UP THE DUNCAN – Sugarplum Spire & Mazinaw Mt

THE DYING DAYS of the DUNCAN FSR   by Dan R

Sugarplum Lakes and Squab Peak
With the upper Duncan FSR scheduled for deactivation, Douglas Noblet and I settled on two trips to utilize the access while it lasted. The first was into 
the Sugarplum Lakes basin. We parked at Hume Ck and hiked up the ridge from there. The views up and down the Duncan and across to the Battle Range were phenomenal. A recent burn eased the travel and we were at the lakes in 6.5hrs including breaks, with only a few minutes of bushwhacking, though having gained 1300m to our camp. To round out the day, we went for a few dips and hiked up to Pirouette Col just north of Sugarplum Spire and peered across the Hatteras glaciers and before returning to camp. 12hr day, all in.

On Day 2, we crossed into the basin to the southeast and scrambled up a spur ridge that took us onto the ridge that heads southeast from Squab and Hatteras. A Class 3 scramble took us up to the main ridge between the two peaks. From there, the long Class 4 scramble up Hatteras looked quite loose and surpassed our appetites, so we settled on Squab, an easy 10 minutes the other direction. We hung out on top for a few hours and placed a summit register before continuing the traverse northeast to the Sugarplum-Squab col. From what beta we had, we expected a notch to be the crux but a very awkward exposed diagonal ledge proved to be by far the trickiest part of the trip instead. A rappel station had been set up nearby, but with Douglas’ coaching I was able to get down, despite my big pack. After dropping packs at camp, we circled down and around the big lake below us (second lowest of the Sugarplum Lakes).

On the 3rd day, we had a straightforward hike out and were back at the car in 4 hours.  

Not bad for what we believe to be the first even approach to the Hatteras Group on foot from the Duncan watershed! I was able to dig up mention of at least a dozen trips to the area over the years, starting in the 50s and including a KMC Climbing Camp in ’94. Not labelled on the topo maps are the Pirouette Pinnacles and Arabesque Pinnacles, of which there are seven each. I would think a trip that included scrambling the pinnacles would’ve been just as worthy an option as our trip up Squab. 

Thanks to Earle Whipple, Roger Wallis, and Hamish Mutch for helping me with the history. A much longer account, including more history, is on Bivouac.com.

Mazinaw Mountain and Feather Spire
After coming back down from our Sugarplum Lakes trip, we spent 4 hours figuring out how we’d get across the Duncan River. This ended up involving a rope gun and Douglas swimming across the river naked, but we (mostly Douglas) eventually had a pretty satisfactory rope system set up. The next day we used the system to get across the river and walked through huge old-growth (think 3-4 people to reach around a tree) and up through easy forest for a while.

We’d scouted the route from the distance and were able to thread the needle well, finding our way into and across the big burn easily enough without hitting much bush. We’d been following the main ridge to the north of the Nemo Creek basin, but then we went up boulder fields across a smaller drainage and over the east ridge of Mount Nemo through vegetation. More slopes and boulders and moraines and eventually we were at the Nemo Glacier in about 8.5 hours, though that included waiting out several different downpours. I’d hoped we’d be the first people to walk into the Nemo Group since the pioneering trip into there in 1959, but we found a cairn and note pad at camp that had been left by Ben Parsons and Rory Lauzon in Revelstoke that informed us of their 2012 trip. I later contacted Ben and got the full story.

Their 4-day trip including falling a tree across the Duncan and then following the ridges south of the Nemo Creek basin to the same camp. They didn’t have too much luck with summits due to rotten snow but they did get up onto some ridges. Their exit route back down was similar to our route up. After some research, I’m fairly comfortable saying that our trip was the only other foot-access trip into the Nemo Group in almost 60 years, though as of the deadline for the newsletter I haven’t heard back from all inquiries, so don’t quote me on that. Still, Alpine Helicopters in Golden estimates 1-2 groups that fly in each year, so either way, most opt for the sure bet.

On our big middle day, we crossed the glacier to the col north of Feather Spire to get a look up Houston Creek, but on arrival, decided that Feather Spire itself looked worth a go. ‘Selkirks South’ describes it as 5.2, but it seemed no more than a hard Class 3, with minor exposure and loose rock.

After that, we dropped down to the glacier and ascended the 50-55 degree snow slopes/glacier north of Mazinaw Mountain and then kept to the north ridge to the summit at 2991m. The vistas included distant views of the Valhallas to the south and the Columbia Icefield to the north, as well as Assiniboine to the east and the Monashees to the west.

The trip back down the steep snow slopes was difficult for me. Douglas glissaded the whole thing, but I strapped my crampons back on and went down mostly facing into the slope. Much self coaching, many repetitive motions, and half an hour later I had caught up to Douglas.

This was about an 11hr day, though over 3hrs were spent on the summits. Our exit day went well enough, taking only 5 hours, but it included us getting off track and bushwhacking a fair bit more than on the ascent. Our original goal for the trip was Nautilus Mountain, but we were thrilled to even make it across the river and on reaching Mazinaw’s summit, decided the terrain between us and Nautilus would be long and quite possibly tough. Still, the complementary vistas of Feather Spire and Mazinaw afforded some of the best views I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

About admin

I would like to think of myself as a full time traveler. I have been retired since 2006 and in that time have traveled every winter for four to seven months. The months that I am "home", are often also spent on the road, hiking or kayaking. I hope to present a website that describes my travel along with my hiking and sea kayaking experiences.
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