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Big Bend Peak & Mount Saskatchewan Junior

Summit Elevation (m): 2850
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Round Trip Time (hr): 9.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 15
Quick ‘n Dirty 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: OT7; YDS (Hiking)
MapGoogle Maps


On Sunday, April 21 2013 I joined Steven, Ben and Eric on a two peak day in which we snow shoed Big Bend Peak (BBP) and Mount Saskatchewan Junior (MSJ). Our plans for this weekend were originally to have an easy day out on Sunday with an ascent of BBP followed by some relaxation at the Rampart Creek Hostel and then a huge one day ascent of Mount Wilson on Monday. The weather forecast for Sunday was a mix of sun and cloud with the weather on Monday looking perfect for an ascent of Wilson – notorious for white out conditions on the summit with any cloud cover.

Big Bend Peak & Mount Saskatchewan Junior Route Map

We planned two nights at the hostel in order to give us an early start on Sunday morning. In a pretty funny twist I ended up at the Mosquito Creek Hostel and was shocked to discover it was closed until May 3! Not cool! I spent 5 minutes stewing about the situation in my truck before realizing that staying at Mosquito Creek made no sense and that it was Rampart Creek! The hostel at Rampart Creek is a really good one. The manager is friendly and the facilities are really good for $25/night. We even had Wi-Fi, not something we were counting on! The hostel was also completely empty, the benefits of going out in shoulder season. Sunday morning we woke up around 05:30 and by 06:30 we were tramping across the river near the Big Bend parking lot on a pretty thin little snow bridge – it won’t last long!

Big Bend Peak

We followed Nugara’s instructions and some old tracks up the lower route until finally breaking into thinner trees on the shoulder of BBP. I have to say that this is not a peak I’d recommend for skis. The trees are tight and it’s very steep in sections between the road and the shoulder. Maybe in fresh snow it wouldn’t be as bad but then the severe avy terrain would probably turn you around anyway. Based on some experience with Andrew’s snowshoe routes this year I can confidently say that they aren’t great for skiing – they’re winter scrambles / mountaineering on terrain that simply isn’t the best suited for skiing. There’s a reason these summits aren’t in Chic’s book.

Leaving the parking area along the “big bend” before sunrise. BBP false summit is the obvious one – true summit is just visible behind it and not visible here.
Looking down at our approach – note the Big Bend on the left.
Eric is in shirt-sleeves already but it’s still around -15 at this point!

We’d heard of an ascent party turning back below the false summit of BBP the week previous due to avy concerns and not finding a safe route up. I can understand why. There are no safe routes to the summit of the false peak in winter. You must understand the snow pack and be able to assess for yourself if it’s worth the risk. We had cool temperatures and a cloudy sky, but ascending sections of the south east slopes still felt a bit dicey to me. There was about 2cm of fresh snow on a punch slab which was sitting on pure sugar. Without the cold (-10ish) temps and cloud cover I would not have ascended BBP. I knew right away that the descent would be tricky later in the day but we did have cool temps forecast which was why we were here in the first place. The snow didn’t show any signs of wanting to slide so we inched our way up to the false summit, enjoying fantastic views the higher we went.

We ascended the false peak for views. This is looking back at Steven coming up to the false summit with the main summit of BBP in the background. As you can see, our views were improving.
Looking back at our approach route from the Big Bend in the Icefields Parkway below.

(NOTE: A HUGE KUDOS to Ben and Steven. Those young guys have a lot of energy! They took turns breaking trail all weekend and did a fantastic job of it.)

Tackling the summit slope.

Once at the false summit we could see the easier route to the main one. We knew at this point that we were going to be descending a safer route (if we could find one) so we spent some time checking the views off the false summit before continuing on. The ascent to the true summit of BBP went fairly easily. The views all around us were opening up dramatically and by the time we summitted the sun was shining and there was no wind. We enjoyed tremendous views in each direction with Mount Saskatchewan stealing the show.

Low cloud threatens our summit views. The false summit far below now and Cirrus hidden in clouds over hwy 93.
The clouds start clearing just before we hit the summit. Perfect timing!
A summit pano looking back to the east includes unnamed peaks around the Big Bend and Cirrus Mountain on the right – just peaking through the cloud cover.
From left to right, Cirrus, Spine, Saskatchewan and North Towers.

Another mountain stealing the show was immediately to our west – Mount Saskatchewan Junior. Since we wanted to avoid descending the steep south slopes of BBP we decided to try to descent west slopes and bag MSJ since we were “so close anyway”. So much for an easier day out before tackling Mount Wilson! Oh well. Such is the habits of peak baggers. 😉 I highly recommend BBP either in winter (be very careful of avy danger) for spectacular winter scenery or a fall trip would be very nice too.

