Midnight-Tiara Traverse, Kananaskis, Alta.
Ihave a catalogue of alpine traverses I wish to complete growing in my mind. New routes and combinations come to mind every day I am out in the mountains. I had the Midnight-Tiara Traverse in mind for a couple seasons. On a Sunday this past June, I gave it a go.
The Midnight-Tiara Traverse is a link up of seven peaks in the front-range Rockies of Kananaskis. The route is a loop beginning and ending in the Baldy Pass parking lot on Highway 40. The route crosses the highway and ascends through forested single-track trail along the Baldy Pass Trail. The Traverse diverges from the Baldy Pass Trail and climbs through chunky scree slopes up to the summit of Midnight Peak, at 2,340 m. From the summit, one crosses rocky and loose ridges tagging Midday, Boundary and Belmore Browne Peaks, before reaching Tiara Peak. Each peak is over 2,300 m with Tiara standing tallest at 2,545 m. From Tiara, the route swings back towards Highway 40 and summits both Crown Peak East and Crown Peak West before descending Porcupine Ridge. From car-to-car, the route travels approximately 23k, ascends 2,210 m and descends 2,150 m – an average change of 185 m/km!
I noticed that my friend Nicki had named the traverse “Bitch Slap.” However, given my unique predicament, I gave my outing the bastardized name of “Cast Slap.” Ten days before my attempt, I underwent surgery to reconstruct my left thumb. I suffered a severe avulsion fracture during an alpine-running ultramarathon in Andorra last October 10k into the race. I fell on wet rock while descending the first mountain and braced myself with my hands. By the beginning of this year, my thumb had not healed properly. On June 8, my surgeon removed the f loating bone fragments and reconstructed the thumb’s connective tissues. It was a long-awaited fix.
I told my surgeon of my frequent mountain escapades during my initial consult. He told me he typically allows patients to return to sport three months post-surgery. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, having mistakenly heard him say that he has patients return to sport “three days post-surgery.” I promptly scheduled the surgery for as soon as ski season ended, when I would no longer need to hold on to poles.
In the first week after surgery, I cycled with my partner on the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis – the highest paved road in Canada, topping out at 2,206 m. We cycled and ran on trails together at home in Calgary, ran on Read’s Tower near Mount Sparrowhawk and completed a weighted two-day backpacking traverse in Kananasks in preparation for an upcoming summer expedition. I figured a long day out on a traverse I’ve been dreaming about was just what the doctor ordered.
I woke up early on Sunday and drove out to Kananaskis. I had promised my partner that I’d be home early in the afternoon to take her out to the mountains for a run together before heading to her parents’ for dinner. I was going to have to make the traverse a bit of a quick go to stick to schedule. I had messaged my friend Patrick to ask him about the route. He had recently completed it and I knew he’d be a great resource for estimating how I might fare. The chat left me thinking that I could likely get it done with, maybe, 10 minutes to spare.
Baldy Pass Trail was smooth albeit sweaty. I cruised along at a quick clip, making light of the couple easy, f lat kilometres. The grade quickly reared overhead through the scree slope to Midnight’s summit. Sixty-five minutes after leaving the truck, I stood on the first summit and looked out across the myriad of mountains south, west and north of me.
The traverse is my favourite kind of running – along (often narrow) ridge lines that fall away to valleys with expansive views all around. The morning was clear, calm and warm – excellent conditions for exploring. I enjoyed the traverse from Midnight to Midday to Boundary to Belmore Browne Peak, reaching this fourth summit, Belmore Browne, two-and-a-half hours into the run. Along the way I only fell once – slipping on loose scree and banging my bum and casted hand on the rubble underneath. Otherwise, travel was consistent and breezy, undoubtedly aided by wearing short shorts. However, I was feeling tired. It was not the exhaustion of long distance or lack of calories. Rather, a deeper feeling of exhaustion – my body’s effort at recovering from alteration. Go figure.
I was loving life as I reached Tiara Peak. However, it has a 20 m vertical face comprised of blocky, mosschunk-infested unstable rock. I thought it a waste of time (i.e. I was too lazy) to bother traversing around the base of the mountain’s summit block to find a hiking trail so I climbed. I admit, it was a wee bit spicy climbing up with one hand. But, I topped out on Tiara after a few minutes of tedious, cautious climbing, three hours and 10 minutes after leaving my truck.
I giddily skied down through the scree en route to the final summits of Crown Peak East and Crown Peak West. I reached the final, seventh summit in three hours and
40 minutes. The descent back to the valley’s bottom, along Porcupine Ridge, was rad. It’s a blocky and disjointed ridge, with many portions sporting outgrowths from the widening cracks of small trees and shrubs. However, what I love about ridge running – the vistas and esthetic lines – was f lipped on its head when I reached the tree line. I found myself in a heinous bushwhack with no well-trodden trail all the way from to the valley’s creek bed.
I crossed the creek after a scratchy and stupidly slow bushwhack, rolled my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Only a couple kilometres of meadow and a highway stood between my truck and me. My run ended at four hours and 56 minutes. Not only had I kept the 10 minutes to spare, as planned, but had run quick enough to add four minutes of free time. Just enough to slip into f lip-f lops, have a drink and find a good playlist to listen to on my ride home.
The Midnight-Tiara Traverse was a phenomenal morning out providing a run of my favourite variety and touring across seven peaks, new to me, in my home range. Check out the video of my traverse on YouTube: youtu.be/-bC6U_FDD9k Ian MacNairn is a regular contributor and part of The North Face team.
PHOTOS Photographer Tim Banfield documented another experience of the 24K Midnight-Tiara loop by Ian Holmes and his dog Trango