Distance: 20 km
Elevation gain: 1575 m View map Download GPS track
Several years ago I spent an enormous amount of time poring over maps and satellite imagery in search of rarely-ascended peaks that would be possible for Sandra and I to summit with our limited skill set. I mapped them out, put the list on my website, and then watched as peaks that hadn’t been ascended in decades suddenly became popular. I guess I should’ve predicted that, but regardless, that list was promptly removed! Thankfully a few gems remained unloved, one of which was Red Man Mountain. It hadn’t had a reported ascent since Rick Collier’s in 1992
, looked easy enough, and was in an area I’d only explored once before.
While Collier’s route seemed reasonable, my research had turned up another, seemingly more attractive route from White Man Pass. I’d pretty much decided to head up this new route when a quick search revealed that on July 8
of this year someone had ascended the mountain via Collier’s route and noted no difficulties. Despite the annoyance of being beaten to the summit, I decided that it was perhaps best to play it safe and take the same route now that its modern feasibility had been confirmed. Alison joined us for the ascent, meeting us at our campsite at McLeod Meadows
the night before.
We awoke at 5:00 am in a futile effort to beat the heat of the day, and after a short drive south on Highway 93S we turned onto the dusty Settler’s Road. Roughly 12 km from the highway we turned left at the first major intersection, crossed the Kootenay River a kilometer later, then turned left at the Nipika Resort onto the Cross River FSR. Around 19 km later, immediately after crossing the Cross River, we turned right onto an old logging road and followed it to kilometer marker 43.3. A side road descended to the tiny Cross River at this point, and while I could’ve crossed in the truck and driven perhaps 1.5 km, I decided instead to park before the river and proceed on foot.
After wading across the river we hiked quickly along the logging road, reaching a massive washout 4 km and about an hour from where we’d parked. This was the drainage Collier ascended, but meltwater and flood damage made it impractical to hike up it, so we instead took to the forest along its southern bank.
A moderately nasty and very steep bushwhack with ample sidehilling ensued, and by the time we were through it Sandra and I were mentally and physically exhausted and Alison’s scratches made it appear as if she’d spent hours in an epic battle with kittens. Swarms of mosquitos certainly didn’t help the situation either.
The bushwhack ended at a large rubble slope with a cliff and cascade at its far end. We hiked up the rubble to the right of the cliff, then continued a short distance to a small meadow. Another cliff and waterfall greeted us here and we initially started up the rubble before noting the valley to our left likely offered an easier and more direct route to the summit. We turned towards it and ascended alongside its beautiful stream, soon reaching the vast meadows to the south of Red Man Mountain.
The scenery from this point forward was absolutely breathtaking and we slowed down a lot as we took it all in. Brilliantly green summer growth, wildflowers, snow patches, and the red, orange, and grey rocks combined with the expanding mountain panorama and blue sky to create a riot of color that fully compensated for the tortuous bushwhack and mosquitos we’d endured to get there.
We gained as much elevation as possible in the meadows, then hiked to the crest of the south ridge of the mountain and continued to the summit. The grade was relatively gentle the entire way, the red argillite scree was stable, and the only area of potential concern – a large slab spanning the width of the ridge – turned out to be extremely grippy and very straightforward.
The view from the top was spectacular, particularly towards Mounts Brussilof and Alcantara
and the Assiniboine region, and we spent a long time wandering around the spacious summit to get different perspectives on the peaks and valleys. We couldn’t find a register, unfortunately, but it’s very unlikely this peak has seen more than a handful of ascents. It’s quite wonderful to still be able to find such unexplored places!
After an hour on the summit we started back down, deciding along the way that we would attempt to descend via my alternate ascent route. This route would traverse a low col to the southeast of the summit before heading down a valley and intersecting the White Man Pass trail. I was quite sure the col and valley wouldn’t pose a problem, but was less sure about the terrain below treeline. However, the Skyline Hikers
ran large camps out of White Man Pass in 2009 and 2016 and had ascended the peak above the col from their camp, strongly suggesting there was an easy route connecting the col to the pass. Coupled with Alison’s routefinding skills the risk of getting stuck seemed quite manageable, so we set out for the col with minimal trepidation.
The short 50 m ascent to the col was easy, as was the descent into the pretty valley on the other side. As the valley narrowed we picked up an obvious trail with sporadic flagging, but lost it in the lush growth as the valley widened. I led us in the direction of the pass, but we had to retreat when we found ourselves at the top of a cliff with no easy way down. Alison found the trail again, right where it should have been at the lowest point of the valley, and we followed it to another impenetrable cliff. After a few sinking moments of panic Sandra spotted a small piece of blue flagging, and with a bit of searching we picked up a trail that cleverly weaved its way down a series of otherwise impassable cliff bands. While it was steep in a couple places and there was a sense of exposure at one point, travel along the trail was no worse than a typical very easy scramble.
The trail had been blazed decades ago and was recently maintained (presumably in 2016) and led us to a large open meadow to the west of White Man Pass where it joined the official trail to the pass. A piece of flagging marked its faint beginning near the south end of the meadow, perhaps 10 m north of where the main trail crosses the tiny Cross River. If you can find it, the trail provides an easy, bush-free route to the summit of Red Man Mountain with little to no scrambling required.
After filtering some water for Sandra and Alison we started down the White Man Pass trail. It hasn’t been maintained in a couple years and had a fair bit of deadfall, but it was in no worse condition than any other backcountry trail. An hour and 3 km later we arrived at the end of the old logging road, and an easy 2.5 km walk along the main road then brought us back to the truck, concluding one of my most memorable and interesting ascents to date.