‘South Schlee’ (GR 388157) is located in the southern end of the Opal Range
in Kananaskis Country. It is one the many highpoints along the main range of the Opals that runs from Mount Evan-Thomas south to Elpoca Mountain. This beautiful mountain reaches a height of 2800 metres (9,186 ft.) and is the first high point on the main range ridge crest north of Elpoca Mountain.
This summit has no official or even unofficial name; I have applied the name of “South Schlee” since is just south of the summit of ’Mount Schlee’
(GR 385168) (2850 m). The unofficial name of Mt. Schlee was applied by Glen Boles after his team’s first ascent of that peak in 1976 (F.A. team D. Forest, G. Scruggs, G. Boles and M. Simpson via South-East Slopes/South Ridge). Gerrit Schlee was a friend of Boles and lost his life trying to save someone drowning in the Bow River in 1975. GR denotes grid reference of the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) National Topographic System of Canada (NTS).
‘South Schlee’ is the twentieth highest mountain in the Opal Range, sharing its north Col with ‘Mt. Schlee’, there is about 80 metres of prominence from this Col and about 120 metres of prominence from the Col between ‘South Schlee’ and Elpoca Mountain to the south.
|West Face |
|Summit Tower |
|Elpoca (l) South Schlee (r)
Until our ascent on September 18, 2016, there is no recorded ascent of this peak. Searching all published and online resources, and discussions with several local climbing historians, our ascent is the first recorded ascent. As well, we found no evidence of previous passage; no cairns, anchors or summit register on the mountain. First recorded ascent by Kevin Barton and Scott M. Berry via North Ridge to upper West Face of summit block and descent via the North Ridge. Lower slopes of the mountain were approached from Piper Creek and up/down the scree slopes on the eastern side of the peak.
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. From the 1 / 40 intersection travel south to the Elbow Lake trail head.
Access to the parking area, Elbow Lake trail head, is affected by a seasonal road closure and is not accessible by motor vehicle from December 1 to June 15. Park in the Elbow Lake parking lot, approximately 62 km south of the Trans Canada Highway.
Red Tape / Camping and Bivouacs
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is a popular and busy recreation area hectic with front country users in the summer months. Off the beaten track areas, like Piper Creek, are easy to find and often very wild, usually providing a solitary experience. Most of upper Piper Creek, and the eastern lower slopes of ‘South Schlee” are in the Elbow Sheep Wildland Provincial Park.
No permit or fee is required to enter, park or hike in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The approach for ‘South Schlee’ is relatively long and may require a bivy for some teams. Within Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, backcountry camping, including bivouacs for climbing, are only allowed in designated campsites. Elbow Lake campground provides an excellent base camp for exploring the Piper Creek valley. Overnight permits can be purchased in person at the Barrier Lake or the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Visitor Information Centres during normal hours of operation.
Most of upper Piper Creek, and the eastern lower slopes ‘South Schlee” are in the Elbow Sheep Wildland Provincial Park, which does not require camping in campgrounds and allows random camping if a camp is more than 1.0 kilometre from a designated backcountry campsite.
Up to date information about Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Elbow Sheep Wildland Provincial Park available at:
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Elbow Sheep Wildland Provincial Park
The trail to Elbow Lake is one of the busiest in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and likely has the highest volume of users of any trail within the Opal Range. The distance to Elbow Lake is short, only 1.0 km to the lake, and provides the only backcountry campground in this part of the park. As well, the scenery is fantastic, the trail, though steep in parts, is well maintained and clearly signed. Also this trail provides access to the southern edge of the popular “Elbow Loop” trail, mostly for mountain bikers, equestrians and hunters in the fall.
To gain the lower east slopes of ‘South Schlee’ you need to access upper ‘Piper Creek’ (unofficial name), which can be difficult as there is no official trail and a significant river crossing. An excellent, well trodden, trail exists near the eastern bank of Piper Creek that leads all the way to Piper Pass, but can be difficult to locate, but well worth the effort to find since the lower section of the valley is fairly treed and the bushwacking unpleasant. Best method to find the trail is too aim for the South Ridge of “South Tombstone” from the Elbow River trail (old road), at first through open meadows, then drop in the low Piper Creek valley, cross the creek, and just up slope, the trail parallels the creek.
