Mount McCarty 19 July 2014


Mount McCarty from the summit of Poker Peak.

⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer⚠️

Recently, a colleague told me about a study where the researchers concluded that the various shades of green which are found only in nature, had an overall, positive psychological effect on people.  As someone who spends a considerable amount of time in the mountains fishing and hiking, this would appear to ring true, though I am curious as to the parameters of the study.  I mean, did they also test people’s reactions to other colours found in nature, such ‘grizzly brown’ or ‘cougar tan’, before concluding that green was more favourably received?  Did they use a laboratory setting or was it set up like Discovery Channel’s ‘Naked & Afraid’?  Anyway, with this little nugget of information tucked into my brain, I set off on Saturday for a hike up Mount McCarty with Bob Spirko and Jeff Lang.

I’d had Mount McCarty on my summit radar for quite sometime, and so had Bob, but little did I know that our outing would also afford us the opportunity to conduct our own research into the soothing qualities of green nature.  Our informal and impromptu study, which I’ve entitled, The Psychological and Physiological Effects of Heinous Bushwhacking, was designed in such a way that for extended periods of time, each of us was given the opportunity to get up close and personal with all of the shades of green found on Mount McCarty.  With all of that exposure to greenery, you would think that we should have been in an almost Zen-like state by the end of the day, perhaps even bursting into spontaneous yogic flying.  While all of the results of our study are not yet available, (for example, as the only one to wear shorts, how much leg hair did Jeff actually lose?) I think it’s safe to conclude that without factoring a successful summit attempt into the equation, bushwhacking for the sole sake of immersion into greenery may not produce the expected result of ‘Serenity Now!’.

Fortunately however, a successful summit changes everything, as does good company, and despite the last minute route change; heinous bushwhacking; wicked wind on the summit; and a smoky haze, Mount McCarty ended up being a very enjoyable day – though as I read what I just wrote, I’m wondering if a separate psychological study might be in order… 😉

Click here to read Bob’s trip report.

Mount McCarty 1 (1)

This route is not what we had planned on using, but the bridge closure on the Carbondale River Road forced us to change our plans.  Fortunately, Bob came prepared and suggested this as the alternate route.  After parking our vehicle at the bridge, we walked approximately 1km up the road (staying to the left as if going to the North Kootenay Pass) and crossed the river when we came to a washed out bridge.  From here we proceeded to follow the road for approximately one more kilometre until we came to a fork in the road.  As you can see from the map above, we made the mistake of taking the left fork before realizing our mistake and backtracking to take the road on the right.  The road on the right is less travelled and is slightly overgrown, but this is the road to take.  The road continues on for several more kilometres and after a couple of switchbacks it begins to head toward the SE…  UPDATE: I had heard from a fellow hiker that the Carbondale River Road had reopened in the Fall of 2014.  On July 11, 2015, I confirmed that it is indeed open.  However, once you pass the first fork in the road and continue west towards the North Kootenay Pass, the road needs a high clearance vehicle (read 4×4) to navigate.  I was able to drive my 4Runner quite far up the road but bikes probably would have made better time.

Mount McCarty 2 (1)

….at approximately the 5.3km mark (from where we parked), we came to a fork in the road where the main road veered to the right and an overgrown offshoot continued toward the SE.  Here we kept to the left and took the offshoot.  It is overgrown in parts, but we kept following this road for about 400m until we came to a small meadow.  At the end of the meadow on the right hand side, a small trail began that continued for a short distance into the trees.  Someone had recently used a chainsaw to cut fallen logs along the path, but after only a hundred metres or so, the trail completely disappeared and our bushwhacking fun began in earnest.  Approximately 400m from the meadow we came to the base of the first ridge and we began to climb up through the deadfall toward the lake and the base of McCarty.  At the 7.8km mark, we finally reached the top of the ridge and had our first open views of the day. From the top of this ridge we continued bushwhacking to base of the ascent ridge.  After bushwhacking (are you sensing a pattern?) up a steep slope to the top, it was an easy hike to the summit of Mount McCarty. The distance from our vehicle to the summit was 10.85km.  On our descent from the summit, we noted that there was a better route that we could have used to get from the top of the first ridge to the ascent ridge slope.  By better, I mean there was less bushwhacking to be found by sticking to the eastern side of the ridge. We used this route on our way back and it definitely saved further aggravation.

Mount McCarty Graph

The total distance for our hike was 21.2km with a total elevation gain of 1182m.  The entire trip took 8 hours and 20 minutes.


Our original plan to drive to an access road that led to the north face of McCarty was thwarted by a bridge closure on the Carbondale River Road.  Though tempted, I decided against fording the river in my 4Runner (I believe ‘chickened out’ is the technical term).  This meant we had to change our plans on the fly as walking to our original route was definitely out of the question.  Fortunately, there is a reason why they pay Bob the big bucks (the man has achieved over 400 summits), and he saved the day by producing a prepared alternate route marked out on his map.


