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Panorama taken coming down from Mount Ethelbert

Mount Ethelbert (Attempt)
Bugaboo Provincial Park, B.C.
August 5, 2000

A year or two before I took scrambling seriously and was woefully inexperienced, I attempted Mount Ethelbert in the Dunbar Lakes area in the Bugaboos, an area also known as Shangri-la. The very name enticed me to venture into the region.

I asked two friends of mine, Kari Haas and Sue Kuznik, to join me for a three-day trip. We followed the Templeton Lake route described in Hikes around Invermere. (An alternate route via Tiger Pass requires a glacier crossing.)

From Invermere, we had to drive along some back roads to reach the trailhead. This wasn't easy, for the back roads are a maze, and some of them are extremely rough. At one point, when I was unsure if we were going the right way, I flashed my headlights to attract the attention of a passing truck. He set me on track to reaching the trailhead.

We hiked the 6 km trail to Templeton Lake. From the lake, the route to Shangri-la is off-trail and goes over a pass. It was an easy grade and we had trouble ascending. For offtrail hiking with a backpack, I thought it was rather good. We were soon above the treeline with nothing but great views all around. A short time later, we reached Shangri-la and set up camp.

The following day, we set off to climb Mount Ethelbert. After grovelling up scree, we reached soft, deep snow. We hadn't expected snow so deep we could barely move, nor had we brought ice axes. When the opportunity arose to bypass the snow, we decided to try it. We came to a steep gully mostly snow-free and started up it. It was more difficult than I expected, and when Sue took a tumble, it signalled an end to our attempt. We were about 300 m short of the 3175 m summit.

After spending the second night at Shangri-la, we hiked back to my car. After three days of hiking, we were looking forward to seeing the end of it, but we were in for a shock: I had left the headlights on, and the battery was dead! After a couple of failed attempts on trying to jump-start my car, we resigned ourselves to a long walkout. We were on a dead-end road, so I didn't expect to encounter another car until we reached a major forestry service road seven kilometres away. We decided to leave our backpacking gear behind. We hoped to find help before nightfall found us.

When we reached the main road, we decided to continue. The first three cars we encountered were going the wrong way. One guy pulling a boat offered to come back for us after he dropped off his boat, but I waved him on. Another car with a young couple and a baby stopped. The driver rolled his window down an inch, as if in fear, only to warn us that we shouldn't be out there because of "wild animals"!

Finally, after hiking about 10 km from the car, a guy driving a rented SUV going our way pulled over to give us a lift. His engine was leaking fluid, and he wasn't sure if he could make it back to Invermere, but he was going to try. We were grateful for the ride. Shortly after starting, he ran over a gopher. The gopher, badly injured, crawled off the road. The driver didn't like to see the little animal suffer, so he stopped the car and told me to go "stomp on it." Reluctantly I went to look for it, but it had disappeared.

Eventually we made it to Invermere without his SUV failing. Leaving the girls at a restaurant, I stopped a tow truck that I saw pulling into a nearby parking lot. The driver agreed to take me back to my car.

During the drive, he regaled with stories of his business. He recounted the story of a teenager who borrowed his father's Subaru. Thinking the car was invincible, he tore up the back roads at high speed – until he hit a rock that pushed the transmission through the floor of his car!

I was glad not to have that problem, but getting to my car wasn't a sure thing either. On our way there, the tow truck driver had trouble. On steep sections, the truck slipped out of gear, stalled and was difficult to restart. Sometimes we coasted back down to a less steep spot to restart his truck. I wondered if I would end up being stranded a second time on a back road, this time at night. I breathed a sigh of relief when we reached my car and got it started. I knew I could drive back to Invermere, but I wasn't sure if the tow truck would make it! It was 11:00 p.m. when I picked up the girls in Invermere and began the three-hour drive back to Calgary.

Looking up the valley on the way to Templeton Lake

Crossing a talus on the way to the lake

Templeton Lake

Heading to the pass

Looking back at the lake

On the pass

View of Shangri-la from the pass

On our way to the lakes

This shack included a stove with an oven ready to be hooked up to a gas line

Our campsite lay in the shadow of the Septet Range

View from above the campsite looking back at the pass, right of the middle peak

Another view of Tiger Pass

Mount Horeb

Starting our climb up Ethelbert

Aside from the large lakes, there are numerous small lakes and ponds

Ascending the gully below Mount Ethelbert

Partway up Mount Ethelbert. Soon after this, we were forced to turn back.

Tiger Pass above Dunbar Lakes (mouse over for a close-up)

Coming down

Note the T-shaped snow patch and the gully above and to the right of it. I believe that's the gully we tried to ascend. The suggested route goes left along the snow.

Climax Lake

Still descending from Mount Ethelbert

Wildflowers abound as we head back to our camp

Back in the valley

The next morning, we found it had snowed a bit overnight

Back at the pass

Looking down the north side of the pass

Coming down from the pass

A washed-out bridge forces us to cross a stream inelegantly just before we returned to my car with a dead battery

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