Steven Song's Peak-bagging Journey

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Icefield Parkway

Mountains accessed by Icefield Parkway north of Highway 1 Junction and south of Highway 93A Junction. This section only covers the mountains near the highway, not including the mountains further west on the icefields.

Steven Song
 
Ramp Peak
Jan 4, 2013

Ben went home after finishing Mosquito Mountain and Emerald. I was very tired too, but being in the ...more

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.

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Steven Song
 
Mosquito Mountain
Jan 2, 2013

The blisters I got from the Wapta ski trip was very serious, and I couldn't even walk properly for 1 ...more

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.

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Steven Song
 
Vulture Peak
Dec 22, 2012

We woke up at 6am in the morning, and it was snowing outside. Maybe the world did end... However, we ...more

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.

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Steven Song
 
The Onion
Dec 21, 2012

I never thought of squeezing in a Wapta trip at the end of this year, until when Kevin Papke invited ...more

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...

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Steven Song
 
Mount Sarbach
Aug 31, 2012

I didn't leave Edmonton until almost 8pm, and arrived at Saskatchewan Crossing near midnight. I figu ...more

red out there wouldn't be any warden at this time of the day, so I drove to trailhead and slept in car. I met Marko, Alan, and Greg in the next morning. We started at almost 7.

I didn't have time to do a full warm-up, so I was very glad that Marko led a slower pace up the initial trail. This gave me a full relieve. I had a big trouble on Mt. Carnarvon one week ago for not doing warm-up, and my muscle almost got cramped on that trip... Although not as good as the nearby Sunset Pass Trail, this trail was still easy to follow. There were several deadfalls to negotiate on the way in. Trail got narrower and a little bushy higher up, and we got soaked pretty quick. We took turn to lead as non of us wanted to get wet feet at the start of the day. We entered into the fog / clouds pretty quick, and now we couldn't see anything except for trees and ourselves. Not far up, we made to Sarbach Lookout. There was a lookout station, but we couldn't see anything else. We followed a narrow trail on the other side of the station. This trail went horizontally and slightly down-hill... Oh well, after following it for several hundred meters, it disappeared into bushes. This isn't gotta be the correct way, I thought. Marko checked his GPS and his reference shows to go up about 150m after the lookout station. Oh okay, let's go straight up from here. It worked and we regained trails / paths pretty quick. There were also tens of cairns to guide us in the white-out condition. It feels like forever to gain the north ridge, and this section really reminds me about the white-out ascent on Fisher Peak. Similar terrain, similar grade, similar views...

Suddenly, sunshine!! Then, blue sky!! Omg, I couldn't believe we broke through the low clouds! We could briefly see Mt. Wilson poking out about the clouds, but soon, they rolled in again.. This gave us enough motivation and we speed up a bit and minutes later, we were officially standing above the clouds. Jesus Christ! I couldn't believe my eyes.. This was my first time seeing low clouds scenery and it was absolutely amazing. Now, photographing time! Each of us took endless photos while trudging up the north ridge. The mountains looked big with the low clouds, AND the new snow fallen on the previous night. Sarbach is rated as difficult and exposed, but non of us brought up ice axe nor crampons. However, we all had lots of winter scramble experience so we should be okay.

Soon, we arrived at the first notch. It doesn't look bad at all, and I quickly made my way through. Coming back up the notch was a bit involved due to the very loose rock. Technically it's moderate scramble but due to the loose rock, you gotta use caution. Looking back, I got some good shots of the cliff.

The 2nd notch is only 2min away from the 1st one. This one looked quite steep from above. It's a chimney climb so I took my time putting on helmet. During which Alan and Greg started to make their way down, towards skier's left to aim for less steep terrain. I looked down the most direct line - the chimney, and it looked very doable to me. Therefore Marko and I decided to down-climb this chimney. Good call. The holds are good and rock is solid. I could face outward the entire way down and it was pretty easy. Another good thing for doing the chimney is to give a good warm-up of what would come 3 days later, Mt. Smuts... By the time Marko and I made the way down, Greg and Alan still had halfway to go. So I guess our chimney is the easier route. I give it a rating of lower difficult. It's easier than the down-climb from Pollinger to McArthur, and easier than the Kane chimney on Mt. Edith.

