On Saturday, February 15 2014, Steven Song and I completed one of very few ski ascents of "Spoon Needle" in Kananaskis Country, east of the Fortress Ski resort. There was many years when this lowly, but striking, peak saw only 1 ascent per season, but thanks to the internet and both it's easy nature and prominent appearance from Hwy 40, the peak is gaining in popularity. Alas, since most people choose it as an off season objective, there are almost as many routes as there are ascents.
Back in September, 2004, Sonny Bou managed to drive to the old Fortress Ski Resort and only took 4.5 hours to scramble the entire peak. In 2013, Golden Scrambles managed a 10 hour snowshoe slog from the Galatea trail! So Nakagawa approached from the north as well, but ended up not making the true summit. Scott Berry probably did the most sensible thing considering the approach road to Fortress is closed, approaching from the campground and basically going straight up the north ridge and traversing some 5th class terrain to the true south summit. Marko Stavric show shoed the entire approach up the Fortress Ski Resort road, but this sounded rather boring so Steven and I decided it was time someone skied the approach.
We met at 08:30 at the gate blocking the bridge over the Kananaskis River. This bridge has been decommissioned a few times already, but it's obviously now safe to drive over because there is guided snow-cat skiing at the resort now, and apparently even a movie was being scouted up there. We spoke briefly to a guide who was gathering clients into a van for a day of cat skiing. He cautioned against the newly formed soft-slabs and we assured him we were going up pretty tame terrain. He let us in the main gate and we watched as the van drove up the road ahead of us. I was initially worried that the road would be full of gravel, making the skiing rather horrible, but instead it was nicely packed and icy from the vehicles - with no sanding at all. This was perfect for our trip back at the end of the day.
[The parking area at the bridge was busy. Obviously the bridge is now approved for traffic so it's only a matter of time before the resort area opens again.]
[You can spot the cut line up ahead (R) that we took.]
The road was boring but we managed a good pace and some good conversation before peeling off around the 9.5km marker (6.5km up the road). We took a steeper cutline up to a high point before the resort and then dropped into the rolling terrain between the resort and the south ridge of Spoon Needle - following Marko's GPS track.
There was more gain/loss in the terrain between the Fortress Ridge and Spoon Needle that we were expecting. Maybe it's better to go right to the resort, but we lost a lot more than the rumored 100 meters (see my total elevation gain for the peak - based on my trusty Suunto altimeter watch). The snow pack was surprisingly stable with about 4-6 inches of fresh snow on top. Thank goodness, because without it we would have been pretty exhausted.
[Pretty cool terrain on the traverse from Fortress Ridge to Spoon Needle - but lots of elevation changes.]
[One of the main reasons to do this scramble is the view of The Fortress - stunning!]
[This sums up the worst part of the traverse - tight trees with fresh snow on them.]
Eventually we worked our way up the south ridge - keeping the skis on as long as possible due to very deep snow drifts on the ridge. Once we reached the wind-blown rocks on the ridge-proper, we ditched the skis and continued up on foot. The ridge is much tamer than it appears but I still rated it 3rd class thanks to two no-slip zones, where a fall would certainly kill you. With some snow and ice on them, these rocks got our full attention.
[Steven gains the south ridge, hwy 40 is far below us at this point. Our journey started beneath the south ridge of Opal - far in the distance.]
[Spoon Needle on the L, Limestone and The Wedge on the R. ++]
[The skis are off as we climb the ridge.]
[Steven comes up the south ridge of Spoon Needle with our approach on the right and hwy 40 on the left. ++]
[On the ridge.]
[As you can see - there's some exposure in places - this is looking north to Kananaskis Village. ++]
[Looking along all of Opal Ridge, from North to South. We skied the whole way from the south to north and even further to reach our little summit.]
[The Wedge (L) and Fisher Peak (C).]
[Looking north to the other summit with Mount Kidd South and North rising in the background.]
[A dramatic shot of Fortress (L), Gusty (C) and Galatea (R).]
[Vern on the summit.]
[Looking through the gap - between Lorette and Baldy.]
[The register is relatively sparse for such a prominent and easy summit.]
[Great views to the west looking over Fortress Ridge. ++]
[Pano to the north up hwy 40. ++]
[Going back - looking south. ++]
The summit view is stunning for such a diminutive peak, making the effort required to attain it worth it. The trip down was quick, thanks to our broken trail, but there was lots of elevation gain too. The road back to our cars was fast, taking less than 20 minutes including breaks. Our round trip time was pretty steady moving - 8-9 hours would not be out of line if there was more fresh snow or a less supportive snow pack.
[Careful down climbing.]
[We had to be extra careful thanks to the snow and ice.]
[The resort is small compared to the bulk of The Fortress.]
[A gorgeous day - we prepare to head back uphill on the retreat.]
[This is why skis beat 'shoes... :)]
I think the ski resort is also opening soon - it might be worth waiting for that, and doing what Sonny did. Although the skiing was fun, it would probably be more fun at the resort... ;) There is also a shortcut route that ascends east slopes across the Kananaskis River - the only catch being crossing the river, which can fluctuate a lot over one day, thanks to being dam-controlled upstream.