From the saddle, we could see that we were quite close to the subsummit, which was perhaps only a couple of hundred metres away and less than 50m of elevation (150 feet) above us. A distinct little footpath led up through a few undulating steps of scree. Even though the terrain dropped away steeply on both sides, it was a broad and wide here, with plenty of moderate ground to minimize the exposure. This was, unfortunately, not enough for Gino. He made it about halfway from saddle to sub-summit, and then reported that he didn't feel comfortable going any farther, and he sat down on the ground. Despite my best efforts at encouragement, he wouldn't go any higher. Too bad, since we could see that we were basically just a few minutes from the summit. Julian and I continued on, hoping the Gino would get to the right mindspace to continue and to join us.
The top of the sub-summit was, as we expected, a broad dome of scree. A little cairn had been constructed at its top. To the south, a long ridgeline descended in the direction of our camp, but got steeper at some point along the way. As we waited for the potential Gino-arrival, we wandered down the ridgeline a ways, including a minor downscramble of an easy chimney. Eventually the ridgeline steepened precipitously and blocked our way. However, from here we could sight all the way to our campsite.
We turned around and headed back up to the top of the sub-summit. Unfortunately, Gino had not elected to continue higher, and we could see him now sitting on the ground down in the saddle, waiting for our return.
After a few summit selfies, we did just that, walking down the easy scree slopes back to the saddle. Then, all together again, we began our long descent back to our camp. It had turned into a pretty full, pretty long day, and we were looking forward to relaxing to a nice little fire and having some dinner.
Valley of the North Saskatchewan
Down, down, down the long stretch of scree from the saddle. No doubt we added a few more lesions and blisters to Gino's and Julian's collections as we descended. When we reached treeline, we continued to follow the line of the main gully until we encountered that little diagonal exit path we had spotted earlier in the day. This turned us into the forest, and although we hoped for some sort of trail or herdpath, we worried about how troublesome a bushwhack we might encounter.
Unfortunately, there was no discernable path in the forest. However, we did soon find that whenever we needed it, there always seemed to be some sort of open laneway that led generally in the direction we wanted to go. Not a path, to be clear, but just a line where (for whatever reason) there were no trees and no thick brush. Coming from eastern mountains, where bushwhacking is often an unpleasant, tiring, scratchy, slow process, this was... well, it was actually pretty straightforward. It didn't even feel like our pace was all that slowed.
Thirty minutes of easy bushwhacking got us down through the forest band and to the edge of the broad central meadow. We were on the far side from the Norman Creek trail, and so we had a bit more bushwhacking to do (let's call it "meadowhacking"). Although we weren't in the trees any longer, this walk across the thick, thigh-high meadows was arguably a bit slower and harder than had been the descent through the forest. All in all though, not too bad. Soon we intersected the Norman Creek trail and turned right. Our camp was now not far away at all.
We arrived back at camp shortly before 7pm, capping off a fun and rewarding but also pretty long and tiring day. In total we covered about seventeen kilometers, more off-trail than not, and about a thousand metres (roughly 3000+ feet) of elevation gain. The only real downside had been the return of the smoky skies, which curtailed our full enjoyment of the surrounding Rockies scenery.
Dangerous Drying Maneuver
Gino soon had a pleasant fire going. Breaking with my usual tradition of just having a boil-in-the-bag dinner, I roasted some sausages and warmed some beans over the campfire for my dinner. Gino spent some time burning his socks in an attempt to dry them out, and Julian did some more foot first aid (the long day had indeed wreaked a bit more havoc on them).
We were more than ready for a nice long, restful sleep, and we did not wait for deep night to fully settle over the landscape before quenching the fire and turning in for the night. Normally we might have stayed up and taken some extra time to do some star-watching, but the smoky skies nixed that idea.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Norman Creek Drainage Loop - click map to view
Norman Creek Drainage Loop - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet