After skiing to the summit of Mount Field the day before, I was ready to enjoy another perfect winter day on skis before returning back to the drudgery of another work week in the concrete jungle. Since I haven’t been out much on the snow sticks this winter, I was certainly feeling a bit stiff the evening before! On our drive to Mount Field, Wietse had pointed out the East Ridge of Panorama Ridge to me and I thought it was the perfect winter solo ski objective for elevated avalanche conditions – provided I could drag my butt out of bed early enough.
Finally on March 10 of 2018 I managed to ski a peak that’s been on my hit-list for many years. 13 years ago, I’d scrambled Mount Field in Yoho National Park from a weird approach (the Stanley Mitchell Hut) with the infamous Dave Stephens. Since then a lot of my mountain friends had skied the peak from the opposite side and highly recommended it to me. Of course, because I’m a peakbagger I don’t normally like to repeat summits, but if the mode and route of the peak being bagged is completely different, it can be worth a second trip. In this case it was certainly worth it.
Quartz Hill has been on my radar ever since I first skied the Sunshine Meadows way back in 2007 with a large group trip up Twin Cairns. Well, almost exactly a decade later and I was back for my first real attempt. I briefly considered scrambling up the ridge while backpacking along the NE face of it on my way towards Howard Douglas Lake and Citadel Pass back in the fall of 2016 but a closure forced me to reconsider that idea.
I wasn’t sure that I would manage to summit my last 11,000er on the main Columbia Icefield in the spring of 2016. Rumors were flying around that the Athabasca Glacier approach was toast this year thanks to an extremely warm winter / spring combined with low snow and an serac event that covered the route I’ve always used through the headwall with tons of ice and snow earlier in the year. I wasn’t too concerned, as I knew I could approach the south ridge from the Saskatchewan Glacier if I had to, some other year. The South Ridge is the easiest route on Andromeda (there are a lot of routes on this particular 11,000er) and probably one of the technically easiest ascents on the Columbia Icefields – but it does have a lot of objective hazards so I didn’t want to underestimate it. To be honest, I had mixed feelings about doing my last Athabasca Glacier ski mountaineering approach. It’s true that this approach is full of objective hazards and I’ve been extremely lucky not to have had a single bad experience through the icefall, but it’s also a gorgeous area with rock, snow, ice, wind, clouds and sun all competing for attention as skiers skin up steep snow through crevasses and under towering ridges of snow and ice a vertical kilometer above, staring coldly down at them as they thread their way through it’s hard, blue detritus. It’s an area that hundreds and hundreds of visitors to our beautiful province gaze towards every day and wonder who the heck goes up to that forbidding place and actually enjoys themselves while doing it!
As I lay in my truck at the Kinney Lake parking lot I could hear the Robson River gurgling cheerfully behind me. I could see a million stars starting to come out high above me and there were even some birds chirping their final evening songs just outside my window. My trip had already started out on a good note. On the long drive from Calgary I was cruising past the North Saskatchewan River flats near Mount Amery, when I noticed some movement in the far distance across the Athabasca River. It looked like a large cat! I stopped the truck and took out the longest telephoto lens I had with me – only 300mm unfortunately. (I left the 600mm at home which is the last time I do that.) I spent the next 5 minutes playing stare-off with a very large (almost certainly a male) Canadian Lynx!
After building our camp, it was obvious that Resplendent wasn’t a go for Saturday. Clouds were intermittently covering the upper slopes under the RR col. We decided that with tons of time left we might as well work our way up Rearguard Mountain, so that’s exactly what we did! I have to say, Rearguard was more work than I thought it would be. It was still 880m height gain from our camp which made the total height gain around 1400 meters from the shelter – the same amount as Resplendent from our Extinguisher camp! We had to give a wide berth to the ice fall on climbers left (SW) before finally skiing north to Rearguard Meadows and closer to the peak itself.
Finally, on May 9, 2015 I managed to summit South Twin Peak on my third attempt of this beautiful mountain. I have some history with the north end of the Columbia Icefield, and with South Twin in particular.
Summit Elevation (m): 3342Trip Date: May 8 2015Elevation Gain (m): 2500 (from parking lot)Round Trip Time (hr): 10 (from high camp)Total Trip Distance (km): 48 (from parking lot)Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain somethingDifficulty Notes: Glacier travel in an extremely remote location and some avalanche risk to the Cromwell / Stutfield NE2 col make this a peak to be taken seriously. No technical difficulties to the summit – beware the cornice!Technical Rating: MN7; YDS (I)GPS Track: DownloadMap: Google Maps […]
Chickadee Peak has been on my radar ever since seeing Raf’s trip report on it. Back when Wietse and I did Boom Mountain, I remember looking at all the skiable terrain further up the Chickadee Valley and wondering if there were any other peaks we could ski in the area. Well, it turns out that there is! As Wietse, Ferenc and I drove to the parking area, Wietse started asking what we’d do if there wasn’t any snow on the approach! We weren’t laughing so hard when we finally parked. There wasn’t a lot of white stuff around anymore… 😉
On Sunday, April 19th we awoke in -15 degrees feeling pretty darn good with ourselves. The previous day we’d skied into our camp beneath Mount Columbia and even managed to ascend the peak before collapsing into our sleeping bags after a long and hard 17 hour day. There was a cloud cap covering Columbia as we struggled out of our warm sleeping bags and slowly started breaking camp. The sky soon cleared completely off – we were going to have a bluebird day on the ice fields. Even though our views would have been clearer on Columbia this day, we were still glad to have climbed the face with some clouds rather than a relentless spring sun heating things up. As we packed camp we made decisions on what to attempt.