We regrouped after this crux and the following hour was slogging up easy terrain. Going up the next step brought us up to the football field sized plateau. By now, the view towards Mistaya Valley and Mt. Chephren / White Pyramid fully opened up. Higher up, Marko, Alan, and Greg decided to have a snack break. It was a bit windy and I felt good on energy so I slowly moved up. The north ridge started pretty easy. The higher you go, the steeper it becomes. Near the top, I encountered snow covered difficult terrain. I knew Kane's warning about the terrain getting harder, so I was mentally prepared for this stuffs. I came straight up the ridge overcoming what I thought was upper difficult rock bands. There was loose rock and snow as well, so I had to use extra caution not to slip. At places a slip could send me down the east face... This part reminds me the winter wrong gully ascent on Roche Miette, although easier for sure. (Later on the way down, I learned all of those difficulties could be skirted around on climber's right side)... Oh well, I was happy to do some extra difficult scrambling, and Marko and Greg also decided to test their skill a bit on the way down by using my route. It was fun if you like difficult scramble. Topping out on the upper ridge crest, it was only minutes away from the false summit. I ascent the false summit which proved to be very unnecessary.

I managed to get down steep terrain on the north side of the false summit instead of backtracking. Further up the ridge, I also ascended the first pinnacle, which was proved to be another bad call. The ridge came to a drop-off with no easy way down, and I had to backtrack. I managed to post-hole while circumventing the base of the pinnacles, and found a less steep place to get back to ridge crest. Now it was mostly a nice ridge walk until the summit block. Due to the snow, I had to double check the holds, but nothing tricky. Soon I made to the infamous last 15 meters. Man, that was much easier than what's described in Kane's book. If you can do Lady MacDonald and Compression Ridge, then you can do this... The rock is looser than lady Mac though. The last 2-3 meters has very questionable rocks.

It was pretty cold on the top, so we didn't do a super long summit stay. Going down snow covered terrain was definitely quicker than going up. We bypassed the false summit on the left side, and looking back, Mt. Forbes finally decided to show up her shy face. That's another price for the already amazing day. While Alan went down the easy to moderate terrain on skier's left of the ridge crest, Alan, Marko, and I went down the way I came up. It was not that bad coming down as we could butt-shuffle which requires less pushing power than going uphill. On questionable rock, this could make a big difference on your confidence level. I felt coming down was considerably easier than going up this part. Alan patiently waited for us down-climbing, and we regrouped further down. Therefore, if you choose to skirt around the difficulties, then this entire section is only moderate. I was pretty amazed by Marko who didn't use poles on the entire descent. I couldn't descend without poles comfortably on any terrain except for scree run, snow, and hiking trail... Oh well. Under the afternoon sun, North Saskatchewan River Valley and the giants guarding the Crossing, namely Wilson and Murchison, looked amazingly good. They guard the Crossing just like Cascade and Rundle guarding Banff. Good thing they both are not hard ascent. We all climbed back up the crack on the 2nd notch. Alan and Greg agreed that this way was much easier than the loose rock on climber's right.

Once near the treeline, we got confused about where we came up. We were completely in the clouds in the morning so I couldn't remember anything of our ascending route. We spotted a less treed area and went down that direction. Good call as we cot scree skiing for a fairly long section. Lower down, we managed to stay in the middle of the gully, while descending grass slope. The gully ends by cliffs that could be down-climbed. We skirted around the cliffs on skier's right and after slight bushwhacking we could spot the trail. On the way back, we didn't see the lookout station, so I think we came down meeting the trail lower than the lookout. Anyway, I guess there're more than one options and they all work. The trail went on really forever. The section at valley floor was also surprisingly long. After eternity we made back to the tourist's Maligne Canyon. Another 5min then we were back to parking lot. Overall, a great day in the mountain with great companies. I'd like to go out with these guys again for sure. Thank Marko for organizing the trip as well. I know it's hard to find partners for long and difficult scrambles.

