The location of Highwood Pass means you can summit a 3200+m peak with only 1000m in elevation gain. The Highwood Pass is the highest point in Canada on a paved highway. At its peak, and at the parking area, it is at 2206m in height. This is great news for scramblers because after a short jaunt through the trees you are already above the tree line and nearing alpine terrain. From Calgary, Mount Rae is the highest mountain that can be viewed on the front range. I personally enjoyed the scramble on Mount Rae a lot due to varied terrain and the time of day we did the ascent. My dad, George Hanus, replaced Angelica on this outing. While being very skilled outdoors, not quite as good looking ;)
One thing to note is that it is not hard technically but once you gain elevation the exposure does become a major factor on Mount Rae. Once you make it up the col, one side will have steep scree slopes with cliffs on the bottom which creates a bad slip hazard and the other side has straight cliffs that are an obvious fall hazard. A helmet is strongly recommended as there is a lot of loose rock on this scramble and as you finish the Ptarmigan Cirque trail and head up the col you are also below the cliffs.
Part of the Misty Range, Mount Rae was named in 1859. The name was in honour of Northern Canadian explorer and Dr. John Rae. John was a doctor from Scotland surveyed parts of the Northwest Passage and explored Northern Canada. He was also the one who reported what had happened to the Franklin Expedition.
The Franklin Expedition was a British voyage led by Captain Sir John Franklin that led the Arctic exploration. They departed England in 1845 and was meant to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, the 2 ships that were assigned to the Franklin Expedition became stuck in ice in the Canadian Arctic. All 128 men including the captain were lost. AS many as 11 British and 2 American ships were sent out to find the expedition crew. In 1854, Dr. John Rae discovered relics from the Franklin expedition and heard stories from the Inuit of the fate of the Franklin crew. Later in 1859, a different search led by Francis McClinktock found a note written and left on King William Island, near where the ships of the expedition were icebound. The note told stories of the fate of the expedition. Discoveries made later in the 19th century showed that the crew all died of starvation, hypothermia, starvation, lead poisoning and even signs of cannibalism which were found.
Dr. Rae was infamously known for being the first European to survive an Arctic winter. He solely lived off the land and conducted various major expeditions. He was said to be known for his incredible physical stamina, hunting skills and use of Native skills to live and travel long distances on the land. The expeditions traveled into the uncharted Canadian Arctic. The Rae Strait is also named after Dr. John Rae. It was the final link that was established by Dr. Rae in the long search for the Northwest Passage. This was the Dr. Rae's greatest accomplishment during his expeditions.
The Rae Glacier on Mount Rae is a popular skiing winter objective for many. The summit that you reach on the scramble route provides some of the gorgeous views in the area. An interesting tid bit is that the Rae glacier serves as the main waterway to Calgary with the glacier flowing into the Elbow Lake which flows into the Elbow River.
Mount Rae Trip Log
After parking at Highwood Pass, cross the road and head 100m north to the Ptarmigan Cirque Trail, follow the trail as it switch backs up.
Follow the Ptarmigan Cirque Trail until you reach the very end. Continue past this and onto the scree.
When the terrain changes from grass to loose rock, it is time to dawn your helmet. The amount of scree around you is a good example of how much rockfall occurs in these mountains.
The scree trail curves left as it follows the base of the cliff and becomes less apparent. From this point the easiest way to reach the col is to keep to the left hand side, while following the massive rock formation.
Once you reach the top of the col the view on the other side opens up dramatically and its a long ways down. Rae Glacier is visible below and this seems to be a common turn around point for a lot of hikers we saw this day that just wanted to see how far the path went from the Ptarmigan cirque below. If this is your goal the view is still very rewarding.
When you reach the top you will want to head towards your right. You will see a well travelled path that leads you along the ridge. You can see the path go around the left side of the pinnacle as you are unable to scramble across the top of it.
As you make your way across the ridge there are a couple spots that require you to hold onto the rock a little as it becomes narrow at parts and there is significant exposure on both sides.
As you pass the pinnacle, if you look upwards you can see why you have to go around and cannot pass over the pinnacle. Even if you go up the start of it it drops off sharply and would require ropes to traverse across.
The traverse on the backside of the mountain as you gain elevation is no more then a plod up steep scree.
Once you pass the scree section it turns solid rock with larger loose rocks littering the path. While this does not require hands on scrambling, hiking poles greatly aid staibability and speed you along.
After passing the rocky part it returns back to a nicely beaten path in the scree. Looking back and downwards you can see the numerous paths that have been beaten into the mountain side.
After the scree, the fun starts again. Exposure starts to play its part and you have to make sure of your footing as some of the parts bring you very close to the edge.
Once you get around the first set the rather obvious trail continues to meander through more large rock as you head up.
At this point there is a ledge that you have to get over. Going upwards is an easy scramble but when you have to downclimb you get to visually take in the sheer drop right beside you.
When you reach the summit block you ultimately have two choices to reach the summit. The first option is you walk along the edge on the right hand side. While this is technically easier it also puts you inches away from the edge. On the way up we decided to traverse along the left and scramble up. While these seemed like a good idea at the time. The only advantage you have is if you slip you at least have some time to grab onto something before slidding off the mountain. On the decent we just walked along the top and this proved to be a lot easier as its nothing more then very carefull walking.
Once you reach the summit, the view from up top is a superb, making you momentarily forget about all that rubble you had to head up. On a clear day you can see as far as Calgary and the larger ranges to the west. Unfortunately on this day a storm was rolling in which lowered the visibility a fair bit.
Steep decent to the trail on the right offers a opportunity to avoid the direct exposure that is on the left hand side.
Scrambling along the ridge offers serious exposure requiring focus. This ridge might be avoided on windy days or when slippery.
Return is the same way. Return time is not too bad considering the ammount of scree you can move quickly through.
GPS Plotted Route
What were your experiences scrambling Mount Rae?
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