Escape to the Rockies (aka The [Smoky] Rockies Scramble Trip)
Note: In addition to this written report, two videos (one extended length) of this trip are available for viewing. Head over to the video page to watch them.
My mountain situation thus far in 2020 could be summed up with one simple sentence: no mountains. None. Adirondacks closed to Canadians. Southern Utah Canyoneering no-go, nada. Trips to Europe equaled a long isolation upon return. Nuh-uh, no. And while eastern Canadian hiking had been fine and all, let's face it: the need for mountains had not been satisfied.
Pandemic concerns at the end of the summer were fairly low, and the fall's case spike had not yet hit the country, and we felt fairly comfortable doing an in-country trip - even one that involved a flight. So we headed out west - to Alberta. To the Canadian Rockies.
I conceived of this trip with an eye to keeping outings small, digestible, and off the beaten path and away from crowds. I wanted interesting outings with a bit of challenge and exploration, up routes on peaks that were not trailed, curated or managed. And if the routes involved a bit of light technical terrain, all the better. A series of scrambles (thus the scrambles designation in the title). And I'll explain the Smoky part later.
Understandably, it was somewhat difficult to get people to join in on my Rockies Scramble idea, and I only managed to entice two others to join me: Gino (veteran of last fall's amazing Death Hollow Utah trip
), and Julian - a friend who was brand-new to the alavigne.net outdoors hiking scene. Interestingly enough, both Julian and Gino had never visited the Canadian Rockies. I was confident they were going to be quite impressed by the range's grandeur.
This was my first in-pandemic flying experience, and Covid precautions were everywhere. In the airport, on the plane, even in our rental car. Overall the travelling experience wasn't a burden, and in fact the lighter load of traffic meant the plane was a more comfortable, less-crowded space for us, as well as in the terminals at either end.
We arrived late on a Friday evening and spent our first night in Alberta at a High River Super 8 Motel. In addition to the usual precautions at the motel, the daily free breakfast was provided to us room-service style, with the food being left at the foot of our doors at the prescribed time in the morning. Apart from the necessity, it was kind of nice to have it done this way.
My vision for our scrambling trip was to start at the southern end of the Canadian Rockies, then gradually work our way north on successive days, finally ending up after 8 days of scrambling in the Jasper area. This would give us a nice sampling of many different regions. Thus, our first destination of the trip on a fine sunny Saturday morning was Waterton Lakes National Park, which directly abuts the US border at the very southwestern corner of Alberta.