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Mt. Murchison

I have driven along Hwy 93 many times and done some scrambling/climbing in the area of Saskatchewan River Crossing. I have been impressed by the massive mountain that sits in the SE corner of the intersection of Hwy 93 and Hwy 11

I have wondered what it's name is and why it is not one of the 11,000ers. Well the mystery is solved. It is Mt. Murchison and is just shy (about 50 feet) of being the 55th 11,000er! 

It is well known for it's ice climbs but apparently does not get climbed that often. In fact a google search came up with only trip report. I found that in Bivouac and yes it was written by Rick Collier! 

From reading his description (below), it seems this a relatively straight forward outing with some interesting scrambling and a fine bivy site. 

So if you are interested in playing and exploring a part of the mountains that is easy to get to and doesn't see much activity you are welcome to join the puppies and I for a bit of fun!

My thought is to attempt the NW Summit and depending on conditions, people, etc go for the SE Summit as well.

Although it sounds like this could be done in one longish day, I plan to take a slightly more relaxed two days and enjoy the experience and views.


The usual summer scrambling/alpine gear including:




Ice Axe

We will also bring a rope along (not sure we will need the above but.....)

I am contemplating a group size of 8 people and those who are relatively new to this type of outing should be able to manage this well. So if interested, please join the wait list and tell me about your scrambling/alpine experience. I will then select the participants.

Once we know who is going, we will need to arrange tents, stoves, etc. Trip Page Home Beorn13 Murchison - Approach and Climb by Rick Collier Radius Search GMap ? JavaMap ZoomMap EPub ViewSubject MountainMount MurchisonRangesRocky Mountains / Canadian Rockies / Continental Ranges / Front Ranges / Murchison GroupPark: Banff National ParkClosest Town: (61 km N of Field). August 25, 1996   (2 days) Calculated Length: 4 km  Value: 31Abstract: The essay recounts how several Old Goats ascended both summits of Mt. Murchison over two daysDifficulty: Scrambling to 5.3 on true summitParticipants: Reg Bonney, Rick Collier, John Holmes, Jerre SkvarilAccess:  

Mt. Murchison (10,936'/3333 m)

Murchison is one of those peaks that is not climbed all that frequently despite being quite accessible, possessing serious elevation differential, involving some interesting scrambling, and being only a proverbial stone's throw lower than the magic eleven thousand-foot mark. It is, as well, an imposing and impressive massif, filling a huge section of 82 N/15 (Mistaya Lake) and dominating the SE corner where the North Saskatchewan and Mistaya Rivers intersect and where, not coincidentally, the Banff/Jasper Highway connects with the David Thompson.

According to Boles, et al., in "Place Names of the Canadian Alps", the peak was name after Sir Roderick Impey Muchison [masked]), a prominent English geologist who identified the Silurian System and recommended [Sir James] Hector for the post of geologist to the Palliser Expedition. He was president of the Royal Geographical Society and a notable figure of British science. Boles suggests that the local Indians felt this peak, though well east of the divide, was the highest of the Rockies. Historical records indicate that they were not the only ones who felt this way: many of the early explorers and trappers in the Rockies also made this assumption, an assumption no doubt encouraged by the massiveness of the mountain and the close approach one could make from the surrounding valleys.

There is some controversy surrounding the first ascent, a controversy deriving from the fact that Murchison is, like so many peaks in the Rockies, a double summit. Both the NW and the SE summits, separated by 0.8 km, appear from several angles to be of equal height. J.N. Collie, H.E.M. Stutfield, G.M. Week, and the guide Hans Kaufmann undeniably made the first ascent of the NW peak in 1902. Since that time, the NW peak has been the summit that almost all parties have arbitrarily designated as the official and highest summit, perhaps because of the claim of first ascent of the peak made by the Collie party. It is in fact the easiest of the two summits to ascend and was for many years the only summit with a cairn and a register; the contents of the register suggest that most parties, including the Grizzly Group led by Don Forest, assumed the NW summit to be the true apex.

