On a beautiful sunny, wintery May 1, 2011 I was joined by Raff and Mel on a ski trip through Sunshine Meadows to Citadel Pass and up Citadel peak.
Our original plan (as per Raff) was to do a winter ascent of Fatigue Mountain but due to an unusually snowy winter we ended up on Citadel instead due to an extremely windloaded west slope on Fatigue (details later).
The morning started out well, with a ski up the ski-out at Sunshine Ski Resort. Raff was hoping to take the gondola up but both Mel and I considered that 'cheating' and we kind of wanted the workout of skinning up the ski-out due to a planned ski trip to Castleguard the following weekend (which is a brutally long day trip). Because we arrived at the parking lot at 07:00 we didn't have another option anyway, the lifts weren't running yet!
By the time we got to the ski resort the lifts were just opening up. Raff convinced us to try to get on the Strawberry lift. It was pretty obvious that we weren't paying customers by our ski skins and backpacks (not to mention no tags) but we marched confidently to the lift, got on and went up! Getting off at the top was hilarious because we still had our skins on our skis! Ooops... So I guess we cheated a little on this trip. Sue me.
Once at the top of the ski hill we had our first glimpse of Sunshine Meadows and our destination. It didn't look that far, but looks are decieving in a world of white. And it was certainly a world of white. We couldn't believe how much snow was in the meadows and plastering the peaks all around. Fatigue looked very snowy and Mel right away stated that the west / south slopes looked dangerously wind-loaded. Raff and I weren't ready to admit 'defeat' yet so we began our trek to Citadel Pass. The snow was extremely supportive and this didn't change all day, even with a strong sun. The temps stayed cool (for May 1st!) so that helped. We couldn't help but notice that nothing had slid on any of the surrounding peaks as we skied through the meadows and this was starting to make us a bit concerned, especially with a warm sun baking the slopes.
The trail to Citadel Pass runs along the west (right) side of the meadows, close to Quartz Hill before making a turn for the pass. This is to avoid unnecessary height loss, but doesn't avoid height loss. From just under Quartz Hill you lose quite a bit of elevation before gaining it all back to the pass. This section takes a lot longer than you'd think. We ended up swapping our skins on and off 3 or 4 times because of the rolling terrain. I think some kick wax would help tremendously here.
At the pass we determined that there was no way we were attempting Fatigue! The west slope was baking in the sun, sections had already slid and most of it was still plastered with wind loaded snow. Our attention turned to the other side of the pass - Citadel Peak. We knew that TJ and JW had ascended right from the pass but again, south / east facing snow gullies were loaded with fresh snow and already starting to sluff off the mountain so we weren't going to subject ourselves to them. We decided to descend from the pass, traverse around the south side of Citadel and attempt the summit on skis up the gentle south facing slopes - gentle enough not to slide.
The theory worked well until the summit block where we were forced to take off our skis. My skins were balling up like crazy so I knew I'd need some ski wax on the way out. Skiing uphill with an extra 10lbs on each foot is hard work... ;-) A short cliff made this little peak more technical than Hector or White Pyramid but wasn't a huge problem to get up. Once on top of Citadel we had to traverse some snowy terrain over to the summit, trying hard to avoid steep west slopes and a massive cornice on the east. Mel heard a loud 'whump' on one section which sent us much closer to those west slopes, back from the cornice! (It's possible that this 'whump' triggered the slides we noticed later on the east face...)
The final section to the summit was probably not a great place to be on this particular day. Raff led the way and we smoked up it as fast as humanly possible, one at a time. Once on top of this short section we could see that about 30 meters below it there was a very fresh fracture line and avalanche that had obviously broken off while we were coming up the south end of the mountain, since we didn't see or hear anything earlier while traversing under the east face. This was sobering and we rushed to the summit and didn't linger long before crusing down this same section as quickly as possible. It was best to get off the upper mountain before anymore slides started up.
The ski down the mountain was great - heavy corn skiing with some tricky crusts through the trees. The slog back to the car was uneventful but long. A great day out in great weather with great company!
After skinning up the ski out and ascending the Strawberry chair we got out into the Sunshine Meadows area. It's a lot bigger than it looks! Quartz Ridge is up ahead on the right. (Click for full size)
There are a lot of dips and rolls while working your way to Citadel Pass. Raff and Mel follow me out of one such dip - this one around Howard Douglas Lake.
As we work our way through the dip, this is looking up the valley that cuts into Sunshine Meadows from the east.
An awesome view of Citadel Pass on the approach. Citadel Peak is the small one in the center. Fatigue Mountain is the snow-laden peak to its left.
Raff skis up the south end of Citadel under some brilliant conditions.
Mel is having fun too!
Approaching the final summit block.
After we ditched the skis it was time for some steep snow climbing followed by a short scramble up the summit block.
Probably a wee bit harder than Hector but not a huge deal. The exposure was limited, you weren't going to die if you fell!
Raff ascends the final tricky slope just before topping out at the summit of Citadel Peak. The slope to our right has slid while we were ascending the south end of the mountain, we just don't realize it yet...
Looking back as Mel ascends the dicey section. NOW we can see that the slope has slid!
Vern on the summit of Citadel Peak.
Raff descends the summit ridge.
Raff descends the summit ridge.
Scenery on descent.
Looking down at Raff and Mel as I descend the crux step in the summit block.
Looks great for the ski down!
A great view of Citadel Pass from the BC side.
A shot of the east face of Citadel showing all the slide activity. This all happened while we were ascending the ridge on the left. Citadel Pass is on the right.
Looking back while re-ascending the pass. Believe it or not, a hiking sign is on this picture. It's the tiny brown spot just left of the ski tracks in the foreground! :-)
Heading home from the pass. LONG way to go. Look how small Quartz Ridge is from here (snowy peak in the centre of the photo). We have to go past it and make it just as small from the other side...
Looking back at our tracks ascending out of a steep bowl on the way back. It's certainly not all downhill from Citadel Pass to Sunshine!
Mel ascends yet another slope on the way back. The snow stayed very supportive throughout the day despite a strong sun.
We ran into some kite skiers on the way out. They cruised by pretty quickly. Sunshine Meadows is perfect for thier sport - wide open with tons of snow and usually windy.
With the resort long closed for the day, we enjoyed the ski out all to ourselves! (We did not go slow either... ;-))