Distance: 25 km
Elevation gain: 1935 m Route map
To me it's a fantastic feeling to plan and execute an ascent of a mountain very few others have stood atop, but there aren't many such big peaks accessible to my relatively limited scrambling abilities and those that remain are dwindling fast in this age of copious beta. Alison is very similar to me in that respect, and four years ago had come across a little gem of a mountain – Haiduk Peak; one that could likely be very easily scrambled and that had only two recorded ascents from 1977 and 2005. Alison planned the ascent from an old Rick Collier report, maps, and satellite imagery and today we finally got around to tackling this peak.
The day before the ascent I had a minor panic attack when I discovered the Verdant Creek/Honeymoon Pass trail – our access route – was listed as "closed". Thankfully Alison did a quick bit of searching and discovered that this had nothing to do with the actual trail, but rather to construction of a road bridge over the Kootenay River near the trailhead. The map included with the order clearly showed only a block of terrain around the first hundred meters of trail was actually closed, meaning we could legally bushwhack around the start and then continue on our way.
We parked in a picnic area just across the Kootenay River from the Honeymoon Pass trailhead shortly after 7 am, then undertook a frustrating bushwhack to the actual trail to avoid the small closed area. Once on the trail we were able to make quick progress, stopping only to snack on huckleberries and saskatoons and slowing only to detour around a few fallen trees. To our dismay, the deadfall increased substantially as we gained elevation, and in many cases it was quite difficult to get around, over, or under the mess. Gratefully the entire route was in the shade of Hawk Ridge, so at least we weren't overheating.
The deadfall near the pass, swept down Hawk Ridge by avalanche, was horrendous. Alison noted it was comparable to the worst of Haffner Creek, and we were reduced to hiking along logs and hoping we didn't fall. It was the worst I've ever experienced and it took us about an hour to cover the last 400 m to the pass. Alison came out unscathed, but I whacked my knee quite badly and had to stop to drug it to try and keep the swelling down. <rant>Parks Canada, and by proxy, all Canadians, should be deeply ashamed by the grotesque state of our National Parks. Thousands of kilometers of trail such as this one, most used for millennia by indigenous peoples, have fallen into such disrepair that they're in quite possibly their worst condition since the last ice age. Please think about what you want from your parks and let that guide your vote!</rant>
On the northeast side of the pass we picked up a good and recently flagged trail that we followed 150 m down to Verdant Creek, then left the trail to hike upstream alongside the creek. This went relatively well, but most of the route was through knee to chest-high bushes that further tired us and certainly didn't feel great as they whacked my busted knee.
Near where a creek flows down from the valley southwest of Haiduk, we crossed Verdant Creek (very easy, but we removed our boots as there weren't a lot of good rocks to hop on), then ascended into the valley. This involved some terrible bushwhacking through spruce forest for the first half, but the upper half was through lovely larch forest with a carpet of wildflowers. It was pretty cool to think that we were also probably only the second party to ever set foot in this valley!
From treeline we plotted a route to a col south of the summit that would keep us on generally low-angle terrain and take advantage of some sparse vegetation, then settled into a slow upwards plod. As we moved onto scree and rubble we were happy to find it was quite stable, and while we had to be continuously aware that the larger stuff could shift under our weight, the slope was generally not steep enough for rockfall to be a concern.
Between the col and the summit the rubble was quite large and many acrobat moves were required to stumble up it, but it was nothing more than easy scrambling as our hands were necessary only for balance. For nearly the entire ascent we had assumed we'd need to detour around a cliff band just below the summit, but as we approached we spied a very easy route up and minutes later we were standing on the spacious summit.
The summit view was wonderful, of course, but I've been atop many mountains and the purpose of this trip wasn't the view – it was the adventure of reaching the summit of such a rarely-ascended mountain. We'd been talking about it for a couple years, we'd just endured some of the most hellish bushwhacking I'd ever done, we were exhausted, but we'd succeeded! It was super exciting to open the register and realize that we were only the fourth party to sit where we were and merely the second party (Rick Collier being the first) to ascend via Honeymoon Pass.
We stayed on the summit for nearly an hour celebrating our achievement, then reluctantly started back down. Descending the tedious rubble of the upper mountain took almost as long as ascending it, travel through the upper valley was nice for the 15 minutes it took, then we entered the long bushwhack down the rest of the valley and Verdant Creek. Our route differed slightly from our ascent route, but were both the same in terms of difficulty.
The ascent back to Honeymoon Pass was pleasant, but crossing the log field was again horrendous and startlingly dangerous. I'm certain a fall onto one of the fire-hardened spears would kill, and with an hour of balancing on logs of varying stability and size, it's a minor miracle we both escaped alive, although I did spear my finger at one point. Shockingly, Parks still promotes this as a backpacking route.
When we finally reached the highway 12.5 hours after having set out, a driver pulled a u-turn and came back to talk to us as it was clear "we'd just done something epic" (we probably looked near death at that point!). It turned out to be Kevin Papke, another scrambler, and it was great to chat mountains with him for a few minutes! It's such a small world; his wife had recently graduated from St. Mary's and I'd also taught his niece chemistry a few years back.
A stop in Canmore for fast food concluded the day. It was tiring, I'm a bit bruised and scraped from it, I can't really say anything good about the entirety of the route, but it was amazing to have succeeded and wonderful to be only the fourth ascent party!