Ben Nearingburg and Eric Coulthard have written a guidebook to scrambling in the northern Rockies. Both long-time active Edmonton Section members, Ben and Eric will be hosting a slideshow and book launch at our May Monthly Meeting. Here's a short interview with them, make sure to come out on May 23 to meet them in person!
A Peakbagger's Guide to the Canadian Rockies has something for everyone looking to enjoy the splendour of Canada's mountains.
What originally drew each of you to scrambling?
Eric: My oldest brother got me into scrambling with the Grant MacEwan Mountain Club in 2004. My first scramble was Eiffel Peak. I was hooked after that due to the awesome views and gorgeous weather. I did four scrambles that year, and the following year I was hardcore into it. In 2007, I joined The Alpine Club of Canada, Edmonton Section, and was introduced to David Thompson Country, where my exploration started. I got into ski mountaineering the following winter when I took the Edmonton Section Winter in the Mountains course. The Edmonton Section expanded my options. I met the various members of our unofficial group in the following years.
Ben: Oddly enough originally it was an injury, back during undergrad at the University of Alberta. I had been training for a marathon and was ramping up too quick with running distances, and really mangled my left knee. I needed something else to do, and switched gears into distance hiking as a slightly less-aggressive activity. Hiking worked out well which eventually moved into scrambling, and then to alpine climbing. Even now I don’t run anymore just in case.
How long have you known each other?
B: I think we have known each other for a little over five years? Our crew met through the internet and reading each other’s trip reports.
How did the idea of creating a guidebook for scrambles in the Northern Rockies come about?
E: This was a backburner idea for a while. Ben really brought it to the forefront. He was doing it and wanted to know who was interested in contributing.
B: Steven Song and Vern Dewit were also interested in the idea and we then broke down a list into who would be responsible for which routes (prioritizing first-hand beta to make sure things are accurate). This went on for a fair bit of time with slow but steady progress. I was happily underemployed in 2014, and started chipping away at the book with more focus. A surprisingly large amount of the book was written at the Rutherford Library over at the UofA (nice to have physical copies of ACC journals close at hand). Later on, Vern was saying he would rather be a contributor then an author and Steven moved to BC and thought he would not have enough time to put into the project. So it ended up with just us two.
Did you see a need for the guidebook?
E: People have commented that they come to our sites for beta. A number of people have told me that I should write a book.
B: In short, yes! There is a big difference between trip reports and an actual guidebook. A guidebook distils down the information to what you need to be doing on the route, gives some helpful information on things you might encounter, and points people into routes that might be well-suited to their abilities. Trip reports, especially my own, can be a lot more rambly with story-telling rather than route info. The area around Jasper especially has many good routes and trails that are not really known unless you have spent a lot of time in the area.
Why the choice of the word "peakbagging"?
E: Peakbagging reflects the interests of our group. We seek out cool adventures, not necessarily a list.
B: Yeh, peakbagging can encompass many different types of routes; all that is consistent is there is a summit involved. You could have on-trail hikes, alpine climbs, mountaineering routes, and even ski tours. Around Jasper it is getting harder and harder to do things with closures, and there’s a section in the book that has a guide for winter accessible peaks. Caribou closures can really affect that, so hopefully this will help.
How did you choose the peaks and areas featured in your book?
B: Being a guidebook for the Northern Rockies and trying to avoid places that are already well documented. A lot of the peaks we were drawn to were the ones less traveled with meaningful objectives. Maybe not well packed trails, but definitely worthwhile when you get there.
E: There are issues of access and we’re hoping this book will improve visitation to trails and keep them open.
B: For sure. Many older trails in Jasper are being decommissioned. Some are being maintained by private outfitters, but hopefully this will encourage use, and preserve future access.
I can imagine that choosing which peaks to include and exclude could be difficult. Which peak or area was the hardest to omit?
E: We haven’t really omitted very many peaks. Mount Trudeau was a tough decision since it is going to have a ski resort right on top of it. You might need to take a chair lift to the top instead in a year or two.
B: Some on the harder end of alpine objectives we have done like Whitehorn Mountain were not included in the book. Some things we added that are a little out there that are awesome, Little Alberta. Mostly we were careful to only talk about routes that we have first-hand beta for. Nothing worse than publishing routes that don’t actually work!
Which peak or area was the most difficult to document?
E: Most likely the South Boundary Trail.
B: There is a bit of a drive to get to it from the East side, and the approach after that. We could use some more trips around there, lots of interesting peaks.
E: You need to commit a fair number of days to get into the area. It is a good place to get some first ascents.
From the routes featured in the book, which is your personal favorite?
B: That is a hard question. I’d say Mount Anne-Alice if you’re on skis. It has excellent views of Robson, and the book has excellent photos that would inspire anyone to go on that one.
