Tag Archives: Trip Report

Sphincter Level 5 – Mount French

I’m not really into writing trip reports.  There is tons of info already on the internet if you take the time to look for it, and I’m always happy to share a GPX track if someone requests it.  That being said, I go a lot of places where I don’t really recommend other people to go.  I end up off route and bushwhacking on most of my solo trips.  It’s rare that I finish a trip where I don’t have at least a few cuts and bruises.  I don’t feel the need to inflict those wounds on other people.

Today I will make an exception to this rule.  I had such a good time on Mount French that I feel the need to share my joy.  This was easily one of my favourite mountain outings ever!

(Small caveat here, I went through a bit of a mountain withdrawal while I was working on my road running, my joy at being back in the mountains is definitely exaggerated right now.)

One week out from my Trans-Alberta adventure, I wasn’t sure if a big scrambling trip up Mount French was a good idea.  However, I had been eyeing this mountain for 3 years and if I was serious about it I likely wouldn’t have a better opportunity: the weather was perfect, the trip was being lead by experienced peakbagger Brandon Boulier, and we would be moving at a hiking pace so it shouldn’t be too intense.

I messaged my friend Philippe who always seems to be up for crazy adventures and he agreed to tag along.  Brandon brought along Sheena, another scrambler, which made our party a team of 4.  We arrived at the Burstall Pass trailhead at 5:30am, just as the sun was rising.  The views were already breathtaking.


The trail up to French glacier was recently maintained, with fresh flagging and much of the deadfall cleared.  It made for a very pleasant walk in the crisp morning air. 2 hours into our hike we had reached the toe of the French glacier.

The snow was frozen hard and I’m a chicken so I immediately put on my microspikes.  Brandon is more confident that I and he was able to hike up without spikes and no issues.  The views opened up as we climbed up to the pass and when we crested the top I was blown away by what we saw!  The Haig glacier had been groomed for cross country skiing and there were about 20 skiers out for their morning workout.  I knew this facility existed, but seeing it in person was a whole new experience.  I would highly recommend  this hike to anyone who cares to put in the effort, just make sure you get there early before the snow gets slushy so that you can see the skiers. I promise you won’t regret it!


Now comes the part of the trip which I would not recommend to most individuals.  This route has a lot of hazards, and is only appropriate for experienced scramblers.

After ogling the skiers for a few minutes we began our ascent of Mount French.  The slope is very steep and loose, so we had to be careful not to kick rocks on each other.  The scree up to the summit ridge is horrible.  We did not find a good line and there was a lot of treadmilling going on.  At one point Sheena wondered if she was even moving at all.

Just as our frustration level with the scree was reaching a maximum, we crested the summit ridge and all of our effort was worth it for that view!

The summit ridge is narrow and very exposed at times.  The rock is loose and you must be careful to always push into the mountain instead of pulling on the rocks.  Route finding is very simple, in most cases you only have one choice for where to go.  The entire ridge is over 3000m, and I have not been in the mountains as much as usual.  I could feel that my heart rate was much higher than normal, but it’s hard to say if that was due to the altitude, or just adrenaline from the exposure.

I felt surprisingly comfortable for most of the scramble.  Everything appeared worse than it was.  My least favourite section was not the narrow ridges, but rather a loose, narrow ledge we had to walk along.  I felt like someone should come up here with a broom and sweep all the loose rocks off.

The final challenge during our summit ascent was a short chimney.  We weren’t sure if it would be filled in with snow and ice, so we were happy to discover that you could ascend it by climbing on dry rock.

After snacks and photos on the summit block we made our way back. We were elated to have successfully navigated the ridge, but a little apprehensive about having to do it all over again in reverse.  The return trip on the ridge proved to be a little tougher – exposed downclimbs are always scarier than exposed upclimbs – but we all managed by taking it very slowly.

The scree route down was much easier, and the rest of the trip was just a very nice walk down through the valley.  It was a hot day, and the mosquitoes were out in force so we did not lollygag. 12 hours after we started we were back in the parking lot, sunburnt and high on life.

It will be hard to top this trip, and I enjoyed it so much that I am pretty sure I will do it again.  Maybe as a point to point trail run via Turbine Canyon, just to keep things fresh.  Who wants to come with me?

Happy Trails!