However, on a clear day it is quite obvious from either of the two summits that the SE apex is some 50-75' higher than the NW. Our party, consisting of Rick Collier, Reg Bonney, John Holmes, and Jerre Skvaril, confirmed this observation on August 25, 1996, by ascending both summits. We found no cairn on the higher SE summit, nor any other sign that human beings had ascended this point. Although it seemed a bit presumptuous, given the elevation and history of this peak, I later claimed in the Canadian Alpine Journal the first true ascent of Mt. Murchison for our group. I have heard since then, however, that at least one other party (John Martin, et al.) had climbed the SE summit prior to our ascent but had not reported it, nor left a record; I have not had any of these claims confirmed or denied. In any case, I believe our group was the first to ascend both summits.

The ascent of one (and perhaps both) of the summits of Murchison can be done in a long and exhausting day from the Sarbach Trail parking area just W off the Banff/Jasper Highway (at the benchmark indicator on the map for elevation 4987'; this is GR[masked]) - the climb requires over 6000' of elevation gain if both summits are attempted. Our group minimized this difficulty by hauling bivy gear up to an obvious bench on the SW side of the massif and spending the night of the 24th under the stars. In either case, the best approach ascends the drainage (intermittent water) that crosses the highway just a few hundred feet to the N of the Sarbach parking area. There are two sets of falls that must be bypassed, one at 0.5 km, the other at 1.3 km. Both are best turned on the left (N). At 1.5 km, one reaches the tree-line (6500'); here it is best to leave the drainage itself and ascend the ridge that forms the left-hand bank of the drainage to cliffs, which are then followed back right in order to avoid what could be nasty spills on crystallized mud. Obvious notches in the cliff about 100m left of the stream provide a way through the cliff-band. At this point the climb becomes a scree-bash (sometimes quite annoying) to another set of cliffs and ledges - here it is best to cross the stream and ascend an easy scramble next to the waterfalls. This enjoyable section is followed by more scree, with the route trending up and back left to avoid staircase cliffs. At the bottom of a circumscribing cliff-band and with the stream on your left, one should traverse back right to one or more breaks in the cliffs which can be easily scrambled. Easy talus slopes then lead to the football field bivy site at GR[masked] at approximately 9200'; this haul of 4300' took us about 6.5 hours with overnight packs. However, the effort was very much worth it: the views of the Howse Valley, the Freshfields, and of the peaks to the N are magnificent, and, with any luck, a bivouacking party will be treated to a fine Rocky's sunset and a pleasant night under the watchful eyes of a myriad of stars (See Mts to S).

The actual ascent does not climb up the obvious and attractive SW ridge that looms over the bivy site, although such a route might provide technical pleasures all its own. Instead one should contour at the elevation of the bivy site (and slightly upward) to the E and SE around the lower terminus of this SW ridge for about 0.7 km to an obvious primary couloir. This couloir is well-protected and deeply shadowed, and so will usually be filled with snow; it provides an obvious ascent route, but only with the appropriate cautions: early in the season avalanche possibilities could make it quite dangerous; later in the day, when the sun has warmed it, rock-fall could be serious. However, early in the morning, this couloir can be cramponed (and later in the day, if deemed to be safe, glissaded) to about 10,150'.

After exiting the couloir, one climbs scree and slabs trending right and aiming for the col in the NW/SE ridge. Depending on one's angle of traverse, one will emerge somewhere on this ridge above and to the NW of this col. One can easily understand the attraction of the NW summit: from here the ridge can be scrambled to this apex in 20minutes, whereas the approach to the SE summit is obviously much more complex.

To gain the SE summit (See Summit), one must first rappel or down-climb to the col - the moves here were at the high end of trickiness and exposure for most of our party. There follows a series of blocks and towers on the SE ridge of varying difficulty -- some of them require face scrambling and a good deal of repetitive up and down. However, with good navigation, one should be able to avoid all problems requiring the rope (See NW Ridge). It is worth keeping in mind, though, that the rock is quite loose.

