|  Home |  Canada Trips |  US Trips |  Hiking |  Snowshoeing |  MAP |  About

East End of Loaf Mountain
Castle Provincial Park, Alberta
May 30, 2005
Distance: 10.6 km
Cumulative Elevation Gain: 966 m

When I headed up the east end of Loaf Mountain, I never expected to be fleeing down it in fear of my life. The day started auspiciously with warm weather and a blue sky with a few fluffy clouds. I was familiar with driving here: head down Hwy. 6 and turn right on Spread Eagle Mountain Road. Drive to the end and turn right onto Yarrow Road. About a half kilometre after crossing the Spionkop Creek bridge, I turned left and parked at a gated road

I considered ascending this point when I observed it on my attempt up Spread Eagle Mountain a couple of weeks earlier. By following the ridge, I reasoned, I might be able to reach the east peak of Loaf Mountain. Two weeks ago there was fresh snow, but now as I started up the lower slopes, the snow was gone and wildflowers flourished.

The route along the ridge hits a couple of high points before reaching the east peak. At the second high point,I paused to consider my next move. Continuing on the ridge crest meant encountering cliff bands, but if I angled across the open slope I would avoid these and lop off some distance as well.

The slope was a mix of scree, solid rock and vegetation, so I made good time. After passing the last cliff band I headed for the ridge crest. After that I stuck to the ridge making a few detours on the right.

Eventually I reached a shoulder. The shoulder ended with a huge outcrop that appeared insurmountable. So far the ascent had been a moderate scramble. I expected to see a cairn here but there was none.

The left end of the outcrop resembled a small toe. On close inspection, I discovered a cleft. After scrambling up it, I found a tiny cairn at the top. Beyond the toe, the ridge dropped sharply. Continuing on looked too difficult and in lieu of what was to come, that was a good thing. I was probably less than 20 metres below the east peak.

The clouds had been slowly building throughout the day, but there was still plenty of blue sky as can be seen in my panorama. It was warm and calm. The possibility of a storm didn’t occur to me.

When I started my descent I felt the first hint of trouble. Something was irritating my left elbow. Annoyed and thinking it was a fly I kept trying to brush it off, but I didn’t bother to see what it was; my eyes were focused on my footing.

Suddenly I heard, or I should say experienced, an enormous boom, so loud my eyes flew open in shock. It had no source: it was above and all around me! The unexpected thunder galvanized me to hasten my descent. Unfortunately I had to follow the ridge. Wherever I could, I tried to stay below the crest but I had little leeway.

The sensation in my elbow came from the hair on my arm standing on end in the electrically charged air. And now the tingling started again, this time in both elbows. Furthermore, my GPS receiver starting buzzing. I was flying down the mountain now, running down scree and scrambling almost without thinking. Another thunder crack resounded all around me. The sensation suddenly left my arms and my GPS grew quiet. As I continued racing down the ridge, the bizarre cycle repeated every few minutes. My arms tingled and sometimes my GPS buzzed, followed by a thunderous crash before everything went back to normal. I didn’t see any lightning, but my back was to the storm. I didn't dare pause to look behind me.

At one point I stopped to check a downclimb. Without thinking, I grabbed the metal shaft of my trekking pole and received an electric shock! Although mild, it was sharp enough for me to exclaim, “Ouch!” Several minutes later, again without thinking, I touched the metal of my pole and received another jolt, this one nastier than the first. The message was clear: don’t touch the pole metal!

Down I went, charging and discharging with each round of thunder. Finally I reached a point where I could leave the ridge and head straight down the slope. I hardly noticed that I was now under a big black cloud or that the wind had picked up and was pelting me with rain mixed with snow; I was still in T-shirt and shorts. Nor was I concerned that I might encounter a rock band. I needed to get down fast!

Having turned to flee down the slope, the storm was no longer behind me but on my right. As I descended I caught a glimpse of lightning. On the next flash, I counted three seconds before the thunder reached me: the lightning strike was one kilometre away! I wonder how close it was when I was on top of the ridge?

Throughout the ordeal the frequency of thunder increased, and now it was continuous. As one roll ended another one began. When I was far down the slope, knee-deep in vegetation, I paused to watch the lightning and listen to the thunder. I felt safe here. Sometime after leaving the ridge, my elbows had stopped tingling but I waited a long time before I dared to touch the metal shaft of my trekking pole!

KML and GPX Tracks

The east end of Loaf Mountain seen from Spread Eagle Mountain. Starting on the far right, I mostly followed the ridge until I reached a cairn indicated by the arrow. "D" indicates the approximate place where I hastily left the ridge on my descent.

The lower slopes

Plenty of wildflowers like this larkspur


Golden bean

This shot taken a few minutes into my trip

Heading for the first rise

Drywood Mountain lies north

On my way to the second high point

A striking band of red rock on the second high point

When I realized I would lose 80 m of elevation here I started looking to avoid the elevation gain on the way back

At the col, a log makes a comfortable chair as I break for a snack. From here, I'll angle right so I can get around the cliff bands above me.

On the open slope I came across Jone's Columbine wildflowers

Spread Eagle Mountain lies south

I left the open slope and started ascending the ridge

On the ridge I'm kept busy with scrambling sections like this crack ...

... and this chimney

On a shoulder, the way ahead is barred by an cliffs. The left end (centre) looks like a little toe and I headed for it.

A closer view of "the toe" and it's not looking any better

On closer inspection, there's a cleft!

A cairn marks my summit. A few minutes later, I would be fleeing a thunderstorm.

82 G/8 Beaver Mines, 82 G/1 Sage Creek

Canada | Home