Mount Armstrong November 18, 2006

Mountain height:           2804 m
Elevation gain:              1200 m           
Ascent time:                  8:00
Descent time:                4:05

Scrambling and a little mountaineering with Mark and Raff.

Mount Armstrong is one of the most prominent mountains on the horizon when driving west on Highway 541. We had been planning on attempting it for sometime and now in mid-November, time was running out for this season.

Hoping for a repeat of last week’s conditions, where we were able to bike the approach to Threepoint Mountain on snow-free Big Elbow Trail, we started riding up Baril Creek Trail. The trail was not snow-free, but riding still faster than walking, and with a 13.5 km approach, a modicum of speed was going to be essential. Even then, we had planned to do a large portion of the return trip by headlamp.

The first creek crossing was the crux of the approach. Thankfully, not only were there two logs bridging the stream, but also a rope to hold onto. Bikes on our shoulders, we crossed and continued on. We ditched the bikes shortly after, at about the 8 km mark. The snow was becoming too deep and the creek crossings more difficult. Throughout the approach, we were granted terrific views of our snow-covered objective and Baril Peak further south, under perfectly clear skies.

Arriving at the south end of Armstrong, where the trees were fewer and the view more open, was even more spectacular. Mount Bolton was plastered in snow and low clouds would move in obscuring its lower portion, leaving only the summit visible. Scenic outliers of Baril and Cornwell, enjoyed the same interesting meteorological phenomena. Unfortunately, these entertaining patterns of low cloud were a fore-shadowing of things to come.

Mount Armstrong basically has two south ridges (one more west of the other), and we were hoping that we could ascend the most easterly of the ridges and then make a loop route by descending the west one. Steep, slabby, and snow covered terrain and one daunting-looking rockband along the ridge, precluded an attempt of the easterly south ridge and so we when for the westerly one, as described by Gillean Daffern.

The slog up to Daffern’s highpoint initially was beautifully scenic. Unfortunately, as we ascended, the clouds from the west started to build and we reached the highpoint in a total whiteout and very low visibility. Another repeat of last week’s Threepoint trip was now in order. We traversed that long ridge in a brutal snow storm, with very limited visibility. We arrived at the Threepoint summit to a total whiteout, but just as we were about to leave, the skies miraculously cleared, granting us magnificent views. On Armstrong, we were expecting the views to be even more breath-taking and so we decided to continue on in the hopes that the skies would clear later in the day. Raff, at that point, very astutely pointed out that we were not in the Front Ranges this time, but on the Continental Divide: a magnet for long periods of bad weather and whiteouts. It turned out that Raff’s prediction was correct and we did the remainder of the trip in a whiteout and viciously cold temperatures.

Nevertheless, the ridge traverse itself was very enjoyable and the low visibility and stark white background against the white snow did increase the challenge. Mark led the entire traverse. A short distance along, we decided to rope up. With sheer whiteness all around, it was becoming difficult to judge the contour of the ridge and often we couldn’t see what was more than 5 metres in front of us. In addition, there was definitely some significant exposure on both sides of the ridge. A few short downclimbs were a little tricky with the added snow, but in general, the traverse was straightforward.

Exactly eight hours after leaving the car, we arrived at the summit to our most disappointing summit view to date, simply because we were expecting it to be one of our best summit views to date. With about 2 hours of daylight remaining and brutally cold conditions, staying at the summit to wait for clearing was not an option and we started down almost immediately. Going back along the ridge, the sky would occasionally open up a little, but not for more than a few seconds. Back at the first highpoint, we did see a taste of the view to the south and west, as patches of open sky would appear.

The remainder of the descent was uneventful and we did the last 2.5 hours by headlamp. Certainly, not a bad day, but I think we all would have sacrificed the summit for a clear view at the first highpoint. Definitely a mountain and an area we’ll be returning to.             

The east face of Mount Armstrong


Same as above


Out into the scenic terrain of the Fording Pass area


Mount Bolton


More open terrain


Low cloud below the outliers of Cornwell


Mount Bolton pokes above the the clouds


Heading towards the westerly south ridge of Armstrong


Ascending snow slopes to the ridge


Preparing for the slog to the highpoint


On the corniced ridge, with the highpoint at the right


Raff and Mark ascend the ridge; Baril Peak in the background


At the first highpoint; the last we'll see of the sun for a long time


Mark leads the ridge traverse


Raff downclimbs a small step along the ridge


Raff and me on the ridge


The only good view at the summit!


Raff at the summit


Heading back along the ridge


A brief moment of slight clearing


More of the narrow ridge


Back at the first highpoint, with another brief break in the cloud cover


Signs of winter


Mark does the return crossing of Baril Creek