Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Devil’s Head Alberta

It is what I would call an iconic landmark of the South-Central Rockies in Alberta. The Devil’s Head stands out like a giant knob when looking West from Calgary. Once you see it, you always see it. And once I saw it, I wanted to conquer it.

The plan was simple. Leave Saturday morning, drive out to the Ghost Valley, hike in and set up camp. Attempt a summit that day if light and weather permitted and then return to camp. The following day on the way out, we would attempt Black Rock Mountain on the way out. It sounds ambitious, and that’s just what it was. Here is how it went.

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The drive on highway 40 through Benchlands and Waiparous was beautiful as always.

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Once we passed through the hamlet of Waiparous, we drove a few kilometers west until Highway 40 took a sharp turn north. Immediately to the left once you go north, there is an unimproved road that goes West towards the Ghost. It is best if you have a 4x4 to use this road as it was very very rough.

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The road offers some terrific vista views, and I kept my eyes tight on the mountain that has inspired me so. Luckily I wasn’t driving, so I was able to get plenty of photos for the drive in.

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Just having some fun with the camera.

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As the Mountain drew nearer and nearer, the road became rougher and rougher.

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Black Rock Mountain as seen from the Ghost riverbed. We had to drive along this riverbed, over the bridge until we came to a creek crossing.

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Driving up to the Ghost River bridge. You can see the tip of Devil’s Head in the far distance.

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There were seven of us. Probably a good idea to bring many people because it makes it just more fun.

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From where we parked, we hiked about 1km to the first stream crossing. You can see Mt Aylmer in the far distance of the Ghost Valley. Many ice climbers flock to this valley in winter to do their thing. It was obvious why. There were so many apparently good spots for ice climbing.

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First stream crossing. There were a total of 4.

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The trail along the Valley floor is very flat and easily identifiable. It would take a lot of skill to get lost. There are markers the entire way as well as a very obvious set of tracks.

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One of the many trail markers along the way.

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The Devil’s Head loomed closer and closer. I continually imagined myself standing on it’s summit.

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Along the north side of the Ghost River, there are some obvious valleys. We decided that the 4th valley to the north would be our ascent. It would take us up the non-vertical side of the Devil’s Head (from the West). So we set up camp at the mouth of the 4th valley and got ready for our initial ascent.

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The 4th valley, which I thought was Valley of the Birds (I was wrong), follows a creek bed to the base of the west side of the mountain. It rises gently over the two kilometers where we would attempt our ascent.

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Looking north up the wrong valley. Our ascent would be to ascend and traverse the slopes to the right, with Devil’s Head being on the other side.

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The first day we started ascending, but called it off due to the fact that we would be running out of daylight by the time we made it to the top. We were in no position to downclimb in the dark, so we explored the Wrong Valley for alternate ascent routes. The valley breaks into two, and the east branch followed a stream into some Lord of the Rings looking places.

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We discovered some few-day-old bear tracks, which just happened to be just outside of our camp.

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The next morning, we set out again to make a summit attempt. We returned up Wrong Valley and found an easily identifiable trail up one of the drainage ditches. It was marked by a cairn, so obviously this wasn’t the wrong approach. GPS data can be found here.

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Only four of us made for the summit that day. The remaining three stayed behind to rest and enjoy the wild. From this photo, you can see Wrong Valley and where it leads to the Ghost River. We camped right at that junction of the two valleys.

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We continued up our mountain and came upon a ridge. From here, well above the treeline, we could see the west side of Devil’s Head. Suddenly, it didn’t look as simple as initially thought. Two hikers called it a day and I and one other continued on.

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We followed the ridge across the top of a giant scree bowl. There was an obvious path, so again, our confidence that we would make it was restored. Still, the West slopes of Devil’s Head loomed high above us.

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We continued up the ridge, right up to the base of the cliffs. From here, it would get technical, dangerous and difficult. We had lunch and got ourselves ready for the summit.

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Looking east towards the city of Calgary. After lunch, we started using our hands to climb. We continued climbing and climbing. My altimeter ready 2600m, 2650m, 2700m. Then we ran out of ability. We came to a point that was too dangerous to climb. It was a sheer drop-off on one side, and vertical climbing on the other. We had reach the end. 100m from the top, we had to turn back. I snagged a summit rock and stuffed it into my pack.

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Looking southeast from the west side of Devil’s Head. One valley over is Lake Minnewanka and Devil’s Gap. The view was incredible. I felt defeated that we couldn’t make the summit, but it didn’t matter, I was still there.

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After returning down the mountain and collecting all of our camp goods, we took the 6km hike back out of the Ghost. I kept glancing towards the mountain which had defeated me, but also had given me so much experience. Then a sudden realization dawned upon me. The West side of Devil’s Head is two peak, divided by a rocky gully. We were climbing the west peak, not the East peak! We had taken the wrong approach.

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This is Black Rock Mountain on the way out. You can see, if you look closely, the fire hut located on the peak.

