Mount Kidd South Peak
Taking advantage of some unseasonably good weather on 19 November 2005, Vern Dewit and I headed to Kananaskis Country to scramble up Mount Kidd South Peak.  Starting from the Galatea Creek parking lot at 7:42 AM, we had high hopes of enjoying a fairly straightforward ascent, but just minutes into the hike, I nearly wiped out on the icy trail while descending to the bridge over Kananaskis River.  It would be a portent of things to come.

About an hour later, we hiked through a stretch of evergreen trees and found a good, beaten path branching off the main trail (obvious cairn).  Snow covered much of this path, but a previous party's footprints led us quickly to more cairns and flagging up the hillside.  For the next two hours, we ascended relatively easy terrain, much of it snow-free.  Things were going smoothly until we began climbing up snow-covered slopes a few hundred metres below the summit ridge.  From below, these slopes looked inconsequential or perhaps even inviting.  However, a combination of wind and recent melt-freeze cycles had hardened the snow and turned the slopes into dangerously tilted ice sheets.  It was almost impossible to kick steps into the snow, and even though Vern and I had ice axes, what we really needed were crampons.  In fact, Vern had brought along a pair, but thinking that the hard snow would give way to much softer stuff higher up, he didn't bother donning his crampons and continued on his merry way.  From my perspective, the hard snow didn't seem to slow him down one bit.

Meanwhile, I was floundering on the hard snow and struggled to keep up with Vern.  Although Vern left some nice tracks to follow, many of the footholds were tenuous, and more than once, my ice axe saved me from an extended slide.  There were lots of rocks sticking up above the snow, and since these gave me better traction, I resorted to "island-hopping" from one rock to the next.  Occasionally, I was forced to chop steps in the snow when the next rock was out of reach.  Overall, this was a slow and frustrating way to ascend the mountain, and I was quite spent by the time I joined Vern on the false summit.

Knowing that we would have to down-climb a difficult notch if we stuck to the summit ridge, we decided to follow some old footprints and traverse the steep snow slope below the crest.  Again, the hard snow made for slippery footing, and we took our time to walk across the slope.  Just below the summit, Vern scrambled up to the notch, and I was about to follow him when I suddenly slipped.  Both my ice axe and ski pole were yanked out of my hands, and I was truly at the mercy of the mountain.  I yelled out an expletive as I flew over some rocks, but a split second later, I crashed to a halt as my feet dug into a soft patch of snow.  I had slid maybe five metres, and my ice axe ended up a few metres above me while my ski pole was a few metres below me.  The slide had happened so fast that the enormity of the situation barely registered in my mind.  Instead, I was more annoyed at having to re-climb the lost elevation.  After retrieving my gear, I carefully climbed up the slope further to climber's right of the notch and joined Vern at the summit at 12:23 PM.

