Visitors 49
56 photos

Distance: 7.5 km
Elevation gain: 720 m
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Crystal Ridge is the unofficial name given to the ridge south of Cirque Peak by Bob Spirko after he found enormous crystals on its lower slopes. The name has since been widely adopted and a snowshoe trip up its slopes is described in Andrew Nugara's Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies. Today, with perfect weather and a low avalanche risk, we decided a snowshoe trip to the top would be an excellent way to close out 2015.

This trip has been on my radar for years, but I've been hesitant to go due to the potential for avalanches. While there are no big slide paths and the few medium-sized ones can be fairly easily avoided, the rolling terrain has loads of convexities and tons of places for windslabs to develop and slide short distances. Despite the low avalanche rating today I was still quite concerned as just a few days ago a small slab slide was reported just to the north that initiated on a convex terrain feature. I hoped I'd be able to find a route through that fit our risk tolerance.

After enduring the the mess of skiers eagerly speeding for their fix on the trans-Canada we arrived at the Crowfoot Glacier view point, crossed the Parkway, and started snowshoeing up the well-packed Helen Lake trail in the freezing cold (-29 C). After a bit more than 600 m on the official trail we turned onto a snowshoe track heading off to the left and started steeply ascending through the forest. We soon emerged at the base of a rocky slope, but instead of ascending here we headed north, beginning our ascent where the slope was treed and less steep. From here we simply headed up, carefully choosing our route to avoid any suspect slopes.

We reached the ridgecrest at a low point and chose to ascend the highpoint to the left first. This turned out to be just slightly lower than another highpoint to the northeast, but that one looked quite steep to ascend safely. Instead we headed south to another bump that most people call the summit, carefully avoiding a cornice along the way. The temperature at this elevation was now just -15 C and we were able to spend nearly an hour slowly wandering along the ridge admiring the mind-blowing views in all directions. It's definitely one of the most scenic snowshoe trips we've done. We even came across a ptarmigan on the way back down!

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Keywords:Banff National Park, Crystal Ridge, snowshoeing