Mount Chephren
3266m (10716ft.)

Located in the Mistaya River Valley 4 km west of Waterfowl Lakes. Banff Park, Alberta Major headwater Saskatchewan River.
Latitude 51; 50; 30 Longitude 116; 40; 55, Topo map 82N/15

Panorama viewpoint: Bow Pass; Saskatchewan River Crossing. Can be seen from Highway 93N

Named by J. Monroe Thorington in 1918. Chephren, or Khafre, was the fourth pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt and built the second of the three Great Pyramids. Official name. Other names Pyramid Mountain , Black Pyramid

First ascended in 1913 by J.W.A. Hickson., guided by Edward Feuz jr.. Journal reference CAJ 6-94.

Photo: Looking west across Lower Waterfowl Lake to Mount Chephren from the Icefields Parkway
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Other Information
Looking west across Lower Waterfowl Lake to Mount Chephren from the Icefields Parkway

Towering over the Lower Waterfowl Lake, the steep, cliffs of Mount Chephren are most impressive as they rise 1600 metres above the valley floor. The lower part of the mountain is made of reddish and pinkish quartzites of Lower Cambrian age. The higher levels are made of younger, grey limestones. Mount Chephren is a landmark in the Mistaya Valley, not only because of its height and distinctive shape but also because it is positioned somewhat to the northeast of the other peaks that form the southwest side of the valley. This enables it to be seen for a considerable distance from both the upper and lower Mistaya Valley.

Mount Chephren was named Pyramid Mountain by J. Norman Collie in 1897. At the same time he named its neighbour, which was covered in snow, White Pyramid. Pyramid Mountain, in contrast, had very little snow.

The peak was a favourite of Mabel Williams who, in 1948, wrote a wonderful guidebook for what was then called, "The Banff-Jasper Highway." Of Mount Chephren she wrote, "Even in this region of magnificent peaks, Mount Chephren stands out with a supreme majesty and beauty all its own. Anong all mountain lovers it will always hold high place. Its dark frontal tower of purplish rock rounded to a beehive, its immense, deeply carved buttresses, the symmetrical bands of darker rock and dazzling snow which crown its summit give it an individuality which stamps itself at once on the memory. A luxurient forest throws its cloak of living green about its feet, but, above, the great walls rise in naked precipices for nearly a mile. Lying upon the main mass of the mountain is an immensely thick ice cap which sweeps down around the great tower in a pure white snow saddle like a white scarf flung over its shoulders."

In 1918 the Interprovincial Boundary Commission decided that Pyramid Mountain's name must be changed in order to avoid confusion with the Pyramid Mountain near Jasper. J. M. Thorington, a prominent mountaineer and author of the era, liked the association of the peak with the pyramids of Egypt and recommended the name Chephren. Chephren, or Khafre, was the fourth pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt and built the second of the three Great Pyramids. His reign began in 2565 BC and it is his likeness which is thought to have been the model for the Sphinx. White Pyramid's name was thought to be different enough from the Pyramid Mountain near Jasper and that name was retained.

THE PYRAMIDS OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

There are at least seven mountains in the Canadian Rockies that have been known as "Pyramid." Only two officially carry the name, a third having had the name removed in order to avoid confusion with the other "Pyramids.”

Peter Fidler was the first European to enter the Canadian Rockies and the first to name a peak. He noted in his journal on December 7, 1792 that he saw a, “remarkable high cliff…very much resembling a pyramid –from which very near resemblance I shall call it by that name.” He measured bearings to the feature and used it to calculate his position. It is likely that he was referring to what we now know as Mount Glasgow in the headwaters of the Elbow River.

While travelling in the Bow River Headwaters near White Man Pass in 1845, Catholic priest/explorer Pierre-Jean De Smet wrote, "The valley is bounded on either side by a succession of picturesque rocks, whose lofty summits, rising in the form of pyramids, lose themselves in the clouds." On his map he noted only one of these, naming it "The Pyramid." This must have been the peak now known as Mount Assiniboine.

The best known of the "Pyramids" is located nine kilometres north of Jasper. Its near-perfect triangular shaped profile when viewed from the east must have impressed James Hector of the Palliser Expedition who named the mountain in 1859. Although the mountain's slopes from this angle are similar to those of the Egyptian pyramids, the peak lacks the three-dimensional aspect that a true pyramid requires.

