Distance: 20.5 km
Elevation gain: 900 m Route map
After more than a week of incredibly cold weather that had kept us housebound over our vacation, we were very eager to get out for a big trip today. Matt Hobbs’ suggestion of the Monarch Ramparts sounded good to us, and so he, Crux, Sandra, and I set out from Calgary at 6 am, arriving at the Sunshine Village parking lot after a sketchy drive on icy roads with occasional whiteouts from blowing snow. While the temperature had been -29 C as we’d driven by Banff, it had steadily risen as we gained elevation along the Sunshine road and was “only” -20 C in the parking lot. After last week, this seemed positively balmy!
We started snowshoeing along the lower ski out at 8:30, turning right onto the Healy Pass trail after a few hundred meters. Matt was on skis and Sandra and I raced to keep up, so we made very good time to the bridge across Healy Creek about 3 km from the parking lot. We had a short break here, but didn’t linger long in the cold. Soon after starting out again Sandra and I started to notice it was a lot colder than -20 C. We were both covered in frost, and for the first time ever my GPS screen froze, just before the entire thing died. We checked the thermometer and it was well below -30 C! We’ve never tolerated temperatures like that before, but didn’t really have much choice at this point in the trip.
Thankfully, a few kilometers later and a couple hundred meters higher, the sun finally made its way into the valley and the temperature warmed to about -15 C. We had a quick lunch in a small meadow when our destination first came into view, then continued into the meadows below Healy Pass.
As the ramp we’d use to gain the Monarch Ramparts started to come into view, so did a broken trail heading in its direction! This was a huge relief, but unfortunately the trail ended right where the ascent started. We’d been worried about avalanche risk at this point, but the slope we ascended wasn’t steep enough to slide (especially in the conditions today), although dangerous options existed just a short distance to each side.
I took the lead at this point and started breaking trail. While I sank nearly to my knees with each step, the snow was very consistent and grippy, so it was just strenuous and slow, not the frustrating debacle we’re usually faced with when we break trail through Rockies sugar snow. It was, however, very tiring, and we needed another fuel break before we reached the ridge crest.
The ridge varied from deep drifted snow to windblown rock, but as it consisted of just a few small bumps travel was very easy and it didn’t take us long to reach the broad summit plateau. The views since we’d entered the meadows had been absolutely stunning, and this of course continued on the summit. We spent about 45 minutes wandering around taking photos and admiring the spectacular scenery, then retraced our steps all the way back to the parking lot. A fantastic way to spend the first day of 2018!