Summit Elevation (m): 2667
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 17
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: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
On April 26 2013 I joined Steven Song for an ascent of Survey Peak along the icefields parkway at Saskatchewan Crossing. As you can see from the route image below, Survey Peak isn’t rocket science as far as Rockies summits goes. This was intentional on our part, due to completing a pretty big weekend 3 days previous on Wilson and also due to a questionable weather forecast. On my drive out to the Glacier Lake parking lot, just past the crossing, I was a bit apprehensive about our chances of success – it was pouring rain from Bow Lake until 2 minutes before the crossing! I wasn’t driving 3 hours and getting up at 04:00 for nothing though so we decided to give it a shot anyway.
I’ve never been on the Glacier Lake trail before. It undulates a fair amount, essentially going downhill from the parking lot until a bridge (large!) crosses the North Saskatchewan River. From there it goes up and down on the north side of the Howse River. Andrew’s trip report mentioned going almost 5km up the trail before cutting climber’s right into the forest and bushwhacking to the east shoulder of Survey. When I was looking at my map I wondered why one couldn’t gain the gentle east ridge much earlier and hopefully have an easier time of the bushwhack? It worked for us. As we were walking down the trail I noticed two distinct trails going up onto the ridge within about 15 meters of each other (merging once in the trees). Steven and I discussed it and we agreed that it made sense to follow the trail.
It felt like spring in the forest. Birds were chirping and it was t-shirt weather as we followed the rough trail gradually up the snow-free lower slope. The trail was distinct but when we hit a shallow draw with tons of deadfall we lost it. Eventually we went a bit too far climber’s right but trended slowly left as we hit more and deeper amounts of snow. Finally we put the ‘shoes on and kept ascending, pleasantly surprised by the firm base that prevented post holing even though it was +10 degrees. The bush on the east ridge is fairly thick and tight. Steven had a hard time with his snowshoes catching on trees before we put them on our feet and I have some good scratches on my arms / legs / face from the thick scrub. Without the GPS I don’t think we would’ve followed the ridge quite as nice as we did. It’s very indistinct lower down and it’s only when you’re 3/4 way up to the shoulder that it starts steepening and gaining some definition as a ‘ridge’. It was at this point that we came on old snowshoe tracks, which we promptly followed up. The new tracks did a good job of avoided thick bush but unfortunately whoever made them ran out of steam about 20 minutes shy of the shoulder! The tracks simply died off and we resumed “breaking trail” – we only sank about 1-2″ anyway.
As we gained tree line the weather wasn’t getting any worse. It was a grey and blustery day but the temps were warm and that helped push us on. When we finally crested the shoulder the scene that greeted us was a little grim. The wind was so strong it was almost blowing poor Steven back into the river far below! Snow grains felt like sandblasting on our faces and we quickly started covering exposed skin with ski masks and goggles. Thank goodness it was warm or I’m not sure we would have pushed on. The final slope to the summit is certainly steep enough to slide but compared with Big Bend Peak or Mount Wilson it’s not that bad. We had cloud cover and bomber snow so it wasn’t an issue for us. It felt good to finally summit after a pretty good pace and 4.5 hours from the car. We didn’t linger long but did enjoy better-than-expected views of Erasmus, Sullivan, Outram, Sarbach, Wilson and Murchison. Unfortunately we didn’t get good views of Forbes but you can’t win ’em all.
The way down was very quick, as expected. We followed the ‘shoe path we came across for a different route down but this wasn’t any better than our ascent track. We still had to bushwhack our way to the Glacier Lake trail but once on the trail we were home free. The walk back to the parking lot was spring again with puddles and chirping birds all around. Survey Peak isn’t a grand mountain but it is easy and must have sublime views on a clear day. I can’t see it being much fun without snow for at least part of the tedious bushy east ridge so I would suggest snowshoes in March or April when the lower trail is snow free but you can still take advantage of snow higher up the ridge.