Mount Chephren was originally named Pyramid Mountain by Norman Collie in 1897. At the same time he named its neighbour, which was covered in snow, White Pyramid. Pyramid Mountain, in contrast, had very little snow. In 1918 the Interprovincial Boundary Commission decided that Pyramid Mountain's name must be changed in order to avoid confusion with the Pyramid Mountain near Jasper. J. Monroe Thorington, a prominent mountaineer and author of the era, liked the association of the peak with the pyramids of Egypt and recommended the name Mount Chephren. Chephren, or Khafre, was the fourth pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt and built the second of the three Great Pyramids. White Pyramid's name was thought to be different enough from the Pyramid Mountain near Jasper and that name was retained.

In 1892, Arthur Coleman named the fourth highest peak in the Rockies “Pyramid.” It was subsequently renamed Mount Clemenceau by the Interprovincial Boundary Commission in 1919 after Georges Clemenceau, the President of France during the final years of the First World War.

Mount McPhail, in the upper Highwood Valley, was known locally as "The Pyramid" until it was officially named by the Boundary Commission in 1918. The surveyors at that time were influenced by the number of Canadian casualties during the First World War and named the peak to honour N.R. McPhail, a member of the Surveyor General's staff, who was killed in action in 1917.

Of the seven mountains that have carried the name "Pyramid," Mount Glasgow, Mount McPhail, and Mount Assiniboine are the closest to the correct three-dimensional shape when viewed from the appropriate angles, but they are among those that never, officially at least, have carried the name.

Scrambling Routes
Difficult for a short distance even if dry; ice axe suggested. Mount Chephren is a stunning eye-catcher situated along one of the world's most scenic drives, the Icefields Parkway. Mountains tower along both sides of this road, although most are not as accessible as this one. The summit view is unequalled, but the massive height and location of this pyramidal giant makes it a serious endeavour. To surmount the first cliff band, even the easiest spot will involve scrambling up steep, exposed terrain, but for fit, capable parties equipped with ice axes, this ascent is highly recommended. As a day trip, an alpine start by headlamp is suggested so that you can be well up the south-facing slopes before the full heat of the day hits. This is a mid to late summer ascent when, hopefully, the route will be snowfree. If it is not, both an ice axe and crampons will be required, raising it into the realm of a technical ascent, not merely a scramble. In favourable years, the steep grey-black cliffs and gullies on the south side should be free of snow and ice by late July or August. Other years it may never dry off completely and then it is best left to more technically-oriented climbers. Kane, Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies page 300

Climbing Routes
South Face/West Ridge (Normal Route) II
The Normal Route is a popular outing. No doubt the majestic nature of the mountain and the approach past the impressive walls of Howse Peak are part of the attraction. Expect a straightforward snow slope and some scrambling with nothing in the way of difficulty. Most parties take 6-8 hours for a round trip from the south end of Chephren Lake where most parties bivi. It has been completed in a day from the highway. Take your axe and crampons - the route may look snow free but don't be fooled. Dougherty, Selected Alpine Climbs page 174

East Face V 5.9 A1
A long alpine rock climb that required 27 hours on the first ascent. It has since been climbed in 12 hours. A similar challenge to the NE Buttress of Howse though not as aesthetic. The crux of the route occurs in the upper third of the climb where you work your way through the summit rock bands. The route finding here is a little complex so take your time to sort it out. If things don't pan out as wished, a relatively straightforward escape from the upper part of the face is possible. Rock shoes are an asset. The first ascent party bivied on the face. Nowadays, the route can be done in a single day return trip by a competent team. Dougherty, Selected Alpine Climbs page 175

The Wild Thing VI 5.9 A3 W4
The first ascent of this route took many attempts before it succumbed, mostly because of the persistence of Barry Blanchard who was on the route four times before the successful ascent. Expect very varied, difficult climbing up a direct line. The lower part of the route isn't particularly inspiring or difficult but the major rockband offers hard mixed climbing and the final ice vein running up towards the summit for five ropelengths is the type of climbing one dreams of finding. Certainly, the route is a winter/spring climb since the lower gullies would be all-star rockfall chutes in the summer months. Beware of avalanches - there is no escape from them in the lower two gullies! In the event of adverse conditions/weather near the top of the route it is possible to escape by traversing north along large snow ledges that separate the upper rock bands. These give access to a low-angled gully (it has been bum-slid!) at the north end of the face that leads almost back down to the bottom of the face. One rappel is needed to reach the ground. The first ascent required three nights out. Dougherty, Selected Alpine Climbs page 176

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