In 2011, my then-girlfriend Brianne and I spent time together in the backcountry near Mount Assiniboine. After a week full of summits, scenery and sore legs, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. One year later, during a similar backcountry trip to Skoki, I asked her to marry me. In 2013, we wed in beautiful Lake Louise and honeymooned atop 6,461 m high Mera Peak in the Himalayas. In 2015, we welcomed our first daughter Mera (named for the spectacular peak we scaled in Nepal). With our second daughter due in 2017, many of our friends and family started to speculate that our newest addition would be named after yet another mountain.
Since we like to keep people on their toes, however, we decided to switch things up this time around. Instead of naming our second daughter after a mountain, we figured it might be nice to name a mountain after her!
Of course, not just any mountain would do. “Penny’s Peak” would need to be as spectacular as Mera’s. During Brianne’s pregnancy, I devoted hours to the search for a suitable peak. After some thought, I reasoned that an unnamed peak in the Marvel Pass area might fit the bill perfectly. The area’s proximity to “the Matterhorn of the Rockies” guaranteed that the summit would be spectacular. As an added bonus, Marvel Pass was one of the few Assiniboine areas that Brianne and I failed to visit during our 2011 reconnaissance. With a peak (Little Marvel) in mind, I therefore, set off to christen “Penny’s Peak” on my final grand mountain adventure of the 2017 season. Given her current gestation (8 months!!!), Brianne unfortunately, was unable to join me. My business with “Penny’s Peak” will, therefore, not be complete until we’re able to return as a family; I’m very much looking forward to that day so I can show all my girls how awesome “Penny’s Peak” is in person!
Getting to “Penny’s Peak” is half the fun! With the final 43.5 km of our 300 km drive on old mining/logging roads, this day’s adventure started well before we even reached the trailhead. Fortunately, all but the last 5.5 km of road is very well-maintained. The final 5.5 km is more rugged and includes 2 creek crossings on suspect-looking bridges. Fortunately, these bridges are sturdier than they appear at first glance!
Porcupine shields up! (Aye aye Captain!) After a 3.5 hour drive from Calgary, we reached the Aurora Creek staging area nestled between massive Mounts Alcantara (shown here) and Eon (out of sight). Mouse over to get a closer look at our intricately constructed porcupine defense system.
The directions to reach this trailhead are as follows: Leave Highway 93 S at the marked “Settler’s Road” exit. After following Settler’s Road for 12.4 km, turn left (east) at a fork, crossing the Kootenay River and passing the Nipika Resort shortly thereafter. From Nipika, follow the main road, ignoring smaller roads which branch off from time to time, towards the Baymag Mine. 38 km from the Highway 93 S turnoff, turn right (east) onto a much rougher, single track road. This turn-off is reached immediately before the main road crosses the bridge to the Baymag Mine. Continue along the rougher forestry road, crossing Alcantara Creek after 3 km and Aurora Creek a km after that. After this second bridge crossing the Assiniboine staging area is soon reached. From the “Big A” staging area, continue east along the rough road for a final 1.5 km to reach the Aurora Creek staging area at the obvious clearing shown above.
Getting to the trailhead may sound difficult but it really isn’t. You essentially follow the main road past Nipika until you can see the Baymag Mine and then follow the rougher road for a few more km from there. A high clearance vehicle is an asset but any vehicle should be able to make it to Aurora Creek if you drive carefully.
A dilapidated sign and some ribbon on a tree mark the Aurora Creek trailhead.
Aurore got a kick out of crossing her namesake Creek.
After departing from the staging area, the trail dips down to Aurora Creek, crosses it on a couple of well-maintained log bridges and then continues up the valley to the east. Not knowing what to expect from this obscure trail, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was well-established and easy to follow (despite being a little overgrown in places). Another surprise was the fact that, after the initial Aurora Creek crossing, we didn’t see the creek again! For some reason, I expected the “Aurora Creek” trail to follow the pretty creek but it actually stays well above it on Mount Alcantara’s forested north flank.
After hiking for an hour, the forest thinned as we reached a boulderfield about 3.5 km from the trailhead. From here, the trail follows the contour of a forested headwall (right) to the north and gradually gains elevation towards Marvel Pass (beyond the treed bump in the center of this photo).
The more open terrain of the boulderfield granted us a nice view across the Aurora Creek Valley towards massive Mount Eon.
Aurore happily continues up into the alpine amidst the boulders.
Eventually, boulders gave way to alpine meadows and wildflowers; the latter provided a fine foreground for photogenic Mount Alcantara!
An amazing carpet of wildflowers litters Marvel Pass. The pass itself is pretty but I was surprised at how forested it was. If you plan to hike to Marvel Pass, I’d strongly recommend continuing a little higher to get a better view from above tree line. The pass proper is marked by a Parks Canada sign (since it forms the border of Banff National Park). From the sign the path split and we continued to the right (east). I expect that the left (north) fork continues over the pass and down to Marvel Lake.
Soon after entering Banff National Park, we stumbled upon Aurora Lake (sometimes called Cabin Lake) and stopped for a well-earned lunchbreak on its cerulean shores. When we’d sated our appetites and been thoroughly harassed by the local mosquitoes, we started off towards “Penny’s Peak.” Following the lake’s left-hand shore, we soon reached an obvious clearing. At the clearing, we left the lake behind and gained the gentle, thinly forested southwest ridge of “Penny’s Peak” Mouse over to get an idea of our route.
Colorful waters make for a fine panorama as we prepare to leave Aurora Lake behind to start up towards “Penny’s Peak.” Click to see larger.
