Summit Elevation (m): 2865
Elevation Gain (m): 1050
Round Trip Time (hr): 8.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 19
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 2 – You fall you sprain something – unless you’re in an avalanche. Then you could definitely die.
Difficulty Notes: Winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks. Learn how to manage these risks and perform avalanche burial rescues before attempting this trip.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Skiing)
Map: Google Maps
I can’t believe it’s already been 8 years since I last skied up Quartzite Peak. Man does time fly by quickly. I can tell that I’m running low on new Alberta Rockies peaks to ski as I’m slowly starting to build a list of repeats over the past few years. I must be getting older too, because I find myself enjoying these repeats more than I think I would have a few years ago. Some folks might wonder why we went out for a backcountry ski tour at all – given the current environment around Covid-19. Virtue signalling and armchair quarterbacking has replaced Ha Ling sunrise photos as the endorphin mechanism of choice on my social media feeds thanks to the virus and related issues in reference to rescue scenarios and a shortage of emergency resources. Let me be clear. If you are the sort of person who goes off on adventures that will likely require someone else to save you and/or get you home again than I have a great phrase for you to memorize and remember long after Covid-19 disappears;
Know your limit. Stay within it.
It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? If you’re Alex Honnald maybe dial your free soloing back to a 5.9 or 5.10 while our emergency services are under strain. If you’re an average weekend warrior hack like most of the rest of us, maybe keep things at a 6 or 7 out of 10 on the personal limit scale. If you really need that engagement endorphin hit and want to tell everyone else in the world what their limits are then knock yourself out. It’s a free world but don’t expect me to pay too much attention – no different than all those sunrise photos from the same location… For the record, as I already alluded to, if you get into a lot of ‘situations’ in the backcountry you should seriously reconsider your choices as you are obviously living too close to your ability limits. IMHO you should always expect to come back home on your own abilities – you should never be going out with the possibility of needing someone else to hang out of a heli putting themselves at risk to bring your ass home. There. That’s my armchair rant for the day. 😉 And yes – I consider Quartzite Peak to be about a 5 or 6 out of 10 on my ability scale so well within a 99.99% probability of bringing myself home. About on par with driving to the Prairie Mountain trailhead.
The weekend previous to this trip I did a repeat ski tour of the Dolomite Circuit with Chantel, Peter and Heather. It was nice to get out with a new group of friends and just enjoy a gorgeous day in the mountains. Wietse and I had been planning a trip up Quartzite for a few months already and were just waiting for the perfect day to do it. When Chantel and Alison showed interest in the same objective, we decided to make it a group trip on Saturday, March 21. We noticed clouds and snow in the spot forecast for the afternoon so we agreed to an early start, meeting at around 08:00. In order to limit exposure to each other we took three cars to the Mosquito Creek trailhead. At least gasoline is dirt cheap right now with the collapse in oil prices… (I’d much rather pay $1.65 per liter and have a booming economy in Alberta than have no job and cheap gas.)
The air in the Mosquito Creek valley was freaking cold first thing in the morning! Good thing the skies were completely clear and we could see sunshine on our slopes far up valley. The one frustrating element to both Ramp and Quartzite Peak is that you ski at least 5km up Mosquito Creek before you start gaining any of the 1000+ meters to their summits. As we approached the campground I worried that the skin track we were following was going too far right (south) but soon it cut left and started up the forested slopes towards Ramp Peak. Wietse led up to the first height loss into the familiar bowl sitting under both peaks. From here we had to break our own trail on a fairly firm crust towards the lower slopes of Ramp Peak.
Soon we found ourselves on the short avalanche traverse – it was snowier and therefore easier than the other two times I’ve done it. From the traverse we headed towards Ramp Peak before working our way left to the lower south face of Quartzite Peak. I took over the lead from Wietse at this point who was starting to feel the effects of a late night and stressful week. The sun was out in full spring force and the crust unfortunately began to break down in spots. As I worked my way up the uniform south slope the snow broke down more and more until I decided it might be time to try boot packing. Views behind me as I climbed were absolutely stunning – just as they were 8 years ago. It was a great day to be out and alive in the hills and not thinking about viruses, jobs, stock portfolios etc. I was enjoying the workout and greatly enjoying the crisp air and warm sunshine.
Of course, as soon I realized how much fun I was having the crust turned into breakable crust and then totally disintegrated into waist deep sugar snow. WTF?! It was at this point that I realized how crappy the ski conditions were going to be on descent, but at this point there was still a few hundred vertical meters to be done so I turned my attention back to the present. After wading and cursing my way up another 50 meters or so I gave up and put the skis back on my feet. Things went much better with the snow sticks on and soon I was skinning through the summit rocks to an amazing summit panorama and not a breath of wind. I could see clouds coming in from the north but for the next 20 minutes I enjoyed absolute stillness and incredible views as the rest of the team came up to join me. It always surprised me how many dang peaks I’ve stood on over the years. It felt like I was meeting old friends as I gazed over at Noseeum, Hector, Molar, Mosquito, Ramp, Cataract, Deluc, Dip Slope, Devon, Crown, Tower, Willingdon, Clearwater, Quill, Bobac, Watermelon, Puzzle, Bow, BowCrow, Crowfoot, Balfour, Daly, Cathedral, Vaux and many, many others. I’ve been so privileged to stand on all these spectacular summits over the years. It’s somewhat humbling to meditate on that once in a while.
As Chantel made her way to the summit the weather was slowly turning. Remember – Chantel has a broken knee. It’s kind of crazy that she can even do these adventures, much less ski tours like Quartzite Peak. The only reason I knew she could do this trip was how well she did on the Dolomite Circuit the weekend previous. A cold north wind chased us down onto the extremely hard-to-ski south face sooner than I would have liked. I was hoping we could wait for things to soften up a bit more but c’est la vie. Wietse and I skied off the summit with mixed success (i.e. it wasn’t pretty LOL) while Ali and Chantel walked down the face for a few hundred meters to where Ali had left her skis on ascent. Ali skied while Chantel decided that she’d better walk down the steeper face a bit further to protect her injury. I waited for Chantel at a high col while Ali and Wietse skied down a bit further to warmer temperatures. While waiting I enjoyed watching 2-3 people on Ramp Peak – ironically I had the exact same experience 8 years ago when I watched Dave and Anders on Ramp.
Because of her injury Chantel was limited to ‘skiing’ down with her skins on which is a delicate exercise. She performed admirably and eventually we joined Wietse and Ali who were looking very comfortable in the warm sunshine! The weather continued to turn slowly while we worked our way on pretty terrible snow towards tree line. As we descended into the bowl just below tree line I followed tracks from a group in front of us that seemed to deviate towards north slopes. The north snow slope was WAY better than anything else we’d been on. A lesson for subsequent trips this spring I guess… Skiing down through the trees to the Mosquito Creek campground was challenging on a breakable and unpredictable crust.
From the campground the ski back to the highway was fairly quick and easy as usual. I prefer to leave the skins off despite a few uphill sections but others re-skin just for the sake of these annoyances. All in all my 2nd go around of Quartzite Peak was completely worth it. It was nice to get Ali, Wietse and Chantel up a new peak on skis and we enjoyed lots of Vitamin D and L (laughter) on the way up and down. I suspect that all backcountry travel might be cancelled soon in these extraordinary times and trips like this might be off the table for awhile. I understand the need for this type of restriction and will obviously respect it if and when it arrives. Until then, I’ll continue adventuring on a dialed back level, keeping myself fresh and on point to deal with all the first world challenges that we’re all facing. Stay safe my friends, and let me know if you need any help through this difficult time.