The imposing eastern wall of Mount Thompson is an impressive sight from the vicinity of Bow Lake. However, the usual ascent route is from the south, hidden from view until one is several kilometers from the road. It seems that Thompson is more a winter/spring ski objective than a climbing objective. The normal route offers little in the way of difficulty, being no more than a long glacier trek followed by a brief talus hike. Nevertheless, Mount Thompson is a fantastic summit. It is positioned on the eastern edge of the Wapta Icefield, and gives up panoramic views of the ice field and neighboring summits. An ascent can be managed easily in a day from the road, and if the glaciers are dry, the climb does not require technical equipment beyond (perhaps) a pair of crampons and an ice axe. Under the right conditions, it should be possible to ski all the way to and from the summit, either as standalone objective, or a side trip on a tour of the Wapta Icefield.
Thompson was first climbed in 1898 by an exploratory party consisting of J.Norman Collie, Hugh.E.M. Stutfield, Hermann Woolley. This was their last climb on a trip that included the first ascent of Mount Athabasca and the discovery of the Columbia Icefield. The peak was named by Collie after Charles Thompson, who had accompanied them the previous year. Thompson had the unfortunate distinction of having nearly become the second mountaineering fatality in the Rockies when he fell into a crevasse below nearby Mount Gordon. Thompson was of course eventually extricated, and went on to make other notable ascents in the Rockies. An entertaining account of the first ascent and other climbs can be found in Stuttfield and Collie’s Climbs and Exploration in the Canadian Rockies (2008 Rocky Mountain Books, ISBN 978-1-897522-06-6).
The quickest ways to approach Mt. Thompson are from the east, along the Icefields Parkway. The Peter and Catherine Whyte Hut (Peyto Hut) is just beneath the peak to the west. Access to the Peyto Hut is from a trailhead at Peyto Lake. The Bow Hut lies about three miles south-southeast of the summit beneath an outflow of the ice field. Access is via a sometimes hard-to-follow trail that leaves from the parking lot behind the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge at Bow Lake. From either hut, gain the broad saddle between Thompson and Mount Rhondda, and then head for the toe of the gentle ridge descending southwest from the summit. In summer the ridge is stable talus, and should take fit parties an hour or less to ascend. In anything other than dry rock or firm snow condition, expect a bit more of a struggle.
The ridge may also be reached in roughly the same manner as the first ascent party, which found their way to the Bow Glacier, and ascended it to gain the ice field just south of the aforementioned saddle. The glacier has undoubtedly receded since 1898, and consequently some adjustments must be made. It may be possible to find a way through the cliff bands to the north of the snout of the Bow Glacier, but a more straightforward, though more circuitous, way can be found to the south of the glacier’s terminus. Either follow cairns and use trails through the cliffs left of Bow falls to gain the bench above, or follow the Bow Hut trail until you emerge above the trees in a desolate valley of glacial detritus. Cross the stream and double back north along the base of the cliffs on the west side of the valley. From either direction, you are looking for a terraced section of the cliffs that lies a couple hundred meters south of the large moraine on the east and south of the small lake below the Bow Glacier terminus. Weave your way up ledges (mostly easy Class 2, with one short section of easy Class 3) to emerge on a high bench overlooking the Bow Glacier. Head west over moraines and gain the southern edge of the Bow Glacier above the icefall, then head more or less west to the toe of the ridge.
Red TapeMount Thompson lies within Banff National Park. Visitors will need to display a parks pass in their car while stopped in the park. In 2009 user fees were $9.80 CAD per day for individuals, and $19.60 CAD per day for groups. Annual passes and other permutations on access fees are also available—check the Parks Canada website for details. Wilderness permits are required for overnight camping (this includes stays in the ACC huts) in the backcountry, and are available from the wardens at information centers. Wilderness permits were $9.80 CAD per person per night in 2009.
Camping and Lodging
Mosquito Creek and Waterfowl Lakes campgrounds offer the nearest places to set up a tent. Mosquito Creek is a primitive camp a few kilometers south of the trailhead, and ran $15.70 CAD per night in 2009, while Waterfowl was a bit more posh with flush toilets for $21.50 CAD per night. See the Banff National Park website for additional camping information.
While not exactly camping, the Alpine Club of Canada’s Peyto and Bow huts offer a pleasant and sociable alternative to carrying a tent and cooking gear. Both huts have bunks with foam mattresses and propane stoves with plentiful cooking gear and utensils. Call the ACC at 403-678-3200 or inquire via email at info@AlpineClubofCanada.ca.
Hostelling International operates a large facility in Lake Louise that has hot showers, a full kitchen and food storage, plus internet and other amenities that will make bad weather days easier to tolerate. There are a few smaller hostels nearby that offer less in the way of amenities, but more in terms of quiet and natural environment. If you are really determined to spend money, the hotels in Banff and Lake Louise can empty your pocket in a hurry. The internet is probably your best friend when looking for that magic balance between plush and affordable.
ResourcesParks staff is reasonably informed about general conditions, so it’s worth checking in at the information center in Lake Louise. There is also a climbers log there that might have some useful information, though you will have to wade through the innumerable accounts of conditions on Mount Temple.
Environment Canada puts out twice-daily forecasts for select points in the region, the most relevant probably being Banff.