Distance: 12 km
Elevation gain: 1230 m View map Download GPS track
Big Bend Peak is the unofficial name for a prominent peak rising above the "Big Bend" on the Icefields Parkway. A route to its summit is described in Andrew Nugara's snowshoeing guidebook
, but as a winter ascent entails significant avalanche risk we decided to head up in the summer.
We began the hike at a hidden old road at the south end of the Big Bend. Even though I knew pretty much exactly where it was I still managed to drive past it as we drove north, but it was much easier to spot as we approached from the other direction. After parking we crossed the North Saskatchewan River on an old solid bridge and followed a trail upstream along its shore before reconnecting with the old road. (This old road was once used to transport American troops to the Saskatchewan Glacier for winter combat training). We followed this road until open slopes appeared to our left, then ascended towards the eastern end of the cliffs. This ascent was steep and alternated between hard mud and loose scree, but recent tracks in the mud/scree made the going relatively easy for us. At the top of the slope we detoured into the forest, picking up a good trail heading steeply up. Shortly the ascent eased and we made our way easily through light forest, generally staying close to the cliff tops to avoid brushy thickets.
After a pleasant ramble through the forest we arrived at treeline and the first of three ascents on loose rubble, each being interrupted by short sections of level terrain. This one was the shortest ascent of the three and from the top we were afforded our first views of giant Mount Saskatchewan and a greatly expanded panorama to the south. An easy walk then brought us to the base of the false summit.
The ascent of the false summit was one of the most miserable ascents we've ever done. While only 250 m high the slope was steep and very loose; on some steps I'd slide down more than I went up and rockfall was a significant problem and impossible to avoid. In retrospect I wonder if a better route would be to contour around its base and ascend to a col between the false and true summits where the scree looked much more stable. In any event, we eventually fought our way to the top. Interestingly there was a cairn with a register here, but none on the actual summit.
After an easy walk along the ridge, losing a bit of elevation in the process, we started up the final 250 m to the summit. Thankfully this ascent was much easier than that to the false summit with any mildly difficult areas being easily avoided to the left. The view west as we gained the summit was one of the nicest "WOW!" moments we've had in awhile as glaciers and several giants of the Columbia Icefields popped suddenly into view. We had lunch just below the summit to avoid the cold wind, then retraced our steps back down.