Citadel Peak – Ski Tour

Summit Elevation (m): 2610
Trip Date: May 1, 2011
Elevation Gain (m): 1550
Round Trip Time (hr): 11
Total Trip Distance (km): 33
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something via the winter route from the south (see map)
Difficulty Notes: While the summer ascent is fairly short and easy from Citadel Pass, the winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks. Learn how to manage these risks and perform avalanche burial rescues before attempting this trip. Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

On a beautiful sunny, wintry May 1, 2011 I was joined by Raf and Mel on a ski trip through Sunshine Meadows to Citadel Pass and up Citadel peak. Our original plan (as per Raf) 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 wind loaded west slope on Fatigue. 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 Mountain 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. Once at the top of the strawberry ski lift, we had our first glimpse of Sunshine Meadows and our destination. 

Citadel Peak Ski Route Map

It didn’t look that far, but looks are deceiving 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, 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 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 all 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.

Views from the Quartz Hill shoulder over Howard Douglas Lake to Fatigue (L), Nasswald, Golden, Citadel (C) and Simpson Ridge in the distant right. Note the height loss right in front of us here.
Looking back over the expansive Sunshine Meadows to Quartz Hill at center and the shoulder we skied over to the right of the hill.
Views down Citadel Pass towards Mount Assiniboine past Golden Mountain (L) and Nestor Peak (R). Citadel to the right, out of photo.

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 – hopefully they would be 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 10 lbs on each foot is hard work. A short cliff made this little peak as technical as 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 probable that this ‘whump’ triggered the slides we noticed later on the east face when we descended back around the mountain.

Raf traverses the summit ridge with Fatigue Mountain to the right and “Little Fatigue” at center distance. We triggered a big slide down the east face to the right here while traversing.
Descending the summit ridge with incredible views to Mount Assiniboine (C) and Nestor Peak (R).
Summit views over the Simpson River (L) and Sunshine Meadows (R) include (L to R), Indian Peak, Monarch, Quartz Hill, Mount Ball and Howard Douglas.

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 cruising down this same section as quickly as possible.

The ski down the south ridge 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!

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