An Epic Week of Adventure at Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Trip report for the ACC Edmonton 2016 Summer Camp at Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

By: Stephanie Vezina + Save to a List

“Meet-up at 8am at the Mount Shark helipad parking lot” was the single most important piece of information I had to remember. You see, the Assiniboine camp was a last minute affair for me, as I was standing in for someone who had dropped out the week before. So when I showed up at the parking lot at 8am the first morning, I witnessed a group of people who seemed to come from all walks of life. I naturally assumed most of them already knew each other. I was mingling about when I spotted the guy with the trip waivers: John Booth, the camp’s organizer, instantly instilled in me a strange feeling of intimidation mixed with confidence. This was clearly not his first rodeo… This was going to be awesome. 

As we packed the cargo nets, it occurred to me that not everyone knew each other as I initially thought, yet I could already feel a strong sense of community among us. Of course we all had different objectives for the week, but we were unequivocally brought together by a common love for the mountains. And there was this one newbie, me, coming from sea level and having absolutely no clue of what to expect on my first ACC camp. Where I am from, generally in the winter we don’t ski, we surf. 

They say not to trust the gal with the shiny gear. Well, I was relieved when Rowan and Cliff allowed me to join them on the hike in, with the added benefit of unlimited access to their bear spray. Perfect. As we started walking at Steph’s PR speed, I noticed that their packs were heavy with all sorts of climbing gear. They were going to climb the “Big A”. I was silently pondering what I had got myself into when Ben and Cassidy briskly jogged passed us. No more pondering: my mind went blank for a little while, which conveniently helped make the 24k hike go by faster. 

When we got to the O’Brien Meadows campground, two large fancy shelter tents had already been raised by the people who flew in. This is where I first met Diane Booth and her grand-daughter Eleena, mountain goddesses of comfort and self-proclaimed “food nazis”. Throughout the week they would kindly feed us 4000-some calories per day to warm our hearts and lift our spirits, while taking great pleasure in occasionally shouting “only one scoop”!

The first evening was spent sussing each other out over a glass of wine or two. There was going to be rain coming in mid-week so a keen group of four made plans to leave the next morning to the Hind Hut and climb Mount Assiniboine before the weather came in. Little did I know when I asked out loud if the Matterhorn of North America was a realistic first peak to climb: what a great way to get 23 pairs of eyes on me at once! “No”, simply said Cassidy. The tone was set. Had I blown my first impression? Quite probably. So I humbly walked over to John for other suggestions for the week… 

ACC camp at O’Brien Meadows group campground.

Despite my initial faux-pas, I walked back to my tent grateful for the beautiful sunset light, a full belly and a calm mind. I was mostly grateful to have connected with Kathy, fellow adventurer mom and experienced climber who would reveal to be the perfect mentor and companion for me, helping me throughout the week exploring my limits in a safe and responsible way. Ben and Cassidy, our athletic couple, would complement our team by zooming ahead of us day after day and doing the bulk of route finding when needed.

We started off with Nub Peak where we experienced what I thought to be the most incredible vistas ever…which we shared with just about as many tourists as at Lake Louise on a Saturday afternoon! I guess Nub is the most accessible peak from the lodge hence why so busy. So we had a quick sandwich, then went down the back of the mountain to Elizabeth Lake where we all jumped in without hesitation for a refreshing swim. 

Cassidy Van Rensen on Nub Peak (2755m), with Elizabeth Lake below.

The next day, John suggested we scramble up The Towers and gave us precise directions on a map on how to get there. Although we thought we followed his instructions to the “T” and managed to summit, we later realized we ended up going all the way around the mountain to the west side bowl instead, easily adding 10k to our day. Ben, Cassidy and Susan took a shortcut down the east side of the mountain while Kathy and I preferred to head back the familiar way. Alas for us and good on them: they were cracking their second beer open when we unfolded our camping chairs.

Kathy Hendren (right) and myself (left) on The Towers (2846m). Photo credit: Cassidy Van Rensen.

Night after night, I was delighted to hear the colourful stories of other camp members. On one end of the spectrum, there were our three rad climbers Cliff, Rowan, and Kirk who aptly reached Mount Assiniboine’s summit on their first attempt, bestowing us with great wonder and valuable “beta” for our plans to get up the Gmoser Highway later in the week. On the other end, there were Reinhold and Sherri, our poised alpine swimmers who seemed to always come back to camp refreshed despite their long days out and about. Anywhere in between, there were the fauna, flora, astronomy and geology aficionados who, through their camera lenses avidly captured the gorgeous entities of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Kirk Bishop (left), Rowan Anderson (center) and Cliff Shepherd (right) on the summit of Mount Assiniboine (3618m), 16 August 2016. Photo credit: Rowan Anderson.

