Chickadee Peak (Chimney E1)

Summit Elevation (m): 2820
Trip Date: April 25 2015
Elevation Gain (m): 1200
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 21
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: The route to the summit traverses and climbs some major avalanche slopes. It is also exposed to some cornice hazard.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Skiing)
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps
Photos: View Album

Chickadee Peak has been on my radar ever since seeing Raf’s trip report on it. Back when Wietse and I did Boom Mountain, I remember looking at all the skiable terrain further up the Chickadee Valley and wondering if there were any other peaks we could ski in the area. Well, it turns out that there is! As Wietse, Ferenc and I drove to the parking area, Wietse started asking what we’d do if there wasn’t any snow on the approach! We weren’t laughing so hard when we finally parked. There wasn’t a lot of white stuff around anymore…

Chickadee Peak Route Map

After ruining a “pure ski ascent” already from the parking lot (i.e. we carried our skis about 100m before finding enough snow to actually ski), we happily donned our skis and started up the lovely Chickadee Valley. The weather in Calgary was supposed to be rather dreary and cold, but here on the divide things were very different. The birds were chirping, the stream was bubbling and the snow was melting in a very strong spring sun as we worked our way up the lower – marginal – ski track.

Wietse skis along the cheerful Vermillion River.

Once we got a few kilometers up the stream, ski conditions improved. We worked our way along a pretty open stream until we finally passed the turn off for Boom Mountain and began the approach to the lower access slopes south of Chickadee Peak. Here we had two options. The first, obvious, choice was to head straight north up a steep avy slope to gain the hanging valley SE of the peak. The second, was to follow the up track for the Chick-a-boom traverse before traversing back to the east along steep forested slopes to gain access to the hanging valley. I wasn’t sure the traverse would work, so I headed straight up the short, steep avy slope instead.

Looking up the avy slope that we used to gain the hanging valley. On descent we traversed the obvious bench that trends out of sight to the left. I saw the bear at the top of this slope.

As I worked my way up, I happened to glance upwards and spotted a fairly large black bear gazing back at me from near the lip of the slope! Hmmm. That’s a first! I’ve never ran into a bear on skis before… The bear didn’t pay me much attention and continued down valley while I boot packed over his tracks to gain the top of the slope, rather than continue sliding around on my skis on the hard snow which was thankfully holding up very well despite the warm sunshine. The hanging valley is a gorgeous location. I enjoyed skiing up the terrain and was already smiling, thinking of the fantastic ski run back down it. There was one issue though. The sun was much hotter and more intense than we were expecting this day, and we were surrounded but avalanche terrain in this bowl. It wasn’t quite a terrain trap, but it was close.

The beautiful hanging valley that gives access to the peak (out of sight). You can see it’s almost a terrain trap and there have been recent slides.

The snow was classic spring conditions with dust on crust and was holding up very well, so we kept going with a keen eye on conditions. One sign of instability and I was going to be turning around very quickly. As I worked my way into the back of the hanging valley, I could see avalanche debris from a recent slide and some very steep terrain leading up to the col at the back of the valley. This terrain made me even more nervous but again, the snow was holding up well so we continued. Thanks to the dust on crust, it was hard to get our ski edges / skins to grip the steep roll and eventually Ferenc and Wietse gave up and boot packed it. I tried out my ski crampons for the first time (!!) and they worked fantastic. I remember TJ using them on North Twin where I felt very insecure on skins and now I know why he was so confident on those steep, hard, slopes. I won’t be leaving home without these in the spring again.

Incredible scenery as Ferenc and Wietse boot pack the steep roll under the col at the head of the valley. I managed to use ski crampons here and went right up the steep dust on crust. This is typical avalanche terrain and should not be under estimated. There are rocks showing, which indicate a shallow break-away zone.
Wietse looks tiny as he finishes the exposed part of the upper ski traverse.

After negotiating the steepest part of the roll, we still had a few hundred meters of height to gain and the summit was still not in sight either. Knowing we had a sublime ski down ahead of us helped with the energy levels as Ferenc and I broke trail through the col, sweating furiously in out t-shirts! No wind and a warm sun greeted us on the summit of Chickadee, along with excellent views in every direction. We spent around 30 minutes taking photos and enjoying the scenery before Wietse joined us. Clouds were thickening around us as we started our descent.

A panorama including Bell, Castle, Bonnet, Ishbel, Boom and Storm (L to R).
A wonderful pano over Boom Lake includes from L to R, Bident, Bell, Castle, Boom, Storm and Whymper.

The ski down was unbelievable! It was over way too quickly. The crust held up very well and we managed to ski down all the steep rolls and exposed terrain with no major falls. Probably some of the best backcountry terrain I’ve skied this year, except maybe the upper part of Androlumbia. At the lip of the steep avy slope that we used to gain the hanging valley, we took the other route down through steep trees and along the valley leading to the chick-a-boom traverse. This worked very well.

Excellent dust on crust skiing!

From the upper Chickadee valley it was a pleasant and fast ski back to the parking lot, especially considering how melted back the  lower trail was. I highly recommend this outing for competent ski parties. I would not do this ski without a solid assessment of avy conditions as you cross and ascend many slopes that slide regularly.

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