Back in February 2013, Raf and So managed to negotiate a ski route up Massive Mountain that sounded much more attractive than previous snowshoe or ski trip reports that I'd heard about. I didn't have any GPS tracks or anything to go off and by the time I could finally attempt this trip I knew Raf's ski tracks would be LONG gone - I mean it's almost 2 months later right? Well, as it turns out - WRONG. I put together a few waypoints based on Raf's description and hoped for the best as Wietse and I planned a ski ascent of Massive for a beautiful sunny day on Saturday on March 30 2013.
As we left the Redearth parking lot to ski back along the highway I right away noticed that we were on very old ski tracks! The snow that had long ago covered the tracks was now melting away and the firmer tracks were visible due to their resistance to the melting. We weren't 100% sure these were Raf and So's tracks from February but as we continued skiing it became obvious that we'd have ski tracks to follow up the most difficult route-finding sections in the lower forest. This was great news and we followed the 2 month old tracks all the way up to the upper bowl between Pilot and Massive before they vanished!
We thought at first that the route isn't very obvious from along the Trans-Canada hwy fence, but actually it is fairly straight forward, on hindsight. For an online map of the route click here.
[Google Earth image of the ski route up Massive.]
You can see that you simply ski back along the Trans-Canada fence until you come to an obvious drainage going to your right. This drainage is right at a fence that could save you some skiing except it's buried in hard snow if you're skiing! Follow this drainage for about 500 meters or until you come to a massive log jam in the creek bed. Scramble up to the forested slopes on climber's left of the drainage and make your way up gentle slopes on the left side of the creek. Raf and So's track took us quite a bit left at first but there's no need to stray too far from the stream / drainage. The only reason you're not in the stream bed is that it's too full of debris.
When the going gets steeper (about 1.5-2km after entering the forest), you will be 'forced' to cross the creek to climber's right. After a couple hundred meters it's not worth staying out of the drainage - just enter it for the remainder of the trip. An obvious rock wall marks the spot you want to make sure you're actually skiing in the drainage.
[Looking up the old ski tracks along the trans-Canada fence.]
[The obvious drainage that is your clue to turn towards the mountain - head up the stream bed.]
[Exiting the stream bed at the log jam (climbers left).]
[After trudging uphill through light forest for a while (~1.5-2km), the going gets steeper and you cross the creek bed for about 100-200 meters. Then you go back into the creek at this rock wall and stay in it for the rest of the ascent to the upper bowl.]
The drainage / creek was awesome! We had spring conditions but with fresh snow this would be skier's heaven! I can see why Raf and So had so much fun descending it back in February. As you get higher in the drainage the dangers of the route become more obvious.
There is serious avalanche risk along the entire upper ski route. Please take the necessary precautions here!
We kept a nervous eye on the huge avy slopes coming down the east slopes of Pilot - they were already exposed to the full power of the Spring sun and could bury us instantly if they came down. Obviously we planned our route to be under these slopes early in the day and planned to ski down under them quickly on the way back! The upper drainage was very obvious to follow and provided excellent access all the way into the back bowl - a beautiful upper alpine valley nestled under the high point between Pilot and Brett. We made our way right to the last stand of trees coming off Massive before the a final avy slope to the col between Brett and Massive before taking a break out of any danger zones.
[Now we're laughing! Look back down the drainage. Ishbel in the background.]
[Entering the upper valley - still in the drainage. Serious avy slopes to the left of the picture out of sight.]
[Looking up a serious slide path on the east slopes of Pilot Mountain.]
[Looking up at a slide path coming off Massive Mountain as we ski past it (skiing to the right here).]
[The gorgeous upper bowl under the unnamed summit between Brett (left) and Pilot (right). We ascended through the treed slopes on the far left. Massive is behind me.]