At the base of the second-to-last tower, one reaches a vertical and difficult wall: we traversed to the right on the S side, and where there are obvious breaks, scrambled up -- some people may want the rope here because of the exposure; a competent leader, however, will not require pro. Once over this section, we traversed on wide ledges to the notch between the second-to-last tower and the summit tower itself - here, once again, one is confronted with a steep wall, and once again a traverse to the right (S) leads to an easy couloir. At this point, however, some climbers may wish to have the security of a rope, especially if the rock is wet or icy. After ascending this couloir, the party will be pleasantly surprised to find that the terrain opens up into a talus bowl that leads in some 75m to the summit (See NW Summit). We had excellent views for a full three-sixty, but the scene to the west was especially striking (See Lyells).

We started off in the morning from our bivy site about 6:30am, reached the SE summit at 11:30am (5 hrs), where we spent over an hour. The traverse back to the col and up to the NW summit took us to about 2:00pm (one hour from summit to summit), where we spent 0.5 hrs. Our descent from the NW summit to our bivy site took us to about 4:00pm (1.5 hrs), and our descent from the bivy site (after packing up) was accomplished in a little over 3 hrs.; we arrived back at the parking lot around 7:30pm. Our total time from bivy to the two summits and back to the parking area was 11 hrs. A fit party, with light packs could advance from the parking area to the bivy site in perhaps five hours, suggesting an RT for both peaks from the highway of 16 hrs.


NAD27/WGS84 WGS84 Lat-LongKmDescription[masked] [masked] [masked], [masked]Trail Head[masked] [masked] [masked], [masked]Summit of Mount MurchisonWaypoint Display Conversion ?Combo DD DM DMS UTM UTM-NAD27cDownload GPX file?

Associated Photo EssaysChephren, White Pyramid, and Epaulette from the North Rick CollierNorthwest Summit of Murchison (Mu3) from Main summit Rick CollierThe Northwest Ridge of Mount Murchison Rick CollierThe True (Southeast) Summit of Murchison Rick CollierView to the West: The Lyell Group Rick Collier

Recommended By:  Myk Kurth Vern Dewit David Henry Marty Campbell Graeme Pole Kevin Altheim

Trip Comments Insert(For supplying additional info or updates.)

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  • Genevieve K

    This event was cancelled

    July 25

  • A former member
    A former member

    Err, booked for work on Monday.

    August 1, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Grrrrrr ... I'm on Willingdon that weekend. Hope you will have a fantastic trip !

    1 · July 26, 2013

    • Mike S.

      My thoughts too

      August 1, 2013

  • Genevieve K

    Would anyone be interested in going out Friday evening or Saturday morning to do Nigel peak or similar? We could then meet with Tom Sunday... I can drive, but don't have a tent...

    Tom; are you coming back to the city after Takakkaw falls climb, or staying in the mountains? When would we meet at Saskatchewan Crossing on Sunday?

    August 1, 2013

  • Lorne

    Hi Tom, Just wondering if there is a chance I can join or if you will be making any further selections from the wait list. Thanks, Lorne

    August 1, 2013

  • Kevin S.

    I have a good Trango 3.1 tent for three. Will need a ride.

    July 31, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Tom.....just waiting to hear if I can go.....I am pulling out all the stops to make it happen! I should know Tuesday!

    July 29, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Cant quite believe it BUT I can go!

      July 29, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Potentially interested! Will confirm by Tuesday!

    July 27, 2013

  • chau

    Oop! won't be able to take time off on August 5, it'd great if trip starts a day earlier.

    July 26, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      I didn't realize marmots were using computers now. Amazing how technology has opened internet to the masses :-).

      July 26, 2013

  • Tom

    Thx Eric. Typical Nugara epic trip :)

    July 26, 2013

  • Eric

    Here's Nugara's account of their trip:

    July 25, 2013

3 went

  • Tom
    Member 2016, President, RCA,AA2, GTA, Organizer,
    Event Host
  • Kevin S.
    Member 2016, AA2, CR2-16
  • Genevieve K
    Member 2016,RC2, AA1, CR2

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