On Saturday, April 19, 2014 a group of us took advantage of low avy hazards and warm spring temps to attempt the Pumpkin Traverse near the Lake Louise ski resort in Banff National Park. The Pumpkin Traverse usually involves ascending three summits, but due to conditions we didn’t bother going for Unity Peak (I completed that one with Mike Mitchell in early 2016). We started up the ski out in much warmer temps than we were expecting. The forecast had called for -8 but it was almost 0 already at 08:30! We made good time and were soon crossing the ski run above Temple Lodge. Lipalian and Purple can be done quickest and easiest via the Larch ski run up to Lipalian and then traverse to Purple and out via the Purple Bowl between Wolverine Ridge and Redoubt Mountain.
After talking to Steven and Wietse about their recent trips up Powderface Ridge (Steven ‘shoed and Wietse skied) I decided that with avalanche danger too high again, I had to so something – even if it was just another easy objective. I’ve been getting some smack talk lately from friends on my “lowly objectives” this winter. I know it’s all in good nature, but trust me – I’d rather be off bagging some more serious stuff. I made a pact with my wife a few years ago when she started catching on to the fact that a lot of people were dying each year doing exactly what I do – backcountry skiing. The pact was simple. I would not intentionally go into the backcountry if avalanche ratings were ‘considerable’ or higher for that area. Period. No exceptions, unless I’m out for a few days and the danger spikes while I’m out there. Ironically this year I even bought an avalanche air pack to make things even safer, but the ratings have been too high almost every weekend.
On Saturday, February 15 2014, Steven Song and I completed one of very few ski ascents of “Spoon Needle” in Kananaskis Country, east of the Fortress Ski resort. There was many years when this lowly, but striking, peak saw only 1 ascent per season, but thanks to the internet and both it’s easy nature and prominent appearance from Hwy 40, the peak is gaining in popularity. Alas, since most people choose it as an off season objective, there are almost as many routes as there are ascents.
On Saturday, February 1 2014 I was joined by half of Calgary and part of Deadmonton for a ski / snowshoe ascent of Heather Ridge in Skoki – behind the Lake Louise ski hill in Banff National Park. Ok – it wasn’t quite half of Calgary, but close! It started with Steven, Wietse and I and ended with Steven, Wietse, Raf, Andrea, Mike, Sonny, Spencer, Brandon and myself. We met up in the Skoki Lodge parking lot in chilly temps of -28 degrees Celsius. Yikes. After laying up it was time to warm up with a ski up the ski out from the Lake Louise Ski hill. The last time I was on this road was way back in September 2005 when cousin Jon and I managed to knock off all the Kane scrambles in Skoki within a 72 hour period.
Any time you see the keywords “ski” and “bushwhack” in the same trip report you should never ever try to repeat it yourself. You’ve been warned! 🙂 As part of his Opal 35 Project, Kev Barton had his eyes fixed on a winter ascent of either the main peak of “Opoca” or it’s eastern outlier, known locally as “East Opoca” or “Elpoca Creek Hill” by Bob Spirko. Since we were attempting an unknown peak in winter, via a tight approach valley I knew that our odds of summiting were very low, but I didn’t really care. This is the sort of trip that’s done for the adventure, not the summit. We got some adventure all right… On hindsight we made two blunders which cost us the peak.
On Saturday, December 14 2013 Wietse and I continued a tradition of going to the Healy Pass area one week prior to a hut ski trip. A year previous we also skied the pass on a grey and unassuming day and this day wouldn’t be much different. The snow conditions were a bit thin down low, but once we worked our way to the lower pass meadows there was quite a bit of snow.
After ascending Mount Kitchener in the morning, we casually packed up camp and started heading back out, around the west side of Snow Dome. It was another gorgeous day with warm (almost too warm) sun and very little wind. Last year we had exactly the same conditions around the same time of the year – early May. We followed the standard tracks and then cut higher on the west side of Snow Dome before dropping the big packs and re-gearing with just the necessary glacier travel gear. It felt good to ski up with virtually no weight and we quickly made our way up to the broad summit area.
The day after our exciting ascent of West Twin and attempt at South Twin (including a crevasse incident) we were in the mood for a slightly easier approach and summit. Since TJ, JW and I were ‘only’ looking for one more day on the Twins, we’d set up our camp much closer to the exit on the ice fields and on the southwest side of Kitchener instead of going the extra 5km closer to the Twins / Stuts area. This was fine for our group but didn’t work out for the other group of Anton, Ian and Kev. I think if they were closer they could have at least gone for the Stutfield Peaks and still managed a few more of the northern ice field summits. As it was, they were feeling to tired on Sunday to go all the way back to the Stuts.
