Planning, and then executing, a new ascent route is one of scrambling’s most satisfying activities. Sometimes, what appears straightforward on paper, quickly turns into nasty business when you’re on the mountain. Other times, what looks to be difficult ends up being easier than expected, but not without a surprise or two. It’s a rare day however, when a route unfolds so elegantly, that you find yourself standing at the confluence of simplicity and genius. Such was our experience with Bob Spirko’s route up “Lightning Peak” on the Livingstone Range.
Surrendering 72 m of preeminence to Centre Peak (2549 m), “Lightning Peak” (2477 m) is the second highest point on the Livingstone Range, yet it lacks an official designation. Other summits on the Range include Caudron Peak (2393 m) and nearby, Thunder Mountain (2335 m), which was the first peak to be ascended by a non-Indigenous person in the Canadian Rockies. (source) After reading Bob’s trip report in 2015, I’d been anxious to get up “Lightning Peak” myself, but always seemed to become sidetracked with other destinations. My friend, Brad, and I considered it as an early season objective this past spring, but never followed through. Then I read Andrew Nugara’s account of his ascent under winter-like conditions in April, and I knew that this had to be the year.
Joining me today was my nephew, Jeff, who, after taking 9 months off from hiking because of a knee injury, had successfully tested it out on “Shooting Star Peak” back in July. However, a recent MRI revealed that his initial injury had completely torn his ACL and partially torn his meniscus. Yet, that didn’t stop Jeff from summiting “Shooting Star” nor did it cull his ambition to ascend “Lightning Peak”. Besides, it’s always good to hike with someone who is slower than you – just in case you run into a bear! 😉
Both Jeff and I came away from the day marvelling at Bob’s route. His track up the northwest spur made gaining access to the mountain so simple that it’s easy to overlook the incredible work he did to even identify this obscure corrugation in the first place. I mean, that spur is hidden and to not only find it, but then to also discover a perfect animal trail leading all the way up, was pure wizardry. Moreover, given “Lightning Peak’s” proximity to Thunder Mountain, Bob’s appellation not only fits well, it’s also really cool to say!
Outside of our enjoyment of Bob’s route, the other interesting thing about today was returning to my 4Runner to find a note on the windshield informing us that as of 10:00 am (well after we started hiking), the entire Forest Area had been closed to public access due to the extreme wildfire hazard. With these conditions continuing into the foreseeable future, I’m not sure when this closure will be lifted, so I’m glad it worked out to summit “Lightning Peak” when we did. Hopefully the area will receive lots of rain with the only lightning present being the mountain itself.
To get to “Lightning Peak” from Lethbridge, we drove west on Highway 3 until we came to its junction with Highway 22. We then turned right (north) and followed Highway 22 for ~ 24 km until we arrived at the turnoff for the Maycroft Road (just before the bridge over the Old Man River at Waldron Flats). After turning left (west) onto Maycroft Road, we followed it for ~21.6 km, through the Gap, until we came to its junction with the Forestry Trunk Road. We then turned left (south) onto the Forestry Road and followed it for ~ 2.76 km until we came to a pull out on the left hand side, immediately before the bridge over Daisy Creek. This was our starting point. It’s also possible to get here by following Highway 3 to Coleman and then turning north onto the Forestry Road, however, even though it’s roughly the same distance from Lethbridge, Highway 22 allows for much quicker travel.
Bob’s route description was excellent and we had little trouble following it. From our parking spot we jumped on our bikes and followed the main OHV road south for ~3 km until we came to Pocket Creek. Approximately ~200 m after crossing it, we came to a junction where a side road joins the main road. We turned left (east) onto the side road and enjoyed an easy bike ride for ~1.4 km until we came to the drainage described by Bob.
Here, we ditched our bikes and began hiking south up the left side of the drainage as per Bob’s instructions, looking for the start of the animal trail located ~150 m from the road on the right bank. We initially missed the trail because we entered the drainage too early. Had we continued following the trail on the left side of the drainage, we would have come to a small cairn marking the point to cross. Directly across the drainage we saw another cairn and Bob’s orange flagging tape in a tree, marking the spot where the trail leads up the northwest spur.
Travel along the animal trail is delightful and someone (perhaps Bob) has left numerous small cairns to mark the way. From the drainage to the the top of the bluffs it was a ~1.6 km hike and as Bob notes, “Once on the spur, there is little chance of straying off-route.” The route from the bluffs to the slope up to the main ridge is obvious and we took Bob’s lead by sticking to the left (north) side of the gully for ~450 m before crossing over to the other side and then tackling the talus slope head on.
