Summit Elevation (m): 2165
Trip Date: February 15 2014
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 21
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: There are a few narrow / exposed sections of ridge where if you slip it’s game over. Otherwise it’s easy.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
On Saturday, February 15 2014, Steven Song and I completed one of very few ski ascents of “Spoon Needle” in Kananaskis Country, east of the Fortress Ski resort. There was many years when this lowly, but striking, peak saw only 1 ascent per season, but thanks to the internet and both it’s easy nature and prominent appearance from Hwy 40, the peak is gaining in popularity. Alas, since most people choose it as an off season objective, there are almost as many routes as there are ascents.
Back in September, 2004, Sonny Bou managed to drive to the old Fortress Ski Resort and only took 4.5 hours to scramble the entire peak. In 2013, Golden Scrambles managed a 10 hour snowshoe slog from the Galatea trail! So Nakagawa approached from the north as well, but ended up not making the true summit. Scott Berry probably did the most sensible thing considering the approach road to Fortress is closed, approaching from the campground and basically going straight up the north ridge and traversing some 5th class terrain to the true south summit. Marko Stavric showshoed the entire approach up the Fortress Ski Resort road, but this sounded rather boring so Steven and I decided it was time someone skied the approach.
Interesting Facts on The Spoon Needle
This peak is striking when driving highway 40 from the south, as you approach the Opal campground on your left. I’m not 100% sure of the name – it only appears in the summit register and doesn’t even seem to be proper French. “Needle” fits, but the “Spoon” part is questionable. I got the correct spelling from Sonny’s trip report rather than the register which is incorrect.
I wrote the name in the register. A long time ago, 2002, when I was working and living in Kananaskis Country. I don’t even remember now if I made it up myself or heard it somewhere? I think it was just me, but who knows. 🙂 Anyhoo, an explanation of the name: From the South, it is a prominent pointy needle-like peak (that is why we all go up there). From the East it is broad and round, like the back of a spoon. Eau Claire campground is right below it, therefore the French.From an email sent to me from Graham Suffield in March, 2015
We met at 08:30 at the gate blocking the bridge over the Kananaskis River. This bridge has been decommissioned a few times already, but it’s obviously now safe to drive over because there is guided snow-cat skiing at the resort now, and apparently even a movie was being scouted up there. We spoke briefly to a guide who was gathering clients into a van for a day of cat skiing. He cautioned against the newly formed soft-slabs and we assured him we were going up pretty tame terrain. He let us in the main gate and we watched as the van drove up the road ahead of us. I was initially worried that the road would be full of gravel, making the skiing rather horrible, but instead it was nicely packed and icy from the vehicles – with no sanding at all. This was perfect for our trip back at the end of the day.
The road was boring but we managed a good pace and some good conversation before peeling off around the 9.5km marker (6.5km up the road). We took a steeper cutline up to a high point before the resort and then dropped into the rolling terrain between the resort and the south ridge of Spoon Needle – following Marko’s GPS track. There was more gain/loss in the terrain between the Fortress Ridge and Spoon Needle that we were expecting. Maybe it’s better to go right to the resort, but we lost a lot more than the rumored 100 meters (see my total elevation gain for the peak – based on my trusty Suunto altimeter watch). The snowpack was surprisingly stable with about 4-6 inches of fresh snow on top. Thank goodness, because without it we would have been pretty exhausted.
Eventually we worked our way up the south ridge – keeping the skis on as long as possible due to very deep snow drifts on the ridge. Once we reached the wind-blown rocks on the ridge-proper, we ditched the skis and continued up on foot. The ridge is much tamer than it appears but I still rated it 3rd class thanks to two no-slip zones, where a fall would certainly kill you. With some snow and ice on them, these rocks got our full attention.
The summit view was stunning for such a diminutive peak, making the effort required to attain it worth it. The trip down was quick, thanks to our broken trail, but there was lots of elevation gain too. The road back to our cars was fast, taking less than 20 minutes including breaks. Our round trip time was pretty steady moving – 8-9 hours would not be out of line if there was more fresh snow or a less supportive snow pack. There is also an arguably more sensible and much shorter route that ascends the east slopes directly across the Kananaskis River from the Eau Claire campground – the only catch being crossing the river, which can fluctuate a lot over one day, thanks to being dam-controlled upstream.