Big Bend Peak
43 photos
Leaving the parking lot before sunrise. BBP false summit is the obvious one - true summit is just visible behind it.
Leaving the parking lot before sunrise. BBP false summit is the obvious one - true summit is just visible behind it.
A beautiful morning - the snow bridge is almost gone at the crossing.
A beautiful morning - the snow bridge is almost gone at the crossing.
The steep treed section with crusty snow. Not a nice ski area.
The steep treed section with crusty snow. Not a nice ski area.
Our first views are into the Saskatchewan River valley of Mount Andromeda.
Our first views are into the Saskatchewan River valley of Mount Andromeda.
We finally start breaking out of the trees and look ahead to the steep snow slopes of the false summit.
We finally start breaking out of the trees and look ahead to the steep snow slopes of the false summit.
Looking down at our approach - note the Big Bend on the left.
Looking down at our approach - note the Big Bend on the left.
I'm not sure how Eric does it but he's in a t-shirt in -10! He looks plenty happy to be here though.
I'm not sure how Eric does it but he's in a t-shirt in -10! He looks plenty happy to be here though.
Steep slopes to the false summit - care is needed to ensure they won't avalanche you far into the valley below.
Steep slopes to the false summit - care is needed to ensure they won't avalanche you far into the valley below.
More steepness - running out of snow so we have to be careful. Most slides are triggered around rocky points like this.
More steepness - running out of snow so we have to be careful. Most slides are triggered around rocky points like this.
We ascended the false peak for views. This is looking back at Steven coming up to the false summit with the main summit of BBP in the background.
We ascended the false peak for views. This is looking back at Steven coming up to the false summit with the main summit of BBP in the background.
Pano from the false summit of BBP.
Pano from the false summit of BBP.
Ben on the false summit of BBP. Our approach route from the Big Bend is lower right.
Ben on the false summit of BBP. Our approach route from the Big Bend is lower right.
The boys traverse back to the col before we head up to the true summit.
The boys traverse back to the col before we head up to the true summit.
Some views opening up.
Some views opening up.
Tackling the summit slope.
Tackling the summit slope.
Tackling the summit slope.
Tackling the summit slope.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
Ascending Big Bend Peak.
A summit pano looking back to the east includes unnamed peaks around the Big Bend and Cirrus Mountain on the right - just peaking through the cloud cover.
A summit pano looking back to the east includes unnamed peaks around the Big Bend and Cirrus Mountain on the right - just peaking through the cloud cover.
Mount Columbia and Andromeda show up - our views are getting better all the time!
Mount Columbia and Andromeda show up - our views are getting better all the time!
I love this shot of Nigel peeking through the clouds.
I love this shot of Nigel peeking through the clouds.
From left to right, Cirrus, Spine, Saskatchewan and North Towers.
From left to right, Cirrus, Spine, Saskatchewan and North Towers.
Looking back at our ascent track. Cirrus Mountain looms on the left and Spine Peak on the right.
Looking back at our ascent track. Cirrus Mountain looms on the left and Spine Peak on the right.
Mount "Totally Awesome View" and Bryce peaking over the clouds.
Mount "Totally Awesome View" and Bryce peaking over the clouds.
A wider pano adding Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca and Nigel to the mix.
A wider pano adding Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca and Nigel to the mix.
Bryce on the left and Castleguard on the right.
Bryce on the left and Castleguard on the right.
Now there's Bryce!
Now there's Bryce!
Castleguard looks awesome from almost any angle.
Castleguard looks awesome from almost any angle.
Mount Columbia! I have a date with her soon.
Mount Columbia! I have a date with her soon.
Cleopatra's Needle on the east side of Mount Saskatchewan.
Cleopatra's Needle on the east side of Mount Saskatchewan.
Steven looks for a way off the west slopes of BBP. Mount Totally Awesome View rises above him with Bryce and Mount Saskatchewan Junior in the foreground.
Steven looks for a way off the west slopes of BBP. Mount Totally Awesome View rises above him with Bryce and Mount Saskatchewan Junior in the foreground.
Clearing skies. Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca and Nigel.
Clearing skies. Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca and Nigel.
One more pano looking west as the skies clear out a bit. Cirrus Mountain on the right.
One more pano looking west as the skies clear out a bit. Cirrus Mountain on the right.

Mount Saskatchewan Junior

After summitting Big Bend Peak (BBP), we decided that the day was much too beautiful to simply head back to the hostel already. Why not bag Mount Saskatchewan Junior (MSJ) while we were in the vicinity right? Peak baggers can be dumb like that.