Summit Elevation (m): 3747Trip Date: April 18 2015Elevation Gain (m): 2000Round Trip Time (hr): 23Total Trip Distance (km): 41Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break somethingDifficulty Notes: Crevasses, avalanches and a remote location in the middle of a large ice field are the main difficulties when climbing Mount Columbia. Don’t underestimate this trip just because it’s not technically that hard!Technical Rating: MN8; YDS (II)GPS Track: DownloadMap: Google Maps I have been waiting many years to climb Alberta’s highest mountain and the […]
It seems that every time someone posts a trip report about climbing Mount Aberdeen (and Haddo), folks inquire about an easy ascent via the south slopes – the alternate descent route. While this probably seems anathema to most climbers, it makes perfect sense for folks who simply want to enjoy stunning views from the top of a very well placed peak in the heart of the Lake Louise group without all the messing around with ice climbing and usually taking 2 or 3 attempts to get up the darn mountain since everyone seems to under estimate the ‘short’ approach the first time around!
It was finally time. It was time for me to give in. After years of temptation, years of friends cajoling and battering me over the issue and years of resistance, it was finally time for me to ski at Roger’s Pass in the Selkirk mountain range of British Columbia. Steven had already fallen in love with the area and has climbed quite a few of the mountains in and around the pass. Last weekend, while we were settling in for the evening in the cozy Peyto Hut the topic came up again. We should do the Youngs Traverse in Rogers Pass next time the weather and avy conditions were good for a high level, exposed alpine ski traverse. I agreed that it sounded fun.
Finally the weather, our schedules, and back country avalanche conditions lined up over a weekend, allowing Ben, Steven and I to plan a 2 day excursion to the northern end of the Wapta Icefield. I am rapidly closing in on a long-sought summit list of all the Wapta peaks and only one peak remained for me on the hard-to-access northern end – Peyto Peak. As is usual for us, original plans varied from Youngs Peak to Lilliput (I was willing to repeat it for exercise) and finally we settled last minute on the Peyto Hut area. The plan was to leave Calgary around 04:30 and hopefully arrive at Peyto Hut with enough day light for Ben and Steven to bag Mount Baker on Saturday. Sunday we would ascend Peyto Peak before heading out. For the most part, this plan was executed flawlessly.
Summit Elevation (m): 2984Trip Date: May 11 2014Elevation Gain (m): 1780Round Trip Time (hr): 10.5Total Trip Distance (km): 25Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you sprain or break somethingDifficulty Notes: Very steep snow climb, exposed to cornices followed by very steep snow traverse with severe exposure to the summit. Stable snow is required for this trip!Technical Rating: MN8; YDS (II)GPS Track: DownloadMap: Google Maps The last week of April and first few weeks of May, 2014 were a ski mountaineer’s dream in the […]
Steven and I found ourselves back in the very familiar confines of the Bow Hut on Wednesday evening after work, May 7 2014. We were hoping to beat a system moving in the next day by staying at the Bow Hut on Wednesday night. We planned on rising very early on Thursday morning to cross the Wapta Glacier in the dark, before climbing Ayesha Peak in advance of the strong spring sun / warm temperatures that could destabilize the steep snow slopes that guard her infamous summit block. Ayesha has been on my radar for many years already, ever since I heard stories of her beautiful snow arete and challenging summit block from friends who had done it already years ago. I didn’t pay quite enough attention to the parts about her summit block that included 4th class rock, but wouldn’t realize that until I was about to start up it myself.
On Tuesday, April 29 2014 I joined Steven and Ferenc on a long desired day trip of Mount Collie on the Wapta Icefield in Yoho National Park. Ever since I first started climbing the peaks on the Wapta Icefield, there were five summits that I thought I’d never have the skills (or guts?) to ascend. They were Balfour, Patterson, Ayesha, Peyto and Collie. Balfour due it’s big terrain and the broken glacier to Balfour Col. Patterson due to it’s dire approach avalanche slopes. Ayesha due to avalanche approach slopes and low 5th summit block. Peyto due to it’s 5th class summit block. Mount Collie due to its infamous summit cornice that has turned back many ascent parties over the years.
On Monday, April 21 2014 I joined Steven Song for an alpine ski tour up Little Temple in Lake Louise, Banff National Park. Ever since hearing about the trip from Bill Kerr, I had decided to ski it one day and was saving it for a time when other, bigger and more remote options were out of shape or not feasible. I think the word “little” in its name fooled me into thinking that this was going to be a very easy and short day trip. Well, it IS technically pretty easy and timewise pretty “short” but at over 1100 meters of height gain and around 20km distance, it’s not really THAT short or easy! 😉
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.