|Elbow Lake |
|”South Tombstone” from main trail |
|View into Piper Creek valley, Mt. Schlee (l) Cat's Ears (r)
Once in the upper drainage of Piper Creek, head north towards a high col (outlier of Mt. Jerram, ‘Cat’s Ears’; and Mt. Tombstone col; Piper Pass) about 1.5 kilometre before the col access to the South East slopes of ‘South Schlee’ is straightforward. From the trail, just above the primary tree line, just before the trail heads up a short steep section right (east) of a small waterfall in the main creek, head west into the bottom of a large scree basin between ‘South Schlee’ and ‘Mt. Schlee’.
|View to Piper Pass |
|Basin between Schlees |
|Sheep above Piper Creek
When to Climb
Typical Canadian Rockies situation; best conditions for a high elevation alpine rock route is July to early September. Often the route will hold snow into early July, so August is best month to have dry conditions .
Until our ascent on September 18, 2016, there is no recorded ascent of this peak. Searching all published and online resources, and discussions with several local climbing historians, our ascent is the first recorded ascent. First recorded ascent by Kevin Barton and Scott M. Berry via North Ridge to upper West Face of summit block and descent via the North Ridge. Lower slopes of the mountain were approached from Piper Creek and up/down the scree slopes (Class 3) on the eastern side of the peak.
Summit block above North Ridge
- North Ridge, West Face, Alpine II, 5.6
From the waterfall in Piper Creek, head across the creek, up left (facing up stream) into the small drainage and into the scree basin between South Schlee and Mt. Schlee. Head up the centre of the basin up scree, towards a flat spot above a line of large boulders.
|View to basin |
|Basin between Schlees |
|Head to saddle on ridge
From this flatish section, basically a straight line towards the summit of South Schlee, generally aiming to the low point between the two visible highpoints of mountain. We picked our way up scree slopes, with a line traversing up and south west. Nearing the top of our steep scree gully we exited through a “U” shaped gap, steep loose scree/dirt below the gap, then weaved upwards, then a sharp climber’s right (I left a new cairn) to stay on easy, but steep scree, occasionally interrupted with steep steps. Nearing the long summit ridge, a simple plod to the ridge line. (GR 387158) 2720m.
|Gain leftmost scree gully |
|”U” notch from gully |
|Up to ridge line
When on the ridge, head south, treading down a bit to stay on easy scree nearing the lowest section of the ridge north of the summit block (obvious lowest point). From this viewpoint it appeared that very near the final summit ridge of South Schlee, a deep notch on the upper ridge looked very difficult (turns out to be easy left of the crest). Fearing a difficult rock ascent, we dropped from the low point on the ridge and followed easy scree slopes south, skirting the summit cliffs until directly below a prominent deep notch.
|Traversing low to low point |
|Just over the ridge low point |
|Base of the gully
From there we climbed a steep gully, first with scrambling, then one tough 5.3 ish step. Above this step we got out the rope. From the belay we climbed about 30 metres of 5.6 rock, then about 10 metres of loose scree the ridge line beside the deep notch. Turned out the overhang of the notch could be avoided by scrambling a loose and steep gully to climber’s left of the notch overhang, difficult scrambling at the start of the gully. Once up the gully and on the final broad summit ridge, it is a walk to the summit.
|Scott starting up |
|Scott at ridge belay station |
|After gully, walk to summit
On the broad summit there was no cairn, no summit marker or any sign of previous ascents. I built a small cairn and left a brand new summit register. Considering the impressive neighbours like Tombstone Mountain and Elpoca Mountain, and the easy to ascend adjacent ‘Mt. Schlee’; and that ‘South Schlee’ isn’t so distinguishing or impressive from the surrounding valleys, I think it is quite plausible this is the first ascent.
|Boys on the summit |
|New summit register |
|New summit cairn
We descended the North Ridge, just after the deep notch, the ridge gets super narrow, with extreme exposure to the east, we bum shuttled on the knife edged ridge without a rope. Continued descending easy ridge (15m) to a short traverse section that had two towers, these small towers were climbed directly, I lead across this section, maybe 15 metres with easy climbing (5.2 ish), but exposed bumps, got good cams along the towers. Once across these two features, steep traverse on scree, then back to the ridge crest and scrambling back to the low point, and easy slopes back to Piper Creek.