Quartz Hill (+Ridge)


Trip Details
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Trip Date: 
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Summit Elevation (m): 
Summit Elevation (ft): 
Elevation Gain (m): 
Round Trip Time: 
Total Distance (km): 
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

Avalanche terrain up to considerable on the final summit block. Otherwise a very tame backcountry ski trip.

Trip Report

Quartz Hill has been on my radar ever since I first skied the Sunshine Meadows way back in 2007 with a large group trip up Twin Cairns. Well, almost exactly a decade later and I was back for my first real attempt. I briefly considered scrambling up the ridge while backpacking along the NE face of it on my way towards Howard Douglas Lake and Citadel Pass back in the fall of 2016 but a closure forced me to reconsider that idea. I believe that there is now an annual closure in the area, restricting any off trail travel near Howard Douglas Lake and moving Quartz Hill and Ridge towards winter-only (legal) ascents. Healy Pass Peak has this same type of annual closure going on, presumably to protect the fragile alpine meadows which do not easily rebound from human tracks.


Wietse and I agreed that we would start early enough from the Sunshine Ski Resort parking lot to avoid most of the crowds up on the hill. By 07:30 we were skinning up the ski-out, which was looking a bit thin on snow to be honest. For the next hour or so we skinned up in the dark as dawn reluctantly broke around us and the resort started waking up. It was a lot colder than we were used to, given the amazingly warm temperatures YYC has had over the past month or so. It was around -15 at the parking lot and a stiff breeze didn't warm things up any! Finally, as day broke over the resort and people started up the first chairs of the day, we slowly ascended the Citadel Pass route along the Strawberry Lift and made our way to the Sunshine Meadows boundary rope.


[Wietse faces off with some big machinery on the ski-out.]

[Nearing the Goat's Eye area.]

[Past the Goat's Eye, looking back at Eagle Mountain.]

[A nice sunrise as we skin up under the gondola. Taking the ski-out instead of the gondola adds ~500 vertical meters and 8km to the day.]

[The first rays of sunlight on our faces help dull the sting of a -20 windchill!]

[Our first glimpse of Quartz Ridge (R) and Hill (C) with Mount Assiniboine just peaking up to the left of the hill.]


From the Sunshine Meadow boundary, we followed a myriad of ski tracks out onto the expansive, hilly terrain. Fresh snow facets greeted us with the early morning sunlight and as usual, this place provided a magical experience for us as we slowly worked our way towards the lower Quartz Ridge. We stuck to skin tracks where possible, following our noses and the least hilly terrain in an attempt to make the ski back easier without skins. My new Pomoca skins behaved very well, I was duly impressed with them all day. The forecast on spotwx was calling for clouds around noon, so our goal was to be on the summit before then if possible in order to have decent views. Quartz Hill is a funny little beast, in that we received a few dire warnings about it's summit block and avalanche exposure. We carried axes and crampons to ensure safety on possible hard snow and were happy to have a "low-low-low" avalanche forecast.


[A brilliant morning ski across the always lovely Sunshine Meadows. Quartz at center left.]

[Wietse skis under the Monarch (R).]

[Hard to ask for a better day in December. We head for a shallow draw on the approach to Quartz.]


As is normal for the Sunshine Meadows, the distance to Quartz Ridge was much further than it first appeared. By the time we finally got to the NE end of the ridge we were both ready to start gaining some serious height again. Due to the low avalanche risk and rating, we ascended a pretty steep slope up the NE end of the ridge until it eased off and we started threading rocks towards the summit of the ridge. Once again, the apex of the ridge was a bit further than anticipated. Wietse dropped his skis a bit earlier than I did but eventually even I gave up threading all the visible rocks and hardpack snow / ice and started bootpacking up to the summit.


[In the shallow draw, heading towards a still distant Quartz Ridge. ++]

[At the north end of the ridge now, on its east side with Quartz Hill just right of the sun in the distance. We skied a bit further ahead and then straight up the skyline ridge and to the right.]

[Starting up the ridge, looking over at Quartz Hill at upper right - still a ways off.]

[Wietse follows my skin track up the NE end of Quartz Ridge with Twin Cairns behind him at center, The Monarch just visible at left and Bourgeau at distant right.]

[On the ridge proper now, looking ahead to the Ridge Summit at right and the Hill at center. To the left are Citadel, Golden, Naswald and Fatigue Mountain (R to L).]

[A great, moody shot of the hulking mass of The Monarch which Wietse and I did with Phil Richards back in August of 2016 . ++]


As I took the last few steps to the summit of Quartz Ridge, I was surprised to see another person standing there! I recognized her almost immediately as someone I'd never met in person but many times virtually, on Facebook. Alison Sekera does a great many interesting trips and it was very nice to finally meet her for real. Wietse and Alison already knew each other from other trips they've done. We chatted in the very cold wind about continuing on to Quartz Hill. In the bitterly cold wind, I have to admit that I briefly wondered if it was worth continuing on. The hill looks a bit exposed from the ridge, but I was encouraged to see old tracks ascending it and on closer inspection it started looking easier and easier until it was silly not to try. Remember - Wietse and I were loaded for bear and had our crampons and axes along. Alison was hesitant at first, but she was game to get her nose into it at the very least. I knew she could easily do it and told her so.


