July 30, 2020
I love finding new mountains to climb. Sometimes I troll topo maps looking for likely candidates, while others I spy from the road. I first saw Mount Roberta in 2018 while driving home from a different hike.
When I got home and looked it up, I knew I absolutely had to climb it. That’s because this pointy outcrop at the end of the Pocaterra Mountain ridge has it’s own name – Mount Roberta! Roberta is my mother-in-law’s name. Her husband Franz Dopf is a local legend for his early mountaineering and skiing feats. He is featured in several books, including “The Yam” and “Deep Powder and Steep Rock” by Chic Scott. However, Roberta is no slouch. When she emigrated to Canada from England in her early twenties, Roberta knew nothing about climbing, and had never seen snow. She threw herself into her mountaineering education and was soon climbing and ski touring like a pro. She is still one of the best skiers I have ever seen.
Just like the real Roberta, this mountain is short and spicy! All the trip reports I read detailed a heinous bushwhack, and a challenging descent gully. This is true. I now understand why people choose to tackle Mt. Roberta on the shoulder season with a good snow base. However, there is a trail in there. It’s faint, and we lost it numerous times, but it’s there.
Mount Roberta is a thick bushwhack requiring GPS and route finding skills. It’s also a scramble to the summit, and a technical descent through a tight gully with impressive rock fall. A helmet is required, especially if there is more than one group on the mountain. A lot of people tackle this mountain as a shoulder season ascent, so bring gators, poles and your regular day pack kit.
From the parking lot, cross the bridge and follow the road around the big bend. Once past the gully, ascend Mt. Roberta to the col. Turn left, and scramble up to the summit. Return via the gully you avoided on the way up.
The trail head is right off Highway 40, and has a small parking lot. It is directly across from Gap Mountain. Cross-country skiers will know it as the Kananaskis Fire Lookout Trail. There is a road, but it is closed.
From the parking lot, go past the gate, and head down towards Elpoca Creek.
Cross the bridge, and continue straight. Be bear aware here. We saw footprints in the mud, and more than enough scat to keep ourselves alert. It’s worth knowing that across the road at El Poca, the wardens put out road kill for bears to feast on. This keeps the bears away from livestock and people, but also keeps them close to this area.
At the bend, turn left. We were surprised to see a trail sign here. There is a whole network of cross-country ski trails here that connect the Pocaterra Hut with the Bolton Creek Campground.
After about 1 km you come to a culvert. This is your cue to look to the left to find the faint trail heading up the side of Mount Roberta.
Considering I was prepared for a full on bushwhack, I was thrilled with the little trail.
We hiked up to a bench. From here, we should have turned right to find the ridge. Instead, we followed the trail straight. At some flagging, we turned right. This was now full bushwhack. We realized our mistake, and made our way up and back to the right until we hit the ridge.
The ‘trail’ on the ridge meanders in and out of the forest. The mosquitoes were insane – really, the worst I’ve seen in a long time. Every time we stopped to check the route, our legs were covered with swarms of mosquitoes. Despite a generous dose of bug spray, a brave little biter would dive bomb onto my hand for a quick nibble.
It was also incredibly hot. Despite an early start, and being in the shade of the mountain, we were soaked through from heat. So whenever we had a chance to hike along the edge of the ridge, we took it.
The col is about 3 km from the trail head, and took us 2 hours. We stopped to admire the views (first ones we had) and put on our helmets.
The scramble up to the summit is about 500 m, and is very enjoyable. There is a trail through the screen to the left, or you can go straight up the rocks.
The summit is about 3.5 km from the trail head. Elevation gain is 596 m. Time to summit was 2 hours and 20 minutes (20 minutes past the col, and includes scenery gawking).
There was a brisk breeze at the top, which we used to disperse the cloud of mosquitoes that had followed us up from the forest. We had a light snack, but still lingered. We realized we were killing time, not wanting to face the biting swarm awaiting us below.
That’s okay though, because Mt. Roberta provides views that you normally would not see. Directly to the West is a beautiful panorama of Kananaskis Lakes. Above the Upper Lake on the left is the uber popular Sarrail Ridge, and on the right is Mount Indefatigable. In the middle is Mt. Lyautey. Poking out from behind is the impressive Mount Northover, which many people do as a multi-day backpack.
Slightly to the left are some popular ski trails. This is a view I never thought I’d get to see! Foreground hill is Kananasks Fire Lookout, while the second hill across the valley is Blueberry Hill, which overlooks Kananaskis lakes. This whole area is the extensive Kananaskis cross-country ski trail system.
Mount Roberta Return
From the summit, retrace your steps back to the col.
At the col, you can return the way you came. Or, you can descend via the gully, which we chose. I was hoping for a nice and quick screen run out. and then a short jaunt through the forest to the road. My wish did not come true.
The gully is quite tight, and the scree is a mix of rocks sizes. We accidentally sent a good sized rock down, and we could hear it tumble for a disturbingly long time.
At one point, there is a pretty good step down in the gully. The tight gully gave lots of hand holds though.
Below the gully, we were spat out onto a massive scree slope.
From here, we traversed across to the right. There are a series of scree descent routes to choose from. We went to the furthest right, and then down. I’d recommend taking one of the routes further left, as ours was not very good. I’m not saying the others will be better!
Once at the bottom of the scree run out, we angled to the right a bit. We eventually found the fairly wide trail through the forest that would lead us back to the highway.
Near the base of the mountain, we came to a delightful moss covered fairyland. After the hot, bug infested forest, this was the first real beauty we had seen since the summit views.
At Elpoca Creek, we again lost the trail. The creek crossing was further to our right, but as we were hot and so close to the car, we said screw it and just waded across the creek at a low point.
Once across the creek, we were rewarded with a good sized log jam, which we clambered over. If you can find the trail across the creek, I’d suggest taking it. Finally, we hit Highway 40. We turned left, and made our way back to the car.
Yes, Mount Roberta is short in terms of distance and elevation gain, but she more than makes up for it by throwing in as many challenges as possible. If you scramble up Mount Roberta, please let me know how you did in the comments.
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: July 30, 2020
Group: Two (Alisen and Mike)
Distance: 6.9 km
Elevation: 678 m (2,237′)
Time: 4 hours 30 minutes (includes a leisurely summit lounge)