|June 19, 2005 Gain- 4000'+/- Summit- 9840' 8 Hours+/- Alpine I-Peaks 4 and 5
Lat/Lon: 51.68°N, 116.37°W
Dolomite Peaks are located on the northeast side of the Columbia Icefield Parkway
in Banff National Park, one of four connecting national parks located in the heart of
the Canadian Rockies. They were officially named in 1897 by those who thought
they resembled the Dolomite Range of the Italian Alps. Dolomite is rare in the
Rockies and is stronger than unaltered limestone, therefore, preferred by climbers.
The summit mass of Dolomite Peaks is a mixture of limestone and dolomite and
have weathered into distinguishable splintered and slender rock towers. At least
one of the Dolomite Peaks (there are five actual peaks) was first ascended in 1930
by Thorington and Kaufmann.
The only published route is in the Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies book.
However, I do not consider Kane's notes as helpful and/or accurate in my own
assessment. The route I added to Dolomite Peaks is my own version and was
done in spring conditions making it an Alpine rated climb. The summit gives way
to the Wapta Icefield, Crowfoot Mountain and its glacier, Mt. Hector and the Molar
glacier, Cirque Mountain (which shares the Dolomite Pass), Bow Summit/Bow Lake
as well as the remote vast mountain ranges to the east. This is not a common
objective or route. Without snow and ice, I am sure the route is much more
reasonable. There are no published alpine rock or ski routes on Dolomite Peaks.
The Trans-Canada Highway dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come
in from Calgary. Continue past the Banff and Sunshine Ski Resort exits to Lake
Louise. Exit onto the Columbia Icefield Parkway. Drive 28.5 km north from the park
kiosk (forced stop to check park driving permit which you should already have). Pull
out to the right in a small unmarked gravel parking area just after a small bridge
across Helen Creek (unmarked). There is an old ski trail that starts on the left side
of the creek (unmarked). We encountered a black bear crossing the Parkway at
Mosquito Creek. This road is probably the most “wildlife viewed” road in all of North
America. I have witnessed Moose cross the road as well in this area. I advise
following the speed limit for that reason.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter the park. This
pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National
Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit
requirements to climb in Banff National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is
also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the
backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website
which is included in the camping section below. Park headquarters are located in
Banff and you will drive through the manned kiosks as you enter the park.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your
person. We just had a grizzly fatality in Canmore, June, 2005. Many times
throughout the past few years this trail has been closed due to bear activity.
That would make getting in this “not so common” of a trail difficult. I advise checking
with Parks Canada before you plan this climb. It was open in June, 2005.
When to Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June
through September. However, I climbed Dolomite Peaks in June and faced full on
alpine conditions requiring alpine ax and full body post holing in places. These
would be highly unusual conditions for June. Record setting storms plagued the
month in 2005. There appear to be no reasonable ski routes to the summit
although you access the area via an old ski trail.
The closest camping is located back south a few kilometers at Mosquito Creek
Camground located on the west side off of the Columbia Icefields Parkway. We
observed a black bear cross into this campground on our return. You can go on
line at Banff National Park to pick your camp site and obtain your camping permit.
You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit, if you are going to use a
backcountry site, which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously.
Banff National Park’s website has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc.
Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful,
particularly for winter travel.
This is a 4000’+/- ascent day, but I recorded 5400’ on my altimeter. It depends on
how many peaks you are ascending and/or which ones. Follow the old unmarked
ski trail on the west side of the road up and over a ridge down to a much tamer
portion of Helen Creek. This is a widely used animal trail today and is subject to
bear closure by the parks. There is a good chance, depending on when you are
going in, that you will have to remove your boots to cross the creek. We ran across
in gaiters and stayed relatively dry. Continue on the trail for 5 minutes to the second
avalanche slope. Stay on the trail across this open area and leave the trail to your
right on an upward diagonal into the trees and gain the ridge directly under the
Dolomite Peak with a pinnacle to its right. We ascended the right hand side of this
avalanche slope, only to have to traverse deep snow to the proper ridge up high.
Stay on firmer ground to the right, but notice the softer scree to your left, useful for
descent. Ascend several thousand feet to the base of Dolomite Peaks. Several
steep walls confront you with multiple gullies running out of these walls. They
present you with several alternatives to the summit mass itself. Dealing with a ton
of new snow, we first traversed left by a wide gully to a shorter one that started with a
significant roof low to the base. We ascended the immediate left of the roof on rock
and ice and felt somewhat protected. Continue left and traverse right to climb a
short step up onto a horizontal deep snow ledge. Proceed to the left hand corner
and turn right to ascend a final narrow snow gully that takes you around to solid
climbing up peak number four (from the north). Downclimbing this route with
prevalent snow and ice conditions demands attention.
Once back at the base, traverse back south to the wider gully and ascend deep and
steep snow past several ice-rock bands to a narrow steeper section about 200’
above. Pass through this narrow section and traverse right to stay out of the middle
avalanche area. Circumvent back around left to a small col that grants tremendous
views out the “back door” of the Dolomite Peaks. Enjoy a rest and remove your
alpine gloves for the challenging ascent to the final summit. Pass through a small
opening on the right side of the “finger” gendarme to the base of a corner climb up
solid rock. <b>Notice the exposure over your right shoulder. A fall here could land
you several thousand feet down the east side of the Dolomite Peaks.</b> Climb the
corner crack to the final summit of peak 5. The summit gives way to the Wapta
Icefield, Crowfoot Mountain and its glacier, Mt. Hector and the Molar glacier, Cirque
Mountain (which shares the Dolomite Pass), Bow Summit/Bow Lake as well as the
remote vast mountain ranges to the east.
