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Mount Michener

I've been eyeing on this peak pretty much since March last year. It's a major objective in David Thompson, across Abraham Lake, and looks attractive. There's only one online trip report from Eric and Raff's ascent a few years back in February. Michener was proposed as my possible objective for almost every weekend since the first week of January, but never realized due to several reasons. There are not many peaks in David Thompson Country, so obviously, we don't have many alternate plans. And, I have quite a few friends wishing to try this peak, and it was very hard to schedule a day when everybody was available. It eventually came to this Thursday, the Valentine's Day. However, Kevin and Ben had to bail and it was left to only Mike and me. The scrambling season for Michener is very short, from mid January to March.

Apart from the short scrambling season (due to the lake crossing), you have to be really confident on the wind level in this area. Nordegg area was forecasted to have wind 5 kph, but we were nearly being blown off on the rib... I guess if the forecasted wind is more than 20 kph, you need to find something else to do...

Based on Eric's trip report, we figured that doing an early start was essential, so we started our day at 7:40. The lake is actually a reservoir, and the ice stability was variable. The ice was very thick though, but still, Mike and I roped up to cross it. Crampons were also mandatory. If you don't have them, you will spend hours boot-skating on the lake. Wind was almost non-existence in the morning, and it felt like a simple (and scenic) ice walk.

The next hour was tedious bushwhacking up forested rib. The worst part was actually the first 20 meters or so. In general the bush was very tolerable. Higher up we came across an old ascent track and followed it to treeline. It was very dry and post-holing was very minimal. I think even Heart Mountain holds more snow than Mount Michener... Once at treeline, the view looking back fully opened up. The Lake looked blue, instead of white. On the mean time, wind picked up. It was not too bad at this stage, but we found the wind to be constantly increasing throughout the day...

We were back at summer scrambling now... It felt so good to grip the slabs rather than slogging on frozen scree or post-holing on snow. Higher up, the ascent rib joins another rib. At this point, you will re-enter trees briefly, and MAKE SURE you take a mental note by looking back at this feature. If you don't do so, you will very likely go down the wrong rib on the way back. There's no obvious scrambling route down that rib, and backtracking can be very frustrating. Following the ridge up, the terrain soon changes to scree slogging. We traversed on climber's right skirting around a rocky section. This part was proved to be very miserable. We soon got tired of the side-hilling and shoot straight up towards the rock bands. Moderate scrambling was involved to overcome this band. Following the ridge up for another 20min or so, we were staring at the summit block.

The route goes up the scree ramp on climber's left side. It was mostly a hike, but near the end, the terrain steepens and the snow covered rocks were very slippery. This part was the crux for us. It wasn't technically difficult but required some concentration. After this bit of stuffs, we had to ascent a short steep snow slope, and then we were on the summit ridge.

The summit ridge was just a hike, and soon we made to the summit, less than 4 hours from car. High clouds were rolling in, and we lost the blue sky. But even so, we still got good views. So many David Thompson peaks were visible, but too bad we couldn't figure out the distant peaks on the Parkway.

Wind was fierce and there was little hope that the weather would improve, so we hurried down without doing much summit stay. Descending the snow covered terrain was easier and faster, and in no time we made back to the crux. Some careful moves were required on this bit.

We were way ahead of schedule at this time, and we all wanted to slow down and enjoy the view. However, the wind had something else to say, and we were forced to speed up down to treeline. Once in the trees, the snow was helping us to speed up. It was just so easy to slide and plunge-step. There were a couple of snow covered slabs that we slipped on.

Once we were back to the lake, wind picked up again. We did stop regularly for photos though. Round Trip time: 7 hours.

http://www.clubtread.com/sforum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=56154

Smutwood Peak

None of us got exhausted after Opal Ridge and Little Chester, and we were hoping for another ascent on Sunday. Weather forecast was calling for a sunny day, and avalanche condition was moderate/low. Perfect! Then we would just keep our original plan, Smutwood Peak, with the option of traversing to Snow Peak. Before last weekend, there was only one online trip report for doing Smutwood Peak in winter, from Nugara. He didn't make to the summit and still called it as a mountaineering peak. Based on his photos, I didn't agree with the "mountaineering" part, but still, I wanted more beta on this route. So despite the superb view, Smutwood was on my "maybe" list, up until last weekend when Vern, Bill and Wietse successfully ascended it. Their photos suddenly raised this peak to my "must-do" list. I guess someone else was thinking the same way!

I know it would be another insanely long day if we do traverse to Snow Peak, so we set up alarm at 5:45, and got to trailhead before 8. Sky was crystal clear and I was very excited. We were treated with some alpenglow view while crossing the swamp area. (Of course there's no swamp in winter time).

The approach should be pretty easy to follow given the fact this is a very popular area for skiers. However I was a bit paranoid about getting too far climber's left to Commonwealth Lake.. So at the first major junction, we took the right hand side fork... BIG Mistake! This trail eventually goes to Engadine Lodge. I recognized this when we got down to Commonwealth Creek, and we started the bushwhacking and post-holing up the creekbed. Obviously the creekbed was not easy to follow. We had to hop over some questionable snow bridges in order not to wet ourselves, and the trail breaking definitely was definitely not enjoyable. After 20-30min of these stuffs I thought we must be off-route. We ascended the bank on left side and soon found the real trail. It was in such a good shape... Oh man, we shouldn't waste time and energy here. Once got back on track, we soon made to the open area, and the morning view of Smuts and Fist was gorgeous.

From here on the route parallels with the summer trail, and it was a long way across the flat area. Make sure you constantly have eyes on The Fist. At one point it looks like Roche Miette. The steep gully on climber's right side of The Fist was apparently skied recently. Further up the valley, we crossed a huge slide path coming down the east face of Mount Smuts. This path goes all the way from summit to valley floor. I think if you are crazy enough, you can bag Smuts on skis. After this bit we were directly aiming for the big face of Birdwood, doing another creek-side traverse, and then we almost arrived at the base of steep slope up Smuts Pass.

The slope was definitely steep and obviously, avalanche prone. The ski tracks we were following was too flat for snowshoeers, and we decided to shoot straight up. The snowpack felt like spring condition and was very supportive. We gained elevation very quick, and it didn't take us long to top over this hill, and then we were staring at the infamous Mount Smuts. The summer route up Mount Smuts requires you to aim for the big pile of scree cone. But this time, we could stay high on climber's left avoiding losing elevation. On the meantime, we got better perspective of its scramble route. On the meantime, Mount Birdwood was trying her best to compete against Smuts. But as for now, Smuts was the winner.

Once we topped over Smuts Pass, we got our first head-on view of Smutwood Peak. It looked to be awesome. The alpine bowl was also very inviting if you're a skier. But for us, the side-sloping on hard snow was almost a nightmare for our ankles for the next 20 minutes. We kept looking back and the awesome view helped to reduce pain. We did a short break (perhaps the first break) at the pass between Birdwood and Smutwood. The view towards the other side fully opened up. Oh man, it was gonna be awesome! It was already awesome!!

We tried to keep snowshoes on for as far as possible on the ridge, but soon a short climbing section required us ditching shoes and switched to boot travelling. I also took out an ice axe for this bit. It wasn't too hard but there exist easier lines if you want to traverse further climber's left. And then we simply followed the ridge crest up. Miner rock bands were blocking our way, and we could just by-pass almost all of them on climber's left side, but we didn't bother. One of them was extremely hard. Ben and I had to swing ice axe to hook a hold and pull ourselves up the snow covered down-sloping slabs. Mike and Andrea found a much easier line on climber's right, but this would bring you closer to the big cornices. We were forced to stay below other rock bands up towards the false summit. I tried to climb up one band but gain, it involved hooking with ice axe. I was pretty tired and wasn't in the mood of challenging unnecessary stuffs. We cut back towards the ridge crest and followed it to the false summit. The connecting ridge to true summit looked to be inviting. Looking back, we noticed a group of 3 approaching Birdwood/Smutwood pass. We immediately dropped down to the col and started the final slog. The summit ridge was actually pretty easy. There was one section requiring probing, but mostly just a walk-up. Near the top there were some interesting cornice scenery. The summit itself was actually a big cornice. I took out my probe and carefully probed the safe boundary.

We had some discussion whether traversing to Snow Peak or not. There's a substantial elevation loss towards "Birdwood col", and then we had to drop down below treeline to the other side, and regain the elevation towards Burstall Pass. There wasn't enough time allowing us to do so, and we did a quite long summit stay on Smutwood Peak, soaking in the views. Eventually we started the descent.

It was much easier than going up, and in no time we made back to the col below false summit. At the meantime the group of 3 were coming down from the false peak. They turned out to be Golden Scramblers and their friend, Evelyn. Nice to meet them again! We had some nice discussion about some future plans, and after saying goodbye our group decided to skirt around to save some elevation regain. There was ice spots on SW facing slope and we had to take out crampons to traverse. The rest of the descent back to our snowshoe ditching are was nice and fast.

We had lots of extra time. There's a bump ahead of us and we decided to go up there and check things out. We ditched snowshoes and backpacks at its base, and scree slogging brought us to its highpoint. Mount Birdwood looked to be rather a Himalayan Giant. Mount Smuts were trying its best to compete, but this time Birdwood is the winner. I highly suggest everybody to do this variation if you still have time after Smutwood, or if you cannot go up Smutwood Peak. This gives a better perspective for Smuts, Birdwood and the surrounding alpine environ.

We plunged step down the fresh powder to the bowl below, and re-ascended back up to Smuts Pass. We met another 2 skiers at the pass, and soon after that, we started the even faster plunging step down the big slope. It was very fast and enjoyable. At one point I stepped onto a thin snow covered hard slab and started to glide on the surface. Some sort of snowshoe skiing?. Well.

The rest of the way back was scenic and fast. Round Trip Time: 8 hours including all of the stops, variations and detours. Overall, this is a very satisfactory day out. The view ranks high on my winter adventure list. I highly recommend Smutwood as a winter ascent. I didn't get good view from the nearby Burstall Pass Peak and Mount Smuts, and this made up for the loss. I'll definitely do Snow Peak in winter, under crystal clear sky!

