⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer. ⚠️
Over the past couple of years, I’ve started focussing on more peaks in Paahtómahksikimi (Waterton National Park). A big reason for this, is knowing that once the dead trees from the 2017 Kenow Wildfire begin to rot and fall, it will make access to many mountains quite difficult. Right now, there’s a sweet spot where it’s actually easier to get to some peaks than before the fire; however, I know that will soon change and so I’m trying to stay ahead of Mother Nature as best as I can.
Moreover, an obvious secondary reason is that Paahtómahksikimi is beautiful. A relatively quick drive from Lethbridge brings you to some great scenery and trails that for the most part, are largely uncrowded for a national park. Indeed, as I’ve enjoyed the views from many peaks in the area, one massive gap in my repertoire – outside of the gap between my front teeth 😂 – is Mount Alderson (2692 m), which is one of the more prominent peaks in the Park. As most of my friends have already tagged Alderson, I knew that when I finally got around to it, it would most likely be as a solo trip. I also knew that it would have to be paired with a favourable forecast, as the ~2.5 km hike up from the Carthew Lakes would be a miserable experience under strong winds and (or) inclement weather.
This brings me to today and an absolutely incredible Thanksgiving weekend forecast. With clear skies, little to no wind, and temperatures in the low twenties, I knew that this might be my last chance this year to tag Alderson, as the entire area could be under 30 cm of snow by next week. Moreover, as it was right next to the trail, I thought it would be interesting to include diminutive, “Carthew Minor” (2330 m), as part of the trip.
So, in eager anticipation of finally completing Alderson, I set off at a brisk pace from a very empty Cameron Lake parking lot. In fact, the only other vehicle in the lot besides mine, belonged to a young couple who started up the trail several minutes in front of me. About halfway to Summit Lake, I caught up to them and after exchanging pleasantries, they told me they were off to visit Mount Carthew and Buchanan Ridge. I relayed that the down-climb off Carthew to Buchanan was a little sketchy and that I was off to Alderson, which they might want to consider instead, or in addition to Buchanan. In hindsight, I realized that I mistakenly told them that Alderson was the second highest peak in the Park, which I had thought to be true until I actually checked a map when I got back to Lethbridge… Whoops! 😬
After wishing each other luck – and them probably wondering who this weird gap-toothed guy was – I continued my quick pace along the trail, arriving at Summit Lake in 50 minutes followed by the summit of the Alderson / Carthew trail 50 minutes later. In fact, I had budgeted 3.5 to 4 hours to reach the summit of Alderson, but I arrived on the summit exactly 3 hours after starting. “Nice work for an old guy,” I told myself.
As I was lounging on the summit and enjoying the amazing weather, I was soon joined by the young man who I had passed earlier on the trail. After introducing ourselves, Craig and I got to chatting and I found out that he and his girlfriend, Alisa, were visiting from Fort St. John. As avid hikers and scramblers, Craig and Alisa had never been to Paahtómahksikimi and while Alisa decided to wait by the upper Carthew Lake, Craig had decided to take me up on my suggestion of Alderson.
After snapping photos of the great views, Craig and I set off down the mountain together to meet Alisa. Indeed, one of the wonderful gifts that hiking has offered me, is the chance to meet some cool and interesting people, and this was a fine example of that. Shortly after arriving at the base of Alderson, the three of us hiked back to the apex of the Alderson / Carthew trail and then up towards Mount Carthew, where they were headed next.
As I had already been to Carthew twice before, I said goodbye to them and began my traverse over to Carthew’s connecting ridge with “Carthew Minor” – a small but prominent high point at the end of Carthew’s southwest ridge. Thankfully, there were still some needles left on the larches, so I enjoyed the splash of colour as I made my way towards the rather imposing little peak. A quick but exhilarating scramble brought me to the top of “Carthew Minor” where I once again enjoyed my surroundings, before descending back to the trail and then back to the parking lot.
All in all, this was a fantastic day and it was great to finally cross Alderson off my list. It was also awesome to meet Craig and Alisa and it is my sincere hope that life brings them many, many wonderful adventures together. 😀
I used Alan Kane’s route from, Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, to ascend Alderson and then did the reverse of Andrew Nugara’s “Carthew Minor” to Mount Carthew ridge walk in, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. The only exception to Nugara’s route, was that I traversed across the south-facing slope of Carthew from the highest point on the Alderson / Carthew trail. This saved me having to gain the false summit of Carthew, but who knows, maybe that would have been just as quick. 🤔
In short, from the Waterton townsite, I followed the Akamina Parkway for ~14 km to its terminus at Cameron Lake. From the parking lot, the trail began to the left of the docks and from the trailhead to Summit Lake it was a 4 km hike (280 m elevation gain), followed by a 3.6 km hike (359 m elevation) to the Carthew / Alderson trail summit.
