Crowsnest Pass is an obscure thin section of the Canadian Rockies that connects Kananaskis Provincial Park with Waterton National Park along the continental divide (border of British Columbia and Alberta).
To drive from Canmore and/or Banff to Crowsnest Pass can take 3.5 to 4 hours. There is not much in the way of other climbing in the area, ice or rock. Crowsnest Pass offers a few scramble objectives amongst a smattering of small Canadian mining towns. Waterton National Park to the south at least offers some fine waterfall ice objectives in the winter along with its scramble collection. The Crowsnest area in contrast offers little in the way of technical climbing (in comparison to the National Park areas/towns). You are more likely to run into hunters and fishermen on their ATVs and snow mobiles than climbers, skiers or scramblers in the backcountry.
Window Mountain is, in my opinion, the most interesting of the scramble objectives near Crowsnest Pass.
It truly possesses one of the more unique formations in the Canadian Rockies, an arch the size of which I have only seen via sandstone in the southern Utah desert. How an arch of this size, with the weight of limestone, can sustain the weight of itself is beyond me. The window created by the arch could fit a two story house and can be seen from at least one point along the range road and is quite vivid as you top out on the saddle of Mount Ward to the south. Allison Peak is the highest peak of this region and anchors the mountains which contain this window formation to the south. Its summit also marks the continental divide and thus the Alberta-British Columbia border.
It was named after a RMP officer.
The best way to see this unique arch is to combine the trio of Mount Ward, Window Mountain and Allison Peak during a one day scramble fest. As scrambles in the Canadian Rockies
go, the connecting ridges and relatively low elevation of this trio of peaks make this the easiest multi-summit day I have experienced to date in the Canadian Rockies.
Summit Mount Ward via easy terrain first, then scramble the ridge over to Allison Peak and finish by returning mid ridge to scramble down and up the perpendicular Window Mountain ridge. Descend Window Mountain to the window itself and then descend back to tree line. This strategy makes for a true circumvention of the entire area skirting the continental divide repeating little if any ground
. Allison Peak is considered a difficult objective in Kane’s guide book, but I found it on the soft side of difficult if even.
Despite all the peaks and sub peaks involved, I made this complete three peak ascent and descent in 4.5hrs from the Window Mountain Lake trailhead to my vehicle parked out on the Allison Creek Road (Range Road 52A-53A). I have read another party record 8hrs for this trip, so plan accordingly. I descended upon, within 10m, a goat and her kid at the pass between the highpoint on the Ward-Allison Ridge and the Window Mountain summit. On return to Range Road 52A-53A, I pushed a young black bear down a clear cut road (before he entered the thick regrowth) for about a km in late September during prime berry season.
From the Crowsnest highway, just west of Coleman, Alberta, head north on Allison Creek Road towards the impressive Crowsnest Mountain monolith to the north. After a few kilometers the pavement ends and the road officially becomes Range Road 52A-53A. Take the right fork at the end of the pavement. There is a decent open campground several kms along this road, located on both sides of the road. It is a staging area for snow mobiles in the winter and ATV’s/hunters in the summer and offers fire pits and even some run down outhouses. Continue well past Crowsnest Mountain and Seven Sisters on the right. The mountains on the left (northwest) are in fact Allison Peak, Window Mountain and Mount Ward.
When you get due east of Window Mountain (kind of a turret-like summit) and Mount Ward, there are three separate roads heading west to the base of these mountains. The first one is just about due east and is more of an ATV trail up a steep and rough road. The second is more level and follows a fence on its left side, and with the proper vehicle, would take you all the way to the base of the scree slope at the base of Window Mountain and Mount Ward. With a long based pickup, I had to park at the road and hike several kms down the road to reach that scree field. I chose to park here to save time on the return. However, one can also take the third road on the left to the Window Mountain Lake trail head via a better road. If choosing this third option, on return you will be required to gain some elevation up and over a treed ridge to reach your vehicle at the end of the day versus gaining that same treed ridge at the start as I did.
When to Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. We climbed these peaks in late September in good condition with some fresh snow on their northern aspects. Crowsnest Pass scrambles are the driest and lowest elevation objectives in Kane’s guidebook and thus more plausible than other objectives during the shoulder seasons.
Most of the land surrounding the Crowsnest pass objectives is leased to ranchers and timber companies. Access and camping to the scramble objectives in Kane’s book was fairly wide open in 2011.
External LinksCanadian Rockies Scrambles
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