Ochre Spring Peak – Ski Tour

Summit Elevation (m): 2777
Trip Date: February 10 2024
Elevation Gain (m): 1350
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 13.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Although this is an easy hike it shouldn’t be underestimated on skis. You are ascending a huge avalanche gully and upper slopes are also steep enough to slide – and they do slide often.  
Technical Rating: OT4
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google

If you’re thinking that this trip report seems familiar, you’re not imagining things. Three years ago, almost to the day, Wietse and I toured up Ochre Spring Peak on a beautiful wintry day with blue skies and decent ski conditions. So far 2024 has been a bit (or a lot) of a bust as far as backcountry skiing goes in the Alberta Rockies – at least for us. I’m sure there have been pockets of good skiing here and there but we prefer bigger tours that include summits, even if we’ve stood on them before. As we planned our weekend we were encouraged by the avalanche forecast but not by what it implied.

Ochre Spring Peak Route Map.

Usually when an avalanche forecast is “moderate-low-low” this hints at safe conditions to get after a peak on the snow sticks. Unfortunately it also usually means that actual ski conditions probably suck because the snow isn’t deep enough to slide. This is especially true on the Alberta side of the Rockies where low avalanche ratings almost always imply crusty skiing down low and threadbare skiing up high. It is what it is. If you don’t like it – BC has a much more skier-friendly snowpack.

Originally we were planning another ascent of Ramp Peak but changed our minds on the drive out to the hills based on a forecast “feels like” temperature of -22 degrees at the parking lot. Forget that nonsense! We changed to Mount Haffner before settling on a third ascent of Ochre Spring Peak with much warmer temps and more elevation gain for training. The parking lot was empty. Not a great sign – but we were early so we strapped in and started up the familiar Ochre Spring Trail from the parking lot. Right from the get-go things felt a little thin. 

As we progressed 3 kilometers up the trail on a recent boot track (?!) we commented more than once that the skiing might be terrible. We arrived at the base of the huge ascent gully and our suspicions were only confirmed as we started up on a very old ascent track – conditions were indeed, brutal. The temperature was much warmer than expected and we were here now, so we decided to keep ascending and hope that the sun would shine through and soften things up for our descent. The old skin track stayed in the main gully a little longer than we prefered and eventually we deviated left, taking the safer lefthand gully to treeline which was still many hundreds over vertical meters above. Views improved as we ascended and blue skies improved our mood as well, but any semblance of a skin track vanished and we found ourselves floundering up a steep, crusty, collapsing snowpack.

Finally we ascended one last, steep Christmas tree slope and popped up onto an upper bench that usually marks the end of the lower 2/3 of the route and better skiing conditions. Thankfully today was no different except this meant that we “had” to ascend to the summit in order to get our best skiing… 

For some reason I completely ran out of gas on the final 1/3 of the ascent. Wietse gamely struggled on ahead of me breaking trail up a very windy and slowly wind loading south ridge. 

Working our way up the top 1/3 of the route. The snow is much better here but strong winds are building soft slabs that are showing signs of wanting to slide.

Several times we noticed shooting cracks in the snow and had some decent settlements on small wind loaded features. We avoided big loaded slopes and kept things reasonably safe as we slowly ascended to the summit.

You should use caution if following our route up the south ridge as it is definitely steep enough to slide in places and is almost always a little wind loaded in places. There is a point where it’s safer just to bag the summit and ski off it to the east rather than bail off the ridge, which is the reason we kept going. It certainly took us longer than last time to reach the windy summit but the views were as good as always from this well-situated summit.

Summit views are always stunning from this unofficial peak. Views over the Ochre Creek valley to Ottertail Pass at distant right. Hwy #93 at c-l.
The Wenkchemna Glacier and Peaks include (L to R), Odaray, Curtis, Biddle, Hungabee, Deltaform, Allen, Perren, Tonsa, Temple, Little, Fay, Quadra (R).
Limestone (L), Helmet, Sentry, South Goodsir, Middle Goodsir, Sharp, North Goodsir, Teepee, Martin’s and more.

The wind was strong and quite chilly so we didn’t linger. We took the skins off and it was time to see if all the extra work to the summit was worth it. I led down into the large slopes just east of the south ascent ridge and found out the answer pretty quick. It was worth it – big time. The upper 1/3 of the route to treeline skied beautifully with boot top powder, no hidden sharks and incredible views. This is why we backcountry ski in the Rockies!

My legs were shot for some reason so I didn’t do my best skiing but it didn’t really matter. It felt wonderful to be flying down a blank white canvas again. The past few winters have not had ideal ski conditions and these experiences have been too few. After a break at treeline it was time to see how the bottom 2/3 of the run would go. In a few words? It sucked. Big time. There’s no other way to put it. A breakable crust with trees and tight confines made for a very slow, painful descent. At the lower avalanche slope we gave up on skiing and simply strapped the skis on our packs and walked down the firm crust to the trail below!

Despite the very poor ski conditions on most of the route, we still enjoyed the workout and the few short minutes of bliss on the upper mountain. A day spent at elevation with views of some of the Rockies most incredible peaks is never a waste of time. Still worth getting outta bed early for.

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