⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer. ⚠️
It’s always a great joy when any of my kids want to go hiking or fishing with me. All three of my kids have summited multiple mountains, but with their active teenage lives, hiking with their old man is not always possible, nor is it always high on their list of social priorities. 😉 So when my two sons, Joel (19) and Nathan (17), asked if they could go hiking with me on Thursday, I was in parental seventh heaven. The last time that both boys came with me was in August 2012, when we had to turn back 3/4 of the way up Syncline Mountain after Joel suffered an asthma attack brought on by allergies caused by too much bushwhacking. Also, though we didn’t know it at the time, Nathan had an extremely large and rare tumour, known as Juvenile Pharyngeal Angiofibroma, growing in his nasal cavity. Several surgeries later, the benign tumours look to be gone but his new battle is with post-surgical Trigeminal Neuralgia which is a chronic pain condition that affects the facial nerve on the left side of his face. This would be the first time he had gone hiking since 2012, though Joel has accompanied me up several peaks since then. Also joining us was the boys’ friend Keagan, who was relatively new to off-trail hiking/scrambling.
I chose Racehorse Mountain (a.k.a. Racehorse Peak) because I seemed to be one of the few local hikers who hadn’t yet made the pilgrimage to the top – and because it seemed to fit the bill for what we were looking for: a short approach with no bushwhacking and a relatively quick turn around time. We ended up choosing a different route to the top than most people use, and as a result, increased the amount of scrambling fun.
Racehorse Mountain is located directly north of Mount Ward and Window Mountain Lake in the Crowsnest Pass. To get to it from Lethbridge, turn right (north) off of Highway 3 and onto the Allison Creek Road just west of Coleman. Once the pavement ends, the road forks. Keep to the right and follow the road for about ~15km. The road up Racehorse Pass comes just after the left turn for Window Mountain Lake (~17km from the highway). It is the second left once you cross the bridge over South Racehorse Creek (this is the only bridge you will cross up to this point). I drove my vehicle part way up the Racehorse Pass Road and parked at an obvious ATV track that left the road and headed to the north. From here, we had an easy hike up the road.
The usual route up Racehorse Mountain is to follow the road until you reach the SW slopes and then follow the obvious ridge to the summit. Since the boys wanted to do a little more scrambling, we chose to ascend up a gully located on the left slope of the massive drainage bowl that is located a few hundred metres before the usual ascent route. Since Keagan was new to scrambling, once things became a little more technical we trended climber’s left out of the gully and made our way over to the main ascent ridge. From here it was a pleasant ridge walk to the summit with only a couple of minor cliff bands that could be overcome either by tackling them head on, or by staying to the climber’s left.
I left the boys on the summit and scrambled north along the connecting ridge to a high point (7m higher than the summit) that I called ‘The Pony’. This required some technical manoeuvring and in some places, the ridge was quite narrow and exposed. I could have continued to the higher north peak, but after studying the conditions of the route between ‘The Pony’ and the north peak, I concluded that there was no way that I could safely descend the way I went up. To continue would have meant leaving the boys on the summit and finding another way down off of the north peak, so I returned and rejoined the boys on the summit.
Our total distance travelled was 10.2km with total elevation gains of 917m. Our entire trip took 5 hours and 54 minutes.
No 4Runner today, just our little Honda CRV. I drove part way up Racehorse Pass road before we decided to park where an ATV trail joins the road from the north. I had spent the previous morning replacing the radiator in the CRV so the short trip up Racehorse Pass road was a good test of my mechanical handiwork. Besides, even though I’ve never met Sonny Bou, if he thought that his CRV could make it up this road, then that is good enough for me.
A partial panorama with Mount Ward on the left and the base of Racehorse Mountain on the far right.
The usual route up Racehorse goes up the ridge pictured on the right. It is easier to access this ridge from the SW slopes which are not shown in this picture, but are later on.
Just before reaching the usual ascent route up the south ridge, we came to this massive drainage bowl next to the road. Here is where we decided to leave the road and ascend a gully on the left hand side.
We stuck to the rock in the gully until things started to become a little technical for Keagan (and we forgot to bring our helmets). We then trended to the left and gained the south ascent ridge.
Another view of the bowl, this time from near the base of the mountain. The gully we followed is visible on the left (note the large black hole caused by water erosion).
The angle of this picture makes it look steeper than it really is. The rock in the lower portions is generally good and we did not find it difficult to scramble up. Once you get into the upper sections, there is more loose rock and you have to be careful. This is looking up at the black hole that was mentioned in the previous photo.
Nathan and Keagan work their way up.
This layer of black rock contained thousands of embedded fossil crinoids.
A closeup view of the fossil crinoids.
It was another hazy day in the mountains due to forest fires, so any long distance pictures were largely obscured. This is looking south at the Seven Sisters, Crowsnest Mountain, and Mount Ward from part way up the ascent gully.
Joel scrambles up a section to the climber’s left of the gully. Joel is the climber in our family and always looks for the most hands-on way of getting to the top. He refuses to wear hiking boots because he claims they hamper his footing, but I think he does it just to drive me nuts.
Joel looks back down on the section he just scrambled up.
Nathan takes a break on the side of Racehorse Mountain. Behind him is Mount Ward where I took a similar picture of him in 2010…
Nathan on Mount Ward in 2010 with Racehorse Mountain behind him.