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Steven Song
 
Mount Coleman
Aug 26, 2012

After finishing Mount Carnarvon, Andrea and I drove all the way up Icefield Parkway to Rampart Creek ...more

Campground, where we got the evening photos of Mount Wilson. We set up alarm to 5:45AM to give an early start. The morning was so cold that I had to use my winter closing including the bulky gloves... It took us a while to get ready and we finally started at 7AM. I felt much better than the day before on Hamilton lake trail, and we set up fast pace up Sunset Pass Trail. The fairly steep trail gave us 500m elevation gain by climbing up the headwall towards Sunset Meadows. During which we got excellent morning photos. It didn't took us long to get to Sunset Meadows. It's a lovely place that I'd like to go back in the future (too bad Coleman is the only scramble in this area)... Looking back, Mount Amery looks impressive. I wonder if that's a scramble from the backside.

The trail braided a bit before Norman Lake Campground, which confused us a bit. We crossed a stream by a foot log and soon arrived at the campground. Continuing the trail passing the campground, we had our eyes on the ascending drainage closely. According to Alan Kane, we had to go far towards Sunset Pass before entering the big drainage. But I also knew Eric and Vern ascended the smaller drainage to the left of the big one. Since this was closer we decided to started ascending from here. Immediately we had to cross the entire meadows. Due to the frost, we got soaked pretty quick. It was not walking on grass though, instead we had to bushwhacking that was typically knee deep. We were too lazy to try finding a trail. We tried to ascend the drainage but the young grown slowed us quite a bit. After terrible bushwhacking we finally decided to give up ascending this drainage, instead we started ascending the treed slope on climber's right. Good call! Even though this was still bushwhacking, it was much better than the whacking through young grown... We on purposely ascended towards climber's right to aim for the big drainage. This section was much longer than I thought and we eventually broke through the forest and started the even longer gully walk...

From Sunset Meadows to topping out the big gully, there's 900m elevation gain, so don't be lured by foreshortened view. The top of the gully has almost the same height as the miner peaks on climber's left, so keep an eye on it rather than the gully itself... It took forever to just get closer to the end. We didn't go the end though, instead we started trudging up the face / slope sooner. We got an excellent viewpoint higher up. Most of the Columbia Icefield peaks showed up and that was a big "wow" moment to me as I haven't done anything in this area except for Castleguard Mountain.

From here, we still had 250 vertical meters to go. I had to say Mount Coleman is more of a slog than scrambling. It's rated as difficult but only for short section (if you go up the bigger gully on climber's right). I made it harder by trying to stick to the ridge crest. There's a shallow gully just to the right of ridge crest that offers better scrambling. It was still loose though but at least you gotta do some hands-on stuffs. I rate this gully lower difficult scrambling. Andrea went up the bigger gully which was merely a slog. Eventually we topped out on the summit ridge, the "official" start of difficult scrambling. The ridge gets exposed at places. If careless, you can slide down the entire east face glacier and possibly be sucked into one of the big crevasses. There's some slabs to negotiate as well. This reminds me of the summit ridge of Mount Burstall, although easier than Burstall.. The final summit block offers some slab scrambling. Andrea found an bypass from further climber's right, but I tackled the slabs head-on. After Mount Northover last weekend, this big of slab felt so simple though. The summit offers great view towards Columbia Icefield, Cirrus Mountain, and the front country of David Thompson. Cline, Forbes, Lyells, Alexandra are also clearly visible.

