For something different, we approach Assiniboine from the west (British Columbia), rather than the Alberta-side approaches of either Mt. Shark or Sunshine ski resort. This approach starts with driving from highway 93 onto Settler’s Road and parking just past the Mt. Brussil of Baymag Magnesium mine. The walk in from BC is about 12km, much shorter than walk in from Mt. Shark in Kananaskis. The BC approach, however, involves some glacier travel and scrambling up steep, loose morraine above Assiniboine Lake – it is not just a hike. An excellent description of the approach and route is at DowClimbing.com.
After leaving the car wrapped in chicken wire to protect against porcupines, we find a reasonable trail up the valley, and soon come to this creek roaring down through the lush forest from Aye Mountain. Fortunately it has an excellent log bridge across it, with a steel cable for balance, as otherwise this fast-flowing stream would have been a difficult crossing! The trail continues easily up the valley to the beautiful Assiniboine lake.
After walking around the lake, the trail peters out and the route turns into scrambling up scree and morraine, crossing a small glacier (open crevasses) and finally a very steep, loose rubble slope to gain the col between Mt. Strom and Assiniboine.
At the col we can see the Hind hut down below us, with Magog Lake and Assiniboine Lodge below that in the meadows. We stroll on down to the hut and enjoy some dramatic weather in the afternoon as a storm blows through. The plan for tomorrow is to leave very early to try and beat these afternoon thunder storms.
The Hind Hut is a very basic shelter, a single-room metal building with what’s been described as “sardine style” sleeping arrangements, built by the Alpine Club of Canada in 1971 at the base of the normal route on Assinboine. Apparently renovated in 2011, it is now brown instead of the funky blue colour it was in 2006.
Stormy Weather Attempt
After yesterday afternoons storms, we are keen to get up and down the peak as quickly as possible. A groggy wakeup at 4:00, walking by 5:00 under a beautifully clear sky as we head across the glacial moraine towards the base of the standard 5.5 north ridge route.
Scrambling up the lower part of the ridge we soon get into the snow and verglassed rock left by the storm. The verglas (a thin layer of ice on the rock) makes for very slippery travel and slows us down as we need to go carefully and occasionally clean ice off the rock to get a solid foot-hold. The rock is consistently loose – Assiniboine may be a stunning looking peak from any direction, and tallest point in the southern Rockies, but what a heap of rubble this mountain is!! A cloud forms over the summit, and we take no breaks, no time for photos, moving up as quickly as possible to get up and down before today’s storm develops.
We put the rope on for the first cliff band, and then continue up to the second, again putting the rope on. We have now climbed up into the thick of the cloud, and snow and grauple have started to fly about.
Flash, Bang, Retreat
Suddenly there’s the brilliant flash of lightening below us, nearly simultaneous with a sharp crack of thunder – terrifyingly close! – and we instantly drop down into a crouch, throwing our ice axes to the ground away from us. We wait a minute or so to make sure there is not another lightening, but there is no debate, and we quickly descend back to the top of the cliff and setup a rappel to get down and out of this storm immediately. No messing around with lightening when you’re standing on the highest point for a 100 kilometers! We are all tense, literally feeling the buzz of the electricity in the air while the snow and graupple intensify, swirling around us in the wind. We rappel through the upper cliff band, and move steadily but carefully down, scrambling down out of the storm. Another rappel, more scrambling, and then one final rappel, where I have a minute to snap a photo of Josef as he sets himself up at the boulder wrapped with rappel slings – not the most sturdy place to hang from, but it will have to do.
Not far below the 3rd rappel we drop out of the storm. It’s not snowing anymore, we are out of the lightning zone, and tensions relax. Strolling down to the hut, make some soup and have lunch. Assiniboine one, team zero, but we’re down safely, and the mountain will be there for quite a few years for another attempt.
Together with some other parties, we lounge in the hut as the storm grows, rain pelts the ground all around us and thunder cracks. After a couple of hours the storm blows over and we all head back out to take photos of the stunning weather as the clouds clear from the mountain, now covered in a light dusting of fresh snow.
After a relaxing afternoon and evening spent lounging around the hut and chatting with the other groups here we crash for the night and then pack up and walk out the same way we came in. The morning weather is mixed, with patchy clouds coming in over the mountain. The view east, down towards Magog Lake where the historic Assiniboine Lodge sits, is beautiful, with the early morning light throwing long sunbeams across the meadows.
It’s a shame to leave this stunning place on such a nice day. We hike back towards the west over glacier morraine, and as we crest the col the view down to Assiniboine Lake is stunning. The weather is very calm and the lake is glassy smooth.
In the shale around lake we find several fossils, including this stunning trilobite that had been fossilized with iron pyrite (fool’s gold). We hike around the lake, down the trail through the forest and in a few hours are back at the car for the drive home.
Unsuccessful summit attempt but a great long weekend adventure! Thanks, Josef and Bruce!
Darren Foltinek, @2009