Steven Song's Peak-bagging Journey

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Skoki area is east of the famous Lake Louise. It's a perfect backcountry base for scrambling and peak begging.

Steven Song
Fossil Mountain
Feb 3, 2013

I was joined by Kelly Smith and Ben Nearingburg and three of us left Edmonton Saturday evening, and ...more

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.

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Steven Song
Unity Peak
Dec 13, 2012

This is the 3rd day of December peak-bagging trip during exam period. I was glad to have a partner o ...more

n 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.

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Steven Song
Oyster Peak
Sep 22, 2012

There were too many options for this weekend, as most of the harder peaks were back in shape. I'd re ...more

ally want to get Mount French done in this year, but on the other hand, I also wanted to fully take advantage of this larch season. Therefore, I threw out two possible objectives to fellow Edmonton peak bagger, Mike (Arcturus). Oyster Peak to Skoki Mountain, or Mount Daly to Niles. Mike chose the former. The stats are similar to another insane one day traverse I've done in August, Mount Northover to McHarg to Worthington, but with much better trail system.

We slept at Fish Creek parking lot, and set up alarm at 6AM, and started 44km-epic day at 6:30AM. I didn't carry anything fancy except for one jacket, food, and 1L water with a filter. You don't need to bring more than 1L water into Skoki as there're plenty of water sources. I felt really happy to travel light in Skoki, considering most people do these two peaks over 2-3 days. One word to describe the trudge up Temple Lodge road: boring, especially doing it with headlamp on. Good thing is, the road is only 4km long, versus the 11.7km road up Lake O'Hara.. We quickly made our way up, and 45min later, a truck came up behind and gave us a ride, which saved us 15min walk. I hope we could wake up half an hour later though... But on the other hand, you can't count on getting a ride.

Because everything was in shade, we didn't get distracted by the view, and we quickly made our way towards Hidden Lake and Boulder Pass. Note that the trail to Skoki's Hidden Lake is in much much better shape than the trail to Kananaskis's Hidden Lake... We soon made to the Hidden Lake campground. This is the turn-off for Richardson to Pika to Ptarmigan traverse. Looking back, Mount Temple looks great under morning light.

From here, the trail climbs gradually up towards Boulder Pass, and the view started to fully open up. More and more larches showed up and wow, it's gonna be a gorgeous day! All the sudden, we topped out on Boulder Pass. Looking down the other side, it sits Ptarmigan Lake. Apparently Mike has more photographing experience, and he suggested to circumvent the lake on its south (right) side, which turned out to be a good call. The path on this side is very faint and it was mostly boulder hopping and walking on boggy ground. However, the reflection of Ptarmigan Peak made up for the extra work. I highly suggest everybody doing this variation rather than following the trail.

We regained the trail and followed it slightly uphill towards Deception Pass, before branching off to Baker Lake trail. From here on, we had to lose 200-300m elevation to get to the base of Oyster Peak... Oh well, elevation loss and regain is the theme of this traverse, so make sure you get mentally prepared. We soon made to Baker Lake. The morning sun was bad for photographing the lake, so again, Mike made a good call for doing another variation. We dropped down to the lake shore on the other side of the campground, and circumvented the lake for a few hundred meters. Another wow moment!

Again, it's really to do this extra 20min. We followed the trail circumventing Fossil Mountain on its SE side, towards Cotton Grass Pass, the divide for Oyster Creek and Baker Creek. Note: It's near 15km one way to get to here from parking lot. There were more larches waiting for us! At the pass, we left the trail and bushwhacked up directly towards the face of Oyster Peak. I think it's probably the first time I enjoyed bushwhacking. It's quite a unique experience to bushwhack in larch forest! At treeline, we were treated by excellent view down to the valley. Fossil Mountain looks impressive from this side. Skoki Mountain was also visible, oh man, that's a long long way to go.

There were hands on sections here and there, and we quickly made to the south peak. The view was foreshortened and it took us longer than anticipated. There was even a register on this false summit... From here, we got a head-on view of the giant front range peaks: Mount Douglas and St. Bride. Douglas is a mostly a scramble with a couple of 5th class steps and tens of route-finding, while St. Bride is much more involved, if Rick Collier's 5.11 route is the easiest line.... The traverse to the true summit is much longer than it appears. And at places, the ridge gets pretty exposed. It took me more than half an hour to traverse... Near the summit, the scrambling gets more involved. The ridge is definitely a moderate scramble.

We didn't linger long on the summit as we still had a long way to go. The west face descent was much harder than anticipated. The upper mountain is guarded by slabs and we encountered difficult scrambling here and there. After the series of slabs, we had to descend tedious rubble. Once getting down, looking back, the route looked to be pretty serious... Good thing, no need to do it again!

We bushwhacked down to Oyster Creek, where we re-filled our water bottles. The direction to Skoki Mountain was a bit confusing. We failed to reach the correct Jones Pass trail, and ended up too far down towards Red Deer Lakes. We had to do more bushwhacking to regain the proper trail.

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Steven Song
Skoki Mountain
Sep 22, 2012

We immediately started the hike towards Jonas Pass after coming down Oyster Peak. Jones Pass is less ...more

scenic compared to what we've just seen. We quickly moved over the pass without being distracted by the views. There was more elevation loss to get down to Skoki Lodge though, which was very frustrating. We took a short break at the lodge, getting ready to the slog up Skoki Mountain.

