Summit Elevation (m): 2868
Elevation Gain (m): 1000
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 15
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you break your leg. 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: OT4 – Skiing; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
On Saturday, April 09 2011 So and I did the Bow Peak winter slog. This was my third attempt at this diminutive peak. In 2010 I made it all the way to the summit ridge before noticing my partners weren’t following me, but rather were leaving me behind! 🙂 On hindsight I’m glad I turned back that day when I did because I wasn’t quite as close to the summit as I thought at the time. Earlier this year we made another attempt but didn’t even make it halfway to the pass due to high winds and avalanche concerns. The weather forecast was interesting for Saturday. One site was predicting clouds and another was hinting at some nicer weather. http://www.mountain-forecast.com proved to be the most accurate – and it’s been impressive for the past few trips. I’ll be using them more often.
We finally managed to cut about 1km off the approach to Crowfoot Pass by parking about 750 meters south of the Crowfoot lookout on highway 93. Another car pulled in right behind us. After lending them some batteries for their avy beacon (you gotta hate it when you buy the wrong batteries!) So and I followed old tracks down the embankment and across the ponds towards Crowfoot Pass. The ski up to the pass was without difficulties, we passed another group of skiers just before the grind up through the trees. We followed old tracks all the way to the pass, avoiding any terrain that would expose us to cornice collapses off either Crowfoot Mountain or BowCrow Peak.
It took us 2 hours to reach the pass under a clearing sky and very little wind. The slope up to the ridge of Bow Peak looked quite snowy so I decided to keep skiing as far as we could. I knew what awaited us once the skis came off! I led the way and after a while So took the lead. We managed to get about 2/3 up the west face to the ridge. We could have gone higher and on hindsight we probably should have but the slope gets pretty steep up high on the face and we didn’t want to be hitting rocks all the way down. The coverage was about as good as it ever gets on that slope.
Like Crowfoot Mountain a couple of weeks earlier, there seemed to be more snow than ‘normal’ in this area. Eventually we ditched the skis and kept going on foot to gain the ridge.
I led the way up steep snow and rock that seemed to conspire against us each and every step of the way! The trick to Bow Peak is realizing that you are only half way when you reach Crowfoot Pass. Yes, the mountain looks small and the west face looks easy and short but it’s all one huge deception for suckers who attempt this peak, especially in the winter. The issue with Bow Peak, especially in the winter on ski boots, is that the west face is scree and the ridge is composed of larger rocks covered in rime, snow and lichen. I’m sure in the summer you can merrily skip your way up the ridge from rock to rock but in the winter it’s a bit of a nightmare.
Once I hit the ridge I was hoping that the snow would be fairly solid. It wasn’t. Loose, unconsolidated powder with icy drifts and huge cornices along with deep pockets of snow among the loose rocks made the going pretty tough. We slogged up the ridge which never seemed to end. Each ‘summit’ was simply a high point with more ridge ahead. The weather didn’t help the mood any either. Clouds had started to pour in off the Wapta as soon as we got on the ridge and our views were nil. 🙁
After finally making the summit I stood there and looked around at a world of white – there were no views whatsoever! The sun was poking through the clouds and it wasn’t cold and I decided maybe the clouds would dissipate as quickly as they had formed. So joined me at the summit and we spent over an hour waiting for the sky to clear. And believe it or not, it actually did! We were treated to the promised views and it was worth waiting and freezing for.
The trip down was fun and fast. We skied down the west face, only hitting a few rocks on the way. The snow further down was extremely wet and heavy but the ski to the car was quick and warm. Our round trip time was 7 hours including an hour at the summit waiting for better views. We could have done the trip in 6 hours but I’m sure glad we waited!
I’m still not sure if Bow Peak is a good winter objective or not. Normally you can’t even ski the west face like we did. I’m sure the views are great in the summer too. Either way, this is a nice outing.