Glasgow to Banded Peak – FKT

Before we go off the deep end with the Spray Valley 10, Arielle and I want to test ourselves on some shorter adventures.  Last Saturday we went out to set a new Fastest Known Time on the Glasgow to Banded Peak traverse.  Although many parties have completed this route before, we couldn’t find much information on speed attempts. Most hikers will do the route in 12-14hrs, and the fastest time we could find by a trail runner/scrambler was set by our friend Jamie Junker in just over 8hrs.  We thought that we could do the route in 7hrs if things went smoothly.

We had a few objectives for this adventure:

  • Work out partner logistics.  Arielle and I are going to be working together, pushing ourselves HARD for over 30 hrs during the Spray Valley 10.  How will we get along?  Will we be able to effectively communicate with each other?  The Glasgow to Banded traverse was a perfect testing ground for this.
  • Pace ourselves effectively.  Our goal was to use an eating/hydration strategy which would keep our energy levels steady throughout the day so that we would be able to move at a consistent effort throughout the entire route.
  • Test gear.  We are using some new-to-us gear for the Spray Valley 10.  Would this gear be effective and durable?

The Route

The Glasgow to Banded Peak traverse is a loop which starts and finishes at the Harold Chapman Bridge in the Little Elbow Day Use Area.  You complete the route by summiting Glasgow, Cornwall, Outlaw and Banded Peak and then returning to the bridge.  Depending on the route you take, the traverse will cover up to 35km, with about 2300m of climbing.  Most of the terrain is off-trail and there is very little actual running until you reach the last 10km.

Arielle and I decided to take the shortest route possible, which also meant the most technical route.  This shortened the route to 32km, added some scrambling, and eliminated some bush-whacking.

We began at 7:17am on the west side of the Harold Chapman Bridge. After crossing the bridge we immediately turned right onto a horse trail.  We followed the trail for a couple of kilometres before veering off and angling towards the base of Glasgow.  There is a way to do this almost entirely on trail, but I was a little inaccurate with my navigating so we lost 5-10 minutes bush-whacking through the forest.

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Early start, blinded by the sun.

Once you reach the base of Glasgow the entire route is off-trail until you descend from Banded Peak.  We power-hiked up through the brush and within an hour of our start we had gained the ridge on Glasgow.

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One hour in. We are above treeline but have a long way to go.

The next 4 hours were spent above treeline.  We power-hiked and scrambled our way up Glasgow.  Our friend Andrew met us on the shoulder of the ridge, where he was filming our progress with a drone. Hopefully the footage turns out 🙂

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The climb up Glasgow seems to go on, and on, and on…

I made a second navigation error near the summit of Glasgow, which resulted in some difficult scrambling and maybe 5 minutes of lost time.  Still, the trip was going smoothly and we made it to the top in 2hrs, 20 minutes.  It is certainly possible to make it up there in less than 2hrs if you don’t make any mistakes.

We stopped for a few minutes on Glasgow to put on our gators.  There was still some remnant snow and lots of scree to run on, and we were determined not to waste our time emptying our shoes.  The gators worked great and we didn’t have any wasted shoe time.

We refilled out bladders with snow at the col between Glasgow and Cornwall.  I had nearly finished my 2 litres of water at this time, so the snow which I added to my Camelbak did not melt quickly.  I really should have refilled earlier, but I didn’t realize I was drinking so much.  Both of us were fueling and drinking regularly; which is probably why we felt so good.

There was still a significant amount of snow on Cornwall.  This meant we had to post-hole for about 5-10 minutes, and we also had to take a steeper line than I would have preferred up the scree to avoid further post-holing.  The ascent was an ass-kicker for sure.

From there we flew down the descent towards Outlaw and scrambled up the other side without issue.  The descent from Outlaw was cautious as I babied my recently sprained ankle, but we still made good time and soon we were on to the ascent up our 4th and final mountain.  We were moving steadily and neither of us had any significant energy lulls.  We reached the summit of Banded Peak in 4:35 and briefly wondered if it was possible to go under 6hrs.

The way down Banded Peak is on very rough scree and is not particularly enjoyable.  At one point Arielle dislodged a rock and yelled to warn me. I slipped as I attempted to get out of the way and it nailed me in the lower back/hip.  The rock was a decent size and I yelled in pain.  This was a good learning experience for us.  For future rocks we will just say “left” or “right” to tell our partner where to go to avoid impact.

