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Visitors 150
51 photos

Distance: 16 km
Elevation gain: 1140 m
Route map

With sun, no wind, and tolerable temperatures forecast for today I turned to my list of excellent “secret” peaks and picked one that would be great for Sandra and I on snowshoes and Alison on skis. The peak in question was a 2540+ m summit to the east of the main Helena Ridge summit. I’d spotted it years ago from Castle Mountain and had since plotted a route up it that would avoid all avalanche terrain and make use of the packed Tower Lake trail. Above treeline we’d have spectacular views of the Bow and Johnston Creek valleys and the Castle Mountain massif, as well as several hundred vertical meters of wide open meadow.

We parked in the Rockbound Lake parking lot just east of Castle Junction and started snowshoeing/skiing up the packed trail shortly before 9 am. Clear and calm skies promised the amazing views I’d been hoping for, but at -30 C it was a bit colder than expected.

With Alison setting an awesomely steady pace we made good time on the packed and incredibly boring trail, stopping for a very cold snack at the second of two bends in the very long switchbacks. About 500 m past the bend, around where I was planning to leave the trail, we came across a days-old skin track heading where we wanted to go and turned to follow it. Sometimes luck is on your side! The track made travel much easier than it would’ve been had we needed to break our own trail, but it did have a propensity to side hill and went through a small gully that would’ve been dangerous in poor snow conditions.

Oddly, the makers of the skin track only went halfway up the hill and never left the thick forest. We thus commenced with breaking our own trail, taking turns wallowing in powder and sugar snow that had us sinking anywhere from shin to waist deep.

The spruce forest soon transitioned to larch, thinned, and then opened up into the vast meadows that had lured me to this peak in the first place. I was happy to see that the slope was as gentle as it had appeared in all my research, and even happier it wasn’t steep enough to slide when we experienced a small settlement on an isolated windslab. Trailbreaking remained strenuous, but with vast and spectacular views unfolding around us and brilliantly warm sunshine that had me down to my base layer, any breaks that weren’t taken to catch my breath would’ve been taken to just stare at the mountains anyway.

We intersected the massively-corniced summit ridge a short distance from the summit, then easily made our way to the broad summit a bit further to the north. The view was absolutely spectacular in all directions and with sunshine and no wind we were able to enjoy it for nearly an hour. It had been over a month since we had nice mountain views and so the great weather and long stay was beautifully restorative.

When we finally decided it was time to head down, Alison removed her skins and enjoyed nearly 300 vertical meters of skiing above treeline while Sandra and I plunged down on our snowshoes. Our snowshoes worked better in the forest, but when we arrived back at the main trail Alison raced ahead with the truck keys while Sandra and I plodded our way back down. It was a fantastic and very much needed day in the mountains!

Categories & Keywords
Category:Lifestyle and Recreation
Subcategory Detail:Hiking
Keywords:Banff National Park, Helena Ridge, Helena Ridge East Peak, Tower Lake, hiking, snowshoeing