After an excellent day out on Ramp Peak a few weeks previous, I was thinking it would be a good idea to take advantage of the excellent snow pack of spring 2012 and go after Ramp's neighbor to the north, Quartzite Peak before too much spring warmth melted all that delicious snow pack away! On this particular day I was joined by Raff and Ian Hunt. It was good to be going on a trip with the crazy Pol again and Ian and I haven't done a trip together in around 4 years so that was cool too.
Being so late in the spring, our only real concern for the day was the snow pack stability. We knew that things would be locked up pretty snug all morning due to a nice cool night time temperature but we also knew that there was a really good chance of iso thermal snow in the afternoon once the sun started heating things up.
The approach trail was rock hard as we tried to keep up with Ian's furious pace through the forest. As we broke out of the forested trail and into the creek bed the snow crust held our weight, no problem. It was so hard that we just barely made marks of any kind with our skis, and realized only then that we were following fresh tracks of two other skiers! It was easier to ski off the beaten trail than on it - we just cruised over the rock hard snow drifts along the creek. This trend continued up the treed slope north east of the camp ground. We followed our Ramp Peak descent tracks and managed to break tree line pretty much perfectly.
[Mosquito Creek is getting much higher with spring runoff - this is the morning flow levels - at least twice that of two weekends ago.]
[Breaking tree line near the bowl.]
[Looking ahead to Quartzite on the left and Ramp in the middle. This bowl would make for some great ski turns!]
As we sat in the glorious morning sunshine above the upper bowl we noticed the two skiers that were ahead of us. They were above us on the lower Mosquito slopes and were transitioning onto the avalanche slopes on the north side of Mosquito, heading towards Ramp Peak. We finished eating and started heading towards the very inviting west face of Quartzite.
The steep avalanche roll slope that we also had to traverse for Ramp was so rock hard this time around that it felt very dicey on my skis as I desperately tried to keep my edges in contact with the hard snow. Honestly not the smartest thing I've ever done but it was downhill a bit and over pretty quickly, plus a slip wouldn't have been fatal, just a fast ride down a rock hard avy slope into a small canyon... ;-)
[Looking ahead from the slope at the top of the bowl. You can see the connecting ridge to Mosquito Mountain on the right. ++]
[Close-up of Ramp Peak with Dave Salahub and his friend on the ascent.]
[Looking very inviting!]
[Looking back at Raff and Ian as they negotiate the steep and exposed avy roll (it's frozen so hard that it's now a 'slipping' hazard rather than an avy one!).]
[Looking back at our ascent route and Noseeum Mountain.]
I led the way fairly quickly over the concrete-hard snow drifts and rolls beneath Ramp Peak and soon we were gaining height on Quartzite. I picked a fairly obvious line up the slope. Higher up we had great views of the other team on Ramp Peak. About 150 vertical meters from the summit the hard slope actually became a bit of an issue. There was about 2 inches of fresher snow on top of the hard pack and this snow wanted very badly to just slip and slide around on the hard snow underneath! Obviously if they was more fresh snow this would have been a very dangerous avalanche risk but in our case it was just a giant waste of energy trying to prevent our skis from sliding downhill with every step forward! I stubbornly tried to go really steeply uphill so that the skis couldn't slip sideways, but this presented it's own issues as skins can only go so steep!
[Looking back from the lower west face of Quartzite. ++]
[Dave's friend ascends Ramp Peak.]
[You can see my tracks slipping on the hard slab underneath the fresh layer of snow. Molar and Hector mountains in the background.]
Eventually I gave up, strapped the skis on my pack and kicked steps the rest of the way. The guys behind me did the same thing and it worked perfectly. The summit views were even better than on Ramp as there were a few less clouds (although the Wapta was under a pretty thick layer of clouds). I really think that in high snow years these peaks deserve far more attention than they currently get. With a fast approach, good tree skiing and open faces with endless untracked snow it's a skier's paradise, especially for the Alberta Rockies. As a bonus, you don't have to carry glacier gear either!
[Ahhh - much better kicking steps!]
[Hector and Little Hector.]
[Cataract Peak on the left, Ramp and Mosquito on the right.]
[Summit panorama looking west and north. ++]
[Summit panorma looking east and south. ++]
[Willingdon, Crown and Tower summits to the east. Willingdon looks the shortest but happens to be the only 11000er up to now. Apparently Crown may be added as the second 11,000er in the latest guide book...]
[Watermelon Peaks and the Pipestone Valley. Quartzite Col is somewhere to the left of center.]
[Hector, Andromache, Molar and Noseeum with Ian coming up in the foreground.]
[Raff is happy to be on yet another Rockies summit!]
[Dave and his buddy on Ramp Peak.]
[Mount Balfour is hidden in clouds across hwy 93 on the Wapta Ice field.]
[Vern on the summit.]
[Cataract Peak is the tall one.]
[Now THAT is a summit register! It sure smelled good!]
The descent was awesome. Not quite as good as Ramp, but close. The upper mountain was hard enough to make my light skis chatter a bit on the turns, but by the middle of the upper west face things were improving. We had an absolute BLAST skiing down all the way to the bottom of the treed slope to the campground - the crust held up great to just below the campground where the first isothermal snow patches started.
As long as we stuck to the old trail we were fine on the way out. The exit was quick with only a few close calls with Mosquito Creek, which was at least twice as open as 2 week previous when we did Ramp Peak. Again, a highly recommended ski outing for good snow years and stable avy conditions. I think I'll be back to this area, even just to ski the upper bowl / glades - it's that enjoyable.
[Raffs rips the descent.]
[Scouting the remainder of the descent. We tried to stay as high on skiers left as possible to avoid any unnecessary height gains without the skins on.]
[Too much fun!]
[We managed to get all the way over to Ramp's descent slopes.]
[The tricky avy slope was still a bit 'tricky' - still rock hard snow.]
[Old tracks in the snow.]
[Ian tries not to fall in the creek on the way back! The snow was quickly losing it's base in the valley bottom.]
[One last look back at the open creek skiing before plunging into the trees.]