Bident Mountain

Summit Elevation (m): 3087
Trip Date: Saturday, April 13, 2024
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Round Trip Time (hrs): 12
Total Trip Distance (km): 24
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: You get caught in a slide or slip in the wrong place, you probably die.
Difficulty Notes: A steep snow climb with some serious avalanche exposure.
Technical Rating: Alpine II
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

As a “meh” winter settled into a “meh” spring, I was starting to feel restless. As much as I’ve been enjoying the last few years of exploring and ascending remote and scarcely known peaks, most of them have been quite easy by alpine climbing standards. I told Hanneke that I wanted to challenge myself with some slightly harder ascents and needed to feel “more alive” again. She didn’t get it but nodded as if she did. This happens more often in our marriage… In 2007 I made my first attempt at Bident Mountain, looming high over Consolation Pass and Lakes in Banff National Park. Bident sits lower than its neighbor to the west, Quadra Mountain and higher than its neighbor to the east, Mount Bell. It took almost 17 years, but finally on April 13 2024 I stood on both summits of Bident, tackling them from a completely different direction by a completely different method. Instead of a rock ascent, this one would be almost entirely on snow. It came about through a series of invites from Doug Lutz through Devan Peterson who had a GPS track from a local Rockies ski mountaineer who claimed to have made the summit via a series of south and southwest snow gullies.

Doug Lutz is a prolific Rockies scrambler, summiting many of the hardest and more obscure peaks and almost always without a rope. In 2016 we scrambled Mount Michener together but have never tripped together since, although we have shared many GPS tracks and conversations over the years. Devan Peterson makes the rest of us look like hacks when it comes to sheer quantity and quality of summits he has done in a very short period of time. He possesses free soloing and scrambling abilities that would make most folks including myself weep if we tried to keep up with him. After he free soloed up and down Deltaform Mountain I knew that he was probably also not entirely human. Rob Walker was only known to me through reputation, but that was enough. I knew he’d joined Devan on some big free solo climbs including Lyell IV and Mount Alberta. Again – way outta my league! Dan Zeidler was unknown to me, but given the fact that Devan knew him and had been on trips with him before was enough to further intimidate. This wasn’t an inexperienced group I was joining and I only hoped I’d prove worthy.

Doug doesn’t ski and mixing modes of winter travel between skis and snowshoes is often a recipe for “not fun”, so the rest of us demurred to the use of suffer saucers. To be honest, the snowpack wasn’t great and we were hoping for conditions that would make skiing a challenge, so I didn’t mind using the ‘shoes. I’ve used them on snow mountaineering trips many times in the past and each time I was glad I didn’t bother trying to look cool on snow sticks just for the sake of it. In this case we certainly would not have been quicker on approach with skis, although the descent might have been a little quicker and more enjoyable. Due to the nature of the climb – a series of steep snow gullies facing south and southwest – we had to avoid direct sun on our route. This necessitated an alpine start of 03:00 from the Boom Lake parking lot and a wake up time of 00:45 for me back in YYC. Needless to say, most of us were a little bleary eyed as we made final preparations in the dark parking lot.

Doug and I shuffled out of the parking lot ahead of the others (we were getting cold). They caught us before the lake, having made the smart decision to carry their ‘shoes for the first 5.3kms of packed winter trail. It was 04:15 as we started across Boom Lake on a rock hard snowpack. We were hoping that a lack of fresh snow and warm temperatures would provide us with a hard crust for fast and efficient travel from the west end of the lake to our mountain. Based on the lake crossing our hopes were elevated and I hoped my light aluminum crampons would handle whatever frozen snow the mountain might be holding. As we started up a steep gully at the west end of the lake leading up to the glacial benches above, conditions changed dramatically. Someone forgot to tell Ullr or Khione of our plans and they snuck a whole lotta freshies into our little corner of Banff National Park when nobody was paying attention.