After successfully summiting West Twin we were excited to finally nab the final of the four Twin peaks on the far north end of the Columbia Icefields. JW was still pretty tired from kicking steps up the south face of West Twin so our group decided to let the “Dad” group break trail up South Twin. We stayed in the valley bottom for a bit longer while watching the other team inch their way on skis up to a rocky outcrop on South Twin’s northwest ridge, about half the elevation to the summit ridge.
In 2012 I made my first attempts at peaks on the massive playground of rock, snow and ice that’s known as the Columbia Icefield. The first attempt was an ill-fated try for the namesake peak, Mount Columbia itself, in February. It was my first major winter camping trip and I learned a lot about winter camping and traveling on the icefield itself. I made a lot of mistakes on that trip and on hindsight I’m lucky that nothing tragic happened (more on that later). We approached via the Saskatchewan Glacier on this trip.
Since reading about Josee and Fabrice’s trip up Boom Mountain in February it’s been on my to-do list. I liked the idea of traveling into the Chickadee Valley since I’d never been in there before. Wietse had a rare Friday off on April 11 so we decided to do a nice easy trip up to Healy Pass – possibly bagging “Healy Pass Peak” while we there. I checked the avy ratings on Friday morning and was pleasantly surprised to see that the rating for Banff were actually lower than Kananaskis at “moderate / moderate / low”. I did a classic Vern move and asked Wietse if he’d change his mind to Boom Mountain. After some consideration and quick weather / avy condition scanning on the cell phone while I drove, Wietse kindly agreed to a more aggressive goal.
Back in February 2013, Raf and So managed to negotiate a ski route up Massive Mountain that sounded much more attractive than previous snowshoe or ski trip reports that I’d heard about. I didn’t have any GPS tracks or anything to go off and by the time I could finally attempt this trip I knew Raf’s ski tracks would be LONG gone – I mean it’s almost 2 months later right? Well, as it turns out – WRONG. I put together a few way points based on Raf’s description and hoped for the best as Wietse and I planned a ski ascent of Massive for a beautiful sunny day on Saturday on March 30 2013.
After reading a number of trip reports over the years on Emerald Peak in Yoho National Park, I was fairly certain I wanted to ski this summit. A favorite summit shot looking straight down the 4000 foot avy path to Emerald Lake is usually captioned with “can you imagine this on SKI’s?!”. Yes, now I can! And it’s pretty spectacular my friend. Kev Papke, Bill Kerr and myself met Raf and Helen in the Emerald Lake parking lot. By 09:30 Bill and I were skinning along the lakeshore trail, a few minutes ahead of the others.
For the past few years, I’ve had Smutwood Peak on my radar. I originally wanted to do it in the fall, due to the stunning location and the two Birdwood Lakes that make fall photos look amazing from this area. Alas, fall season (and larch season in particular), only lasts about 1 month if you’re LUCKY so this peak got relegated to a ski trip since I’m running out of peaks I can attain in 1 day on backcountry skis from any roads! 🙂 Originally Wietse and I planned to ski Smutwood the week previous but thanks to a brain fart on my part we ended up discovering a ski circuit that we didn’t know existed and bagged Pig’s Back instead… 😉
So how does one end up on a peak about 4km due east of one’s original objective when one actually left the correct trailhead and there was clear weather and an obvious ascent track? I’m not 100% sure. But it happened. Wietse and I originally intended on skiing as much of Smutwood Peak as possible before slogging up to the summit in our ski boots. We would approach the mountain via Commonwealth Creek and the Birdwood / Smuts col – it should all be very obvious. The weekend before I had seen at least 10-15 cars parked near the winter trailhead so I assumed we would have no issues.
Summit Elevation (m): 2514Elevation Gain (m): 1100Round Trip Time (hr): 7Total Trip Distance (km): 10Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 2 – You fall you sprain somethingDifficulty Notes: Winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks. Learn how to manage these risks and perform avalanche burial rescues before attempting this trip.GPS Track Download: Download GPX FileTechnical Rating: OT2; YDS (Hiking)Map: Google Maps Ever since skiing up Vermillion with Scott a few years ago, I wanted to go back for Mount Haffner. The Vermillion burn area makes for some great tree skiing in […]
On the shortest day of 2012 I was joined by Wietse and Kelly on an ascent of Mount Gordon on the Wapta Icefields in bitterly cold but clear conditions. Of course, this wasn’t my first time ascending this peak. It was the very first summit on the Wapta for me, back in 2006 on a bitterly cold January day. The afternoon before, we had skied to the Bow Hut in marginal early season conditions across a groaning Bow Lake and barely enough snow in the canyon. We made it to the hut with just a few minutes to spare before dark and enjoyed the hut entirely to ourselves.
