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

If I hadn't run into a bear, I would be writing a trip report for Isola Peak instead of Coffin Mountain. I had planned to bike partway up a rough road before leaving it to start my ascent on foot up Isola. I was, though, apprehensive about biking solo. Three days ago, a mountain biker was mauled by a black bear in Banff.

With that article weighing on my mind, I waded across the knee-deep waters of 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 started 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 assumed the bear 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 I kept taking pictures. The animal slowly gained ground until it was about 60 m away.

Just when I was ready to turn and flee, the bear changed 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, an area hit by a long-ago forest fire. The slope was jammed with deadfall; I did more climbing over logs than hiking. The log hurdles ran well up the slope before thinning out. Eventually, 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, I hiked to the true summit. I was too far to make out many of the peaks west. I could see 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. But I still had to work my way back down those cursed logs!

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 started to cross the road in front of me


Look at those claws!


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


I encountered plenty of deadfall as I started 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 down along the ridge 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 below.


Interesting burn pattern in some of the logs


82 J/2 Langford River

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