Distance: 20.5 km
Elevation gain: 1625 m Download GPS track
Ever since we scrambled up Big Bend Peak
we’ve wanted to return to the area for a second dose of the spectacular scenery. Mount Saskatchewan Junior, located just to the west of Big Bend Peak
yet sporting a remarkably different summit panorama, was our destination for this return trip.
After parking in the tiny hidden parking lot just below the Big Bend on the Icefields Parkway (almost impossible to see if coming from the south), we crossed the old concrete bridge and headed upstream along good trail. The trail disappeared on the glacial flats, but we had no trouble picking up where it re-entered forest on the other side. A slow and steady ascent along the old road followed by a short descent then brought us to the open slope we’d used for our earlier trip up Big Bend Peak
. Ascending this slope was just as terrible as it was two years ago, but we reached the forest above it just one hour after having left the truck.
It was at this point that we significantly complicated our day. From our earlier trip up Big Bend Peak
I’d spied a very easy route along an enormously broad alpine bench that appeared to lead directly to Mount Saskatchewan Junior, and this was the route I had always planned on taking. The guidebook directions
, however, are to descend to the creek, hike up the valley alongside it, then turn and head for the peak. For whatever reason I sort of split the difference, gaining about 200 m of elevation in the forest before contouring towards the creek. This failed miserably when we encountered impenetrable bush, and after conferring with Sandra we decided that the safest route was to retrace our steps, drop down to the creek, and ascend via Nugara’s route
. This was an enormous mistake.
Despite a description of light bush and an intermittent trail along the creek, we encountered the thickest bush we’ve ever persevered through. IT WAS ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE! In one place avalanche paths from both sides of the creek intersected and had to be crossed, and that wasn’t the worst of it, just the easiest part to describe how awful it was! The only hint of a trail we found was a cairn obviously marking where one had to enter a thicket of krumholtz to detour around a canyon. Have you ever bushwhacked through krumholtz!? The krumholtz wins, and we’ve both got wounds to prove it.
After this absolutely hellish experience we emerged onto open rubble slopes. Travel obviously improved at this point, but stumbling over the glacial rubble was far from pleasant and while the view of Mount Saskatchewan was spectacular, being trapped in the valley limited our view to just it. We angled away from the creek at this point, sidehilling up towards the plateau below Mount Saskatchewan Junior, both of which remained out of sight until we reached the plateau itself.
When we reached the plateau we collapsed from exhaustion, refueled while flying ants competed with mosquitos for landing space on us, then continued over undulating glacial debris towards the peak. We aimed for an obvious low col along the Saskatchewan Junior ridge, ascending first over glacial debris, then rubble, and finally scree.
From the col it was a simple hike to just below the summit of Saskatchewan Junior I (the southernmost of the two summits). The final 50 m was over very steep and loose shale, and while Sandra initially hung back, I urged her onward when the incredible summit panorama appeared. Much of the Columbia Icefield and many of its peaks were right there in front of us. It was incredible! With our wounds scabbed over and bruises not yet developed the view pretty much made us forget the first half of the day.
We ate a recuperative lunch on this summit, then continued to the higher northern summit (Saskatchewan Junior II). A direct traverse was blocked by some small cliff bands, but contouring around them to the left worked just fine. The view back to the slightly lower south peak and its glacier was spectacular from the northern summit, as was the improved view of the Saskatchewan glacier and glaciated Mounts Andromeda and Athabasca. It’s certainly worth the effort to go to the second summit.
We didn’t linger long before heading back, contouring around the south peak before making our way back to where we’d gained the ridge, then scree surfing down to the rubble below. I’d long ago determined that I’d never set foot in the horrible valley again, and so instead of descending further to the glacial debris flats we contoured around the eastern end of the ridge on black rock, slowly losing elevation but never leaving the black rock.
As we neared the valley separating Saskatchewan Junior from Big Bend Peak
the slope steepened, but we easily made our way down to the lower bench. We then simply contoured around the true and false summits of Big Bend Peak
before gaining just 60 m of elevation to reach the plateau below the false summit. Travel was exceptionally easy, the only bushwhacking involved gently brushing up against flowers, and only a few hundred meters was over hardpacked glacial rubble. Without a doubt this is the best way to Saskatchewan Junior. No one should ever set foot in that awful valley!
From where we intersected the plateau below the false summit of Big Bend Peak
we simply made our way back along the ridge as we’d done when we ascended that peak. Bushwhacking was very light and we soon reached the top of the nasty slope we’d ascended at the start of our trip. Instead of descending the dirt and rubble we stuck to the forest, quickly arriving at the old road after very light bushwhacking. Upon re-reading the description in the guidebook
, I realized that this forest route, not the scree and dirt slope we’d ascended, is the recommended route.
A quick exit along the road and the glacial flats then brought us back to the car, scratched, bruised, and bleeding a bit from the hideous morning bushwhack, but very happy with the views and feeling satisfied that our route had worked out so well.