From left to right, Cirrus, Spine, Saskatchewan, North Towers TAV, Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca and Nigel Peak.
Steven looks for a way off the west slopes of BBP. Mount Totally Awesome View rises above him with Bryce and Mount Saskatchewan Junior in the foreground.

Steven did his best to help our cause by letting us know several times that according to Raf there was no way off the west side of BBP. We ignored his warnings and started descending anyway. You never know ’til you get your nose in it. We initially descended the west face almost directly below the summit. This was steep, loose and either hard pack or ice depending on the line. We managed to eventually trend skier’s right to gain the north ridge a bit lower down but not without some scrambling difficulties. This was probably the most technical part of our day.

Mount Saskatchewan has been calling my name for many years now.
We first descended this massive slope until the snow turned to ice – then we bailed to the north ridge out of sight to the skier’s right.
Looking across a small icefield towards MSJ left of center.

Once on the ridge, Steven bailed off the west side almost immediately but that didn’t look like that much fun so I traversed right to the end before turning skier’s left and traversing back down the snow field towards Steven. From our vantage on the snowfield it looked very steep to descend any further to the glacier on MSJ’s northeast side. I wasn’t too worried and started traversing south. Soon I spotted a steep, but possible descent and we took it. It worked out fantastic and soon we were tramping our way up snow slopes / glacier to the east ridge of MSJ.

Looking for a way onto the icefields on MSJ’s northeast flank.
Eric comes up the icefield with BBP in the background.

The views kept improving as we made our way to the summit. Just before the summit we stayed well left of the ‘schrund and ascended very steep snow to the small summit itself. The North Towers of Mt. Saskatchewan were impressive as was the view of Mt. Saskatchewan itself. Eric regaled us with tales of climbing it – it’s been on my ‘list’ for a long time already due to it’s remoteness and relative solace. Peaks of the Columbia icefields were also prominent including Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia and Athabasca. After enjoying a short summit stay we started our descent back to the Big Bend parking lot.

A mind-blowing scene as we make our way along the ridge to the summit of MSJ. Spine, Saskatchewan and North Towers steal the show at left.
Ben and Steven make their way to the summit of MSJ. Totally Awesome View to the left.
The incredible view from the summit of MSJ includes Cirrus, Big Bend Peak, Spine, Cleopatra’s Needle, Mount Saskatchewan, North Towers, Alexandra and Totally Awesome View!
Mount Saskatchewan and North Towers steal the show in this area.
The summit cairn with Mount Saskatchewan and the North Towers in the background.
Mount Saskatchewan deserves far more attention than it gets. But I like that, of course!

The descent was excellent. We chose a nice line that took us down a gully feather between BBP and MSJ and then contoured around BBP until meeting with our ascent tracks from earlier in the day. The views of the Mt. Saskatchewan bowl kept us from thinking of the big day waiting for our legs on Wilson after a pretty big day already. Eventually we worked our way down very solid snow (still cool in the shade) to the ascent road and back to the parking area.

Our round trip time of 9.5 hours was pretty good considering we did both peaks. I only wished I had skis for a small part of the descent – both BBP and MSJ are great snowshoe ascents if you’re confident on tricky avy terrain and glacier travel for MSJ. We enjoyed a nice evening back at the Rampart Creek hostel preparing for Mount Wilson.