Little Chester

The weather looked to be hopeless when we finished Opal Ridge. However, it was only 12:30 and we had the entire afternoon ahead of us. I didn't want to just call it a day, and we started to plan our next objective. Andrea had left her car at the Casino, and given the condition we figured out that Ben and I should do King Creek Ridge, while Andrea and Mike should go for Little Lawson. But we didn't want to split up and it was hard to find a peak that none of us had done. Little Chester, there we go... This is rated as the most dangerous ascent in Nugara snowshoeing book, well.. Of course we were not going up that big avalanche gully. I did spot a less ambitious line from the trip to Fortune and Fortulent. Our route would be going up the SW slope.

So we drove to Chester Lake parking lot. Weather did improve somehow around Lower K-Lake, but got back to snowing as we approaching the parking area. I got near perfect weather from the nearby Little Galatea and I was just wishing to tick this off my list. I personally was not quite interested in this ascent but since I'm a snowshoeer, I have to finish Nugara snowshoing list someday, and this is not a one that I can omit. It is overall rated as the hardest.

We quickly strapped our snowshoes on, and started the busy-as-usual Chester Lake trail. About 20min we entered into the trees and started the tedious and endless post-holing and bushwhacking. The first thing to do was to lose about 20m elevation and cross a (snow covered) creek. Once on the other side, heavy duty trail-breaking up a very steep treed slope was required. We post-holed to knee deep and travelling was not fast. We kept going towards climber's right diagonally. There was not much to describe here except for post-holing and bushwhacking. The weather was actually getting worse and we were hit by several quite heavy storms.

After what seemed like eternity, we finally could see the snowy upper slope. It looked to be quite steep, and yet, quite far away. But since we were there, we would give it a go. The sky magically cleared up once we hit treeline. Oh man, we were LUCKY. We spent the bad-weather periods on the descent from Opal and on the ascent up Little Chester, but we did get good weather on both peaks' alpine sections.

The slope was pretty steep. It reminded me both Mosquito Mountain and Ramp Peak. We were forced to do some switchbacks. It was also very foreshortened. The elevation is marginally lower than Little Galatea, but apparently I didn't realize this until I was on the summit. We could see another storm quickly moving in. Ben and I were not far from the summit at this point and we hurried up and successfully beat the storm. We got some interesting views but apparently Andrea and Mike were not as lucky. They were treated with white-out...

We were in a complete white-out storm roughly about 2 minutes after leaving the summit. We passed Andrea, and then Mike on their way up. Sky magically cleared up again, but only for maybe 30 seconds. It went back to white-out again... The strong wind and blowing snow was smashing our faces and after quickly strapping snowshoes on, we started the fast descent. Plunging-step down the face was very enjoyable and quick. Mike somehow disoriented himself and ended up too far skier's left. Luckily he spotted us and we regrouped together at treeline. Weather was gradually improving again. The rest of the descent went by nice and quick. Once we got back to the trails, Ben and I took off snowshoes and walked down the hard-packed tracks. Weather was even much better now, oh well. Round Trip Time: 4 hours.

While finishing a very satisfactory day given the not-so-good weather forecast, we drove back to Canmore and hoping to have good weather on Sunday. (And we did.)

Opal Ridge

Ben and I missed the good weather day (Saturday) on the weekend of February 2-3. The forecast was pretty similar for both days but it turned out that Sunday was way worse. So this weekend (Feb 9-10), I asked him to have both days free. We would be joined by Mike from Edmonton and Andrea from Calgary. However, the forecast was getting worse and worse, and we would take what was given there. Flurries on Saturday indicated we should do something less ambitious, and after throwing back and forth objectives, we decided to do Opal Ridge. Obviously there were some confusions regarding this peak. I was mentioning the true summit of Opal on Facebook messages. Andrea has done Opal South twice, and obviously she thought I was planning on the Kane scramble - Opal North...

To give us more flexibility, I said we should start our day by 8am... This was very unnecessary for a summit as small as Opal, but it turned out we made a GOOD call. Andrea was surprised that we drove to Fortress ski hill turn-off... This is the start of direct route up Opal True Summit, aka, Opal Ridge South. I pointed out an alternative objective just on the opposite side of the Highway, namely The Spoon Needle. But we decided to stick to our original plan, and we quickly got ready and started. The route was very dry and we didn't bring snowshoes up.

The route follows the cut-line until crossing an obvious creek. We went up too soon and ended up post-holing and bushwhacking. We did correct ourselves not far up, by crossing the stream to its other side. From there on, we were treated with summer condition.. Weather was also much better than expected. The flurries ended and more and more blue colours started to show up. There were some optional moderate scramble sections up some rock bands, but I believe you can bypass all of them if you do look for the easiest line.

Some cool rock formations started to show up higher up. We were aiming at an obvious break between some walls. The travelling was easy going, and soon we made to the ridge crest. The view was so nice and we decided to play with a cool looking boulder. We all climbed up it and enjoyed some hands-on scrambling. I highly recommend this variation. It only adds maybe 10 minutes. The summit was not far up, and it was mostly just a hike. Some snow offered good step-kicking. The view to the other side fully opened up. We could see the impressive Mt. Denny and Potts. They both are scrambles and I'd like to tick them off in the following summer. Some snow just made them even more attractive. Looking back, the entire Opal Ridge traverse looked to be very inviting. There would be some difficult sections so you might want to attempt the traverse in summer.

While being amazed by the views, we could see the nasty weather moving in fast, from north side. We figured that we would have another 30min before being soaked in... Oh well, we soon started the way down. Indeed, the clouds rolled in and we got snowed. The descent went by very quick. It was such a pleasure to get rid of the heavy stuffs after more than 2 months of snowshoeing and skiing, and to realize how fast I can travel without these extra pounds on my feet. Round Trip Time: 4 hours.

It was only 12:30 at noon, and despite the weather, we decided to do something else. And yep...

Fossil Mountain

I was joined by Kelly Smith and Ben Nearingburg and three of us left Edmonton Saturday evening, and we all bivy at Trail Head. There must be stuffs working in night at Lake Louise ski resort, and we could constantly hear the snowmobile sounds. But even though we all got a good sleep. I had done the Skoki approach 3 times, and I knew exactly how boring the initial approach is, so we decided to start in darkness. Your first view would be looking back at Temple, but that's roughly after 40min into the trip. So we woke up at 6, and started at 6:40.

Kelly would be the skier, while Ben would be the snowshoeer, so I had the complete freedom to choose between skiing and snowshoeing. I didn't want to challenge myself so I kept my snowshoes on. Kelly got a huge pack since he had to carry an extra pair of scrambling boots for the final 500 vertical meters of slog. Mixing skiers and snowshoeers together means all of the group members cannot match speed very well, even if they have the similar fitness level. Snowshoeers have slight advantage when going in, while skiers are much faster coming back. The approach to Larch Chairlift took Ben and I less than 50min on our December trip to Unity Peak. It took us 1 hour this time, which is a very impressive pace on skis for Kelly. The sky was getting brighter and weather was cloudy.

We kept marching towards Bolder Pass on a well marked trail. This trail eventually leads to Skoki Lodge. I didn't know this trail gets regularly maintained. I'm not sure if they do this all year around or not. Fossil Mountain is also a peak that can be done even if avalanche condition is high. The approach is as easy as one can expect, and the ridge rarely holds any snow on it. Anyway, we quickly made to Halfway Hut, where Kelly went in for a break. You can always catch the morning light on impressive Temple if you know where to look back. The slope to Boulder Pass is kinda foreshortened. There's quite a bit of elevation gain to get there.

The other side fully opened up once we topped out on the pass. Ptarmigan Lake was frozen and everything was white. Everything looked to be very different from the classic summer view. I think one must go in Skoki in different seasons to fully understand its beauty. The trail across Ptarmigan Lake was well marked, we we were even passed by a snowmobile. Our objective, Fossil Mountain, appeared to be a true slog from this vantage point. In no time we made to the other side and quickly started gaining elevation towards Deception Pass. There was no avalanche hazard what so ever and we started to go up on our own pace.

This was another foreshortened slope. It took us a while to finally topping out on Deception Pass. Wind suddenly picked up. It was blowing fiercely and we were nearly being knocked off balance. Now I started to realize I had left my ski goggles and wind-breaker at home, because I was using them on Monday. It was below -30 with windchill in Edmonton and I had to dress properly for school... Oh well, there was no way I can turn around at this point. There's a bump to go over and after that Ben and I ditched our snowshoes. From here on, it was a true slog battling against the gusting wind, for 500 vertical meters on frozen scree. We started to see Heather Ridge and Brachiopod Mountain becoming smaller and smaller, but that was not enough as Fossil Mountain is more than 2900m high. I felt considerably short on energy at this stage due to the fact I had only ate one muffin. But the wind prevented me from stopping and having a break. Eventually we made to the summit and surprisingly, wind almost died off on the top. It was not a white-out on the summit, so we got some good views. Oyster Peak looks to be very small on the other side, and one would think why bothering with that peak... One would also never think about descending straight down its west face from the summit.. It looks to be very serious... Well...

Ben and I didn't do the summit stay as we couldn't see if Kelly was going up or not. We passed him lower down on the slope. It was a hellish experience to change boots in such wind, but he was still going for the summit. We had a brief discussion whether attempting Heather Ridge or not. Kelly didn't want to do it, but I was still wishing for a 2-summit day. However, after a bit of thinking I decided to wait for another day. This is not a remote area, and Heather is far from impressive nor difficult. It's as straightforward as an ideal winter solo objective. It would also give some impressive views when the sky is clear. It could also be linked to the Redoubt to Brachiopod traverse to make it a 4-peak day. Ben and I certainly didn't want to wait for Kelly on Deception Pass due to obvious reasons. Based on my learning from Ramp Peak, we had to set an agreement of where to re-group. This time we agreed on Halfway Hut.

