Getting out to my beloved Rocky Mountains has proven to be a challenge of late. As fall 2016 turned to winter 2017, the weather has been frigid, the snowpack has been unsafe and family commitments have, as they rightly should, taken priority over peak-bagging.
Alas, the hierarchy in my life is changing. Family comes first; mountains second.
Fortunately, work is a distant third! (If my boss is reading this – I’m just kidding)...
After a 3 month Rockies hiatus, I needed a breath of fresh mountain air (no matter how cold). With clear skies forecast midweek, I, therefore, decided to play hooky and traded in my windowless office for some spectacular Skoki scenery.
A bone-chilling start to my Thursday off. Still, I’d rather be frozen in the mountains than comfortable and warm in an office!
Like most Skoki adventures, this one began with a jaunt up the Temple Fire Road/Lake Louise Ski-Out (run #155). The idea of skiing UP a downhill ski resort is somewhat maddening but the ski hill/road grant easy access to Skoki’s pristine backcountry so I won’t protest too much. Better still, the ski hill was relatively quiet on this midweek morning and Crux and I saw only 2 downhill skiers as we huffed and puffed our way up past the Temple Lodge.
Leaving the ski hill behind and continuing up towards Boulder Pass (out of sight to the right of the Pika Peak/Ptarmigan Peak massif). Beyond the Temple Lodge, we left the wide, groomed ski-out behind and followed a much narrower snowmobile track into the backcountry. Packers are, apparently, no longer used to run winter supplies into Skoki!
After a very cold 90 minutes skiing up in the shade, Crux and I finally felt the sun’s warmth as it rose above Redoubt Mountain. The opportunity to “bag some rays” proved too tempting to pass up so my canine companion and I took a load off and enjoyed a shared sandwich in the sun.
After a pleasant break in the sunny meadows below, we resumed our ascent up, aptly-named, Boulder Pass.
Looking back down the final wind-scoured hill that one must ascent to reach Boulder Pass. On skinny cross-country skis, this hill was a good candidate for the “walk of shame” (wherein the skier walks up with skis in-hand instead of underfoot).
Redoubt Mountain casts a long shadow across frozen Ptarmigan Lake as a wondrous winter panorama unfolds to the east from Boulder Pass. Click to see larger.
“Santa Crux” sports an impressive white beard.
Packer’s Pass Peak (center left) and Fossil Mountain (right) rise to the north of a frozen Ptarmigan Lake. With an unstable snowpack, I had decided to attempt Packer’s Pass Peak since its relatively gentle west-facing slopes present little in the way of potential for avalanches. To minimize risk, we ascended a low-angled alpine bench before making our way up the wind-blown ridge. Mouse over to see our route and to see what happens on Fossil Mountain’s steeper terrain under similar conditions…
A scenic pair of peaks (Mounts Douglas and St. Bride) provide inspiration as Crux and I wander across Ptarmigan Lake.
Redoubt Mountain dwarfs a pair of backcountry skiers as I pause to switch from cross-country skis to snowshoes for the remainder of the ascent.
Making our way up low-angled terrain towards Packer’s Pass Peak. This lightly treed section between Ptarmigan Lake and the windblown ridge ahead presents some serious potential for post-holing in winter. Fortunately, the snow was highly wind-affected on this day and Crux and I barely penetrated the hard surface crust.
Ptarmigan Peak towers impressively overhead. Going into things, I had been somewhat concerned about crossing any potential runouts below this monstrous peak but my route, fortunately, gave them a wide berth.
Upon reaching Packer’s Pass, the Wall of Jericho (right) is beautifully revealed beyond Ptarmigan Peak (left). Click to see larger.
A closer look at the Wall of Jericho and its remarkable ramparts.
Nearing the summit, Crux and I were lucky enough to find that trail had already been broken for us!
I guess there’s a reason that most of the area’s features are called “Ptarmigan”.
Crux was keen to thank our “trailbreaker” in person. Alas, I used his leash to reign him in and the dumb bird eventually went the other way, leaving Crux and I to summit alone.
The summit panorama was VASTLY superior to the usual midweek views from my office! Click to see larger.
Smiling for my summit selfie. Hard not to on a day like this!
Mount St. Bride.
Massive Lychnis Mountain towers above tiny Tilted Mountain beyond the far shore of Baker Lake.
Heather Ridge was a similarly scenic Skoki snowshoe. Pulsatilla Mountain can be seen to the left of the ridge while a plethora of Kootenay peaks rise up in the distance to its right.
A closer look into Kootenay. From left to right: Storm Mountain, Mount Ball, Stanley Peak, Mount Verendrye, Boom Mountain and Unity Peak (the lone Banff peak in this bunch).
My summit buddy and I high above Ptarmigan and Redoubt Lakes. Good boy!
Spectacular summit views of Redoubt Mountain under the winter sun.
A closer look at Redoubt Mountain’s spectacular northeast face.
Looking back over Boulder Pass and Whitehorn Mountain (the Lake Louise ski hill) towards the Great Divide. From left to right: Mount Temple, Wastach Mountain, Mount Goodsir, Mount Hungabee, Saddle Mountain, Sheol Mountain, Ringrose Peak, Haddo Peak, Mount Aberdeen, Fairview Mountain, Mount Lefroy and Mount Victoria.
More breathtaking panoramas from the summit of Packer’s Pass Peak. Frozen Zigadenus Lake can just be seen at the base of the Wall of Jericho. Click to see larger.
Ptarmigan Peak, the Wall of Jericho and the Skoki Valley highlight the view beyond the impressive drop off the north face of Packer’s Pass Peak. Click to see larger.
Stopped and dropped by (this view of) the Wall of Jericho.
Man’s best climbing partner.
The trail to Skoki Lodge is faintly visible as it crosses Deception Pass below. Across the pass, Fossil Mountain dominates the view. Click to see larger.
Looking north towards the Skoki Valley. From left to right: Mount Willingdon, Mount Harris, Deluc Peak, Cataract Peak, Cyclone Mountain, Skoki Mountain and Pipestone Mountain.
Soaking in the 360 degree panorama from the summit of Packer's Pass Peak before starting the long trip back down.
Retracing our steps (and hoping we don’t sink up to our hips) as we wander back towards Ptarmigan Lake and Boulder Pass at the foot of Redoubt Mountain.
Mount Richardson rises above beautiful Boulder Pass. At the pass, I switched back to my skinny cross-country skis and Crux and I made quick work of the 700 vertical meter, 8.6 km descent. Suffice to say that skiing down a ski hill is MUCH more fun than skiing up it!
Either way, it sure beats being at work!!!