We descended via the east drainage – glissading most of the way, but accidentally getting cliffed out at one point, forcing us to back track for a few minutes.  The east drainage is probably the toughest descent route for route-finding, but it’s nice because you have very minimal bush-whacking afterwards before you hit the horse-trail which brings you down to the Big Elbow Trail.

We refilled our water, stowed our poles and removed our gators at the base of the drainage.  Now it was Arielle’s turn to lead, as the trail was 100% runnable and she is a much faster runner than I am. I maintained the fastest pace I could without feeling like I was putting my ankle at risk and tried to keep her in sight.  She did an awesome job of pacing.

Once we got onto the flat Elbow Valley Trail I couldn’t match Arielle’s speed, but thankfully she waited for me at the bridge so that we could finish together.  My watch said 2:02pm, 6hrs and 45 minutes.


2:02pm, 6hr45min.  Two very happy trail runners 🙂

You can see our Strava file here.

We also filmed a bunch of videos!

Glasgow Summit

Cornwall Summit

Cornwall to Outlaw Col

Banded Peak Summit

Want to see what we brought?  Here we break it all down.  The UltrAspire Astral pack holds a lot of stuff!  (sorry about the videography, I promise we will get better!)

A look inside Arielle’s Head:

It was a day of surprises out there. Between happy legs and happy views, I don’t think we could have asked for a better day. Going into this we definitely had some doubts (as explained in our previous post), however when we got out there all doubts left our head. We felt strong, consistent and happy the entire way. Initially uncertain with how we would work together,  it was clear that our differences were put aside and our “strengths” combined forces as the day progressed! Joanna took charge with navigation and led us up the ups.  Then when it came time for the downhills and flats, I took over. With both Joanna and I recovering, playing it smart and finishing strong  was the goal. Keeping each other accountable to our plan, and fuelling  we finished  having some juice left in our legs and look forward to seeing how much time we can knock off in the fall!

A look inside Joanna’s Head:

I’m just so happy that my ankle cooperated 🙂

What’s next?

We will take a look at the route up Rimwall, and I get ready to run Bighorn 100!

Happy Trails!

Ice Caves Recon

OMG!  I had another blog worthy run!

Earlier today Arielle and I went for a run to the Ice Caves.  I’ve been there many times before so I wasn’t expecting anything new, but I had heard there was a crack you could squeeze through at the back to get to a cavern, and I was secretly hoping we could check it out.

From what I’d read the crack is only accessible when there isn’t much ice.  We entered the Ice Caves and there was less ice than I’d ever seen, I was cautiously optimistic.  We continued back through the cave, admiring the icicles and ice-stalagmites.  If you ever have a chance to explore these caves you should go, the ice formations are super cool!

We continued to hike deeper into the cave, our headlamps providing the only source of light.  The cave climbed up and to the right, only to come to a dead end with a wall of ice blocking further exploration.  We took some selfies and admired the wall of ice before heading back.

As we scrambled back down the rocks I noticed some graffiti on the cave wall to our right.  Why would people be hanging out over there?  The route to the graffiti was narrow and I had to squeeze through the rocks on my belly before the cave opened back up to standing height.  An even smaller opening in the rocks was at my feet.  It was just big enough to crawl through.

I yelled out to Arielle.  We were going exploring!

The cave expanded into a tall, narrow crack.  We climbed up and over boulders which had become lodged in the crack, slowly working our way deeper into the mountain.  We never found the back of the cave, opting to turn around when we reached a downclimb which seemed to end on a solid sheet of ice.  I could easily have jumped down onto the ice, but I had no idea how solid the ice was.  I’m also not sure how I would have gotten back up.  We decided it would be safer to return with a rope.


The trip back to the cave entrance was exciting.  Now that we knew what to look for, we discovered there are all sorts of cracks in the walls of the Ice Caves which seem to lead to further caverns.  We even climbed up a chimney to the top of the cave.  The chimney was full of cracks, leading deeper into the mountain.  We had already been out for hours, so we didn’t follow any of the rabbit holes.  We’ll be back when the days are longer.

2015-12-11 12.44.17looking down from the top of the chimney

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looking up as Arielle climbs the chimney




Happy Trails!