Mt. Carthew is located on the south side of Cameron Creek Valley overlooking Carthew and Alderson Lakes in Waterton Lakes National Park. Waterton Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park and a Biosphere Reserve, the only park in the world that has all three designations.
At 203 square miles, Waterton Lakes National Park is the smallest Canadian National Park. It borders Glacier National Park in Montana. Together they make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (formed in 1932). You can actually
paddle to and fro the US and Canada in Cameron Lake which is the start of the Mt. Carthew scramble. The North Boundary Trail also intersects both parks. Waterton Lakes National Park sits at one of the narrower sections of the Rocky Mountains (Crown of the Continent). The scramble starts on the popular Carthew-Alderson Trail and returns to it to continue on with the through hike on the same trip.
The unique geography of Waterton Lakes National Park provides habitat for a diverse group of wildlife and vegetation species. The dry prairie adjoins the alpine region with no transition zone creating a unique habitat that combines species from both regions. There are more than 234 species of birds, 57 species of mammals and 17 species of fish sighted in Waterton Lakes National Park (2003). In recent years botanists have recorded some 900 different species of wild flowers in Waterton, more than half the number of species in all of Alberta. Prairie plants mix with alpine plants, plants from west of the continental divide mix with plants from east of the continental divide and plants that are not found anywhere else in Canada can be found here.
The 12-mile (19-kilometer) Carthew-Alderson Trail is considered one of the finer day hikes in North America. From Cameron Lake, at the end of the Akamina Parkway, the route switchbacks through sub-alpine forest up to the southeast ridge on Mount Carthew. The scramble can leave the trail early and access the southwest ridge, giving you a much larger 360 degree view. Mount Carthew contains unusual striking brick-red rock. The mountain was officially named after a surveyor’s assistant who climbed the mountain in the early 1900’s.
Alberta Highway 6 takes you to Waterton from Pincher, AB. It becomes US Hwy 17 as you cross the border into Montana. Keep in mind this small border crossing keeps banking hours.
Drive into Waterton Lakes National Park, from Highway 6, through the park kiosks and proceed towards the town of Waterton. After you pass the information center on your right, take a right on the Akamina Parkway. Travel approximately 16km until it dead ends into the Cameron Lake parking area. The Carthew Trail begins on the boardwalk (left). They offer shuttles from town for through hikers-scramblers.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Waterton Lakes National Park at the only entrance or exit which is on the east side. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in Waterton Lakes National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsite(s). This can be obtained via the
parks website which is included in the camping section below. Waterton Lakes National Park headquarters are located on the right side of the road across from the Prince of Wales hotel
, which is an historic landmark built in 1927.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. I advise checking with Parks Canada for any area and/or trail closures. The book titled “The Bear’s Embrace” is a true story by a couple from Calgary, AB who survived a grizzly attack in Waterton.
It dealt more with the difficult recovery from such harsh wounds and disfigurement than the attack itself.
When to Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed Mount Carthew in July. The vegetation and climate are more “west coast like” in the summer than any other part of the Canadian Rockies. I have seen quite the lightning storm roll through Upper Waterton Lake.
The closest conventional camp site would be the Waterton Town Campsite
. The closest backcountry site is actually up at Alderson Lake which you would pass on descent of Mount Carthew and/or Buchanan Peak if you are doing a through hike, therefore, it would make for a great place to camp. You can go on line at Waterton Lakes National Park to pick a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan on camping at a backcountry site like Alderson Lake. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas. You can stay in luxury at a variety of locations in town. Although the Prince of Wales is historic, it seems awfully pricey for what they offer.
Waterton Lakes National Park has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside of the parks web site,
Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports
are also extremely helpful.