It was very cold so we decided to go down soon. After negotiating back the exposed summit ridge, we used the bigger gully to descend. It's indeed easier than sticking to the ridge. From here on, it was mainly a talus slog (downhill though). We did manage to find scree run here and there and that helped our knees a lot. Lower down, we managed to get into the snow section. It wasn't steep and I could use my poles to control speed while glissading (I didn't bring ice axe). That "snow patch" went on much longer than I thought though. Once back to the trees, we tried to find paths here and there and followed it down to Sunset Meadows. The meadows look even better in afternoon. Even if you're not a scrambler, you'd better go here and check the views.

Like the day before on Hamilton Lake Trail, Sunset Pass Trail went on forever... Good thing there was a big waterfall down that added to the boring hike out. Eventually we made back to our cars. Awesome two-peak-weekend, thanks Andrea for accompanying.

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Steven Song
 
Castleguard Mountain
May 12, 2012

Castleguard Mountain situates at the south boundary of the massive Columbia Icefield, although a bit ...more

shorter than the nearby 11,000ers, it offers one of the most unique summit views in the Canadian Rockies. The approach is via the bloody long Saskatchewan Glacier, which is straightforward and less crevassed. This was supposed to be done last weekend with Jeff, but a storm moved in on Saturday and the trip was cancelled. This weekend, Jeff is heading to Rainier. Considering the perfect weather and the last days of spring condition, I decided to lead my mom up the relatively safe Saskatchewan Glacier, rather than waiting for next year. PS: We only saw 3 yoyo skiers on Saskatchewan Glacier the entire day. I saw no tracks on Andromeda, Snow Dome, nor Columbia. So? Where were people going? You have the best weather and overnight freeze.

Chic Scott's book says the RT distance is 30km, well, that's optimistic. According to a careful measurement on map, the distance should be around 36km, which makes more sense.. Before this one, I have done one trip with over 40km distance (Opal Cone + The Gargoyles in BC) in one day in 13.5 hours, but that was a hiking. We had several detours and mishaps on Castleguard which slowed us down quite a bit. 8 hours up isn't too bad, but 7 hours down is quite slow. Considering the 16-18 hours suggested time by Nugara, it seems like we did okay. However, a round trip time of 15 hours is the longest trip I've done so far (as by May 12, 2012).

As usual, we parked at Big Bend and slept in car on Friday night, hoping the weather could hold. The forecasted -15 degree never reached, as the windows didn't even freeze up. In the morning, after a quick breakfast we soon started the long grind. The river wasn't frozen... Bad, that means 2 more kilometers, and we had no clue where the bridge and old logging road is. We brought 4 plastic bags just for shallow stream crossing. After walking down the road for about 1km or so, I decided to give up finding the bridge and looking for a shallow section to cross. At a section with calf deep water, we crossed the river with our plastic bags with no mishap. Unlike on the Wapta, this area seems quite less-visited. We had no track leading us up into the trees. After countering around the edge of the forest, tracks appeared directly west of the parking area, and we soon got the trail. Like the Bow Hut approach, you have to get up a hill but then lose all the elevation to the valley floor again... The avalanche slope had already slid so it was not that dangerous.

From the valley bottom to the toe of Saskatchewan Glacier, it's a mix of moraine and snow... This is probably the worst type of terrain especially on the way down when the snow has softened. Oh by the way, one significant difference between Columbia and Wapta is the wind. This area always gets strong wind so be prepared. You gonna facing against the wind on the way up. On the way in, we managed to stay on the snow as long as possible because we were wearing the snowshoes. About half way in, we took off snowshoes and boulder hop on the moraine. We stayed on the left side of the main stream and ended up being on the left side of the thawing lake. An overhanging glacier blocked our way in... We had to back track about 500m to find a solid place to cross to the other side. There're lots of up-and-downs on the moraine, which is not quite pleasant. Near the toe, there are several mini stream crossings and mom carelessly slip into one of them and got her boots wet (this might directly caused her lack of energy later on)... Despite the detours, we still managed to reach the toe after 2.5 hours leaving the car.