As the group struggled and staggered up deep, unconsolidated snow in the access gully from the west end of Boom Lake, I found myself wondering if today was the day for an ascent of Bident. Rob led heroically upward while the rest of us slipped and swore up at least a foot or more of fresh snow on firm slab and avalanche debris beneath. This was not the way the day was supposed to go! If the ‘shoes were slow here, skis would have been much slower. It took 30 minutes to suffer up this relatively short terrain feature and we were all happy when that bit of unexpected morning workout session was over. It was 05:30 as I started leading up the next series of rolls at the edge of a small forest on a fresh white canvas. Thank goodness for a good GPS track through this section because without it there was potential for tiring detours – it was still pitch dark and the route wasn’t obvious.

After finding a sneaky, fun route through the next bit of terrain, we found ourselves on a big open slope leading steeply upwards – the lake now barely visible in predawn lighting far below. I was feeling good physically – I enjoy breaking trail on snowshoes for some reason, but I continued to wonder about the conditions and our objective. Clearly we didn’t have the conditions we were hoping for – we were in calf deep, fresh snow and now that we were in the alpine the wind had picked up considerably. 

Sunrise behind us as we finally top out of the lower headwall.

For some reason I had plenty of energy despite feeling hungry already at 04:30. The hunger died down and the energy stayed constant as I slowly but surely broke trail into the back of the glacial plateau towards a still distant Bident Mountain. The sun continued to rise behind us as soft alpine glow lit up Chimney Peak and the steep north descent line of the Chick-a-boom ski traverse. The wind unfortunately was not soft – it was much stronger than I expected it to be and was starting to concern me the closer to Bident we got. I knew from experience that it doesn’t take much to form soft slabs with a stiff wind and fresh snow. Soft slabs take remarkably little energy to kick off and even small ones can knock a climber down big terrain as I experienced firsthand on Mount Forbes in 2016. Thankfully in that case we weren’t carried further downslope and I learned an important lesson about underestimating the issue.

Alpine glow on Chimney Peak (L) and Chimney N1 with Quadra and Bident Mountain to the right.

Several factors had me continue into the back of the valley despite lingering doubts about the conditions. The fresh snow seemed very well bonded to the underlying base and despite the strong winds, it wasn’t moving a lot of the fresher snow around. I think the fresh snow was simply too wet and heavy to easily blow and pile up elsewhere. I didn’t see any signs of fresh avalanches and there were no obvious cornice issues above our route that I could see as we approached closer and closer. I stayed hyper alert as the route steepened.

Day dawns as a cool wind whips snow into our faces.

As we started up south slopes climber’s right of the large south gully leading to the Bident col, Devan took over the trail breaking duties and I gratefully followed the ever steepening track which was growing harder and harder to get good traction on. At one point Devan tried taking one of his ‘shoes off to see if it was time for crampons, but he quickly changed his mind after sinking over knee deep! The snowpack was still about as immovable as it could be and I was OK to proceed for the time being.

Finally the ‘shoeing got ridiculous and there was no more choice in the matter. We either had to make the ‘pons work or turn around. The slopes were simply getting way too steep for any other mode of travel. It was at this point that we realized we weren’t following the GPS track we had either. We were climber’s left of the large, distinct SW gully that the skier’s obviously preferred (visible on the satellite map above). Although there was a traverse line leading into the larger gully, we didn’t love how exposed it was to cliffs below. Our route looked OK so far, so Devan continued leading steeply upward. Both of us felt much better in crampons. Despite my lingering concerns about the fresh snow and wind loading, the snow continued to be well bonded to the slab underneath and refused to show any signs of instability.

After a short traverse climber’s right we continued up a series of steep snow gullies, separated by short traverses or terrain breaks. This was exactly the type of snow climbing that I love! Although the slopes were very steep, each gully was relatively short, making them feel less exposed than being in the much larger and more continuous SW gully would have felt. I commented several times to Devan how excellent this climb was turning out to be. I was in my happy place – this was what I had been missing and craving to experience again. The slopes reminded me of other fantastic snow climbs I’ve done including Mount Collie, Ayesha and Trapper Peak.

