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Rockies ::  Kananaskis :: Smutwood Peak

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 "Million dollar view" from summit of Smutwood Peak.  Lovely NW ridge of Mt. Birdwood upper left, Birdwood Tarns below.  Smuts Pass far bottom left.  Sir Douglas just right of upper center in the distance, Snow peak to its right

Abstract

Overall Difficulty D5 Trail hiking in Commonwealth creek valley with some muddy and rooty/bushy parts.  Steep ascent to Smuts Pass.  Easy scramble on Smutwood south ridge with few minor rock steps.  Lose talus slope just before the summit.
Snow Factor S3/4 Avalanche danger on Smuts Pass approach.  Trip is likely too long for snowshoes, but fantastic as ski ascent
Scenery Except for initial logging road walk, this is exceptionally scenic trip throughout! Commonwealth creek waterfall, meadows below Fist/Smuts, Birdwood Tarns at Smuts Pass are some of highlights on approach.  Summit view is easily one the best in K-country
Trail/Marking Good Unofficial, but easy to follow trail to Smuts Pass with one confusing part.  Off-trail Smutwood ridge alpine ascent
Suggested Time 8 hrs Round trip returning the same way.  Add 1-2 hours for alternate loop return via Burstall pass
Elevation Start: 1870m     Max: 2690m     Total: ~1000m Round Trip: ~21km
Gear Full hiking boots preferred.  Ski poles very helpful on lose parts of final lose parts.
Water Commonwealth creek and Birdwood Tarns.  Ridge is dry.  Carry ~ 1.5 - 2L
Dog Friendly Yes Standard back-country travel precautions.  Grizzly bears sometimes frequent Commonwealth creek valley

 

 

Gallery

Commonwealth Creek Falls. Trail continues on the right side

Entering valley 15 min past the falls. Smuts Pass on the distance

Views back to Mt. Chester at start of Commonwealth creek valley

Looking up long avalanche slope in mid valley. Smuts left, First right

Smuts Pass alpine environs. Birdwood NW ridge upper right

Mt. Smuts ascent route - hardest Kane scramble

Length of Commonwealth creek valley from Smuts Pass

Smutwood ridge from Smuts Pass. Lower Birdwood Tarn below

Hiking around lower Birdwood Tarn. Smutwood summit upper left

Upper Birdwood Tarn - fantastic photo op in mid-afternoon

One more shot of upper Birdwood Tarn

Birdwood/Burstall Pass area from start of Smutwood Ridge

View down to Birdwood Tarns from lower part of Smutwood ridge

Final part of the ridge just past the lower sub-summit

Views west from the summit. Nub center left is actually lower

Mt. Smuts from the summit showing alternate Kane descent route

Mt. Birdwood from the summit. Smuts Pass far center left

Zoom on Sir Douglas and Burstall pass environs

Entire length of ascent ridge from Smutwood summit

Mt. Smuts reflected in upper Birdwood Tarn on descent


 

Summary

Mt. Smutwood is unofficially named high point of long ridge just west of Smuts Pass.  Coined by Andrew Nugara (Smuts + Birdwood = "Smutwood") and popularized in his most excellent "More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies" guidebook, it is a fantastic easy ascent in beautiful Smuts Pass environs. Summit view is simply breathtaking and easily one of the best in K-country.  With 2 vehicles it is possible to extend the day and do a loop return via Birdwood/Burstall Pass.  For less energetic, even just the hike to Smuts Pass is well worth the effort.  Highly recommended!

 

Follow Mt. Shark access road past Mt. Engadine lodge turnoff across the bridge, then at first switchback turn left into logging road - parking area is few meters away.  Hike this logging road passing Tryst Lake turnoff in about 20 minutes, then when the road splits take right branch heading towards Commonwealth creek. Road soon turns into trail and descends to the creek. First highlight is here -- twin falls (did you bring the tripod?).  Past the falls rooty and occasionally muddy trail hikes on right side of the creek to head of long valley sandwiched between Fist/Smuts to the right and Commonwealth Peak/Pigs Tail/Mt. Birdwood to the left.  Smuts pass is the notch on the horizon and appears far away at this point.  Good trail continues on the right side of the valley and reaches base of headwall below the pass in 45 mins to an hour.  Ascent to the pass is steep and lower part of the trail is a bit eroded - caution needed on descent.  Trail splits on the bench dotted with larches halfway up;  going left across the scree is faster, but if you continue straight it is actually more beautiful - make your pick. Both routes converge just below Smuts Pass.  This is where scramblers heading for Mt. Smuts would leave the trail and ascend scree cone to the right.  It looks quite scary just looking from below, and hard to believe it is a scramble.  Most parties that ascended Mt. Smuts over the years agree it is low class 5 and really a technical climb.

 

Lovely panorama unfolds at the pass, with Smutwood ascent ridge directly across.  Lower Birdwood tarn is below and it is worth losing a bit of elevation to visit it.  Hike up to upper tarn noting lovely waterfall separating the two, then up grassy slope to start of the ascent ridge.  Alternatively scree trail on the left side bypasses the tarns and is more direct; leave it for the return perhaps.  The ridge is as easy as it appears and faint trail can be found most of the way. There are couple of rock bands but all are very easy and barely call for use of hands (class 2).  False summit is usually bypassed on the left side, but you can also go directly over.  Final part of the ridge is a bit loose;  as usual, it is best to stay as close to the crest as possible, and leave scree trails for descent.  It takes about an hour from upper tarn to the summit. 

 

Summit panorama is fantastic in all directions, in particular "million dollar view" of Mt. Birdwood and its tarns below.  You can also continue along crumbling ridge to the next nub (difficult scrambling at the end), but it is actually lower and views are not as good.  Descent is the same way.  Once back to the tarns, alternate return option is to continue SE across Birdwood Pass to Burstall Pass then hike out this way. There is no trail and some steep parts, but terrain is open and direction is straightforward.  This is very satisfying loop option but will extend the day by couple of hours and requires 2 vehicles as there is about 4km of Smith-Dorrien road between two endpoints.