Thunder Mountain

May 28, 2022

I had Thunder Mountain on my list for a few years, but wanted to do it as a shoulder season summit when the peaks further west and north were still snow covered. This was a particularly good year to tackle Thunder because the high snow levels kept most peaks snow bound for weeks longer than normal.

This was a fun scramble for a few reasons. It’s off the beaten path, so Erin and I had the mountain to ourselves…on a Sunday. We only saw one other group coming up as we were heading back down. There was a some route finding due to the lack of usage. Once we gained the ridge, it is mainly a traverse, but there was plenty of back and forthing to be done.

Driving towards Thunder Mountain. This is the only way to get the full expanse of the mountain because the false summit blocks the view of the true summit for much of the way.

The one downside was the horrendous wind, and I’ll readily admit that it took it out of me. It was howling the entire ascent, with massive gusts that threatened to knock us over. Erin and I were joking that we needed rocks in our packs to provide some ballast. On several exposure spots, we were careful to not take the next step unless we were sure the wind wouldn’t catch and blow us over.

On the final trek to the summit, the wind forced us off the top of the ridge and onto the scree slope to the west, which wasn’t great. Luckily the wind died while we had lunch on the summit, and we could enjoy the nicer ridge top route for the way back down.

Mentally, the wind was exhausting. We couldn’t talk unless we turned and looked right at each other. And my hair! Ugh! Just trying to keep it out of my eyes and mouth and face. This really slowed us down. If I were to do Thunder Mountain again, I’d pick a less windy day.

Gear

Hiking boots, poles and regular day pack kit.

Overview

From the trail head, ascend up the side slope to the ridge. Follow it to the near vertical wall, and pick your route up. Once above this, there is a fairly long forest hike. Once on the ridge again, it’s a matter of going east and west over the ridge as we made our way up. For the final ascent, there is a long ridge with an alternate scree trail to the west. The scree route is not ideal, but on a super windy day, it makes it possible to reach the summit. Return the same way.

Parking and Trail Head

Thunder Mountain starts right at a sharp corner on Highway 517. I drove south on Highway 22, turning west immediately past the Old Man River. The parking is a good sized pull-out on the south side of the road. There are no facilities.

The parking spot is just around this corner, on the left. Thrift Peak is on the north side of the Old Man River.

From the car, we hiked straight up the side facing us. It’s steep but short, and leads to the ridge top.

It’s a nice sized pull out on the south side of the highway, just above the Old Man River. When we first arrived, the wind was so strong and cold we almost got right back in and drove away. It was only the long drive and our curiosity that enticed us to give it a go.
The initial trail is straight up.
After a few hundred meters, we popped out on the initial ridge. This is looking south to the rock wall.

Main Trail

After a few hundred meters, we came to a rock wall. This was fun going up, and I could pick out the route fairly easily. There is the option here to scramble up on the left side, or take the scree route on the right.

One shot of the rock wall. There is more of this, and it was quite fun to scramble up.
Alisen’s almost at the top. Photo credit: Erin Bailey
Erin finishing up the scramble on the rock wall. Looking down on the right is the lower ridge, just above the car.

Once above the rock wall, there was a long forest hike. This lead to a wide open area. This area was beautiful, but the wind was just deadly. I wrapped up my ears as the wind was giving me an ear ache – but only in my right ear 🙂

The forest hike lasted for quite a while. It was flagged, which is helping to get a trail solidified. There are still spots to pay attention and route find.
It’s truly beautiful on this wide flat area of the ridge. I was cold and hating the wind, but these photos were too good to miss.
I like to play a game called “Where’s the Summit?” It would be logical to assume that it’s the high point straight ahead, but that’s the false summit. The true summit isn’t in view until I passed the false summit.
The giant bolder is a favourite photo stop.

There were a couple of sections of forest and ridge tops. The forest approaches were always on the east side, which gave us blessed relief from the wind. We’d go from freezing to boiling to freezing as we went back and forth across the ridge.

The wide and flat area is below. This is one of the east side forest hikes, which would then cross over to the west windward side.
The trail is sometimes on the ridge, and sometimes on the east side through the forest.
These lichen covered pinnacles were a highlight.
On the other side of the lichen pinnacle. This photo shows the scree field that leads to another wide section on the ridge.

