Summit Elevation (m): 2972
Trip Date: Saturday, January 29, 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 1150 (+200 for extra upper lap)
Trip Time (hr): 6
Total Trip Distance (km): 8.5 (+3 for extra upper lap)
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you sprain or break something – unless you’re caught in an avalanche or cornice failure in which case you could die
Difficulty Notes: A ski tour or snowshoe to the south ridge and depending on conditions part way up the ridge to the crux. You might want an ice ax and/or crampons to feel secure on the ridge.
Technical Rating: OT4; SC6; RE2/3
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
It’s been almost 3 years since I skied Hector South Ridge with a large group of friends. It’s been many more since I skied the namesake itself – Mount Hector. Ever since Marcus has been posting updates from his ski adventures along hwy 93 I’ve been intrigued by an area he has mentioned several times. This area is tucked away just east of hwy 93 and SW of Hector South Peak – a peak that Bob Spirko attempted on snowshoes in February 2005 and Nugara finally tagged in 2009 via the west ridge in late January. With the avalanche forecast finally backing off “considerable” in the alpine for the last weekend of January 2022, Wietse, Sara and myself decided it was time to give this objective a shot and see for ourselves what the fuss was all about. We agreed to meeting along hwy 93 at the relatively late hour of 09:30, figuring the days stats weren’t that dramatic to warrant a super early start. Overnight “feels like” temperatures of -22 in Lake Louise may have been a contributing factor in this decision…
I almost regretted the late start as we saw quite a few groups stopped along other ski destinations before ours (Hector Point and Hector South Ridge) but as we approached the start point for Hector South Peak I was happy to only see one other vehicle there – it was Sara’s self-proclaimed “shitmobile” – a car that’s definitely seen its fair share of rough roads! The uptrack was 100m back in the ditch but clearly the downtrack exited by our parking spot and we quickly geared up for the day ahead. Wietse led off down the ditch and right from the start it was obvious that the air temperature was nowhere near as cold as I was expecting. The skin track led steeply up through moderately thick forest, ending at the bottom of a large avalanche gully SW of our objective. Despite the south ridge looking very wind hammered, the slopes leading to it looked nice and snowy.
Wietse led up the large avalanche path, following a skin track as it led up towards the “south shoulder, looker’s left path” that Marcus’ trip report references. We followed a skin track up a forested shoulder sitting between two paths – the larger and more open looker’s left to the north and a smaller, more southerly one just out of sight to the right. After struggling a bit with the steep, frozen track we decided to get into the more southerly option which seemed to follow a more mellow line to the south ridge high above us.
Wietse broke trail into the gully and we zigged and zagged our way up on ankle deep powder and a firm base. Eventually Sara took over the lead and broke trail to the ridge. Near the ridge there were some bottomless patches of snow and punchy crust near visible rocks that I didn’t love. Other than that though, the slope felt and reacted very nicely to our presence.
From the south end of the south ridge Hector South Ridge looked completely windbare but thankfully our ridge looked a bit better. We continued up on very hard snow as far as possible before finally giving up with the crux rock outcrop visible ahead.
The slog over rubble and boulders to the bottom of the crux was as fun in ski boots as it usually is. Not much. The crux wasn’t nearly as bad as it first appeared and we ascended it without crampons or axes on a mix of loose snow, slick rocks and some ice. I could see this section being problematic for some folks if they’re not used to this sort of thing.
From the top of the crux the summit was still a surprisingly long way off. We stumbled along the ridge in extremely strong winds – thankfully the temperature wasn’t too bad or this section would have been downright miserable. Sara led the way along the ridge, over a few more steeper steps before finally arriving at the top.
Summit views were incredible despite a thin gray cloud cover. I really enjoyed the views over the Pipestone River valley to some familiar and remote summits. I was pretty shocked by how little snow was on most of the summits to the east including giants such as Douglas and St. Bride.
The winds were fierce so we didn’t linger longer than necessary at the top, turning back down the ridge and stumbling to the top of the crux. For the avid skier there looked to be some decent options off this upper ridge but you’d have to watch out for thin sections. We ran into a couple of guys with skies on their packs atop the crux but they weren’t confident in the terrain ahead off the ridge and were going to turn back and try skiing from slightly lower down. The crux wasn’t an issue to descent with our tracks clearly visible.
We were excited to get back to our waiting skis on the ridge. Now the fun could begin! And it was a LOT of fun. Watch my video above if you don’t believe me. The upper section was wind hammered but skied surprisingly well despite it. Once we dropped into the south gully the skiing was fantastic on boot top powder all the way to the bottom of the path. We enjoyed the run down so much that we repeated this section on 2nd lap and seriously considered a 3rd, which we should have done on hindsight.
Sitting at the bottom of the run in warm sunshine enjoying a coffee and chatting with friends reminded me why I love winter so much. Sometimes, while sitting in my home office in the concrete jungle I crave the sounds of chirping birds and warm sunshine on my neck. But when I get time to spend outdoors on a beautiful winter day like we had on Saturday I have a hard time remembering why I ever thought I hated the season of frozen rain and cold air. I hope I can continue to enjoy good conditions for the rest of the season, I am sure looking forward to the next trip already!