Anthozoan and Brachiopod Mountains
Skoki, Banff National Park, Alberta
July 29, 2005
Anthozoan and Brachiopod Mountains appear to be hasty additions to the scrambling book. Unlike other route descriptions, only two paragraphs were allotted for these peaks. Despite the "easy-moderate" rating, I found which both required route-finding and moderate scrambling.
Perhaps though, I would be less critical if we had tackled these from nearby Baker Lake instead of Fish Creek parking lot. Unlike our previous excursions into Skoki Valley, we didn't catch a ride up Temple Road. After trudging up the road, Dinah and I followed the trail to Boulder Pass that overlooks Ptarmigan Lake. The view here never ceases to amaze me. The lake sits in the valley surrounded by mountains. We left the main trail here and followed the south shore of the lake. We soon came to Heather Ridge, a long ridge similar to Brachiopod Mountain. We tried to cut across the lower slopes of Heather Ridge only to find we had to backtrack and drop down because of steep snow on the north slope.
The spectacularly long ridge comprising Anthozoan and Brachiopod Mountains was now in front of us. But we first had to cross some undulating terrain. We decided to bag Anthozoan first, so we headed to the Brachiopod-Anthozoan col. From the col, we could begin our ascent. The summit appeared so far away I wondered if it was in another time zone.
Talk about a long approach! Four hours and 13.5 km after starting, we reached the B-A col. Ahead of us, the lower slopes of Anthozoan comprised of ankle-breaking rubble. There was no Kane effect here, no evidence of a trail. As we climbed, the terrain improved, and we gained the ridge with a sigh of relief.
We enjoyed the ridgewalk until we came to an unexpected crux: we had to cross a steep rock slab that dropped down dozens of metres. A slip here could be deadly. We found it too steep to simply walk across and down, and too smooth for a handhold. We carefully crossed it. I wouldn't want to attempt it in wet conditions let alone when it's under snow or ice.
After the crux, we continued our walk to the summit, arriving there an hour and 15 minutes after leaving the col. We took in views of Quadra, Temple, Protection to the south. To the east we could see clear to Television Peak which in two days, we would be standing on.
After spending about 20 minutes on top, we started back down the ridge. The crux was easier on the return because it required angling up instead of down. We continued along the ridge, passing the point where we topped out on our ascent. We were tempted to ascend the north peak of Anthozoan which was marked with a huge cairn as we were only a few dozen metres below it. But it would offer no new views, and the day was long enough. In retrospect, it may be better to climb up and over the north peak. It would involve a scree descent and avoid the crappy loose rock that we endured on the lower slopes.
Instead, we found an orange scree run to descend. When that scree line gave out, we traversed until we found a black run of scree. Eventually we ran out of scree and were back on that wretched loose rock. We lost our patience here and headed for the valley floor, willing to forfeit elevation to save stumbling along the rocky slope. After climbing back up the B-A col, we faced our ascent of Brachiopod Mountain.
Like Anthozoan, Brachiopod's summit is perched at the end of a ridge. It made little sense to drop down to below summit and then climb up as the guidebook indicates: from the B-A col we were only 150 m below Brachiopod's summit.
We headed up the slope at a shallow angle. The side-sloping was unpleasant, and I wondered if it would have been better to ascend the south end and hike up the ridge even if it did incur an elevation loss. We aimed for a point above the scree and below the solid rock. There seemed to be no easy way to scramble directly to the summit, so we continued angling until we neared the north face of the mountain. Here, a series of ledges appear below the mountaintop. It was a matter of walking along each ledge to a weakness where we could gain the next ledge above. This was a moderate scramble, but the rock was excellent. Two hours after leaving Anthozoan Mountain we reached the summit of Brachiopod. After spending some time on top, we headed back to our car, a journey that would take us over three hours.
Postscript: Martin Siddler emailed me with the following suggestion: "We did Brachiopod several days prior but went up the big crack to the right of your ascent route as shown on the upper mountain. A very enjoyable bit of hands on scrambling with one short steep bit just below the summit. A descent is available to the north from the B-A Col, which we used to get back to our Baker Lake camp."
Hiking up the trail to Boulder Pass. Mount Temple in the background.
Fossil Mountain sets the background as we skirted the Ptarmigan Lake shore
The summits of Brachiopod and Anthozoan Mountains lie at the extreme ends in this photo
Crossing the meadows below Brachiopod
Heather Ridge on the left, Ptarmigan Peak on the right
Coming up the lower slopes of Anthozoan
Checking out two massive balls of rock
Sawwort aka purple hawkweed
After working along the lower rubbly slopes, a mosaic of slabs appear
Starting our ascent
Making our way up to the ridge
Typical travel along Anthozoan's ridge
Pulsatilla Pass lies southeast
Finally the summit is in easy reach
A close look at Stuart Knob and Television Peak. Mitella Lake below.
Crossing the crux. Note the cairn on Anthozoan's north peak. We descended on the orange scree.
Looking back after crossing the slabs
Looking down at the crux, there was little to stop us if we started sliding
Foreground: Heart Lake and Tilted Mountain. Upper right: Mount St. Bride.
Traversing the scree slope to Brachiopod Mountain. Fossil Mountain on the left.
Nice grippy rock on Brachiopod
Walking along one of the ledges near the top
On the summit of Brachiopod Mountain. Anthozoan Mountain behind us.
82 N/8 Lake Louise