Summit Elevation (m): 2800
Trip Date: Saturday, January 09 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 945 (1500 with laps)
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 21 (with laps)
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 2 – You fall you sprain your wrist. If you’re caught in an avalanche you could get seriously hurt or 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: OT3
Map: Google Maps
Wietse and I decided that since it has been almost 9 years since we last skied Little Crowfoot it was time for a repeat to check out snow conditions along hwy 93 near the Wapta Icefield. We arrived at a chilly (-17) and very busy parking lot at Bow Lake around 08:15 and by 08:30 we were trying to keep warm with a brisk pace across Bow Lake. Judging by the busy parking lot, well used skin track and many other tracks besides, people have been busy avoiding Covid lockdowns in the city by escaping to the mountains this year. I can’t blame them – nature therapy works!
It’s been a while since I approached and skied the Bow Canyon and for some reason everything seemed smaller than I remembered. Funny how that happens over the years. I remember the first few times I skied through here I would have tingling shoulders – fully expecting slides to come down into the creek while I skied through it. The creek had good coverage and interesting views, as always. There was one tricky little spot near the end of the canyon where we had to sneak over an exposed drop but nothing too dramatic.
As we skied up along the avalanche slopes to the end of the canyon (now high above it on the east side) we noticed that we were following a group of three skiers and had another group of 2 following. Usually this side of the canyon is fairly quiet but not today! We following a good – but steep – skin track up to a shoulder that leads towards Little Crowfoot and Vulture Peak before dropping slightly more east and heading up old moraines to the glacier.
I was not feeling a ton of energy as we followed the other groups up the toe of the tame Crowfoot Glacier. I trudged up towards Little Crowfoot, following a much speedier Wietse as the wind picked up and cooled us off. The other groups were all continuing for a pretty rocky looking Crowfoot Mountain. The track we were following led nicely to the summit of our destination but the wind at the top was cold so we didn’t linger long. Soon we were cruising nicely down some boot-top powder on a firm base – winter farming is the best kind of work!
We descended about 200 vertical meters to the toe of the glacier before donning skins and starting slowly back up. We had decided early on to do at least 3 runs off the summit and proceeded with our 2nd and 3rd runs. On the 3rd run we took a slightly steeper line off the summit which was so much fun we decided to add a 4th lap. I was glad since I wanted to get around 1500 vertical meters on the day. We were surprised to see at least 2 or 3 other large groups skinning up Crowfoot Mountain as we completed our laps. This was a busy place today!
We met the group that had been ahead of us earlier in the day as they added Little Crowfoot to their itinerary. After chatting for a few minutes we realized we “knew” each other – it was Connor Young who I’ve known for years on Social Media through other friends. Connor and his group led the charge off the summit and Wietse and I lagged a bit behind them for the exit. The ski down to the canyon went quickly – staying west of our approach line worked well. I put a nice scratch in my skis while skiing down above the lower canyon, hitting a hidden rock dead-on. Snow coverage is still not where I like it to be lower down but it’s getting there.
It felt good to be out near the Wapta again with the wild scenery it always gives us. Winter feels like it’s progressing in the area although more snow and less wind certainly wouldn’t hurt!