20101010: Thanksgiving on Ehagay Nakoda and Big Sister (Canmore)

Pretty sure it’s happened to everyone at least once, right? Taking the wrong drainage, I mean.

After some ‘exploring’ in the dark and early morning my brother, my scrambling partner, and I came up onto Ehagay Nakoda, that big mass of mountain that encompasses the well known peaks like Ha-Ling, Lawrence Grassi, and Ship’s Prow. Eh, what?!!

Everything happens for a reason, my scrambling partner shrugged. A good excuse for staying low (lower) today was the gusty wind, which earlier forecasts showed to be gale force but which would apparently subside to around 50-70kph. That was strong enough for us.  We chose the drainage down which presented us with a mini slab adventure and directed us to a little cave eroded into the rock bands. We had some good fun picking hashtags to describe our day. #directroute #breezy #welovecairns

Goat pond below
Goat pond below
Ehagay Nakoda ridge
Ehagay Nakoda ridge
Sun! #breezy
Sun! #breezy
My scrambling partner's little puffin buddy. Like a traveling gnome, it gets its own summit photo.
My scrambling partner’s little puffin buddy. Like a traveling gnome, it gets its own summit photo.
Three Sisters. Big Sister rightmost.
Scoping out the condition of Three Sisters. Big Sister rightmost.
Descent through drainage. #directroute
Descent through drainage. #directroute

After managing the rubble, slab, and boulders of Ehagay Nakoda my ankle was really sore so I cancelled the next day’s trip to Highwood. I went to my parents’ for turkey dinner and had more wine than usual (Beringer, white zinfandel, a bit sweet which was fine with me; nectar’s good after a day in the mountains!), and watched Elysium (Matt Damon) while lounging in a massage chair. I’m sleeping in tomorrow; tonight is about indulging!

It happened that the next morning I arose at a decent hour, peeked out the window, and thought hmm… I wonder. Quick check of the forecast showed anticipated wind speed 35kph on Big Sister and a clear cool morning. I couldn’t let it go to waste as we’re nearing winter and another chance relatively snow-free probably won’t come until June. I’d just see how far I could get…

Oh, ice on slab topped with snowy rubble, with water running between the ice and slab, icicles… As I was topping out on the ridgeline the weather looked to be turning and I started heading down; by the time I ran into a couple guys the weather had cleared so I joined their party and headed up again.

They had with them a quiet energetic canine. Not often (ever) are dogs seen at this elevation. The told me they’d had to lower her down the first downclimb with a rope, and carry her up some of the climbs! Their dog was amazing and I absolutely loved that she wasn’t one of those dogs that’s always getting in the way and bumping around your legs.

We made it to the final push – oh so close – but it was gusting wind strong enough to blow up the snow in wisps. It’s fairly exposed, and though I had my axe and spikes I was tired, so I called it a day. The guys also decided to call it a day. Their dog also definitely didn’t like the look of it.

Big sister.
So much for clear weather. Goat pond below.
Big Sister
Weather cleared, so decided to head up again. Spray Lakes below.
Ehagay Nakoda
Ehagay Nakoda ridge, where we were yesterday. Canmore below.
Big Sister
It’s kind of a steep dropoff.
Big Sister
Summit so close yet so far.
Big Sister
Fossils abound

On the way down the guys were hopping and skipping and sliding down the scree-covered slab, and I remarked with admiration to one of them that they sure seemed confident in their ankles. He promptly did a ‘starfish’ jump off a slab into a pile of rocky rubble which of course gave way into more slab and rubble… One is a professional dancer with Alberta Ballet and the other is ex-Alberta Ballet. Wow. We thus slippy slidey proceeded down, me not at all successfully.

Below treeline the guys chose to take the drainage. Since I’d already experienced #directroute yesterday two drainages over I hiked back up to where I could climb onto a ridge and descend through the trees, and stop cramping their style! By chance there was a trail down that was far simpler than the one I’d taken up. It was practically a highway. Walked back to the car to wait for the guys so that I could say thanks and goodbye to them and their sweet little dog. They’d carried her down in their arms the last bit.

Ah, we totally could’ve done it, one of the guys said, as we surveyed the mountain from below. I smiled because it’s always easy to say that when on firm ground back at the parking lot!

On the drive home I stopped by the new Chief Chiniki gas station near Morley to use the washroom. We’d been talking about it yesterday so I thought I’d see what it’s about; the fact that the area’s enclosed by a tall chicken wire fence topped with barbed wire is curious… Washroom was clean. Gas was 2 cents cheaper than in town but the station offerings don’t hold a candle to Deadman’s Flats. There were shelves full of a single type of pre-packed meat sandwich which makes one wonder how long they have been sitting there. Checked out the newly opened restaurant. The food was good, price fair, atmosphere comfortable; I’d eat there again.

It’s difficult to decide which day was better. Ehagay Nakoda was more interesting while Big Sister’s views of the surroundings were superior, being higher up. The company was great both days. In any case, I’ve had enough of slab routes for a bit.


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