“Little Richards” & Mount Richards, 16 July 2021

Mount Richards (2416 m; centre) as viewed from the summit of Bertha Peak. This interesting peak is located at the south end of Bertha Lake along the Canada / US border. Be warned that while it may look to be a quick trip from Bertha Lake, it actually involves a considerable commitment of time.

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

Another day and another great Waterton peak! This time, our objective was Mount Richards (2614 m), which sits at the south end of Bertha Lake; overlooking the Canada / US border and Upper Waterton Lake. According to Dave Birrell, Mount Richards was originally referred to as, Sleeping Chief Mountain, because its east ridge resembles a recumbent face. (50 Roadside Panoramas in the Canadian Rockies, 152) However, in 1943 it was officially named, Mount Richards, after Captain George H. Richards, who was “involved with the 1856 to 1863 [International Boundary Survey Commission (IBSC)] survey that mapped the boundary from the Pacific to the Continental Divide.” (Canadian Geographical Names Database; 50 Roadside Panoramas in the Canadian Rockies, 152)

Richards, who later became an admiral, was the second British commissioner on the IBSC, and had been involved in the 1859 Hudson’s Bay Company’s dispute with American settlers over the San Juan Islands – an incident known as “The Pig War”. (Canadian Mountain Place Names: The Rockies and Columbia Mountains by Glen W. Boles, William Lowell Putnam, Roger W. Laurilla, 214) Indeed, if there was ever was a unique case for war between Britain and the United States, the raucous ramblings of “a delinquent British-Canadian pig” might have been it. (“The Pig War” by Stephen R. Brown, in Canada’s History, 2017) Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed – though it took the better part of a decade – and the only real casualty of the dispute was the wayward pig.

Interestingly, the peak immediately across the border from Mount Richards, is Campbell Mountain, which is named for Richards’ IBSC American counterpart, Archibald Campbell, whom Richards once noted as being “impossible to deal with unless given everything he asks.” (“RICHARDS, Sir GEORGE HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12) Thus, someone obviously had a good laugh when it came to naming these two peaks given their proximity to one another (okay, okay, perhaps only the nerdy historians are laughing). 😂

I’d been thinking about a loop from Richards to Mount Alderson for the last couple of years, but Andrew had always cautioned me, that Richards was a much longer trip than it appears, and that getting to Alderson involved more elevation loss and gain than one would expect. Nevertheless, I still thought that we’d probably keep going to Alderson once we reached the top of Richards – after all, it looked to be a relatively quick trip from the shores of Bertha Lake… Well, it’s not!

For ascent, we opted to bypass the scree approach described in, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies (79), in favour of a gully located directly underneath, “Little Richards” (2360 m) – a highpoint on the north ridge of Richards that in my opinion, has one of the wittiest names in the area. Well-done Andrew! 😂 The gully (described in, Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies) provided great scrambling until the upper section, where it became littered with loose rock and scree. Still, it was a great way to get onto “Little Richards”; setting us up nicely for the interesting scramble onto the summit of Richards.

Indeed, Mount Richards is an imposing sight from the ridge, but fortunately, Marko Stavric pioneered a great route to get past the gnarliest sections. Even so, the climb onto the tiny summit is not for the inexperienced; however, it is entirely fun and I loved the exhilaration of scrambling as much of the northeast ridge as possible.

Once on the summit, I looked at my watch and was surprised to see that it had taken us 4 hours and 54 minutes from time we left the trailhead – with 3:30 of that coming AFTER reaching Bertha Lake. Time definitely flies when you’re having fun! However, after noting this plus what looked to be a huge band of igneous rock leading up from the col between Richards and Alderson – one that would require a major bypass – I concurred with what Andrew had told me: a loop from Richards to Alderson was a bigger day than I had thought it would be.

Thus, after enjoying the views, we returned to Bertha Lake, though this time down the usual scree route. We also decided to follow the trail around the west side of the lake, where we spent time enjoying the spectacular scenery, before making the pleasant hike back to our cars. All in all, this was yet another great day in Waterton! 😁

Our routes up “Little Richards” and Mount Richards are outlined in Andrew’s More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies and Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies. To get to “Little Richards”, we started in the Waterton townsite and hiked the Bertha Lake trail for ~5.3 km (500 m elevation gain) to the lake. Once at the lake, we then followed the trail around the east side for ~1.7 km until we had almost reached the end of the lake. We should have kept looking up to our left to locate the gully, but we missed it and had to double-back using an adjacent avalanche slope.