As we returned to the vehicles, tired and hungry, I looked back one more time at the mountain I have wanted to climb since arriving in the Calgary area. I looked at the summit rock in my pack, knowing full well it wasn’t actually a true summit rock, and tossed it down. I didn’t earn it, but I knew one day I would. I would do it again and stand tall on the Devil’s Head.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Haven’t Blogged Lately, and no excuses why I haven’t

So I’ve peered at my blog over the last few weeks and realized that I have not posted since July 28th. Gosh, so much has happened. To make a short list of what’s happened, here it is:

August – Attempted a climb of Devil’s Head (it’s own blog coming soon)

August 10-16 – Attended my brother’s wedding in Halifax

September 11-22 – Travelled to Los Angeles, Houston and New York again for work

September 29 – Realized my dream of personal training is still alive :-)

Here are some photos from recent travels:


Our hotel in Halifax was right on the harbour-front. Being the humble prairie/mountain dweller that I am, oceans intrigue me.


Part of my brother’s pre-wedding activities included a tour of the Alexander Keith’s brewery. Very entertaining, even for someone who doesn’t drink ancient fermented hop juice.



I met my childhood hero Theodore Tugboat. Very cool.



It just so happened that the International Busker Festival was going on, all along the harbour-front, right outside our hotel. What a perfect time to go to Halifax! We spent so many days walking through all the performers. The dude on the left intrigued my wife, and I believe she caught his eye.



Halifax is so beautiful, with so much history. This is the Clock Tower on Citadel Hill.



After much searching, I finally remembered where I parked my yacht!



My brother’s wedding was in the Citadel itself, which is rather uncommon. He asked me to play music for it, which was technically my first performance! It was so much fun!



Working my magic. I think it went really well!



The wedding was really nice. It was probably the best wedding I’ve been to! It was so exciting to see my brother get married and to now have a new sister-in-law!



My cousin made the wedding cake (which was delicious). It was nice to have so many family touches to the wedding, which made it quite enjoyable.

We also spent some time in Peggy’s Cove, which is an iconic Canadian landmark! It was perfect weather on the shores there, with sunny skies and calm seas. I would post pictures, but all those photos are on my wife’s camera :-P. So you’ll have to use your imagination.

Time passed, and I ended up having to go to LA and New York again for work. Since this is a personal blog, I’ll leave work details out of it.

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This would be flying in to Los Angeles. If you look closely, you can actually see the Hollywood sign!


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The guy I was working with in LA wanted to rent a convertible. I told him it didn’t have enough space for our stuff. He told me we’d just put the top down. I guess I couldn’t argue.


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We travelled down to LA on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Even on the other side of the continent, Americans were remembering those lost. We drove from LAX to Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway, and saw this memorial. I believe it was one flag for every person killed on 9/11. Very moving.


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We drove to Malibu for dinner on the ocean. We enjoyed some delicious fish tacos and watched the sun set over the ocean. After this, we drove north to Simi Valley where we were staying.


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After finishing my work in Simi Valley, I connected through Houston and spent 2 nights with my brother and his wife. I had never been to Houston (or Texas for that matter) and was quite amazed at the area and especially the road networks in Houston.


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Of course, never having been to Houston, or Texas, my brother insisted I go shooting with him. I’m glad I did.


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“After service, please join us for coffee, fellowship, and 200 rounds of 9mm. Don’t forget to collect your children from the nursery.”


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Man, this sight looks familiar. I went from Houston back to Schenectady, NY for more work. I didn’t take nearly as many photos this time, but I managed to capture an almost identical photo as last time.


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Just like my last trip out east, I flew home from Newark, so it allowed me to spend another few hours in New York City. This time I took another item off my bucket list by taking a NYC cab. Not exactly the most effective method of transportation, but an amusing experience with some of the craziest drivers I’ve ever seen.


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I took the cab to within a few blocks of Dylan’s Candy Bar, and gave myself the opportunity to explore the famous NYC sweet shoppe.


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Candy everywhere, even in the tables, on the walls and…


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… in the stairs, tee hee.


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Rather than taking a cab back to the train station, I walked. I walked past Central Park, which is far larger than I imagined. I just saw it from the south end of the park, and it goes on for what seems like forever. A beautiful oasis in a busy city.


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I walked down Broadway and past the line up for Letterman. Apparently, the LATE show takes place at around 3pm. Well, it’s late somewhere right?


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Well my total time spent in New York City is now around 8 hours, and I was happy to see the magnificent city again. I hope to return sometime soon, this time with my wife and son.

After 12 days on the road, I was so excited to get home and see my family and resume my life again. A few flights and some time spent in a taxi brought me back to a smiling wife and excited child! Life is good.

Since my son was born, I’ve shut down my studies to become a personal trainer. It was a choice I made so I could spend some extra time with him in the precious first few months of his life. Well this turned into almost 2 years without schooling, and without schooling the dream of personal training faded with the hecticness of life. After much soul searching and endless conversations with my wife, she told me that I had no real goals to work towards, and that I should resume my personal training studies. I hadn’t even considered that, and within a few days of this discussion I was back on track to being what I dream to be. So a huge thank you and I love you to the better half of me. I love you sweetie!