he decided that he would start at the south end of the ridge and meet us from that end.  Arielle and I had both started with 3L of water and the weather was quite warm so we conserved as much as possible. 

The traverse over to Centre Peak took forever! Our text to Vlad proved premature, as we did not make it up to the summit until well after our overly optimistic time estimate. We were still moving efficiently, but the ridge is just so long and slow!  sections of the ridge are extremely exposed with cliffs on either side, while at other times we would be forced to drop off the top of the ridge and find routes around pinnacles.  There was absolutely no running and every step was taken with care.  Eventually we found ourselves on the summit of Centre Peak; there was no celebration, just a sense of relief. 

We knew from talking to Troy and Andrew that the real difficulties of the route lay on the south half of the route.  Apparently there was some difficult scrambling with high consequence, and we wondered what was in store.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) Arielle and I were so used to exposure by this point that nothing phased us.  I could have walked on a 2×4 plank, 100m above the ground and I don’t think it would have phased me.  We continued our constant forward progress, eventually reaching the summit of Cauldron Peak.  Arielle sent Vlad a text letting him know that we were in fact still moving, and I stopped to tape some hot spots on my feet.  This is when I realized that large holes had ripped open the uppers of my Scarpa approach shoes.  Oh well, that’s why I brought duct tape 😊   I taped up my shoes the best I could and on we went.  1.5km later we found Vlad lounging on a sub-peak.  He had had hiked up with 5L of water for us from the south end of the ridge.  Neither Arielle or myself were out of water at this point, but it was nice to stop conserving and be able to drink as much as we wanted. I had felt mildly thirsty (drinking just enough to keep my stomach happy) for most of the trip. 

The next portion of ridge was extremely undulating with a few tricky sections. The 3 of us hiked mostly together until we finally reached the summit of South Livingstone. Arielle’s stomach was giving her a bit of grief so she held back a bit but was still moving at a good pace. Just like Centre Peak, the summit of South Livingstone seemed to take forever to appear and when we finally crested the top it was with a huge feeling of relief.  Vlad took a couple of photos of us and then we were off running to the Interpretive Centre.  

The South Livingstone trail was overgrown and much of it was not exactly runnable.  I did not take the most efficient line and 20 minutes later the 3 of us were all back together, even though Vlad hadn’t run a step.  How demoralizing. Vlad suggested we follow a drainage down, promising that it would lead us to the road to the Interpretive Centre.  Arielle and I ran off ahead again, eager to get somewhere with decent footing so that we could finally open our strides and run.  The drainage proved to be a bit bushwhacky, but the flowers were beautiful and we were in pretty good spirits considering we had been moving for over 13hrs.  If we didn’t get lost we might be able to finish in under 14hrs, a time that neither of us had thought was realistic at the start of the day. 

 

Finally, we reached the dirt road and we knew we were only 3km to the finish line!  Now it was Arielle’s turn to wait for me as she is a much stronger road runner than I am.  I did my best to keep up a good pace and we even managed to run a sub 5min kilometre (downhill).   The final 800m was uphill on paved road to the parking lot and Arielle pulled ahead trying to encourage me to run faster, but pavement saps all the energy from my legs and I had nothing left to give.  We finished the route in 13:55, super excited with our time and the efficiency that we had moved with throughout most of the day. 

 

 Post-script: 

A few days later, after we had submitted our run to the FKT pro-board, Troy sends me a message.  “Hey, did you know that we finished at the highway, not at the Interpretive Centre when we did our FKT?”  

Long story short, there was a misunderstanding with the location of the finish line and Arielle and I took an unintentional shortcut.  The true FKT route stays on the ridge the entire way to the highway, rather than turning off the ridge and heading to the Interpretive Centre.  Our route was a few kilometres shorter than the true ridge route and had less bushwhacking, it was also the route that Andrew had given me with his GPX track from their 2017 traverse.  I still feel like we completed the spirit of the route since the crux of this route is really about scrambling along an endless rocky ridge, not about bushwhacking to a highway.  However, anyone who considers a future FKT attempt should take this information into account.   

 

We refuelled from our long day out with burgers, fries and root beers at A&W. I definitely feel that this should become part of the LRT FKT tradition.  A&W is basically located at the termination of the ridge so it’s meant to be 😊  

2 thoughts on “The Livingstone Range Traverse

  1. Pingback: Meet the Minotaur 2019 | Joanna Runs

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