The trip up the gully was great, though due to sections of loose and unstable rock, I would not want to attempt this if I were part of a larger group as there is a serious danger of rock fall. In fact, the upper section of the gully is the worst for loose rock and scree, and while Andrew stayed inside of it, I exited it to climber’s left to find more stable rock. The gully itself stretches almost to the summit of “Little Richards” with the remaining hundred metres or so, being a hike over flattened scree. From the lake to the top of “Little Richards” it was ~2.5 km with a 556 m elevation gain.

Getting to Mount Richards involved scrambling over the first two obstacles along the ridge before an obvious bypass opened up to climber’s left. Here, we descended along a small ledge until we could see an obvious cairn above us at the start of a section of trees. We scrambled up to the cairn, where we discovered another path that led along the side of Richards. In hindsight, and what we did on the way back, we should have kept climbing up to the base of the cliff band from the cairn, and then follow a small trail from there.

A short trip along the base of the cliffs brought us to the southeast ridge of Richards, where we could either trend climber’s left to an ascent gully, or stick closer to the ridge and route find our way up. We followed the southeast ridge and used the gully for descent. By following the southeast ridge, we were able to reconnect with the northeast ridge and could enjoy the scenery and the scrambling all the way to the summit. From “Little Richards” to the summit of Mount Richards, it was ~1.8 km of hiking/scrambling with an elevation gain of 70 m. For reference, it took us 4 hours and 54 minutes from the trailhead to the summit of Richards with an elevation gain of 1073 over ~11 km.

On descent, we returned the same way, except I stuck as close to the base of the cliffs as possible, and ended up scrambling the section of the north ridge that we had bypassed on the way up. It was definitely exposed, but it posed no difficulties. On descent, we followed the scree path down to the lake, before returning along the west path around the lake and then back to our cars.

Our total roundtrip distance was ~25 km with total elevation gains of 1452 m. Our total roundtrip time was 9 hours and 30 minutes. For reference, it took us 1 hour and 18 minutes to reach Bertha Lake from the trailhead and another 30 minutes to walk along the lake to the ascent gully. From the lake to “Little Richards” and then to Mount Richards, it took us another 3 hours, so if you are planning to also include Alderson, take this into account.

Oh deer! It’s only 6:30 am and the Bertha Lake trail is already busy! 😂

After waiting for the mother and her two fawns to move out of the way, we set off down the trail.

Encountering yet another early morning hiker…

And then another. We probably spent a total of 10 to 15 minutes, waiting for deer to meander off the trail.

Gazing across a glassy Upper Waterton Lake to Vimy Peak. Smoke from hundreds of wildfires in BC made for a hazy day.

I’ve hiked this trail so many times that I’ve lost count. However, one thing I never lose, is my appreciation for its beauty.

The start of the long north ridge of Mount Richards is on the left. This complicated route is also described in More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies (77).

Since the area was re-opened after the 2017 Kenow wildfire, the route to Bertha Lake now follows the horse trail (right), while the trail to Lower Bertha Falls (left) ends at the falls. From this point, it is still ~2.8 km to reach Bertha Lake with an elevation gain of 325 m.

Beam me across, Scotty! 😂

The upper section of the trail is marked by multiple switchbacks.

Arriving at Bertha Lake 1 hour and 18 minutes after leaving the parking lot. Now, mind you, if we hadn’t had to stop for so many deer, it might have only taken us only an hour, but as it’s more their trail than ours, we didn’t mind ‘bucking’ the system and letting our ‘deer’ friends have all the space they needed. As my ‘Aunt Ler’ always says, better to ‘hoof’ it the long way, than ‘fawn’ over ‘trying to up-stag’ a friend… Too much? 😂 The summit of Mount Richards is directly above Andrew in the centre of the photo.

Despite the smoke, it was still a gorgeous morning!

Morning sunlight on Mount Alderson.

Gazing across to Bertha Peak.

One of many rainbows that were cruising the shoreline.

The same fish from the previous photo, obliges with a delicate rise.

Approximately 7 km from the trailhead or ~1.7 km from where the main trail meets the lake, we could see our ascent gully (right) off to our left.

