It is rare I write a trip report of any kind, I am all about contributing hard core beta that has actual use. However, in this case I felt both Bill Corbett's, author of “The 11,000ers of the Canadian Rockies” and Kevin Barton's (who has submitted a route page on SP) beta had me somewhat confused on Mount Willingdon’s approach. I was particularly perplexed by their conflicting beta regarding the "Quartzite Col". Since Kevin has a route page up, I will offer my 2c worth via this trip report versus just a short summit log. Therefore SP will have two versions to compare for you avid peak baggers. At least one party had such a bad time with the approach that they came out a much longer route near Pipestone Pass. The approach over Quartzite Pass is really not that bad and only took me 4+ hours return from the bivy site.
The initial approach for me was right at six hours, which is in line with Bill’s 6-8 hours from the road. However, I am normally considerably faster than his low estimates. I went all the way back to the end of the valley to try and line up what he describes in his approach notes. On return, I made it out in 4 hours + to the car from the bivy site which obviously means my return was a much more direct route. The elevation gain/loss in either direction is not a lot different, offering only a small advantage on return.
The climb itself took me 2 hours solo to the summit and about 3:30 hours total return to the bivy versus Bill’s 6 hour return estimate which is typically the difference I would expect. With these times, one can easily see how Mount Willingdon can be treated as a day trip, car to summit. However, the Devon Lakes bivy is one of the prettier camp spots in all the Canadian Rockies and one would be rather short sighted to not stop and smell the roses here. If you are going to make this a two day trip however, it is important to note that Devon Lakes would be the worst spot for mosquitos in all of the Canadian Rockies, thus I recommend a trip planned from mid-August on when their numbers start to abate.
I never use GPS equipment and the first mistake I made was keeping my head down on the 4kms Bill mentions along the Mosquito Creek trail. I walked right into the Mosquito Creek campsite (6kms) well under an hour, thus had to turn around. This is a fast and flat trail. The description would be better served via Kevin’s beta to turn left at the third bridge and follow an animal/human trail on the left side of this drainage-creek up valley.
You do not need to follow this drainage to its end (a few small glaciers). Bill’s notes talk of when the creek turns west you gain grassy slopes up and right. In reality, the creek never really changes its direction until you reach its origin. You will be better served to exit the creek, just beyond a large braided drainage coming down from the left. Look for a cairn on the right bank heading up a small flowing drainage. If you miss it, you will come to a much more significant and rockier drainage on the right side about one hour total in from the trail.
Stay on the right side of this larger drainage (after you have turned right up off the creek bottom) or if you caught the cairn, use some avalanche gullies to meander left until you are on top of the larger drainage canyon. Follow these grassy slopes as they pinch down into rubble and angle left up to the upmost left col. This is the exact location you want to descend (800’ or so) down to the Siffleur River Valley. The north side of this col had plenty of snow in mid-August 2012. If you went further up valley before ascending from the creek, you will have a pleasant, albeit longer, hike up grassy slopes and then moraine to a very wide notch which is where we found the remnants of the memorial Bill references, so I suppose this was his route, but it will cost you at least an hour longer if not more. I found boot prints on both approaches.
From the before mentioned earlier col, either descend the steep snow on the north slope or down climb to the left. Once below the snow, angle left at first but look to gain a narrow scree gully on your right at a flat shoulder section. You can also continue left down steps, but again will have to traverse right at the end to avoid a small waterfall. Descend into the valley below and angle right at first so you can easily cross the first braided section of the river up a steep bank. Then cross the forever undulating soft ground, losing even more precious elevation as you cross tons of soft marshy meadows braided with the Siffleur River. As you ascend up from the valley floor onto Clearwater Pass directly across (north) from the col you left behind, look for a southeast-northwest horse trail. Ignore it and just keep heading directly for your objective and you will land on a horse trail again as it makes for Devon Lakes. The first time you crossed it, it is running parallel to the Siffleur River valley. You could turn left, but that will just be a long way around to intersect the horse trail that heads for Devon Lakes.
Camp at the second to last lake, just below a grass covered moraine coming down from the quartzite corner block that anchors Mount Willingdon’s western ridge. In other words the moraine forms a north ridge that intersects the summit west ridge above (dogleg). Water is plentiful at an inlet to the lake and a nice bivy wall was in place in 2012. There was also a BOAT on the edge of the lake (across the lake shining in the sun on the southeast side) in 2012, either hauled in by helicopter or packhorse.
Route DescriptionHike up the before mentioned north moraine ridge circumventing the quartzite block to the right and landing on the col below the west ridge. It is much colder on this west ridge due to winds coming off of the glacier on the other side of the col. Then trot up a well-trodden scree trail to the summit. The only obstacle is a band of rock (iced up in mid-August) that is easily scrambled up to the left of center via a good hand line in place in 2012. Even if the hand line is missing, this left side of the band is much shorter and easy to navigate. Another 10 minutes from here and you are at the summit. I did this ascent in TWO HOURS from the bivy. No doubt Mount Willingdon is the easiest 11,000er summit day I have ever had.
A long traverse across alpine meadows where caribou (the furthermost south you will find them), bears and wolves roam freely to one of the prettiest lake settings anywhere in the Canadian Rockies makes Mount Willingdon a worthy objective despite its lack of climbing grandeur.
External Links100’s of Canmore and Banff National Park multi-pitch rock climbs, ice climbs, alpine climbs and scrambles, just scroll down to routes
Banff National Park, Parks Canada
Best Coffee/Breakfast/Lunch in Canmore: Castillos As of 2012, my favorite breakfast/lunch spot. Patio, espresso is strong, food is fresh. Someone there instituted service with a smile, typically unheard of in Canmore anymore.
Best Climbers Hangout: Summit Café, most likely place to find me in season or my brethren shooting the bull about beta. Best “large” breakfast in town, good coffee as well, serve Mennonite meats from Valbella, which is the best place to buy free range products anywhere in the world, right here in Canmore.