Distance: 24 km
Elevation gain: 1580 m View map Download GPS track
Years ago while reading the trail guide Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies
I was awestruck by an amazing photo of the Carthew Lakes on the Carthew-Alderson trail and have wanted to hike it ever since. Connecting Cameron Lake to Waterton townsite, the trail is named after the two mountains it passes between - Mount Carthew and Mount Alderson - both of which are easy scrambles. Consulting a topo map I realized that both could be scrambled in one long day involving 24 km of travel and nearly 1600 m of elevation gain. Just a couple years ago such stats would have ruled the adventure out for us, but we've been working hard to get in shape and figured it wouldn't be too bad at all.
We began our hike at Cameron Lake at the end of the Akamina Parkway, picking up the Carthew-Alderson trail heading left from the lakeshore development. We immediately crossed the bridged outlet stream, then ascended the ridge to the east of Cameron Lake via a series of very, very long switchbacks. After hiking 3.5 km with 300 m of easy elevation gain we reached a level area, and 500 m later stood on the shore of Summit Lake, an oddly-named lake in the forest far away from any summit. From here we continued the ascent along official trail, bypassing the alternate ascent route of Mount Carthew described in Alan Kane's scramble guide
, and reached the highpoint of the pass between Mounts Carthew and Alderson after a bit more than 2 hours of hiking. This pass is oddly called "Carthew Summit", despite being 300 m below and nowhere near the summit of Mount Carthew. Although we'd climbed over 650 m from the car we were still full of energy as a result of the very gently graded trail, which was a good thing as we could now see the two ascents that awaited us.
From the pass the general ascent routes of both Mount Carthew and Mount Alderson were obvious. We chose to ascend the easier and lower Mount Carthew first and started heading up the ridge towards it. The only difficulty was choosing a route. I had expected there to be an obvious trail on such a popular mountain, but the only trail I could initially see headed directly up the ridge towards some rocky outcroppings and appeared intent on turning an easy scramble into a moderate one. We continued upwards anyway and shortly I caught sight of a faint trail heading along some minor cliff bands. As it turned out this route was very easy, gentled graded, and nearly devoid of treadmill scree. We followed it to the summit ridge, then followed the very gentle ridge to the summit. At a very leisurely pace it took us just 50 minutes to reach the summit from the pass. Incredible views surrounded us and nearly every other scramble in Waterton I am interested in doing was visible. While it was a bit cold in the wind up top we found a place in the sun just below the summit to eat lunch and recuperate for our upcoming ascent of the higher Mount Alderson.
After lunch we descended back to the pass, then lost another 60 m to get to the base of Mount Alderson. The general route up Mount Alderson follows its ridgeline starting near the pass, but we contoured around its rocky western end on faint trail to avoid any unnecessary elevation gain. Once on the ridge we simply began following it up, often on faint trail. We encountered a short downclimb shortly after reaching the ridge, but with a bit of routefinding it was very easy. Cairns marked a route around a localized highpoint further along the ridge and led to another downclimb, this one substantially more difficult than the first. I'd seen photos of this in other reports that made it look very difficult, but with a bit of careful routefinding aided by a few cairns we made it down without any real (or even perceived, actually) trouble. It was then a quick 15 minute slog to the summit.
Views from the top were similar to those from Carthew, as expected, but great views of Bertha Lake to the east and portions of Waterton Lakes and towards a number of lakes to the south made the ascent well worthwhile. A bit of rain moving through while we were up top obscured some of the view initially, but while sheltering just below the ridge in case of rogue lightning I noticed it clearing to the west. Just 10 minutes later it was sunny again, and after re-taking all my earlier rainy photos we began our descent. Things went smoothly until I encountered a trail marked with a huge cairn about 2/3 of the way down the ridge. It appeared to contour around a highpoint and I foolishly decided to follow it. After losing perhaps 100 m, however, the trail disappeared and we were faced with sidehilling around the northern slopes of Mount Alderson above Carthew Lakes. Lesson learned: Never, ever, ever follow a trail on a popular mountain. Follow my instinct instead!
From the pass the descent to the parking lot was fast and easy owing to the gently graded trail and we reached the car before 4:30 pm, exhausted but happy with what we'd accomplished!