Sunday, October 02, 2016

Pharaoh Peaks

Setting Sun avec Wine Gums... Perfect!
Wow! So, naturally, I got sick immediately upon returning from NB. Averaging 1300 km/day and sleeping in the car for a week seems to have taken it's toll.

For anyone who has noticed (and/or cares) I have not had a chance to do a blog post about my time in Boston with Brad. I still plan to get to that... honest. But,

"time doesn't wait for me, it keeps on rollin'" -- Foreplay/Longtime (on YouTube) by Boston ;)

As a man of the moment, this is what is in my head right now. Time doesn't wait, but Boston probably will.

I look forward to my mountain trips with Dave each year, yet I had decided that I couldn't gracefully manage to make it out to Canmore this time. 10 days getting out to New Brunswick and back... several projects at work that I was behind on, and a garden full of future pizza sauce and pickles that wouldn't wait a moment longer. I had given up. Resigned myself to my fate. Of course, you all know that good judgement of this sort does not come easily, or often, to me. I tend to stuff one thing after the other until there is no space (literal or otherwise) between them.

So it was with an unusual bit of trepidation that I allowed myself that familiar slip past that strange good judgement and straight onward, towards the more comfortable crazy. Dave and I managed to find a few days in common that didn't involve me taking any more time off of work and it was a done deal.

After 9000km logged installing Leora at Mt. Allison, you would think I would be done with driving for a while, but I can't help it. I love the music playing, the fields rolling by, and the sunsets. Mostly.

Somewhere between Drumheller and plain old Hell(er)
Above is a ridiculous stretch of road. Winding, freshly graded gravel. Insects grotesquely smeared on the windshield. Passing semi-trailers to kick up dust. Smoke from a burning tractor in the ditch (2 police cars, an ambulance, a fire truck and every neighbour for 5 km). And, to top it all off, the gorgeous setting sun... right in my face. Even though Google swore up and down that this route was going to be faster, by the time I had slowed to a crawl to prevent my own death (and gotten out several times to photograph cows, dust haze, and the setting sun), I'm pretty sure it was much longer.

In any event, I arrived safely in the dark to the bugling of the elk. Dave had his gear laid out on the floor, and this map on the table. If you find the hole that marks the two creases on the map, you will see the area where we were to camp. Very close to Canmore, right along the Alberta/B.C. boarder, in a back-country region referred to as "Pharaoh Peaks", or "Egypt Lake."

Despite the promises, there was no mint on my pillow, but the sleep in Chez Dave was, as always, deep and full of questy dreams.
In the morning we made some final food choices, balanced the gear, and after a short drive, parked at Sunshine Mountain Lodge. There is a short hike up an access road before we came to the Healy Pass Trail.
Hiking along the Healy Pass Trail...
The trail was spectacular. We had blue sky and only the best sort of clouds to keep us company, and we could feel Autumn racing on as we hiked higher and higher.
Looking back along Healy Pass
We paused for a break at the top of Healy Pass. Looking at a map, I suspect the peak in the photo above is The Monarch, but this is a wild guess. Perhaps Dave will correct me.
Dave Observes Scarab Peak from Healy Pass
If you look hard at the photo above, you may see the sparkle of a waterfall descending from Scarab Lake to fill Egypt Lake (visible in this photo, but in deep shadow).

We took about 5 1/2 hours to make the hike from the parking lot to E15 or the Egypt Lake Campground.

After we set up our campsite and stored our food out of bear's reach, we decided to explore Egypt Lake before supper. After the heavy packs and vertical of the day, it seemed a leisurely stroll with only our cameras in tow. 10 minutes took us to Egypt Lake.
From Egypt Lake... looking up at tomorrow's objective, Pharaoh Peak
Ridiculously beautiful roots
A naturally dwarfed tree on Egypt Lake... rivalling Pharaoh Peak with the size of its beauty
Lower falls above Egypt Lake - Dave Fails to Avoid being Wet
Of course, the stroll didn't stay leisurely for long. The worn path from the campground soon ended. We did some boulder hopping to get around the base of Egypt Lake and then followed a series of animal trails up the slope towards our first big reward of the trip (besides the fresh air, exercise, and picturesque perfection).

I love getting somewhere few people go. Especially if it has a view. Top of the falls (at Scarab Lake) is well travelled and I was able to find plenty of pictures, I suspect very few people bother to get access to the lower parts of these falls.

In the next 2 photos you will see the most vertical pieces of the waterfall which I pointed out from the earlier Healy Pass/Scarab Peak photo.
Falls out of Scarab Lake, visible earlier from Healy Pass (and later from above)
It took us 1 1/2 hours to get to the falls and would require another hour to get back to camp. I was hungry and it gets dark fast. We headed back to the campground to retrieve our food, boil water, wait 30 minutes for the food to rehydrate... Seems like a full day, but no!

