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October 2019

Cyclone & Pipestone Mountain Scrambling

Written by: Brandon Boulier

The Skoki wilderness area is one of my favourite areas in Banff National Park. It is a great four season playground offering all sorts of adventures such as hiking, scrambling, mountaineering, camping, skiing, snowshoeing and much more. The area is abundant with wildlife and I have witnessed bears feeding on berries and fish swimming up shallow streams. Lakes and tarns dot most of the valleys while waterfalls feed them from the mountainsides above. Over the last 10 years, I have made over a dozen trips into this pristine wilderness.

Ptarmigan Mountain above Skoki Lakes

My trip into the region was in summer/fall of 2019. Larch season is magical in the Skoki. A lot of the area sits high up at the right altitude and climate to have a thriving larch forest. For years I had been eyeing up two peaks just north of Red Deer lakes named Cyclone and Pipestone Mountain. Up until the year previous, there had been little to no information on the difficulty of these peaks. I believe that the long approach to these peaks dissuaded most scramblers from wanting to add them to their resume. Pictures I had taken of these two peaks from the south on the well known Kane scrambles, indicated to me that the south aspects of these two peaks appeared to be easy ascents up scree slopes. Then in 2018, a friend had climbed them and reported back to me that they were in fact easy ascents. This increased my desire to climb them. Knowing from past adventures into the area, I knew that this trip wouldn’t disappoint.

The peaks were pencilled into my digital wish list calendar. I prayed to the weather gods for a good weather window near the end of September during larch colour change. As locals know, the end of summer and early fall can be a fickle time of year in the Rockies. All four seasons can be experienced in a matter of hours and days. A good weather window opened up for a two day attempt the third week of September. I packed my gear into my Osprey Aether and got a very early start the following morning by arriving at the trailhead before sunrise. The grind of the 20 kilometre approach to Red Deer Lakes camp is eased by the amazing scenery. I got to camp around noon, quickly set up my MSR Hubba Hubba tent an armed my Arc’Teryx Alpha 30 day pack for an assault on Cyclone Mountain.

One of the most eye catching vistas in the Skoki are Mount Douglas and Mount Saint Bride. A hiker’s first introduction to these peaks is when they are greeted by them at Ptarmigan Lake when coming up from Lake Louise ski hill. Fortunately for me, these peaks were very close to where I was climbing and stole the show for my ascent.

Red Deer Lakes from Cyclone Mountain. Peaks on the left are Mount Douglas & Mount Saint Bride

As I ascended higher I could see carpets of forest stretched out in the valley’s beneath me. Red Deer Lakes interrupted the colours of green and yellow with splashes of blue. The scrambling was mostly class 2 of easy to moderate hands on. I summited mid afternoon and was back in camp with just enough daylight left to cook dinner, filter water and enjoy some hot coco. The long day made me quickly retreat to my sleeping bag and get some much needed sleep before another long second day.

Daylight woke me from my slumber. I ate a quick breakfast and started up my second objective, Pipestone Mountain. I accessed the mountain via a south facing gully and up through gargoyle features protecting the upper mountain. Once on the ridge I traversed west towards the summit. A couple of detours around rock bands put me into terrain that was slightly harder than the day before.

Red Deer Lakes from Pipestone Mountain. Peak above lake is Skoki Mountain

However, still in the class 2+ range or moderate scrambling. Shortly after I was on the summit celebrating a second long awaited goal. It was a quick descent back to the trail and camp. I quickly packed up my gear and made my way back to the trailhead passing fresh bear scat near camp. I arrived back at my vehicle around 6pm and finished off an amazing two days of backpacking and scrambling.

Gear Up for Your Next Backpacking & Scrambling Excursion