We decided to side-slope around the highpoint to save some unnecessary elevation gain, and as a result we heard a whump sound. We should have picked the safest line, which is to retrace our steps to Deception Pass. Well, the terrain wasn't steep enough, and we made back to the maintained trail quickly. We passed at least 10 skiers on the slog back across Ptarmigan Lake. Once at the other side, we decided to play around with some big boulders. I climbed up 2 of those. Then we slowly slogged back to Halfway Hut. I think this area is more popular in winter than in summer. I never remember seeing 30 people on the Oyster Peak/Skoki Mountain trip... After a long wait, maybe 40-50min ish, Kelly finally showed up. We were a bit worrying about him, but really there's nothing you can go wrong on this route.

Now it was our turn to speed up, but we knew we could never catch Kelly up because he was on skis... Once we made back to the ski out, we took off snowshoes, and jogged down the Temple Lodge road. It was quite icy though. Round Trip 9 hours including all of the stops.

Indian Ridge

The slope of Indian Ridge appeared to be a true slog (on scree, not on snow). Since we wouldn't go back to this Pass, whether grabbing The Whistlers or not, we had to haul up snowshoes. The slope went on forever. Oh, I forgot this is a 2720m summit, more than 100m higher than Marmot... At least the view was getting better and better. And once we topped out on the ridge, we were treated with gorgeous view.

The summit bump looked to be nearby, but actually far away. We still needed to haul up the heavy stuffs for a good amount of distance and elevation. On the other side, glad we did this part of high ridge traverse, instead of going straight up to the summit. The view is needless to say, awesome towards each direction, especially giants like Edith Cavell.

The summit castle looks to be moderate from far, but actually a walk-up. We both enjoyed our 3rd summit of the day. We took a 10min break here. I went down the other side for a few meters to check out the connecting ridge to The Whistlers. It looks to be very steep, snowy, and corniced. A fall would be really bad towards skier's left, and possibly triggering an avalanche towards skier's right. And there were a good amount of this stuffs to deal with. We were both physically tired and mentally fatigued, and none of us was in the mood of challenging this traverse. For peaks like The Whistlers, I don't like to take any risk. We can do it at anytime we want.. It's as easy as one can expect from Whistler Creek in winter, and from the gondola side in summer.

Muhigan Mountain

There was more post-holing going up the treed slope on the other side. On average we sank to knee deep, but there were also some slabs providing easy travel. Once we made to treeline on the other side, there would be very minimal post-holing for the rest of the day. The slope was surprisingly lack of snow, and the snow was very shallow and firm. By this time we were way ahead of schedule, and it would only take us 1 hour to get up Indian Ridge, then we would be done for the day. So I pointed out the possibility to increase our ambition, that was, to grab an officially named peak, far away from where we were, Muhigan Mountain. That was on my list ever since I spotted it on topo map, and we would have good chance to make it if the snow was firm all the way. To do so we had to aim for Indian Pass, the col between a bump and Indian Ridge. It was very foreshortened and it took us 1 hour to get there from treeline. During which we were treated with excellent view.

Even though we are peak-baggers, we have to admit the alpine traverse from Whistler Creek to the base of Muhigan was the highlight of this day. We got impressive looking mountains all around us, and excellent weather as well. This is not a popular traverse and I haven't read even one trip report for Muhigan, not even as a summer ascent. I was thinking about bushwhacking straight up Muhigan from Highway 16, which will be a much shorter way to grab this peak. Glad I didn't do that, or I would miss all the views between Muhigan and Indian. We were facing about 100m elevation loss immediately after Indian Pass. We tried to side-slope around the bump (for reference, I name it Indian Pass Bump, I won't claim it as a summit though), resisting losing too much elevation. Side-sloping on snowshoes on hard snow was very painful on our ankles, and there was one boulder field forcing us to take off snowshoes. It was too dry! Too dry even for snowshoeers. For skiers, you probably want to wait until March.

We regained a bit of elevation and made to the next pass. This pass doesn't have a name. If counting Marmot Pass, then this will be a "three pass route". Maybe I should do the Six Pass Traverse this spring. The terrain ahead of us looks to be even drier, and we decided to ditch snowshoes at this point. It would be useless and we certainly didn't want to haul them for any further. Even though by this point, our second objective, Muhigan Mountain, still hadn't showed up. We mistakenly thought a bump on the west shoulder of unnamed peak as Muhigan, but as we got closer, we realized our mistake. It was still far away. Once we topped out on the shoulder, we got our first view of Muhigan. Indeed, still a long way to go. By this time, more Tonquin Valley peaks started to show up, and obviously, some of them are nothing more than scree slog. We also got a good view of Mount Geikie. I guess there's no need to introduce this peak...

So we started side-hilling around the unnamed peak towards our objective. This section holds snow quite a bit and we had to post-hole for a few hundred meters. But overall we made a good decision to leave snowshoes behind. Apparently the direct traverse to Muhigan requires some scrambling on snow covered terrain, and doing so at such a remote place wasn't that inspiring. However, as we got closer, we decided to give it a go to save some distance. It was moderate with a couple of difficult moves. In summer, it will be easy scrambling. Of course, a walk-up route exists if you don't mind to traverse further west for a hundred meters. By this time, some clouds were moving in, obscuring the views. Too bad we didn't get a sunny summit panorama. There was a glass register, to our surprise. However we couldn't open it. We didn't stay on the summit, and immediately turned around. We were 17km away from car, and we had to maintain a fast pace. We were using a fast pace, and it only took us 1.5 hours to get here from Indian Pass.

We retraced our steps down the moderate part. It was good to do some hands-on stuffs. This is Ben descending the ridge. We simply retraced our footprints back. Note that I'm using footprints here, not holes. There was only a short section of post-holing (on foot), but other than, it was a walk on either scree or rock-hard snow, and occasionally, ice. Weather started to get better again, oh well.. Due to the change in sun direction, we got different view on the way back. We thought of grabbing this higher unnamed peak, but decided to wait for another day, maybe summer time (too give a better reason for claiming it). And soon we made back to our snowshoes, and then we slogged back up Indian Pass. It also took us exactly 1.5 hours from summit of Muhigan to the Pass. Guess we were getting tired.

Marmot Mountain

Never thought of doing 37.5km distance on snowshoes in January. This distance is even marginally longer than my 15-hour ascent of Castleguard in May. But on this Saturday, January 26, Ben and I did it, 13 hours on full force.

This time we decided to go back to tradition, to sleep at trail head. However, non of us knew Marmot Basin was gated in midnight, so when we arrived there, we had no choice but driving down to Portal Creek (Tonquin Valley TH), which is the closest place we could park... This means we had an extra 5km distance one way with near 300m more elevation gain.. Oh well. It was obviously frustrating but my logic was, we both have no trouble doing 3000m elevation and 40km distance in summer, so the only thing we had to do was to wake up a bit earlier. So we set up alarm at 4:30AM.

We woke up under a full moon. Excellent! That means we didn't need headlamp at all. So we had a quick breakfast (one sandwich for me) and got ready pretty soon, and we started the day a few minutes passing 5. Having the entire day ahead of us, we tried to walk as fast as we could up the Marmot Basin Road. The only way to walk faster was to jog. We made to the gate in just 30min and hopped over it, then another 20min brought us to the upper parking lot. Nobody was working there, and we quickly spotted the Whistler Creek TH. You could snowshoe up the ski runs all the way to the summit, but I believe Sunshine Village is the only one allowing to do so, so in order not getting caught by ski patrols, you need to wake up very very early. Unless you can walk and snowshoe as fast as me, you probably want a wake-up time around 3:30. There will be snowmobiles going up the runs by as early as 6:30, and you have to at least making to the upper basin by that time. Anyway, the Whistler Creek Trail is maintained by Marmot Basin so it was very easy to follow. Under full moon, it was quite a peaceful environment.

It was a long way around Marmot Mountain to its backside. I didn't calculate, but it should be around 10km away from our parking lot. Again, this was such a memorable ascent due to the full moon. Too bad I don't have those fancy camera gears so I can't show you any photo. All the nearby peaks were clearly visible and we knew exactly where we were going. I think doing 4AM start under full moon will become my favourite in the future. We tried to slow down on the upper slope as we started to realize we were too fast. We would miss the sunrise photos if we kept going up under this pace. But, I guess the most comfortable way is to keep your regular pace. I usually take more photos to slow down the pace if I want, or to take short breaks, but given the face our cameras didn't work under faint light, we soon went back to our pace... It didn't take us long to arrive at Marmot Mountain summit. The sky was slowly getting brighter, but we were still way ahead of schedule. We waited there for about 20min until the coldness forced us to descend. It must be below -15 degree, and under this temperature, we must keep moving. Ben's camera is better than mine and he could take a couple of photos without blurring, but that's it for this summit. I really like the awesome looking Peveril Peak, and I'm glad Ben got a photo of it.

In order to get better photos, we took a slightly less direct line. Instead of dropping down straight towards Whistler Creek, we decided to descend the ridge towards Marmot Pass. On the slope we were treated by the ever-changing colours. I especially like the reddish view over Mount Kerkeslin. The snow was excellent (rock hard) for going uphill, which also means, it was terrible to go down. Every step was on the knees. Of course, even though there wasn't enough snow, we could still find lines to glissade. But given the face we wanted to slow down, we didn't bother with that. And of course, the impressive Terminal Mountain and Manx Peak was always eye-catching, and I finally could get a photo of them without blurring...

We didn't drop all the way down to Marmot Pass, instead we cut straight down the slope to save some distance. More interesting colours started to show up, and we quickly got down to treeline. Some post-holing was waiting for us, but it was brief. We soon crossed the Whistler Creek and started up the other side. By now, we had done the most significant elevation loss in this traverse. We were treated with some alpenglow views.