Wednesday was going to be a rest day, so we decided to walk up to Windy Ridge by Og Pass. The map notes say it’s at 120m elevation gain: how bad could it be?…Well, 500ish meters higher we were having our “rest day” sandwich on a breathtakingly steep and not-so-windy ridge surrounded by nothing but the most serene scenery. As we ran down the multitude of switchbacks trying to find a shortcut to the lake below, Kathy rolled her ankle and we collectively put our best resources and brainpower together to solve the swelling problem: a cold beer and an amateur tape job is all it took to get our trooper back on her feet!

Kathy Hendren (in blue), Ben Robinson (in red) and Cassidy Van Rensen (in yellow) descending from the highest point on Windy Ridge (2675m).

...And a trooper she was the next morning when she resolved to join Ben, Cassidy and I up the Gmoser Highway to the Hind Hut, a decision I was extremely happy she had made. Luckily, the only rain we had all week happened as we cozied up in the Hut around a feast of three types of exquisite charcuterie Diane had sent with us. After a few silly entries in the registry and just before dinner, the clouds cleared up to reveal a lovely evening light on Mount Assiniboine. With nothing else better to do, we casually climbed the endless talus of Wedgewood Peak.

Ben Robinson overlooking Mount Assiniboine from Wedgewood Peak (3024m). The Hind Hut (2730m) seems tiny from here!

After a damp sleepless night of using my scrunchy goretex jacket as a blanket to try staying warm (lame-o, I know), I was “pleasantly” stunned by a poke on the head from Cliff, who, in the early morning, had made it back up to the hut with Rowan for round two. This time they [we, also apparently] would climb Mount Sturdee. I spent the next 20 minutes scrambling to get myself together and gear up; certainly not my favourite kind of scrambling. 

The six of us then swiftly made it up to the Assiniboine-Strom Col where Kathy and I, looking at the technical challenge ahead of us (then at each other), decided instead to turn right and ascend the more forgiving ridge leading to the summit of Mount Strom (3022m). This turned out to be a wise decision: by 930am we were having our summit sandwich while watching our friends climb from the best seats in house. Cliff, Cassidy, Ben and Rowan didn’t summit Mount Sturdee that day, but they sure impressed the heck out of us. 

Cliff, Cassidy, Ben and Rowan (in order) at the bottom left portion of the steep snow face of Mount Sturdee (3155m).

Back in camp, as per every night, a few wise souls (Yuri and Diane, Cathy, Allan, Steve, Mike, Peter, Tim and Terri) conferred as we listened from the “kiddies table” to their lively conversations on current American politics, philosophy at large, environmental issues, and general awesomeness that comes with life experience. We used “stretching” as an excuse to gather in a circle around Mr Phil Kemp, our eldest, and hear about bits and pieces of his wonderful life of epic climbing adventures and frivolous tea breaks. We also paid our respects to John, who interjected here and there; he clearly had taken part in many of the same exploits and many others too. Our chef Diane would bring in her two cents whenever she had a minute. God bless this fabulous woman! How awesome it was to be part of it all, if only for a week!

Welcome to the Assiniboine Lodge!

On our last day, you guessed it: we slept in…then we hung out at Lake Magog. We later met with fellow ACC campers at the Assiniboine Lodge for a much appreciated afternoon “beer o’clock” before heading back to camp. As the week was coming to an end and with everyone present, Mr Kemp’s daughter Alison honoured our hosts John and Diane Booth with a touching mini-ceremony involving a purple heart badge of honour, cans of “Rain(ier) not here” and “Assinibeer”, and a card signed by all of us expressing our deep gratitude for their fantastic work. We then proceeded in celebrating, with a splash of champagne, Tim and Terri’s anniversary of the most audacious move of romantic history: on ACC Edmonton Summer Camp 2006, at this exact same location, Tim had a moment of clarity while on “water duty” with Terri (who he had just met), and asked her to marry him in a bold act of serendipity. She said yes, of course.

On the hike out the next morning, Ben’s yodeling was a bit louder than usual when he and Cassidy ran passed us in the meadows: coming down from the pass, they had come face to face with a Grizzly bear. After hugging farewell, wide-eyed and spray-in-hand, they opened the way for us one last time. 

Cover photo: Cassidy Van Rensen

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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