However, we missed the access point from the trail and ended up in the clearing at the end of the lake. The usual route to the scree goes up through the middle in this photo, or, if there is not a bull moose blocking your way (scroll through to our descent photos), you can use a path that leads through the trees on the left.

Doubling back to reach the gully (left).

Instead of heading back to the gully along the trail, we used an adjoining avi slope to reach the gully.

Arriving in the gully.

The view back shortly after starting up the gully.

This definitely beats a scree slog any day of the week! 😁

Approaching our first obstacle.

Though it could be bypassed on either side, we chose to scramble over it.

Another look back after gaining some elevation.

Finding colour was not a problem. 😁

A neat slab of argillite.

I lead the way… (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Followed by Andrew. The higher we went, the looser the rock became, so from this point on, we stuck pretty close to each other.

The last time Andrew ascended this gully, it was as a snowshoe that he subsequently included in, Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies (121).

Heading up a short band of argillite. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Our time in the gully offered up some good views of Bertha Lake.

Andrew’s turn to take the lead.

Andrew scrambles over chockstone as the gully narrows.

Entering a canyon-like section.

Climbing out of the canyon is a bit trickier than it looks.

Andrew’s view back to me. This narrowing was a decidedly cool feature of the gully. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

I climb out of the tight space. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Getting into some loose rock. I don’t think I’d recommend that larger parties use this gully, unless it could ensured that everyone is able to stick close together. The gully is steep enough to allow falling rock to gain momentum and distance.

More interesting terrain.

Andrew climbs over a ripple-marked boulder.

Entering the upper section of the gully.

A glance back highlights how the fun scrambling has turned into not-so-fun rubble and scree.

I decide to exit the gully to climber’s left… (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

While Andrew chooses to remain inside.

I found a decent line that led almost to the top.

Now out of the gully, Andrew hikes the final hundred metres or so to the top of “Little Richards”. The imposing summit of Mount Richards is in the background.

Andrew waits for me on the summit of “Little Richards” (2360 m) – which is such an awesome name! 😂

Andrew’s view back to me… (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

And my view towards Andrew.

A pano to the north.

“Little Richards” offers some great views of Mount Richards and Mount Alderson (right).

A pano to the northeast.

A hazy look at Vimy Peak (centre).

It’s too bad there was so much smoke, because the summit offers some great views of Upper Waterton Lake.

Campbell Mountain sits immediately across the border in Glacier National Park.

Yup, at some point I’ve still got to knock off Alderson…

Colourful Bertha Peak sits directly above Bertha Lake.

We didn’t linger long before setting off for Mount Richards.

Andrew approaches the impressive – and imposing – northeast ridge.

We would scramble the first few obstacles before bypassing the remaining sections to climber’s left.

Andrew makes his way up…

And onto a pinnacle.

I then follow him up. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

The bypass point is very obvious. However, on return, I did scramble over the remaining sections. It was exposed, but the rock was good.

A nice ledge provides a clear path.

Though not visible in the photo, we could see a large cairn in the trees immediately above Andrew.

Climbing up to reach the cairn.

From the cairn, we should just kept going up to the base of the cliffs. However, we ended up following a lower path – which worked – but it involved more elevation loss than the upper path.

Following a distinct path around the mountain.

Looking back to the summit of “Little Richards” (right).

You can see how much lower we were than the base of the cliffs.

On the upper track after a steep hike from the lower path. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Glancing back along the upper path.

Arriving on the southeast ridge of the mountain. It looks far less daunting from this vantage! The usual route continues to climber’s left from here and then up the gully in the centre of the photo. We would descend using the gully; however, we chose to ascend along the crest of the ridge (right).

Campbell Mountain with the Canada / US border running through the intervening valley.

Getting onto some scrambling terrain.

Navigating the southeast ridge involved lots of route finding… (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

With some dead ends and backtracking. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

I search for a route over a band of igneous rock. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Still searching… (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Until I found one that worked. Have you ever seen a more graceful technique? 😂 (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Andrew looks much better as he ascends the same section.

By this point, we’ve almost regained the elevation lost since leaving the summit of “Little Richards” (right).

Trending climber’s right to reconnect with the northeast ridge.

A series of interesting overhangs located beneath the ridge.

Back on the northeast ridge and looking forward to the scramble!

I lead the way up and over. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Some great looking terrain!

I look back to Andrew from partway up the section in the previous photo. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

My view down…

And his view over to “Little Richards”. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Closing in on the summit.

