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.