Edmonton mountaineers map northern Rockies in new adventure guide

Ben Nearingburg and Eric Coulthard are peakbaggers. For the uninitiated, that's not an insult, but a point of pride for many a grizzled mountaineer.

'Sometimes we're skiing, sometimes we're hiking, sometimes we're scrambling'

Ben Nearingburg and Eric Coulthard have climbed hundreds of peaks across Alberta, including Bridal Veil Falls. (Ben Nearingburg/Facebook)

Ben Nearingburg and Eric Coulthard are peakbaggers.

For the uninitiated, that's not an insult, but a point of pride for many a grizzled mountaineer.

"Peakbaggers," also known as "baggers," are veteran climbers, hikers or weekend warriors who attempt to scale a cluster of summits in a particular region.

Nearingburg and Coulthard, both mountaineers, have created the ultimate guide to the Canadian Rockies for other peakbaggers looking to scale a few more summits. 

Titled A Peakbagger's Guide to the Canadian Rockies: North, the 288-page guide published by Rocky Mountain Books provides recommendations for scrambling, skiing and climbing routes.

"Some people collect stamps, some collect hockey cards. We collect memories of trips going up summits, so we kind of like the term," Nearingburg said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"Sometimes we're skiing, sometimes we're hiking, sometimes we're scrambling." 

'I've stopped counting'

For the two Edmonton men, Alberta's northern peaks are the ultimate challenge.

They've been exploring the rugged mountain ranges for years, and estimate they've climbed close to 800 summits combined.

"I've stopped counting," said Nearingburg, a research scientist and Jasper hiking guide. "After about a hundred [summits] or so, you kind of stop counting numbers and just focus more on the experience."

The newly-published field guide describes nearly 100 routes throughout northern reaches of the Columbia Icefields, including routes for peaks in all four corners of Jasper National Park, Willmore Wilderness Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Nearingburg and Coulthard, with friends Steven Song and Vern Dewit, explored every route in the book and gathered important advice on how to stock up on food and supplies and where to watch out for bears, bugs and bad weather.

"I really like exploring in the mountains," said Coulthard, a software engineer who also runs a mountaineering blog.

"There is definitely a lot of reward when you put a lot hard work into figuring out a new route and everything just works out and you get to the top of the mountain and you get to see the amazing view."

'You're still exploring out there'

The trails in the northern Rockies are less travelled than their southern sister peaks and mapping them in detail provided plenty of adventure for these part-time mountaineers.

They once mistook a bear for a large boulder and had to hightail it off their planned route to escape the big grizzly.

Nearingburg also recalls a time when the pair became separated during a "long scramble" up Gargoyle Mountain. He called out to Coulthard, and thought he was responding in turn.

But it was just echo of his own voice on the rock face.
Mount Aztec, southeast of Jasper National Park is just one of the breath-taking climbs detailed in the new mountain guide. (Eric Coulthard/Facebook)

After circling about for hours, they eventually tracked each other down. Nearingburg's face still reddens with embarrassment at the memory.

The mountaineers hope to encourage other adventurers to explore the unspoiled wilderness of northern Alberta, and maybe spare them similar mishaps.

"The Canadian Rockies are still very remote," said Nearingburg. "It does really feel like you're still exploring out there, getting into some interesting terrain.

" 'Journey before destination' is always my mantra in the mountains."  

A portion of proceeds from the sale of the $35 book will support trail maintenance in Jasper National Park through the Jasper Trail Alliance,

The authors are hosting a book signing and launch at Audreys Books Tuesday at 7 p.m.


Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

With files from Ariel Fournier