Summit Elevation (m): 2545
Trip Date: Sunday, March 11, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1100
Round Trip Time (hr): 5.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 18
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: Without snow I’m sure this is simply a hike. On skis or snowshoes there is some avalanche terrain but it’s mostly avoidable.
Technical Rating: OT5; YDS (Hiking)
After skiing to the summit of Mount Field the day before, I was ready to enjoy another perfect winter day on skis before returning back to the drudgery of another work week in the concrete jungle. Since I haven’t been out much on the snow sticks this winter, I was certainly feeling a bit stiff the evening before! On our drive to Mount Field, Wietse had pointed out the East Ridge of Panorama Ridge to me and I thought it was the perfect winter solo ski objective for elevated avalanche conditions – provided I could drag my butt out of bed early enough.
Despite Daylight Savings Time screwing with my internal clock, I managed to stagger out of bed and point my truck in the right direction on Sunday morning. I wasn’t super early, but I was only one of two vehicles in the Taylor Lake parking lot as I kicked into my skis and started the long trudge up towards Taylor Lake. It has been 5 years since I hiked this trail, and it hasn’t flattened out any since the last time I was on it. Since I was solo I pushed my pace a bit too much and after 2 hours of steady skinning and ascending I noticed spots in my vision. I decided it was time for a break when I finally departed the main Taylor Lake trail and started up a decent skin track following a shallow draw that deviates to the NW, towards the small tarns above Taylor Lake and the East Ridge of Panorama Ridge.
After a short water / food break I felt much better – and could see properly again. I continued a bit more slowly upward, following a firm skin track up towards the meadows and lower ridge above Taylor Lake. There was a set of fresh snowshoe tracks on top of the skin track, but thankfully they weren’t ruining it for skiers. I wondered if Phil or one of the “Matt’s” might be ahead of me on this gorgeous day. It was even warmer than the day before as I entered the open meadow just under the ridge. I found myself ascending the final 300 vertical meters in my t-shirt to glorious views opening up in every direction. When I finally crested the ridge proper, my views over the Bow Valley towards the Skoki area and the Castle Mountain massif were mind-blowing. I knew the views were going to be amazing, but they exceeded my expectations. As I ascended through a fairly open larch forest, I imagined that this hike would be very fine in the fall.
With about 100 vertical meters to go, I ran into the lone ‘shoer who was setting fresh tracks ahead of me all day. I finally met Matt Clay after seeing his trip reports and photographs for many years already. We exchanged pleasantries before continuing on our separate solo ways. I was grateful for the broken ‘shoe tracks near the summit, as the skin track disappeared for some reason at the end of the route.
I have to say that I was pretty darn bagged by the time I finally crested the interesting outcrop at the top of the ridge. It took me about 3.5 hours to ascend the 1100 meters – I’m sure a fresh version of me could do it a bit quicker but who’s racing? I enjoyed at least 45 minutes on the summit with a friendly, lonely Ptarmigan, clothed in an elegant white winter coat. It was far more curious than I’m used to from these so-called “heart attack” birds – they tend to fly up only as you literally step on top of them, giving you a heart attack. This cute little bird kept wandering aimlessly around the summit area making sad little chirping noises that sort of reminded me of Dr. Phil Richards when the days get really long and he temporarily loses interest in life.
Reluctantly I decided that I should probably leave the glorious summit views and ski down before the solar effects deteriorated the snowpack any further than it already was. The upper slopes were awesome boot top powder and soft slab, but lower down in the larch forest things fell apart a bit, resulting in a pretty good crash on my part. Once on the main luge track leading down from Taylor Lake, it was a painful ~7km return to the parking lot. I passed quite a few people including a group on fat bikes (not technically allowed in Banff or on that trail) that must have been in pretty good shape to be biking up this steep trail on snow! It was tough to control my descent, especially with longer skis. Snow blades would be perfect for this descent! It ended soon enough, however, and within 5.5 hours of leaving the parking lot I was back.
I enjoyed this easy ski trip more than I thought I would. The views from the top are more than respectable on a clear winter day and the skiing is good down to the Taylor Lake trail. The luge track down from Taylor Lake is a bit of a drag, but it’s quick if nothing else. I would save this trip for a training day when you are either solo or avalanche conditions are elevated.