After 2 full days of constant wind in the 50-80km/h range we were ready for a calmer day on Saturday, May 12th. Luckily when we woke up around 0600 the wind had indeed calmed down somewhat, probably in the 30km/h range. Due to the constant wind threatening to tear apart our tent all night and my cramped sleeping bag I was more than ready to get out and stretch my legs when the sun started peeking into our front door on Saturday morning.
Sometimes in life you get a chance to do something that you’ve always wanted to do but scares you a little at the same time and you have a choice to make. Is it one of those moments that you jump in or jump out? Monday May 7 2012 I was presented with such a chance. Since our failed attempt at Mount Columbia in February, Ferenc and I had been planning a repeat 2 day trip to get redemption. Our plan was to wait for optimal conditions in May before our next attempt. TJ was also keen on Columbia so I agreed to keep him in the loop.
After an excellent day out on Ramp Peak a few weeks previous, I was thinking it would be a good idea to take advantage of the excellent snow pack of spring 2012 and go after Ramp’s neighbor to the north, Quartzite Peak before too much spring warmth melted all that delicious snow pack away! On this particular day I was joined by Raf and Ian Hunt. It was good to be going on a trip with the crazy Pol again and Ian and I haven’t done a trip together in around 4 years so that was cool too. Being so late in the spring, our only real concern for the day was the snow pack stability. We knew that things would be locked up pretty snug all morning due to a nice cool night time temperature but we also knew that there was a really good chance of isothermal snow in the afternoon once the sun started heating things up.
A group of us had originally planned a trip up to the Asulkan Hut in Rogers Pass for the weekend of April 19-23rd. Due to poor conditions the objective was changed at the last hour to Peyto Hut on the Wapta Ice field instead. Some of us could only make it for Friday night while a group went in on Thursday already and left on Sunday. Wietse, Scott, Kelly and Robin all headed in on Thursday. They initially had intentions of climbing Mount Habel after getting to the Peyto hut but the warmth of the hut combined with deteriorating conditions led them to drink beer and eat good food instead!
On April 15, 2012 I was joined by Kev Papke and Jason Wilcox for a ski ascent of Ramp Peak in Banff National Park, just to the east of highway 93 up the creek near the Mosquito Creek hostel. We were a bit apprehensive on the drive to the mountains. The weather forecast was rather dull for everywhere but a patch of hwy 93 and we were a bit doubting about the accuracy of it. Avalanche ratings were low and I needed some exercise but was also suffering the lingering effects of a cold / flu from the previous week. Originally we had planned a long day trip up Mount Baker but given the energy levels and the weather forecast we decided to try Ramp Peak instead.
Ever since reading the Nugara’s trip report on snow shoeing Castleguard Mountain I’ve wanted to attempt it as a day trip on skis. Kevin Barton was also very interested and since Ferenc and I were turned around due to thick cloud cover in February 2012 while on a Columbia Icefield camping trip, Ferenc was also keen on a day trip attempt. Originally we thought that we’d have to camp at the trail head or even stay in the Saskatchewan Crossing hotel just to give ourselves enough day time to complete the peak, considering that the Nugara’s took 18 hours to do their trip.
On March 23/24 I joined Kevin Papke for the first summit attempt on his quest for 50 summits in a “Summits for Seniors” fundraiser in his 50th year. Considering his birthday is on March 22nd Kev wasted no time to start his summit bids! We decided that in order to make a big day trip slightly shorter we would ski into the Bow Hut on Friday evening and summit Habel on Saturday before heading home. We left the parking lot under warm conditions, lots of fresh snow and cloudy skies – but with high hopes that the weather forecast for Saturday would come true with a mix of sun and cloud and little wind.
On Friday, February 17 2012, Wietse and I decided to take the day off work and bag another peak after our great experience on Patterson a week earlier. Originally we were thinking of Mount Gordon. I’ve already skied that peak, but it was -26 with an extreme windchill and no views so I want to repeat it in gorgeous conditions some time. Once we got closer to the date we decided we didn’t want such a long day and settled on Little Crowfoot mountain instead. Wietse didn’t think this was an ‘official’ summit but since Chic Scott mentions it in his guidebook he agreed that it was official enough to bother with. 🙂