July 17, 2020
Mist Mountain is a behemoth that dominates the southern skyline on Highway 40. It pokes up well above all it’s neighbours, making it seem like the highest mountain that ever existed. Once you get around the corner, you see that Mist is the first of many 10,000 footers in the Highwood Pass area, but that doesn’t take away from it’s impressiveness.
Mist Mountain is a popular destination for another reason. It has a small ‘hot’ springs on its lower flank that draws hundreds of people annually. Unfortunately, not everyone who goes up here is respectful. This is the home of marmots, picas, Columbia ground squirrels, and chipmunks. There are also bears and cougars that travel through the wide meadows. I have seen many dogs off leash here, with disastrous consequences. The day before we summited Mist, an off-leash dog killed a marmot. There are two main rules when visiting the mountains – leave no trace, and keep your dog leashed (or at home).
This was my second attempt on Mist. My husband Mike and I went up last October. Despite ice axes and crampons, the snow was deep and the temperature above the col plummeted. Mist creates a kind of wind tunnel that swoops down from the summit, turning even a hot and muggy day freezing. My left foot soon froze, but we managed to thaw it out. We continued up to around the 8,000′ mark, but the snow was deep and we were post-holing up to our waists. Time to try again another day.
For this attempt, even though it was mid-July, there is still plenty of snow on Mist. This time we used the snow to our advantage on the way back down. Read on to find out how. The photos below are a mix between the October 2019 and the July 2020 trips.
In good conditions, all your regular hiking gear plus gators for the scree / snow ride down. If there is snow, then full mountaineering gear is required, including crampons and ice axes. Mist is a major mountain and should not be underestimated in bad weather or conditions.
At the trail head, go straight up until you hit the col. On the left is the route to summit Mist Mountain. Straight across is the line through the scree that leads to the hot springs.
Go left, and make your way around the lower flank of Mist until you come to the large bowl below the summit. From here, take the line on the right. This leads directly to the lowest col. At the col, turn left and follow the ridge line to the summit. Return the way you came, or descend on the closer gully.
Park at the double-wide pull out just south of the trail head. It always interests me that people going for a long hike will ignore a perfectly good parking lot and instead park on the side of the highway, just to save a few extra meters of walking.
There are a few entrances to the trail. They all join up, but it’s easiest if you go to the creek, and take the wide trail immediately to the west. After a few meters is a large metal spike with flagging attached.
Stay on the trail, ignoring all side trails that join in. Head up through the thick forest on a trail that is surprising steep in places with very little switchbacks.
After about 1.5 to 2 km, we broke out of the trees and got a gorgeous view of Eagle Ridge on our right, and the lower ridge of Mist Mountain on our left.
As the terrain mellowed and opened up, we headed straight ahead for the col between Mist and Eagle Ridge.
We then turned left, and made our way up the small slope to the col proper. From this view, we looked up at our route as it curved around to the right, between the ridge on the left and the lower flank of Mist Mountain on the right. Straight across from the col is the hot springs. It is accessed by following the trail through the scree that winds it’s way across the base of the mountain.
From the col, we made our way along the left side of the ridge on the well-trod scree trail. There are a few options, but we chose the higher routes whenever possible. Snow levels may change your mind so be open to what’s best.
Once we crossed the open scree slope, we kept to the band of hard rock that was above the gully to our left. Little did we know this was the last solid ground until we hit the summit ridge.
We continued to curve around the mountain until we came to the wide open bowl below the summit ridge that surrounded us on three sides.
This is where you need to make a decision. The hiking route is the wide gully on the far right. This takes you to the lowest col and is the easiest way up. When we were there, some people were ascending the left black scree gully, which is the descent route. On the far left is a rocky ridge which is the connector for the Lipsett-Mist col. This is a major scrambling route and a man died there last year doing this route.
We ascended the hiking route up the right gully. This wide gully is a frustrating ankle-burner. The lower section had a somewhat defined trail, but we were soon on our own. After churning up the soft scree for a while, we elected to move over into the bigger rocks. These held surprisingly well. Near the top, we came to a vertical rock band that gave us some blessed churning relief, but not from the vertical strain on the calves and achilles tendons.
Just before the col, the angle eases off a bit. The col itself is a beautiful spot. The false summit is on your right (east) while the summit trail heads west.
The summit ridge is very enjoyable, and we quickly forgot about the preceding scree slog. We undulated up and around several outcrops, with spectacular views of the backside of Mist, and the surrounding mountains.
The final push to the summit is a flat ridge. There was still a lot of snow on the lee side of the mountain that we were careful to avoid. No doubt this is an unsupported cornice. Always stay on solid rock.
Time to summit was 4 hours and 20 minutes. Elevation gain was 1,281 m over 6.2 km. Elevation at the top is 3,140 m.
The summit plaque commemorates a man who died after being struck by lightening on Mist. It’s a good reminder of what happens when you are the highest thing on the highest mountain in the area. Mist Mountain has intense weather. There is no shame in turning around and trying again another day, because the mountains are not going anywhere.
From the summit, we looked down directly west to Mount Lipsett, and got a great view of the Lipsett-Mist col. To the north is Highwood Ridge on the left and Storm Mountain on the right.
Mist Mountain Return
One option is to return the way you came, and descend the main gully.
Another option is to pick up a trail through the black scree below and to the south of the summit. This leads to a narrower gully that you can scree-slide down. This is where we got extremely lucky with the snow. This entire gully was still packed with snow, and we slid down it. This was a real knee-saver, as we lost close to 1,500′ of elevation in about 20 minutes.
From the base of the gully, we headed back to the open area below. Normally, we would pick up the scree trail that we came in on. However, there was still a lot of snow in the gully, so we elected to stay on the soft snow and scooted our way down.
We picked up the rock band, and saw what happens to all that algae.
From the rock band, we made our way across the scree slope and back to the col. From here, it’s a quick trip back down the hiking trail to the parking lot.
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: July 17, 2020
Group: Four (Alisen, Mike, Mackenzie and Kayla)
Distance: 12 km
Elevation: 1,281 m (4,227′)
Time: 6 hours 55 minutes (includes breaks and lunch)