Vermilion Peak

Summit Elevation (m): 2636
Trip Date: March 06 2010
Elevation Gain (m): 1300
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 10
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something. Unless you’re caught in an avalanche – then you could die.
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: OT3; YDS (Skiing)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

On Saturday, March 6 2010 I was joined by Scott Berry, JW and Janice to ski Vermillion Peak. We had a gorgeous day and sublime mountain views but on hindsight we probably should not have chosen this particular peak for an 8 degree day. The route up was clearly marked with a very hard packed track. The snow pack had about 2 inches of solid ice crust on top with facets underneath which did not inspire confidence in either the ongoing slope stability in the warm temps or for the ski back down. We followed the up track ’til there was a split just before the pass. Scott and I chose to follow the ‘shortcut’ track that traversed just under the south end of the ridge and then cut back up steeply to gain it. JW and Janice weren’t planning on the summit since JW had already done it and Janice was supposed to be learning the joys of backcountry skiing.

Vermilion Peak Route Map
An amazing view of Stanley, Beatrice, Ball and Haffner at left with Scott on the lower ridge and the Vermilion Range at right.

The ridge was easy except for the last 200 meters or so. With a very suspect cornice on the right and a steep slope with rock, shale and snow on our left we had to be very careful on this stretch. Scott led most of the ridge and we made it to the summit about 3 hours after leaving the car as the first summit party of 2010. We took in the amazing views for a few minutes before hastening down the softening ridge. We were a bit nervous about the slopes just under the ridge. They had settled a bit on me on the way up.

The summit ridge isn’t easy or straightforward in winter conditions. Amazing views to the Rockwall and Goodsirs at left now.
A crazy panorama from Whymper (L) to Castle, Storm, Stanley, Ball, Haffner, Assiniboine, Hawk Ridge, Verendrye, Foster, Numa, Tumbling, Drysdale, Limestone, Goodsirs, Sharp, Hungabee, Deltaform, Quadra and many others.
Looking north across hwy 93 up the Tokumm Creek Valley towards the Fay Glacier and peaks including, Hungabee, Deltaform, Allan and Quadra at right.

The ski run down was good for about 1000 feet before conditions deteriorated and the bottom fell out of the snow pack. Even in the trees we felt that some slopes were close to sliding. Scott set off a very small slide but it was enough to keep us off steep rolls on the way down. It was some of the worst skiing of my life! How’s that for a ringing endorsement?

More incredible views towards the Goodsirs include Sentry, Limestone, South Goodsir, North Goodsir and Sharp Mountain.

The funniest moment was when I ran straight into a 2 foot diameter tree – head on!! My one wrist is sprained but that’s about all the damage… Again, I would only recommend this peak if you’re comfortable with an exposed and corniced ridge and can assess the avi hazards just before gaining the ridge. Also save it for a cooler day – those burnt trees can give you a real lesson in survival skiing if you catch them in bad snow conditions.

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