Scrambling Smutwood Peak offers spectacular views of the two jagged mountains from which it derives its name: Mount Smuts and Birdwood. A lively mountain creek, waterfalls, and deep blue alpine lakes guarantee a wonderful scramble.
From the Canmore Nordic Centre, continue west on the Smith-Dorrien (Hwy 742) as it winds up into the Spray Valley for 35.5km. You’ll notice a turn-off to your right for Mount Engadine Lodge. Park on the Smith-Dorrien or turn-off and park just before or after the bridge crossing.
|When to do|
July - September
Yes - On Leash
Older Children only
Out and back
To start with a little backstory, this peak derives its unofficial and unusual name from Andrew Nugara, who coined it based on its location between towering Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood.
The trail to Smuts Pass, which is where the ascent of Smutwood Peak begins, has two popular starting points. The route we took begins at a small parking lot on the left of the Mount Shark road a few hundred meters west of Engadine Lodge and follows an old logging road for 2.3km to a junction. Right at the junction heads up Commonwealth Creek to Smuts Pass while left heads down to cross Smuts Creek before reaching the Spray Lakes road. This is the other common starting point.
The hike towards Smuts Pass along Commonwealth Creek was initially quite muddy and there was a bit of flood damage. These issues shortly disappeared, but then we found ourselves plowing through willows and fir trees along an incredibly overgrown trail. The actual trail was obvious, but the willows, shrubs, and trees were so thick. With the exception of a complete soaking from the dew on the leaves, however, this wasn’t really that big of deal. Of more concern were the multiple piles of bear scat (we counted 7) and numerous bear diggings along the trail. Coupled with the fact that someone was bluff charged by a grizzly here, we made sure to make a lot of noise as we hiked!
After a few kilometers of lovely hiking (minus the brush) in the Commonwealth Creek valley we started the very steep hike up to Smuts Pass. A gusty wind that seemed to blow both up and down the hill helped control the heat, and at a fairly strenuous pace we reached the eastern end of the pass a little over 30 minutes from the valley bottom. This is the point at where the scenery really starts to explode. Lower Birdwood Lake laid about 40m below in the pass, Mount Smuts rose sharply to the north, and Smutwood Peak rose to the west. The view back down Commonwealth Creek valley towards the Kananaskis range is not too shabby either!
Rather than descend to the lake and then re-ascend to the western end of the pass, we contoured to the left around the lower lake on good trail, passing the Upper Birdwood Lake en-route. The view in this area was absolutely stunning! Our route up Smutwood Peak began at the western end of Smuts Pass. It was as simple as hiking up the ridge to the west and following it to the summit. Several areas along the way – including right at the start – looked like they’d involve significant scrambling, but as we got closer, a way around (or up) each of them became visible. The ascent was nothing more than a hike until the final 100m, but even this last section was nothing more than an easy scramble, although perhaps at the upper end of “easy”.
Views from the summit were much more spectacular than we’d expected from such a relatively low peak. Pointy Mount Birdwood to the south stole the show, but being surrounded by rugged alpine terrain, glaciated Mount Sir Douglas, and the emerald-blue Birdwood Lakes certainly distracted us from it! The peaks to the west across the Spray River valley were nearly as impressive, Mount Assiniboine rose into the clouds to the northwest, and many peaks of the Kananaskis and Spray ranges poked out on either side of towering Mount Smuts. A frigid wind and a peculiar cloud that blocked the sun from the summit prevented us from hanging around too long, although we did stick around long enough to eat a hasty (and tasty) lunch in the hope it would warm up. It never did and after about 30 minutes we started back down, finding several warmer resting places en route.
Return along the same route.
Consider stopping in at the delightful Mount Engadine Lodge for a snack on the way back. They have a variety of options for hikers, and their weekend brunch is great.
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