Distance: 20 km
Elevation gain: 985 m Route map
Earlier this week Matt Hobbs
contacted me about snowshoeing to Healy Pass Peak this weekend. I’d heard of this peak before, but had dismissed it as too strenuous and with too high of avalanche risk for me. That was several years ago, however, and I’m now in better shape and better able to read and evaluate avalanche risk, so Sandra and I readily agreed to accompany him. Unfortunately, Matt had to cancel at the last minute, but we decided to head out anyway and hoped that we’d be still be able to summit with just us breaking trail.
The drive out along the trans-Canada highway was incredibly crowded and shockingly windy and as we neared Sunshine Meadows it was a 5-8 minute wait in traffic just to get to the huge parking lot, which was nearly full at 8:45. After quickly gearing up and getting gassed by pot and/or cigar smoke, we joined the massive herd moving towards the ski lift. We left the herd here (and were exceedingly grateful to do so) and headed around the main building to pick up the Healy Pass trail where we put on our snowshoes and started our trip.
Sandra set a quick pace along the solidly packed and gently rising Healy Pass trail and we made excellent progress to the meadows, stopping for a quick food break along the way and passing a group of five skiers as well. The trail crossed the runout zones of three avalanche paths and just below the runout of a fourth, but I considered them safe today and I’ve read that the route is generally ok even in higher risk conditions.
When we reached the meadows we were relieved to find that the temperature, which had ranged from -25 to -20 C in the forest, was now hovering between -15 and -10 C, and that the wind we’d heard howling through the trees higher up had died down to nothing more than a light intermittent breeze. Better still, the sky was completely clear and the scenery was gorgeous!
We continued towards Healy Pass following a mixture of fresh and old ski tracks, gently gaining elevation in the open meadows. Nearer the pass we followed some old ski tracks that contoured to the north towards the south end of Healy Pass Peak, then continued up the very gentle lower south slope of Healy Pass Peak. The grade steepened as we gained elevation, but still remained relatively gentle, and sections were windblown down to bare rock. Our snowshoes had no trouble with this, but an earlier group of skiers had evidently abandoned their skis low down and postholed their way to the top. In high risk conditions there would be areas along here that could be problematic with absurd route choices, but overall the ascent was about as safe as they can get.
We reached the summit four hours after leaving the car. We’d traveled very quickly for the first 7 km, but had slowed down considerably in the meadows as we tired a bit, broke a bit of new trail, and just soaked in the scenery. It was a bit cold on the summit, but the views under the clear blue sky were absolutely fantastic in all directions and we hung around for 20 minutes before starting a very leisurely descent.
The return trip was quite pleasant as we descended off-trail in the meadows, passing several groups of skiers that had finally made it to treeline, but plodding back along the solidly packed and treed lower trail was very monotonous. At one point we were passed by a group of skiers coming down, but we passed them shortly thereafter and never saw them after that. I’m not sure how, but apparently we’re faster on snowshoes than skiers both when heading up and heading down!
A little under three hours after leaving the summit we were back in the parking lot where we were gassed by pot smoke AGAIN, then drove home among the horde of skiers, many of whom were evidently high. With the exception of parking lot experience, it was a wonderful day in the mountains!