Joel finds an enormous feather in the upper reaches of the bowl.
Here is where we began to trend left out of the gully in order to gain the ridge.
The upper sections of the bowl become a little more technical with loose rock on slabs. For some reason, we left the helmets behind and when we came to this section with loose rock, we skirted climber’s left and over and onto the ridge.
Keagan scrambles a small section to the climber’s left of the gully.
Looking up at the final section before the main ascent ridge.
From the top of the ridge, I watch as the boys make their way up.
After scrambling up and out of the bowl, we were now on the south ascent ridge up Racehorse Mountain. Mount Ward, “Deadman Peak”, and Allison Peak are in the background. Ma Butte can be seen in the distance on the far left.
Joel makes his way along the ridge. Mount Coulthard can barely be seen through the haze (far distant centre).
Nathan takes the lead as we make our way to the summit (not visible).
The summit ridge finally comes into view.
A lone scrambler stands on top of the peak to the north of Racehorse. As I will explain later on, it requires some technical skill to make it from the summit of Racehorse to the higher north peak. It would be difficult to descend the same way you ascended the north peak and this climber would choose to descend by wrapping around the northeastern face of Racehorse, so we did not get a chance to meet him. Edit April 2016: It turns out that the lone scrambler was Andrew Nugara, author of, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. Andrew and I were recently chatting about scrambles in the Crowsnest Pass and the topic of Racehorse Mountain came up. After looking at my trip report and comparing it with his own notes and pictures, Andrew identified himself as the mysterious ‘lone scrambler’. What a small world! You can read Andrew’s TR for Racehorse Mountain here.
Nathan scrambles up a small section of rock near the summit. The most common ascent path up Racehorse is clearly visible behind him.
Joel snapped this ‘action’ shot of me as I scrambled up some rock directly beneath the summit.
Joel attaches the massive feather that he found earlier to the summit cairn of Racehorse Mountain (2667m – my GPS). Directly behind him is an unnamed peak that is connected to the north peak. The mountain in the distance on the left is Mount Domke. Umm, I wouldn’t step backwards Joel…
Looking northeast from the summit towards the north peak. The high point in the middle is ~7m higher than the summit.
Looking to the southeast from the summit. A smoky haze obscured our views. The Seven Sisters and Crowsnest Mountain are on the left, Mount Ward is in the centre, and Allison Peak is on the right. Mount Coulthard can be seen through the haze in the centre.
A closer view at the unnamed peak just to the north of Racehorse Mountain.
A telephoto of the Seven Sisters and Crowsnest Mountain.
Looking to the west from the summit. In the distance is Erickson Ridge with Gaff Peak on the right.
A telephoto of the lone scrambler as he gets ready to leave the north peak. Edit April 2016: As I noted earlier, this is Andrew Nugara.
Leaving the boys on the summit, I decided to venture towards the higher north peak.
The connecting ridge between the summit and the north peak requires some competent abilities as it is quite narrow and exposed in places.
Looking back towards the boys on the summit from the high point along the ridge. I ended up calling this ‘The Pony’ just because I could… At 2674m (my GPS) it is 7m higher than the summit.
From ‘The Pony’ the route to the north peak requires some elevation loss and some technical scrambling to the top. I quickly surmised that while I would have been able to make it to the top, I would not have been able to retrace my route back to the summit and collect the boys. I think I might return one day and scramble up the right side of the bowl and finish the north peak.
Edit April 2016: This is a picture that Andrew snapped of me standing on ‘The Pony’. In the distance on the summit are the boys. The picture also highlights the technical nature of the terrain between ‘The Pony’ and the north summit where Andrew was. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Looking north from ‘The Pony’. Mount Domke is in the distance on the left.
Looking back down at our ascent route from ‘The Pony’.
The boys pose together for a summit shot.
Nathan, Joel, and I on the summit of Racehorse Mountain. It’s always special to stand on a summit, but to do so with your kids makes it even more significant. This was Joel’s 8th summit and Nathan’s 3rd.
There wasn’t a register to sign so we carved our names into the wooden posts that lay next to the cairn.
A telephoto of Mount Erickson.
One last look at the summit cairn before leaving. Joel’s addition of the feather probably won’t last too long…
To descend, we chose to head down a gully on Racehorse’s SW slopes. I initially thought that we would stay to the climber’s right of the gully, but we chose to work our way down the actually gully itself. In hindsight, it would have been quicker and easier to have stuck with the original plan.
The boys make their way down to the drainage gully. The scree was miserable on either side of the gully.
Looking down the drainage gully to Racehorse Pass Road. Ascending via this drainage would also offer some scrambling options.
Looking back at our descent route from the road. The slopes to access the south ridge are clearly visible on the right.
The reverse shot of an earlier picture that showed the commonly used ascent ridge up Racehorse. This is the SW side where access to the ridge is easier.
Once last look back at our ascent route as we head back along the road.
After an exceedingly fun day on Racehorse Mountain, we finally arrive back at our vehicle. On the way down, we passed a group of hikers who had two young babies with them. They were just out for a sightseeing jaunt along the road and were enjoying the day. It reminded me of some of the hikes my wife, Melanie, and I did when our kids were little (such as Bear’s Hump in Waterton) and now here I was with my 19 and 17 year-old sons still doing the same thing. My next goal is to get my 15 year-old daughter and both of my sons onto a summit at the same time… then maybe Melanie? 😉