Summit Elevation: 2840m
Trip Date: Saturday, April 17, 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 24
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: A fairly straightforward ski tour with some easy glacier travel and some snow scrambling to the summit of Haig Ridge. The route to the Sir Douglas / Robertson col has obvious avalanche potential and stable conditions are required.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Skiing)
Map: Google Maps
Wietse and I have been planning a return to the classic “FHR” ski traverse in Kananaskis Country for years. Way back in 2008 we joined TJ and Meghan for a very enjoyable trip – I think it was Wietse’s 3rd time on skis or something like that. 😉 Ever since we’ve had the tour added to our winter / spring schedules and for some reason or another it kept getting supplanted by other ideas or other trips and just didn’t get done. In the summer of 2020 while day tripping Mount Jellicoe and Prairie Lookout I happened to notice a ridge stretching north of Mount Maude that looked like a fun little ski tour. I wondered if it could be combined with the FHR ski traverse to make things a bit more interesting and once again it got added to the itinerary for spring 2021. I decided “Haig Ridge” was a suitable name for this minor peak considering the glacier it abuts. After missing a perfect day for this objective on Easter Monday we finally got things sorted for a few weekends later during the largest blue sky weather block of the season so far. Jason Wilcox would end up joining us – it’s been years since I did a trip with him and we were looking forward to getting out together again.
Thanks to nuclear temperatures forecast for Saturday April 17th, we decided to get up at 03:30 and leave YYC by 04:00. We met JW at the Burstall Pass parking lot at around 05:45 and proceeded to gear up as dawn slowly broke to the east. It had been over 13 years since I last skied up the French Creek valley and I forgot how undulating and convoluted the ski track can be in there! We set a pretty fast pace – something we agreed we had to do if we had any hopes of doing the traverse over the Robertson / Sir Douglas col and back down the Robertson Glacier to Burstall Creek for our exit. We were prepared to return our ascent route if conditions got too dangerous for the FHR traverse.
We followed an obvious ski track up French Creek, crossing it several times on dicey snow bridges that weren’t going to be there very much longer. The sound of our skins on the icy track was so loud it was almost impossible to converse so we settled into a methodical pace. It took a bit longer than I expected (just under 2 hours) to reach the moraines along the French Glacier. We ascended steeply on climber’s left of the glacier, roughly following the same line I used to access the Haig Glacier for my Mount French and Jellicoe scrambles. Near the top of the moraine the snowpack thinned out enough that my skis were touching rocks in several places and caution was required. We continued to follow the track under the steep west face of Prairie Lookout and the NW end of Mount French as it curved onto the Glacier and finally up towards the distant French / Robertson col.
Roughly 3 hours from the parking lot we were finally ascending the infamous wind scoop at the col and the head of the Haig Glacier and breaking into brilliant sunshine and wide open views. The north end of Haig Ridge looked awesome with the summit block looking a bit spicier than I remembered. For some reason I was convinced to bring glacier travel safety gear on this trip despite not using it on any previous ones including a solo excursion up Mount Jellicoe. I carried the rope in my pack but we donned harnesses for the crossing, just in case. I personally don’t think this is necessary for the Haig Glacier but take my thoughts with a grain of salt. Any travel on any glacier should involve a rope and rescue gear by default and if you really want to be safe the rope should be attached to you and your partners. The views stretching out around us as we skied on firm snow towards Haig Ridge were exactly what I was hoping for on this trip!
There were no complications skiing up the north end of Haig Ridge and soon we were approaching the somewhat intimidating summit block where it was obvious we’d be dropping the snow sticks and continuing up on foot.
From the ski drop it was good fun easy snow scrambling up a snow arete and over some slippery rocks with moderate exposure before finally arriving at the cairned high point. Several of the high points before the highest were also cairned, implying that some parties choose to turn back a bit earlier than we did. There was evidence of previous parties ascending the ridge more recently too so I guess I’m not the only one who noticed this would be a fun ski objective.
Views from the summit were stunning – just what the doctor ordered and just what I needed this objective to offer. Mount Maude was the obvious nearby looker, but other more obscure peaks such as Leroy and Monro also stole the show. The royal group and Mount King George dominated next to Mount Sir Douglas.
After enjoying a short break on the summit of Haig Ridge it was time to get back to the skis and make short work of the Robertson col which we decided was still viable despite the warming temperatures. We enjoyed the easy ski off the north end of the ridge before making a beeline for the sun baked and pinwheel-infested south slopes to the Sir Douglas / Robertson col. We had the option of using dirt and scree to ascend rather than snow but decided that since the snow was still locked up pretty tight it offered the most efficient travel and proceeded to skin up.
It didn’t take long before I gave up on the skis and transitioned to a bootpack with the skis strapped onto my pack. I was following the steps from the earlier party we’d seen ascending to the col while we were on Haig Ridge and this made for a pretty easy ascent. It was bloody HOT on this slope!!
After a quick ascent to the col we enjoyed another break with more spectacular views. The Robertson col is actually a few meters higher than Haig Ridge so the views are very decent. Mount Beatty and Joffre are more visible from this angle than from Haig Ridge, although many other peaks are hidden from view thanks to the towering nearby Sir Douglas and Mount Robertson.
We followed tracks up above the col towards Mount Robertson where it’s an easier drop onto the Robertson Glacier. From here the run down the glacier to a distant Burstall Creek looks exhilarating! Unfortunately for us the conditions were decent until about half way down the glacier when a breakable crust conspired to makes things more “interesting”. Oh well. Survival skiing is what Spring in the Alberta Rockies is all about. The views were stunning and the day was beautiful and nobody was complaining too much. We exited towards Burstall Creek on rapidly warming snow and made our way along the lovely Burstall Lakes before joining with the regular trail back to the parking lot.
We arrived at the surprisingly sparse parking lot 7 hours after leaving it. It was neat to chat with a couple of climbers who’d been after Sir Douglas but turned back when the overnight temperature didn’t drop low enough for safe conditions on the NW glacier. I highly recommend this variation of the appropriately popular “FHR Traverse” ski tour for fit parties who want to spend a few more hours on the Haig Glacier than the tour normally entails. Just make sure you time it so that the ascent to the Robertson col can be made safely – and that might mean getting up earlier than most of your neighbors!