Mt. Fortune & Fortulent

Weather and avalanche forecast looked to be okay for this weekend, so Ben and I decided to head to the mountains again. Originally Anthony, Ben's friend was going to join us. Ben and I preferred to leave Edmonton 3AM in the morning to avoid sleeping in car at -17 freezing temperature, or sleeping in hostel with unknown roommates (possibly noisy), and to save 30 bucks... Anthony isn't used to doing intense trips with 1-2 hours of sleep, so we eventually booked hostel in Canmore. Anthony cancelled the trip at last minute, so it was only Ben and I leaving city 8pm Saturday evening. Blizzard condition all the way from Edmonton to Innisfail, and driving condition was marginal. There were about 20 cars driving into the ditches, in addition to 2 large trucks. Visibility was minimal due to the heavy snowfall and blowing snow. Apparently Ben has experience dealing with this condition and he managed to drive his small car at 80-100kph. I have done driving in even worse condition near Kamloops and Merritt back to 2 years ago, and I was prepared to take over the driving if the condition was like that the entire way. It totally reminded me the intense drive from Edmonton to Vancouver in March 2011, dealing with heavy rain, heavy snow, heavy fog, and almost everything you can experience. Thankfully we passed the storm quickly. The sleep in Canmore hostel was far from enjoyable. We got a noisy roommate who was videoing with his buddy at 1am. As a result we only got roughly 4 hours of sleep...

So we started the day at about 8AM, when there was enough light. As described in Nugara book, the first thing was to negotiate the maze of ski trails. We tried to follow Nugara's direction for while, but soon got frustrated by the switchbacks and up-and-downs, and eventually decided to shoot straight down towards Spary Lake, and this proved to be the fastest way for snowshoeers. Bushwhacking and plunging-step downhill was fast. Once we dropped down to the lake, we were surprised to find no wind, which is very unusual for this area. Temperature wasn't too cold neither, and weather was clear. We all enjoyed the alpenglow and then morning light while crossing the lake. The view made this supposed boring hour very enjoyable. And it was so good to see the colours changing from purple to red to orange and yellow. I highly recommend crossing the lake in sunrise hour. There was no visible tracks and we aimed straight towards the SW corner of Mount Fortune. It was a long way cross.

Apparently there once was a forest fire in this area, going up the field of burned trees reminded me Vermillion Peak two weeks ago. I'm pretty sure Mount Fortune can be skied and there's enough space between burned trees to do turns, but there wasn't enough snow, and deadfalls were only partially covered. The second problem was the shitty snow. It has a somehow hard crust on top which couldn't hold our weight, and we had to punch down the crust, then post-hole to knee deep. The snow was very sugary and even our MSR snowshoes couldn't get a grip. We slide backward every step forward. The only evidence showing we were actually moving uphill was seeing our pole marks. The snow combined with deadfalls made our progress very, very slow. It would be very frustrating if we had plan on Monday, but for a one-day trip, we don't mind to do more work-out, as long as it doesn't prevent success. We are both very fit and we shared trail-breaking half half, and after 2 hours of heavy duty work, we made to treeline. The terrain above treeline was severely wind blown, and we had to take-off snowshoes. We carried snowshoes because we couldn't see Fortune/Fortulent col. It turned out be a good call. The high point ahead of us was actually false summit, but the true summit was only minutes away, and soon we stood on Mount Fortune. The view was already outstanding, and I agree with Nugara that this is the highlight of snowshoeing around Spray Lake, 3.5 hours from car.

We didn't stay on Fortune, but immediately dropped down towards Fortune/Fortulent col. It turned out that we indeed needed snowshoes. The col is below treeline and it perfectly holds snow. We didn't lose much elevation before starting up again. The entire slope was blown bare on climber's left and center, so we ditched snowshoes at snowline. Slogging up frozen scree and some snow, we quickly gained elevation. There are a couple of easy to moderate scramble sections before the summit. They could be circumvented on climber's left side, but we didn't bother. Once we topped out on the summit, the other side fully opened up, and Mount Turbulent appeared to be a true slog. It can certainly be done on snowshoes or skis, but that would be a long day with Castleguard style approach. I'm actually interested in this. Fortulent has twin summits, and we checked the other one as well. The view down towards Spray River valley is much better from this summit, and looking back to the first summit reveals some cornice scenery, so make sure you don't give it a miss. We briefly considered continuing the ridge towards the next high point, 1.5km away, but decided to go back. We certainly had time to explore, but didn't bother as we didn't want to claim that peak...

Once we got down the scrambling section, we took the snow on skier's left and got a great glissade. Once down the alpine section, we all enjoyed a super fast plunging step. It only took us roughly 20min to descend back to the lake. For snowshoeing downhill, we want it to be as slippery as possible so we can glide. Except for the deadfalls, it was very enjoyable. The afternoon sun provided some different view on the lake. Again, there was no wind. Once making back to the other side, we retraced our tracks to parking lot. There were lots of cross country skiers.

We decided to drive home via Highway 40. I spotted a less exposed route to Little Chester. I actually made to its summit in summer, but didn't count as it was only a 10min side trip from Mount Chester. I suggest to follow the west face/SW ridge line, rather than Nugara's dangerous gully.. Commonwealth Ridge and Tent Ridge both appeared dry on upper ridge/slope. Opal Ridge (true summit)'s entire slope was dry. Another peak that appeared dry was West Baldy West Ridge, a Nugara climber's scramble. It was feasible last Sunday, oh well... We eventually made back to Calgary before sunset. Good timing for a moderately long trip in January.

Monarch Ramparts

As a student, the final exam period is usually the busiest, but if you study well during the term, having 6 exams over 15 days means more flexibility. Having a 3-day break between two exams, I found myself driving down Highway 2 again. I got my AT skis about 1 month ago, and I've been practicing downhill skiing at city resort since then, so I was looking forward to a ski ascent. Monarch Ramparts sounds like a perfect objective. Really? It's a long way in..

According to the Gem Trek Map, the Healy Pass Trailhead is at the far back end of Sunshine Village parking lot, and thus, I made the big mistake right at the start of the day... The trailhead is definitely not at the back end, and it's just the same as Sunshine Village ski-in. The trails split up about 0.5km uphill... Well, I followed the wrong track for about 20min, and it gets narrower and narrower, becomes more bushy, and climbs sharply uphill towards a icy waterfall... Man, that must be the trail for ice climbers... I wasted about 40min, and got back on track at almost 10am... This is definitely not a good timing for a December ascent..

Getting back on track, the skiing became much easier on packed trail. The Healy Pass trail is easy to follow and very flat. I did definitely move faster on skis compared to snowshoeing, but I also started to feel the multiple blisters on my feet and legs about only a few kilometers in.. And I was pretty much suffering from the pain for the rest of the day, and the following two days.. Well, unless getting injured, having a few blisters isn't a good enough reason to stop me having a successful trip..

The weather was very different from expected. It was snowing pretty much all day, and visibility was bad too. After skiing in for a long time, I came to a camp site, and checking out my map, oh man, I wasn't even finishing half of the approach.. Now I started to feel the distance of this trip. Indeed, it's 9km one way just to get to Healy Pass, and after that, you still have an hour to go. Keeping marching on, I passed Simpson Pass turnoff, and eventually I made to Healy Meadows. Again, the view was bad but I did got the first view of my objective. Instead of going to Healy Pass and then traversing horizontally, I started to look for a short-cut which could save some time and energy. The trail also disappeared at the meadows so there's no advantage to follow the supposed route anyway. I started to travel straight ahead towards Monarch Ramparts, aiming for a less steep area. The heavy duty trail-breaking also began here. Skiing over a gentle hill, I arrived at the base of my objective.

I could easily pick up a line through the steep slope and this could save me 1-2km overall distance. The slope was pretty steep and I had to ascend on switchbacks, rather than straight up. Once on the ridge, I still could keep my skis on, over a few up-and-downs, and eventually I entered the clouds. Visibility was reduced to less than 20 meters. I felt like having traversed for a long time, and seeing the terrain ahead was down-hill, I decided to call it a day. I took out my map, and according to the distance I had to travel, I must be at the summit plateau. I ditched skis and walked on foot for another 100m or so, and couldn't see a higher bump ahead. It was also pretty windy so I headed back down quickly, without a necessary summit stay.

The weather cleared up a bit once I lost some elevation, and I took my first break of the day before taking off the skins. The ski run down the big slope was pretty fun. I had to say skiing on powder snow is very different from skiing in the resort. I felt skiing in resort to be faster but easier to do turns. Once the fun thing was over, the long trudge back Healy Creek was tediously long. I must spend more time dealing with uphill sections rather than enjoying the downhills. It was very frustrating and tiring. I thought about getting the skins back on but if doing so I wouldn't get the essential practice. Eventually I made back to the Sunshine Village ski out and the last 0.5km was awesome.

Round Trip time: 7 hours.

I don't know if I can beat 7 hours on snowshoes but it should be close. This was my first ski ascent and I felt hurt on several muscle groups, especially my hips, not to say the multiple blisters I got. But I did enjoy the down-hill parts which is very important. Last year, I got perfect weather on Twin Cairns and Wawa Ridge, so I know what I've been missing from this trip. I'll definitely come back to Healy Pass again, and I will do the peak north of the pass, and name it as Healy Pass Peak. It's higher than Monarch Ramparts.

Healy Pass Peak

The objective for this weekend changed a dozen times, from Michener to Windy Point Ridge, even to Massive Mountain, but eventually we decided to go for an unnamed peak that had been on my radar for a while, Healy Pass Peak. The reasoning for naming this peak is the same as how Burstall Pass Peak was named. Since we had a high pressure system moving in (which almost guarantee stable weather), a peak with inspiring views would be appropriate. I had been to the nearby Monarch Ramparts before, but didn't get any view from the top, so I always wanted to come back to this area. Sandwiched between Massive Range and Ball Range, the Healy Pass area guarantees great views.

I joined Ben and Mike from Edmonton. We are slowly forming a Team Edmonton group.. (Where is Eric?) I was seriously considering doing this trip on skis, not just because skiing would be more fun, but mainly to get more experience. However, Ben and Mike would be on snowshoes, and It would be really crowded to get my skis in Mike's car, therefore I would be on snowshoes this time. It was good since the supposed considerable avalanche hazard was forcing us to stay relatively close to each other. So we left Edmonton Saturday evening, and slept in Canmore ACC Hostel. The avi condition eventually changed to moderate.

