Summit Elevation (m): 2709
Trip Date: Sunday, March 3, 2019
Elevation Gain (m): 980
Trip Time (hr): 5.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 8.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something – unless you’re caught in an avalanche or cornice failure in which case you could die
Difficulty Notes: A pretty tame ski tour or snowshoe at least until the summit ridge where you might want an ice ax and/or crampons to feel secure on wind hammered snow.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Skiing)
Map: Google Maps
After braving fairly cold temperatures the last weekend of February 2019, I was ready for some more bravery on the first weekend of March 2019. When I say “ready”, I really mean I was desperate enough to get my ass off the couch and out of the city to suffer -30 temps – frostbite be damned! When I contacted Ali to find out what she was up to, she mentioned Matt Clay was planning something. When the dust finally settled we decided that a group of us would tramp up Hector Ridge South, roughly following Bob Spirko’s route. Hanneke even decided to join me so in the end it was her and I, Phil, Clay, Sandra and Alison with Ali and I on skis and the rest on snowshoes. I was excited to finally meet Mr. Clay and his wife and it was the first time Hanneke would meeting Ali, Matt and Sandra so there was an unusual amount of socializing going on for everyone… 🙂
We met at the Lake Louise parking lot in frigid -31 degree temperatures and after quick introductions we were back in the warm vehicles for the 10 minute ride up the Icefields Parkway to the very tight parking on the snow covered shoulder near our ascend route. While the parking was iffy, at least this section of highway was relatively straight, giving pass traffic time to avoid us! As an added bonus, we could see tracks heading up our slope right from the ditch – it was looking like there would be no trail-breaking for us this day.
Despite the frosty temps, we quickly warmed as we ascended a pretty steep but very well-packed trail through tight forest towards tree-line on the shoulder. Within about an hour of leaving the highway we were getting the first of many stunning views – especially behind us towards the so-called “pulpit peaks” and Mount Daly and Balfour.
Pretty quickly we found ourselves on barren open snow slopes looking up at a distant looking summit ridge with an obvious switch-backing trail cut into the steepish snow slope leading upwards to intersect it. I was getting excited about the ski down at this point as the snow was pretty decent at ankle to deeper powder and no obvious crust (for once).
From the lower west shoulder we slowly made our way up past the lower south ridge and towards the steeper slopes to the ridge above. The switchbacks were optimal up this final slope and the views kept us distracted from the cold air until we were looking at a heavily corniced south ridge to the distant summit. We did not look to have a simply scree walk such as Bob did in 2005, rather we would be dealing with wind blasted (rock hard) snow slopes and cornices. Hanneke decided the views were good enough from the top-out point and the rest of us proceeded along the ridge.
I kept my skis on until a small step in the ridge forced me to take them off. I should have had ski crampons along but assumed this would be a very simply traverse and hence underestimated it. At the very least I should have had an ice ax – a slip in several spots would have been annoying at best and resulted in serious injury at worst. Oh well. I tried to make little indents with my ski boots across the most exposed sections of rock hard snow, following Phil who had more grip on his snowshoes with their built-in crampons. Just shows once again that you should always be prepared in the mountains – even on “easy” trips.
We didn’t dare flirt with the massive summit cornice but on hindsight we likely could have gotten a few meters higher. Not worth the obvious risk for the end of a ridge… Our views were stunning over the Pipestone River towards Skoki and Lake Louise and across the Bow River to Yoho and the Waputik Range across the parkway to the west. After snapping some pics we decided to return to the col – I didn’t want Hann to get too cold waiting for us. We met Ali and Matt on our way back along the ridge – they would also make the summit.
The views from the top-out of the ridge were almost as good as the summit views and included gorgeous angles on both Molar Mountain and Cataract Peak. Soon enough Matt and Ali joined the rest of us and it was time for the fun descent!
Ali and I blasted off on skis while the others made short work of the upper slopes as well. As I skied down I noticed a large group of skiers below me, at the base of the final slope to the ridge. I thought I could hear singing as well but wasn’t sure if I was imagining things or not. As I skied towards the group I recognized Sonny Bou who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Sonny and I have done many adventures in the mountains together over the years and it was delightful to meet him again in the hills. I also finally met Zosia and it was cool to see Marta again (we did Protection Mountain together back in 2009). It turns out that many of the groups hadn’t met before and after much hand shaking and introductions we parted company – one group heading up and the other down.
The ski from the shoulder to the thicker trees near the highway was delightful. Powder up to knee deep provided easy and safe turns, including some pretty steeply treed sections. Nearer to the parkway the skiing frankly, sucked. It was typical Alberta bush survival skiing, but we survived.
I highly recommend this trip for either skiers or ‘shoers but don’t underestimate the steeper slopes near the ridge or the corniced walk to the high point – both of these are typical winter hazards and should be avoided in elevated avalanche conditions. This was a very enjoyable group trip – it was nice to be social for once in the mountains, something I should probably pursue more often… 😉