Distance: 18 km
Elevation gain: 975 m View map Download GPS track
Still a bit tired after our peak-bagging adventures in Waterton National Park last week, but foolishly eager to get out again, we needed something a bit on the easier side. Somehow easy became defined as "about 20 km and 1000 m elevation gain" and that led us to Smutwood Peak. This peak derives its unofficial and unusual name from Andrew Nugara
who coined it based on its location between towering Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood.
The trail to Smuts Pass, which is where the ascent of Smutwood Peak begins, has two popular starting points. The route we took begins at a small parking lot on the left of the Mount Shark road a few hundred meters west of Engadine Lodge and follows an old logging road for 2.3 km to a junction. Right at the junction heads up Commonwealth Creek to Smuts Pass while left heads down to cross Smuts Creek before reaching the Spray Lakes road. This is the other common starting point and is described in Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies
. We preferred the old road as it was quick and easy and avoided crossing Smuts Creek.
The hike towards Smuts Pass along Commonwealth Creek was initially quite muddy and there was a bit of flood damage. These issues shortly disappeared, but then we found ourselves plowing through willows and fir trees along an incredibly overgrown trail. The actual trail was obvious, but the willows, shrubs, and trees were so thick I think I did more bushwhacking along the trail than I've done on my many off-trail excursions this year! With the exception of a complete soaking from the dew on the leaves, however, this wasn't really that big of deal. Of more concern were the multiple piles of bear scat (I counted 7) and numerous bear diggings along the trail. Coupled with the fact that someone was bluff charged by a grizzly here last year I made sure to make a lot of noise as we hiked!
After a few kilometers of lovely hiking (minus the brush) in the Commonwealth Creek valley we started the very steep hike up to Smuts Pass. I was quite thankful here to have soaking wet clothes as they helped keep me reasonably cool! A gusty wind that seemed to blow both up and down the hill also helped control the heat, and at a fairly strenuous pace we reached the eastern end of the pass a little over 30 minutes from the valley bottom. This was the point at which the scenery really started to explode. Lower Birdwood Lake laid about 40 m below in the pass, Mount Smuts rose sharply to the north, and Smutwood Peak rose to the west. The view back down Commonwealth Creek valley towards the Kananaskis range wasn't that shabby either!
Rather than descend to the lake and then reascend to the western end of the pass, we contoured to the left around the lower lake on good trail, passing the upper Birdwood Lake en route. The view in this area was absolutely stunning! Our route up Smutwood Peak began at the western end of Smuts Pass. It was as simple as hiking up the ridge to the west and following it to the summit. Several areas along the way - including right at the start - looked like they'd involve significant scrambling, but as we got closer a way around or up each of them became visible. The ascent was nothing more than a hike until the final 100 m, but even this last section was nothing more than an easy scramble, although perhaps at the upper end of "easy".
Views from the summit were much more spectacular than we'd expected from such a relatively low peak. Pointy Mount Birdwood to the south stole the show, but being surrounded by rugged alpine terrain, glaciated Mount Sir Douglas, and the emerald-blue Birdwood Lakes certainly distracted us from it! The peaks to the west across the Spray River valley were nearly as impressive, Mount Assiniboine rose into the clouds to the northwest, and many peaks of the Kananaskis and Spray ranges poked out on either side of towering Mount Smuts. A frigid wind and a peculiar cloud that blocked the sun from the summit, and only the summit, prevented us from hanging around too long, although we did stick around long enough to eat a hasty (and tasty!) lunch in the hope it would warm up. It never did and after about 30 minutes we started back down, finding several warmer resting places en route. The trip back to the car was uneventful with the exception of a pair of ptarmigan (male and female) that I walked right past before Sandra pointed them out to me. Another great day in (on?) the mountains!