We started to day at Sunshine Village parking lot with just enough light, and quickly started the long long approach. The first 0.5km was following Sunshine Ski-out. Due to the massive amount of snow (30cm+) fallen in the past few days, we were concerning if the trail was broken or not. Post-holing all the way in didn't sound that appealing to either of us. Luckily, the trail was broken! The next 1.5 hours was merely trudging up the trail in the trees. The elevation gain was very gradual until Simpson Pass junction, and after that, the trail gets a little steeper, but still gentle enough that we didn't even bother using the heal-lift. Eventually we made to Healy Meadows, and got our first view of the impressive The Monarch, and the long ridge of Monarch Ramparts.

On my solo trip to Monarch Ramparts in December, the ski tracks ended at the meadows, but this time we were lucky to have tracks all the way up to Healy Pass. The forecasted inversion didn't happen and we were treated with coldness all day. We didn't have thermometer, but based on my experience, the temperature must be below -20 degree. It was tough to take photos. My battery worked fine, but I had to warm-up my fingers frequently. I'm not used to take photos with big gloves on.

We left the tracks before the actual Healy Pass and ascended straight towards the peak. The slope is foreshortened and to get to the top, you have to get up higher than all the bumps nearby. It is overall a 2577m summit.. The view was needless to say, awesome towards each direction. I especially like the impressive Mount Ball. We also got a head-on view of Egypt Lake area. There are a couple of scrambles, The Sphinx, Pharaoh Peaks, Scarab Peak, and Haiduk Peak (approached from Kootenay Parkway). The backside of Pilot Mountain, Mount Brett, and Mount Bourgeau was equally attractive. I haven't got Pilot and Brett yet, and they are on my list for the following summer. Towards south are the Sunshine Village peaks. I've done most of them except for Mount Howard Douglas (summer scramble) and Brewster Rock (ski). Further down south we could see Quartz Hill, Citadel and Fatigue Mountain (all could be done on skis), and then the mighty Mount Assiniboine (someday)...

Due to the coldness, we didn't stay long. We were far ahead of schedule so we decided to go for Monarch Ramparts. You would be looking down on that flat ridge from Healy Pass Peak, and wondering why bothering with that. But that's overall named officially, and it situates on the boundary between Banff, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks. So there's something special.

We decided to directly traverse to Monarch Ramparts. Once leaving Healy Pass, heavy duty of trail breaking began, and there is one steep slope (steep enough to raise some concern) involved on the direct traverse. We ascended that slope one by one and after that, it was just a walk over a couple of bumps to the summit plateau. The plateau was broad enough that you need to walk around to soak in the views. The views were almost the same as from Healy Pass Peak so I didn't bother to walk around. The wind picked up and I took out my wind breaker and ski goggles, and even so I still felt cold. So we quickly moved down. From my ski trip up here, I knew there's a short-cut down one of the gullies so we took that direct route to save some time and energy. The wind disappeared but it was still cold. After a break at the meadows, we walked down the long long trail, trees, trees, and more trees. Eventually we could hear the gondola lift, and then cross a bridge, one last uphill section, I took off snowshoes and walked down the final 0.5km on the ski-out. There were 3x more snowboarders than skiers passing us. Overall, awesome day in the mountains again, and thank Mike for the driving.

Little Lawson

The 5th day in a roll of snowshoeing trip, I was looking for a short and relaxing ascent. Marko was planning on Little Lawson Peak and that would be an ideal objective for a relaxing day. So I met Marko, Amelie and 4 others at trailhead in the morning. Following Matt's GPS track, it was hard to get lost. We almost went up wrong ridge though but that was because we didn't pay attention..

Once on the ridge, the ascent was fairly steep. You probably want big teeth on your snowshoes or you would have trouble catching up your partners. It was surprisingly dry in Kananaskis and the snow was just deep enough for snowshoeing. You could do this trip without snowshoes but the big teeth definitely help on the way up. We went up at a not-so-fast pace. The weather was way worse than forecasted, and we didn't get good view throughout the day. We didn't stop at the false summit, and the final push to the summit wasn't bad. A little narrow for a few meters. Other than that, it's a walk up frozen scree. But if you don't have scramble experience, you would feel it a bit dicey..

On the way down, I took off snowshoes so I could plunge-step and glide a bit. My knee would hurt if I kept snowshoes on. I felt hard to slow down on the descent especially on snow covered terrain, so I went down on my own pace and drove back home early. Overall, a good day out, and a perfect finish for the 5-day snowshoeing trip. Succeed on every single peak attempted.

Mount Haffner

After finishing Vermillion, Grant and I continued towards Haffner. Thank the skier group for breaking trail for us, and we could just follow their tracks down to the col, and then up towards treeline. Haffner is very easy compared to Vermillion. Near treeline, I noticed three of them coming down. None of us has seen Kevin P at this time... The slope to Haffner was drier than Vermillion, and we took off snowshoes fairly early. Sugary snow wasn't pleasant to go up, but with positive attitude, we both made to the summit. There were high clouds rolling in from west, but they did create some variation on the views. We definitely don't want the same view from these two peaks..

Again, we didn't stay on the summit, but immediately turned back, slowly worked our way back. Instead of retracing our up line, once we got down to the col, we descended diagonally towards skier's right, and eventually joined our up tracks. I noticed more than one skier's down tracks, so that means none of them were gonna do Vermillion. Grant's snowshoes were too small and he constantly fell in to waist deep. He also didn't have snow baskets on poles... So to travel easier, he had to follow our uptracks down, which slowed down quite a bit. I could just float down the powder snow and that was also easier on the knees. Lower down the slope, the little trees created some problems to us. Both of us constantly fell into weak spots and thus post-holed to waist deep. We still had enough of daylight time so we decided to take our time and descend our uptracks, and eventually made back to car.

I would never thought of successing on both Vermillion and Haffner in early January, on the 4th day in a roll of intense snowshoeing, but this day I did it!

Vermillion Peak

After 3 days of intense trail-breaking, I still had enough energy to push another ascent, so I turned on my laptop again... Kevin Papke was planning on Mount Haffner, which I hadn't done yet. Of course I'm interested in. Granticulus also invited me to do Mount Allan, and I managed to convince him to do Haffner. So 6 of us, 4 skiers (Kevin P, Kevin B, Vern, Eric), and 2 snowshoeers (Grant and I) met at Numa Falls Parking lot at 9am in the morning. Weather was cloudy, but again, just like the day on Emerald Peak, we were hoping for inversion.

We were lucky to find packed ski tracks up the treed slope which saved us a lot energy and time. As we gaining elevation, we noticed the trail venturing more towards climber's left than we should for Mount Haffner, but we decided to just keep going. Following tracks is always better than breaking trails by ourselves. Higher up, just like 2 days earlier, we entered the clouds, but soon broke through. Inversion again!

Since we were in the trees, we couldn't see where we were going. Further up, a glance to Mount Haffner revealed that we were too high on Vermillion. Grant and I hadn't done Vermillion yet so we decided to give it a go first, while Vern, Kevin B and Eric decided to ski down to the col and do Haffner first. I didn't bother to follow the tracks higher up since I was snowshoeing, and we quickly made to the south ridge. We managed to keep snowshoes on all the way to the false summit, where the ridge gets narrower and sketchy.

I knew the ridge is fairly exposed based on the summer view. It didn't look that bad thank to the big cornices hanging on climber's right side... Those cornices were very suspicious and we couldn't trust every single footing without carefully probing. At places the actual ridge narrows to a sharp knife edge. I'm sure it won't be like this in summer time, but given the fact I couldn't trust the snow, following the rock edge was the only option. The rock wasn't that stable neither and there were a couple of loose pieces that I dislodged. The snow was also rock hard at places, and sugary at other places. I couldn't afford a slip so I crampon on for the rest of the ascend. Grant was following my footprints so he didn't need crampons. The strategy was to be really patient and careful, and eventually we made to the summit.

Since we still wanted Haffner, we didn't linger long on the summit. Retracing our steps back down was definitely easier but still required caution. Even our own steps could be traps. Thankfully we both made back safely. This ridge reminds me the winter attempt of Mount Lady MacDonald, and I will never repeat this section in winter... If one day I come back here on skis, I'll give the summit a miss.

We soon started the traverse to Mount Haffner, down a steep slope to re-join Vern's up tracks.

Ramp Peak

Ben went home after finishing Mosquito Mountain and Emerald. I was very tired too, but being in the mountains with great weather and avalanche condition, I didn't like to go home, so I went to Canmore and checked my email. Luckily I saw Wietse was looking for partners on Friday. Good, so I pointed out several objectives, and he picked up Ramp Peak, the longest of these...

We met at 7:30 in Canmore, and started our day at about 9. Following the same approach, Mosquito Creek, we made a good pace. Wietse was skiing, and I was on snowshoes. On the way in we passed Tyler's group who also planned on Ramp Peak. Good, now we thought we gonna have 5 people breaking trail. In about 1 hour, we made to M5 campground.

We immediately left the trail, and entered the forest, diagonally uphill towards climber's left side. The trail breaking wasn't too bad initially, but got worse and worse as we were gaining elevation. Wietse's skins couldn't get a grip on the sugary bottomless snow, and I took turn packing down the trail. At least I had big teeth on my snowshoes which somehow helped. Condition was even worse than the nearby Mosquito Mountain, I post-holed knee to waist deep. Eventually we made to treeline and our objective came in view. At this point Tyler's group still didn't catch us up so we thought they had already turned around..

There were a couple of bumps on the way to Ramp, and each one of those involves steep unconsolidated slope. The crux for us was to cross a very steep slope. Again, I slowly broke trail across this thing, and it was just like the one on Mosquito Mountain. After this bit, over a few more bumps, we were at the base of the actual "Ramp".

