Spurred on by a recent trip report on ClubTread from Jose and Fabrice, I decided that Armor Peak would be a nice objective for the first day of June 2013. Raff and Wietse agreed and we settled on an 06:30 departure from the Petro Canada on Hwy 1 on Saturday morning.
The sky got cloudier the further we drove and by the time we had finally figured out where the trailhead was (haven't we ALL done this hike already at least once?!) it was almost raining. We were surprised to find the Bow Valley Parkway chalk full of runners too! Apparently the Banff --> Jasper relay race was going on. Good thing we arrived early enough to avoid too much gong show.
The trail was as pleasant as I remembered - maybe a bit wetter, but that was for obvious reasons. I needed the peace and quite of the forest and between the green leaves, lady's slippers and chirping birds I was enjoying the ascent very much.
[The trail is well traveled and obvious as it winds through the lush spring forest.]
[One of my favorite flowers - the Ladies Slipper]
[As we ascended into the clouds the atmosphere of the forest became surreal. We also started to wonder if we'd ever break out of the cloud / mist!]
Raff wasn't totally convinced that we would break out of the clouds but I was sure that we would. As we worked our way higher I started to have my doubts, and when we started wading through isothermal snow up to crotch deep I was thoroughly demoralized! Raff and I took a break near tree line and started a conversation about turning around. We were 2 hours into the trip at this point and my feet were soaked from the wet snow. Raff wasn't feeling it either. Wietse had been feeling a bit under the weather and we decided to wait for him to catch up and then make a group decision.
When Wietse caught up to us I think he was surprised to hear the suggestion that we turn back. He surprised us in return by getting a burst of energy and breaking trail to above tree line. And then a miracle occurred! The sun finally broke through the thick cloud and we could see our upper ascent slopes to the ridge of Protection Mountain.
[Wietse gets a burst of energy and charges up the trail in deep snow. All it took was 5 minutes and we finally broke above the cloud and saw the sun and our ascent slopes.]
Once we saw the sun our energy levels increased by quite a bit. We took turns leading the way directly up the west face face to a break in the cliff band high above. This slope was covered in quite a bit of new snow but had already slid and felt pretty safe to us. We avoided the deeper pockets that hadn't slid yet and were thankful when the cloud cover thickened a bit and prevented direct sunlight on the slope. Finally we broke through the cliff band and were treated to some very acceptable views of the Castle and Protection Mountain massif's.
[The west slopes of Protection Mountain, looking south. TV peak (or more correctly, Protection Mountain) is accessed by traversing this slope and then ascending climber's left to the long summit ridge.]
[Wietse breaks trail.]
[The clouds provided good cover from the intense early summer sun.]
[The slope was steep but not crazy steep.]
[Looking back over hwy 1 - the clouds thickened but got higher too.]
[There were a few smaller cliff bands before the top.]
[Raff kicks steps for a while as the slope steepens considerably at the top.]
[The final section to the ridge was fun - steeper with firmer snow and interesting terrain.]
[Pano from just inside the cliff band looking back over hwy 1. ++]
[Raff collapses from exhaustion as we hit the ridge. :)]
[Taking a break on the ridge. Armor is the peak on the left, Protection (TV) on the right with Pulsatilla in the middle. ++]
Once we started traversing the ridge north to the summit we thought it looked very close. It's not really that close. :) Like all ridge traverses (especially ones that are covered in copious amounts of fresh snow), it took more time and energy than we expected to get to the true summit. Good thing the views were pretty good. The terrain between Protection and Pulsatilla is impressive.
Eventually, after gaining and losing at least 100m of height, we came to the final summit block. Raff led the way up a steep snow slope and we were on top of Armor Peak. I was amazed we made it - we needed positive thoughts from different team members throughout the day to make this one happen! The views were nice all around and I enjoyed reliving my crazy 72 hour peak bagging fest in the Skoki area as I gazed over the summits in that area.
[Armor Peak may look close, but it's further than you think!]
[Raff descends a section of the ridge. There's some elevation loss before you reach the summit block.]
[Getting closer. The light was really flat and fooled with our vision because of all the fresh snow.]
[Pulsatilla Mountain stole the show the whole time we were on the ridge because the Lake Louise peaks were covered in thick cloud.]
[Looking into the Skoki area, Douglas and St Bride on the right.]
[Brachiopod, Anthozoan and Oyster are visible here.]
[Looking over Bulwark Peak to Redoubt, Pika and Ptarmigan.]
[Daly was a very pleasant trip.]
[Bulwark Peak looks impressive from this angle.]
[Vern on the summit of Armor Peak.]
[Pano looking north to south over Bulwark Peak and Hwy 1. Too bad all the Lake Louise peaks are buried in cloud. ++]
After enjoying a brief summit stay we decided to head back before the forecasted rain started up. We almost made it off the ridge before dark clouds and snow showers moved in. The descent of the west face was a very wet affair due to a melting snow pack and by the time I was at tree line I had to stop and literally wring water out of my socks!
The rest of the descent was very pleasant in the great Protection Mine trail. There are a few remaining cabin structures along the route if you keep your eyes open. I love thinking about all the workers who used to see these views every day as part of their job. I wonder if they marveled at them the same way we do today or if it was just a hard days work for them? Probably a bit of both. Just like it was for us! :)
Armor Peak is certainly worth the trouble but make sure you 're going to get some views because it is fairly big day. We completed it quicker than I though we would have in 8.5 hours but most parties take closer to 10.
[Pano of Pulsatilla Mountain from just below the summit of Armor Peak. ++]
[Heading back down the ridge.]
[Like I said, there's some ups and downs on the ridge. But they make for great photos at least.]
[Wietse poses just before the sleet started.]
[Looking back at the peak and the threatening skies.]
[The snow was considerably softer and wetter on the way down.]
[The sleet didn't last long and wasn't too bad.]
[Back under tree line, I spotted this old cabin beside the trail.]
[Despite all the snow, signs of spring are everywhere.]