The snow on the glacier was bone hard so we decided not to rope up, plus a not-so-clear ski track was leading us in. However, just after the first steep section I found bare ice that's clearly due to wind blown. Probing through, I found the snow was actually quite shallow and we roped up soon. I agree with Nugara that walking on Saskatchewan Glacier is like driving to Saskatchewan... There's little to explain, just to follow the glacier, staying on right of center. You will find a medial moraine seperating the main glacier from the branch coming from the slope of Andromeda. Staying left of this moraine and follow it up. Near Castleguard Meadows, the glacier swings right slightly and gets steeper for a short section. For the next several kilometers towards the final headwall, you can see the impressive ice falls along the slope of Mount Andromeda, which makes the approach a little bit more interesting. We spent 3 hours 20 minutes from the toe to topping out on the Columbia Icefield.

The ramp up the north slope of Castleguard appears right to the left, but actually quite far away. Here is the tip Nugara gives us. "After topping out on the Neve, you gonna soon see Snow Dome begins to rise behind the Icefield, followed by Mount Columbia". Then you still have 15-20min before turning left. At this point, mom couldn't continue due to physical limit just like one the Wapta Icefield last month. In April, I had a clear ski track leading me all the way to the summit of Gordon, so I started to solo the rest of the route without mush hesitation. But this time, there was no ski track visible after the headwall... I slowed down significantly but things didn't improve. It's just too much a distance for her age I guess. Under such a bludbird sky, with the hard packed snow on a reletively safe glacier, I made the decision to solo the rest of the mountain. I was nervous not just because of the crevasses but more of the avalanche hazard. The huge north facing slope ahead of me appears to be very foreshortened. You gonna gain a significant elevation before topping out and seeing Castleguard. As you getting up, North & South Twin slowly appears behind you and Columbia Icefield slowly shows up its entire entity. I probed the snowpack again, and this time I found the snowpack quite deep, which means less chance to fall into a crevasse. Based on Vern's trip report, at the base of Castleguard, do not directly go up the north ridge, instead traverse around the east slope and go up an obvious ridge. Mounts Saskatchewan and Amery start to show up at this stage. Castleguard looks completely different from its base at this angle so I didn't really know which ridge to take. I ascent a steep wind scoop, but only to find out that I still topping out on the north ridge... Gosh... Well then, follow Nugara's direction. Under the cliff band below the summit block, traverse SE over a steep knife-edge-shaped wind scoop, drop down a very steep slope to a major gully and then take off snowshoes. Step-kick the final 50m steep slope to the summit. Bryce, Lyells, Forbes, Saskatchewan, Amery, Cirrus, Athabasca, Andromeda, Snowdone, North Twin, South Twin, Columbia, too many peaks to describe. After taking the numerous panoramas, I didn't linger any longer but heading down soon. I used the correct east ridge on the way down, and it's way much easier than the "wind scoop - north ridge - cliff base traverse" route. If I took this way up, I could probably save half an hour. Descending took no time and I soon re-joined my mom at the base of the north slope. After lunch break, we soon roped up again and I finally can relax a bit...

Descending Saskatchewan Glacier provides the best example of "marching asleep". Needless to say, it's quite boring. I kinda hope to do this mountain as a ski trip because the terrain is so gentle and my skiing skill can probably handle it. Repeating the same motion again and again and again... After the glacier swings left, snow got slushy. I forgot how long it took us down to the toe. We took a long break at the toe, getting all the glacier gears into backpack, and taking off snowshoes. The final 8km back to car proved to be the hardest. The moraine got muddy unsupportive and snow got isothermal. Post-holing the last 3-4km was a nightmare for us, sometimes calf deep, mostly knee deep, and sometimes thigh deep. We also lost our tracks on the way in and were forced to bushwhack a kilometer or so, thankfully no bears. The final grind up the hill was a slog but thankfully the avalanche debris provided some harder snow to step on. Since our boots were all wet, we didn't bother to use plastic bags for the final river crossing, but using the river to wash our boots instead.

