Mount Chephren – July 22, 2006

Mountain height:  3274 m
Elevation gain:     1630 m
Ascent time:         9:45
Descent time:       8:00

Scrambling and a little mountaineering with Mark.

I thought that after a marathon 4 peak day in Yoho, 5 days earlier, Mount Chephren as a day trip would be a walk in the park – I was dead wrong!

We left the parking lot at 6:00 am and soon arrived at the scenic Chephren Lake. The lake was perfectly still and reflected awe-inspiring Howse Peak in its waters perfectly. Though we had toyed with the idea of rafting across the lake, but we didn’t have a raft – which would make rafting across the lake that much more difficult – so we chose to walk. We were both surprised by a good trail at the lakeshore and thought an earlier than expected arrival at the start of the scramble was in the works. That was until we reached the boulder field. The boulder hoping was fun (in its own way), but time consuming and it was 8:30 before we arrived at the west side of the lake.

On the way, another party caught up with us, with the northeast face of Howse Peak as their objective. I almost felt like genuflecting! Anyone who has seen that route knows why – sustained 5.8 climbing up hundred of metres of near vertical rock, with a less than trivial descent that requires one to summit White Pyramid and then escape to the White Pyramid/Chrephren col via a steep and extremely narrow snow/ice aręte, with a horrifying drop down the north side. Certainly made our little plan to scramble up the south side of Chephren seem trivial (except to us!).    

Back to our trip: getting over the second of two melt-water streams proved to be problematic. In the end, we had to ford the stream, though it was thankfully only several metres wide – but bone-chillingly cold none-the-less.  Then we decided to try and shortcut up to the crest of the moraine – another bad choice, requiring us to actually get the rope out on the steep terrain.

Finally on the lower slopes of the mountain, we started up. The scenery was stunning throughout, and thank God, for it was a more than a 3 hour slog just to make it to the start of the actual scrambling. We worked our up the first rockband (the crux of the route) slowly and carefully - as Kane mentions, it is quite steep. At the top, we noticed a rappel anchor set up about 30 m away. The next part of the route was a much easier combination of scree bashing and easy scrambling up pleasant ledges and cairns marked the way nicely.

We thought we might make the summit block without running into snow, but our luck ran out just before turning the corner to start the final push. There wasn’t a great deal of snow, but enough to warrant concern and extra care. Crampons, axes, and the occasional belay were instrumental in getting us past this section. By the time we turned the corner to the striking view of the White Pyramid/Chephren col and White Pyramid’s chilling east ridge, we were both exhausted. Neither of us were particularly thrilled to find out that we still had 300 vertical metres of elevation to go, but no-way were we about to back down now, even as the time of 3 pm approached.      

We chose Kane’s direct route to finish the ascent and it was quite interesting, especially when we started up a steep chute, to find a very new-looking, fat, white rope hanging halfway down. That’s when your mind starts playing with you. Common-sense says don’t touch or use anything you haven’t set up yourself or know for a fact is reliable. Of course, a big, juicy rope, at the 9 hour, 1300 vertical metres of elevation gain, part of your day is like Adam and The Apple – ultimate temptation. Let me refrain from divulging whether I used that rope or not – let’s just say I like a good apple as much as the next guy.

We crawled up to the summit at 3:45 pm and both collapsed – a 9.75 hour ascent. Our summit stay was a long one for two reasons: as stated, we were exhausted and needed recovery time and secondly, high clouds had unfortuitously rolled in, marring the “unequalled” summit panorama (Kane). We could see everything, but everything always looks better beneath a blue sky. As Kane stated, the summit view was exceedingly impressive – too many 11,000ers to mention, the stunning Freshfield Icefield, massive Mount Murchison, the turquoise Waterfowl and Chephren Lakes, and of course the entire magnificent northeast face of Howse Peak. Looking down the tremendous, vertical east face of Chephren, it was hard to believe that some people climb one of two routes directly up the face from the valley bottom.  

After exploring the summit ridge, we started down at 4:45 pm, taking Kane’s “other” route, via the west ridge. This route yielded some additional views of the hanging glacier on the northeast side of White Pyramid and again, looking at the narrow snow/ice aręte of the mountain’s east ridge made me shudder. This route also turned out to be a little longer, because again, we were forced to put on the crampons to traverse a couple of minor snow slopes. The remainder of the descent was surprisingly fast and we were surprised to find another rope dangling down the first rockband upon arriving at the rappel station we had seen earlier in the day. Naturally, we opted to rappel the rockband instead of downclimbing it and of course, we used our own rope to do so!

The two meltwater streams had increased in size dramatically, by the time we arrived at the lake. This meant having to reascend the moraine and circumvent the first one. Luckily we able to navigate the boulder field before darkness set in, but complete exhaustion had long since passed and the last 2 hours were mind-numbing. A couple of times, while on the Chephren Lake Trail, I actually almost fell asleep while hiking. Needless to say, we spent the night at the nearby campground, instead of driving back to Calgary.

An unbelievably scenic and enjoyable trip that involves an almost equal amount of suffering – well worth it.

Howse Peak reflected in the waters of Chephren Lake


Same as above, further alongside the lake


Mount Murchison 


Around the lake and looking up at Chephren


Approaching the second stream, with Howse Peak behind


More of Howse Peak


Another view of Chephren, from the moraine


Howse Peak


Looking back to Howse Peak


More of Howse with some flowers thrown in for colour


The gully we took to gain the lower slopes 


The summit block and more flowers


More Howse, more flowers, and Mark


Starting up the easy rock steps


More enjoyable scrambling after the crux rockband


Assessing the route on the upper section


Traversing snow slopes, with the lake far below


White Pyramid and its east ridge; Mount Forbes to the right


Exhausted and we're not even close to the summit


The upper ridge


Looking down Chephren's east face, the lake is 1.5 km below


A summit view of White Pyramid, with the Freshfields behind


The Waterfowl Lakes and Chephren Lake


Mark looks down the east face


Exploring the summit ridge


Same as above


Same as above


The Freshfields


A closer look at White Pyramid


The hanging glacier on White Pyramid


A last look at Howse Peak


Mark rappels the crux


Evening reflections in a meltwater lake

OTHER TRIPS