After a short, fun ascent on a shallow snow arete we transitioned into a final steep gully to the col between the two “dents” in “Bident”. If we’d remembered any previous trip reports on this mountain we’d have known to ascend the left hand summit, but instead we decided to try the right hand one first. The GPS track we had ended at the col – something I’d wondered about before the trip as many skiers don’t bother with summits. A short moderate scramble brought us to the first – and of course lowest – of the two summits with incredible views in every direction and strangely, zero wind. It was the first time since starting the glacial plateau that it had been this warm and windless.

Stunning views from the lower of the two “dents” showing Mount Bell, Boom Lake, Boom Mountain, Chickadee and Chimney Peak with many others in the far distance.

The rest of the group was still climbing, but we wanted to ensure the proper summit when they arrived so Devan wasted little time heading for the obviously higher west summit. I lingered at the east one and took photos of his feat. After capturing some great pictures I followed him up a steep, snow and rock scramble to the small perch measuring 3087m on our various devices. Once again the views were stunning, and the complete lack of any wind ensured we could wait for the rest of the group who were now ascending the final gully to the upper col. I watched as two ravens circled overhead, riding gentle wind currents and probably hoping Devan would drop some of his sandwich for them to snatch up.

Views over our approach valley include (L to R), Boom Lake, Boom Mountain, Storm, Whymper, Chickadee, Chimney, Quadra and Mount Fay. The Rockwall and Goodsir Towers in the background.
Views over the Consolation Lakes include (L to R), Fay, Temple, Panorama Ridge, Bell and Boom Lake at distant right.

Despite the tiny summit area we managed to squeeze all 5 of us up there before snapping a summit photo and enjoying the accomplishment. There was some concern with the time – it was now after 10:00 and the sun was slowly marching towards our ascent line. For obvious reasons none of us were keen on descending such a steep line on a cooking snowpack.

Without further ado, I started back down to the col, the steep summit block requiring one-at-a-time descents to remain safe. The down climbing was tricky but not terribly exposed and soon I was shivering in stiff wind at the col wondering why the heck I wasn’t back on the warm, windless summit with the ravens! The rest of the group soon joined me and we started the descent, moving as quickly as we could while maintaining safe distances in case of slides. Our decision to leave at 03:00 and not to linger at the summit was entirely justified when we exited the steepest part of the route with only minutes to spare before the strong spring sun hit our line.

As we exited the lower south gully back to the glacial plateau we could finally slow down and enjoy the atmosphere of a perfect spring day. Avalanches were peeling off the SE face of Quadra as we took in the spectacular views that spread out before us. This is what spring climbing in the Rockies is all about! The next few hours were filled with views, good conversations and everyone taking way too many photos. More than a few times I wished I was on the snow sticks for this part of the day. Oh well. I still think snowshoes were the fastest way up the approach and this was the most important thing with this route.

Descending the steep access gully to the west end of Boom Lake was interesting – as expected from the morning’s antics. The snow wanted to slide and was now sticky and heavy under our shoes. We saw a Golden Eagle here which was very cool. It seems early in the season to be seeing them but who knows?

After the leg burning descent of the last steep gully for the day, we were in t-shirts for the 2km crossing of Boom Lake. The sun was cooking as we made the trudge and set up for a short break at the east end and the start of the tourist packed trail to the parking lot. 

A 2km crossing of Boom Lake.
Spectacular views from the east end of Boom Lake showing Bident Mountain at upper distant right.

It felt wonderful to take the snowshoes off for the last 5.3 km hike on slushy, packed snow to the Boom Lake parking lot. We finished the day at 15:00 – just under 12 hours after starting it under a considerably cooler and much darker sky. It felt really good to finally stand on the summit of Bident Mountain, 17 years after first attempting it. It felt even better to rise to the challenge of the route, tackling steep snow and somewhat challenging conditions. Despite feeling like I might be overpowered by the strong group, I think I managed to hold my own and it was nice to get out with a new group of climbing partners for once. Thanks again to Devan for putting together the trip and for the rest of the group for a fun and challenging day in the hills.

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