The trail is right at the back of the outhouse. It's marked and well-maintained. So make sure you find the correct trail up. We gained elevation quickly. At treeline, we could see the rest of the way: a huge scree slope... Well, at least we only had 300m more elevation to go. There's nothing to describe here. The scrambling was very boring but the view was good.

The descent was much faster due to the scree run. It didn't take us long to get back to the Lodge, where we re-filled water again. We took another necessary break, before trudge 300 vertical meters up Deception Pass.. We wanted to go visit Myosotis and Zigadenus Lakes, but we also knew we'd already missed the best sun angle. It was too late in the day... Going back via Deception Pass wasn't a bad call though, as the view was still awesome. We got our first good view of Brachiopod Mountain of the day at Deception Pass. The evening sun is the best for photographing this peak. The whole area looked a lot different than in the morning though. We took tens of photos before descending towards Ptarmigan Lake.

Another wow moment was waiting for us at Ptarmigan Lake. This time we decided to do the normal trail, and the evening light provided the best condition for photographing the reflection! It's another bonus of the already amazing day. We also watched sunset at the lakeshore.We took the last few evening shots of Mount Temple before the long descent back to car. The trail really really went on forever before joining the Temple Lodge Road. We had to take out our headlamps again for the final 4km... It was all about perseverance.

Round Trip Time: 14.5 hours including all of the stops and detours. Overall, a very satisfying day in Skoki. And Thanks Mike for accompanying. I'll sure do overnight trips in this area someday, maybe next year. Pipestone to Cyclone; Mt. Drummond is a perfect choice for a good weather long weekend. Tilted to Lychnis is another two-day, or one 16-hour-day trip.

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Steven Song
Lipalian Mountain & Purple Peak
May 7, 2012

The temperature would drop to -10 degree at Lake Louise in the morning. Taking advantage of the spri ...more

ng snowpack, I decided to do another snowshoe trip, namely Purple Peak to Lipalian Mountain. This is also my first time in Skoki area. I parked at Fish Creek parking lot and slept in car the previous night. In the morning, I met two skiers at trail head. After talking to each other, I realized they are Golden Scramblers. We both know each other on internet, it's such a small world huh. They started about 15min ahead of me, heading to Unity Peak. At this time of year, Temple Lodge Road is snow free, so I can walk up easily the first 4km while carrying snowshoes. In no time I reached Larch / Ptarmigan Chair Lifts (Lk Louise ski area is already closed..). From there, the snowshoeing book says keep walking down the trail for about 1km then head right, but somehow I missed the correct trail and ended up in the valley bottom. For the next kilometer, I could not find any track heading to Wolverine Valley, and I was getting closer and closer to the lower slope of Redoubt Mountain. I thought Josee and his partner would be ahead of me because I didn't pass them on the way up. I started to realize my mistake, after checking the map, I decided to turn sharply right and bushwhack. 15min later, I found I was on the slope of Redoubt Mountain... To get to the bottom of Wolverine Valley, I had to lose about 30m elevation, but anyway, I got back on track. There is no steep section in the valley and it's a pleasant hike. Purple Peak lies in front of me, appears a rounded bump. Looking back, I could see Whitehorn Mountain and the ski runs. To my left is the impressive face of Redoubt Mountain. The route to Purple Peak is obvious. I still couldn't see Golden Scramblers at this point. To Purple, you can hike up either the north ridge or the east ridge, while both of them involves a short steep slope near the top. It took me 2.5 hours from parking lot to the summit. From the summit, Lipalian Mountain, my next objective of the day, partially blocks the view towards the Lake Louise Giants, but the view of Baker Creek area, Protection Mountain / Pulsatilla, and other mountains in Skoki is unlimited.

From the top of Purple Peak, Lipalian Mountain can be easily reached. However, you have to lose 50-100m elevation on the connecting ridge. I took 40min from Purple to Lipalian. From the summit, you gonna have unlimited view towards the continental divide, from Ball, Storm, to Bident, Quadra, Fay, Bowlen, Little, Deltaform, Hungabee, Lefroy, Victoria, to Bosworth, Daly and Balfour. In front of them is the biggest one, Mount Temple. Gosh, Temple looks really big from here, I started to wonder how did I manage to summit it and back within 7.5 hours in last September.

It was only 9:20AM, so that means I still had lots of time. I decided to traverse to Unity Peak. The first thing to do is to get back to Purple. From Purple Peak, I descent the ridge connecting Purple to Unity. From the col, the route described in Chic Scott's Summit and Icefields looks pretty avalanche prone, since I was soloing, I didn't want to take a chance, so I headed back down Purple Bowl. There're some steep slopes too. I knew Josee and his partner ascent Unity from an alternative route, and I started to look for their tracks. I could even here their voices up on the ridge, but I couldn't find any ski tracks, except for avalanche paths... I wouldn't want to solo any of those avalanche gullies anyway, plus I was already satisfied about summiting Purple & Lipalian (that means, lake of motivation), so I abandoned the idea of ascending Unity. Maybe I will come back to this area in summer to finish it. I took a long lunch break at treeline, and leisurely decent back to car. It's funny that I used 4 hours on the way down, but 3 hours 10 minutes on the way up... On the way back, I noticed there's even a ski run from parking lot to Temple Lodge, not just the road... Oh well, I'm getting familiar with this area anyway.

I went to Lake Louise lakeshore for some photographing. Even though it's off-season and it's Monday, Lake Louise is always busy... On the way back, I decided to take Bow Valley Parkway. I saw a grizzly bear on roadside and took some close photos on him...

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Photos taken by Steven