Once we were more or less on the main ridge, we began to angle to climber’s right (south) as we walked to the crest. From the crest we could see the two high points along with a partial glimpse of the summit – which was still ~ 2.2 km away. Scrambling up the high points was easy and from the top of the second high point, we followed a goat trail part way down the west face before descending to a more clearly demarcated track. From here, it was simply a matter of following the trail to the twin summits of “Lightning Peak”. We returned the same way, except I made a small, but worthwhile diversion to explore the cool arch formation located beneath the summit on the west face.
Our total roundtrip distance was 21 km with total elevation gains of 1393 m. We completed the trip in a time of 7 hours and 47 minutes.
Our starting point ~2.76 km south of the Forestry Trunk Road’s junction with Maycroft Road and just prior to the bridge over Daisy Creek (far right).
The road has a few spots where pushing is required.
Ah, much better!
Approximately ~3 km from my 4Runner, we arrived at Pocket Creek.
~200 m after crossing Pocket Creek, we came to the side road described by Bob.
Jeff stops to check the map after coming to a fork on the side road. Keep to the right at this point.
Unscarred from OHV use, the side road was a pleasant ride.
Approximately ~1.4 km from the junction with the main road, we came to the drainage where we stashed our bikes and set off on foot. Note the cairn in the foreground marking the route. Bob recommends starting off on the left side of the drainage because travel is easier. Then, after ~150 m, looking for the orange flagging tape that he left on the right hand side to mark the start of the trail that leads onto the northwest spur.
Jeff stands in front of the animal trail that leads up from the drainage and onto the spur. Note the small cairn next to his right foot and the orange flagging tape left by Bob in the small tree in the centre. We initially missed the trail because we entered the drainage too early. Had we continued following the left side of the drainage, we would have come to a small cairn that marked the point to cross. Directly on the other side is the cairn and flagging tape picture above. I added a couple of rocks to make the cairn even more visible because that’s just me – always doing my part to make the world a better place. 😉
A closer look at the animal trail that leads up from the drainage.
The trail was a delight to follow and either Bob or someone else had marked the route with numerous small cairns.
After an initial section of steep climbing, it was easy hiking along the spur.
A rough outline of the route from the spur onto the bluffs (centre). The trail peters out in places, but as Bob notes, “Once on the spur, there is little chance of straying off-route.”
Looking back at a rough sketch of our route from beneath the bluffs. I’m still impressed at how Bob was able to identify the northwest spur as an ascent route and how this coincided with the existence of such an accommodating trail.
Jeff enjoys the view from on top of the bluffs. From the drainage, it was a ~1.6 km hike to reach this point. The Sugarloaf Fire Lookout, which is Canada’s highest active lookout, is on the right. I’m sure they are on high alert these days!
From the bluffs we had our first look at the slopes that lead to the ridge.
We followed the left (north) side of the gully for ~450 m before entering the gully and crossing over to the other side.
Looking back at Jeff as he side-slopes the north side of the gully. This is not an easy thing to do when you’re missing an ACL and you don’t have a brace!
There are several drop offs inside the gully and steep cliffs impose themselves over much of the southern side. After ~450m we entered the drainage and followed it for only ~20 m or so before finding a small trail that led up to the top.
Looking at the slope that leads up to the ridge. We took Bob’s advice and tackled it straight on rather than trying to angle across it.
Jeff (lower left) makes his way off of the short, but steep rubble slope and onto a patch of grass. In the background on the far left is Sugarloaf Mountain while Thunder Mountain sits on the far right.
On the crest and looking south at the two high points that must be climbed before reaching the summit (not visible) – which from this point is still ~2.2 km away.
Gazing back and across the saddle at colourful twin peaks. They almost form a heart.
Our first look at the summit (right) and the arch formation beneath it. From this perspective the second high point looks tricky – but it’s not.
After making quick work of the first high point, it was an easy but fun scramble to the top of the second high point.
Jeff (lower left) follows me up.
Looking at the summit from the top of the second high point. A small goat trail leads down the west side (climber’s right) next to the rock in the centre. We would follow this for ~ 40 m before descending towards a more pronounced track that can be seen leading past the small outcrop of rock on the lower right. Someone had conveniently made a cairn on top of the outcrop to mark the trail.