Jeff gears up at our parking location next to the river.


Bob and Jeff walk down the closed section of the Carbondale River Road toward Mount McCarty.


When we came to a fork in the road, we stayed left (North Kootenay Pass) and paralleled the river.

About a kilometre from our vehicle, we came to what was once a bridge, but is now probably only used by people who want to re-enact scenes from the Dukes of Hazard.  Here is where we left the main road to access the ATV roads that lead toward McCarty.


Bob wades across the river near the washed out bridge.


Previously I mentioned that we briefly took the wrong road before having to backtrack and take the road on the right.  Well, this is the spot.  After approximately 1km of following the road from the bridge we came to this fork and went right, and  onto the ‘road not taken’ – somehow that phrase sounds familiar…


Bob and Jeff walk along a section of the road that was overgrown with daisies.


We only saw two types of animals on this trip: grouse and cows.  Here, a hen thinks she’s hidden in a tree after we startled her and her chicks.


After several kilometres on the ATV road, Mount McCarty still seemed a long way off.  This would be our last view for several hours.


I also previously mentioned that at the ~5.3km mark from our vehicle, the ATV road forks, with the main path turning to the right, while an overgrown offshoot continues to proceed toward the SE.  We stayed to our left and went up this offshoot (pictured) until we came to a small meadow.


After ~400m of walking along the offshoot, we came to a small meadow.  At the far end of the meadow, on the right hand side, there was a small path that led off into the woods.  Someone had recently cut logs to clear the path in places, but only for so long.  After about 100m or so, the path disappeared and the bushwhacking began in earnest.


Green is good for you, right?  This is a typical example of the kinds of brush that we had to navigate our way through.


Bob gets ready to disappear…


Besides the thick green stuff, there was also dead stuff to navigate through as well.  Oh well, variety is the spice of life.


My turn to disappear.  (Photo by Jeff Lang)


Almost 8km from our starting point, we finally emerged on top of the first ridge and we were treated to our first full views of the day.  Mount McCarty is in the centre and Peaks 1 and 3 of Syncline Mountain are on the left.


Bob and Jeff make their way along the top of the ridge.  The bushwhacking was still far from over.


Looking to the SE towards Peaks 1 and 3 of Syncline Mountain.


Bob and Jeff enjoy a brief lunch break beneath the slopes of Mount McCarty.


A scenic little lake sits beneath the slopes of Mount McCarty.  Our original route would have come over the little ridge on the other side of the lake.  At this point, we had now joined our originally planned route.


Some pretty Bear Grass.


Another look down at the lake before we hacked our way to the ascent ridge.  The pointy peak in the distance to the left of centre is Mount Darrah.  Crowsnest Mountain can be seen in the distance on the far right.


Looking up to the ascent ridge from the slopes above the lake.


Mount Coulthard can be seen in the distant centre while a giant, man eating mosquito hovers above us on the right.  Good thing Jeff was the one who wore shorts…


Jeff and Bob make their way up the steep slope to the ascent ridge. The first ridge that we ascended is in the background.  We used the more open slopes that can be seen on the right hand side of this ridge to avoid some bushwhacking on the way back.


Bob looks down at the lake from along the ridge.


The route along the ridge to the summit is straightforward and most importantly, didn’t involve any bushwhacking.


Jeff and Bob on the slopes beneath the summit.  Immediately behind them is the third peak of Syncline Mountain.  Gravenstafel Ridge and Mount Haig are on the right.  The unique shape of Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain can be seen in the distance to the left of Syncline.  Whistler Mountain and the old Whistler Fire Lookout are also visible on the the left.  Unfortunately, haze from forest fires obscured our views.


Looking back on our route from near the summit.


This was perhaps the most shocking thing that we saw all day.  Personally, I only expected to find a small cairn on the summit of McCarty, if anything at all.  I mean, how popular could Mount McCarty be?  When this massive monument came into view as we emerged onto the summit, I began to look around for hordes of other hikers.


The cairn on the summit is HUGE!  And by the looks of things, it has been there for a long, long time.


Despite the fierce wind gusts, we were able to examine the cairn while concurrently using it as an anchor.  There was no register, but tucked into a shelf on the west side of the cairn was a rock that had names carved on both sides.   The large inscription on this side of the rock says, “Norman Burdett, Tisdale Sask, 20 Nov 1949”.  The smaller inscription above it is harder to decipher, but appears to say, “R Potter UBC July/59 [or 49]”.


