Max Elevation (m): 2491
Trip Date: Sunday, March 15, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 750
Round Trip Time (hrs): 6.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 16
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: A relatively easy backcountry ski tour in stunning surroundings. There are avy slopes to avoid and some potentially tricky whiteout navigation between Dolomite Pass and the Puzzle / Dolomite Peak col. Tree skiing towards Mosquito Creek can be horrid in bad snow.
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Skiing)
Map: Google Maps
On March 01, 2008 I ended up on the Dolomite Circuit after starting and turning back on a ski attempt of Mount Hector thanks to spicy avalanche conditions. For some reason I never wrote up a trip report and decided a few years ago to redo it sometime. That time ended up being March 15 2020 with an entirely new group – all of whom I’d never met before. I knew Chantel from Facebook for a few years already but I’d never met Peter and Heather – not even virtually. It turns out that I would go out again with any of these fine folks after spending a very enjoyable day backcountry skiing in paradise with them. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.
I was a bit apprehensive about Sunday’s plan to ski the circuit. Originally I was going to try a repeat of the East Ridge of Panorama Ridge with Chantel. At the last minute on Saturday evening, the plan changed to the Dolomite Circuit with Heather added. An hour or so later and Peter joined the fray! Why was I apprehensive? Chantel is skiing on a torn ACL and is awaiting surgery to repair it. Honestly, I’ve never heard of someone with that particular injury skiing – especially backcountry. Based on previous trips she seemed to have no issues other than simply keeping the skins on for descent and taking it as slow as possible on the downs. In the end I figured the Dolomite Circuit might actually be safer and easier than Panorama Ridge, so it ended up making more sense to do this objective. Another reason for my apprehension was the freaking cold overnight temperatures. March is being a b-tch just like last year with very cold mid-January temperatures. It was destined feel like -30 at our 08:00 planned departure time from hwy 93! Arg.
Sure enough. As we prepared to leave the very narrow parking spot along hwy 93, it felt freaking, bloody cold. I was a bit grumpy about it at first but put my head down and tried to keep up with a speedy Chantel as we followed an old skin track from the hwy up over the southeast end of Crystal Ridge. I could barely keep up but eventually we all settled into a reasonable-but-speedy pace and slowly started getting used to the bitter cold. My camera stopped working about 5 minutes into the trip and didn’t awaken until we hit sunshine! Thankfully my iPhone still worked for photos in -30…
We dropped into the Helen Creek drainage and continued following the old skin track as it worked its way up towards Lake Helen and Dolomite Pass. Eventually the skin track stopped for some reason and we were left to our own devices to find the correct route as it steepened to the south end of the ridge running from Cirque Peak. I had a track on my phone and it pretty much worked perfectly guiding us through some trees and finally into the open and much needed WARM sunshine!
After skinning some wind-hammered slopes up and over the ridge we were treated to the best part of this traverse – the stunning Lake Katherine environs which I’ve enjoyed many times in both summer and winter conditions. This was Chantel, Heather and Peter’s first time back here and they were suitably impressed. As we skinned down and over Lake Katherine I greeted old friends such as Cirque, Bobac, Watermelon and of course, Puzzle Peak. It was humbling to look at the giant SW face of Puzzle and our route up that loose, nasty terrain.
Skiing from Lake Katherine to the Puzzle / Dolomite col is the trickiest navigation of the circuit. In the clear conditions we had, it was no issue but I know people can get a bit turned around here in whiteout conditions. There are some small avalanche slopes in here to watch out for in elevated conditions. I really enjoyed breaking trail for part of this traverse – it reminds me of being back on our farm growing up and exploring on my xcountry skis.
Once at the col we realized we were making pretty good time. This group doesn’t mess around with breaks! 😉 I finished my Starbucks while the rest of the group started skiing the gentle terrain into the lovely hanging valley between Puzzle and Dolomite. As I skied down towards the choke point I wished the slope was just a bit bigger, but beggars can’t be choosers and the weather and views towards Noseeum, Andromache, Little Hector and Mount Hector were absolutely stunning in the brilliant sunshine and fresh white snow.
After skiing through the natural choke we continued down the hanging valley towards Mosquito Creek, sucking in the views and the gorgeous weather. We noticed folks skiing the OXO / Puzzle SE shoulder that’s gotten so popular lately and also spotted where the rock slide occurred in 2018. We continued following the valley until it exited towards forested slopes leading to Mosquito Creek. Here we had a choice. Descend steeply to the creek and follow that trail out to hwy 93 or do a gentle downhill traverse aiming south towards the distant highway and avoid Mosquito Creek altogether. We chose the later option which worked out really well for Chantel since she was still using skins. The skiing was pretty easy where it was steep enough to actually grab a turn or two.
We exited the trees a bit too far north of Mosquito Creek but it was no big deal and we skied / walked to the parking lot under a very warm sun. The temperatures at the end of our trip were pretty much 30 degrees warmer than the start!
I was very satisfied to ski this circuit again after 12 years. It was easier and simpler than I remembered – this would make a great beginner backcountry ski tour with limited avalanche slopes and pretty easy navigation in clear weather. The company made this day even better. I don’t travel with new trip partners very often but this trip reminded me yet again how accommodating and easy going most backcountry folks are. I would do another trip with Chantel, Heather or Peter again any time.