Skiing into the Sky

Not much to say today other than the fact that there’s nothing quite like a warm Summer’s day here in the Rockies, but a close second is a warm Winter’s day. Taken yesterday as we skied up the backside of Sulphur. The bobsleigh run down was worth the 4-hour climb with snow sticking to the bottom of our skis.

The old Fire Road on Sulphur Mountain in Banff gets you up high and into the sunshine. Photo: Meghan J. Ward

5 Things to Do on an (Extremely) Snowy Day in Banff

Is there such a thing as too much snow?

There is today. The runs at the ski hills are probably amazing, but getting there is a bit of a challenge. With a 7-car wreck on the highway already, people are struggling to get around in Banff National Park. So if you’re in town on a magically-wintery (though dangerous to be driving) day, what can you do?

1. Go visit the latest exhibit at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. This is your gateway to all things art, culture and history in Banff and the Canadian Rockies. Check out their latest exhibits and permanent displays. You’re sure to learn a thing or two about the area.

2. Head over to the new Banff Recreation Centre during public skating hours and spend some time on the indoor rink. Check this schedule for public skating hours (they also have their drop-in Shinny schedule posted (full equipment required).

3. Grab a Mexican Hot Chocolate at the Wild Flour Artisan Bakery Cafe. The mix of sweet and spicy will warm you up to the core. Check out some of Banff’s other coffee shops (see my guide here) for places to stay warm.

4. Go see a movie at the Lux Cinema. A lot of people don’t know that Banff has its very own cinema! Check out movie listings here, walk on over and enjoy a flick.

5.  Get some exercise indoors. Go to a yoga class at Rocky Mountain Yoga (there are 2-3 classes available for drop-in each day) or get your sweat on at the Sally Borden Building (SBB) at The Banff Centre. The SBB has a climbing gym, pool, hot tub, weight room, indoor track, gymnasium, and drop-in classes  available for a very reasonable!

You might have to trudge through snow to get there or take the local ROAM buses, but sometimes staying off the roads is worth it. Besides, there’s tons to do in Banff National Park.

Got more ideas? Comment here!

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.

Mount Assiniboine – South West Face

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities. Additionally, for this particular entry, I don’t have many photos of the route itself and therefore cannot describe our route with a lot of accuracy.

from wikipedia.com

Somehow I went from writing about Sundance Canyon to writing about Mount Assiniboine (11,870 ft), the highest peak in Banff National Park (though at 11,850 ft, Mount Forbes, is the highest peak entirely in the park). Mount Assiniboine sits on the Great Divide (the Alberta/British Columbia border)  and can be accessed a number of ways. Fortunately for our party, we accessed the mountain via an 7-8 km trail located along Assiniboine Creek, which you can access by logging roads that march their way through Assiniboine Provincial Park (see GemTrek map “Banff & Mount Assiniboine”). Unfortunately, this meant that we never viewed Mount Assiniboine from its more iconic side that gave it the name, Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies. Instead, we bivied at a small plateau located on its ‘uglier’ backside, also known as its South West Face. Otherwise, you can access the mountain via Bryant Creek (Spray Valley Provincial Park) or Sunshine Meadows (Banff National Park).

Headed up into the mist on Day 2.

Shortly after reaching our bivy site on July 22, the skies unleashed some hail and rain that never really relented until about 8 a.m. the following day. Our forecast seemed to be about 24 hours late – we were expecting a bluebird day on July 23, but woke up at 1am to the pitter-patter of rain hitting the tent and no sign of a break in the clouds. Our crew eventually woke up and started up the mountain for a day of reconnaissance and perhaps an ascent of the nearby Lunette Peak (also known as ‘Lost Peak’ thanks to James Outram’s accidental ascent).

Now, if I’ve ever heard anything about Assiniboine it is “go when it’s dry.” Trudging up the mountain in low clouds and snow made us second guess at times whether our sojourn into this part of the Rockies was worth our precious summer days. Surely the weather was better somewhere else…

Overall, the South West face was very snowy, which at times helped our ascent and at other times made us think about what it would be like to be scrambling on the loose rock underneath like those who had climbed the mountain before us (and whose beta and notes we were using). For the most part, we used the snow as a ramp and kick-stepped our way up so long as it wasn’t too soft. Thankfully, the more exposed scrambling wasn’t too snowy or icy and where we encountered some menacing verglas, we put faith in the old crampons. We stopped to rest at a particularly odd rock formation which we called The Bus Stop – a title that will forever stick amongst this group of friends and mountaineers.

The Bus Stop

So, on our reconnaissance day we managed to kick steps about half way up the peak and do some important route finding. When the ceiling showed no sign of lifting and the snow got steeper, however, we decided to turn back for the comforts of camp, aborting our attempt on Lunette Peak as well. Thankfully, the sun eventually came out and we were able to dry out our gear…and tent…and enjoy the bivy site.

Day 3, July 24, we woke up at 1 a.m. to a star-filled sky and high hopes. By 2 a.m. we had started up the peak under the most memorable sparkle of stars and retraced our steps very quickly to where we had left off. Within two hours we had reached our turn-around point and the sky started to get lighter. We travelled through mixed terrain, kick-stepping our way up a series of snow slopes and scrambling up rocky outcroppings and chimneys to arrive at ‘The Eyebrow,’ a horizontal outcropping of rock (or orange tinted block, as it is described in the books) that can be circumvented via its right-hand most side.

Night sky over Mounts Aye and Eon.

Eventually we met some steeper, more exposed areas, some angling about 50 degrees, and decided to belay our way across and up, sometimes pulling some surprise mix climbing moves as snow, ice and rock reunited under our feet. All you could do was go up and think about the scare factor later (which I did in the car on the way home….) Upon reaching the top of the ridge to the summit, we were quite the joyful bunch. The hardest climbing was behind us and now we just had to kick-step our way to the very top on crusty snow that had been hardened by wind and sun.

Upon reaching the summit, we learned that another group had been there only 10 minutes before us (otherwise we would have been the first party to reach the summit this season). And only a few minutes after we arrived, a guide and his client arrived to join us on the summit. Seems everyone decided to make their push for the summit on this bluebird day. While the views were spectacular, I must admit I didn’t take them in as much as I had hoped. A strong wind battered us on the summit and, fully aware that it was 9am and that was ‘late’ by alpine standards, we began our descent for fear of softening snow and avalanche conditions.

The snowy summit ridge.

Sure enough, our descent involved some rappels on less-than-ideal anchors and panicked downclimbing on softening snow underneath imposing gullies that loomed with heaps of snow just waiting to come down on this sunny day. Still, the descent went off without issue despite the potential danger. Dave kissed the rock at The Bus Stop upon arriving back there, thankful that nothing had gone wrong.  It is amazing how quickly conditions can turn from perfect, to reasonable, to deteriorating. More downclimbing and slushing our way through snow eventually brought us to familiar grassy ledges just above our bivy site. Upon arriving, we lay on the grass and stared up at the mighty peak. Backpackers Pantry has never tasted so good.

We concluded the trip by hiking back out to the car that very same day – fairly elated, and surprised, that we had just climbed Mount Assiniboine, a large peak that has been on the list for a number of years. For me, it wasn’t an item on a ‘To Climb’ list – it was an item on my Life List, and personally an amazing experience and accomplishment. Despite the warnings of climbing in snow, we proved that it can be done. You just have to go check it out for yourself.

I’ll try to post a topo soon.

Marvel Lake from the summit.

Downclimbing some of the trickier rock. Photo by http://www.zizka.ca.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

Photos from Rogers Pass

Just thought I’d post some photos from a recent trip to Rogers Pass. I haven’t seen snow like that…ever.

Getting the skins on just outside of Wheeler Hut (run by the Alpine Club of Canada)

Winter Wonderland on the way to Asulkan Valley.

Turning back in bad conditions at The Mouse Trap.

Apparently the rumours of crazy snow at Rogers Pass are true.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

Ski Tour at Bow Summit

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

Earlier this week, I was lucky to go ski touring and it ended up being one of my most memorable days in the backcountry. The sun came up shortly after we arrived, sending long shadows of trees on the untouched snow. We were the only ones there after a generous heap of snow the night before. We crossed over to an open area and did a few runs from there, enjoying smooth turns and great views.

Photo by Paul Zizka - http://www.zizka.ca

Bow Summit can be accessed via the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) in Banff National Park. Park at the lower Peyto Lake parking lot (there are washrooms here), where you can also have room to test beacons and run a mock avalanche rescue. Make your way up the Peyto Lake Road, a turn your way into the woods from there. If you aren’t the first ones for awhile, you will see a number of track sets heading up the slope and to the left.

Aim for the fireroad (a more open trail that cuts sideways across the mountain) and take that to the left until you reach the slopes of the bowl just beneath Bow Summit. To the far right, looking down the slope, there are some nice open areas. These are avalanche prone, so do a good test of the snow and make the necessary preparations. To get down, make your way back to the fireroad and take it down and left towards the Peyto Lake Road. Once you reach the upper parking lot it is worth checking out Peyto Lake before bootpacking back up and heading down towards the lower parking lot.

Reaching the bowl beneath Bow Summit

This is one of the most accessible touring areas in Banff National Park. Try to head out on a weekday as weekends can get a bit busy with other people touring. Avalanche courses usually do their field days out here as well.

Looking for an avi course? I did mine with Yamnuska Adventures, which offers both AST 1 and 2.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.

Eiffel Lake

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

I welcomed winter up in the Moraine Lake region today with a snowy hike up to Eiffel Lake. While the views were completely obscured by snow, it was great to be outside in the fresh air and getting one of the final hikes in before the snow settles and the skis come out.

Gloomy yet Beautiful Colours of Fall in the Ten Peaks
Gloomy yet Beautiful Colours of Fall in the Ten Peaks

The 5.6 km trail (one-way) takes you from the shores of Moraine Lake and up a set of fairly steep switchbacks. Once you hit the junction for Eiffel Lake and Larch Valley, the trail flattens out from there until the lake. It is pleasant, and most likely, quite scenic if visibility was good. To the left, you would see both base to peak of the Ten Peaks, a dramatic sight no matter how many times I have seen them before. Eiffel Lake is nestled at the base of these, right underneath Deltaform, I think.

Anyways, it was a gloomy fall day but a nice way to welcome the colder temperatures. Some home-made cookies made for a nice treat along the way, too.

*I forgot my memory card today, so the photo was taken around the same time of year last year. The photo of part of the Ten Peaks is taken from the Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass Trail and not Eiffel. I believe you would have an even broader perspective of them from Eiffel.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.