Wietse, Raf and I decided to start the 2015/2016 back country ski season with a fairly tame and straight forward ski tour near the Sunshine ski resort in Banff National Park. As it turns out, the drive to and from the mountains was by far the most dangerous activity of the day for us. On the drive into the park, Wietse's car kept sliding on the icy highway. We even witnessed two vehicles hit the ditch at high speed! On our return to Calgary it was even worse, including an accident that probably resulted in injury and caused a pretty big delay for the thousands of skiers checking out early season ski conditions at the various resorts.
Allow me a brief rant at this point. :) When I started hiking and scrambling 15 years ago, I don't remember traffic being so brutal in or around the mountains. This makes sense, since Calgary has grown by hundreds of thousands of people in that time, and extreme sports have made huge in roads with the average weekend warrior. Doesn't mean I have to like it. Last summer I stayed home on 3 different Sundays, simply because I couldn't stand the thought of fighting weekend traffic on hwy 1! I go to the hills to relax and coming home in a rush hour style nightmare of cars doing crazy maneuvers at 140km/h isn't my idea of a relaxing weekend drive. I can say with high confidence that there is a much higher chance of a big SUV or RV taking you out than your anchor failing nowadays when climbing in the Alberta Rockies... :(
Sorry 'bout that. Some times you just have to get stuff off your chest in a quick Internet rant. The ski up Healy Creek was easy on a great track from the parking lot. There was a LOT of snow for November - much more than I remember most years at this time. Once at the split in the track to Simpson Pass, we were on our own though. Apparently that's a less popular option than Healy Pass.
The trail from Healy Creek to Simpson Pass was a bit harder to follow - it really helped to have a GPS track from one of Wietse's previous trips for this section. Basically we trended climber's left before taking a 90 degree left turn to the Sunshine Meadows which were reached via some steep treed, cliffy slopes. These slopes were the only avy terrain we ventured onto this particular day and they aren't huge. The snow was set up very well for early season and even skiing off trail, the snow pack was very supportive. I could only feel one crust about 4 inches off the ground - moderately hard and not reactive.
[Lots of snow for November]
[The Healy Creek trail was well packed and very well covered]
[Crossing Healy Creek]
[A winter wonderland. I love skiing!]
[Now we're breaking trail up to Simpson Pass]
[It's a bit bushy in sections but it's very difficult to stay on the summer trail if you don't know exactly where it is!]
[Eventually we contoured to a rocky cliffy area. From here we went climber's left before ascending up and around it.]
[Looking back along the headwall from the bottom.]
[Starting up the headwall, looking back at The Monarch]
[Some of the slopes up the head wall are steep enough to slide]
[Pano from the headwall looking back at The Monarch (L) and The Ramparts (R). ++]
[Raf is happy to be back on skis!]
[I love breaking trail into this stuff]
The views to the Monarch and Healy Pass were pretty great once we got up the headwall to Sunshine Meadows. Twin Cairns looked a bit thin and Wawa Ridge looked very wind blown and thin as well. We skinned across the lovely rolling meadows before reluctantly joining the throngs at the top of the Wawa chair lift and skiing out via Sunshine's ski out. The ski conditions at the resort were better than I was expecting with unconsolidated powder and no ice on the skied out runs either. All-in-all a great, short day out that I would feel comfortable soloing in moderate or low avy hazard. Could easily be combined with Twin Cairns or Wawa for a fuller day out.
[The gorgeous Sunshine Meadows. ++]
[Wietse breaks trail across the Sunshine Meadow - Howard Douglas and Brewser Rock in the far distance.]
[More deep snows in the meadow. From L to R, Eagle, Howard Douglas, Brewster Rock.]
[Twin Cairns looks a bit thin]
[Looking back over Healy Meadows towards Bourgeau and Black Brett.]
[On the flats near the top of Wawa Chair lift - Twin Cairns on the left. ++]
[Skiing towards the Wawa lift]
[A NASTY ride home - I hope these folks were OK... Note how icy the highway is here!]