The view from Mount Karluk. /SUBMITTED

By Laura Keil

In the peak-bagging world, it’s rare to find an opportunity for a first ascent. Most of Canada’s Rocky Mountains have already been summited, many a century ago. But when John Crowley got his eye on Karluk Peak, the more he learned, the more he realized he may have a first ascent on his hands.

Valemount’s John Crowley and Jasper’s Craig Hartmetz (shown above) built a cairn on the summit of Mt. Karluk, located in the Rocky Mountains roughly 70km south of Valemount. /SUBMITTED

He first noticed the peak about a decade ago while perusing Google Earth. An avid hiker and climber, Crowley was looking for new places to explore. From Robina Lakes in the Monashees, on the opposite side of Kinbasket Lake, he was able to get a first-hand view of the peak.

“It’s just prominent and kind of inviting, along with the peaks below it, which are also cool.”

Up until five years ago, the access to Karluk Mountain was locked in by dense forest. But the 2018 wildfire up the Hugh Allen changed that. 

The wildfire of 2018 opened up the lower access, allowing the pair to reach higher elevation quickly. /JOHN CROWLEY

Last year Crowley and Jasper’s Craig Hartmetz made a first attempt at the summit, driving approx. 68km on the East Canoe Forest Road and then roughly 12km up the Hugh Allen FSR. They made it part way to the summit but called it off when stormy weather rolled in.

This year, on July 8th, they set off again, taking a slightly different route. The first day they made it to a small alpine lake where they camped overnight. The following day, they woke up early and had made the summit by 10am.

Their campsite near the alpine lake. /SUBMITTED

Crowley says the views were amazing.

“It was spectacular. We could see into the Clemenceau icefield area of the Rockies, we could see the highest peaks of the Selkirks and the Monashees; we were looking across the lake at the Foster Arm (Protected Area) and Foster Glacier.”

Over three days, the pair climbed approx. 3,400m in elevation to reach the summit at 3099m (the climb is higher due to ups and downs). They went up and over the sub peak that is about 2400 metres high and then dropped down to the basin to camp.

A shot of the ridgeline the pair followed. /BY JOHN CROWLEY

They brought climbing gear with them and did use ropes on the final ascent, but it was less technical than the route they took in 2022.

“We didn’t use it as much for the climb, but we had to make rappels on the descent.”

Crowley has tried to ascertain whether or not it’s a first ascent by reaching out to the Alpine Club of Canada, and searching online and in climbing books. He has not been able to find any recorded ascents, which doesn’t surprise him given how poor access was for so many years. He did find a climbing book published in the 1980s that lists it as unclimbed.

“It was so remote, you would have had to come either from the lake once there was a lake which was not navigable in the early days, or from Jasper Park all the way across the Athabasca Pass.”

As far as terrain, Crowley says above the treeline there was a long scree slope and open boulder field to access the ridge. The upper mountain was more blocky and solid rock.

The peak is named for a ship, the HMCS Karluk, which was Canadian Arctic expedition ship that got stuck in Arctic ice and sunk in 1913.

When asked if he’d do the climb again, he said he wasn’t sure, though he is keen to keep exploring.

The approximate route taken by the pair to reach the summit from the valley floor. The perspective is looking roughly south-southwest. /JOHN CROWLEY

“I’m satisfied, although I’m excited to explore further remote peaks beyond it.”