Mount Willingdon

Paul Russell was back in Alberta recently and got in touch with me to see if we could hook up for a scramble.  After some discussion, we decided to try an overnight trip to Mount Willingdon in Banff National Park on the weekend of 28-29 July 2007.  Paul's wife, Maja, dropped him off at my place on Friday night, and after only a few hours of sleep, we both got up at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning and drove out to the Mosquito Creek trail head.  Paul and I were on the trail by 6:15 AM and after crossing the north fork of Mosquito Creek on a log bridge, we left the trail and bushwhacked up the east bank for several kilometres.  Somewhere along here, I started to have an upset stomach which made me feel rather lethargic.  My pace slowed considerably.  Paul and I actually missed the turn-off to Quartzite Col and ended up scrambling over a rock slide near the head of the valley before slogging up a loose scree slope to get back on track.  It was noon when we finally crested the ridge north of Quartzite Col and got our first look at Mount Willingdon.  The scenery was breathtaking, but I was also keenly aware of how much further we still had to go just to reach the foot of the mountain.  I was already quite tired and started to have doubts about our chances for a successful summit bid.

After a short break, we glissaded and plunge-stepped down a steep snow slope before descending loose rubble to reach the sub-alpine meadows of the Siffleur River headwaters.  While crossing these meadows would normally be easy (though still annoying because of all the ups and downs), my heavy pack, my lack of sleep the night before, and my upset stomach all took their toll on my body, and I had to constantly fight the urge to sit down and fall asleep.  Paul thought I was joking when I suggested that we stop and pitch our camp beside a small tarn not even halfway across the meadows.  Thankfully, Paul was always in good spirits, and I drew enough strength from his encouragements to continue on.  We eventually climbed over Clearwater Pass and reached the largest of the Devon Lakes where we found an excellent camping spot.  It had taken us roughly 9.5 hours to get here from the trail head—much longer than I was anticipating.  The question now was whether or not I had any gas left in the tank to ascend Mount Willingdon.

After setting up camp and sorting out our gear, I took a ten-minute nap to try and re-energize myself a little.  Paul and I left camp at 4:30 PM and started up the ridge.  The entire route was bone-dry on this day, and despite an abundance of treadmill scree, we encountered few difficulties on our way to the summit.  I topped out at 8:22 PM, about twenty minutes after Paul.

