‘Mount Potts’ (GR 339269) is a significant mountain located near the northern terminus of the Opal Range
in Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park. This peak does not have an official name, but locally referred to as ‘Mount Potts’. The prolific Glen Boles applied the unofficial name of ‘Mount Potts’ to this peak after his team’s (G. Boles, D. Forest and M. Simpson) ascent of the adjacent summit of Mount Denny in July of 1973. The year of 1973 was the 100th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Jerry Potts and Cecil Denny were prominent in the establishment of the North West Mounted Police in Southern Alberta. GR denotes grid reference of the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) National Topographic System of Canada (NTS).
Jerry Potts was half Blood Indian (and half Scottish) and well travelled and well respected by both First Nations people and European settlers. He was recruited to support and guide the North West Mounted Police after their arrival in Southern Alberta in 1874; his knowledge and skill provided invaluable expertise to the North West Mounted Police for nearly 25 years. The sharp summit reaches an elevation of 3000 metres (9,843 feet) and is tied with “Mt. Denny”
for the sixth highest summit in the Opal Range (I have identified 35 significant highpoints in the range).
The northern end of main range of the Opal Range contains several of the highest peaks in the range. From Mount Packenham
north to ‘Mount Denny’, there are 5 of top 7 highest summits. The structure, shape and composition of ‘Mount Potts’ is strikingly similar to its tall brothers, all connected by summit ridges, including the mighty Mt. Evan-Thomas (the highest summit of the Opal Range) to the south.
Four big brothers of the northern Opals. ‘Rocky Peak’, ‘Mt. Denny’, ‘Mt. Potts’ and Mt. Evan-Thomas (l-r)
‘Mount Potts’ is located between Mount Evan-Thomas and ‘Mount Denny’. From the col between Evan-Thomas and Potts, there is 120 metres of prominence to the Potts’ summit and 120 metres of prominence from the col shared with ‘Mount Denny’.
First ascent of the mountain was in July 1954 by J. Farman, M. Hicks, W. Lemmon, G. Ross, I. Spreat and J. Tarrant via South-East Ridge. Interestingly, the first ascent party thought they were on Mount Evan-Thomas, but it was later revealed that they were on ‘Mt. Potts’.
|Old copper register |
|FA entry |
|Second ascent entry
Best vehicle access from Canmore/Banff or Calgary is via the Trans Canada Highway, then south along Highway 40. From the intersection of Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail) and Highway 1 (Trans Canada Highway) travel south towards Kananaskis Lakes. Park at the Grizzly Creek parking area, 44.5 km south of the Trans Canada Highway.
Red Tape / Camping and Bivouacs
Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park is a grand and beautiful park. Once primarily the domain of horseback riders and fall game hunters, this area sees more and more hikers, scrambles and climbers. The approach from the south is through a relatively untraveled valley and quite scenic. No permit is required to park or climb in Elbow Sheep Provincial Wildland Park and an ascent of Mount Potts can be accomplished in a day so typically a bivy is not required. Random backcountry camping without a permit is allowed in most Wildland Provincial Parks, including Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park.
Up to date information about Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park available at:
Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park
From the Grizzly Creek parking lot you need to access upper Grizzly Creek, which can be difficult as there is no official trail and significant elevation gain through dense trees. I recommend that when up the creek about 1 km from highway, take the game trails on the north side of the creek. Just as the creek narrows into a tight canyon with a waterfall, an excellent trail presents itself on the left (north) side, take this trail into the upper reach of Grizzly Creek. Once above tree line travel is easy.
|Trail in Grizzly Creek |
|Grizzly Creek canyon |
|Creek view to Potts
Once in the upper drainage of Grizzly Creek, depending on your chosen route, either head north to the low pass between Grizzly and Rocky Creeks, or head northeast into the cirque between Potts and Evan-Thomas. The pass is the low col between the southern end of Opal Ridge and Mount Potts and the start of the West Ridge route. From the parking lot, this pass is about 750 metres of gain and 3 kilometres.
|Potts from upper Grizzly Creek |
|View to approach cirque |
|Low pass from cirque
When to Climb
Typical Canadian Rockies situation with July and August providing the best conditions for high elevation climbing. ‘Mount Potts’ position in the dry front ranges extends the summer season and is usually dry from late April to late October, though valley bottoms can be snowy until May.
