by Happy Alfano
I have been escaping to the mountains since I was a child. My progression from camping to summits has been a slow and steady progress. It really started taking off when I discovered the epic wonders of backcountry snowboarding. I had no desire to push my limits, only to explore. I have recently hooked up with a new upcoming mountaineer on the Alberta scene. Seeing the Canadian Rockies with a new perspective is why I love taking others out. My first summit was in the David Thompson Corridor, DTC. It has been 20 years since then, and I had not returned to the area. There is so much exploring to do here in Canada, it is unreal, and I consider myself extremely fortunate.
Early October 2017, shoulder season, I was invited to revisit the DTC. The area is not part of any official parks system. The area is free to random camp and it is sacred to the folk who frequent the area. I met up with my new partner on Abraham Lake, late at night. Tents were pitched, a fire was started, and we started to discuss our beta on the objective for the next day. We had a window. The snow had already begun to fall but the usual wind in the area was missing. Mount Ernest Ross was the main objective of the trip, but we had big plans to explore the ridge beyond and the connecting summits.
We awoke in a flash at 5am, hours before the sun. The trail head was only a few kilometres down the road and we were ready for the first snow filled summit of the season. The trail up was the usual, a steep and quick ascent through the trees, up to the ridge. Due to the DTC not being part of the park, there were braids and animal trails galore. It would be easy to get off route without some beta, yet my partner had frequented the area and we are not lacking in the route finding department. With no switchbacks and just a few ‘hands-on’ moments, we were on the ridge and quickly ascending to the alpine. The sun had just started to rise but we missed the glory of it due to cloud cover. Almost immediately, we were rewarded with delicious views of the surrounding mountains. Michener was screaming at us to come back, but that objective has to wait for Abraham Lake to freeze over. William Booth is an easy and long ridge that radiates the essence of the Canadian Rockies, and the 5-peak Ex-Coelis is a mountaineer’s dream.
The day cleared up, the snow was just a skiff, and we were in sight of the false summit. The final approach to the false is where the fun begins. This is the part that weeds out the trail hiker from the scrambler. Exposure levels rise, and some serious hands-on scrambling begins. Ice axes and crampons are a must for this time of year. Dry tooling made the false summit easy to attain, and we were laughing on top of it soon enough.
The true summit is down a col. It can seem daunting and with the snow conditions we were encountering, and it can definitely be sketchy. There is a clear way down the the col, as well as an easy way up to the summit of Mount Ernest Ross. Playing it safe, due to the cracking snow slabs, we opted to bail on the connecting ridge that we were after. This mountain offers some stellar scrambling, so we decided to go off route. The playground offered in the DTC is almost untouched by the regular summit junkies. We nailed the true summit, soaked in the views, and laid our eyes on all the beauty surrounding us. We spent the rest of our day finding things to climb, making plans to come back and tackle all the objectives in the area, and sharing huge smiles. There was plenty of action to be had. Of course there was the ceremonial high five. Then there was the easy descent back to the car, and back to camp.
The little known and seldom summited peaks in the David Thompson Corridor on Highway 11, Alberta, Canada, woke me up to the endless possibilities in the Canadian Rockies. We left with a renewed vigour to hone our skills and the desire to return. This place may be out of the way, but it is worth the drive due to the solitude offered. Escaping the crowds in the Banff and Jasper National Parks is always a plus for the locals. We will be going back.
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