Looking up at the series of shelves and ledges that lead onto the summit. This was a fun section of scrambling!

Closing in on the summit… (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

And getting closer. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

While I focus in on reaching the summit, Andrew stops to admire the interesting scenery. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

The summit of Mount Richards (2416 m).

Andrew joins me on the summit.

A pano to the north. The views from Richards are fabulous! 😁

A pano to the east…

Then to the southeast…

Followed by one to the south.

Gazing over to Mount Alderson. After looking at my watch and realizing that it had taken almost 5 hours to get here, any thought of making the traverse was put aside.

Colourful Bertha Peak.

A telephoto of Bertha Peak (left) and Mount Crrandell (centre).

An obfuscated Vimy Peak.

Campbell Mountain is named for Archibald Campbell, who was George Richards’ American counterpart on the International Boundary Survey Commission. Richards once commented that Archibald was “impossible to deal with unless given everything he asks.” (source) That the two mountains are immediately across the border from each other, is probably not by accident.

Shaheeya Peak is on the left with Chapman Peak on the right. Both are located inside Glacier National Park.

Looking a little further to the west with Chapman on the left and Mount Custer on the right.

A telephoto of Long Knife Peak.

I wander over to the second bump on the summit. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

This was a fun trip! (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

My view back to Andrew.

Enjoying lunch with a view. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

A 360 view from the top.

After a leisurely summit stay, it was time to leave.

One more look back to the summit. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Andrew leads us down.

The impressive cliffs beneath the summit. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Using the gully to make our way down.

I will wait until Andrew is out of the way before starting down.

Descending the gully. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

We didn’t stay in the gully for too long before leaving it to traverse back to the southeast ridge.

Back on the ridge and looking up at the summit.

This time, we stayed on the path that runs along the base of the cliffs. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

The view back from along the path.

Standing on the north ridge above the section we bypassed. It was impossible to down-climb from here, so I returned to the cairn and made my way over from there.

Andrew stands where I was in the previous photo.

Looking back at Andrew (lower left) as I scramble along the previously bypassed section of ridge.

I (top right) wait for Andrew at the point where we bypassed the ridge. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

My view back to the summit.

Andrew rejoins me on the ridge.

Heading down from the col between “Little Richards” and Mount Richards.

The impressive north face of Mount Richards.

Following the distinct path that leads to “Little Richards”. We wanted to follow it through the trees, but after startling a bull moose that was sleeping in the trees, we decided to stick to the open slopes.

Looking back to the col.

The bull moose that we scared – or more precisely, the bull moose that scared us. 😳 We made sure to give it a VERY WIDE berth.

Andrew gazes up to the summit of  Mount Alderson.

Heading down the final section to the lake. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

A good view of our ascent gully (left) and our descent route (right).

A closer look at our ascent gully.

Andrew descends next to a small creek.

Arriving at a small tarn and the trail that will connect us to the main trail.

Receding water had trapped several trout inside the tarn.

An even better look at the gully, including where it connects with the trail.

Purely for interests sake, we decided to follow the trail around the west side of the lake.

Gazing back to the summit of Mount Richards (centre).

A stunning waterfall located next to the trail. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Standing on a scenic viewpoint. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

The trail goes alongside a red argillite beach.

Despite having been here many times before, Bertha Lake remains a showstopper for me.

It was very tempting to go for swim. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

Almost back at the north end of the lake.

Looking at a large waterfall on the side of Bertha Peak.

Back on the main trail and settling in for the ~5.3 km hike back to the trailhead.

With the smoke beginning to clear, we could finally get a good look at Vimy Peak.

Crossing the creek.

While I waited on the main trail, Andrew went and took this fantastic photo of Lower Bertha Falls. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

With temperatures above 30 C, I’m glad we were headed down and not up. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)

It’s not often that Upper Waterton Lake looks like glass – especially in the afternoon.

Arriving back at the trailhead after 25 km and 9 hours and 30 minutes. One of the great things about Waterton, is that many of its mountains can be reached via an approach trail, which makes for happy feet at the end of the day. 😊 Although it was longer than I had expected, Mount Richards was a fun mountain. I’m also really glad that we used the gully beneath “Little Richards” for ascent and the scree slope beneath Richards’ north face for descent, because slogging up that scree would not have been fun. All in all, this was another great day in the mountains!

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