Mount Morro

When I first visited British Columbia's Top of the World Provincial Park in 2001, one particular mountain caught my attention.  Mount Morro is the highest point in the park and is named in honour of an airman from Cranbrook who was killed in action during World War 2.  At the time, I had no knowledge of this striking mountain and was not prepared to attempt an ascent, but climbing Mount Morro has remained on my mind ever since.  Aside from a couple of reports on which I have no access to, there are no other route descriptions currently available online.  Studying topographical maps and GoogleEarth, I surmised that the easiest route would be via the mountain's southern aspect, and this route would also entail a lengthy and strenuous approach from the established campground at Fish Lake.  Surprisingly, nineteen years passed by--seemingly in a flash--before I bothered to return for a serious attempt to ascend Mount Morro.  The world has changed significantly since July of 2001 (and so have I), but fortunately, the mountain has not moved much.

From Highway 93/95, turn east onto Whiteswan Lake Forest Service Road (FSR) 5.1 kilometres south of Canal Flats or 23 kilometres north of Skookumchuk.  Drive 21 kilometres and turn right onto Lussier River FSR.  Ignore all side roads and drive 31 kilometres to the signed trailhead parking lot with outhouse.  Lussier River FSR is generally passable for 2WD vehicles, but there are enough potholes to warrant having high-clearance.

Leaving Calgary after work on 4 September 2020, Shaun Luong, Zosia Zgolak and I made the long drive to the park's trailhead and backpacked to the campground at Fish Lake in the dark.  The trail is signed and well-maintained (about 6.7 kilometres with 212 metres elevation gain), and it took us about 90 minutes to reach the campground (tent pads, picnic tables, food lockers, outhouses, and firewood provided) where we set up our tents and paid our fees ($5.00 per person per night) before turning in for the night.

Shaun, Zosia and I got up before dawn on the morning of 5 September 2020, and after eating breakfast, we began hiking the signed trail to the Alpine Viewpoint.  Just as I remembered from my first trip, this is a grueling ascent which gains 600 metres in a little more than three kilometres.  The trail starts from a signed junction just north of Fish Lake and climbs moderately through forest to an avalanche slope which is readily visible from the campground.  The trail eventually passes another signed junction (trail to Summer Pass) and climbs up a huge scree-filled basin.  The trail downgrades to an unmaintained route at this point, but a good beaten path continues up the basin.  The beaten path deteriorates amidst a steep slope of treadmill rubble just below the cliffs guarding the top of the basin, and groveling up this section was a bit unpleasant.  At the base of the cliffs, the beaten path becomes more defined again as it rises up a hidden ramp to a weakness that allows easy access to the Alpine Viewpoint.  Because of the looseness of the terrain, some care is required in climbing the ramp as a slip here could potentially be fatal.
And the Alpine Viewpoint is only the start of the trip to Mount Morro! Standing on the dock at Fish Lake, Shaun and Zosia prepare to embark on a strenuous ascent to the Alpine Viewpoint which is located at the gap just left of the unnamed peak at upper right.
It gets relentlessly steep here... A good trail leads to the basin below the Alpine Viewpoint.
Helmet recommended here! The trail peters out in the upper basin, but signs of passage lead to a hidden ramp which starts a little left of centre in the photograph.
Some mild exposure here might not be appealing for some hikers. Shaun and Zosia climb up the hidden ramp on a beaten path.  Caution is required here as the terrain is very loose.
Reaching the Alpine Viewpoint, Shaun, Zosia and I got our first glimpse of Mount Morro to the east, and we took a short break here to study the remainder of the approach.  The mountain looked dishearteningly far away, and traversing the intervening height of land would entail a significant loss of elevation.  While my suggested approach via the southern aspect looked sound, we were still uncertain about what lay in store for us on the upper mountain.  The only way to find out was to go see for ourselves.  Leaving the Alpine Viewpoint behind us, we initially headed southeast and tried our best to avoid unnecessary ups and downs, but ultimately, we had to lose elevation as we turned more eastwardly toward our objective.  Thankfully, the larch-filled terrain is open enough to allow fairly easy off-trail travel with minimal bushwhacking, and we made good progress across the height of land via a series of grassy meadows.

Temperatures were warm on this day, and as we stopped for another short break near the last trees below Mount Morro, I noticed that my supply of water and liquid refreshments was running alarmingly low.  Unfortunately, the route was completely bone-dry up to this point, and from what I could see of the upper mountain, it was unlikely that I would be able to replenish my water bottles anytime soon.  As such, I began rationing my water supply and taking only infrequent small sips.  One saving grace for me was a westerly breeze that kicked up once we climbed higher up the mountain.  The breeze kept the temperatures tolerable, and consequently, I did not feel the need to drink as much.
It's possible to scramble atop the knob behind them. Upon reaching the Alpine Viewpoint, Shaun and Zosia take a well-deserved break.
With respect to route-finding, we're kinda on our own at this point. Resuming his approach to Mount Morro, Sonny leaves the Alpine Viewpoint behind him.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Almost makes you wanna give up here! Mount Morro (left of centre) seems hopelessly far away as Shaun and Zosia make their way through the lightly forested terrain.

Very pleasant hiking in this area.

Shaun and Zosia find a grassy corridor of sorts heading in the direction of Mount Morro.