Once past the lichen pinnacles, there was another east side forest hike that was surprisingly steep. This lead to an open scree field, which was actually nice to hike through.

The upper forest sections were out of the wind, but also fairly steep.
Looking back down at the ridge. We have just crossed back over the ridge top.
The short scree field. The trail was faint, but good enough. Photo credit: Erin Bailey.
After hiking up the scree field on the east side, the trail lead to another wide flat area. We can now see the summit and the weather station on the left.
Looking back at the scree field we just ascended.
Survey Marker. Apparently, Thunder was the first mountain in Alberta that was surveyed.

After enjoying the second wide flat area, it was now time to tackle the final push to the summit. The wind continued to howl, with enough gusts to make it unpredictable. Instead of taking the ridge top, we were now forced onto the west side scree slope. Usually, a traverse across scree is no biggie. Not so here. The going was slow as I picked our way across.

Once past the scree and at the base of the final summit ridge, we hiked straight up the ridge, skirting a rather large rock formation to the right.

There is sometimes a nice trail as seen here, but often it’s just picking your own way.
Ugh. Sorry for the blurry photo. Not sure what happened. I wouldn’t have included it, but this is the only photo I have of the large rock outcrop on the way to the summit. This was surprisingly steep to go around on the right.
Alisen is through the steepest part, and is on a nice section just below the weather station. Photo credit: Erin Bailey.
Erin making her way up the final steep section to the summit. The top of the large rock outcrop is just behind Erin’s right hand.

Thunder Mountain Summit

The summit of Thunder Mountain is two high points. The east side has the weather station, which makes a great place to hide from the wind and eat lunch. The west side has the summit cairn, including a new summit register box complete with goodies. Between them is the helicopter landing area, that is marked out with rocks.

Distance to the summit was 5 km, with 928 m elevation. Time to summit was 3 hours 30 minutes.

Looking past the east side weather station to the west side summit cairn.
Looking east to the weather station.
Alisen checking out the goodies in the brand new summit register box. It’s not pink but it does have the pretty stickers.
From the summit, looking south to Lightening Peak and Centre Peak.
Looking north west. The ridge on the right is the horseshoe ridge that connects with the Thunder false summit.

Thunder Mountain Return

We returned the way we came, but thankfully the wind had died down around noon. We decided to try the ridge top route, and were glad we did. This is a much nicer route than the west side scree, and wished we could have taken this on the way up as it would have saved us time and annoyance on the scree. Again, if I ever come back here, it’ll be on a calm day.

The trail on the ridge top is quite nice. The shale on the west side will do for gusty windy days.

The rest of the trip back was fairly uneventful, except for the final trip down the initial rock wall. I had spied a scree descent route on the way up, but had completely forgotten about it. I wasted some time looking around for a good way down. The scree looked to go too far to the west, but it worked out as the trail then wrapped around the base of the rock wall and lead us back to the initial ridge right above the car pull out area. Yup. The wind really took it out of me. I don’t usually make mistakes like that, but I was done.

I really enjoyed Thunder Mountain for its varied terrain, and super long ridge. It’s not a difficult scramble, but does require some route finding.

Thanks for reading! Please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers, or follow me on Instagram

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Gaia, Displayed on Strava

Date: May 28, 2022
Group:  Two (Alisen and Erin)
Distance:  10  km
Elevation:  928 m (3,062′)
Time:  7 hours 25 minutes (includes lunch and breaks)

While the overall concept is easy – follow the ridge south – there are enough ups and downs, and crossing the ridge multiple times to keep this scramble interesting the entire way.
The elevation profile shows a steady gain the entire way. The last little bit to the summit is quite steep.
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Posted in Adventures, Scrambling
15 comments on “Thunder Mountain
  1. What a wonderful looking hike. Love your shots of the trek.

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  2. Lovely pictures. It’s always nice to hike in the shoulder season without the crowds. The rock scrambles look like they were a lot of fun, being in the wind, not so much!

  3. Widdershins says:

    I’m always in awe of your rock-scrambling abilities … looks far too much like rock-climbing to me. 😀

  4. Diana says:

    What a beautiful hike! Amazing photos!

  5. What a fantastic adventure. Love your accompanying photos.

  6. moragnoffke says:

    Wow! I admire your enthusiasm and tenacity!

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