Mount Saskatchewan Junior
A very steep descent off the west side of BBP.
A very steep descent off the west side of BBP.
A very steep descent off the west side of BBP.
A very steep descent off the west side of BBP.
We first descended this massive slope until the snow turned to ice - then we bailed to the north ridge out of sight to the skier's right.
We first descended this massive slope until the snow turned to ice - then we bailed to the north ridge out of sight to the skier's right.
Steven descends a steeper slope while I traverse to the end of the north ridge first. MSJ rises above Steven with a glacier between us.
Steven descends a steeper slope while I traverse to the end of the north ridge first. MSJ rises above Steven with a glacier between us.
Ben and Eric follow me down the north ridge. We avoided the cliffs above them on climber's right.
Ben and Eric follow me down the north ridge. We avoided the cliffs above them on climber's right.
Looking for a way onto the icefields on MSJ's northeast flank.
Looking for a way onto the icefields on MSJ's northeast flank.
Descending off Big Bend Peak towards the MSJ col.
Descending off Big Bend Peak towards the MSJ col.
Descending off Big Bend Peak towards the MSJ col.
Descending off Big Bend Peak towards the MSJ col.
Eric traverses off the lower slopes of BBP behind me.
Eric traverses off the lower slopes of BBP behind me.
Looking back at our descent track off BBP's west side.
Looking back at our descent track off BBP's west side.
Ascending MSJ.
Ascending MSJ.
Eric comes up the icefield with BBP in the background.
Eric comes up the icefield with BBP in the background.
A mind blowing pano as we make our way along the ridge to the summit of MSJ.
A mind blowing pano as we make our way along the ridge to the summit of MSJ.
Mount Saskatchewan.
Mount Saskatchewan.
Eric follows me up the ridge - we're off the icefield now. Cirrus in the background.
Eric follows me up the ridge - we're off the icefield now. Cirrus in the background.
Ben and Steven make their way to the summit of MSJ. Totally Awesome View to the left.
Ben and Steven make their way to the summit of MSJ. Totally Awesome View to the left.
North Towers and TAV.
North Towers and TAV.
More stunning scenery as we traverse. The valley north of Mount Saskatchewan is a really special place where few humans go - especially in winter.
More stunning scenery as we traverse. The valley north of Mount Saskatchewan is a really special place where few humans go - especially in winter.
Cirrus, Big Bend Peak, Spine, Cleopatra's Needle, Mount Saskatchewan, North Towers, Alexandra and Totally Awesome View
Cirrus, Big Bend Peak, Spine, Cleopatra's Needle, Mount Saskatchewan, North Towers, Alexandra and Totally Awesome View
Mount Totally Awesome View lives up to it's reputation!
Mount Totally Awesome View lives up to it's reputation!
Mount Columbia is so massive that it looks close. It's not!
Mount Columbia is so massive that it looks close. It's not!
Castleguard is a nice looking peak that also happens to be among the smallest on the Columbia Icefield.
Castleguard is a nice looking peak that also happens to be among the smallest on the Columbia Icefield.
Mount Bryce.
Mount Bryce.
The North Towers look so close but they're probably further than they look from here.
The North Towers look so close but they're probably further than they look from here.
Bryce, Castleguard and Mount Columbia in a wider view from the summit.
Bryce, Castleguard and Mount Columbia in a wider view from the summit.
Nigel Peak on the far left and Unnamed peaks on the right. Parker Ridge must be down there somewhere too.
Nigel Peak on the far left and Unnamed peaks on the right. Parker Ridge must be down there somewhere too.
Looking at Cirrus Mountain - I really want to climb it now (which I did, with the same guys in May of 2014). Spine Peak just to the right of it.
Looking at Cirrus Mountain - I really want to climb it now (which I did, with the same guys in May of 2014). Spine Peak just to the right of it.
Andromeda on the left and Athabasca on the right.
Andromeda on the left and Athabasca on the right.
The North Towers look awesome from this angle.
The North Towers look awesome from this angle.
The summit cairn with Mount Saskatchewan and the North Towers in the background.
The summit cairn with Mount Saskatchewan and the North Towers in the background.
The team leaves the summit.
The team leaves the summit.
Mount Alexandra shows up between the North Towers and Mount Totally Awesome View.
Mount Alexandra shows up between the North Towers and Mount Totally Awesome View.
Going back over a small rise in the descent ridge.
Going back over a small rise in the descent ridge.
One of the most scenic areas in the Rockies is not very well known.
One of the most scenic areas in the Rockies is not very well known.
Eric descends past the false summit. Cirrus Mountain looms way off in the distance.
Eric descends past the false summit. Cirrus Mountain looms way off in the distance.
Descending the icefield with Big Bend Peak looming above and our tracks coming down it's west flank.
Descending the icefield with Big Bend Peak looming above and our tracks coming down it's west flank.
Descending the icefield with Big Bend Peak looming above and our tracks coming down it's west flank.
Descending the icefield with Big Bend Peak looming above and our tracks coming down it's west flank.
A beautiful afternoon! Ascent slopes for Spine Peak are rising above the team across the valley - very avy prone but north facing at least.
A beautiful afternoon! Ascent slopes for Spine Peak are rising above the team across the valley - very avy prone but north facing at least.
I can't get enough of this view!
I can't get enough of this view!
Contouring around the south side of BBP to it's east side.
Contouring around the south side of BBP to it's east side.
Traversing steep slopes - good thing it wasn't too warm and the snow was very stable here.
Traversing steep slopes - good thing it wasn't too warm and the snow was very stable here.
Last look at the huge Mount Saskatchewan.
Last look at the huge Mount Saskatchewan.
Re-crossing the Saskatchewan River.
Re-crossing the Saskatchewan River.

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