Inscriptions on other side of the rock appear to say, “David Wil[unknown] W [unknown] Ling July 29/60  Al [unknown]”.  At the very top, “DLL Scou [unknown] s” – a scout troop perhaps?.  Given the dates on the rock (1949 was the earliest) and the weathered condition of the cairn, Jeff and Bob speculated that the cairn was probably built by one of the parties inscribed on the rock.

I on the other hand, believe that humans from that time period did not have the technology to build such an impressive monument, nor were there any other rocks of the same size as those used to build the cairn located in the immediate vicinity.  Indeed, why would such a tall structure be necessary on the top of a mountain?  Could it possibly be viewed from space?  How did they move the rocks in the first place.  Surely, there must have been other forces at work.   While Jeff and Bob can hold to their ‘mainstream’ theories that people in 1949 had the technology to build such a cairn, I’m not convinced…

Ancient Aliens

So I will leave it at this. 😉


Looking to the SE from the summit at Peaks 3 and 2 of Syncline Mountain (left), Gravenstafel Ridge (centre), Mount Haig, and St. Eloi.


Looking south from the summit.  Tombstone Mountain is on the right.


Looking SW from the summit.  Hollebeke Mountain (also on my ‘To Do’ list) is on the left. Edit: Done!


Looking west from the summit.  Mount Darrah is visible to the right of centre.  The mountain in the foreground is Centre E3.


Looking east at Table Mountain (left), Prairie Bluff Mountain (distant left), ‘Table Top’ (centre), ‘Eagle Peak‘ (centre), Mount Gladstone (centre), Whistler Mountain, and the Whistler Fire Lookout.  The summit of Victoria Peak can be seen in the distance to the right of centre.


Looking to the NW from the summit.  Mount Coulthard and Crowsnest Mountain are in the centre.


Looking North from the summit. Maverick HillPoker Peak, Hillcrest Mountain, Turtle Mountain, and the South Peak of the Livingstone Range are barely visible through the haze.


Jeff and Bob take shelter from the wind behind the massive cairn.


Bob and I simultaneously take photographs of each other.  Centre Mountain is the tall peak on the left.  Behind him is Centre E3, though it looks like it would be an interesting objective all by itself.


Being a plumber means that Jeff is able to make great register containers.  After not finding another register container in the cairn, and not having the time, patience, or alien technology to carve our names on rock, we made our own summit register and left it inside the west side of the cairn near to the inscribed rock.


The wicked wind meant that we had to hunker down for the traditional summit pose.  I didn’t dare try to put my hat on so I’m quite happy with my hat hair.


Propelled by the wind, Bob and Jeff leave the summit at a brisk pace.


Another look back down at the lake and our approach route.


It was a pretty little lake.  It didn’t have a name on a map, but I bet ‘McCarty Lake’ might work.


The soothing power of nature’s greenery radiates from Jeff’s face.  Serenity Now!  Serenity Now!


Jeff and Bob make their way back along the top of the first ridge.

IMG_2798By diverting over to the eastern slopes of the ridge, we saved ourselves some bushwhacking.


A little rainbow spans the valley below.  Table Mountain is on the right and Carbondale Hill is to the left.


As I said before, at least the bushwhacking had some variety to it…


Bob and Jeff are barely visible as they make their way through the underbrush.  Constant route finding and waypoint marking was a necessity.


Shortly after arriving back on the offshoot ATV trail, we encountered an… ATV.  Both of the occupants were quite concerned for us as I don’t think they were expecting to see hikers in such an obscure locale.  They repeatedly asked us if we were okay and if we had seen any bears.  They then made sure that we had bear spray and pointed out that there was a DNA collection site for bears on a tree just around the corner.  They kindly offered to give us a ride (they were still trying hard to process that we were deliberately out there and were not lost) and I’m sure they were surprised when we declined.  It would have been nice to have had them give us a lift over the river though…


While there were signs of bears in several places, these were the largest animals that we encountered.

IMG_2816 (1)

A picture of some daisies that were growing alongside the river.


After a long day and a successful summit, we finally arrived back at our vehicle.  Though not quite in a Zen-like state of mind despite our constant immersion in nature’s greenery, it was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable day.  It was also really nice of Bob to make the long trip from Calgary to join us in tackling this obscure mountain in the Castle Crown.  For me, having great company on a hike always helps to make the day, and I thoroughly enjoyed our time with one of Alberta’s true hiking legends – Bob that is – sorry Jeff 😉



  1. Hi interesting hike. I know that years ago McCarty was stocked with trout, did you happen to see any fish jumping
    or was the lake pretty much dead? It does look shallow in the pictures. Thanks !

    1. Hi Darren, I’m always on the lookout for fish… However, on that day I did not see anything from our vantage points – no risers and no cruisers. Had we been able to do our original route, it would have taken us right beside the lake and I’d have a much better sense if it held anything. I had no idea that it had once been stocked. Sorry I can’t help you much.

%d bloggers like this: