Coffin Mountain
(aka Mount Speke)
Livingstone Range, Alberta
May 15, 2006

Originally I planned to climb Isola Peak. Taking Forestry Trunk Road I stopped at a 4x4 road near the mountain. I planned to bike up the rough road for about 3.5 km before leaving it to start my ascent, but I was apprehensive about biking solo. Three days ago a mountain biker was mauled by a black bear in Banff (read the article).

With that article weighing on my mind, I waded across the knee-deep Isolation Creek at the trailhead and started riding up the road. I had bear spray hanging from my hip and I hollered as I cycled. After traveling about 800 m the road reached a long, steep incline. I got off my bike and starting walking. I was fortunate to be off my bike when I encountered the bear. I probably would have had a closer encounter and my speed could have startled it.

At first I could only see blonde fur moving in the tall grass, but I soon realized it was a bear foraging about 80 m away. I've seen plenty of black and brown bears, but this was my first sighting of a blonde.

I was reminded of a similar encounter with a foraging grizzly while cycling with five friends on the Lake Minnewanka Trail years ago. On our way back, we stopped to lift our bikes over a log when someone spotted a grizzly about 150 m away. I suggested we back up slowly. I took a dozen steps back while keeping my eyes on the bear. I yelled but the bear didn't react; it kept searching for food. It was aware of us but indifferent.

I turned around to talk to my friends and to my surprise they were 100 m down the trail! I wondered how they got so far so fast. It would have been laughable if it weren't so dangerous. Up until then we were safe as there have been no bear attacks on groups of six or more people. My friends were so far away they couldn't even observe the bear. I stayed to watch and kept yelling from time to time. The bear never even glanced at me. After several minutes, the bravest of my friends started towards me and the rest soon followed. We couldn't carry our bikes because of the undergrowth, so we had to stay on the trail. We walked our bikes right in front of the bear. The grizzly, about 100 m away, sat on its haunches and watched us parade by. Soon we were on our bikes, riding back.

Now I was in a similar situation although it was a black bear, not a grizzly, and it was closer. I assumed this bear too would pay me no heed as it foraged. I took a few steps back, yelled and watched. The big blonde didn't react; for the most part its head was hidden in grass as it nosed along the ground. It never looked at me during the entire time. However, it was heading directly towards me! Nonetheless, I reached for my camera and started taking pictures. I was a bit nervous and hoped I wasn't shaking the camera.

I took several shots and from time to time I yelled to remind the bear I was still around. I also kept stepping back since it was moving towards me, but since I also kept taking pictures it slowly gained ground until it was about 60 m away.

Just when I was ready to flee, the bear altered its course. I was curious, so I stayed and watched it turn and cross the road. It disappeared into the forest before I could ask, "Do blondes have more fun?"

Clearly I had to abandon my attempt on Isola and leave the area. After watching to make sure the bear was gone, I got on my bike and started back.

Returning to my car, I decided to climb Coffin Mountain, a name I didn't find encouraging given my recent encounter! I parked at the same spot where Dinah and I starting our climb up Mount Livingstone three days earlier. Still feeling jittery from the bear encounter, I started up the slope, apparently victim of a long-ago forest fire. The slope was jammed with fallen logs; I did more climbing over logs than hiking. The log hurdles ran a good way up the slope before thinning out. I headed left where a spine of rock offered solid climbing.

The spine led to a rocky point behind which the summit appeared. Instead of heading to the summit, though, I first climbed the north summit. From the north summit it was a hike to the true summit.

From the top, mountain views were limited: the High Rock Range is over 20 km away. I saw Beehive Mountain and Mount Lyall, but the Cache Creek Elevators stole the show.

After a short stay I started down. Instead of going back to the north peak, I headed to the rock point. I soon stumbled upon an animal track that eased the talus slope traverse. Except when I lost the trail in a section of large rocks, it took me all the way back to the rock point. I still had to work my way back through those cursed logs though!

KML Track


Isola Peak: The steep section of road where I encountered the bear on Isola Peak


One of my first photos of the bear


The striking blonde fur is especially noticeable when its head and legs are hidden


It starts to cross the road in front of me.


Reaching the other side of the road, look at those claws!


Coffin Mountain from the Isola trailhead (mouse over to see the route)


Plenty of deadfall as I start up the slope


Out of the trees, I hiked along a ridge to a rock point. On the left is the north summit.


From the rock point the true summit can be seen


Cache Creek Elevators


Scrambling up to the north summit


Just before the top of the north summit, this fissure appeared


View from the north summit looking back where I ascended


The true summit is only a few minutes away from the north summit


Standing on the summit cairn


Negotiating the deadfall back down. Note my car in the upper right.


Unusual burn pattern in some of the logs


82 J/2 Langford River

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