Little Hector

Sitting about 20 km north of Lake Louise along the Icefields Parkway, Little Hector is an outlying summit of 11,135-foot (3394 m) Mount Hector. One of the fifty-four 11,000-footers in the Canadian Rockies, the peak was named in honor of Sir James Hector. A naturalist and surgeon, Hector was a part of the 1857 Palliser Expedition, which produced a scientific survey of the Canadian Rockies and also helped plot a passage through the mountains for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Although the smaller Hector is a mere outlier of the massive, glaciated peak, it’s not exactly little. Standing at 10,252 feet (3125 m), the subpeak still manages to dwarf all its nearby neighbors. The scramble to the top is short but extremely steep, gaining 4,500 feet (1370 m) of vertical over just 2.5 miles (4 km). For comparison, the route up Ha Ling Peak is the same distance but with “only” 2,600 feet (800 m) of vertical.

The trail begins from a small pull-off along the Icefields Parkway just north of Hector Lake. It begins climbing moderately almost immediately, skirting Hector Creek through the forest for about a half mile. After breaking out of the forest, the trail then follows open slopes of loose gravel over hard-packed dirt – something that becomes much more annoying on the descent.

About three-quarters of a mile (1 km) from the trailhead, there’s a short scramble up a headwall near the second waterfall along the trail. While it’s not overly difficult, you do have to use your hands to pull yourself up here. When you get to the headwall, climb up hiker’s left of the fall, then cross the flow, taking care not to slip, and continue up a faint track hiker’s right of the stream. As you reach the top of the rock wall, Bow Peak comes into view from across the Icefields Parkway.

After surmounting the rock band along the falls, we followed the trail beneath the lofty ramparts of Mount Andromache where it entered a rocky basin below Hector Pass. As you enter the valley, pay careful attention to the route (GPS maps are your friend) and follow the faint path that trends hiker’s right. If you take the trail to that continues uphill and slightly left, you’ll end up heading towards Mount Andromache (we speak from experience here).

Once we corrected our brief miscue and made our way east across the bowl, the trail steepened as it climbed over scree and larger rubble. We made our way hiker’s left around an angled headwall of starkly contrasting rock strata and then turned hiker’s right (south) toward the northwest slopes of Little Hector. The grade steepened significantly here as the route transitioned to every kind of scree, rubble, and loose rock we could imagine. Two of us quickly grew sick of the scree treadmill. However, the third in our party – and also the one with four legs – scrambled up like it was nothing and made us feel like a couple of babies. We should be used to it by now, but it still stings to get your ass handed to you by 24-pound street dog.

The grade steepened even more as we neared the top, gaining around 1,000 vertical feet in just 0.3 miles. It was here in this steepest section, about 0.4 miles from the top, that we reached the crux of the scramble – a rock band at the top of the sheer scree gully. Depending on your preference, you can either take on some slabby rock, rock ledges (slight hiker’s right), or an extremely loose and steep section of scree (slight hiker’s left). Any route seems fine, although I think either the slabs or ledges are the best option. The short section of scree is so loose that the rockfall potential here becomes extremely high. If there is anyone at all in the gully below you, this poses a huge risk. If a rock gets dislodged here, it is going for a ride. One of the slabs that ended up directly in front of me had a decent crack where I could find holds, and the rock ledges just right of the slabs also had a few good notches to scramble up. If you do choose to scramble up the rock bands, make sure not to trend too far right, or it becomes very exposed and will no longer be just a scramble. After this one moderate bit, a well-defined path of talus lead us quickly to the summit.

From Little Hector’s 10,252’ highpoint, we got a breathtaking look at deeply crevassed Hector Glacier across the ridge to the southeast. The large glacier spills down the north side of the mountain, extending for 3 km (2 miles) from the Snoopy-shaped crown. In 1938, a huge block of ice broke off the glacier and tumbled into Molar Creek Valley, destroying everything in its path and burying parts of the valley with ice that reached depths of 200 feet (60 m).

To the north and northeast, the views across Hector Pass and out over the Pipestone Valley were equally sublime, highlighted by neighboring Mount Andromache, unmistakable Molar Mountain, and a distant Cataract Peak. To the west, we got a great look at Mount Balfour and the Waputik Icefield towering above Hector Lake. After a smoky day on Bow Peak two weeks prior, we were hoping for some unblemished views of vibrant Hector Lake. However, this was not to be. While the skies were nowhere near as bad as they were a couple weeks ago, there was enough smoky haze to mute the lake’s characteristic turquoise hue and prevent us from getting those glassy-water images we’d hoped for.

In addition to the lingering haze, the winds had really picked up during our stay at the summit. They’d kicked up about halfway up our scramble but were now much more constant and buffeting. With no way to break the wind up there, we decided to give up on lunch until we found a more sheltered spot further down the mountain. The forecast hadn’t looked too bad when we checked the weather that morning, however the gusts were now up around 70 to 80 kph (50+ mph). As we began our descent, I was nearly knocked off my feet a couple times. There wasn’t enough exposure for it to be unsafe, but it was certainly unpleasant and uncomfortable. Sanchez was no longer loving it at this point, and Stephan and I could no longer hear each other’s voices across the one- to two-meter gap between us.

While we’d originally planned a two-summit day, first bagging Little Hector and then heading over to Mount Andromache, we decided to simply head back at this point. Between the less-than-stellar air quality and gale-force bursts, we were no longer into it. Additionally, with the rapidly shortening mid-September days, we’d have less time to hang out and enjoy the second summit (not that we’d want to in that wind). Altogether, it seemed like making a return trip would be the more satisfying option.

It may not have been our intended double-summit day, and the deteriorating conditions may have been a slight downer, but it was still a fantastic day on Little Hector. Even with the haze, the views exceeded our expectations, and this was one I certainly wouldn’t mind coming back to.

Total distance: 5.5 miles (9 km)
Elevation gain: 4,500 feet (1370 meters)
Scramble rating: Moderate (Kane)

Photo gallery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *