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.