After skiing to the summit of Mount Field the day before, I was ready to enjoy another perfect winter day on skis before returning back to the drudgery of another work week in the concrete jungle. Since I haven't been out much on the snow sticks this winter, I was certainly feeling a bit stiff the evening before! On our drive to Mount Field, Wietse had pointed out the East Ridge of Panorama Ridge to me and I thought it was the perfect winter solo ski objective for elevated avalanche conditions - provided I could drag my butt out of bed early enough.
Despite Daylight Savings Time screwing with my internal clock, I managed to stagger out of bed and point my truck in the right direction on Sunday morning. I wasn't super early, but I was only one of two vehicles in the Taylor Lake parking lot as I kicked into my skis and started the long trudge up towards Taylor Lake. It has been 5 years since I hiked this trail, and it hasn't flattened out any since the last time I was on it. Since I was solo I pushed my pace a bit too much and after 2 hours of steady skinning and ascending I noticed spots in my vision. I decided it was time for a break when I finally departed the main Taylor Lake trail and started up a decent skin track following a shallow draw that deviates to the NW, towards the small tarns above Taylor Lake and the East Ridge of Panorama Ridge.
[An empty parking lot to start my day - the best way to start.]
[The luge track to Taylor Lake isn't as much fun as it looks for descent. But it does make for a quick and easy ascent.]
After a short water / food break I felt much better - and could see properly again . I continued a bit more slowly upward, following a firm skin track up towards the meadows and lower ridge above Taylor Lake. There was a set of fresh snowshoe tracks on top of the skin track, but thankfully they weren't ruining it for skiers. I wondered if Phil or one of the "Matt's" might be ahead of me on this gorgeous day. It was even warmer than the day before as I entered the open meadow just under the ridge. I found myself ascending the final 300 vertical meters in my t-shirt to glorious views opening up in every direction. When I finally crested the ridge proper, my views over the Bow Valley towards the Skoki area and the Castle Mountain massif were mind-blowing. I knew the views were going to be amazing, but they exceeded my expectations. As I ascended through a fairly open larch forest, I imagined that this hike would be very fine in the fall.
[Off the main trail to Taylor Lake and in a narrow drainage heading up towards the two tarns and ridge.]
[A gorgeous morning awaits me in the upper meadow. My destination still out of sight to the right. Mount Bell and Panorama Ridge looming in the background.]
[A dramatic-looking Mount Bell.]
[Skiing into the back bowl with the East Ridge of Panorama Ridge now showing up at distant right. ++]
[Looking back towards Taylor Lake with Copper Mountain in the far distance.]
[Starting up the final 300 vertical meters through larch forest to the ridge.]
[I was skinning up in a t-shirt at 11:00 on this beautiful winter day.]
[Gorgeous views off the ridge crest over the Bow Valley.]
With about 100 vertical meters to go, I ran into the lone 'shoer who was setting fresh tracks ahead of me all day. I finally met Matt Clay after seeing his trip reports and photographs for many years already. We exchanged pleasantries before continuing on our separate solo ways. I was grateful for the broken 'shoe tracks near the summit, as the skin track disappeared for some reason at the end of the route.
[Looking back down the ridge - Castle Mountain stretching out at left.]
[Panorama Ridge looks mighty impressive as the summit bump slowly comes into view. ++]
[This is gonna be a fun descent...]
[The skin track disappears for some reason, but I follow Matt's 'shoe tracks to the summit.]
I have to say that I was pretty darn bagged by the time I finally crested the interesting outcrop at the top of the ridge. It took me about 3.5 hours to ascend the 1100 meters - I'm sure a fresh version of me could do it a bit quicker but who's racing? I enjoyed at least 45 minutes on the summit with a friendly, lonely Ptarmigan, clothed in an elegant white winter coat. It was far more curious than I'm used to from these so-called "heart attack" birds - they tend to fly up only as you literally step on top of them, giving you a heart attack. This cute little bird kept wandering aimlessly around the summit area making sad little chirping noises that sort of reminded me of Dr. Phil when the days get really long and he temporarily loses interest in life...
[Just me and the inquisitive, cute little Ptarmigan in a dramatic and peaceful setting.]
[I love the feet on this bird which has obviously evolved to walk on the crappy Rockies snowpack.]
[Looking towards Mount Ishbel and Cockscomb to the east.]
[The huge Castle Mountain massif across the TCH.]
[The long Protection Mountain (R) / Armor Peak (L) ridge lies directly to the NE with Pulsatilla, Avens, Douglas and St. Bride trying to peek over them. ++]
[Looking across the Bow Valley towards familiar peaks such as Waputik, Bow Peak, Mount Hector, Molar, Willingdon, Harris, Richardson, Pika, Ptarmigan and Lipalian (L to R). ++]
[I'm sure folks ski these chutes running down to the NE. Panorama Ridge is very impressive from this angle.]
[Gazing off the summit directly down to the NE I spotted an interesting animal track and wondered if perhaps a bear had awakened on this warm weekend?]
[A wide-ranging view over the entire Bow Valley corridor. ++]
[Looking down the ridge and south towards Mount Bell (R), Storm, Copper and Pilot (C). ++]
[Gazing far to the east towards the town of Banff. Pilot Mountain obvious at right.]
[The most dramatic views were to the south and west of Mount Bell and Panorama Ridge. ++]
Reluctantly I decided that I should probably leave the glorious summit views and ski down before the solar effects deteriorated the snowpack any further than it already was. The upper slopes were awesome boot top powder and soft slab, but lower down in the larch forest things fell apart a bit, resulting in a pretty good crash on my part. Once on the main luge track leading down from Taylor Lake, it was a painful ~7km return to the parking lot. I passed quite a few people including a group on fat bikes (not technically allowed in Banff or on that trail) that must have been in pretty good shape to be biking up this steep trail on snow! It was tough to control my descent, especially with longer skis. Snow blades would be perfect for this descent! It ended soon enough, however, and within 5.5 hours of leaving the parking lot I was back.
[Ready for the fast but choppy ride down the luge track. It's all downhill but that doesn't mean it's all easy skiing.]
I enjoyed this easy ski trip more than I thought I would. The views from the top are more than respectable on a clear winter day and the skiing is good down to the Taylor Lake trail. The luge track down from Taylor Lake is a bit of a drag, but it's quick if nothing else. I would save this trip for a training day when you are either solo or avalanche conditions are elevated.