Summit Elevation (m): 2789
Elevation Gain (m): 950
Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 20
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks. Learn how to manage these risks and perform avalanche burial rescues before attempting this trip.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Skiing)
Map: Google Maps
I did something on Saturday, May 16th that I’ve never done before. I bagged a peak on skis on the May long weekend! Wietse and I had already made two halfhearted attempts at Snow Peak near Burstall Pass in Kananaskis Country over the winter of 2009. Finally on May 16th we decided that we’d had enough of this ‘easy’ peak and ended up summiting in perfect conditions in around 7 hours, round trip.
We were very surprised that we were the only 2 people to make the pass on this perfect spring day and we even broke trail from the French-Haig-Robertson traverse cutoff point. In the AM we were on hard snow on the flats and about 2-4″ of fresh snow in the trees. There were massive cornices hanging off the easterly side of the peaks in the Burstall Pass area, we expected some of them to collapse during the heat of the day but most of them held on stubbornly. There were some wet slides throughout the day on South and East aspects.
There is no rocket science involved in this peak but you do need some energy reserves and some decent snow conditions as there is significant avalanche terrain, especially as you get high on the mountain. We ended up probing with an avi probe near the summit because we weren’t sure where the summit stopped and a massive cornice began! Once the probe stopped hitting ground we decided that we were close enough to call it an official summit success.
There were some very steep rolls on the upper mountain that approached being vertical. With any more freezing we would not have gotten up these without crampons so I would suggest bringing those if you do this peak in the winter.
The run back down the mountain was superb, excellent snow stability with about 6 inches of corn snow on a hard base. After whooping down from Burstall Pass I actually went back up to the pass for another quick run down while Wietse grabbed a quick nap in the (very) warm sunshine.
We were fully expecting the ski back out to the parking lot to be isothermal hell but it wasn’t. We were on someone else’s tracks (they followed us in but not even to the pass for some reason – they missed the nicest part of the trip by about 15 minutes!) and since this is such a popular destination in the winter even the creek bed was packed enough to support us all the way back to the flats. The snow was just sticky enough that we didn’t slide on the slight uphill sections to the parking lot but still fast enough that we made pretty decent time.
I highly recommend this trip as a winter destination for experienced parties. There is an option to ski off Snow Peak and short cut the pass on the way back down, but you really need to be sure of snow stability to do this option, as you’ll be skiing right down a huge avalanche gully that slides all the time.