The Monarch
On 24 July 2021, Zosia Zgolak and I climbed The Monarch located on the boundary between British Columbia's Kootenay National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.  An ascent route is described in Alan Kane's Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies (3rd edition), but a more concise resource would be Vern Dewit's excellent 2016 trip report.  Admittedly, I did not pay close enough attention to the details in Dewit's trip report since I put my full trust in Kane's usually reliable route descriptions, but as a result, we ended up experiencing some of the same pitfalls that befell Dewit and his group.

Starting from the east end of Sunshine Village ski resort's parking lot in Alberta's Banff National Park, Zosia and I hiked the well-maintained trail along Healy Creek to the signed turnoff to Simpson Pass.  Turning south and crossing a foot bridge, we climbed up to the provincial boundary at Simpson Pass, but instead of crossing over into British Columbia, we followed the trail leading to Healy Pass for about 600 metres until we reached a signed junction for Eohippus Lake.  Turning south again, we finally crossed the provincial boundary and entered Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.  Although Kane mentions the possibility of taking an off-trail short cut to reach the north ridge of The Monarch, we opted to stay on the trail and hike all the way to Eohippus Lake since Zosia had always wanted to go there.  Upon reaching the lake, we worked our way westward along the north shore aiming for gentle slopes leading to the north ridge of The Monarch which is also the boundary with Kootenay National Park.  From the crest of the north ridge, it is necessary to lose nearly 200 metres of elevation (Kane erroneously suggests that it is only a loss of about 100 metres) to reach the base of a fairly wide gully granting access to the upper mountain.  Regretfully, we made the mistake of descending rubble slopes close to the northern walls of The Monarch.  The terrain here is unpleasantly steep and loose, and our progress was cautiously slow.  As noted by Dewit, a better option would have been to follow the edge of a fire-ravaged forest a little further north.

In any case, Zosia and I made it down in one piece and proceeded to climb up the access gully which was still mostly choked with snow.  Although the snow was ideal for kicking steps, the gully is steep enough to make ascending with crampons a must.  Even then, it felt a bit awkward and wearying front-pointing straight uphill, and we zigzagged much of the way up the gully.  More unnerving was the fact that we were vulnerable to rockfall while in the gully, and we had a near miss when several rocks about the size of dinner plates came crashing out of a side chute just above us.  Fortunately, we were able to dodge the shower of rocks, but we then climbed the final few meters of the gully with a bit more urgency in an effort to get to safer ground more quickly.

Once we cleared the gully, Zosia and I ditched our crampons and proceeded up a long scree slope which bends left around a tapering cliff band.  After the nerve-racking ascent of the snowy gully, it felt strangely relaxing to slog up some good old treadmill scree.  Higher up, we veered a little further to climber's left to find more stable terrain, and we made good progress up the north ridge to the base of the summit block.  Just as Dewit lamented, the remaining scramble up the summit block is far less trivial than Kane suggests.  Some route-finding is necessary to figure out the easiest way up, and the crumbly rocks here are touchy to say the least.  With some careful persistence, we muddled our way up to the summit cairn without any mishaps.  It had taken us a whopping 10.5 hours to ascend The Monarch.

Well aware of the lateness of the day, Zosia and I stopped on the summit for only 20 minutes before commencing our descent.  We slowly down-climbed the tricky summit block, but once we cleared the most difficult sections, we took advantage of the abundant loose scree on this mountain to expedite our descent.  Ironically, the wildfire smoke which robbed us of what should have been splendid summit views also protected us immensely from getting baked by the sun.  As such, the long stumble back to our crampons did not feel so unbearable.  Donning our crampons again, we re-entered the gully and descended as quickly as we could to avoid more rockfall.  Due to the steepness of the snow in the gully, we never felt comfortable enough to attempt glissading, and instead, we simply walked back down the way we came up.  At one point, I tripped over my own crampons and went for a brief tumble, but luckily, I was able to stop myself from an uncontrollable slide.  We had no other accidents in the gully, and at the base, we removed our crampons for good.

