Distance: 8 km
Elevation gain: 1150 mView mapDownload GPS track
Observation Peak was named by Charles Noyes, who in 1899 (or 1898?) noted that the view from the summit was one of the finest he'd ever taken in. While there are certainly nicer summit panoramas in the Rockies, the one from atop Observation Peak doesn't disappoint.
While there are many possible routes up the mountain, we followed the route described in Alan Kane's Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. The popularity of the book means there is now an acceptable trail from the parking area to the top via his route. [One note: Many reports speak of the north and south gully approaches, recommending one or the other. The obvious trail we took initially follows the north gully, but just past treeline moves onto the broad ridge between the two gullies].
We did, however, encounter two very difficult sections today. The first were the rocky cliff bands about 2/3 of the way up. I expected these, but failed to read in the book that traversing through here would involve moderate scrambling, something that is just a bit beyond what we're currently comfortable with. The cairned route through this section involves first a short traverse on a ledge (easy), an awkward maneuver over a rocky rib (hard), followed by several moderately difficult steps over a variety of loose scree and bits of bedrock. I didn't really have any problems with this (although it took me awhile), but it was well outside Sandra's comfort zone.
The second difficult section was completely unexpected by us as well as another couple we talked to ("THAT wasn't in the guidebook!"). It was the last 150 vertical meters or so of scree just before the false summit. What appears to have happened is that the ground has frozen solid about 6 inches below the surface, leaving loose rock on top that slid and rolled with alarming ease. I've been on loose scree before, but this was completely different and ridiculously more difficult (by comparison, it made the stuff in the scree chute of Noseeum Peak look like pavement). It was essentially impossible to move up. To continue we ended up following the snow-filled trail up; it was slippery as heck, but at least it was possible to actually gain elevation on it. On the plus side the scree made for an awesome descent, but again it was much different than other scree I've descended. It really did feel like marbles on a sheet of ice and it took quite a bit of effort to not fall. I'm assuming that in the summer this section is nothing more than your typical run of the mill loose scree, but it definitely wasn't today.
Thankfully, once reaching the false summit the remainder of the traverse was easy. There was a fair amount of snow along the summit ridge, but it was still possible to easily distinguish snow on rock from the enormous cornice that overhangs the eastern side. For being a hot summer, it's remarkable how much snow survived.
Views from the top are, as expected, expansive! I'm still quite green at identifying peaks, but to give you an idea of how far you could see, Mt. Assiniboine was clearly visible 110 km away! Spectacular sights include a large portion of the Wapta Icefield, Peyto Lake and Bow Lake well over a kilometer below, glaciated Mt. Hector, and a sea of other peaks in all directions.