I should say I underestimated the challenge. Although completely exhausted, I didn't get blisters, so I might have the energy to make another smaller summit on Sunday like Big Bend Peak. However, mom felt like having a cold so I decided to drive to Jasper to get some hot stuffs in the following morning. On Sunday morning, I felt a slight injury on my right thigh's mussel... Although Cinquefoil Mountain is in shape now (well, the only one in shape in Jasper area), I had to save it for another day... After taking some morning photos on Patricia and Pyramid Lakes, we drove back home. Anyway, with a big mountain done, I'm quite satisfied with the weekend.

Steven Song
 
St. Nicolas Peak
Apr 8, 2012

After solo slogged up Mount Gordon, I re-joined mom on the Icefield, and soon we followed three skie ...more

rs towards St. Nicolas - Olive col. It's far shorter than the ascent of Gordon. At the col, St. Nicolas Peak looks to be a serious ascent. It's indeed serious. My mom couldn't handle any exposure, so I soloed the rest from the col. The terrain gets steeper and steeper as you moving towards the summit, and the final block looks scarier and scarier as well. I could manage to snowshoe all the way to the base of the crux. Most people would appreciate the protection of a rope for the crux. It's shear wall to your left and very steep snow slope to your right. There's absolutely no room for error. Ice axe and crampons are mandatory. If you want to do it without a rope just like I did, you gotta have some winter difficult scramble experience. The crux is more steep and as exposed as Mt. Lady MacDonald's summit ridge. And don't forget, you have to down climb it. After the crux, you are standing at the summit. Too bad my camera was running out of space (480 photos already for the day)... I had to delete photos that were taken in the morning. I didn't take a full panorama as the view is similar to the view from Gordon. Down-climb the crux is definitely more scary than coming up, but it didn't impose too much of a problem to me. Downhill snowshoeing from the col to Bow Hut is fast. We re-filled our water bottle in the Hut. The rest of the day back to parking lot was a slog.
I got blister on my feet.... Too BAD. I still have lots of energy though. But, due to the blister, I had to go back. So no ascent on Monday...

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Steven Song
 
Mount Gordon
Apr 8, 2012

The real game of the Easter weekend, snowshoeing all the way from parking lot to Bot Hut, to Wapta I ...more

cefield, to Mt. Gordon, then to St. Nicolas Peak. If my camera has more space, I could definitely check off Mt. Olive as well. But too bad I took near 500 photos already. The Snowshoeing Book's suggest time is too pessimistic. Considering my mom's age, we still made back in less than 12 hours. If my partner's fitness level is similar to mine, we could probably be back in 10 hours.

The temperature dropped to -21 degrees in the morning, and it was even harder to get everything start. However, the weather was way much better than the previous day. Because we just finished Crowfoot Mountain the day before, we had fresh memory about the approach. It's the same until after the second canyon. For Crowfoot Mountain, you have to venture left into the trees again. If going to Bow Hut, go straight into the alpine bowl and turn right at the very end. The sun started to show up at this stage, a bluebird day was waiting for us! We made a wrong turn and ended up going up an unnecessary steep slope. You probably want to go further into the bowl/cirque before turning right. According to Vern Dewit's trip report, Bow Hut is an energy sucker... So, we didn't venture into the Hut, instead continue straight towards the Wapta Icefield.

The lower section of the glacier is heavily crevassed. However, among all the skiers (more than 20 skiers) I've seen during the day, no one roped up the Icefield, neither did we. The ascent is very straightforward, but yet very foreshortened. It took us forever to get up the big hill behind Bow Hut. We slowly worked our way up the glacier below the north face of St. Nicolas Peak, during which we met a group of skiers coming down. Gordon looked to be very close but actually far away. It has 3203m elevation and St. Nicolas Peak only has elevation of 2970m. You gonna be higher than all the Wapta mountains except for Balfour when you reach the summit, don't be fooled by the foreshortened view. Once thing about the Icefield peaks is, they all look much closer than the reality. I like to trust the map rather than my eyes.

Too bad mom was exhausted after topping out on Wapta Icefield. I slowed down the pace significantly but she still couldn't catch up. I also saw some clouds starting for forming so I needed to be quick. So I let her to wait for me and I started the solo slog up Mount Gordon. Note that you should NEVER solo the glacier unless you know what you're doing. It indeed took me longer than anticipated. The summit offers the best view that I've ever seen in the Rockies. The wintery condition makes the scenery even better. Take a look at my photos and you gonna have an idea. Bring a map and try to identify as many peaks as you can! I didn't stay too long on the summit because I was also planing to do St. Nicolas Peak the same day.

Descending this peak was much faster. It would be much much faster if I was on skis though. Anyway, I soon re-joined mom.

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Steven Song
 
Tangle Ridge
Jul 30, 2011

The incredible scenery we got from Cirque Peak a week ago made us want to return to this lovely plac ...more

e again. We were not comfortable on exposure and scrambling so we chose Tangle Ridge as the objective for first day (of August long weekend). The parking lot is at Tangle Falls, 7km north of Icefield Information Center. We decided to drive there via Jasper instead of David Thompson so that we could get road trip photos in the morning.

The first crux of the day was to cross Icefield Parkway. You gotta have to watch carefully for traffic as most people over-speed on this part. The trail starts right at the base of Tangle Falls, rises parallel to the Highway down south for a few hundred meters. Then it cut sharply left into the forest. It's not a busy trail but easy to follow. The second crux is to locate the exact place to leave the trail and cross the stream. Because Tangle Ridge is my 2nd scramble, I could only rely on visible trail at that time. Luckily we could find cairns that indicate we had to cross the stream. A hundred meter down the other side, we re-gained a unmaintained trail that rises steeply towards Tangle Ridge.

The trail eventually led us to treeline, where we were treated with spectacular view of the Columbia Icefield Mountains, though we couldn't see the icefield itself.. Athabasca and Andromeda are the most eye-catching giants towards south. The trail gets faint and eventually disappears, but thankfully the terrain is straightforward. The scree is not loose at all which helped for our footings. Higher up we could see Mount Alberta, the most difficult mountain in the Rockies. There is a huge weather station on the summit which partially obscured the views.

I waited for my parents for 20min and they still didn't show up. It was too windy and I didn't bring extra closing so I had to get down. I regrouped with them and they decided not to continue and we quickly made our way down to treeline. Due to poor navigation skill we ended up too far to skier's right and were forced to backtrack. We eventually made back to the trail and followed it down to the car. Overall, it's a very enjoyable hike that gives awesome scenery.

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Steven Song
 
Cirque Peak
Jul 24, 2011

Coming back to Canada after winning gold medal in IChO, Turkey, I decided to do some scrambling and ...more

hiking which I had been thinking about since last summer. Cirque Peak was my first objective, located in Icefield Parkway Area, Banff National Park. I did have some experience of scrambling on The Black Tusk in 2009, but this was the first time I summitted a scrambler’s peak. Also, this was the first trip after IChO, as well as the intense studies in Grade 12. I hadn’t been hiking since last September. Although the difficulty of Cirque Peak is only “easy”, the lack of experience and lack of exercising made things harder. At that time, I still had trouble slogging up scree slope.

The trail head is located 33.2km north of Highway 1 on the Icefield Parkway. It's the same as Helen Lake / Dolomite Pass trailhead, so not surprisingly, there were already many cars by the time we arrived. The initial part went by slowly and I had to catch my breathe regularly on steeper sections. Not far up, we were treated with the view of Crowfoot Mountain and Bow Peak. Further up, the trail enters alpine meadow terrain and we followed this highway to Helen Lake. There were at least 5 marmots bagging for food. I guess they're already food conditioned... I hope tourists don't feed bears though... We took a break at the lake while soaking in the views.

Passing the lake, the trail rises steeply up a headwall. By the time of July 2011, I was more of a hiker than scrambler so I felt this part was a bit exposed and I had to move carefully not to slip. The correct ascend line to Cirque Peak skirts around the base of the obvious cliff bands but we had to ascend the cliff bands due to snow patches lingering on the east side of the slope. Thankfully the cliff bands are well cairned and easy to negotiate. After that, it's mainly a scree slog up. Initially the scree is firm but the higher you go, the looser the ground is. I wasn't very comfortable on loose ground and I was pretty scared near the top. A short hands-on section led me to the false summit. I waited for 15min on the false summit for dad to show up. Despite this false summit is lower, it has better view than the true summit. We got head-on view towards Bow Lake and Wapta Icefield. This was my first time seeing the Wapta, and I was amazed. I couldn't believe I actually stood on top of the high peak, Mount Gordon, 9 months later. We carefully made our way towards the true summit, mainly butt-shuffling. From the true summit, we got good view of the 3 summits of Willingdon.

We stayed on the summit for about half an hour, and slowly moved down the loose slope. We didn't linger around the trail long as there were more and more tourists coming in afternoon. The weather also cleared up quite a bit by the time we got back to Helen Lake. I could feel blisters on my feet by this time. The hike back to car felt much longer and we stopped at Bow Lake for photos after finishing the trip.

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Steven Song
 
Parker Ridge
Aug 19, 2009

This is another short popular hike in the Rockies. We incorporated it into our drive from Lake Louis ...more

e 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

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Steven Song
 
Crowfoot Mountain
Apr 7, 2012

The temperature dropped to -19 degrees at night... Definitely the coldest night I've ever experience ...more

d in the Rockies. (Not to mention the next night is even colder)...

Since we slept in car and we didn't have stove or any heater thing, the crux of the day is to get everything start in the morning, including eating frozen food, drinking water ice mixture, and wearing snowshoes. I gonna briefly describe the route now. From the parking lot (the proper one, not the one near highway) walk about 100m down to Bow Lake. The Lake might be even colder than the parking lot. I've warned you! The lake crossing takes about 20min if you walk fast. It's further than it looks. Then follow the obvious route towards a narrow canyon (the 1st canyon). Do NOT venture into the canyon, instead start gaining elevation on the left in the trees. Before a huge avalanche path, moving right a bit then start losing elevation down to valley bottom. Now, go straight will lead you towards Bow Glacier Falls, and you should turn left into another canyon (the second canyon). Vulture Peak dominates the skyline from here. Note this canyon is definitely avalanche prone and you should move fast. It takes you 30-40min to completely out of the canyon. Now, watch carefully on your left. Just about getting out of the trees and losing elevation, turn sharply left into more trees (uphill). If you turn left later, you gonna have to deal with steeper slope. 10-20min later, you will see the entire huge slope leading you to the Crowfoot - Little Crowfoot col. The view is very foreshortened so be prepared for a long slog.

The ascent is straightforward, but Crowfoot Mountain does fall into the category of mountaineering because higher up towards the col, you are venturing onto a small glacier. In this season, the snow pack is about 3m thick and the crevasses are well bridged. I wouldn't say you must rope up but you should at lease carry a rope and be prepared. If white-out condition or no more visible skiers' track, you should rope up. From the col, it's still a long way to go. We followed skier's track zig-zagging up the huge slope. The weather is getting bad now. Mt. Balfour never shows up for us. Once topping out on the summit ridge, take off your snowshoes or skis and walk on scree to the summit. On a clear day, the summit view would be fantastic, but due to the clouds, we could only see the very nearby peaks. We waited about 1 hour but there was no sign of improving and we decided to head down... Snowshoeing downhill is definitely much slower than skiing down, but I would say it takes very little energy. The weather improved significantly one hour later, and I took lots of photos on the way back to the parking lot. It's time to rest and get ready for the ascent of Wapta the next day.

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Photos taken by Steven