Distance: 12 km
Elevation gain: 1415 m View map Download GPS track
The extreme heat of the past few weeks has rapidly brought some peaks in the main ranges into shape, so Matt Hobbs contacted me to see if I’d be interested in a scramble up Ochre Spring Peak in Kootenay National Park. We knew we’d be guaranteed a spectacular summit panorama, but with no current information on the condition of the snowpack in the area and an ascent route up a 1300 vertical meter avalanche path, we really had no idea if we’d get anywhere close to the summit. Thus to give ourselves the best chance of success, we packed snowshoes, ice axes, and microspikes.
We arrived at the Paint Pots trailhead around 8:30 am and started hiking along the easy tourist trail, arriving at the colorful mud flats known as the Paint Pots shortly after crossing the bridged Vermillion River. The brilliant colors and patterns in the mud were quite interesting and we spent an unusual amount of time taking photos before continuing. A little over 3 km from the parking lot we reached the ascent avalanche path and were very pleased to see that there were snow and snow-free options for the entire ascent, giving us a very good shot at the summit.
After hiking through light brush and debris at the bottom of the slide path we moved onto the avalanched snow and continued up. The surface was soft and the slope angle quite low, so neither of us felt the need to take out our ice axes, although at a few steeper sections we did move to the mud and scree at the edge of the snow.
When we reached the top of the narrow avalanche gully we contoured to the left on dry ground, planning to ascend a wide snow slope and approach the summit from the west. As we moved onto the snowfield, however, we were very surprised to find the snow was completely isothermal and unconsolidated, in stark contrast to the firm snow we’d been ascending for much of the trip. Not only we were sinking up to our thighs, steeper slopes and small cornices higher up made continuing very foolish.
Instead we moved to a wide rubble and scree slope and resumed our ascent. It was steep and sections of terribly loose scree and dinner-plate rubble made it quite tedious, but it served its purpose and delivered us to the summit ridge a short distance from the top. After crossing some short snow patches we arrived at the spacious summit.
The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking! The jagged peaks of the Vermillion Range, the Goodsirs, and the ten peaks of Moraine Lake were absolutely stunning and as Matt noted, the three tallest peaks of the southern Rockies (Mounts Temple, Goodsir, and Assiniboine) were all within sight. As a rare case of mountain luck would have it, the clouds also started to disperse as we hung around on the summit, giving us wonderfully varied lighting.
After over an hour on the summit we reluctantly started our descent, following the scree and rubble slope back down to the stable avalanched snow lower down. It was the perfect angle and softness for a slow and controlled glissade, and so I spent a little time practicing easy self-arrests while Matt slid down. Unfortunately it was a bit too icy and debris-ridden for my liking, and so to avoid shredding my ass I chose to walk most of the way down. In the right conditions it seems like the descent could be an incredible 1300 m glissade, but not today.