Mount Vaux 3319 metres, Yoho National Park
Mount Vaux from Beaverfoot Road. Route follows gully from highway as shown.
(click to enlarge images)
Mount Vaux ("Vox"), rises 2200 metres above Trans-Canada Highway west of Field B.C. and adjacent to Hoodoo Creek Campground. At 3319 metres, it is not an insignificant summit but possibly because it falls short of 11,000 feet, it sees few ascents. A promising but foreshortened scramble route appears by way of a large gully and avalanche slope descending almost to roads edge. Georgia Englehard, guided by Edward Feuz Jr. ascended this gully in 1933. Last August 1999, my partner Sim Galloway and I decided to give it a go, too. We hoped to reach the top "by fair means" meaning, in this case, using nothing more than ski poles and an ice axe.
Starting at 6:30 a.m., we found an abandoned Parks Canada trail leading into the forest to the terminus of a big avalanche slope on the peaks southwest side. This was just west of Hoodoo Creek campground, in Yoho Park. Above this slope rises a gully that curves left to intersect a ridge right below the summit. Due to the cool summer, snow still persisted in the lower reaches of this gully and promised to reduce the misery of inevitable treadmill scree.
The lower parts of the avalanche slope were pleasantly stable talus, and above that, the firm snow was indeed an asset. About halfway up, we paused for a snack and a hasty gulp of water. We had already climbed the equivalent of Mount Chester or some other such Rockies peak that is generally regarded as a decent days exercise. Far below wound Kicking Horse River, while lesser summits of the Purcell range appeared to the west.
Near the top of Mount Vaux.
Where our gully curved left, we scrambled diagonally up and over rock outcroppings, crossing steeper gullies of snow and rubble, aiming for a ridge intersecting the summit. Never did we encounter terrain requiring a rope. Rock quality was passable, but better was the cloudless blue sky above, of which we had seen so little this summer.
Sim at the crux on Mount Vaux.
As expected, the crux was a section of steep, black rock right below the summit. Fortunately once confronted, the terrain was less daunting and shorter than imagined, merely requiring careful route selection. About 15 metres of difficult scrambling got us past the black band and beyond some splintery Yoho shale, a graceful snow arete led to the top in minutes. We had been climbing for 7 hours, and by now, our appetites were as big as the landscape around us. Though the cairn was demolished, under a plate of shale lay a copper Alpine Club of Canada canister from 1961 that recorded just 8 entries, the last visit being in 1975. Perhaps the top had been snow-covered during previous visits, like Rick Colliers club trip and Graeme Poles solo trip.
A vast unseen glacier, the Hanbury, abuts the north side of Mount Vaux, but the daunting summit of nearby Chancellor Peak was much more striking. It rose threateningly like the blade of an upturned axe, displaying a tremendous vertical drop either side of a knife-edge ridge. The perspective quickly quelled any aspirations of scrambling up the Chancellor, and I mentally pushed it further down my to-do list, near Mount Alberta and Snowpatch Spire. Further east rose the Goodsir Peaks, looking both threatening and difficult, and I briefly recalled those exciting ascents of years ago.
Snowy Goodsir Peaks from Mount Vaux.
After lunch, we descended the same way, carefully downclimbing the black band. At one point, Sim momentarily touched a large chunk of seemingly solid rock which immediately dislodged, scraping her calf and narrowly missing me. This is why we avoid group outings on peaks like these. A larger party generates more rockfall and offers more targets too!
Lower down, I enjoyed glissading the numerous soft snow patches while Sim opted to plunge step, apparently not realizing the added benefit of laundering your britches on the climb. Our peaceful day ended amid the roar of Trans-Canada highway, 13 hours after it began. Wed had a great outing, and felt it a shame that the peak sees so few visitors, considering its height and the fact that one can approach it entirely by car.
Summit of Mount Vaux, Canadian Rockies. Mount Balfour in distance.
Interested? You won't find detailed route information on Mount Vaux anywhere. This is as detailed as it gets. The only guidebook info available is in the Rocky Mountains of Canada South, by Boles, Krushzyna and Putnam, and it's brief. This book is no longer in print: Check the used bookstores.
Maps? National Topographical System (NTS) 1:50,000 scale 82N/7 Golden & 82 N/2 McMurdo available at MAPTOWN in Calgary.
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© all photos copyright by the author 1999