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.
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.
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.
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|