Imagine the look on my face when on descent I observed that my ascent route
had been rubbed out by a point avalanche that occurred when I was on the
summit. As my partner, who had stayed behind, surveyed the avalanche debris
several thousand feet below, I descended the new route of rock and ice, minus the
snow. Thus the need to pack that extra ice tool which I had. Once back out of the
gully, take a breather and descend the ridge you ascended earlier in the day to your
immediate left. Do not descend the avalanche gully directly below. You will find
fast and soft scree to descend, climbers right on the ridge. The bushwhacking
below tree line on this ridge is easy going compared to most routes in the Canadian
Rockies. Continue back down to Helen Creek and the old ski trail heading back
south. We found Kane's published route information unreliable for this ascent, in
Helmet, gaiters, bear spray, alpine ax, ice tool and crampons (if early season) and
goggles for possible harsh winds and/or intermittent snow storms.
Tony had found my website goggling for beta in the Canadian Rockies earlier this
year. He had purchased a “round the world” ticket from Australia for mountaineering
purposes. When he arrived in Canmore, Alberta during the wettest June in recorded
history, I broke the news that all of our Alpine climbs were out of shape. I seemed to
be the only bloke going out and that basically involved getting to tops of scrambles
to get my own assessment of the good alpine routes. What I had to report was not
what he wanted to hear.
So off we went to do some tougher scrambles which meant full on alpine climbs in
these conditions, axes and crampons in tow. I even considered dragging my skis
out of the closet on occasion. After showing Tony summits in Kananaskis, Banff and
Lake Louise, I took him to the Dolomite Peaks in the Columbia Icefields. The
climbing was interesting to say the least. Once we approached 8000’, we were
forced with a traverse through waist deep snow to position ourselves under Peaks 4
and 5, our objectives for the day.
Deciding which snow-ice gully to ascend brought on debate. I wanted vertical rock,
free of snow and ice, and Tony opted for snow, finally we agreed on an ice-rock-
snow combination. We had alpine axes and one tool a piece and opted to leave the
rope and pro at home. I led us through a maze of rock, deep snow and ice to the
upper ledges, just stuffed full of fresh snow, the waist deep variety. We hurried our
way across objectionable avalanche hazard to a corner of the summit mass of Peak
3. There awaited a steep and narrow snow gully that precariously led to firm rock on
the backside. On descent, downclimbing one specific rock step, Tony pulled off a
perfect looking piece of limestone. It welcomed him to the Canadian Rockies
version of good rock. After descending back down to the base of the summit mass,
I was up for more, but Tony had enough (smart man). While he waited for me lower
down the slope, I proceeded to ascend Peak 5, the most esthetic of the Dolomite
Peaks. I wanted a much closer view of the “finger” gendarme.
This route was a much wider snow filled gully over rock and ice than what we had
just ascended. It meant a “blue collar” type of climb through arm pit deep snow. I
worried about its stability, but also knew I could move much faster solo up this slope
which gave me more confidence, thus, I was willing to take more chances. Once up
the initial wide gully, there came a squeeze through a much narrower section. I put it
in high gear with tool and alpine ax and swung out to the right on a short ridge to get
out of harms way as soon as possible. Then on to the first prize, a small col on the
right hand summit ridge that exposed the “back door” of the Dolomite Peaks out
east. The view was exceptional. This col was chocked full of a large section of ice. I
then proceeded left up to the gendarme for the finish. I squeezed through a key hole
in the piece to stay as far off of the exposed (2500’ drop) east side as possible.
The southern exposed face of the final summit block of Peak 5 was clear of snow
and ice and gave up an excellent solid corner crack to the summit. This corner was
the crux in terms of technical climbing and exposure, but was the most comfortable
situation, in these conditions, of the entire ascent. I spent zero time enjoying the
summit, realizing I would not rest well until back through the deep snow and out the
gullies that awaited my descent. As I made my way back through the narrow gully, I
noticed that all the snow lower than this section was gone!!! I can only imagine the
look on my face. It had slid while I was finishing off the summit. What was left was
rock and ice that I had not ascended, so all of a sudden my descent route and
ascent routes were extremely different. What caused me more concern was what
Tony must be thinking down below. I knew he was safely perched on a broad
section of the ridge below Peak 5, but he could have only assumed I caused the
avalanche on descent. In reality, it was a point avalanche that started well above my
tracks by circumstance.
I hurried through new downclimbing problems, using my tool as a hooker and
breathed a huge one once I landed at the summit base and moved to the south
corner. The avalanche debris had descended another 1500’ below where I stood,
up and over several rock gullies and formations. Tony had in fact descended this
ground to the left to access the avalanche and look for any sign of me. As I followed
his tracks in a hurry, I finally heard his whistle and knew he could now hear me and
we put each other at ease. The slope continued to move as we stood there and
thanked all powerful Mother Nature for letting me off the hook, one more time.
Dolomites, Canadian Style!
CLICK TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
1. Dolomite Peaks 4 and 5
2. Precarious Upper Snow Ledge on Peak 4!
3. & 4. Cirque Mountain and Wapta Icefield
5. & 6. Peak 4 Route Photos
7. & 8. & 9. Peak 5 Route Photos
10. & 11. Avalanche on Route Photos
12. & 13. Peak 5 Route Photos