I got the idea of a north ascent of Association Peak when we did "Association Hill" last fall. From the Hill we couldn't see the north basin of Association Peak, so we didn't know if cliff bands barred the way, but I was gambling that the north basin would be like the south basin -- a rubbly slope with broken cliff bands -- which we had observed when we made it to the south canyon last winter.
What made this route attractive was the likelihood of using trails to reach the east slope 400 m below the summit. Taking the east approach trail for the East Peak of Wendell we could reach Old Fort Creek. From there I hoped to follow a trail to the col between Association Peak and Association Hill. (On the Association Hill trip I had spotted a trail on the col but didn't know where it led.) From the col we would work our way around to the north basin and hopefully make our ascent.
We picked a sunny but terribly hot day. Normally I abhor a long approach in trees, but on this trip a tree canopy would be a welcome relief from the sun. The heat was just one of the problems that concerned us. Soon after starting out we found that the boundary cutline was under several inches of water and we were forced to give the area a wide berth. By the time we reached the top of the east end of Yamnuska, our circuitous, bushwhacking route took 30 minutes longer than if we had hiked up the cutline when it's dry. Nor did it help that we battled hordes of mosquitoes.
Hot, tired, and mosquito-bitten I wondered if we should contemplate a less ambitious trip. But it was cooler as we descended the other side of Yamnuska's east end and our quicker descent pace kept the mosquitoes at bay. After gaining and losing elevation going over the east ends of Wendell and Yamnuska we reached Old Fort Creek.
After crossing the creek, we spent several minutes looking for a trail near the drainage that runs down from the col. We had no luck and rather than waste any more time searching, we went up the slope left of the drainage. It was pleasant at first, a grassy slope with widely spaced trees. Higher up, though, we encountered dense vegetation and were forced to cross the drainage. That's when we found the trail! It was actually a horse trail, but quite good. We followed the trail to the col.
When the trees thinned along the trail we again became concerned about the heat. It was 30° in the shade and insufferable in the sun. Our pace slowed and whenever we came to a lone tree by the trail we rested briefly in its shade. It didn't seem likely we could get far in this heat but I was determined to see the backside of the mountain before turning around.
From the col we started up Association Peak. After ascending straight up to avoid the trees on our right, we started traversing to the backside of the mountain. Because of the curvature of the slope, our view was limited. We didn't know then that we could've scrambled up the broken cliff band above us, but without prior knowledge as to what lay ahead, it seemed prudent to keep low rather than risk getting turned back because of unseen cliffs. We'd go around the corner first and check the basin to see if and how we could ascend.
The basin was an impressive sight: a rubbly slope bisected by a long cliff band. A smooth ridge led to the summit. More important, we could gain the ridge using a break in the cliff band although we would have to traverse a fair distance across ankle-breaking talus to reach it.
It was cooler on the backside of the mountain, so heat exhaustion was no longer a concern, but now Dinah began to have trouble with her left foot, her Achilles tendon. It had bothered her when we did Victoria Ridge two weeks ago and now about 200 m below the summit it was bothering her again. Walking wasn't a problem but scrambling up – pushing off with her foot – was painful.
We decided to pull the plug on bagging the peak. Dinah stopped so I said I would go ahead a bit to look for a line to the break in the cliff band and then come back. After I started off, Dinah pondered our dilemma. She realized we had worked hard to get this far and it would be a bummer to quit when we were so close. Suddenly she became determined and followed after me. The aspect of reaching Association Peak spurred her on and adrenaline pushed back the pain in her foot.
We had almost reached the cliff band when for the fourth time we considered turning back: my left leg developed a cramp that ran the length of the inside of my thigh. I suspected it was caused by dehydration and I had in fact run out of water half an hour earlier. Dinah had a half litre of water left so I took a swig of that and ate a nectarine from my pack. We decided to reach the base of the cliff band and assess our situation. Slowly and painfully I made my way there.
Fortuitously, the rock here was a weeping wall and I was able to suck water from a puddle. I also set a bottle against the wall and surprisingly it only took a few minutes to fill. My cramp disappeared.
Now we were both ready and anxious to summit. We went to the break in the cliff band and slogged up to the ridge. Once on the ridge Dinah couldn't stop smiling. The clear sky allowed us to take in the peaks around us. The broad ridge west invited exploration but the summit lay east and was only a short walk away. The highest point was on the edge of a precipitous drop. A cairn stood a few metres away. The summit register was a glass jar with a rusted lid. There were three entries for 2006 and a few for 2000. Nothing else.
We took photos and looked around. I would have liked to explore the west ridge but it was hot on the summit and we weren't exactly full of energy. We headed back to the break in the cliff band and retraced our steps to the col.
We followed the horse trail to Old Fort Creek. The trail ends 250 m downstream from the drainage and 400 m from the trail going over the east end of Wendell. (The trail is obvious from the creek should one go looking for it.) We drank from the creek and filled our water bladders before continuing on.
It was hot and humid on the trail and we slowed to a crawl. We still had 320 m of elevation ahead of us and we were sweating buckets. My shirt and pants became soaked in sweat and Dinah began to feel ill from the effects of the heat. A welcoming committee of mosquitoes descended on us as we headed up the east end of Yamnuska and stayed with us all the way down the Yamnuska Trail to the parking lot.
I don't recommend doing this trip on a hot day! On a mild day, sticking to trails from cutline to col, I think it would take 9-10 hours. It's not a trifling trip because of the overall 1700 m elevation gain, but the views are worth it!
Hiking the trail east of Wendell Mountain
A butterfly visits a Western Wood Lily
Crossing Old Fort Creek. Unnamed peak in the background.
On the horse trail, our objective in sight
On the right, Mount Yamnuska and the East Peak of Wendell appear far away
Making our way to the col, End Mountain in front of us
Ascending above the col, Association Hill in the background
Heading to the backside of Association Peak, End Mountain on the right
On the left is the summit
Another view of the summit
Much of the way is a rubbly slope. Not knowing what what lay ahead, we kept low.
A cliff band guards against a direct route to the summit
I drank from this puddle and filled my bottle with water dripping from the rock
Traversing the base of the cliff band to the break
Above the cliff band
Same as above but looking towards the plains
I looked for a good line to the ridge but there wasn't any, all rubble
Dinah smiles as she reaches the summit ridge
Looking back at the ridge leading to the summit
This boulder sits above the break in the cliff band so we used it to guide us back
down the otherwise featureless slope
82 O/3 Canmore (showing our descent route)
In dry conditions, the cutline (fat gray line) is my preferred approach