Paul and I began our descent at 8:38 PM and took an alternate route down the southeast side of the summit block.  We were hoping to reach some giant scree slopes on that side of the mountain, but as it turned out, we were foiled by large cliff bands and had to traverse across some unpleasant terrain to get back on the normal route.  We descended the rest of the route in growing darkness, and Paul probably saved us a lot of time by using his GPS to relocate our camp.  We rolled into camp at 11:30 PM and had a quick dinner (very salty chili) before enjoying a well-deserved sleep.
The start of a very long day...  Paul enjoys a danish before heading for Mount Willingdon.
It's certainly not as bad as Haffner Creek!  Paul leaves the trail to bushwhack along the north fork of Mosquito Creek.
For some reason, I thought Quartzite Col was straight ahead to the right.  After bushwhacking for about four kilometres up the north fork of Mosquito Creek, Paul finally breaks out of the trees.
This peak is unnamed.  There is some impressive scenery at the head of the valley.
Very cool, so to speak!  Here is a closer look at the hanging glacier from the previous photograph.
Unfortunately, we were off-route at this point. Paul works his way through the tumbled mess of an ancient rock slide.
Not fun with a full backpack! Paul hikes up a loose scree slope near the head of the valley. 
Yikes.  And we're supposed to be on the summit later today??  This is the view of Mount Willingdon from the ridge crest northwest of Quartzite Col.
Mental note to self:  do not try any alternate descents down the south face!  Here is a close-up of Mount Willingdon's main summit.
It's not easy glissading with a heavy backpack!  Paul plunge-steps down a steep snow patch.
I'd like to know who first came up with the insane idea to go over Quartzite Col with a full backpack...  This is looking back at Quartzite Col (far left) from the meadows near the headwaters of the Siffleur River.  Paul's and Sonny's descent route is shown.
I could have slept here forever!  Sonny sleeps.
Photo courtesy of Paul Russell
I was truly wasted at this point!  Paul hikes across Clearwater Pass.
It's like the Skoki region without the hordes of people!  The largest of the Devon Lakes finally comes into view.  At center on the horizon is Dip Slope Mountain (3125 metres).
At least I'm used to these 4:30 PM starts!  After setting up camp, Paul starts climbing up Mount Willingdon.
I would have enjoyed this route more if I wasn't so tired...  The route follows the ridge and traverses just below the blocky knob in the distance at right.
Paul's pants are a little too big for him!  Paul scrambles up some big blocks along the ridge.
That's a lot of ice.  Now all we need are a few drinks...  On the north side of the connecting ridge between Clearwater Mountain and Mount Willingdon is this unexpectedly large icefield.
This area definitely warrants a longer visit.  Devon Lakes and Devon Mountain dominate the view south from the connecting ridge.
Paul was like the Energizer Bunny!  Paul continues grinding up the connecting ridge to the summit block.
Strangely, the higher peaks further right are unnamed.  Here is another perspective of the large icefield northwest of Mount Willingdon.  At far left is Clearwater Mountain.
The cliff band was a welcome change from all the crappy scree!  Paul approaches the cliff band guarding the summit block.
Definitely some exposure here, and we're not talking about Paul's pants!  Paul scrambles up the crux.
Wonder how people ski up this in the winter...  Here is a close-up of Paul surmounting the final obstacle before the summit.
Just can't get enough of that ice!  This is a final look at the icefield from near the crux.
I did not use the cord to climb up the crux.  There is a cord dangling over the crux.
Almost 18 hours after getting out of bed...  Sonny staggers up the last few metres to the summit.
Photo courtesy of Paul Russell
Doesn't even look like he broke a sweat!  Paul waits patiently for Sonny at the summit.
Paul is either trying to imitate a flamingo or auditioning for Riverdance!  Paul and Sonny stand on the 3373-metre summit of Mount Willingdon.
They don't look that much lower...  This is looking southeast to the lower summits of Mount Willingdon.
Can you spot Mount Temple?  Or the Goodsirs? A sea of peaks stretch off to the south.
I really like this shot!  Paul heads down the southeast side of the summit block.
We should have simply retraced our ascent route.  Paul down-climbs an awkward cliff band not far below the summit.
Looks like I'll be descending in the dark...again! The last rays of sunshine disappear over the Canadian Rockies.
Mount Ball and Stanley Peak are also visible in the hazy distance.  Molar Mountain presents a striking profile.
Might explain the lunacy in climbing Mount Willingdon!  A nearly full moon rises up behind a distant peak.
On Sunday morning, Paul and I woke up to the sounds of a helicopter flying over the area.  We both wondered if there was a search and rescue operation going on or if the rangers were coming by to check if we had a backcountry permit!  After a quick breakfast, we packed up our tent and started our homeward trek by 9:24 AM.  I was still sore from the previous day's marathon, but I felt better with a full night's rest behind me and with my stomach ailments mostly gone.  With fresher legs, we made better time across the meadows and took a short break before tackling the rubble slope leading to Quartzite Col.  Paul reached the ridge crest about twenty-five minutes ahead of me and waited until I joined him there at 12:59 PM.  The rest of our trip was uneventful but insufferably long.  The hot afternoon sun was unbearable, and the last few kilometres of trail were especially painful for my feet and my sanity.  I returned to my car at 4:48 PM, and once again, Paul outclassed me and arrived well before me.  To thank him for his patience all weekend, I bought Paul a "nice" dinner at Wendy's in Canmore, Alberta.
We picked a really excellent spot to camp--flat, soft ground and a nice creek nearby. The morning sun warms up the camp near the largest of the Devon Lakes.
It's too bad we couldn't stay longer. Paul prepares to leave his and Sonny's camping spot below Mount Willingdon.
We eventually scrambled up the scree ramp at centre. Paul hikes toward Quartzite Col.
Probably the toughest creek crossing of the whole trip. This is one of the headwaters of the Siffleur River.
I hope I never come back here. Paul climbs up the rubble slope below Quartzite Col.
In my opinion, one of Banff National Park's best kept secrets. Here is a view of the upper Siffleur River valley from partway up the rubble slope.
The scree here sucks big time. Sonny struggles up loose scree near the top.
Photo courtesy of Paul Russell
Okay, it's all downhill from here! This is looking north along the crest of Quartzite Col.
As far as I'm concerned, they're all equally shitty when you're carrying a heavy backpack! This is Quartzite Col as seen from the southwest.  There are different opinions about the best routes for ascent and descent.
Great tobogganing in the winter, I bet! South of Quartzite Col are some impressive rock slides.
Still a long way from the trail head... Noseeum Mountain (3002 metres) dominates the view to the south as Paul heads back to Mosquito Creek.