Mount Willingdon is located in the wild eastern section of Banff National Park, the last expansive area of true wilderness within the park. This mountain is more about scenic views, wild animal encounters, or hopefully only viewing, and long approaches then quality climbing or classic mountaineering
Mount Willingdon is low on the list of Canadian Rockies 11,000 footers, depending on your perspective, either the 39th or 44th highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies; 44 th on the generally accepted list of 54 summits. The summit is just over the magic 11,000 ft. mark at 3373 metres (11,067 ft.).
Most parties will spend 2 or 3 days climbing Mt. Willingdon. Not only is the approach long and via a high col with a lack of trails, the Devon Lakes area is worth soaking up and enjoying. However, Pierre Descoteaux and I (Kevin Barton) were motivated by our friend Anton Baser’s solo 1.5 day trip up Mt. Willingdon about two weeks earlier.
The Long Day
On August 5, 2010 Pierre and I approached, climbed and de-approached Mt. Willingdon from the Mosquito Creek trailhead in a long day. Anton and Pierre are masters at light and fast alpine ascents, so I had sound advice on how to pack light. At the end of the day we both had a couple of superfluous items left in our packs. We left the Mosquito Creek trailhead just before 5:30 am using our headlamps for about 10 minutes before packing them away for the rest of trip, one of the unnecessary items.
Even with the great beta from Anton, and Bill Corbett’s route description, I screwed up and took us to a high col south east of Quartzite Col at NTS UTM grid reference 484279. The descent to the Siffleur River valley was steep and loose, but not a major issue. We reached this high col in about 3.25 hours.
The trek across the relatively flat valley to Clearwater Pass and onto Devon Lakes was hot and extremely buggy, probably the mental crux for me, there were thick clouds of mosquitoes.
A bit of swampy ground north of the trail got us on the moraine and quickly to the interesting white quartzite the below the crown guarding the col below the west ridge. A long, but quick slog up the scree of the west ridge took us to the climbing/scrambling crux, the rock band beneath the final summit scree slope.
The entire band was soaking wet, many parts of the wall had significant volumes of water flowing over the wall. Pierre took the Baser variation, a slight gully about 100 metres south of the normal line (where the cord and rope are fixed). This line was too wet for me, I found a damp line about 3 metres right of the fixed cord line. Note, this cord is very sketchy and I wouldn’t trust it. Very quick scree bash to the summit.
We arrived at the top 8 hours and 40 minutes from the parking lot. Not bad, but a little slower than we were hoping. A few photos and a quick summit register entry… based on the summit log Bill Corbett did his third ascent of Mt. Willingdon on July 30, 2010.
Quick rappel off a pile of boulders above the slight gully, where we got to use our 6 mm cord and our other few bits of climbing gear. Quick romp down the scree of the west ridge, nice scramble below the crown and quick alternate descent to the Devon Lake mosquito clouds.
More bugs and good time to the real Quartzite Col. Half way up we were happy to kick steps in a nice long snow patch to the high point of the col.
On our descent we found a great trail on the west side of the north fork of Mosquito Creek at about NTS UTM grid reference 470261. This well wore trail took us all the way to the main creek trail right at the third log bridge, just west of this bridge (towards highway). The last 4 km seemed very long and it took a lot of determination to force a quick pace. We arrived back at the truck at 21:15, 15 hours, 55 minutes total time. No need for the headlamps or crampons, I am sure the extra weight slowed us down ;-)
Great day, great weather and great test of physical and mental endurance, mostly by the mosquitoes.
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