Summit Elevation (m): 2865
Elevation Gain (m): 1030
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 18
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 2 – You fall you sprain something – unless you’re in an avalanche. Then you could definitely 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; YDS (Skiing)
Map: Google Maps
After an excellent day out on Ramp Peak a few weeks previous, I was thinking it would be a good idea to take advantage of the excellent snow pack of spring 2012 and go after Ramp’s neighbor to the north, Quartzite Peak before too much spring warmth melted all that delicious snow pack away! On this particular day I was joined by Raf and Ian Hunt. It was good to be going on a trip with the crazy Pol again and Ian and I haven’t done a trip together in around 4 years so that was cool too. Being so late in the spring, our only real concern for the day was the snow pack stability. We knew that things would be locked up pretty snug all morning due to a nice cool night time temperature but we also knew that there was a really good chance of isothermal snow in the afternoon once the sun started heating things up.
The approach trail was rock hard as we tried to keep up with Ian’s furious pace through the forest. As we broke out of the forested trail and into the creek bed the snow crust held our weight, no problem. It was so hard that we just barely made marks of any kind with our skis, and realized only then that we were following fresh tracks of two other skiers! It was easier to ski off the beaten trail than on it – we just cruised over the rock hard snow drifts along the creek. This trend continued up the treed slope north east of the camp ground. We followed our Ramp Peak descent tracks and managed to break tree line pretty much perfectly.
As we sat in the glorious morning sunshine above the upper bowl we noticed the two skiers that were ahead of us. They were above us on the lower Mosquito slopes and were transitioning onto the avalanche slopes on the north side of Mosquito, heading towards Ramp Peak. We finished eating and started heading towards the very inviting west face of Quartzite. The steep avalanche roll slope that we also had to traverse for Ramp was so rock hard this time around that it felt very dicey on my skis as I desperately tried to keep my edges in contact with the hard snow. Honestly not the smartest thing I’ve ever done but it was downhill a bit and over pretty quickly, plus a slip wouldn’t have been fatal, just a fast ride down a rock hard avy slope into a small canyon… Arg.
I led the way fairly quickly over the concrete-hard snow drifts and rolls beneath Ramp Peak and soon we were gaining height on Quartzite. I picked a fairly obvious line up the slope. Higher up we had great views of the other team on Ramp Peak. About 150 vertical meters from the summit the hard slope actually became a bit of an issue. There was about 2 inches of fresher snow on top of the hard pack and this snow wanted very badly to just slip and slide around on the hard snow underneath! Obviously if they was more fresh snow this would have been a very dangerous avalanche risk but in our case it was just a giant waste of energy trying to prevent our skis from sliding downhill with every step forward. I stubbornly tried to go really steeply uphill so that the skis couldn’t slip sideways, but this presented it’s own issues as skins can only go so steep.
Eventually I gave up, strapped the skis on my pack and kicked steps the rest of the way. The guys behind me did the same thing and it worked perfectly. The summit views were even better than on Ramp as there were a few less clouds (although the Wapta was under a pretty thick layer of clouds). I really think that in high snow years these peaks deserve far more attention than they currently get. With a fast approach, good tree skiing and open faces with endless untracked snow it’s a skier’s paradise, especially for the Alberta Rockies. As a bonus, you don’t have to carry glacier gear!
The descent was awesome. Not quite as good as Ramp, but close. The upper mountain was hard enough to make my light skis chatter a bit on the turns, but by the middle of the upper west face things were improving. We had an absolute BLAST skiing down all the way to the bottom of the treed slope to the campground – the crust held up great to just below the campground where the first isothermal snow patches started. As long as we stuck to the old trail we were fine on the way out. The exit was quick with only a few close calls with Mosquito Creek, which was at least twice as open as 2 week previous when we did Ramp Peak.
A highly recommended ski outing for good snow years and stable avy conditions. I think I’ll be back to this area, even just to ski the upper bowl / glades – it’s that enjoyable.