A short descent (50 m elevation loss) brought me to the base of Alderson. From here it was mostly a hike for the next ~2.5 km (381 m elevation gain) to the summit. There were two down-climbs, the first being entirely avoidable if desired and the second, along a beaten path through a rock band shortly before the summit.
From the summit, I returned the same way and regained the apex of the Alderson / Carthew trail. I then traversed for ~700 m across the south-facing slope of Mount Carthew’s false summit to its connecting ridge with “Carthew Minor”. Though not terrible, the traverse wasn’t great either, with several sections of loose scree.
Once on the ridge, it was a very pleasant trip to the base of “Carthew Minor” where I scrambled up good, but exposed rock to the summit. From there I returned to the trail via a reverse of Nugara’s “Carthew Minor” Summit Lake route and then back to my car.
My total distance travelled was 22 km and my total roundtrip time was 7 hours and 30 minutes. Total elevation gains came in at 1444 m. For reference, it took me exactly 3 hours to reach the summit of Alderson from the Cameron Lake parking lot.
It was a glorious morning on Cameron Lake!
Looking across the glass-like water at Mount Custer (left of centre) and Forum Peak (right).
The Alderson / Carthew trailhead. The last time I was on this section of the trail was 2015, when I made my first trip to Mount Carthew.
The route for Alderson starts from the uppermost Carthew Lake.
Dangerous wildlife along the trail. 😂
It took a few minutes for this guy to finally decide to move.
Approximately 1 km from the trailhead, I emerged onto a section burned by the 2017 Kenow Wildfire. The remainder of the route would be like this.
Enjoying the fall colours. 😁
Gazing over to Mount Rowe (centre).
A nice view of Cameron Lake with Forum Ridge, Forum Peak (left), and Akamina Ridge (centre) behind it. I almost chose to do Forum Peak and Akamina Ridge today instead of Alderson.
The grade softens as I get closer to Summit Lake.
Easy hiking from here to the lake.
Looking off to my left at ““Carthew Minor”, which I will visit later in the day.
Fifty minutes after starting, I arrived at Summit Lake.
The first of a few photos…
It’s not often that we have windless Fall days.
Mount Custer sits inside Glacier National Park…
As does Chapman Peak.
The Carthew Summit is not the mountain but the trail’s highest point.
Gazing along the trail towards the false summit of Mount Carthew (centre) and the Alderson / Carthew trail summit (right).
The same vantage as the previous photo but with “Carthew Minor” on the left.
The trail cuts across the scree slope before a couple switchbacks take it to the top of the ridge.
Glancing back at “Carthew Minor” (right).
Arriving onto the ridge which is the highest point of the trail.
My first good look at Mount Alderson (far right) and Mount Carthew (left of centre).
A closer look at Mount Alderson. The route is straightforward as it more or less, follows the ridge all the way to the top.
I will soon leave the trail to head up the slope directly in front of me.
The Carthew Lakes.
From this point it will be ~2.5 km (381 m elevation gain) hike to the summit.
Heading up hard-packed argillite.
Gazing back at Mount Carthew (right) and the summit of the Alderson / Carthew trail (centre).
The first of many photos of the Carthew Lakes. 😊 Buchanan Ridge is in the centre with Buchanan Peak on the right.
The view back as I arrive onto the ridge.
More of the same.
Looking towards the summit.
Still more of the same.
Standing on top of the first down-climb.
Looking back at the first down-climb. The entire thing is easily avoidable by dropping to skier’s left.
Continuing along the ridge.
Long shadows signal shortened daylight hours as winter approaches. Mount Carthew is on the left with Buchanan Ridge in the centre and Buchanan Peak on the right.
Still enjoying the view down to the Carthew Lakes…
More of the same…
And still more.
Gazing along the valley towards the Northeast End of Buchanan Ridge (left), Mount Crandell (centre), and Akiiohtaikiistakoo (Bertha Peak) (right).
The north face of Alderson is impressive!
Glancing down at Alderson Lake.
Arriving at the second down-climb.
Looking back along the ridge.
Another look at Alderson Lake.
The view back to the second down-climb.
There was a distinct band of cloud or smoke to the south.
The summit of Mount Alderson (2692 m).
The summit survey marker.
First, a pano to the west…
And then to the east.
And finally to the southwest.
There are two cairns on the summit. The lower one is the largest and offers the best views.
Looking back to the summit from the lower cairn.
You can seen a number of lakes from various points on Alderson. This is looking towards Bertha Lake with Mount Richards on the far right.
A closer look at Bertha Lake.
Looking east at the very distinctive, Ninastako (Chief Mountain) (centre), along with “Crypt Peak” (left) and Bear Mountain (right). Mount Boswell is in the foreground on the far left.
Still looking east, this time at Saakiihmabii (Vimy Peak) (left), Arras Peak (centre), and Istiikoiistakoo (Sofa Mountain) (distant centre).
