When JW and TJ invited me on a weekend trip either to White Pyramid or Cathedral Mountain I was more than ready to join them.
We decided on May 1 2009 for a White Pyramid ascent. I didn't know a lot about this mountain, but I did know that it was a lot of height gain since it's next door neighbor, Mount Chephren has been on my "to do" list for while, and it's almost 2km vertical gain and not much higher!
After Epaulette Lake we were on the tracks from Al's group the day before and an ACC group from a couple of week previous. This helped immensely as we didn't really have to route find and could concentrate on simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Alpine ski touring is an interesting past time. It's a lot of work. The equipment is quite heavy (compared to just having boots on your feet) and the terrain is generally steep and unrelenting, especially if you're on a day trip and not simply crossing an icefield. Usually you also end up walking in your ski boots in order to actually attain the summit. (Ski boots are not the most comfortable walking boots ever made.) But it's usually also worth it and today was no different.
We gained height very quickly after getting to the back of the valley and butting up against the north end of White Pyramid and turning climber's right up the access morraine to the high col underneath the towering walls of the traverse to Epaulette Mountain.
Further up the access valley we could see where Al's party turned climber's left and gained the ridge high above, snaking through boulders and scree to get there. Al had given us the suggestion to go right to the end of the valley instead of following their ascent tracks, so we followed their descent tracks further up towards the end of the valley rather than try to gain the ridge early. (This was great advice and I would suggest that if snow conditions are stable enough you should do the same.)
Eventually the skiing became so steep that we could hardly make the switchback turns! We had to lift our skis so high while turning that we were in danger of losing our balance each turn! TJ called out that he was going to go the rest of the way on foot and we peeled off the boards and headed up a very steep snow slope to gain the ridge above. About 75 vertical meters higher and we popped out on the ridge to some fabulous views of Howse Peak and the Blaeberry River valley. We decided to head up about another 30 vertical meters before roping up for the rest of the ridge (crevasses near the summit).
As we stopped for a quick break and to harness up we looked around at the wonderful world around us. There wasn't a breath of wind on the ridge and the sun was shining brightly and glistening off the world of white beneath our feet. We didn't do much talking but rather sucked in the incredible views and enjoyed the moment of peace. Thanks to our altimeter watches we knew that we still had 600 vertical meters to go and it wasn't going to be easy. We should have tracks to follow part of the way but since Al's party skied part of the ridge we knew we wouldn't be following tracks the entire way and we didn't.
JW did a heroic job of leading up the soft slopes to the false summit. We looked for solid snow, solid rock or anything 'solid' but only ended up on soft, steep slopes of knee deep snow. We gained the summit of the bump by negotiating a narrow, steep gully that broke through a small cliff band. This was probably the only terrain that felt like it had the potential to slide on this warm spring day. The cliffs beneath Epaulette Mountain were thundering in the background from already early in the morning, dumping their winter coats noisily on the slopes beneath.
What a spectacular day! There continued to be no wind whatsoever, and the views just improved as we got higher. Eventually JW turned over the lead to me and I slowed the group down considerably until we finally arrived at the summit of White Pyramid! I felt a huge sense of accomplishment on reaching the summit of this mountain - even more than Mount Hector a couple of weeks before. White Pyramid feels like a much bigger excursion than Hector and even though Hector has one of the best ski decents in the Rockies, White Pyramid isn't far behind! For us, given our snow conditions it was actually better.
After 30 minutes or so on the summit in perfect spring conditions (slight breeze with clear blue skies and views to infinity) it was time to reluctantly head down. We made short work of the decent and soon were back at the skis
The ski down was nuts. I mean, I've caught good ski conditions before but this was the most fun I've had in a while on the boards. The snow was about ankle deep and in great condition, no slabby stuff at all. The sun was warm on our backs as we whooped and hollered our way down - at times like this you definitely don't want the day to end. Swooping down the rolling terrain we felt young and free - a great feeling that brings a smile to my face as I remember it.
All too soon we were down the fun part and back at Epaulette Lake. The rest of the trip out was uneventful. The creek was just like Hector with deadfall and tricky sections. We managed to avoid isothermal snow and the track was firm enough to hold us all the way out to the Mistaya River where we followed Al's tracks to the snow bridge over the river. After crossing the river we strapped the boards to our packs and bush whacked a short distance to the icefields parkway. A short 0.5km walk brought us back to our car where we surprised a couple from the Netherlands catching some afternoon rays. When we told them where we had just gone I don't think they totally believed us.
The fact that JW was walking barefoot down the middle of the parkway with his skis on his back didn't help our credibility too much! ;-) What a great day out. It's gonna be hard to beat this one this year but I'll do my best to try.
JW tries to find a spot to cross the open Mistaya River.
TJ tries to find snow!
A delicate balancing act got across all across dry(ish)...
A view ahead to our route. It runs up the obvious snow gully on the righthand side of the picture and then we walk up the ridge to the summit on the far left. Looks like a really long way. It is!
Looking back at JW coming up. Mount Murchison in the background.
Small avalanches were pouring off the steep cliffs along the approach route all day. They were small enough and far enough from the ascent route not to be a huge concern for us.
TJ and JW lead the way up to the steep access gully to the ridge. We ditched our skis just past that bit of rock that sticks out of the snow. The route is much, much steeper than it appears on this picture.
Up on the ridge! Great views of Howse Peak in the background. Here we're roping up for the rest of the climb.
Negotiating our way up the steep slopes to the first summit on the ridge. This was the toughest part of the climb since there was no trail broken for us! :-) (The previous party accessed the ridge from a different route and skied down this part - their tracks didn't support our weight anymore...)
Howse Peak is very cool.
Heading for a break in the cliff ahead.
Looking ahead to the summit from the first false summit on the ridge. Looks like a long way yet!
An interesting step on the ridge.
JW on the summit of White Pyramid. Chephren to the right.
TJ on the summit.
Planning the next trip!
Mount Columbia peaks out in the distance.
Vern on the summit of White Pyramid.
The exciting traverse to the Chephren col:
JW on a steep snow slope on the return.
Our descent to the the skis is just in front of that tower on ridge.
Heading back to the skis.
Looking back at the upper decent route. I got water on the lens from wiping out on the steep upper part!
TJ having fun:
The boys skiing down:
TJ and our tracks:
Too much fun!
TJ with an outlier of Chephren above him:
Tele shot of our route as seen from Epaulette Lake:
Skiing out along the Mistaya River. Murchison provides a nice backdrop.
Ready to bush whack to the road.
Yep - that's where we went! The first peak is Chephren, the second on the right is White Pyramid.
JW was sick of his boots so he took them off. Pretty simple really. :-)