|May 25, 2005 Gain- 3500'+/- Summit- 8950' 5hrs+ Moderate Scramble- Solo
Lat/Lon: 50.82°N, 115.4°W
Mount Shark is part of the Spray Mountains located in the heart of Kananaskis Country
off of Spray Lakes road. Of more consequence, it’s approach is located off of the trail
system that takes you back into Assiniboine Provincial Park from the east. Mount
Assiniboine is the cornerstone mountain for this section of the Canadian Rockies. If you
have a clear summit day on Mount Shark, you will have a great close up look at
Assiniboine and it’s east facing hanging glaciers. Mount Shark was named after a WWI
destroyer, which is the common theme of the mountains in this area of Kananaskis.
The most unique aspect of the mountain, and it will entertain you on the approach, is
Karst Springs. Karst is a distinctive topography in which the landscape is largely
shaped by the dissolving action of water on carbonate bedrock. As rain water peculates
through the soil in certain areas, it picks up more than its normal share of CO2 to form a
weak solution of carbonic acid. This process can form considerable underground caves
and springs over many years. Karst Springs is one of the most scenic in North America.
The only published route is the scramble.
From the Canmore Nordic Center, drive 36 km south on the Spray Lakes Road (gravel).
Turn right at signs for the Mount Shark Cross Country and Biathalon Range as well as
the Mount Shark Helipad. Follow this road 6.4 km to a parking area at the end. I have
seen moose twice in previous outings in the open marsh to your left as soon as you
attain this road.
There are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Kananaskis Country.
This is active grizzly country however. I have seen black bears cross my path on this
approach prior and also have observed fresh tracks and scat of Grizzlies. Take bear
spray. There is a Banff National Park warden cabin 3 km further west from Watridge
Lake, but no park headquarters on Spray Lake Road.
When to Climb
Going in early season, i.e. May, (the book says July on) works out best for this mountain
due to the bushwhacking involved. The snow is manageable; I took snowshoes but did
not need them. Any hard pack on the ridge actually makes the trip smoother (as long as
you are not treading on a cornice).
You could live it up and stay at the Engadine Lodge (back at Spray Lake Road). The
closest campground is further into the wilderness about 5 km at Big Springs, which is a
nice spot along Bryant Creek. Interesting beta: to get to Assiniboine Provincial Park
from the east, you start in Kananaskis Country, but will be traveling through a section
of Banff National Park. Big Springs is a Banff National Park backcountry campground.
You will need your campground and back country permits secured prior to camping
So you could make this a day trip and camp somewhere back out in Kananaskis
Country (get back in your vehicle) or proceed on foot to other objectives in the
The Kananaskis Provincial Park website is a very thorough park website, including trail
conditions or closures, wildlife notices, weather conditions, avalanche conditions,
camping permits, white water conditions, etc. It is an excellent source if you are going to
spend any time here and comparable to any National Park website I have used.
This is a 3500+/- ascent. It took me 5 hours round trip solo, but the attached scrambles
book says 6-9 hours.
TAKE YOUR BIKE! Bike in 4 km on a wide ski trail to a trail on your left that proceeds
down to Watridge Lake. I have seen a large black bear on this trail. Park your bike at the
lake and proceed on your approach 1.2 km up to Karst Springs. Upon reaching where
the springs originate from underground, there will be no further trail.
Ascend straight up through the tree line. In May the bushwhacking was tolerable. Later
in the year, it probably is quite irritating. As you begin to break out of tree line you will
see the ridge, due south of Watridge Lake. This reading is good to know on return as
you do not want to end up on the east side of Karst Springs (where it comes out of the
Once you gain the ridge, you will be rewarded with decent limestone slabs. However,
the ridge will narrow and you will find yourself traversing back and forth from time to
time. Although a short climb, this ridge gives you three false summits. Trust your
altimeter. The second false summit has some well built cairns on it. According to the
summit register, I was the first to summit Mount Shark in 2005. However, I suspect
these cairns were built early season and somebody called it a day.
I was getting snowed on in May and the ridge and summit were still well lined with
cornices. It would be a foolish mistake to pick the wrong line here, but I have seen it
done, so be alert. The biggest danger regarding these cornices is when you come
across small rock moves to get up and over several problems. The issue is that if you
did slip, you could slide onto and off the cornice. Also, because the last false summit
leans heavily to the north, your perception of the flow of gravity could be easily
tainted. I noticed this as snow and ice kicked free from my steps, it raced off the cornice
vs down the ridge. So your angles, when hands on climbing on the hard pack
particularly, need to be adjusted accordingly.
The views give way to Assiniboine, Gloria and Eon to the West, Lougheed and company
to the north, Sir Douglas and company to the south and Fortress, Chester, etc back east.
On descent, above tree line, I recommend you return the ridge. I tried to glissade on
some snow, but it was isothermal and followed water worn rock down. It also led me
too far to the right and into trouble, so stay on the ridge from whence you came. Below
tree line, keep north zero degrees and listen well for Karst Springs. Don’t be led off by
animal trials. It is a true bushwhack.
Equipment: Ice Axe, Helmut, Bike, Gaiters, Compass, Bear Spray
Bright and sunny when I left Canmore, but snowing by the time I hit the ridge. Not a soul,
no vehicles even on Spray Lake Road. But that is the advantage of doing objectives
early in the season and midweek. Made a fast trip out of it, 5 hrs return. Book says 6-9,
but that variation would be typical when I am solo. Going in May (the book says July on)
works out best for this mountain due to the bushwhacking involved. The snow is
manageable; I took snowshoes but did not need them. Any hard pack on the ridge
actually makes the trip smoother (as long as you are not treading on a cornice). Cheers!
CLICK TO ENLARGE MOST PHOTOS
1. Summit view overlooking Spray Lake
2. Final part of the Ridge
3. Mt Shark, Route is right to left
4. False Summit looking at a False Summit
5. Hanging Ice on Assiniboine
6. Yours Truly