It wasn't as steep as expected. Since Wietse was on skis, I tried to do some big and flat switchbacks up the slope, and it felt like eternity. We must had taken more than 1 hour to get up the final slope. Eventually I ditched snowshoes on the summit ridge, and walked to the summit which was only 5min away. The clouds rolled in and I lost the view. It was windy and cold on the top so I didn't bother to wait, plus I was worrying about my descending speed. So I started the descend, and soon weather cleared up nicely... Wietse was about 10 minutes behind me so he must have got better view. Plunge stepping down the Ramp was much faster than expected and in no time I made back to the base. Now I could look back and took photos of Wietse skiing down this slope.

Our speed down the alpine section was roughly the same, but once getting back to treeline, the skiing became much harder. It was really hard to make turns, but I could just walk straight down to wherever I want. I didn't notice Wietse wasn't following me, and after I got back to the campground, I waited for 20min and Wietse still didn't show up. So I left my backpack at the campsite, and went back up almost to the treeline, until I noticed his down track deviating from our ascend track.... I followed that track down and it dropped down to the other side of the valley floor. Seems like Wietse had already gone back to car so I cut sharply left post-holing back to the campsite to retrieve my pack. On the final slog back to car, I got catched up by Tyler, who also got separated with his partners. They ended up doing Mosquito Mountain. My headlamp batteries died completely on the way back, and thankfully Tyler had a much brighter one. I also had extra batteries but didn't bother to use them as Tyler's was so bright. When we got back to car, Wietse and Tyler's partners were waiting for us. We all made back safely.

Emerald Peak

After an exciting day on Mosquito Mountain, Ben and I were looking for another ascent. Temperature dropped down to -20 again and we slept in Lake Louise Hostel. Having warm dorm was definitely nice, but having 4 people in one room wasn't that pleasurable. We had lots of discussion regarding the possible objectives. I was hoping for Bow Peak, but eventually we decided to try Emerald Peak. It's usually not done in early season, and it sounds pretty involved in Nugara book.

We woke up in cloudy weather, but given the stable weather pattern, we were hoping for inversion, and yes it did. So we started our day at about 8. There was also a solo skier at the parking lot, but we didn't know where he gonna go. The Hamilton Lake Trail was hard packed which gave us a full relieve, or we could easily spend hours just post-holing up the treed rib. We marched up on a steady pace, and eventually broke through the low clouds. This was motivating enough and we speeded up a bit. It took us more than 1.5 hours to get to the point where I thought we were too high on the trail. Instead of backtracking and losing elevation, we decided to go up the avalanche slope on climber's right side. The next 150 vertical meters or so was the most exhausting part of the trip, snow-whacking up 30-35 degree unconsolidated snow, post-holing knee to waist deep, and there was not much room for switch-backing. I even stepped into one weak spot and spent a good 5 minutes just to pull out my leg (and snowshoe). We took turn breaking trail, and eventually made to south ridge.

We were still in the trees at this point... This is typical for BC climb. You spend what seems like eternity to get to treeline, but after breaking through the trees, you are close to the peak. Ahead of us was the final slope up the false summit. I was slow at this point since I didn't eat anything yet. I quickly took a short break consuming a muffin, while Ben kept marching up the slope. There was an old ski track so we didn't follow the ridge, instead traversing diagonally up towards climber's right. The temperature was well above freezing and we noticed the surface hoar on the snow. Condition would get interesting after the next storm.

The view also fully opened up at this point, and once we were at the false summit, we could see the snowy Mount Carnarvon, Marpole, The Presidents, and they look very impressive. Since we hadn't get our objective finished, we didn't take time soaking in the views. I soon looked down at the first down-climb. I was concerning about descending the slide path, so I packed my snowshoes inside pack, and went down this step. It's moderate scramble. Ben left his snowshoes on the false summit.

The next obstacle was a couple of pinnacles. We circumvented them on climber's left side, easy going. Soon we were at the crux. I immediately noticed this point from Bob Spirko's site. He went through a tunnel in summer. In winter, we couldn't see the tunnel, but climbing directly up the wall didn't look to be that bad. So we ditched our packs here, and took out ice axe. I firstly ascended a steep snow lip on climber's left side, and then traversed towards right over a couple of awkward moves. It's definitely difficult scramble.

After this bit of exciting, we were staring at the summit cairn, and it's only a few minutes' walk. We noticed a solo skier coming up the slide path, and we decided to wait for him. It turned out to be the one we met at parking lot... Well, guess our snowshoeing pace was faster as he got hard packed trail all the way up.

We all had concern of the warm weather, so we didn't stay long on the summit. There were more and more skiers coming up the slide path. Descending the crux was easier than going up it, and Ben went up the false summit to retrieve his snowshoes. We decided to descend the slide path, and the initial slope was quite dicey, but soon we joined the skier's track. I really wished to have my skis on, and the slope wasn't as steep as expected, I could definitely ski it.

There is an outlier on the east ridge that you can bag, but we didn't bother with that. Lower down, the path narrows considerably and the snow was completely destroyed by skiers. We were trying to stick to fresh powder, and were forced to ventured into trees on skier's left side. Thankfully there were enough powder snow to give relieve on our knees. We both enjoyed the fast descend.

Even lower down we entered the clouds and temperature dropped dramatically. We had to get jacket on, and the trees weren't defrosted yet. The slide path goes all the way down to the lake, and we followed skier's tracks crossing the lake. The lake crossing was quite scenic too. Awesome day in the mountains again. Round trip time: 7 hours.

Mosquito Mountain

The blisters I got from the Wapta ski trip was very serious, and I couldn't even walk properly for 1 week after the trip.. After a 10-day break, I finally could walk without pain. The weather and avalanche condition was very nice for a long time period, and I figured it's the time to get out again. Since I haven't got my boots fitted, this time I would be on snowshoes (which turned out to be a good call)!

My partner would be Ben, who is also from University of Alberta. We did "Heart to Grant MacEwan to Twin Towers", and Unity Peak last month, and we are both competent scrambler/snowshoeer, so I figured out we should set our objectives to more ambitious ones (as for early January). Ben also wanted Sparrowhawk, which I had already done, so we decided to drive separately to give more flexibility. Mosquito Mountain was our objective for the first day, January 2, which is also my 20th birthday. I got Grotto Mountain on my 19th birthday. Seems like bagging a summit is the perfect birthday gift.

The temperature was about zero degree when I left Edmonton, but got down to -23 at Mosquito Creek Trailhead. I was worrying about the icy Icefild Parkway, thankfully I managed to get there with no incidence. Under this temperature, it would be a survival thing in my -12 sleeping bag, so I decided to sleep at Mosquito Creek Hostel (which obviously broke my tradition). Well, I got a much more comfortable sleep.

So we started the trudge at 7:50am, under -20 temperature. Ben attempted Mosquito Mountain last year so he knew the approach. The trail was also hard packed, and was very easy to follow. This approach is similar to Healy Pass approach. It has lots of up-and-downs. Due to the coldness we marched on a fairly fast pace, and we made to M5 campsite in 1 hour.

There are two routes up the treed slope from campsite. You can either start bushwhack right from the campsite, or continue on the trail for another 1-2km. If I knew Ramp Peak would be my objective 2 days later, I would choose the first one, but on this day, we chose the 2nd one because of the packed trail. Eventually we decided to leave the trail and start the trail-breaking. Since we did the direct route up Unity Peak in December, we both knew what would be like going up this thing. Fortunately Mosquito's slope is less steep than Unity, but still, we post-holed to knee deep. There were a couple of very steep slopes below treeline. Even with 30' snowshoes, I still post-holed to waist deep on uphill side (while switchbacking)... We took turn breaking trail, and it took us more than 1.5 hours to reach treeline (not a bad pace).

The condition got better on the alpine, so was the temperature. There was no wind and I even sweat on only t-shirt. The temperature was well above freezing! We traversed diagonally towards climber's left while going uphill, aiming for the left hand skyline ridge. There were a couple of steep slopes involved. The slope is very foreshortened. It took us a long time to traverse to the left hand side ridge. We then followed the ridge up, until it narrows to a shear drop-off, the crux. Under the snowy condition, the down-climb looked very involved than just moderate scramble.. I would go for it if that's a must. Given the stable snow condition, we decided to by-pass it on skier's right. The by-pass was very tricky for 5 meters. Based on my photos, the slope angle should be about 40 degree. I carefully (and nervously) broke trail across this slope.

The rest of the way was a pure slog. We took off snowshoes not much further up. My strategy will be looking at Ramp and Quarzite. You have to get up 100m higher than those peaks. The view was very nice under blue sky.

We didn't stay long on the summit. Plunging step down the slope was a blast, we both crossed the crux slope without incidence, then it was a relaxing run down to the campsite. We slowed down a big on the final slog back to car. Round trip time: 7.75 hours.

Vulture Peak

We woke up at 6am in the morning, and it was snowing outside. Maybe the world did end... However, we could see the outline of Crowfoot Mountain so the visibility wasn't too bad. At this point I was still optimistic about our primary objective, Mount Olive. Long story short, after breakfast, we left the Hut at 7:20. With headlamps on, we started marching up the headwall. It was dark, snowy, but not windy. After what seemed like a long time, it started to get brighter, but there was no sign of improvement on the weather. Our confidence level got lower and lower, and eventually our group members started to bail out one by one, and eventually it was only Kevin and I marching up the glacier. It wasn't a total white-out and we could see St. Nicolas Peak.

While contouring around St. Nick, the weather was slightly getting better and better, and we decided to get up St. Nick/Olive col and then evaluate the condition (we already downgraded the objective to Vulture Peak). The upper slope wasn't snow covered and we had to take off skis and carry them up, and that was really awkward.. Thankfully this wasn't long. Looking up towards Olive, orange colours, then sunshine!! It was indeed getting better.

So we kept moving on Vulture Glacier, and 2min later, we finally could see Vulture Peak. It looked quite far away though. We went straight towards the peak over a small bump. This section was mainly down-hill and on since we were skiing, it took us no time to arrive at the base of the final slope. Looking up, this slope reminded me the final slog up Crowfoot Mountain, and up Canoe Mountain.. We could manage to ski all the way to the summit, and meanwhile, more and more blue colour started to show up, and then Mount Thompson, Olive, Balfour, Crowfoot, and eventually, Collie, Baker, and Hector! Wow, given the condition, we felt like steeling something!

