Commonwealth Ridge, easy scramble

The big ridge looming over Hwy. 742 north of Mud Lake is a popular winter destination for skiers and snowshoers who plod up the lower slopes to treeline. Few people are experienced enough to tackle the snow ridge above.  In summer, though, there is nothing to stop the hiker/scrambler from going all the way to the summits where a fantastic view awaits.

The usual access is via the Commonwealth Lake trail (#86 in vol. 1). If you want to spend more time on the ridge than on logging roads take the shortcut from Hwy. 742 to the sawmill site. (Wearing tevas hop over the guardrail at 176312 and cross the soggy valley of Smuts Creek, aiming for the grassy avenue on the far side. Keep the tevas on until the trail enters forest at a white marker. From here there’s a good trail to the sawmill site at cairns.) Then  follow the lake trail. After the stiff climb is behind you, come to a cairn at 166300. Here turn left off the trail and bushwhack up the NW ridge of Commonwealth, aiming for 169297. Is seems a long way,  but the distance is only 540 m.

Commonwealth Ridge

Crossing the channels of Smuts Creek. Commonwealth Ridge to left.

Commonwealth Ridge

The cairn at the sawmill site.

Commonwealth Ridge

Dodging around deadfall on the northwest ridge.

At 169297 you meet a trail that has come up the north ridge (more on that later) which you can follow up flatter, more open terrain to the left of the ridge crest into larch meadows. Keep right at questionable junctions;  going left, you will run into gullies. By the time the trail reaches the farthestmost  meadow, the ridge crest is a couple of hundred feet above you and it’s here where the trail, perhaps obscured by flowers,  climbs steeply up right through a gap in a small rock band, higher up traversing right onto the ridge. Walk up left to what winter people call the saddle, at treeline.

Commonwealth Ridge

The farthest larch meadow where the trail climbs up right (the grassy swath just to the left of Tony) to gain the ridge crest.

Commonwealth Ridge

Flower meadows among the larches.

Commonwealth Ridge

On the saddle below the rock ridge.

Above you, the rock ridge rises in many bumps, each one an easy scramble with plentiful loose rubble. Here and there a trail can be traced across the scree of the west slope. As mentioned, the view is amazing: Nearby is Commonwealth Peak and Mount Birdwood, the latter melding behind the other as you climb higher, Mount Smuts rising above the well-named Pigs Back; to the north Spray Lakes Reservoir and to the east the Kananaskis Range. But the best is reserved for last, for it’s only on reaching the north summit that the view south is revealed, the Robertson Glacier, Sir Douglas and its pointy satellites  French, Robertson and Burstall.

Most people stop here. A pinnacle blocks the way ahead to the slightly higher south summit. Unless you’re a climber,  getting there means dropping 100 ft on loose stuff to round the bottom of the pinnacle and climbing rubble back up other side. The view is not any better.

Commonwealth Ridge

Looking down the lower ridge to Commonwealth Lake.

Commonwealth Ridge

Looking up the lower ridge.

Commonwealth Ridge

The north summit is in view at centre. South summit is hidden behind the pinnacle.

Commonwealth Ridge

Closing in on the north summit.

Commonwealth Ridge

Looking back down the upper ridge.

Commonwealth Ridge

Cairn on north summit. Commonwealth Peak and Mt. Birdwood behind.

Commonwealth Ridge

View from near the north summit of the south summit, Sir Douglas, mounts Robertson, French, Burstall and Burstall Lakes.

Commonwealth Ridge

Looking down on Hogarth Lakes and Mud Lake.

Commonwealth Ridge

On the return, the bumps of the lower ridge show up well in the afternoon sunlight.

Commonwealth Ridge

Pigs Back at centre and Mount Smuts looming up behind.

Commonwealth Ridge

The north ridge trail is beset by menziesia bushes.

Commonwealth Ridge

Heading down the overgrown logging road. This section is good with a trail below the bank.

Commonwealth Ridge

The overgrown logging road. Just a trail remains on the righthand side.

On the return, descend to 169297, then continue to follow the trail down the north ridge to a very overgrown logging road that takes you out to the sawmill site. With some trail work— removal of deadfall and trimming of bushes, mainly Menziesia, it could be a good way up.

LATEST NEWS ON THE NORTH RIDGE TRAIL We returned on solar eclipse day, determined to forge a better way along the very overgrown logging road.  So the route is now flagged right from the sawmill site to the start of the trail in mature forest, a distance of 1.1 km. It isn’t perfect, but easily followable. This leaves just 590 m of trail to WP 169297 to be looked at… Anyone care to take over?

GPS track log of north ridge gpx
Commonwealth Ridge

The overgrown logging road. In some places the ground is stony and relatively open.

Commonwealth Ridge

Orange hawkweed. Not many wild flowers are such a beautiful bright orange.

Commonwealth Ridge

Back at the sawmill site. Flagging to left at the forest edge marks the end (or the start) of the north ridge route up the overgrown logging road. Commonwealth Ridge to left.

Map

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1 comment… add one
  • Gillean Daffern Sep 9, 2017, 10:46 am

    Has anyone been UP the north ridge trail? Wondering how you found it?

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