Last week Brent Henderson and I resolved to summit Smutwood Peak in Kananaskis, Alberta. The reason for this ridiculous adventure was purely to capture the best possible angle of Mt Birdwood which is truly epic when viewed from Smutwood. I thought I’d vlog the entire caper and slide in a few free landscape photography tips just for you šŸ˜‰

Grizzly Country

I had some serious misgivings about hiking for 40k in grizzly bear country. Two weeks prior to this I’d hiked up to Chester Lake only to turn tail and head back down the hill due to the king of all grizzlies turfing up the meadow.

Mt Birdwood from Smutwood Peak

No Beauty Sleep

As you can see from the fried onion rings hanging under my eyes, I did not sleep well the night before. Brent got his usual 8 hours, I got a measly two. Feeling like a bag of smashed crabs, I packed my gear, downed some awful hot drink and then waited two hours for Brent to pack his shit and get going.

19k Uphill

Aside from the elevation gain the only major challenge was the avalanche debris field. It wasn’t too bad on the way in but on the way out we got lost among the wreckage and this added another 20 minutes of suffering I could have done without.

Mt Birdwood and Mt Pigeonwood in Kananaskis

Cheeky Marmot

That cheeky little marmot you see in the video clearly expected some food from us weary hikers. I was sorely tempted to hand over my veggie samosas due to their heartburn inducing spices but feeding wildlife is a habit I don’t intend to nurture, so the acid reflux stayed in my bag šŸ™

The Coldest Water Ever

Have you ever dipped into water so cold it hurts? I’ve done it many times since living in Canada but I have to say this water was the coldest I have ever experienced. That might have something to do with the icebergs still floating in the lake but that didn’t deter the gang of twenty somethings that were sunbathing at the edge of the lake.

In they jumped. I counted exactly 3 seconds before they scarpered out of the savagely icy water. Can’t blame them really.

Verdant Creek Wildfire to Assiniboine

The Final Ascent

After 5 hours of hiking we finally made it to the base of Smutwood peak with plenty of time to spare. This next part was the steepest and most technical section of the entire hike. We were lucky with only light winds and dry conditions so it wasn’t too slippery but man it was a slog with those heavy camera bags.

Mt Birdwood from Mt Smutwood

Was it all worth it?

You bet it was. I just could not get enough of that epic view. I would have loved more clouds to catch the light and the wildfire smoke cost us about 45 minutes of alpenglow but overall it was worth the effort and we had the entire summit to ourselves. I can’t wait to try again in September when the larch trees turn yellow šŸ™‚

Thanks for watching. If you have any questions please post a comment below.
Gavin Hardcastle


Published by Gavin Hardcastle

Gavin is a professional landscape photographer from Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC. He teaches photography workshops all over the world and writes extensively about his experiences on location. You can read his photo guides and tutorials here at


  1. Thanks Gavin Iā€™m planning a trip in August and thinking about staying for dusk my question is how difficult fast was going down in the dark? Iā€™m solo and have lots of lights and bear spray but just wanted to get your thoughts.

    • Depends on your idea of sketchy. I wouldn’t recommend a solo trip out in high grizzly country. You’re 20K away from your car which is even further away from civilization. If the leg break doesn’t kill you the mosquitoes will. At the very least take a sat phone with you. Better still, take a friend.


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