Mount James Walker is striking mountain located near the southern terminus of the Kananaskis Range in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. This peak, until recently, was obscure and infrequently ascended, even though near the major roads within Kananaskis Country. In the past few years, this summit has been included in a new ski mountaineering and a new scrambling guidebook and thus is seeing more ascents. The sharp summit reaches an elevation of 3035 metres (9,958 feet) and is the eighth highest summit in the Kananaskis Range and one of the Kananaskis 3000+ ’ers
Named in 1959 for Colonel James Walker (1864 - 1936), a remarkable person who served in the North-West Mounted Police and was also a soldier, businessman, politician, city builder and civic leader in Calgary and in the local rural area. Fairly modern first ascent; first ascent of the mountain was in August of 1969 by J. Kuenzel, J. Martin, G. Rathbone and F. Williamson.
Best vehicle access from Canmore/Banff or Calgary is via the Trans Canada Highway, then south, and depending on route of choice; either south along Highway 40 or south down the Smith-Dorrien road (Highway 742). For an ascent of the South Ridge or South East slopes, leave Canmore and travel 49 km south from the intersection of Three Sisters Drive and Three Sisters Parkway along the Smith-Dorrien road to the Sawmill Trailhead.
For an ascent of the East - North East Ridge, travel south from the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 40 for 41.5 km to the Fortress Mountain access road. The old ski hill road is now usually gated and closed at the highway. If open, drive, if gated, walk/bike about 3.5 km up to hill to about GR278294 (50.802069, -115.186029) and head through light trees to the start of the North East Ridge.
Red Tape / Camping and Bivouacs
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is a grand and beautiful park, but this beauty has made the park extremely busy and popular in past decades. The approach to south side of the mountain is through a relatively untraveled valley and quite scenic. No permit is required to park or climb in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and an ascent of Mount James Walker can be accomplished in a day by any reasonably fit mountaineer.
Up to date information about Peter Lougheed Provincial Park available at:
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
James Walker area topoSouth Side Approach
The James Walker Creek drainage is north of the Sawmill parking lot area. From the Sawmill trailhead approach via the Sawmill Loop trail. Take the eastern leg of the loop and enter the James Walker drainage, about 2.5 km up the trail, before the intersection with the James Walker trail. This section has only slight game trails and in the winter/spring will likely require trail breaking through the snow. Head up the drainage to a headwall that blocks easy access to the upper flat creek valley. This headwall has several easy lines available to hike through. With any snow pack, cresting the headwall may have avalanche concerns as is often wind loaded snow and a steep transition. Once in the upper valley above tree line, gain South Ridge or continue hiking/skiing north east to reach the South East slopes.
North East Ridge Approach
No official trailhead or parking area for this approach. The old Fortress Mountain ski hill road is now usually gated and closed at the highway. If open, drive, if gated, walk/bike about 3.5 km up to hill to about GR278294 (50.802069, -115.186029) and head through light trees to the start of the North East Ridge.
When to Climb
Typical Canadian Rockies situation; best conditions for a high elevation alpine rock or scramble route is July to early September. Good conditions for a ski ascent on Mount James Walker are rare. Usually the early spring (March to April) provides the best snow stability and conditions, the South East slope is very windswept and will often be blown completely clear of snow, best time to ski up would be a few days after a big snowfall and with minimal solar and wind affect.
There are several sources for published route information for Mount James Walker. Andrew Nugara’s “More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies”, the legendary Chic Scott’s book, “Summits and Icefields 1: Alpine Ski Tours in the Canadian Rockies” and the now out of print guide, “The Rocky Mountains of Canada South”, Boles, G.W., Kruszyna R. & Putnam W.L. (1979). Nugara’s excellent resource book provides information on the South Ridge and South East slope routes. Chic’s book describes a ski ascent and descent via the South East slopes route.
|SE Outlier Summit |
- East/North East Ridge, Alpine II, 5.5
First ascent of the mountain via this route. The route first attaining the South East summit of Mt. James Walker (GR 261293 | 50.801228, -115.210684), then a simple hike to the main summit. First ascent of route by J. Kuenzel, J. Martin, G. Rathbone and F. Williamson in August 1969. Simply follow the ridge up to the summit. Described as easy scrambling for the lower section, then low 5 class sections in the middle and then moderate scrambling to the South East summit, simple hike from this summit to the main summit of Mt. James Walker. A descent down the South East slopes into the James Walker Creek drainage would be the easiest, but leave one far from their vehicle. Descent down the ridge would likely require a few rappels.
|South Summit Ridge |
- South Ridge, Alpine I
First ascent of this route in August of 1979 by Mr. and Mrs. Kubbernus, H. Kariel, P. Vermeulen and 3 others. From Smith Dorrien Road head into upper James Walker Creek, then directly up South Ridge to summit. First ascent team descended the same route.
From the Smith Dorrien road, up trails (old logging roads) into the upper drainage of James Walker Creek, continue up creek drainage. A steep headwall is encountered at tree line, several easy options exist to gain upper valley. For the South Ridge route, head straight north. Initial section of broad ridge presents a large steep slab section. Depending on time of year, a thin base of ice or snow on this section can increase difficult of this slab section.
|View to South Ridge |
|Mid section South Ridge |
|Upper South Ridge
Continue up easy slopes to the steepening and narrowing South Ridge. As elevation is gained, the ridge becomes more narrow and exposed, a long section of difficult scrambling (Class 4) provides some fun and interesting scrambling to the final steep summit ridge. Nearing the summit, it may be possible to traverse to the easier South East slopes to gain the summit. Descend the South East slopes back into the James Walker Creek.
Upper South East Slopes
- South East Slopes, Alpine I
No information on the first ascent of this route. As per the South Ridge approach; from the Smith-Dorrien road gain upper valley. In winter or spring, cresting the headwall may have avalanche concerns as is often wind loaded snow and a steep transition. Head north, then head right (north east) before the south ridge, heading north east into the basin that leads to the low angle broad South East slopes. The lower section is fairly narrow heading up slope and can act as a terrain trap for avalanches on the South East slopes; assess snow conditions carefully if ascending/descending on skis. Descend the same route.
ReferenceBoles, G.W., Kruszyna R. & Putnam W.L. (1979). The Rocky Mountains of Canada South. 7 th edition. New York: American Alpine Club, Alpine Club of Canada. Out of print
Scott, Chic. (2011). Summit and Icefields 1: Alpine Ski Tours in the Canadian Rockies. 3rd edition. Rocky Mountain Books.
Summits & Icefields
Nugara, Andrew (2007). More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. 1st edition. Rocky Mountain Books.
More Scrambles, 2nd edition