Distance: 15.5 km
Elevation gain: 1360 m View map Download GPS track
After a day of rest and reading we woke up early today ready to tackle the biggest objective of our camping trip: An ascent of Southfork Mountain and a traverse to Barnaby Ridge. As the day brightened, however, we realized that the entire ridge (and indeed, the entire region) was enshrouded in low cloud. With little interest in hiking in cloud we instead decided to head a bit further north to the Crowsnest Pass region, hoping that the weather would either be better there or would clear up as we drove.
Our destination was Racehorse Pass and the peaks rising to both the north and south of it, Racehorse Peak and Mount Racehorse
. I’d spied these two peaks last year from Mount Ward and had thought they looked like nice ascents, and before I had a chance to investigate them further, Vern Dewit
published his trip report up both of them, confirming that they were indeed very easy ascents.
As we made our way up the Alison Creek Road (which transitioned to the Atlas Road after a few kilometers) a few isolated breaks in the cloud suggested we made the right decision by heading north, but by the time we reached the Racehorse Pass road just north of bridged Racehorse Creek those clear areas had evaporated (actually, they’d condensed, for those that want to get technical). With little interest in heading back to the trailer we decided to hike to the pass anyway and reevaluate the weather once we arrived (I initially tried driving up the Racehorse Pass road, but turned around after a few hundred meters when the road deteriorated).
Hiking along the road was easy, and in the cool morning air/fog it was quite pleasant and in stark contrast to the sweat-fest nearly every other trip we’ve done this summer has been. Surprisingly, the area was infested with snowshoe hares, a rarity in the Rockies. We counted eight adults and yearlings right by the road, and there certainly had to be more that we didn’t notice. Coupled with a male/female pair of spruce grouse, these wildlife sightings elevated our moods considerably.
We arrived in the pass a bit over an hour after starting out. Mount Racehorse was nearly completely covered in low cloud, but I was very surprised to see a clear path through the cloud all the way to the summit of Racehorse Peak! I could see several possible routes up, but we decided to head up a gully bisecting the south face before moving onto slopes to its left (in retrospect heading up the slope to the left of the gully right from the start is probably an easier choice). For the most part the ascent was an easy, steep hike, but near the top the terrain steepened and the somewhat loose rubble made it a bit scrambly.
When we arrived on the summit we were greeted by swirling clouds and mist to the east and a mix of sun and high cloud to the west. The peak, sitting right on the Great Divide, was the dividing point, and for the first 20 minutes of our summit stay the weather would alternate between a near whiteout and clear sky as the two sides battled for dominance. Eventually the sun won out and in short order burned off nearly all the low cloud and we were able to have a relaxed lunch with a view on the summit.
After lunch we descended on the opposite side of the gully from what we’d ascended, for no reason other than variety. As we approached the base of the mountain we spotted someone below yelling to warn bears of his approach, and as we reached the pass he came over to talk to us. I closely follow the blogs of most hikers and scramblers, and in short order I realized he was Dave McMurray of peaksandstreams.com
. He’d been tossing several ascent plans around in his mind without finding much enthusiasm for any of them, so when he found out we were heading up Mount Racehorse we decided to tackle it together.
As a group of three now we headed into the forest below Mount Racehorse from the highpoint of the pass, initially following an ATV track before heading off through the forest to intersect the northeast ridge of the peak. Dave is an academic at a small college just like myself, and his wife is an Assistant Principal and Sandra is a teacher, so coupled with our shared passion for hiking and scrambling the three of us had plenty to talk about and the easy ascent went by quickly and in good company. A few minor cliff bands along the way were easily detoured around or ascended directly.
After a chatty summit stay during which Dave built a large cairn, we made our way down to a beautiful green valley to the southeast of the peak, then followed the ATV track back to the pass and the old road back to the truck. With the conversation still going strong Dave chose to hike back down with us instead of coasting on his bike, making this an unexpectedly pleasant and rare social hike for us. As he knows the Castle-Crowsnest area exceptionally well, we look forward to getting out hiking or snowshoeing with him sometime in the future.