Distance: 17 km
Elevation gain: 1450 m View map Download GPS track
A few weeks ago Alison and I had discussed heading up rarely-ascended Survey Peak for her 300th summit milestone, but decided on Mount Lyall and Beehive Mountain instead. It’s a good thing we did too. The few online reports that existed for Survey Peak at the time described a horrendous and unavoidable bushwhack, but last week a group went up and reported that a good flagged trail led pretty much all the way to treeline! Armed with this new information and a GPS track for good measure we set out today for a trip up Survey Peak.
We arrived in the parking lot just north of Saskatchewan Crossing at 8:00 am and set out along the wide trail to Glacier Lake under cloudy and somewhat ominous skies. Soon we crossed a large bridge over the raging North Saskatchewan River, then reached the “red chair” viewpoint of the Howse River. As we continued along the easy trail we kept an eye out for flagging marking the start of the trail up Survey Peak, finding it without issue 3.2 km from the parking lot.
There wasn’t much of a trail near the initial flag, but we set off into the forest following the flags and soon came across an old and very obvious trail heading up the ridge. There were dozens of logs across the trail, some of which had been recently cut, but all were easy to step over and bushwhacking was nearly non-existent. As we gained elevation the deadfall across the trail diminished considerably and sporadic flagging kept us on route whenever the trail temporarily faded. Overall travel was no more difficult than on any other unofficial trail in the Rockies.
A couple hundred vertical meters below the northeast ridge, near 2050 m, the trail turned to the left and continued for several hundred meters without gaining or losing any significant elevation. The sporadic flagging disappeared as well and we eventually decided it wasn’t going to take us where we wanted to go, so we set off up the steep slope leading to the ridge. Bushwhacking was moderately intense as we made our way up, but as we knew we had less than 200 m to treeline we didn’t really care.
We had a snack at treeline, then continued up the open slope as the view rapidly expanded. At one point I paused to snap a photo of the peak, and just as I turned off the camera I looked to my left and saw a mother elk and her very young fawn starring back at us, obviously surprised by our presence! It was pretty awesome to see, but I couldn’t get the camera back on before they ran off.
The final 300 m to the summit was on rubble, but it was mostly stable and easy to ascend. When we’d first planned this trip we’d expected the absolute worst bushwhacking and rubble slog, but we got none of that and had a surprisingly easy time on the entire ascent.
The view from the top was as spectacular as expected, especially that into the isolated and wild valley below Mount Erasmus. Thankfully the ominous clouds of the morning had mostly dissipated and the weather remained quite nice for the entirety of our trip. We spent quite a while wandering around the long and spacious summit, then spent even more time refusing to head back down, despite the cold wind. The panorama was just too spectacular to pull ourselves away from!
Eventually the cold did drive us from the summit and as we made our way down we stuck to the meadows of the northeast ridge until they ended. At one point I took a bathroom break and when I looked up there was a weasel staring right at me, probably wondering what the heck I was doing to his home! I retrieved my camera and spent a bit of time trying to photograph him as he continued to study me; he’d probably never seen a human before. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife on the trip, but the two sightings we did have were quite unique.
From the end of the meadows we moved into the open forest, easily making our way back to the trail with only very minimal bushwhacking. If you’re repeating this ascent, continue up the trail until it dips slightly and starts contouring around the peak about 200 m below treeline, then leave the trail and head directly up the ridge. A piece of fresh flagging on a large spruce tree marks this point, although more than likely you’ll pass it and need to backtrack. The most open forest appeared to be right at the turn, so don’t do what we did on the ascent and just bash your way up!
The remainder of the descent was straightforward, but we were tormented by swarms of mosquitos that kept us from taking any breaks. I did ok as they can’t bite through my shirt and my hat generally keeps them off my face, but Alison was eaten alive and itchy by the time we reached the Glacier Lake trail. The entire trip, including nearly 90 minutes of eating and sightseeing breaks, took just 8 hours. It was another wonderful trip up an unpopular peak!