Aurore takes in the view of the Blue Range from a wildflower-littered clearing above “her” lake.
A curious find as we hiked upwards through thin forest. I've no idea how a tree so hollow can remain upright!
The southwest ridge was almost entirely easy hiking, however, small rock bands here and there lent variety to our ascent. These were easy enough to scramble straight over but "hands-in-pocket" by-passes were always an option as well.
This is why hikers should continue up above Marvel Pass! As we neared the tree line (about 150 vertical meters above Aurora Lake), the magnitude of Marvel Pass’ panorama was finally apparent. Click to enjoy more fully.
Alpine transcendance. Actually, I'm just trying to keep my troublesome back limber on “Penny’s” lower slopes (photo courtesy Aurore Kurc).
The final rock ridge to the summit of “Penny’s Peak.”
Alpine rock gardens dot the scree slopes (because there weren’t already enough wildflowers in the pass below)!
THAT view (photo courtesy Aurore Kurc).
Aurore hikes up dinner plate scree while a "marvel-ous", mind-bending panorama unfolds behind her. Click to see larger.
Making my way up the final bit of ridge to the 2,560 m high summit of “Penny’s Peak.”
This summit panorama is for you Penny!
Daddy loved you so much before you were even born! I can’t wait to meet you and drag you, your sister and your Mommy up to this special place in the years to come! Click to see larger.
The glaciated Assiniboine Group towers above verdant Marvel Pass (left) and turquoise Lake Gloria (right).
Horn-shaped Mount Eon looks striking from this vantage…and many others as well!
Water cascades forth from the glacier on Mount Gloria’s east face while Mount Aye rises steeply behind.
At 3,618 m, majestic Mount Assiniboine is the highest peak in the Southern Canadian Rockies and you won’t find a better view of it than this!
A sampling of the dozen glaciers that surround the Assiniboine massif.
The Towers (left): my favorite scramble from Brianne and I’s previous backcountry trip in the Assiniboine area.
Wonder Pass (left) and Wonder Peak (right) tower above the deep blue waters of Marvel Lake.
Assiniboine and I.
Although the Mount Assiniboine group to the west commanded most of our attention, the panorama to the east from “Penny’s Peak” was pretty fine too! Click to see larger.
Nearby Marvel Peak.
A helicopter cruises away towards Mount Bogart (nestled between Cone Mountain on the left and Mount Turner on the right). Although Marvel Pass sees little foot traffic, it does see its share of helicopters as the focal point of Alpine’s premium Rockies heli-tour. While these heli-tours are spectacular, they only last for 30 minutes. Hiking into Marvel Pass is, therefore, preferable since you’ll have time to properly enjoy this beautiful area!
A marvelous Marvel Pass panorama! With spectacular peaks all around and serene alpine meadows and vibrant lakes below, I wished that I could spend a few days exploring up here. Maybe Penny will want to bivy with me someday? Click to see larger.
Mount Morrison (left), Mount Byng (center) and Aurora Mountain (center right) all look like tempting scrambles…
A massive unnamed peak rises up beyond Aurora Mountain’s flank. It’s hard to believe that a peak this large has no name but maps seem to suggest that it’s an outlier nestled between Red Man Mountain and Mount Alcantara.
Mounts Brussilof (left) and Alcantara (right) tower above Aurora (Cabin) Lake.
Christening “Penny’s Peak” with a cairn and a register.
The first register entry on “Penny’s Peak.” Dedicated to Penny (my Little Marvel)!
Group summit shot. Although this trip report focuses mostly on my family, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Aurore for her great company on this special day (especially considering the fact that she only wanted to get out for a "short" outing)!
A final 360 degree panorama from the summit of “Penny’s Peak”: beautiful views for my beautiful baby girl! Click and drag to explore.
After fully enjoying “Penny’s Peak” and exploring nearby, we reluctantly turned back and started down towards Marvel Pass. I was sad to leave the beautiful summit but am really looking forward to returning one day.
Enjoying the view of Mount Byng as rocky slopes give way to alpine meadows on descent.
I just can’t get enough Assiniboine!
Idyllic hiking in open meadows below Aurora Mountain.
Back at "her" lake, Aurore checks out the half-built cabin. The cabin was, apparently, built by a man who thought he was building outside park boundaries in BC. While he was close, he probably should have consulted his map more closely; Aurora Lake sits on the Alberta side of the border and is part of Banff National Park (even though it drains into BC). Needless to say, Parks quickly put a halt to his efforts!
As we made our way back down towards the trailhead, we couldn’t help but notice that the nearby Verdant Creek Wildfire had gone thermonuclear in the afternoon heat! Indeed, Sunshine Village and Mount Assiniboine Lodge were both evacuated and closed the following day! Given the fire’s proximity, it’s amazing that we had such clear skies while so many other areas of the Rockies were bathed in smoke; I guess there’s much to be said about being upwind!
Enjoying our last views of Alcantara from the boulderfield. Soon after this, the Aurora Creek trail plunged back into the viewless woods, leaving us to daydream of sandals as we plodded down on increasingly sore feet.
The moon rises dramatically above the Blue Range as the hour grows later.
After a foot-numbing plod along the trail’s final forested kilometers, our salvation (in the form of sandals, chips and cold beer) is finally at hand! Soon, the valley echoed with French girl belches as the sun set on another spectacular day in the Rockies.
The baby girl for whom the peak was named: Penny Hobbs! (Photo Courtesy "Nannie Goat")
As I reflect on the day, I couldn’t be happier about how marvelous it was! I sincerely hope that my little girl likes “her mountain” and I can’t wait to return with her, Mera and Brianne.