In addition to Bertha Lake, I could also see part of Upper Waterton Lake and almost all of Lower Waterton Lake.
A closer look at Akiiohtaikiistakoo (Bertha Peak).
Zeroing in on Mount Crandell (centre).
Looking across the valley at the Northeast End of Buchanan Ridge (foreground centre).
Zooming past Mount Crandell for a look at Lakeview Ridge.
Looking north at Mount Galwey (right of centre) and “Rogan Peak” (centre).
Still looking north, this time at Mount Dungarvan (centre).
Next to Dungarvan are “Dundy Peak” (centre), Cloudy Ridge (centre), and “Cloudy Junior” (left of centre).
Continuing to track northward to include Mount Glendowan (left), “Cloudowan Peak” (centre), and “Cloudy Junior” (right). In the foreground is the east summit of Ruby Ridge.
Gazing to the northwest at Piinaquiium / Ahkoinimahstakoo (Mount Blakiston) (left), Mount Glendowan (centre), and “Cloudowan Peak” (right). In the foreground is “Buchanan the Middle Child” (or “Senator Peak” as I call it) with Ruby Ridge behind it.
Zooming in on the previous photo for a look at Victoria Peak.
A better look at Piinaquiium / Ahkoinimahstakoo (Mount Blakiston). In the foreground on the lower left is Buchanan Peak.
Finally one more look north with Ruby Ridge in the centre.
Gazing over to Mount Carthew.
Some cool Glacier Park peaks in this one, with Numa Peak (far left), Mount Peabody (left), Mount Custer (foreground centre), Kintla Peak (right of centre), and Kinnerly Peak (right) all visible despite the haze.
This photo makes me chuckle because Long Knife Peak (centre), absolutely dwarves “Carthew Minor” (foreground).
Along with Custer, Kintla, and Kinnerly, this photo also includes Forum Peak (foreground right).
Looking across to Chapman Peak.
As I noted earlier, there was a band of cloud or smoke to the south. In the centre is Campbell Mountain.
Gazing over to Niitaaspiitaa (Mount Cleveland) (right of centre) with Mount Richards in the foreground.
It feels good to finally knock Alderson off my ‘To Do’ list! 😁 (Photo by my new friend, Craig)
Craig leads the way as we leave the summit.
One last look at the summit.
Approaching the rock band that was our second down-climb on the way up.
Framing Akiiohtaikiistakoo (Bertha Peak) though a gap along the ridge.
A really interesting combination of colour and pattern.
Craig composes a shot of his next destination for the day, Mount Carthew.
My view from the previous photo.
More photos of the Carthew Lakes. 😁
Approaching the first down-climb.
Again, this can be easily avoided if you want…
However, Craig and I chose to scramble it.
Craig’s almost at the top…
And now he’s looking down on me as I make the climb.
Retracing our route along the ridge.
Arriving back at the Alderson / Carthew trail where Craig’s girlfriend, Alisa, is waiting.
Another look of the upper Carthew Lake…
And finally, one more at Mount Alderson.
After a quick hike back to the summit of the trail, I could see my next objective for the day, “Carthew Minor” (right).
These sheep were not the least bit concerned about our presence.
Saying goodbye to Craig and Alisa, who were off to summit Mount Carthew. As I mentioned before, I meet some super cool people while hiking and I hope that life brings these two, many happy adventures together. Thanks for the conversation and sorry for being wrong about Alderson being the second highest peak in Paahtómahksikimi. 😳 As Buddy the Elf would say, I sit on a throne of lies! 😂
Awesome as always, Dave – has it not been a truly amazing autumn to hike in southwest Alberta?
Curious to hear how you think a descent from Alderdson to Bertha Lake would go. It always seemed to me to be quite doable when viewing it from Google Earth, but since you were actually up there, did the ridge walk and descent to Bertha Lake look reasonably straightforward? Could one, for example, start at Cameron Lake, take your route to the peak of Alderson, and then descend to Bertha Lake and then stroll the BL trail back to the Waterton Townsite in a day hike? It seems like it would be comparable to the overall Carthew-Alderson hike, but with ridge walks and descent. Look forward to your comments. Thanks again for sharing your awesome adventures.
Hi Coolpro and thanks so much for the kind words. 🙂 As far as I know, it is not possible to do this. There is a significant technical section where it connects with the ridge to Bertha Peak and I know people have tried technical ascents. You could traverse over to Mount Richards and descend using its ascent/descent route from Bertha Lake. However, I’ve also heard that the connecting ridge is not as straightforward as it sounds as there are sections with significant elevation loss which makes it much longer than it looks. You would also have to be comfortable with the scrambling on Mount Richards as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a good way. Sorry.
That’s why I asked. Thanks!
It would be a super cool route if it was possible 🙂 Happy trails!
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