On the lower goat trail and looking back at the the small cairn (left) situated on top of the outcrop.
Jeff gets ready to descend from the second high point.
Once on the lower goat trail, it was smooth sailing all the way to the summit. Note the arch to the right of centre.
Jeff makes his way along the lower goat trail on the west face of the second high point.
“Lightning Peak” (2477 m) features twin summits though only the south summit sports a cairn. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to upscale the cairn and name it. ‘Zeus’ would’ve been the perfect name too!
The north summit (and Jeff just to the left of centre). My GPS pegged the south summit at 2477 m and the north one at 2476 m – so they are the same.
The summit may not have immersive views, but it does offer big skies! A pano to the south…
…to the west…
…to the north…
…and finally to the east at Ky-es-kaghd-oghsuyiss (the Porcupine Hills).
This man just summited the second highest peak on the Livingstone Range with a completely torn ACL and a partially torn meniscus – and without a brace! Move over Chuck Norris, there’s a new way to spell tough, and it’s: J-E-F-F.
It was a beautiful day with little to no wind and only a slight haze from forest fires.
We each had our own summit.
A telephoto of Centre Peak (left), which at 2549 m, is the highest point on the Livingstone Range. The summit of Morin Peak is just to the right of centre, while Hillcrest Mountain, Turtle Mountain, and Bluff Mountain are all on the far right.
To the west sits the High Rock Range. From left to right: Mount Tecumseh, Phillipps Peak, Crowsnest Mountain, the Seven Sisters, “Deadman Peak”, Allison Peak, Window Mountain, Mount Ward, “Mount Racehorse”, Racehorse Mountain (Peak), and two unnamed peaks that I refer to as “Stallion Peak” and “Thoroughbred Mountain” – both of which are on my ‘To Do List’. Middle distance from left to right: McGillivray Ridge, Ma Butte, and “Vicary Creek Ridge”.
More of the High Rock Range with Racehorse Mountain (Peak), “Stallion Peak”, and “Thoroughbred Mountain” on the far left and Mount Secord and Mount Erris on the right.
Leaving the summit. Gould Dome (2894 m) and Tornado Mountain (3099 m) are in front of me . (Photo by Jeff “I can beat Rocky Balboa” Lang)
On the way back, I decided to visit the very cool arch located beneath the summit.
The first and second high points from inside the arch. I was quite disappointed that not one white rabbit nor anyone named, Mr. Tumnus, greeted me as I passed through the arch – though I may have been probed by aliens…
The top of the arch is quite narrow.
Not only did I stand inside the arch… (Photo by Jeff “Chuck Norris is a wimp” Lang)
…I stood on top of it as well! (Photo by Jeff “Schwarzenegger vs The Predator” Lang)
Jeff retraces his steps to the top of the second high point…
…and then down the other side.
There are a few narrower sections that can be avoided if desired.
A cool section of cliffs.
Back on the saddle – which is always a good approach to life!
The pelvis and lower spine of an unfortunate inhabitant of the mountain. Probably passed through the arch too many times… 😉
To save Jeff’s knee from having to descend the talus slope (left), we took a more gradual route down the vegetation near the top of the gully.
We also took a more direct line next to the gully to avoid as much side-sloping as possible.
Once on the bluffs we were able to descend quickly.
“Get to the chopper!!”
It’s always good to find your bikes right where you left them.
We still had to push the bikes up some sections on the way back, but overall, it was more down than up.
Arriving back at my 4Runner after a roundtrip distance of 21 km and a time of 7 hours and 47 minutes.
The note that was left on my windshield about an hour after we had started hiking. I had a feeling this was coming because the B.C. government had closed all Crown Land to public access in the Rocky Mountain Forest District at 12 pm on Saturday, 2 September 2017. Our side of the border has been just as dry, though thankfully we haven’t had the fires. I learned the next day that all of the Forest Areas south of Nanton have now been closed to public access until further notice (see map below). Edit 8 September 2017: Waterton National Park is also closed and has been evacuated because of the Kenow Mountain fire. We need rain!!
“Lightning Peak” was an enjoyable ascent and while I marvel at Jeff’s ability to still hike with his injury, I’m definitely praying that the specialist’s find a way to fix it. In particular, I’m hoping for a scenario where Jeff is surrounded by doctors and Oscar Goldman suddenly shows up and says, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”
This map from Alberta Wildfire shows the extent of the Forest Area Closure.