E: Catacombs Mountain. That was an awesome trip. I had been drawn to this mountain for a really long time. We finally got a group together, and we had perfect weather and conditions. We didn’t know if the route would turn out and it worked out marvelously.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to try scrambling?
B: I’d say start small but aim high. Don’t get over ambitious too early. Guidebooks are a good place to get started and then build towards a goal.
E: Do a beginner guidebook scramble with a well-known group like the Alpine Club of Canada, and slowly work your way up to harder things with people who have more experience than you.
Are there any other hobbies you have outside of scrambling?
B: Rock, ice, alpine, playing hockey, I’m definitely outdoor focused nowadays.
E: I’ve lost some of my older hobbies like play the trombone. I work on my website, and programming as a hobby. It doesn’t compare to climbing and scrambling. Family life keeps me busy at home. Mountain activities are pretty all consuming.
You said you were into photography, did that draw you to scrambling also?
E: No. I started photography after I got hooked. I have goals with my mountains trips. One of my goals is to take a photo of every named peak in the rockies. I try to take a photo of every peak on my trips in case they have a name. I usually keep photos of the unnamed peaks in case someone names them in the future. Another goal of mine is to visit all the ice fields in the Rockies eventually.
What's a scramble or peak you've always wanted to do?
B: Close to town, I’ve really wanted to head up Kerkeslin. Certainly not the highest peak around, but it looks so impressive from Jasper itself. Not that many people have been up there.
E: Mount Chown would be nice. We have some beta for Mount Chown.. Anything by the Resthaven Icefield. The Rajah on the North Boundary trail. The Rajah is the highest peak in North East Jasper.
B: The Rajah is a nice one. Have to bring along a packraft!
How has the ACC helped you in your scrambling/climbing/skiing/mountain career?
E: It’s helped me a lot. I got into explorations through the ACC. The ACC introduced me to the David Thompson Corridor. I did Winter In The Mountains back in 2008. I did a bunch of trips with Reinhold. A lot of my winter trips with the club I didn’t get a summit. The first winter summit was Mount Columbia.
B: Oddly enough I have been a member for years but have never actually done a trip with the Alpine Club of Canada. The Canadian Alpine Journal and backcountry hut system has been very useful though!
What is a good beginner scramble for someone to start with?
E: Not in the book, Mount Ernest Ross in the David Thompson Corridor. I’ve been up it 4 times.
B: Mount Macarab right off the pass Tonquin valley from Portal Creek. The views make it well worth the trip if you are already passing by. Poboktan Mountain is a nice one too, two days with a lot of distance but easy travel into a nice area. There are quite a few easy to moderate routes in the book.
What piece of gear do you always have on you for every scramble?
B: InReach, first aid kit, tarp or tent.
E: Always bring a helmet in your explorations, especially if you don’t know for sure what you’re getting into.
B: One of my friends would sometimes bring a churango (a small ukulele) that was kind of fun.
If you want to go exploring, where is the gem of exploration?
B: Lots of places in BC are still not well-travelled in any sense, the interior can be quite hard to access without lots of time or a helicopter.
E: A lot of Jasper is unexplored. North of Jasper is one area that we haven’t visited yet. I definitely want to go somewhere really wild, Kakwa Provincial Park looks really cool. Mount Ida is the furthest north 10,000 ft peak in the Rockies. It is pretty pointy. I’d like to do Mount Ida one day.
B: It’s big horse country up in Willmore and the north of Jasper, heading up some of the spurs off the North Boundary Trail would be a good area sometime soon.
Anything else you’d like to say before we go?
E: We would like to thank other RMB authors who have been super helpful. Bill Corbett and Andrew Nugara both wrote us reference letters. Thank you to all the folks at Rocky Mountain Books for giving us this opportunity.
B: Also thanks to Steven, Vern, Mike, Liam, Ferenc, Josh, Ken and many more people from trips in the past.
Book to be released May 9, 2017.
A full-colour, comprehensive scrambling guide to the increasingly popular mountain landscapes located in the northwestern reaches of the Rocky Mountains. Following in the footsteps of classic publications such as Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies and More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, A Peakbagger's Guide to the Canadian Rockies: North pulls back the curtain on the vast sea of summits from the Columbia Icefield northwards.
The authors describe over 90 routes to peaks of all sizes and difficulties, from simple alpine hikes on well-defined trails, to challenging scrambles and focused alpine climbs. Routes are included for peaks in all four corners of Jasper National Park, and Mount Robson Provincial Park as well as peaks near the towns of Cadomin, Hinton, Grande Cache and Valemount. Each summit has well-described ascent and descent routes supported by stunning photographs of the majestic wilderness of the northern Rockies. Described routes range from short single-day trips to more aggressive multi-day expeditions.