|July, 2003 Gain- 4000'+/- Summit- 7904'+/- 8 Hours+/- Solo Difficult Scramble
|Lat/Lon: 49.0416°N, 113.9833°W - CLICK FOR TOPO MAP
Buchanan Peak is located at the south end of Buchanan Ridge overlooking Carthew
and Alderson Lakes in Waterton Lakes National Park. Waterton Lakes National Park
is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park and a Biosphere
Reserve, the only park in the world that has all three designations. At 203 square
miles, Waterton Lakes National Park is the smallest Canadian National Park. It
borders Glacier National Park in Montana. Together they make up the Waterton-
Glacier International Peace Park (formed in 1932). You can actually paddle to and
fro the US and Canada in Cameron Lake which is the start of the Mt. Carthew-
Buchanan Peak scrambles. The North Boundary Trail also intersects both parks.
Waterton Lakes National Park sits at one of the narrower sections of the Rocky
Mountains (Crown of the Continent). The scramble starts on the popular Carthew-
Alderson Trail and returns to it to continue on with the through hike on the same trip.
The unique geography of Waterton Lakes National Park provides habitat for a diverse
group of wildlife and vegetation species. The dry prairie adjoins the alpine region
with no transition zone creating a unique habitat that combines species from both
regions. There are more than 234 species of birds, 57 species of mammals and
17 species of fish sighted in Waterton Lakes National Park (2003). In recent
years botanists have recorded some 900 different species of wild flowers in
Waterton, more than half the number of species in all of Alberta. Prairie plants mix
with alpine plants, plants from west of the continental divide mix with plants from
east of the continental divide and plants that are not found anywhere else in Canada
can be found here.
The 12-mile (19-kilometer) Carthew-Alderson Trail is considered one of the finer day
hikes in North America. From Cameron Lake, at the end of the Akamina Parkway,
the route follows switchbacks through sub-alpine forest up to the southeast ridge on
Mount Carthew. If you are an avid peak bagger, it makes sense to combine
Buchanan Peak with Mount Carthew. To do this, leave the trail early and access
the southeast ridge of Mount Carthew, giving you a much larger 360 degree view.
Buchanan Peak was officially named in 1971 after a Senator who played a significant
role in developing the park.
Alberta Highway 6 takes you to Waterton from Pincher Creek, AB. It becomes US Hwy
17 as you cross the border into Montana. Keep in mind this small border crossing
keeps banking hours. Drive into Waterton Lakes National Park, from Highway 6,
through the park kiosks and proceed towards the town of Waterton. After you pass
the information center on your right, take a right on the Akamina Parkway. Travel
approximately 16kms until it dead ends into the Cameron Lake parking area.
The Carthew-Alderson Trail begins on the boardwalk (left). They offer shuttles from
town for through hikers-scramblers.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Waterton Lakes
National Park at the only entrance or exit which is on the east side. This pass is good
for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within
one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements
to climb in Waterton Lakes National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also
a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry
versus the town campsite(s). This can be obtained via the parks website which is
included in the camping section below. Waterton Lakes National Park headquarters
are located on the right side of the road across from the Prince of Wales hotel, which
is an historic landmark built in 1927.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your
person. I advise checking with Parks Canada for any area and/or trail closures. The
book titled “The Bear’s Embrace” is a true story by a couple from Calgary, AB who
survived a grizzly attack in Waterton. It dealt more with the difficult recovery from such
harsh wounds and disfigurement than the attack itself.
When To Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June
through September. I climbed Buchanan Peak in July. The vegetation and climate
are more “west coast like” in the summer than any other part of the Canadian
Rockies. I have seen quite the lightening storm roll through Upper Waterton Lake.
The closest conventional camp site would be the Waterton Town Campsite. The
closest backcountry site is actually up at Alderson Lake which you would pass on
descent of Buchanan Peak if you are doing a through hike, therefore, it would make
for a great place to camp. You can go on line at Waterton Lakes National Park to pick
a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your
backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan
on camping at a backcountry site like Alderson Lake. You cannot camp outside of the
marked specific camping areas. You can stay in luxury at a variety of locations in
town. Although the Prince of Wales is historic, it seems awful pricey for what they
Waterton Lakes National Park has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc.
Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful,
particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports are also extremely
Either hitch it or take the hikers shuttle to Cameron Lake at 8:30 or 10:30 AM (2003).
The Cameron-Alderson Trail starts on the boardwalk to the left side of the lake.
Follow the trail past Summit Lake through a ton of switchbacks and on to a high
This is a 4000’+/- ascent. Mount Carthew will be on your left and Chapman Peak (in
Montana) along with its small remnant of a glacier will be on your right. As you
round a big left corner of the trail, the left hand ridge of Carthew Peak will come into
full view. Go ahead and come off the trail and ascend this ridge. The earlier you
ascend this southwest ridge, the better in terms of views of Mount Blakiston to the
north and the Montana mountains of Custer and Chapman Peak to the south (as
well as Chapman’s glacier and lake). As you continue along the southwest ridge,
you will need to traverse right below a false summit (ran into a lone sheep here)
and then head due north (left) for Carthew’s summit which entails no more than a
hike to the summit cairn.
I continued from Mount Carthew’s summit for Buchanan Peak, which made for a
much more challenging (read exposed and difficult) scramble. On your traverse
over to Buchanan Peak, you will be forced to down climb two very precarious
rock bands (photos). Take your time and pick your routes well. Venture to the left
more than right. This rock is some of the worst I have run into and this is not a
common objective, therefore, route-finding is at a premium. Definitely wear your
helmet as you make this descent.
Once you reach the col between Mount Carthew and Buchanan Peak, the summit
trek to Buchanan is uneventful. I witnessed a pair of ptarmigans (photo) near
Buchanan’s summit who were in the begging mood. On the descent, I followed the
southeast ridge almost to a saddle on Buchanan’s lower flanks (skiers left) and then
slid down the scree to a semi dry creek and bushwhacked my way out to the Carthew
Creek Trail and back to Waterton.
This was about a 20k one way trek, with a big section offering 360 degree views of
the park. There was no one in sight on either scramble compared to tons of people
on the trail.
Helmet for sure, some would prefer a rope on the Mount Carthew descent to the
Buchanan Peak col. Map, compass, bear spray, etc.
Waterton Lakes National Park is just a great place to knock out some quick and easy
scrambles when traveling back and forth across the border. I did three in two days in
the summer of 2003. It is a quaint small park/town and this scramble is a great
variation of one of the most acclaimed trails in North America (Carthew-Alderson).
Cool Ptarmigans on the summit of Buchanan. It took me 8 hours to complete both of
these scrambles, but it is a long day, I was moving fast and furious. Cheers!
CLICK TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
1. Looking back at Buchanan Peak from the
2. -3. The crux downclimbing on Carthew
4. Same as 1 except further east on the trail.
5. Summit View to the East