On April 26 2013 I joined Steven Song for an ascent of Survey Peak along the icefields parkway at Saskatchewan Crossing.
As you can see from the route image below, Survey Peak isn't rocket science as far as Rockies summits goes. This was intentional on our part, due to completing a pretty big weekend 3 days previous on Wilson and also due to a questionable weather forecast.
[Good Earth route lines. ++]
On my drive out to the Glacier Lake parking lot, just past the crossing, I was a bit apprehensive about our chances of success - it was pouring rain from Bow Lake until 2 minutes before the crossing! I wasn't driving 3 hours and getting up at 04:00 for nothing though so we decided to give it a shot anyway.
I've never been on the Glacier Lake trail before. It undulates a fair amount, essentially going downhill from the parking lot until a bridge (large!) crosses the North Saskatchewan River. From there it goes up and down on the north side of the Howse River.
[Arriving at the bridge over the North Saskatchewan River.]
[Murchison and the North Saskatchewan River.]
[At the lookout before dropping back down to the Howse River. From left to right, Sarbach, Outram and Survey Peak. ++]
Andrew's trip report mentions going almost 5km up the trail before cutting climber's right into the forest and bushwhacking to the east shoulder of Survey. When I was looking at my map I wondered why one couldn't gain the gentle east ridge much earlier and hopefully have an easier time of the bushwhack? It worked for us. As we were walking down the trail I noticed two distinct trails going up onto the ridge within about 15 meters of each other (merging once in the trees). Steven and I discussed it and we agreed that it made sense to follow the trail.
It felt like spring in the forest. Birds were chirping and it was t-shirt weather as we followed the rough trail gradually up the snow-free lower slope. The trail was distinct but when we hit a shallow draw with tons of deadfall we lost it. Eventually we went a bit too far climber's right but trended slowly left as we hit more and deeper amounts of snow. Finally we put the 'shoes on and kept ascending, pleasantly surprised by the firm base that prevented post holing even though it was +10 degrees. The bush on the east ridge is fairly thick and tight. Steven had a hard time with his snowshoes catching on trees before we put them on our feet and I have some good scratches on my arms / legs / face from the thick scrub.
[At first the forest was not very thick and we could follow a faint trail.]
[On the 'shoes.]
Without the GPS I don't think we would've followed the ridge quite as nice as we did. It's very indistinct lower down and it's only when you're 3/4 way up to the shoulder that it starts steepening and gaining some definition as a 'ridge'. It was at this point that we came on old snowshoe tracks, which we promptly followed up. The new tracks did a good job of avoided thick bush but unfortunately whoever made them ran out of steam about 20 minutes shy of the shoulder! The tracks simply died off and we resumed "breaking trail" - we only sank about 1-2" anyway.
As we gained tree line the weather wasn't getting any worse. It was a grey and blustery day but the temps were warm and that helped push us on. When we finally crested the shoulder the scene that greeted us was a little grim. The wind was so strong it was almost blowing poor Steven back into the river far below! Snow grains felt like sandblasting on our faces and we quickly started covering exposed skin with ski masks and goggles. Thank goodness it was warm or I'm not sure we would have pushed on.
[The treed slopes start opening up as we gain height. This is looking back at Wilson.]
[A grey, blustery day about tree line, but the slope ahead leads all the way to the summit so we're getting close.]
[Note the snow whipping off the slope in front of me - and this was a calm period! Outram in the distance.]
[Struggling in the elements.]
[Views off the final ascent slope include (L to R) Murchison, Sarbach, Glacier Lake and Outram. ++]
The final slope to the summit is certainly steep enough to slide but compared with Big Bend Peak or Mount Wilson it's not that bad. We had cloud cover and bomber snow so it wasn't an issue for us. It felt good to finally summit after a pretty good pace and 4.5 hours from the car. We didn't linger long but did enjoy better-than-expected views of Erasmus, Sullivan, Outram, Sarbach, Wilson and Murchison. Unfortunately we didn't get good views of Forbes but you can't win 'em all.
[Erasmus (c) and Wilson (r). ++]
[Murchison, Howse River, Sarbach, Outram and Erasmus (l to r). ++]
[A tighter shot of Sarbach, Outram and Erasmus. ++]
[Sarbach has great memories for me - I loved that peak. You can see the crux by-pass route on climber's right of the notches on the northeast lower ridge.]
[Outram Peak is a mountain I'd be interested in ascending one day.]
[Steven looks cold :)]
[Steven stands next to the giant cairn. We didn't find a register in it. Wilson looms in the background.]
[Trying to look at Forbes.]
The way down was very quick, as expected. We followed the 'shoe path we came across for a different route down but this wasn't any better than our ascent track. We still had to bushwhack our way to the Glacier Lake trail but once on the trail we were home free. The walk back to the parking lot was spring again with puddles and chirping birds all around.
[Heading down to the valley again.]
[Considering the forecast, our views could have been a lot worse! Murchison in the background.]
[Wilson from the descent slopes.]
[One more pano from the shoulder of Survey looking north and east. ++]
[Back at tree line with a bit of sunlight.]
[We find a nice clear gravel ridge on our 'shortcut' down the south side of the east ridge.]
[I can't get enough of Murchison. This is one of its seven towers.]
[Back at the river flats, Murchison again! An outlier of Corona Ridge to the left.]
[Sarbach from the Howse / Glacier River flats.]
[Hiking back on a good trail makes for a nice easy conclusion to the peak.]
[Afternoon lighting on the North Saskatchewan River and Murchison.]
[Survey Peak on the left and Amery on the right from the bridge]
Survey Peak isn't a great mountain but it is easy and must have sublime views on a clear day. I can't see it being much fun without snow for at least part of the tedious bushy east ridge so I would suggest snowshoes in March or April when the lower trail is snow free but you can still take advantage of snow higher up the ridge.