It was windy and cold, and we didn't even bother to sign the register. After a few photos, we soon started down. We both had the concern that the weather would move in again. Slogging back up the St.Nick/Olive col was quite a slog. We had a brief discussion whether attempting Olive or not. Again, given the unpredictable weather we voted for no, and we were right. Once back at the col, the weather closed in again. We also couldn't figure out where we went up as the tracks were covered, but we had to get down anyway, so we took off the skins, and picked a direct line down the col. The rest of the way down was so fast, 5 times faster than snowshoeing.. Too bad the slope down the headwall wasn't all fresh powder (thanks to Vern, Kelly, Bill, and Wietse), and those ski tracks created some challenge to me. I fell 2 times due to the unexpected "bumps"... Falling on soft snow wasn't hurt anyway and it was pretty fun.

We still had a lot of time and after a long break we decided to ski out. The weather wasn't getting any better and visibility was pretty poor. We also had no track to follow, and thus the ski out was quite challenging. Lots of route-finding, uphills, side-sloping, avalanche slopes, unexpected rocks and boulder fields. I had no clue where this route goes and I was just following. We ended up too high and had to descend a steep gully. It was beyond my comfortable level and after skiing in, I wasn't brave enough to force a turn. Thanks Bill again for teaching me kick-turn, and it worked out perfectly. And then more route-finding, we were back at the canyon, and the rest of the way out was a pure slog, as nobody was using wax.

The drive back home wasn't fun at all compared to the awesome trip we just had. The temperature kept dropping and it was -21 after exiting the mountains, and it started to snow too. The forecast for the following few days was pretty cold too, so I drove back home.

Overall, awesome trip. I'm looking forward to the next ski ascent.

The Onion

I never thought of squeezing in a Wapta trip at the end of this year, until when Kevin Papke invited me to a 2-day trip to Bow Hut, and that would be right after my last final exam, at the shortest day-time of the year, and also the what's so called "End of the World". Of course I was interested in, but given the fact I had no backcountry skiing experience, I managed to do a solo ascent up Monarch Ramparts one week ago, and I felt good except for getting multiple blisters.

The group split up into two. Vern, Kelly, and Wietse would ski in Thursday afternoon, while Kevin, Bill and I would go in Friday morning. As the date coming close, the forecast didn't look to be inviting, but not too bad neither. Anyway, I left Edmonton at around 9pm Thursday evening, and slept in car (-15 degree) at Highway 22 Junction. That was a cold night, and we grouped together at 6:30am Friday morning. (I finally met Bill Kerr). The driving was pretty slow due to the storm snow fallen Thursday night, and Icefield Parkway was all snow covered. Glad we had Bill's jeep. Under this condition, you definitely need 4x4 and winter tires. Weather was much better than expected, and by the time we made to Bow Lake, it was bluebird!

We eventually managed to start at about 9:40, and needless to say, this was quite a late start... The skiing across Bow Lake was a slog, but the view was awesome under morning light. The ski track disappeared at the first hill section, and from there on, we had to break trail all the way in. Anyway, at the first canyon, the route goes into the trees on climber's left side, up for about 50 vertical meters, crossing an avalanche slope, and then descending into the valley floor again. Now facing towards Bow Falls, we took the left hand side canyon. We managed to stay at the bottom of this canyon for a long distance, and eventually we had to take off skis over a 3m rock step. I didn't remember this part on my snowshoeing trip to Mount Gordon, but that was in April, and the snowpack was much thicker. The route then goes into the trees again, passing the turn-off to Crowfoot Mountain, and then we were staring at Bow Hut. We picked up a line on left side, maintaining elevation, over some undulating terrain, and eventually veered right, up a steep slope. It took us more than 3.5 hours to the Hut... Wow, it only took me 2h 20min on snowshoes in April... That's the difference between following tracks versus breaking trail, and travelling light versus having a big pack...

For us, the Bow Hut wasn't an energy sucker, but definitely a time sucker... We spent about 40min in the hut, and eventually decided to continue at about 2pm, and by this time, we only had a bit more than 2.5h daylight time. Bill had done Vulture Peak so it was only Kevin and I going up the headwall. We met Vern's group coming back from Gordon, and after a bit of discussion, we figured out we wouldn't have enough time for Vulture. So instead of attempting and failing, I pointed out the alternate objective, The Onion. The weather was so nice, and bagging something is always better than nothing. There's nothing to describe about The Onion, except we took off skis too early and ended up post-holing..

Skiing down the headwall was a blast, and in no time we made back to the Hut, and surprisingly, we had the entire hut to ourselves! I finally met Kelly Smith. We are both from Edmonton but we didn't know each other before.. A big thank to Bill who gave me treatment on blisters, and then a big big thank to Kelly who prepared the best meal I've ever had in the mountains. Wow!! We shared mountain stories for the next couple of hours, and then nervously went to bed hoping the world wouldn't end...

Unity Peak

This is the 3rd day of December peak-bagging trip during exam period. I was glad to have a partner on Thursday, which almost never happened before, even in summer months. Ben and I had an awesome trip traversing Heart to Grant MacEwan to Twin Towers earlier in this month, and we were hoping for the Pumpkin Traverse this time. I have done both Lipalian Mountain and Purple Peak back in May, so I suggested to do Unity Peak first (to give myself an excuse to omit the other two at the end of the day)...

So we met at Skoki parking lot (Fish Creek) at 7:30AM, and quickly made our way up the Temple Lodge road. It was a bit cold and we kept moving fast. Despite the compacted snow, it was much easier to have snowshoes on right from the start. Remember that going uphill is always faster on snowshoes as the crampons give much traction than boots. Like the day before in Sunshine Village, there were several snowmobiles passing us. In less than 1 hour, we made to the Larch Chairlift.

Instead of losing elevation to Temple Lodge, we followed the signed trail towards Skoki Lodge, and about 10-15min later, we left the main trail and followed some up-tracks towards Wolverine Valley. I missed this turn on my Lipalian Mountain trip and ended up doing unnecessary bushwhacking and elevation loss. This time the ski tracks were easy to follow, and there was no post-holing involved until near treeline.

Josee and Fabrice have an awesome trip report about the "direct route" up Unity Peak. They did it the same day as I soloed Purple and Lipalian. The route pretty much ascends the steep slope aiming for an obvious break on the west slope of the connecting ridge between Unity and Redoubt. It definitely looks feasible to try this route as we could see scree (actually boulders) on the slope. So we left the tracks, and post-holing steeply uphill aiming for the least snowy area. The next 1 hour or so was extremely tedious trail-breaking. We took turns and eventually made to the rocky slope. We still could manage to stick to the thin snow and kept our snowshoes on. I eventually took off the shoes but the travelling didn't get any easier as the ground isn't scree. It's kinda bouldary. At the base of first cliff band, we traversed horizontally towards climber's right aiming for a break. I ascended the first break, whacking through waist deep unconsolidated snow up a steep gully, while Ben kept traversing right. My line was definitely harder and I encountered a rock-hard snow section and were forced to took out my crampons. We re-grouped at the col between Redoubt and Unity.

The view was amazing towards the other side. The snow covered Douglas and St. Bride was motivating enough. The ascending slope of Fossil Mountain also looked to be kinda bare. The ridge walk up Unity went easy initially, but higher up, the terrain becomes a snow covered boulder field and we had to use caution. The wind also picked up and clouds rolled in. We lost the view on the summit. We waited for about 15min and it did clear up and we got some awesome view. The December sun was low enough to provide orange colours on the skyline. Based on Jeff Shaw's trip report, I knew the connecting ridge between Unity and Purple should only be a moderate scramble, so we set off for that.

With the snow, negotiating the quartz terrain was definitely not easy. It was very slippery and exposed at sections. We kept descending, overcoming several cliff bands, until we were facing at a huge drop-off. Based on my observation from Purple Peak, the route should go down on skier's left side. I did went down that way to check things out, and any feasible route would involve steep, deep snow with very bad run-out zone. If any of these slope slide, we could be sent down the cliff bands. Under these conditions the down-climb was beyond our comfortable level and we decided to backtrack back to Unity Peak summit. Going up the ridge was definitely a difficult scramble given the slippery and snow covered condition. We took our time and made back to the summit. We followed our ascending line and had an awesome glissade for hundreds of meters down the west face. In no time we made back to Purple Bowl.

Since Ben was still wishing to bag the other two peaks, we didn't drop all the way down to valley floor, instead we started traversing horizontally resisting losing elevation. I was pretty beat at this time and I felt really hard to keep up with Ben. It was probably because of the lack of motivation to bag something I've already done. So I decided to wait for him, and it was pretty windy and cold. When I travel in winter, I kept myself warm by keeping moving. Ben quickly went up Purple Peak but he decided to give Lipalian a miss.

The descent went by fast and once we made back to the ski out, I took off the snowshoes and walked down the rest of the way. I felt it's easier to walk down on compacted snow. The ski out was closed to some reason but whatever, that was our only option to go out. Nugara's timing was way pessimistic. We could go for all three peaks in the shortest time of the year, without using head-lamps.

Eagle Mountain

It was hard to choose my objective for the second day. The ski ascent of Monarch Ramparts was pretty tiring and I also had a plan to do Pumpkin Traverse with Ben the day after. So I was looking for something short and easy. I really wanted to ski up Eagle Mountain but in December, there wouldn't be enough snow on the upper slope. I certainly wouldn't want to slog up that slope on ski boots. Actually I would do that if the Skoki trip wasn't on schedule. On this particular day, what I needed was a success by the most efficient and energy saving way. I'm definitely more familiar with my Lightning Ascent snowshoes + winter boots, versus AT skis + ski boots.

Another concern for this peak is, the lower slope belongs to Sunshine Village ski resort, and you have to either ski up or snowshoe up the ski runs. This could be dangerous and I didn't know if that legal or not. Failing because of getting caught by a ski patrol is definitely not something I was looking for. So I had to do a head-lamp start to beat the ski lift.

