Smutwood Peak

A few days ago, we went out on an awesome adventure up a small peak in Kananaskis Country. Locally referred to as Smutwood Peak, it lies between Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood (and that’s how it gets it’s name…. smut-wood).

With mountain peaks cresting like waves all around us, picture perfect alpine lakes and wildflower meadows far below us, snow patches for our dog, Seamus, to roll in, a bit of scramble on rock added in for fun, and moody skies all around, it was both a challenging and a super fun day!

The hike began as a double track trail along a fire road, giving us a chance to stretch our legs, visit side by side, and warm our muscles up. Eventually, it veered off and became a single track trail that followed the beautiful Commonwealth Creek. 

The moss in the forest along the shoreline of Commonwealth Creek was unbelievable!
There was a beautiful waterfall that we passed in the forest there.

After spending some time in the shade (and mosquitoes!) of the forest, we broke out into a scrubby meadow.

Full of scented bushes and wildflowers, and ringed by peaks it was so beautiful!
At this point, Commonwealth Creek was calm, shallow and picturesque!

Bears are very plentiful in the mountains this year, so we made sure to whoop and holler a lot…. especially after we passed by these bear diggings where the uprooted plants were barely wilted!IMG_0045.jpegThe meadow ended in a cirque where we had to scramble a bit through avalanche-downed trees. It was a neat experience, working our way through their tightly packed, yet completely bent trunks. Seeing these ones bent uphill, you just know the avalanche swept down one slope and pushed the trees up the other side of the valley! That’s some tremendous force at play!

All the trees had been flattened where they stood by the power of the avalanche that struck them down.

IMG_0045b.jpegNext up: the long slog up the side of the cirque to a mountain shoulder. The slope, steep as it was, was dotted with beautiful wildflowers and wee little stunted pine trees.

Look carefully here and you can see Bill down below… see how tiny the trees are?

It was steep heading up, but the slope was covered in wildflowers… like anemones, sun-yellow columbines, magenta paintbrush, little white strawberry flowers and purple daisies.

Up near the shoulder, the wildflowers were stunning!
From there, we could look back on the valley we’d hiked up and through. See all the yellow columbine flowers?

But looking forward, where we were headed, the landscape was beginning to change. It had that high alpine, other-worldly feel to it.

We worked our way up and over a glacially scoured-smooth band of rock.
There was a final push through some scree before getting to the pass.

At the col it was incredibly windy! We packed on layers and grabbed a quick snack before hiking to the lakes that lay on the other side of the mountain pass.

As we set out, this was the first lake we came across.
There were some snow patches to cross, but nothing sketchy. Seamus loved chowing down on big gulps of it!

THIS! THIS was the view we looked down on as we traversed that scree slope. One lake high on the left and one lake low on the right making the Birdwood Lakes.

A band of rock separated the two lakes, with a waterfall in between. It was incredibly beautiful!



This picture gives you a sense of the difference in heights between the two Birdwood Lakes. The peak we’re aiming for is the triangle point in this photo. See the waterfall connecting them both?
Soon we were at a second mountain shoulder. The views from this col, off toward the Burstall Pass area, were stunning.
Heavily forested slopes lay between us and the high alpine meadows of the Burstall area.
Look at the green arrows and you’ll see where we were heading. That second triangular peak is Smutwood Peak.
It was getting steeper!
At times it was breathtakingly steep… this picture makes it look like I’m crawling, but I’m upright!
The views of that upper lake, looking down from above, kept us going.
We hiked along the back side of the mountain face where a scree-dirt trail rose steadily, ever upward. We were certainly earning our views!


There were steep drop offs on one side, so with the gusting winds, we kept away from that edge.
The Birdwood Lakes, as seen from above.

The back side of the mountain was the way to go, with some scrambly bits, like the rock band you see in front of me here, to negotiate. Here we pass a couple of people who were on their way down.IMG_0117b.jpeg

Steep! Steep! Steep!             One. Step. At. A. Time.

Bill keeps saying to me, as I huff and puff up these slopes, “It’s amazing what we can do on ‘two feets,’ just putting one in front of the other!”IMG_0121.jpeg

There’s our summit in the distance…. or is it?

The summit is getting closer…. or so we thought… this was a FALSE summit. UGH.IMG_0123b.jpegBut the views were getting better and better.IMG_0124.jpeg

One more push to go to get to that summit. If you look carefully in this photo, you can see our trail on the backside of the mountain, through the scree rock.
It’s always amazing to me how shattered and fractured the skin on a mountain peak is… mountains look so solid from below!
A little hands on rock scrambling was required for the final push to the summit. Look carefully in this photo and you can see the scar of our trail, coming around the backside of the false-summit peak f-a-r below.
More hands on the rock scrambling.
Almost there… Seamus has no trouble!


And then we’d made it! It was a tiny, gusty peak up there. But those views!
So down we went as quickly as we could.

After a couple of minutes taking it in, we decided we needed to high-tail it off that peak. Looking off into the distance there was weather coming our way, and fast! It sure looked like it could get nasty. Sadly, we couldn’t linger. Lunch would have to wait.

Dark skies threatened in the distance.
So down we went as quickly as we could.

You don’t want to get caught up there with lightening, or come down scramble spots on wet rock! At the first shoulder, we put on rain gear. As thunder boomed, we raced down the slope of the second peak to get to that col and then around the lakes to the first col. Our dog, Seamus, was a bit of a mess, pulling to hide wherever he could every time the skies boomed.

Getting to the shoulder around the lakes was a wind whipping, sideways rain kind of feat. There were two steps I took where it was all I could do to lean into the wind and make my foot make contact with the ground. Powerful forces!IMG_0165b.jpegThe wildflower slope that we’d come up was a bit slick on the way down with its mud, but the sun came out and lit the way and the winds died down. At the base of that slope, we stopped on some big boulders to eat our lunch, take off some wet layers…. and those of us with fur tried to dry out!IMG_0167.jpeg

Stats: elevation: 961m; distance: 18km.

One word of caution: You read in this blog post about our hurry to get down the mountain when we saw storm clouds coming. There were no thundershowers in the forecast, and yet they developed. This is the mountains! Weather changes quickly. Forecasts can be very inaccurate. We have a saying here, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”

The day we did this hike, someone was struck by lightening on nearby Mount Bourgeau. When you see bad weather looming, stop! Don’t continue your summit push or ridgeline romp. Get down to the safety of the treelike to wait it out. And if you feel your hair begin to stand on end, get anything metal (poles, inner backpack frames, thermoses, bear spray bottles, etc.) off your body a.s.a.p., then crouch, hug your knees and get on the balls of your feet. For more info on lightening, go to the Government of Canada site. 

Click here for more terrific hikes in Kananaskis Country (Canmore Area). And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.


8 Comments on “Smutwood Peak

    • Thanks, Mike! The mountain environment here is definitely a stunner! Some of the things we’ve explored lately are incredible. Just wait…. I hope to post more soon (but right now we’re experiencing the BEST weather window, and there’s no forest fire smoke here this year, so we’re out exploring and having fun!).

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Dave. Some hikes are like that… they have stages, and each stage has its own incredible beauty. We did an amazing adventure yesterday that was like that… and the best part was that each stage had a stretch of flat terrain following it! That’s a rarity in the mountains where everything is just degrees of up 😂. Just wish I had you & your camera and your photographic eye along to capture it better!

      Liked by 1 person

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