Visitors 43
30 photos

Distance: 7 km
Elevation gain: 725 m
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It took a bit to get plans sorted out for today, but eventually things settled on Alison and I heading up the southern ridge of Mount Hector, a somewhat popular place with skiers. We weren’t entirely sure how this would play out given the snowfall from yesterday and the potential for heightened avalanche risk, but figured it was certainly worth a try.

A late start, slippery roads, and the fact that we had to dig ourselves a parking spot in the massive snowbank along the Parkway meant we didn’t start up the mountain until 10 am. I was on snowshoes while Alison chose to ski, and while breaking trail in the fresh snow was strenuous, the supportive snow base and relatively open forest made both forms of travel easy.

As the forest began to thin we came to the base of a very steep and sparsely-treed slope. There was no way we were heading directly up it and so instead turned and headed for a drainage to the north that I’d noted from maps and photos would provide the least steep route up. While this traverse was a bit annoying in spots, the slope near the drainage was acceptably gentle (20 degrees) that we were not particularly concerned with ascending it, especially with the seemingly stable snowpack.

Unfortunately, as the forest thinned, the cloud thickened, and shortly after reaching treeline every mountain was obscured by thick cloud. Oddly, our destination remained cloud-free and so we continued up gentle slopes to the connecting point between the south ridge and the lower south ridge. The final slope leading to the south ridge, however, was completely snow covered and the absence of any features and diffuse light made it impossible to judge how steep it was. Photos from others made it look quite gentle, but with the uncertainty we had about wind slabs, the lousy weather, and a good dose of general common sense we decided to abort our planned ascent.

Instead we made our way over to the lower south ridge, encountering three snow-white ptarmigan near some exposed rocks, but just as we were about to head out along it the clouds completely enveloped us, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped significantly. There didn’t seem to be a point in continuing, and so Alison removed her skins and we started down.

I’ve learned a lot hiking in the Rockies, and one of those lessons is that the surest way to get good weather is to not go in the first place or to turn around because of the weather. So just minutes after starting down the clouds started to lift, and 20 minutes later the peaks across the Bow Valley were visible again! It certainly wasn’t clear by any standard, but it wasn’t a total whiteout anymore. We’d turned around due to risk that hadn’t changed, however, so we continued our descent. With Alison on skis and me racing to keep up it took us just one hour to get back to the road. Remarkably, the snow plow had not yet cleared the Parkway and so we didn’t need to dig her SUV out.

Despite not reaching the summit or getting the amazing views I’d anticipated, it was still a very nice day out and I’ve now got the beta I need to head back and tag the summit some other time.

Categories & Keywords
Category:Lifestyle and Recreation
Subcategory Detail:Hiking
Keywords:Banff National Park, Icefields Parkway, Mount Hector South Ridge, snowshoeing