|JULY-2003 Gain- 3000'+/- Summit- 7231' 3hrs+/- Easy Scramble-Solo
|Lat/Lon: 49.57°N, 114.41°W
Turtle Mountain is an easy scramble. I felt compelled to add it due to it's uniqueness and
geological educational value.
Turtle Mountain is part of the Blairmore Range located in the Crowsnest Pass region of
southern Alberta, north of Waterton National Park. It is best known as the site of the tragic
Frank Slide of 1903 that claimed most of an entire town killing over 70 people. The
mountain was said to resemble a turtle, thus officially named in 1880, however, the
likeness was lessened by the 1903 rockslide. The Indians would not camp beside it
knowing that it moved on a regular basis.
Turtle Mountain is a faulted anticline, the beds of rock rising on its west side, curving over
the top, and dipping steeply on the east side. The bedding surfaces between the layers of
limestone are zones of weakness as are fractures or joints which cut through the rock at
right angles to the bedding surfaces. Water constantly finds its way into the weaker zones
(which is evident between the two summits), freezes and expands, and makes the cracks
larger. In the case of Turtle Mountain, the two zones of weakness (the joint surfaces in the
upper part and the bedding surfaces in the lower part) lined up. As well, these steeply
dipping rocks were poorly supported by weaker rock below, some of which was being
removed by active mining. It took millions of years to set the stage but the slide was over
On April 29, 1903, part of the eastern summit of Turtle Mountain broke away and slid down
the mountain side, burying the south side of the town of Frank to depths of thirty meters
and then rushed up the opposite side of the valley to a height of 120 meters.
Although this dramatic event took place almost a century ago the scar and debris look
remarkably fresh and provide dramatic evidence of how the erosion of our mountains,
generally a process which is the summation of vast numbers of minor events, can be
hastened by single massive events. In this case a piece of limestone 425 meters high,
1000 meters wide, and 150 meters thick with a weight estimated to be eighty-million tons,
broke off the mountain. The debris covers about three square kilometers to a depth
averaging fourteen meters.
The "Air Cushion Theory" explains why the debris traveled much farther and covered a
wider area than would be expected. The theory suggests that the rock rode out over the
valley on a layer of trapped, compressed air. This appears evident from the summit.
In 1904, Turtle Mountain was first ascended by Edward Whymper. This straightforward
scramble takes you up to and across the ridge between the two summits where the
massive rockslide began, and is far more interesting than the limited view from the
nearby visitor center. Furthermore, the ascent lets you gaze straight down the face to the
The only road through Crowsnest Pass is Highway 3. Drive west from the town of Pincher
Creek to the first exit for Blairmore. Proceed south into town and cross the railway tracks
and follow streets and/or avenues (grid system) SE towards Turtle Mountain. At 124th
street (not 134th as the scramble book I attached states) and 15th avenue, turn onto a
gravel road where there is evident parking space under telephone lines. A trail begins
along the base of slabs at the northwest end of the mountain.
Crowsnest Pass is not in a provincial or national park, although there is ample climbing,
camping and skiing in this area. There are no parking or trail fees for this scramble.
When To Climb
Chinooks define the climate in Crowsnest Pass, which result in a longer and drier
season for climbing and hiking than Waterton to the south or Kananaskis to the north.
From April on, this scramble should be in relatively good shape.
Mountain Conditions- Weather Link Wildlife Link
Here is the link for the Frank Slide Interpretive Center. There are also 6 other scrambles in
the area located in the "Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies book".
Proceed south into Blairmore and cross the railway tracks and follow streets and/or
avenues (grid system) SE towards Turtle Mountain. At 124th street (not 134th as the
scramble book I attached states) and 15th avenue, turn onto a gravel road where there is
evident parking space under telephone lines. A trail begins along the base of slabs at the
northwest end of the mountain. The well beaten trail is used regularly by the locals.
The trail leads to the first summit via several short switchbacks and climbs up near the
upper rock cut to gain the main ridge of the first peak. The trail continues through
stretches of coniferous forest and short bits of slab. You eventually reach the open ridge
which gives up great views of other objectives to the west in British Columbia including
Once at the first summit, you lose some elevation as you descend into the chaos of the
Frank Slide. I traversed the edge of this minefield to the summit for challenge, but
unless you are experienced, I advise staying on more moderate ground to the south
(right). Features include huge rock crevasses, hanging rock, debris and gapping holes
dropping 3000' vertical, etc.
Once through this area, ascend some scree to the 2nd and true summit. There was a
register on a pole when I was here in 2003. On top, notice how the mountain started to
pull up the other side. Although this tragedy happened in 1903, it looks like it happened
yesterday. This is one of the most interesting scrambles you will enjoy from a geological
perspective. Return the same.
A good pair of hiking boots, helmet if you are going to play between the summits and
good sense always comes in handy.
Park your vehicle under the telephone lines behind 124th Street and 15th Avenue in
Blairmore. Follow a trail to first peak. I did 2400' in the first hour of accent. Then you have
to traverse the precarious Frank Slide remnants to the real summit. I traversed the edge of
this minefield to the summit for challenge, but unless you are experienced, I advise
staying on more moderate ground to the south. Features include huge rock crevasses,
hanging rock, debris and gapping holes dropping 3000' vertical, etc. There is a register on
a pole at the summit.
On top, notice how the mountain started to pull up the other side. Although this tragedy
happened in 1903, it looks like it happened yesterday. This is one of the most interesting
climbs you will enjoy from a geological perspective. Gain the ridge from the northwest
corner and enjoy views of Tecumseh (NW) all the way. Over 70 people were buried in this
slide. Must have been sheer terror seeing half a mountain roll your way (the distance this
slide traveled is attributed to a ball bearing effect). Visit the interpretation center afterwards
for a look at your route.
CLICK TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
1. Frank Slide from the Summit (Interpretive
center is upper left)
2. Real Summit looking back at 1st Summit
3. Evidence of the Continued Demise of Turtle
4. Turtle Real Summit on Left
5. Route, Right to Left
6. Mount Tecumseh
7. Summit Register