On Sunday, April 21 2013 I joined Steven, Ben and Eric on a two peak day in which we snow shoed Big Bend Peak (BBP) and Mount Saskatchewan Junior (MSJ).
Our plans for this weekend were originally to have an easy day out on Sunday with an ascent of BBP followed by some relaxation at the Rampart Creek Hostel and then a huge one day ascent of Mount Wilson on Monday. The weather forecast for Sunday was a mix of sun and cloud with the weather on Monday looking perfect for an ascent of Wilson - notorious for white out conditions on the summit with any cloud cover.
We planned two nights at the hostel in order to give us an early start on Sunday morning. In a pretty funny twist I ended up at the Mosquito Creek Hostel and was shocked to discover it was closed until May 3! Not cool! I spent 5 minutes stewing about the situation in my truck before realizing that staying at Mosquito Creek made no sense and that it was Rampart Creek!
The hostel at Rampart Creek is a really good one. The manager is friendly and the facilities are really good for $25/night. We even had WIFI - not something we were counting on! The hostel was also completely empty, the benefits of going out in shoulder season. Sunday morning we woke up around 05:30 and by 06:30 we were tramping across the river near the Big Bend parking lot on a pretty thin little snow bridge - it won't last long!
We followed Nugara's instructions and some old tracks up the lower route until finally breaking into thinner trees on the shoulder of BBP. I have to say that this is not a peak I'd recommend for skis. The trees are tight and it's very steep in sections between the road and the shoulder. Maybe in fresh snow it wouldn't be as bad but then the severe avy terrain would probably turn you around anyway. Based on some experience with Andrew's snowshoe routes this year I can confidently say that they aren't great for skiing - they're winter scrambles / mountaineering on terrain that simply isn't the best suited for skiing. There's a reason these summits aren't in Chic's book.
[Leaving the parking lot before sunrise. BBP false summit is the obvious one - true summit is just visible behind it.]
[A beautiful morning - the snow bridge is almost gone at the crossing]
[The steep treed section with crusty snow. Not a nice ski area.]
[Our first views are into the Saskatchewan River valley of Mount Andromeda.]
[We finally start breaking out of the trees and look ahead to the steep snow slopes of the false summit.]
We'd heard of an ascent party turning back below the false summit of BBP the week previous due to avy concerns and not finding a safe route up. I can understand why. There are no safe routes to the summit of the false peak in winter. You must understand the snow pack and be able to assess for yourself if it's worth the risk. We had cool temperatures and a cloudy sky, but ascending sections of the south east slopes still felt a bit dicey to me. There was about 2cm of fresh snow on a punch slab which was sitting on pure sugar. Without the cold (-10ish) temps and cloud cover I would not have ascended BBP. I knew right away that the descent would be tricky later in the day but we did have cool temps forecast which was why we were here in the first place. The snow didn't show any signs of wanting to slide so we inched our way up to the false summit, enjoying fantastic views the higher we went.
(NOTE: A HUGE KUDOS to Ben and Steven. Those young guys have a lot of energy! They took turns breaking trail all weekend and did a fantastic job of it.)
[Looking down at our approach - note the Big Bend on the left.]
[I'm not sure how Eric does it but he's in a t-shirt in -10! He looks plenty happy to be here though...]
[Steep slopes to the false summit - care is needed to ensure they won't avalanche you far into the valley below.]
[More steepness - running out of snow so we have to be careful. Most slides are triggered around rocky points like this.]
Once at the false summit we could see the easier route to the main one. We knew at this point that we were going to be descending a safer route (if we could find one) so we spent some time checking the views off the false summit before continuing on.
[We ascended the false peak for views. This is looking back at Steven coming up to the false summit with the main summit of BBP in the background. As you can see, our views were improving. ++]
[Ben on the false summit of BBP. Our approach route from the Big Bend is lower right.]
[Pano from the false summit of BBP. ++]
[The boys traverse back to the col before we head up to the true summit.]
The ascent to the true summit of BBP went fairly easily. The views all around us were opening up dramatically and by the time we summitted the sun was shining and there was no wind. We enjoyed tremendous views in each direction with Mount Saskatchewan stealing the show.
[Tackling the summit slope.]
[Steven and Eric coming up the summit ridge on BBP.]
[Mount Columbia and Andromeda show up - our views are getting better all the time!]
[Ben nears the summit. ++]
[I love this shot of Nigel peeking through the clouds.]
[A summit pano looking back to the east includes unnamed peaks around the Big Bend and Cirrus Mountain on the right - just peaking through the cloud cover. ++]
[From left to right, Cirrus, Spine, Saskatchewan and North Towers. ++]
[A wider pano adding Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca and Nigel to the mix. ++]
[Clearing skies. Bryce, Castleguard, Columbia, Andromeda, Athabasca and Nigel. ++]
[One more pano looking west as the skies clear out a bit. Cirrus Mountain on the right. ++]
[Looking back at our ascent track. Cirrus Mountain looms on the left and Spine Peak on the right.]
[Mount "Totally Awesome View" and Bryce peaking over the clouds.]
[Bryce on the left and Castleguard on the right.]
[Vern on the summit of Big Bend Peak. Saskatchewan and North Towers in the background.]
[Now there's Bryce!]
[Castleguard looks awesome from almost any angle.]
[Mount Columbia! I have a date with her soon...]
[Cleopatra's Needle on the east side of Mount Saskatchewan.]
[Steven looks for a way off the west slopes of BBP. Mount Totally Awesome View rises above him with Bryce and Mount Saskatchewan Junior in the foreground.]
Another mountain stealing the show was immediately to our west - Mount Saskatchewan Junior. Since we wanted to avoid descending the steep south slopes of BBP we decided to try to descent west slopes and bag MSJ since we were "so close anyway". So much for an easier day out before tackling Mount Wilson! Oh well. Such is the habits of peak baggers... ;)
I highly recommend BBP either in winter (be very careful of avy danger) for spectacular winter scenery or a fall trip would be very nice too.