[Wonderful summit views from Quartz Ridge looking east (L), south (C) and west (R) including summits such as, Brewster Rock, Howard Douglas, Fatigue, Quartz Hill, Simpson Ridge and others. ++]

[Looking south down the incredible burnt landscape of the Simpson River and Verdant Creek which burned for weeks during the hot dry summer of 2017. Simpson Ridge at left with Mount Shanks and The Monarch at right. ++]

[Quartz Hill doesn't look so intimidating from the col.]


We easily descended from Quartz Ridge to the col with the Hill before Wietse and I donned our crampons (the wind was bitterly cold at the col!) before trudging on towards the NW ridge of Quartz Hill. As expected, the ridge wasn't nearly as difficult as it first appeared. The partially filled tracks helped, especially on the upper section where the track was over knee deep. In considerable or high avalanche conditions, this ridge is a good place to get into trouble as it's both steep and broken by rock bands. Also, as expected, Alison had no trouble following our kicked steps even without crampons. We were glad to have them for the lead though. We summitted in oddly zero wind and managed to take a few minutes to drink some warm coffee and take in the wonderful views around us which included the Citadel Pass area and the incredible burnt landscape of the Simpson River, Surprise and Verdant Creek valleys to the south and west. The big "A", unfortunately, chose to remain hidden in the growing cloud cover.


[Old tracks lead the way up through some rock bands on the ridge.]

[Wietse follows me up the ridge.]

[On the ridge, higher than Quartz Ridge now.]

[Still a ways to go.]

[Incredible views down the recently charred Simpson River valley looking past Mount Shanks and directly towards Split Peak in the distance at left.]

[Alison on the exposed ridge with the Monarch rising beyond.]

[There is a short walk from the false summit to the true summit of Quartz Hill.]

[Alison approaches the summit with the Simpson River at left, The Monarch at center and Bourgeau at right distance. ++]

[A great summit pano looking east (L), south (C to R) includes (L to R), Unnamed, Fatigue, Naswald, Golden, Citadel, Cave, Cautley, Wonder, Simpson's Ridge, Indian Peak, Selkirk, Catlin, Split Peak and Mount Shanks. ++ ]

[Looking far south up the Simpson River towards the Mount Assiniboine area including Cave, Cautley, Wonder, The Towers and Naiset Point. Naswald, Golden and Citadel at left and Simpson Ridge at right. ++]

[Gazing a bit further west now, still down the Simpson River but after it bends around Simpson Ridge (L). From L to R at distance are Octopus, Selkirk, Catlin and Split Peak.]

[Fatigue Mountain looks pretty bare for mid December.]

[It always surprises me that this striking peak to the north of Fatigue and south of Howard Douglas is unnamed.]

[Brewster Rock at left with Lookout Mountain and Howard Douglas at center.]

[Looking NE over Howard Douglas Creek towards the Sundance Range at right and Sundance Peak at far right. In the distance at left are Inglismaldie and Girouard.]

[This shot shows the bend in the Simpson River at foreground, coming out of the Mount Assiniboine area at distant left and then flowing out towards Hwy #93 at center distance. ++]

[Despite Citadel being officially 30m higher than Quartz Hill, I'm not convinced based on this view. Golden looks pretty easy to ascent behind Citadel with Naswald rising impressively over Golden's ridge in the distance.]


After taking in the excellent views, we turned back down the ridge under growing cloud cover. The descent went quick and easy and soon we were regaining the ~65m back up Quartz Ridge. On hindsight we could have carried the skis over the ridge and skied down from the col between the Hill and the Ridge, but oh well. The snow wasn't that great anyway. We managed to slip and slide our way down Quartz Ridge and soon were making our way back along Sunshine Meadows to the ski hill. The weather was changing behind us as we finally got back to the resort and started the quick trip down. We stopped in the lodge for a quick drink and break before taking the marginally snow covered ski-out back to the parking lot.


[Wietse and Alison walk the summit ridge of Quartz Hill. ++]

[More great views of the descent ridge.]

[Alison is a lonely, colorful dot in the dreary winter landscape.]

[Looking back up the NW ridge as Wietse and Alison descend the crux behind me.]

[Looking back up the NW ridge of Quartz Hill from the col.]

[A grunt back up Quartz Ridge.]

[Descending Quartz Ridge to the skis, Brett, Black Brett and Bourgeau catching sun in the distance. Mount Bourgeau was the first Rockies peak I did with Wietse over a decade ago in 2006.]

[Now Quartz Hill looks fierce again. Naswald, Golden and Citadel to the left.]

[Alison skis down the slabby Quartz Ridge. There's a reason avy risk was rated "low" today.]

[Dramatic lighting on the Sunshine Meadows with Quartz looking fairly big at right.]

[Wietse skis towards Sunshine Village.]

[Alison finishes the last few paces out of Sunshine Meadows with Quartz Ridge and Hill in the far distance again.]


Quartz Ridge is dead easy and can be done safely during any avalanche condition - taking care on its steeper east aspects obviously. Quartz Hill surprised me a bit, despite knowing from friends that it has a bit of bite. It's still pretty darn easy for anyone with snow climbing experience, but for someone who is expecting a "hill" experience, ala Prairie Mountain or the like, it will come as a bit of a shock when you see the summit block. With stable conditions, stick to the ridge and avoid cornices and you should have no trouble with it. The views are definitely worth it so make sure you catch it under clear skies if possible.

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