Until recently, only the route information for Mount Potts is in the out of print guide, “The Rocky Mountains of Canada South”, Boles, G.W., Kruszyna R. & Putnam W.L. (1979). The recent update to Alan Kane’s, “Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies”. Edition 3 was released in 2016 and provides a scrambler’s route to the summit. Four routes are documented on this peak, the first ascent line, and the “standard” route on the mountain, is the South-East Ridge. Likely the newly described route by Alan Kane will become the primary route up since it is easier than the South East Ridge, it is in a sense, a short cut up to the ridge, via a steep gully. Likely the West Ridge hasn’t been repeated since the bold first solo ascent by Rick Collier in 2008. Similar, the North Ridge route, climbed by the prolific Glen Boles and Don Forrest with M. Simpson, climbed after an ascent of Mt. Denny, likely haven’t been repeated since this ascent in July 1973. Vague West Ridge route information is available on Bivouac
Big South Face of Potts from the approach valley. SE Ridge is the right hand skyline ridge, South Gully shortcut not visible. West Ridge is the left hand skyline. North Ridge not visible.
- South-East Ridge, 5.4, Alpine I
First ascent of the mountain by this route in 1954 by J. Farman, M. Hicks, W. Lemmon, G. Ross, I. Spreat and J. Tarrant. Many options to gain the ridge from the cirque between Mt. Potts and Mt. Evan-Thomas. Historically the standard route up this peak. I attempted the SE Ridge in late October 2015, but snow and the shortness of the day, we bailed part way up the ridge. The closer to the Potts/Evan-Thomas col you gain the SE Ridge, more technical 5th class climbing you will experience along the ridge line. Overall fairly typical Opal Range ridge, loose, but mostly solid on the steep steps (5.4 ish). The newest described Alan Kane scramble route bypasses all the 5th class terrain and gains the ridge very close to the summit. If looking for more technical 5th class climbing, gain the ridge closer to the col.
- South Gully/South-East Ridge, Scramble (4th class)
|View to col |
|5.4 slab to gain SE ridge |
|5 class SE ridge
First ascent of this route is not clearly documented, but likely the first winter ascent of Mt. Potts, by J. Tanner and J. Martin in February 1974, followed this route. The new described Alan Kane scramble route bypasses all the 5th class terrain and gains the South East Ridge very close to the summit.
From the nearly flat valley between Potts and Evan-Thomas, head to the centre of the back of the bowl that steepens up to the Potts/Evan-Thomas col. A cliff band runs from Potts to Evan-Thomas near the bottom of this bowl, closer to Potts, the band is easier to scramble, close to a drainage that will likely have water flowing and snow patches until August. Once above this steep band, head northward to the set of steep, brown coloured, gullies that descend the south face on Mt. Potts. The most right (eastern), widest gully is the route up to the ridge. The bottom section has firm rock, then a variety of loose scree and rock steps make this travel easy and quick to gain to the ridge. Near the ridge, a chokestone blocks the gully, this steep section is loose and difficult to downclimb on the way done, but straightforward on the ascent.
|Nearing second band |
|Traverse to gully |
|Nearing gully base
|Bottom of gully |
|Middle of gully |
|Top view down gully
|View up ridge |
|View to Evan-Thomas |
|Ridge scramble starts
Once on the ridge, a few steep steps are best climbed head on for the best quality of rock. A short ridge climb brings one to the summit. Descend the same way.
|Typical ridge |
|Summit block |
- West Ridge, 5.8, Alpine II
|SE summit view |
|Valley view |
First ascent, and likely the only ascent, of the West Ridge was a solo by Rick Collier in 2008. Vaguely described on Bivouac
. From the low pass between Grizzly and Rocky Creeks head up the well defined West Ridge. Apparently reaching the final summit ridge involves traverse around, or directly climbing, a series of short, steep gendarmes with a grade roughly of 5.8+. I would suggest descending the South-East Ridge and South Gully route.
- North Ridge/North-West Face, 5.3, Alpine II
|Upper west ridge |
|Outlier tower, west ridge on right
First ascent of this route July 1973 by the prolific Glen Boles and Don Forrest with M. Simpson. After an ascent of Mt. Denny, the trio descended south to the col between Denny and Potts, continued south on ledges of North-West Face to gain North Ridge, climbed ridge directly, occasionally to the face to avoid a ridge obstacles. Descended North Ridge to gully, down gully to bowl between Potts and Denny.