From the base of the gully, Zosia and I dropped further down before crossing more rubble to reach the aforementioned fire-ravaged forest.  We then began a long climb back up to the north ridge of The Monarch via the forest's edge.  With very little bushwhacking or ankle-breaking rubble present, this is indeed a far superior route than the descending traverse we took earlier in the day.  Nevertheless, the 200-metre re-ascent of the north ridge still felt a bit dispiriting to me especially at this late stage of the trip.  After cresting the ridge, we descended partway back toward Eohippus Lake before taking a short cut down to a hidden meadow.  We subsequently headed northeast and circled around the shore of some unnamed tarn before regaining the Eohippus Lake trail in waning daylight.  The ensuing hike out in the dark took us another three hours but was otherwise uneventful.
F**k whoever decided that the public had to park 800 metres away from the trailhead!

The sun is up already as Zosia starts the trip by hiking across Sunshine Village Ski Resort's parking lot which is under construction.

No worries--there is plenty of water later in the trip. The creek bed under this foot bridge near the Simpson Pass turnoff is dry on this day.
Welcome to BC...almost!

Zosia arrives at Simpson Pass.  The trail to Eohippus Lake (and Healy Pass) enters the forest beside a provincial boundary marker at right.

Lotsa awesome camping spots here!

Here is one of the first clear views of The Monarch from an unnamed lake in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.


It's tempting to just lounge here on the lakeshore! Monarch Ramparts stretch away to the north across the same unnamed lake.
This would be a beautiful place to camp. Zosia makes her way around the north shore of Eohippus Lake below the impressive east face of The Monarch.
Hmm...from this angle, the lake even looks a bit like a horse...chasing Pac Man! This is looking back down on Eohippus Lake from gentle slopes leading to Monarch Ramparts.
Literally, not least not yet! The ridge ahead is the low point between The Monarch and Monarch Ramparts.
This is gonna suck going down...and climbing back up! Zosia begins dropping down past the north ridge of The Monarch.
This sucks, but it gets worse! Sonny finds the uneven rocks here tedious to walk on.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Okay, now this really sucks! The looseness of the rocks below The Monarch's north ridge make the descending traverse less than trivial.
Thank goodness! This is not the correct gully to go up.
Hopefully, it's not completely choked with snow...

Zosia approaches the correct access gully.

OMG, this looks steep!

Zosia enters the access gully.

She doesn't look like a happy camper here...

 After donning crampons and taking out her ice axe, Zosia begins trudging up the steep snow in the gully.

Yep, we had a close call!

Climbing up the gully requires some vigilance as it is prone to dangerous rockfall.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

For some reason, we didn't consider keeping our crampons on to ascend the snow here.

After clearing the gully and removing her crampons, Zosia proceeds up a scree slope and will eventually angle up to the left.

What a soul-sucking grind!

The treadmill rubble here can be exasperating to ascend.  More solid scrambling can be found by going further left.

Still some tricky business ahead of us here... Zosia approaches the summit block of The Monarch.
Very unpleasant terrain! Zosia scrambles up loose and exposed terrain on the summit block.
Whew! We made it!

Zosia and Sonny take a breather on the summit of The Monarch (2892 metres).

It's more than a 750-metre drop to the lake from here!

Here is the view of Eohippus Lake from the summit.  Sunshine Meadows can be seen further in the distance through the smoky haze.

Sigh. Shame about the smoky views!

Monarch Ramparts and several unnamed lakes are visible to the north.

Can you spot the helicopter?

Sonny takes advantage of the terrain's looseness to descend from the summit.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

We were wishing that the helicopter would pick us up and take us home!

A helicopter lands briefly on an outlier of The Monarch.  Note the figure wandering at the bottom of the photo.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Do you remember where we left our crampons?

Zosia makes her way back to the top of the access gully.

A bit too steep to glissade comfortably in my opinion.

Sonny carefully descends the access gully.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

We shoulda come down this way too.

After exiting the gully, Zosia aims to climb up the right edge of the fire-ravaged forest ahead.

But the bugs were bad here! Ugh!

The climb back up along the edge of the forest is straightforward.

Get ready for a mind-numbing walk out!

Sonny takes a short cut back to the access trail for Eohippus Lake (right).

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

An epic trip that would be much more comfortable over two days. Total Distance:  ~35 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  18 hours 5 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain:  1842+ metres

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