From our resting spot under the Massive / Brett col we deviated from Raf and So's route. Their route went directly up treed slopes to the col, while we made a more indirect route to take advantage of better snow conditions on north, rather than south slopes which were heavily crusted up. We avoided as much serious avy terrain as possible but eventually had to cross a rather serious slope. We were confident in the conditions and the fact that this slope was north facing and not getting direct sun. There were no layers in the snow pack here and no signs of instability.
We crossed the slope individually and eventually topped out slightly south and above the col. We made quick work out of descending to the col and skinned on hard slabby crust to an obvious rocky break on the ridge to the summit of Massive. We dumped our skis here even though technically we could have ski'd around the break on climber's left - it wasn't worth the bother considering the crappy snow pack here.
The summit was a short boot pack away and we enjoyed some awesome views from the top.
[Ascending the steeply treed slopes under the Massive / Brett col.]
[Wietse follows me up. We knew we wanted to ski back down this slope - being north facing it was safer and had no sun crust like the south facing slopes had.]
[Wietse works his way onto the avy slope we had to cross. You can see our approach gully under him to the right. So and Raf went up the obvious avy slope on bottom right - I think they stayed in the trees for safety.]
[A view from the avy slope - we were VERY tempted to ski this slope on descent but chose the safer and excellent snow in the trees. Massive is on left center and Raf and So's route goes up through the obvious trees to climber's left of the snow slopes from bottom left to upper right at the col. We had to traverse over the bump on the right and down a bit to the left to hit the same col. Our avy slope was north facing with excellent snow while the treed slope was south facing and had a nasty un-skiable sun crust.]
[Wietse comes up the bump before the col behind me with Brett in the background. You can see the huge avy slope we crossed to access the ridge.]
[Pano from the bump along the ridge just after crossing the avy slope shows Brett on the left, unnamed and then Pilot. You can spot all the valley we came up with Massive on the right. ++]
[Boot packing up climber's left of the rock step on the summit ridge.]
[Wietse comes up the ridge behind me with the col and the avy slope visible beneath.]
[Looking down the avy slope that I took a photo of coming off Massive. We probably could have ski'd this slope safely in the conditions we had but the consequences of an avalanche here made us avoid it. ;)]
[Wietse on the summit ridge with awesome views of Brett (L) to Pilot (R) and our ascent valley.]
[Tele of Castle Mountain from the summit of Massive.]
[Panorama from the summit. L to R we have Bourgeau, Black Brett, Brett, Unnamed, Pilot. ++]
[Looking north, east and south from the summit - the Banff Trans-Canada hwy corridor. The snowshoe route comes up the ridge from the north side and avoids the valley travel that we did. ++]
[Vern on the summit of Massive. Note how tiny 'Massive' actually is compared to Pilot! I did both Pilot and Brett in one day back in 2009...]
After staying at the summit for a while it was time to head back before the avy slopes started really acting up. We had already noticed a steep north-facing slope had let go and avalanched the slope beneath it and obviously every steep south slope was started to sluff and dump snow as well.
The trip down was fast and fun for the most part. The snow pack was so low and crappy in the treed section that we just put our skins back on. The trudge out along the highway went fast.
[Wietse's looking forward to the ski descent!]
[Following Wietse to our treed slope with nice snow.]
[It felt very good to make turns again after too much 'shoeing in March.]
[T-shirt weather on the ski back.]
[The 'rollercoaster' ride in the tight drainage was fun! Softer / deeper snow would have been even more fun.]
[Back at the log jam, descending back into the drainage.]
[A cool 'doorway' in the drainage.]
[Why didn't we park here and use the gate?! (It's not locked) In winter it's buried in hard snow so it's not worth the bother. In summer it may be worth it though.]
Massive Mountain was a very nice surprise. First of all we had two month old tracks to follow and secondly the route wasn't too hard to follow once we started. There is serious avy terrain on this ski tour but the turns that can be had make it a totally worthwhile objective in stable conditions.
Highly recommended for a late winter / early spring ski tour.