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)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google 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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.