After completing his private ultramarathon, the 70km 25,000 foot “Banff Tri Mountain” feat, our friend Paul had just a few more days in Banff before leaving to continue his world travels. Wanting to do one more thing before leaving, Randy and I were more than happy to drag him off somewhere. To Panorama Peak, hey the name says it all.
Above: The trip begins with a short 2.5 km hike to Consolation Lakes near Lake Louise.
A coolish start to the day was welcome as we had to put on an impressive pace to race past the many tourists around the Lake Louise area. Once you are a few kms from the hot spots, solitude is again yours. A popular trail stops at this wonderful vantage point so we booked it here, took a few pictures and headed off trail up valley away from the tourists.
Panorama Peak is the high point of a long ridge that borders the lake. We had decided to make a loop out of the trip by heading up valley beside the ridge, chosing a route up, then traversing the top of it to the high point and down back to the lake where we started. Here’s a gps track of where we went.
The interesting thing about this route was chosing a line up. Numerous rocky gullies all ended in rotten cliffs at the top. After some discussion we made a choice and started bushwacking through the underbrush.
Above: I’m grovelling up a loose gully, much steeper than it appears in the picture. This is the point that the gully turns into a crumbling cliff. A rather amusing group dynamic was that Paul, who is half my age, was very gung ho: “I don’t think that cliff band is that bad.” Randy, who is between our ages was very Goldilocks about the route and me being the oldest was cautioning to “stop and look at the next rib beside us and should we be over there because I think the top bit here cliffs out?” Very age appropriate perspectives that all work well together if none of us are too stubborn.
Above: Another 400 vertical meters to go, about halfway to the top. Gully ending and cliffs beginning. Gullys like this really sap the strength as the rock is all sliding down the steep sides so with each step up, you and the rock under you slides back half a step. It can be a little unerving to be in a state of constant slipping too. But you chose your footing carefully and there are few problems.
Above: Views starting to improve, Consolation Lake shows off its changing colours. As far as our route went, as usual, what seemed quite impossible from lower down revealed itself to be merely difficult. Brief snowfalls were interrupted by openings of sunshine.
Above: Paul tops out through the heavily fracture rock and onto the ridge spine. The ridge was really an amazing place that seemed more like a jenga game than a ridge. Huge chunks of ‘gog’ quartzite arranged in precarious juxtaposition. The blocks ranged in size from fist sized to bus sized and all with big gaps and cracks between them. In places like the picture above, the ridge could be scrambled very carefully, but in other spots, the arrangement of the blocks was impossible without ropes, harness and protection. In these spots, we had to carefully downclimb and traverse below the trouble spots for short sections. I found this pretty difficult going and was glad to have Randy doing much of the route finding over these sections.
Above: Here is an example of where the ridge crest deteriorates into a mess. Known as a gendarme, this pinnacle blocks the way. It took a while to even see each side of it to try and figure out how to get around it.
Above: At a wide part of the ridge (two meters is wide up here!) we’re stopping for some food after a slightly stressful section. In the background is the ridge spine we’ve been traversing. Cloudy skies and the high altitude made this area very bleak and inhospitable looking.
Above: The hard parts of the ridge are all behind us now and it’s just an enjoyable hike up to the summit over broken rock. The view into the Valley of the Ten Peaks is pretty amazing from here and it was a good look at Eiffel Peak (top centre) that Randy and I had climbed last fall.
After drinking in the views it was time to go down. We made a bit of a mistake as the rocky slope was just steep enough to not be able to see all the way to the bottom. In the upper middle section was a series of cliffs and we kind of made things very hard as we chose a poor line down and then found some cliffs blocking the way that we couldn’t see from on top. We spread out and tried to find a way through them yelling back and forth “How does it look where you are?!!” It turned out to be interesting and fun challenge and through the cliffs we found the easiest and safest way down. As we got down to the valley and looked up we could see where we should have gone!
The final obstacle was a slow-moving river. Our options were to walk 2 km around the lake over broken rock, or wade through and join the Consolation Lake path. We were joking that according to our decision-making personalities, Paul would storm across, I would study the rocks and see if I could hop across without getting wet and Randy would be in the middle. So I beat them to the punch and stormed across boots and all up to my waist till I was finally other other side! Everyone had a good laugh at themselves.
A great trip with snow and sunshine and great partners as always! Below is the whole ridge spine we crossed with the summit visible in the background dusted with temporary snow.