We returned to Egypt Lake just as it was getting full dark and waited for an hour while the full moon rose. Dave had the foresight to bring a tripod and the results of this 65 second exposure of Scarab Peak are both eerie and beautiful.
Scarab Peak by Full Moon
Even thought the moon was bright enough that we cast pretty distinct shadows, it was still very dark under the trees. We needed headlamps to get back to camp and finally get some well deserved sleep.
7:30am Oatmeal and chocolate for breakfast
By 8am, we were hiking up the Whistling Valley Trail which runs through an alpine meadow between Scarab, Haiduk, and Pharaoh Peaks. First we had to gain some quick vertical. There was a surprise lookout after the first 30-40 minutes. Knowing that great views are not that much of a surprise, we had postponed our morning coffee on the chance that we would find somewhere great to sit.
Morning coffee never looked so good
We even got a little bit of company by way of a timid squirrel on a gnarly old tree (not shown) and several very busy birds.
According to Dave, this is Clark's Nutracker (well, he has something in his beak)
Dave yields to one more request to "perch there!"
Spectacular Larch with Pharaoh waiting...
We played around taking photos in the high meadow for a while. Even from the height of this pass, the trip would have been worth it. But we had a higher destination. The slope up the side of Pharaoh is probably not difficult in "Scrambler" terms. It is straight up and pretty obvious which way to go. Just a lot of work! The rock is loose and in places slippery shales are pile up on one another. We had to be careful not to go directly above one another so as to prevent raining rocks down on each other.
View from Pharaoh Peak
I'm also providing a link to a 360 degree "photo-sphere." Some of you may not have seen this sort of thing before. If you decide to click the link, you should then be able to click and drag the resulting image to see the entire view from the peak.

The way down is both harder and easier. Harder because you are tired, your feet hurt, and your can see what kind of a fall is imminent every step of the way. "Don't look down" doesn't serve very well when you are going down. Easier, because despite that you know that gravity is helping... sort of, and because instead of staring at the face of the mountain, you are looking at the vista that you worked so hard to achieve in the the first place.

Once we had regained a useable path, we trekked toward camp, detouring to see Scarab Lake and the top of the falls we had seen from below on the previous day.
Over many trips, I have tried to communicate some sense of scale, for those who have never stood near the top of the Rockies. Photos and video don't ever seem to work. So, I give up. It's high. So high that it scares me. Constantly. Conquering that fear (or ignoring it) is what allows you to function anywhere on the face of a mountain or near the edge of a cliff. But, fear is there for a reason and you push those feelings away at your peril. Whenever I ventured too close to an edge, or looked about to make an ill-advised leap, Dave offered up stories and experience of highly trained and skilled people who wound up injured, paralyzed or dead. Sobering reminders that probability alone can be your enemy when danger surrounds you. Helpful guidance that allowed me to keep my "climb anything, jump anywhere" mentality in tight check.

Top of the upper falls, looking towards Healy Pass
Prime larches show off for the camera
It rained through much of the night. We had been in the tent, sleeping and then waiting for the rain to stop, for a total of 11 hours before we finally gave in to the inevitable wet departure.
Dave claims to see "blue" somewhere out there...
After making our morning coffee, we were dismayed to discover that we were out of fuel. We couldn't boil water for our oatmeal. I figured we were really rugged mountain men and could handle this culinary insult. Kind of a "no guts, no glory" kind of thing.

Imagine my surprise to discover that coffee and oatmeal is freakin' delicious. Also, I was devastated (though not really surprised) to discover upon returning to the land of wifi and LTE that I was not the first person to make this discovery or to coin the term :(

On the hike out Dave spied an interesting rock formation; A beautiful series of rock hollows in striated rock, formed by swirling pebbles--a.k.a. "rock-cut basin." Even tired as I was, it proved an irresistible playground. The water was very cold. I think it made the full head dunking even more satisfying.
Rock-cut basins formed by kolks were mesmerizing
Up until this moment, I had been regretting bringing my waterproof iPhone case. Now, not so much.
the beauty below... even more stunning
We got home in time to order pizza-twice!! (Thanks Suzanne)--and watch The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Dave has acquired quite an obsession with kung-fu movies and felt compelled to educate me with one of the greats. Culture shock aside, it was an excellent movie. Sometimes I'm really glad that I don't get to choose everything for myself because I would never have watched it on my own. Add one more thing to the really long list of why it is great to have life-long friends.
Pizza courtesy of a "woman scorned" tastes twice as good ;)
Like always, the rest of my photos (and a few videos) can be found at the following: