Middle Sister -- Jul 26, 2006

Elevation Gain: 1400 meters (4592 feet)

Climbed by: me solo.

Let me start out by stating this scramble is a slog if you're not expecting the long walk up the Stewart Creek riverbed, and 1400 meter elevation gain. I had researched the route only as far as "how do I get there", not "how much energy will I need". Big mistake... I ran out of steam at the bottom of the mountain after trudging up Stewart Creek for what seemed like forever. But I dragged my sorry carcass to the top anyway!

The walk up the creek bed was long enough as it was, but because of construction in the area of what used to be a gate (and is still mentioned as "gate" on the 2002 4th Edition of the Gemtrek map). There is no gate there anymore, they've put in a traffic circle, and were working on something along the Mine Haulage road that normally you'd drive along to meet up with the Stewart Creek trailhead. So (for now) you have to walk from the Stewart Creek Golf Course staff parking lot (which just past the first exit from the traffic circle on the right side of the road). Who knows how long that parking lot will be able to avoid getting turned into $1,000,000 apartments/condos, though! I drove up to the golf course and asked where to park; I recommend you do the same, just to be sure the rules haven't changed.

Anyway, I left the staff parking lot and headed toward the traffic circle. I wasn't sure if pedestrians would be frowned upon in the midst of construction equipment, so I left the road and gained the very short ridge just to the north of the second exit from the traffic circle, which parallels the road. Surely, by the time anyone reads this and decides to climb the Middle Sister, the road leading from the second exit will be open, and you'll be able to park right by the trailhead again. Probably... Who knows what further construction will ensue?

After walking maybe a kilometer along the ridge (there was a road up there), I zipped through some thin forest in the direction I hoped the Mine Haulage road was. Sure enough, in a hundred meters or less, I intersected it, and turned left onto the road I had originally planned to follow.

I walked until I came to a relatively sharp left turn, and cut across the golf course right next to the road, not knowing for sure if there was a better way. If I had to do it again, I would either cut across the golf course here (which is shorter), or if the course was full, I'd continue along the road another couple hundred meters to where the main trail meets the road. The trail at that point is a road just about as well travelled as the main road. As I didn't know about this second route until the descent, I travelled across the golf course. I had to cross two fairways, but it was early, and these holes must have been toward the end of the course as there were only workers present, no golfers. Just cut straight across, and you'll find your way past the golf course, no problem. Or, avoid the course entirely. Your choice.

It took very little time to run across Stewart Creek (I wasn't sure if this actually _was_ Stewart Creek, though, and the road crossed the dry creek bed, so I followed that for a short way. When it became clear that this road (which was quite overgrown with many felled trees laid across it) was going the wrong way, I angled back toward what must have been Stewart Creek after all. I soon encountered a trail, either human or animal, and followed it. I ran across an old wooden water trough that must have been used to convey water from some place to some other place. It was still in reasonable shape, though in places it had collapsed. At the end of the trail there was a sign suggesting that I shouldn't have been where I was -- oops! They should have put a sign at both ends!

I followed the trail on the right side of the creek bed until it petered out, then crossed the creek, went up an embankment, and there was a road -- as it turns out, this is the road that comes from the main trailhead, just past the golf course. I followed the road upward for no more than 50 meters before it ended (sheesh!), and crossed the creek where a small concrete dam-like construction had been installed, with a 4x4 fence post laid across, obviously an invitation to cross there. From that point, I found a trail which lasted probably a couple of kilometers before it, too, died (as the other route descriptions I'd read had suggested it would). I just followed the creek bed from there.

One route description (Kane's?) suggested that the creek bed would split, and that one should stay to the right. Directly under the Little Sister a rather prominent creek bed intersected the one I was walking up, so I climbed up the right-hand part of the "Y". A hundred feet up, I decided that this was definitely not going the right way either (again!), so I turned around. When I got back to the juncture of the "Y" I encountered a party of three youngsters on their way up. Annalise was from Camrose, Francois and Vanessa were both from Quebec, and all three were working in Canmore for the summer. I walked with them for a ways, but they had light packs, light shoes, and a good 10-15 years on me, so they soon got ahead of me.

After a bit of a hike, the creek bed bent to the right, and started to get pretty steep. The other route descriptions had suggested that one follow the creek bed as far as possible, as that would be the easiest place to gain the ridge up to the summit. I think that's true. There are cliffs in the way if you don't follow the creek bed pretty much to its end where you climb up a short pile of rubble to the scree slope.

Normally, I like scree. Call me weird, but it doesn't usually cause me too much trouble. But I hated this stuff! It was just the wrong shape, and on just the wrong incline, and my feet kept slipping. I was already pretty tired out at this point, and that certainly didn't help! I considered turning around here, stopping for a snack and some water (and a rest). After a couple minutes I decided that I had nothing better to do that day, so might as well continue up.

Part way up the ridge I ran into a large family of sheep blocking the trail. Since the trail was just a suggestion of how to go up, I went around. By the time I got past them, they were well off the trail.

At this point, or slightly after, I got a small second-wind, and was able to trudge up the rest of the way without feeling too corpse-like. I signed the register (which is in the nice bivvy dugout someone built up there to keep out of the wind (which was howling). Annalise, Francois and Vanessa were done eating their lunch and started heading down shortly after I got there. I relaxed for a few more minutes, and started down. With gravity on my side, and strong knees, I caught up to them before long. We went the rest of the way down together. About 75% of the way back to the car Annalise complained of a blister (no wonder, she was wearing someone else's shoes, and had duct-tape over a band-aid on her heel). I cut of a square of mole-skin, had her cut a hole in the middle to match the size of the blister, she attached it to the sore spot, and we carried on. I learned that they had hired a cab to take them from Canmore to Stewart Creek Golf Course, so I offered them a ride back into Canmore. I had to go that way anyway to call my wife who was probably going to be concerned if I wasn't there when she got home from work!

Over-all, a very sloggy day. I could have maybe been more prepared for the slog, eaten more on the drive up to Canmore, etc, but I think this is just a long slog of a mountain and that's all there is to it! Maybe I'll do it again in a couple years and (maybe) change my mind!

A photo of the Little Sister from the Stewart Creek Golf Course staff parking lot.
Looking back over the second fairway. You can see the first fairway through the gap in the trees, and just beyond that is the Mine Haulage Road (though you cannot see it from here).
The old wooden water trough I stumbled over (not literally) while finding my way back to the creek.
The Little Sister from a ways up Stewart Creek.
The bowl at the back of the valley.
After the creek turned right, and started to go up a steeper incline. If you're thinking of making a shortcut to the top of the ridge, you don't want to do it here!
From the bottom of the scree slope looking up. You can see one of the youngsters quite a way ahead of me. I'm not sure which one...
A look into the valley to the right. You can see that a lot of elevation has been gained already, and I'm only just on the mountain.
A look back at the bowl at the end of the Stewart Creek valley. I imagine this gets pretty full of snow in the winter.
A look up the never-ending scree.
Mountain sheep!
More mountain sheep!
Finally, the top. This is the top of Little Sister, across the col.
Big Sister. You definitely can't get there from here!
Canmore, from well above.
A look to the south along the Spray Valley.
Looking southeast from the top. Not sure what any of those mountains are, but they could be The Wind Tower (foreground), and maybe Mt. Lougheed behind that.