Distance: 6 km
Elevation gain: 840 m View map Download GPS track
Lately the weekend weather has been terrible and I've been itching to get out for a nice hike or scramble in the sun. Today, with a forecast of sun and acceptable winds, I decided to take advantage of a little end-of-term freedom and do a solo scramble up Door Jamb Mountain and Loder Peak in Exshaw. These two mountains are popular scrambles and are usually snow-free as a result of the chinook winds that blow down the Bow Valley so I figured the storm snow from two days ago would be mostly melted by now. With the exception of the upper mountain this was indeed the case, but it was once again cloudy and windy! A day in the mountains easily beats a day at work though, so it was still a big win.
I'd actually attempted these peaks last Sunday, but was turned back by an unforecast blizzard. I tried to wait it out, but as the snow started to accumulate I decided it wasn't worth chancing a slip on the slabs higher up and instead retreated. That trip did answer one question, however: Where to park! A few years ago there was a parking lot just west of the ascent ridge and a GPS track I had showed the hike starting there, but that parking lot has now been converted to a road with a private property sign on it. After a few u-turns I happened to spot a car a bit smaller than my Civic turning into a small parking area right where the ascent ridge reaches Highway 1A. It was very steep to get into, but I figured if he could make it I could too! And indeed I did, although getting back out was a bit exciting.
I followed a trail starting right from this parking area. It forked many, many times, but the general route was easy to follow to begin with
. That part turned out to be very important. The first half of the ascent was neither particularly steep nor difficult so I just kept heading up, but when the ascent steepened dramatically I made a critical error. Instead of sticking to the ridge I ended up following a good trail to the left. This trail slowly deteriorated and steepened, and before I realized what I was doing I found myself clinging to the side of the mountain on a large slab. Evidence of human traffic was all around, but where I’d ended up was definitely a difficult scramble. Eventually, after a metaphorical eternity of trying to figure out what to do, I started to retreat over the terrifying terrain I’d somehow walked along on the way.
I backtracked all the way to the point at which the ridge had steepened. After carefully assessing the terrain and my remaining mental fortitude I decided to try another route, this time opting to stick to the ridgecrest. This turned out to be a good choice, and while one section of slab did still need to be scrambled up, it was far easier than what I had attempted earlier and I found a detour around it on the way down.
Thankfully the traverse from Door Jamb Mountain to Loder Peak was straightforward. I was still a bit shaken from my earlier adventure and so went fairly slow, choosing my route around or over minor ribs with more care than was necessary and taking several breaks to add layers, snack, and blow my nose, but it still took only 30 minutes. Half that time was certainly feasible, but I had no interest in tempting fate any further than I had earlier.
After a chilly summit stay I started back down. Sticking to the ridgecrest the entire way down went very smoothly and I found it far less intimidating than I had on the way up. It might not have been the most scenic trip, but I did learn a valuable lesson: Never follow trails on popular mountains! It seems like a silly rule, but had I ignored the trail and followed my gut about sticking to the ridgecrest I never would have gotten into my predicament.