Distance: 10 km
Elevation gain: 1050 m View map Download GPS track
Searching for a scramble that would be both easy and scenic, I decided upon Panorama Ridge near Moraine Lake. Rated as easy in Alan Kane’s scramble guide and situated adjacent to some of the more spectacular peaks in the Rockies, I figured it would fit the bill quite nicely.
The trip didn’t start out well, however. When I arrived at the Moraine Lake parking lot at 8:06 am it was already full with a long line waiting to get in. I assumed there was a Parks employee directing a car to a vacant spot each time one left, but this wasn’t the case. Instead, people were waiting near the entrance to the parking lot for someone to leave, but couldn’t tell if someone further away had left or not. The problem was that it isn’t possible to circle the lot looking for a spot, and the further you go into the lot the less chance you have of scoring a spot because the next person to leave might be behind you. It was a complete disaster and yet another utter embarrassment to the management of our National Parks system.
I eventually lucked into a spot at 8:47 and quickly geared up and made my way onto the trail, located to the right of the washroom complex. It was crowded, but once I turned onto the Consolation Lakes fork I had it nearly all to myself…except for the complete douche that was straddling the trail so he could pee right in the middle of it. Tons of forest, he’d just walked by the bathrooms, and he couldn’t even turn 90 degrees so others wouldn’t step in his piss.
Thankfully things improved after this and the hike along the trail was quite pleasant and shared only with normal people out for an easy morning hike. I’d planned to hike to the shoreline of Consolation Lakes and cross the outlet stream there as recommended by several sources, but shortly before the lake I noticed the stream was extremely shallow and decided to cross there instead. I’d brought water shoes in case the ford was difficult, but it was at most 8 inches deep with a pleasant rocky bottom.
Once across the stream I headed into the open forest, bashed through some fresh avalanche debris, and arrived at a quartzite boulder field at the base of the ascent slope. This was a bit annoying to cross, but otherwise fine, and I soon found myself grinding up the steep slope on relatively stable scree and dirt and often on a faint trail. As I gained elevation I migrated to the right onto vegetation, then as I approached a crumbled cliff band I trended back to the center of the drainage.
I’d been planning to detour to the left around the crumbled cliff band, but the lovely blocky steps in the waterworn gully looked pretty easy so I started up them instead. This was indeed easy, but as they disappeared the terrain was replaced with quite possibly the worst rubble and scree I’ve EVER ascended. It was extremely loose and I’ve dealt with that before, but in this case the rubble was also quite large, and there’s a big difference between slipping on little rocks and starting a cascade of 50 pound boulders.
As I struggled up this mess, zigzagging from side to side looking for something tolerable, things got progressively worse. Fifty pound rocks were slowly replaced by desk-sized boulders that were just as unstable. I had to test every step, and even then every second rock I stepped on would shift, dislodging another dozen precariously balanced rocks around it and sending me flailing for balance. My hiking poles were useless as they’d just skip across the smooth rock and so I ended up repeatedly catching myself with my hands, hoping I didn’t pull down an enormous boulder on myself. In the 260 summits I’ve reached I’ve never used my hands this much, and there are very few, if any, that were this dangerously loose.
When I finally reached the ridge a huge cornice with unknown edges and a 5-foot step blocked my way along it, so I had to retreat about 50 m back down and cut across the slope to a point beyond the cornice. Regaining the ridge was another riot of unstable debris, and while the traverse on quartzite boulders along the ridge to the summit was better, I still stepped on several dozen huge ones that would unexpectedly rock one way or another. This was in no way the easy scramble I’d wanted!
The one savior of the day was the spectacular view of the peaks to the west, the most impressive being Quadra Mountain. The panorama to the east, north, and south was nice as well, but not spectacular. The main issue was that the wonderful western view had been in sight during the entire ascent, and while more complete from the summit, I’d already been staring at it for more than two hours by the time I topped out. In all honesty the view from the end of the simple Stanley Glacier hike I did on Sunday was just as nice and involved far less suffering!
I couldn’t relax on the summit as I knew the descent would be absolutely terrible, so after a short lunch I started back down. Normally when things go this badly I would try another route, but my brain was so fried I couldn’t mentally picture the location of the cliff bands I’d seen from below and didn’t want to chance getting cliffed out and needing to retreat back up the mountain. Instead I reluctantly retraced my tracks back to the gully.
As I made my way slowly down, often surfing on rocks as they gave way underneath me, I decided that I’d much prefer a potentially uncontrolled glissade on the adjacent snow than on rock. I’d tried moving onto the snow on the ascent, but it was very steep and post-holing made ascending on it near impossible. Thankfully the snow descent worked much better. I still slipped a few times when I struck underlying slab, but with my legs usually anchored knee-deep in the slush I wasn’t that worried about an uncontrolled glissade.
The snow carried me over the worst of the mess and after that the descent was no more difficult than any other. After a bit of searching to find where I’d left my water shoes that morning, I crossed the creek and hiked out along the quiet trail. It wasn’t the easy scramble I’d wanted and the scenery didn’t live up to my expectations, but it was still better than work!