Distance: 12.5 km
Elevation gain: 1245 m View map Download GPS track
The Ya Ha Tinda region west of Sundre is one of the prettiest areas we've hiked in the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies. We "discovered" it last winter, heading there on consecutive weekends to scramble up Maze
and Evangeline Peaks
. From the summit of Maze Peak
I noticed that the peak across James Pass to the north also looked like an easy scramble, and a few weeks later Vern
, and Ben
scrambled up it. While they took an adventurous route
they did indicate in their reports that it should be nothing more than an easy scramble.
After a long drive we parked at the Eagle Lake parking lot, just east of Bighorn Campground and the Ya Ha Tinda ranchlands. From here we followed an ATV track east for a little over a kilometer, crossed tiny Eagle Creek, then started ascending the lower treed slope of Eagle Mountain shortly after entering a large meadow. I didn't realize it at the time, but there was a horse trail on the western edge of the meadow that would've taken us a short distance up the slope. Instead we bushwhacked, but the bush wasn't bad and was certainly more interesting than following a trail.
After a relatively easy ascent through forest, the trees thinned out and the grade steepened considerably. Near treeline we scared up a small group of skittish bighorn sheep, then made the final push to the first false summit. A cairn, GPS cache, and big pole marked this highpoint. The descent from this summit was a bit scrambly, but remained easy, and after another short scree ascent we found ourselves atop the second false summit.
At this point the scramble got more interesting and involved scrambling down a dozen or so small cliff bands along the ridgecrest. Many were small and easy, but one in particular was vertical, perhaps 3 m high, and most definitely a difficult scramble if not a climb. Vern, Steven, and Ben somehow did this, but we detoured to the left on loose scree until we found a way around it. A few other cliff bands, despite being perhaps only 1.5 m high, required similar but easier detours.
Finally we stood at the base of the third false summit. A quick 70 m plod brought us to its summit, we promptly lost most of this elevation on the other side, and then a final 150 m ascent on easy scree brought us to the actual summit of Eagle Mountain. The views were spectacular and the weather fantastic, but with a long descent awaiting us we didn't linger long. Interestingly, once back in the trees near the meadow in which we started our adventure I somehow got seriously disoriented, at one point heading in exactly the opposite direction of what I thought I was. That's only happened once before and thankfully the GPS got us quickly back on track (even with my detour we wouldn't have been lost - it's pretty difficult to do that in this area). I might have just been tired, but it might have been something about the lay of the land too.
After a muddy walk back to the truck we drove to Bighorn Campground, made a campfire to cook dinner, then decided to head home. We'd planned on spending the night, but the campground was soggy, the toilets overflowing (yes, it was gross) and the wind howling. Next time, perhaps.