Mount Stephen is a landmark mountain along the TransCanada in Yoho National Park
, one of four connecting national parks making up the central Canadian Rockies. Mount Stephen is directly across the road from Mount Burgess
and rises over 6000’ immediately above the town of Field. The vertical relief is quiet daunting when you are standing on the edge of town. Its northeast hanging glacier and eastern face dominate views when traveling westbound on the TransCanada.
Mount Stephen is one of the few mountains requiring that you to pull a permit to climb
due to the abundant, but well protected, fossils found on its slopes (you literally walk on them). The mountain is comprised mainly of shales and dolomites from the Cambrian era, some 550 million years ago, a period that produced abundant fossils.
Mount Stephen has the unique distinction as the first mountain over 10,000’ that was climbed in Canada (recorded). The first ascent was made by McArthur and Riley in 1887. McArthur, a surveyor at the time, is considered by many to be the first Canadian mountaineer. Mount Stephen was named in 1886 after the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Mt. Stephen House, constructed near its base in 1886, was the first hotel in the Rockies. That is a lot of “firsts”.
Mount Stephen has several published routes including rock, ice and a scramble. The scramble up the southwest slopes to the summit ridge is considered an athletic endeavor with difficult hands-on scrambling via the final 700’+/- to attain and maneuver the summit ridge. The North Ridge route is rated Alpine III 5.7 and is one of the longer routes (over 6000’) in the “Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies”. Most of the climbing on this route is mid 5th class and a competent party can still complete this route in a day. The quartzite rock is better than most in the Canadian Rockies. Mount Stephen has seven recorded accident reports
to date, including 3 fatalities.
The Trans-Canada Highway runs from Calgary through Banff and Yoho National Parks on its way to Vancouver. Pass through Lake Louise heading westbound and continue on the Trans-Canada on its way to Field, BC. Turn left into Field off of the TransCanada. Cross the bridge and drive through the small town until you get to the end of 1st Street which is the most southeast corner of town. There you will find a trailhead with warnings regarding pulling a permit back at the Yoho National Park office at the entrance to Field. So it is best to do this before you get to the trailhead. There is no self permitting. If you want to start before 9:00 AM (when park headquarters open), I advise you obtain this permit the day before.
Field is a town of approximately 300 people located in the Kicking Horse River valley of southeastern British Columbia in the confines of Yoho National Park. Field was established during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway as a locomotive depot for pusher engines required to help trains over the nearby Field Hill and Big Hill. Field is 27 km west of Lake Louise along the Trans-Canada Highway, the only access to Field. The visitor center for Yoho National Park is located in Field.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Banff National Park coming from the east on the Trans-Canada. 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 Yoho 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 campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. Yoho National Park headquarters are located in Field, BC and you will drive through the manned national park kiosks as you enter Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada.
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. Removal of fossils is a punishable offense and park wardens strictly enforce it by periodic checks.
I highly recommend eating at Truffle Pigs
in Field. It is quite the experience in dining and you will not be disappointed. We always make the effort to dine there when we are in the area. They also sell produce and groceries if you are camping.
When To Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed Mount Stephen in October. Skiing to the summit is not plausible. A stubborn summit cornice can turn back an early or late scrambling attempt.
The closest camp site would be the Kicking Horse and/or Monarch campground(s)
back east at the turnoff for Yoho Valley Road. You can go on line at Yoho 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 Yoho Pass. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas.
Field has one inn and several B&B’s.
Mountain ConditionsYoho 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.
External LinksParks Canada100’s of Canadian Rockies multi-pitch rock climbs, ice climbs, alpine climbs and scrambles, just scroll down to routesOR: Best True Technical Clothing and Accessories in the Outdoor IndustryScarpa, has surpassed La Sportiva in terms of quality, function, valueOsprey Backpacks, Not a Second ChoiceGreat Outdoors DepotMont-BellCascade Designs (MSR; Thermarest; Platypus)