Lady Mac - Charles Stewart - Princess Margaret Traverse

Lady Mac - Charles Stewart - Princess Margaret Traverse

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 51.15633°N / 115.33333°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer
Additional Information Time Required: A long day
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.5 (YDS)
Additional Information Grade: IV
Sign the Climber's Log


The main peak of Mount Charles Stewart seems like a very natural objective when you look up at it from Canmore, but we could find surprisingly little information about it save for a paragraph in Rockies Central. We decided to attempt a traverse across it, bringing a 30 meter rope and a small selection of nuts, cams, and pins in case we needed to pitch anything out or rappel.

What we found was an endless ridgeline of enjoyable and engaging fourth and fifth class climbing, with beautiful views throughout. I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in this sort of objective, and comfortable with this sort of terrain. There was some evidence that each of the sections of this route does get climbed periodically, but no one seems to have documented in any detail. 

This is a ~3000 meter day. There are long sequences of significant exposure on technical, and occasionally quite loose rock. There are numerous sections I would describe as low to mid fifth class, with a few moves here and there that may be higher than mid fifth. I hesitate to put a specific grade on this sort of climbing. A rope and rack could facilitate rappelling some steps, and protect some sequences. However, it would be impractical to pitch out all of the high consequence terrain without spending an extremely long day (or perhaps multiple days) on route. Fortunately there are some escape options during the route (although not from the middle of the ridges).

I'm omitting a GPS track for this route. Lady Mac and Princess Margaret already have a lot of information available. The only place on the rest of the traverse with any navigational ambiguity is the descent to Princess Margaret, which is described in detail below. Elsewhere on the ridge trying to follow a track would be more likely to lead to trouble than it would be to help.

Getting There

This climb starts up Lady Mac, and ends down Princess Margaret. Extensive information is available elsewhere about accessing these peaks, so I won't go into detail here. Leave a vehicle in Harvey Heights, and start your journey from Lady Mac.

Route Description

For most of the route, the best advice is: Follow the ridge, choose the line you're most comfortable with, and occasionally descend left to circumvent difficulties. Often staying high on the ridge provides more challenging and exposed but quite enjoyable climbing, and circumventing on the left reduces exposure at the expense of climbing quality. I won't provide detailed navigational instructions for most of the ridge line, because at a high level you are just following the ridge, and at a small scale you need to use your judgment with each feature. I will call out specific locations where more information is warranted, particularly near Princess Margaret. 

Start your day ascending Lady Mac. I would suggest the ESE ridge, which is documented well elsewhere. If you are attempting this traverse, you should be comfortable soloing that terrain, and it is more enjoyable than the hiking route.

From the summit of Lady Mac, continue along the ridge line toward the south peak of Stewart, also known as Buffalo Point. This section of the ridge has significant exposure and lots of fun scrambling on good rock, generally fourth class with a couple mid fifth class downclimbs. There is at least one bolted rappel anchor that we passed early on the ridge. Many of the crux sequences on this section (and the route as a whole) involve downclimbs that start easy, and finish with a few moves on a slightly undercut face. Pleasantly, these sequences often end with a reasonable ledge below. It possible to descend from Buffalo Point down a drainage to Canmore, so this is a good point to evaluate weather/time/comfort and bail if you choose. This descent route is documented elsewhere as a scramble.

From Buffalo point to the main summit of Charles Stewart, there is sustained challenging scrambling, with some mid fifth class sequences and lots of exposure, on variable rock. It is more committing, looser, and more challening than the previous ridge. It was highly engaging and had a lot of enjoyable climbing. It may be possible to bail off into the drainage from the Charles Stewart end of the ridge. I can't recall with certainty, so don't assume it's possible without visually establishing it for yourself. 

The main summit of Charles Stewart to the Princess Margaret ridge had some of the wildest climbing of the day. The rock quality improves slightly, but you are climbing over and around massive gendarmes. At one point you will come to a flat topped feature, which large cliffs on three sides. There is an obvious two meter wide, 25 meter long gulley/chimney straight down the middle, which was filled with snow on our trip, and likely holds snow until at least July. Descend this gulley to a ledge below. With softer 40 degree snow, this is not challenging, and you can use face holds on the rock wall for additional security. With less snow, or in hard pack conditions,  you may want to rappel or use crampons and an axe. There is existing tat early in the chimney where someone has rappelled from a large chockstone. At the ledge below you will come face to face with an extremely impressive gendarme. It can be circumvented on the left with less difficulty than it first appears. Continue along the ridge until you reach the reprieve of a broad flat earthy stretch. Note that there are growing fissures in this section, and it seems like the right side might be slowly sliding off the mountain. I would suggest staying toward the left for this reason. The stretch between these two peaks is the most committed section of the day. The climbing is not technically much more difficult than the Buffalo-Stewart section, and the rock is generally better, but there is little to no opportunity to bail. The right side is a cliff hundreds of meters high, and the left is high angle slab hundreds of meters down toward the valley floor. Once you reach the end of this section though, it looks possible to descend scree to the creek and walk out rather than taking the Princess Margaret route.

We got off track and had some rain coming down while descending to Princess Margaret. There is one major pinnacle on the ridge line besides the actual summit. You will see it clearly from earlier in the traverse. DO NOT GO AROUND THE LEFT SIDE OF IT, there is no way to regain the ridge from this direction. Traverse around it's base on the RIGHT side, or climb over it. If you traverse around, continue for perhaps 500m until you see a scree slope that clearly lets you regain the ridge (this is what we did). In dry conditions, you could probably scramble atop this feature and walk down the back side of it.

Once back on the ridge, you will continue for a little while before encountering the back side of the main summit of Princess Margaret. Head LEFT around it, descending for a few hundred meters until a scree/rock gully leads back up to the base of the main summit. The top is a short and easy scramble from here. Descend following the normal route for Princess Margaret at this point, which can be found documented elsewhere. Note that this descent crosses private property, and you are advised to call for permission to cross it in advance. We trended too far left toward the end of the descent, and entered the creek early. There is a trail which sucks you into this direction. It was actually fairly enjoyable maneuvering through a mossy forest, soaking in pools, and climbing down small waterfalls in soaking wet shoes, but this may or may not be what you're in the mood for.

 This route would probably work really well, perhaps even better in the reverse direction. Many of the cruxes are actually down climbs in the direction we did it, so it might be quite fun the other way, but I'm not sure if the route finding would be more challenging on the ridges.

Essential Gear

We brought a small rack and a 30 meter rope, but did not use it. We were glad to have the reassurance of knowing it was an option, and you may want to consider bringing it for that reason even if you don't intend to use it.

A 30 meter rope would generally be sufficient for any rappels, as the individual cruxes are largely 10-15 meters in length. In most cases pitons would afford the best protection, but a rack of nuts and cams up to 1" would also be useful. Only two places on the route have any sort of fixed rappels, one bolted station with rap rings early on, and one slung block in the snow gulley. Do not count on finding existing anchors. If you intend to rappel, bring gear that you are willing to leave behind. Cordage is always useful, but there generally aren't natural features to sling for the rappels.