Distance: 9.5 km
Elevation gain: 985 m Route map
Despite the incredible cold today (actually, the past 5 weeks…), it’s not often a low avalanche forecast and bluebird skies align, so I really wanted to get out on something super scenic today. After an unnecessarily complicated stream of messages, a team of six – me, Sandra, Alison, Vern, Hanneke, and Phil – decided to head up the south ridge of Mount Hector, a peak that had thwarted Alison and I last year
Our two-vehicle convoy met at Lake Louise just before 9 am, then headed north on the Icefields Parkway. We parked on the surprisingly snow-free shoulder of the road near where Alison and I had started last year and right where an excellent ski track headed into the forest. While it had been -32 C in Lake Louise, my thermometer read a balmy -28 C at our roadside parking spot. Remarkably (depressingly?), this just doesn’t seem that cold anymore.
After gearing up we started up the ski track on very supportive snow. Alison and Vern wore skis while the rest of us preferred snowshoes and we set a slow and steady pace as we made our way up the relatively gentle incline. About an hour into the trip the ski track we were following ascended a very steep and lightly forested slope that would’ve been idiotic to be near with a higher avalanche risk, but today we judged it to be safe and the thin forest granted a pretty spectacular preview of the views we’d get later in the day.
As we cleared treeline the view expanded to the north and west, and what a wonderful one it was! We slowed down a bit to take it all in, gradually making our way to a flat area below the steep ascent to the south ridge. Alison and I had stopped here last year when we weren’t too sure of avalanche conditions and the slope steepness, but today the snowpack mitigated most of our fears. I’d done a lot of research beforehand and had judged the slope to be quite a bit less than 25 degrees, but about 2/3 of the way up I realized that certainly wasn’t the case and measured an angle of 28 degrees; not terrible, but steeper than I’d usually tolerate.
We regrouped at the top of the slope, then five of us headed for the summit about a kilometer to the south. Hanneke wisely stayed behind, and about midway along Sandra decided to retreat and join her. The solid and icy wind-blasted snow, huge cornices, and steep slope angle made travel difficult and dangerous at times, especially for Alison and Vern who were in ski boots and who had left their crampons and ice axes at home since this was a “Matt trip” (i.e., not insane). Phil and I had a slight advantage with our snowshoes, but boots and crampons would’ve been superior and ice axes really were a necessity.
Unfortunately the massive cornices blocked a panoramic view from the presumed summit, but having traversed the ridge we’d been able to see in every direction at one point or another. The view was amazing, particularly towards Mount Hector.
After a brief summit stay we slowly and carefully made our way back to where we’d gained the ridge, then started back down. Below the ridge we met up with another group of skiers and were surprised that Sonny Bou was among them; this ridge was certainly popular today with scramblers who have websites!
The remainder of the trip went by quickly and we arrived back at the parkway just 5 hours 20 minutes after having set out. It was another great trip during this cold snap and it was nice to get out with Phil and Vern and his wife Hanneke; snowshoeing with three new people on one trip is a record for me!