Still a lot of intervening ground to cover though! Sonny and Shaun agree that the right-hand skyline is probably the most feasible route to the top of Mount Morro.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Beyond the last trees, Shaun, Zosia and I hiked across meadows and karst pavement to reach a dry drainage on the south side of Mount Morro.  We continued climbing along this drainage and gradually worked our way up a mix of grass and rubble until we gained the crest of the east ridge.  There are a few cairns here, but they are largely superfluous since the route is quite obvious.  Turning left, we followed the east ridge up to the base of the summit block which looks a bit intimidating at first glance but is nothing more than a Class 3 scramble with some mild exposure.  Shaun did a great job of route-finding and leading us up this delightful final section, and all too soon, we were standing beside a cairn on the spacious summit.

Standing atop Mount Morro fulfilled a 19-year old dream of mine, and I was ecstatic that we were able to find a way up on our own.  Having said that, the summit register surprisingly showed that there is a lot more regular traffic on this mountain than I would have expected given its remote location.  Many of the register entries are by resident park rangers for which the climb of Mount Morro is probably a rite of passage.
I'm starting to run low on water here... Meadows and karst pavement are typical of the terrain at the foot of Mount Morro.
Keep an eye out for a tiny spring around here! Shaun and Zosia both try to stick to the grass as they climb up this dry drainage.
I'm too focused to even notice the unfolding scenery. Some impressive peaks can be seen to the south as Sonny grinds his way up a rubble slope.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Looks a bit daunting from here! Shaun and Zosia approach the east side of Mount Morro's summit block.
Shaun did an excellent job of route-finding here. Up close, the summit block presents some route-finding challenges.
And the fun begins! Zosia and Shaun begin scrambling up the summit block.
Shaun would be excellent as a climbing guide! Shaun waits for Zosia to go over a tricky spot along the ridge.
It's also possible to tackle the facing ridge directly, but there is more exposure here! Once again, Shaun waits for Zosia to scramble up the final steep section before the top.
We made it! Sonny, Zosia and Shaun give thumbs up on the summit of Mount Morro (2840 metres; the official BC Parks map gives an erroneous height of 2912 metres).
I had not yet started high school when this register was placed. The elevation given in the older of two summit register booklets is probably too high by at least 220 feet or 67 metres.

Apparently, Empire State Peak has been scrambled by Rick Collier, but I did not find any report of his regarding Chrysler Peak.

To the southwest, Empire State Peak (left) and Chrysler Peak (right) stand amidst a number of striking pinnacles.  Mount Fisher is also visible on the right horizon.


Yikes, we have a long walk back still! This is looking west toward the Alpine Viewpoint (centre) and the intervening grassy corridor (lower left).  The pointy peak on the horizon at centre is Teepee Mountain.
I could use some of that water right now! Several tarns can be seen down the north side of Mount Morro.
I get tired just thinking about the ascent of Mount Washburn! Mount Washburn (right) sticks up like a sore thumb on the eastern horizon.
I'm not sure if Mount Bisaro can be scrambled or not... Other unnamed peaks of the Van Nostrand Range stretch away to the south.  In the hazy distance at left is Mount Bisaro.
After spending about fifty minutes on the summit, Shaun, Zosia and I retraced our steps back down the mountain.  Down-climbing the summit block requires some care, but we managed it without any mishaps.  About halfway down to the dry drainage on the south side of the mountain, Zosia discovered a tiny spring seeping out of the grassy slope.  It was a bit tricky to do, but Zosia expertly replenished our water bottles.  Although some silt was present, the water was cold and tasted delicious.  The spring was a godsend which quenched my thirst and provided enough water for the rest of the hike back to camp.

Of course, the return hike was still an epic slog as we worked our way back across the height of land and up to the Alpine Viewpoint (with at least an additional 160 metres of elevation gain).  Just like the summit block, descending the hidden ramp into the scree-filled basin demands some focus and attention due to the slippery footing there.  By this point, smoke from wildfires to the west had settled over the area, but this had the benefit of attenuating the heat from the late-day sun.  Consequently, we were spared from getting baked while making the knee-jarring descent down the basin.  Once we reached the Summer Pass trail junction, we could relax a bit as we settled into an easy hike back to the campground at Fish Lake.  A hearty dinner with refreshments in camp capped off a very strenuous but rewarding day.
That's a loooooong way down! Shaun and Zosia carefully descend from the summit.  Note the immense drop to the tarns below.
This was a godsend! The collected water was a bit silty, but it was cold and tasted great! Sonny refills his water bottle from a spring that Zosia discovered seeping out of the ground.  Other than Fish Lake at the very start, this would be the only place to replenish water bottles on the whole trip.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Ugh. At the foot of Mount Morro, Shaun and Zosia begin the long walk back to the Alpine Viewpoint (distant right).

Almost looks kind of like a Dalek!

Here is a last look back at Mount Morro in the hot afternoon sun.


The smoke actually helped cool the sun a bit as we descended this basin. Shaun and Zosia carefully descend the ramp below the Alpine Viewpoint.  The strange lighting is due to wildfire smoke.
Unfortunately, the surfing was short-lived. Sonny surfs down the loosest and steepest part of the upper basin.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Knee-jarring would aptly describe the descent! Shaun and Zosia continue their steep descent with Fish Lake and Mount Doolan (centre) visible through the smoky haze.
Fulfilling a 19-year old dream! Total Distance:  20.2 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  11 hours 55 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain:  1573 metres

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