Smutwood Peak – Ski Tour

Summit Elevation (m): 2690
Trip Date: February 02, 2013
Elevation Gain
 (m): 950
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 15
Quick ‘n Easy 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: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

For the past few years, I’ve had Smutwood Peak on my radar. I originally wanted to do it in the fall, due to the stunning location and the two Birdwood Lakes that make fall photos look amazing from this area. Alas, fall season (and larch season in particular), only lasts about 1 month if you’re LUCKY so this peak got relegated to a ski trip since I’m running out of peaks I can attain in 1 day on backcountry skis from any roads. Originally Wietse and I planned to ski Smutwood the week previous but thanks to a brain fart on my part we ended up discovering a ski circuit that we didn’t know existed and bagged Pig’s Back instead.

Smutwood Peak Ski Route Map

On this particular Saturday morning it was three of us leaving the parking area alongside the Spray Lakes road; Bill, Wietse and myself. The morning was considerably warmer than the week previous and the weather promised to be clearer as well. From Pig’s Back a week earlier, Smutwood became pretty socked in by early afternoon since it sits right on the divide. We hoped for some great views from its summit. We had no incidents on the ski into the Smuts meadows and up Commonwealth Creek. Wietse broke trail alongside the creek and up to the towering NE face of Mount Birdwood. There was some evidence of sloughing off the face (probably cornice failure) and high winds looked to be blasting the summit but we forged ahead – conditions seemed pretty tight. Wietse led the way up the hard packed snow at the end of the Smuts Valley to climber’s right and up towards Smuts Pass.

Once we were at the scrambler’s turn off for Mount Smuts we had to take the skis off temporarily before skiing a bit higher to the top of the pass. From there we had excellent views of Smutwood and the very skiable terrain around the two Birdwood Lakes which were obviously buried in many feet of fresh powder. It was hard not to simply break trail into that bowl and start making turns. I’ll be back there for sure to do just that! It even looked very possible to ski right into the bowl from between the false and true summit of Smutwood which would be rather cool.

Wietse again broke trail on the supportive snow pack to the col between Smutwood and Birdwood. From this col we skied towards the long ridge leading up to the false summit. Before getting too far up the right we stopped for lunch to some jaw-dropping views of Mount Birdwood and Snow Peak over near Burstall Pass. Some low cloud mixed with brilliant sunshine added to the winter drama – totally worth doing this trip on skis.

Wietse is a speck in the far distance. Smutwood’s two summits (main on right) and Smuts on the far right. Look at all that FRESH POW.

After a delicious lunch we started back up the ridge. We didn’t get far up the ridge before we had to drop the skis and proceed on foot. The snow on the west side of the ridge varied from packed (which was great) to mostly sugary, unsupportive crud. Thank goodness it wasn’t too deep or we would’ve been really working to get up the ridge. The views were amazing as we progressed higher and higher. I broke trail around the west side of the false summit.

Looking back at Mount Birdwood and Snow Peak from the lower ascent slopes on the summit ridge of Smutwood.
Bill comes over the col between the false summit and the true one. Birdwood looks awesome from this angle.
Wietse breaks trail for a bit – we’re getting closer to the summit but not there yet! We also have to watch out for large cornices on our right.
Bill comes over the col between the false summit and the true one. Birdwood looks awesome from this angle.
Wietse breaks trail for a bit – we’re getting closer to the summit but not there yet! We also have to watch out for large cornices on our right.
Pano looking north over the summit cornice towards Banff.
Mount Smuts at left, Smuts Pass at lower mid center. The Spray River Valley at right with Warre and Vavasour rising up.
Mount Smuts at left and Birdwood at center from the summit. We came over the pass between them on lower center.

The first head-on views of the true summit were a bit intimidating as we went down to the col between the false and true summits. It looked like a full-on climb but as with most climbs, once we poked our noses in it, the slope was pretty tame right up to the summit. After too short a time on the summit we started down again. I took my time on the descent – the views were so gorgeous and the weather was so nice I didn’t want to rush too much. We had no incidents getting down to Smuts Pass and then descending slabby crud snow to the bottom of Smuts Valley before heading out on a great ski track to the vehicle.

Mount Birdwood and Snow Peak provide stunning views as we descend to Smuts Pass which is out of sight at lower left here.
Skiing down to Smuts Valley from Smuts Pass wasn’t the best skiing we’ve ever done. But it sure beat snow shoeing!!!!

Our round trip time of 7 hours included some nice breaks and should be easily attainable for most parties with decent snow conditions. I very highly recommend this trip on skis – just make sure the avy conditions are low because you will find yourself on more than one tricky slope before the end of the day.

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