After signing the summit register, we descended via the notch (Vern's route of ascent).  There is a short rock step which has to be down-climbed to reach the notch, and this step is uncomfortably close to the airy drop on the north side of the mountain.  Vern had no problems descending here and was already across the notch when I started down the step.  As I reached down to grab hold of a rock, my ice axe slipped out of my hand and dropped over the north side of the summit ridge.  Curses.  I scrambled down to the notch and peered over the edge to see my ice axe sticking out of some powdery snow about three metres below me.  Vern had already disappeared down the summit ridge and was oblivious to my predicament.  I knew that I would not be able to descend the mountain safely without my ice axe.  Without a second thought, I quickly cleared off the small snow cornice clinging to the edge of the notch and lowered myself down a steep crack on the north side of the mountain.  Good holds were hard to find, but I eventually descended far enough that I could use my ski pole to hook and reel in my ice axe.  It was at this point that I began to realize what a crazy idea it was to drop down the north face to retrieve the axe.  I was standing on tenuous footholds at the top of a steep snow slope, and everything around me seemed to drop off into the abyss.  The crack I had just descended also looked much tougher to climb back up.  I stood there for about a minute before I gathered enough strength and courage to scramble back up the crack.  This was some of the most desperate scrambling I have ever done; a slip here would have been catastrophic if not fatal.  After a few trying moments, I managed to pull myself up and grab onto a reliable handhold at the top of the crack.  I then swung my ice axe over the top and jammed it into the hard snow.  Using the axe for leverage, I pulled myself up and over and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Both Vern and I were relieved to see each other again as I rejoined him on the false summit.  After a short break, we continued down the corniced ridge.  Not wanting a repeat visit to the north side of the mountain, I gave the cornices a wide berth, but in doing so, I was venturing back onto the hard snow of the south side.  Yet again, I slipped on this slick surface, and in trying to regain my balance, I inadvertently flung my ice axe into the air and down the south slope.  This time it was gone for good.  Incredulous, Vern quite correctly remarked that I couldn't have thrown it farther if I tried.  Without dwelling too long on my clumsiness, Vern immediately got his crampons out of his pack (his pink water bottle tumbled out and quickly disappeared down the slope) and selflessly handed me his ice axe which happened to have a handy leash attached to it (what a novel idea).  Wearing crampons, Vern made short work of the hard snow and was dumbfounded that he hadn't put them on earlier.  In contrast, I was still having problems descending the icy slopes even with Vern's ice axe.  Controlling the speed of my glissade was difficult enough, but I had to also weave in and out of the aforementioned "island-hopping" rocks which were sticking up menacingly all over the place.  I felt like I was sliding down a gigantic cheese grater, and I ended up with numerous bruises and contusions on all of my limbs before making it back to safer ground.

Vern and I managed to get some enjoyable glissading in a snow-filled gully lower down, and the rest of our descent was uneventful.  A slippery hike out Galatea Creek had us back at the parking lot by 4:26 PM.  I learned some tough lessons on this trip, and I was probably overdue for some humility as well.  Vern, as usual, was great company for a scramble, but I am now indebted to him for helping me get back safely.

Be sure to check out Vern's trip report here.
Vern is a colourful character! Vern ascends easy terrain on the south slopes.  The summit of Mount Kidd South Peak is at centre.
An extended slide just below the summit would be nasty if not fatal. Vern begins to encounter hard, windblown snow further up.
With his toque on, Vern almost looks bald! Vern snaps some photos of the big bowl to the west with his new camera.  At centre is Guinn's Pass.
Sliding back down this slope would be no picnic either. This slope looks deceptively easy to walk up.  Without crampons, it is not.
Yeah, I wouldn't want to be stuck on this side of the mountain! The north side of the mountain is dramatically steeper.  Vern is barely visible at the false summit.
So close and yet so far... This is the view of the true summit (right) from the false summit.
How many different colours can you find on Vern? Vern carefully traverses the snow slope below the ridge crest.
Vern and I had a great time on that mountain last year. This is the higher north peak of Mount Kidd as seen from the south peak's summit.
Another beautiful day in the Canadian Rockies. The views to the west are inevitably drawn toward Mount Assiniboine at centre.
Might explain why I threw away my ice axe twice after this. Vern inadvertently jams his ice axe into Sonny's head at the 2895-metre summit of Mount Kidd South Peak.
Click here to see Andrew Nugara's amazing photos of the cloud cover further south. Vern relaxes with a cigarette at the summit.  Fortress Ridge is visible at lower right.
This is where I dropped my ice axe over the north side. Vern carefully crosses the notch in the summit ridge.  At right is Mount Bogart.
Shortly after this picture was taken, I would permanently lose my ice axe somewhere down the slope at lower right. At the false summit, Vern amusingly smiles after hearing about Sonny's adventure on the north side of the mountain.
I owe Vern big time after that harrowing descent. Back on soft snow, Vern easily descends to the broad gully below.  At upper right is the Fortress.
Bill Kerr thinks this might be the ice climb known as Tasting Fear (WI 5). This is a trailside view of an interesting icefall along Galatea Creek.  Note the figures on the far bank (top centre).