It was hard to wake up in a cold morning at 6AM, but I had to do so. I quickly made my way in Banff MacDonald and got warmed up a bit. The next thing was to scrape off the ice on my windshield. It took me 10min... Then I drove to Sunshine Village, and started the day at 7:10. There were at least 10 snowmobiles passing me on the way in. An hour later, I arrived at Goat's Eye chair lift. Good thing no one was working at the lift at this time of the day, or they could prevent me from going up the ski runs.

The next hour was definitely snowshoeer's dream. I ascended straight up the "Super Model" black diamond run, which is directly beneath the chairlift. 35 degree slope on compacted snow. It felt like going upstairs.

Upon exiting this black run, I ascended more towards climber's left and then up "Upper Free Fall" blue run. I didn't go all the way up to the upper terminal, instead crossed the ski area boundary and ascended more on climber's left side. I could manage to use snow and keep my snowshoes on. Higher up, I broke through the clouds and got about 5min inversion scenery. I thought it was gonna be another gorgeous day, but I was wrong. A few minutes later, I was back in the clouds. No view on the summit... I stayed for at least 15min hoping the clouds could lift up, but it never did.

Descending was fast. I took off snowshoes and it was very easy on the knees, in no time I made back to the ski run. The snow was very compacted and I could keep descending without snowshoes. At the top of Super Model run, I took out my axe and had an awesome glissade. Everybody on the chairlift was looking down at me and wondering what the heck this guy was doing... The rest of the day was an easy walk down the ski out. Next time when I head back for Brewster Rock, I'll definitely do it on skis. No excuse..

Round Trip time: 4 hours.

Since I made back by 11AM, I had the entire afternoon free. I did manage to review for the chemistry final exam, which would be 2 days later..

Twin Towers

I've been eyeing on Ben Nearingburg's website (http://www.ualberta.ca/~benn/Outdoors/#) for a while, and he eventually decided to update his contact information. Ben has done quite a few interesting ascents in Jasper area, namely Roche De Smet, Hardisty, and O'Hagan, and that's why I came across his site. We're both from Edmonton and we have similar peak-bagging style, so we should schedule a trip together. After throwing back and forth the possible objectives we decided to set our goal to the Heart Mountain - Grant MacEwan Peak - Twin Towers traverse. So we left Edmonton at 8pm on Saturday, and slept in car at trailhead.

The wind was crazy when we arrived at trailhead and if it wouldn't die off, Twin Towers wouldn't go. Our alternate plan was Mount Charles Stewart South, a 1400 vertical meters of scree slog... Fortunately the wind died off completely on Sunday morning, and we kept our original plan. I did Heart Mountain on Christmas Day in 2011, so I had some memories about the route. Apparently I forgot how slabby the route is at certain sections.. It was unusually dry last winter season (until March storms), so even with little scrambling experience I could get up Heart without much issue. But this time, there was apparently more snow on the ground, and we found the ascending to be more energy consuming than expected. Still, we didn't encounter any real difficulty until the Heart Mountain crux. Alan Kane gives this mountain a rating of easy scramble, but I would say, even if dry, this step can be very challenging for easy-scrambling-seekers. It's a 2m solid moderate to difficult step. For us, we had to deal with the new snow which made holds extremely slippery. After this bit of fun, we proceeded up overcoming moderate scrambling sections hear and there, and soon we arrived at the 1st summit - Heart Mountain, 1 hours 40min.

Both Ben and I had done Heart before so the next destination, Grant MacEwan Peak would be the 1st peak. Since we haven't gained our first peak, we didn't do any break and immediately started the traverse towards Grant MacEwan. The traverse is generally straightforward even for hiker's standard. There was several treed bumps along the way and treed backbone is a perfect place for holding snow (I learned this on Hawk Mountain). As a result, we encountered knee deep post-holing hear and there. It wasn't too tiring and we could maintain a generally fast pace. As we approaching the last push up Grant MacEwan Peak, we could start to see the clouds rolling in, and soon after that, the forecasted snow finally arrived. The visibility suddenly reduced to 100m or so. We checked the summit register and it was in a really bad shape. It's basically pieces of paper sheets, and we didn't even bother to sign, and apparently it was full anyway.

A quick water break, we started the traverse towards Twin Towers. I have to mention that Twin Towers is a difficult to climber's scramble even if dry. Compared to Fisher Peak and Wapta Mountain, the crux on Twin Towers is definitely shorter but I found the it's more technically difficult. That is, more vertical, less holds, and the holds are down-sloping. Under this condition, if all the holds are covered by a layer of new snow, than it becomes a climb. I fully knew this before even thinking about this peak so I brought up rope and some basic climbing gears. I thought this is just "in case", but man, I was so wrong.

There's about 100m elevation loss from Grant MacEwan Peak to the crux. Viewing from top, what we could see was drop-off. Following So's description we descended towards skier's left side and then turn sharply right's left and traversed on a horizontal ledge. The ledge gets narrower and narrower and with the new snow we had to use extreme caution, making sure we wouldn't accidentally step on snow covered down-sloping and exposed slab.. Eventually the ledge becomes less than 1 feet wide, down-sloping, and very exposed. There's a bigger tree nearby and I started to consider taking out the rope. At this part, the band is about 5-7m high, vertical. Probably due to the lack of confidence on rappelling, we decided to traverse further down the ledge for a short distance, aiming for the shortest down-climb. Squeezing under, using the tree as holds, and crawling over with several awkward moves, we arrived at another tree, a much smaller tree. The down-climb at this point is about 3m high, but again, vertical. The small tree was strong enough to give me a good hold and I tried to down-climb this part but I couldn't. All the holds are slightly down-sloping and covered by the new snow. Okay, sitting on the exposed ledge, I took out the rope and set up (probably the simplest rap station). Obviously the tree was too small to be an anchor, but at this point, I had no choice. I slowly rapped down this step, and now it's Ben's turn. His strategy was to use the rope as hand holds to assist his down-climb. It worked! We left the gears behind for later use.

Under the reducing visibility and the light snow, we started the trudge up Twin Towers. Looking back at the crux, it doesn't feel that hard though. At this point there was already about 1cm of new snow from the day, and the entire ridge line got covered by this layer. The wind was almost zero so all the snow could stick to the slabs. The ridge gets fairly exposed at places and needless to say, extremely slippery. We carefully moved uphill, sticking to the ridge crest until about 50m short from the summit. We descended the snow slope on our right hand side and then slogged up the tedious scree to the summit of West Tower. Under dry condition, you should probably want to stick on the ridge all the way up, and use the scree to descend. According to So's trip report, the East Tower was the actual summit. To get there, we had to descend snow on skier's right side to the connecting saddle. Then it was merely a rubble slog up the east summit. There's even a register on this rarely visited peak. The last entry was from Dan Kim, in 2011... There was little hope for the weather to improve and we didn't linger any longer on the summit.

Slogging back up the west tower was very energy consuming due to the slippery nature of the terrain, and then we took the scree line down which was fast. We carefully descended the snow covered ridge line and it didn't take us long to arrive at the base of the crux wall. Both of us simply used the rope as hand holds to assist the up-climb and it worked pretty well. Sitting on the exposed ledge, I packed the rope inside backpack, and then the next 2min or so was definitely one of the difficult moments in this year. We both managed to squeeze over the extremely exposed and slippery ledge, and then one more slippery section, we made back through the crux section. If I do it again with the same condition, I will rap down from the first tree, and prussik up the rope on the way back.

Slogging up Grant MacEwan Peak, I started to feel the elevation regain. I had to slow down quite a bit, and now I just realized I hadn't eat anything except for half a muffin.. Well, let's take a break on the summit of Grant MacEwan then. Looking up, we could see the weather starting to improve, and Mount Baldy and Barrier Lake started to show up. There was a piece of blue sky above Midnight Peak, and that's motivating enough. We stayed on the summit for about 15min hoping the weather could get even better, and it did. As we descending towards Heart Mountain, more and more pieces of blue colour showed up and the visibility was getting better and better. Topping back on Heart Mountain, wow, we could see the low clouds covering the prairie, and part of the Bow Valley corridor. Looking straight across Bow Valley, I could recognize the lengthy Jura Creek approach (Morrowmount). Exshaw Creek and Jura Creek was actually hidden behind the low clouds and the scenery was spectacular. The sun was also low enough to provide some orange colour towards Grotto Mountain and Canmore corridor.

Now with the new snow during the day, Heart Mountain was way different from what we'd just experienced in the morning. We had to hands-down regularly on some slabby sections, and the descent was much slower than anticipated. We also stopped regularly for photos. I must have taken more than 200 photos while descending Heart Mountain... The Heart Mountain crux also provided some challenge to us. Ben found a less steep (but more slabby) line further down, and he managed to down-climb it somehow. I tried several moves and decided to just jump down the crux. Further down the mountain, we constantly slipped and fell because we couldn't see where's slab and where's dirt or scree. It's kinda fun though.. Round Trip Time: 8 hours 20 minutes.

Mount Hua - Lianhua & Luoyan Peaks

There are 5 named peaks on Mount Hua massive, all of which are popular tourists' destinations in summer time. In this trip, mom and I summitted 2 out of the 5, the west peak - Lianhua Peak; and the highest, Luoyan Peak. This is my first trip using digital camera, so with the limited photographing experience, I didn't actually capture the true beauty of this mountain. But oh well, as you can see, it's a lot different from the mountains in Canada.

Parker Ridge

This is another short popular hike in the Rockies. We incorporated it into our drive from Lake Louise to Jasper along Icefield Parkway. The trailhead is located at 2km south of Banff / Jasper Border, at Columbia Icefield area. Basically, you start high, and with little effort you can have good view down towards the Sunwapta Pass. After you gain the ridge, hike along the trail towards left for about 1km, then you gonna have very good perspective of Saskatchewan Glacier. It’s a highly recommended hike.
Distance: 5km Elevation Gain: 250m Round Trip Time: 1.5 hours