When JW and TJ invited me on a weekend ski trip either up White Pyramid or Cathedral Mountain I was more than ready to join them. We decided on May 1 2009 for a White Pyramid ascent. I didn't know a lot about this mountain, but I did know that it was a lot of height gain since it's next door neighbor, Mount Chephren has been on my "to do" list for while, and it's almost 2km vertical gain and not much higher!
We started bright (OK, not so bright) and early, leaving the west end of Calgary at 0:400. The drive was a bit slippery but other than one near death experience while going over a bridge (!) we didn't have any issues. About 5km past "the lake" we spotted a large pull out off the highway. Since the book doesn't mention a pull out we knew we were technically not in the right spot but foolishly decided to go anyway. In my experience this kind of thinking rarely pays off and it didn't really pay off for us either.
We knew, based on a trip report from a colleague from the day before, that there was one snow bridge still spanning the Mistaya River and that this snow bridge would not be lasting much longer. We probably should have spent more time trying to find the tracks from this group because we ended up having to push over a tree and very gingerly cross a very open and un-bridged river! This wasted about 30 minutes right off the bat. Another problem was that we ended up gaining about 75-100 vertical meters of ridge before heading back down to Epaulette Lake. Oh well. We needed the exercise anyway... ;-)
[White Pyramid and Chephren on the left, Epaulette at center and the (very open!) Mistaya River blocking our path at this point.]
[Skiing up the Mistaya River trying to find the mythical 'snow bridge' that was actually behind us at this point. :) We ended up on the ridge in front of JW here and had to lose height back down to Epaulette Lake.]
[Note TJ in the bright jacket trying to find a place to cross the Mistaya River - this was pretty much the crux of our day.]
[Finally we find a spot narrow / shallow enough to cross.]
[We used an old log to assist our crossing.]
[Already in sleeveless shirt! JW does some unnecessary exercise up (and then down) a ridge near Epaulette Lake.]
[Finally back on the right track just before Epaulette Lake.]
After Epaulette Lake we were on the tracks from Al's group the day before and an ACC group from a couple of week previous. This helped immensely as we didn't really have to route find and could concentrate on simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Alpine ski touring is an interesting pastime. It's a lot of work. The equipment is quite heavy (compared to just having boots on your feet) and the terrain is generally steep and unrelenting, especially if you're on a day trip and not simply crossing an icefield. Usually you also end up walking in your ski boots in order to actually attain the summit. (Ski boots are not the most comfortable walking boots ever made.) But it's usually also worth it and today was no different.
[Approaching Epaulette Lake with our ascent route rising steeply right of center and White Pyramid towering many hundreds of meters above us on the left.]
[Looking back at JW as we quickly gain height on moraines past the end of the lake. Murchison in the bg.]
[JW follows TJ and I up the old moraines.]
We gained height very quickly after getting to the back of the valley and butting up against the north end of White Pyramid and turning climber's right up the access moraine to the high col underneath the towering walls of the traverse to Epaulette Mountain.
Further up the access valley we could see where Al's party turned climber's left and gained the ridge high above, snaking through boulders and scree to get there. Al had given us the suggestion to go right to the end of the valley instead of following their ascent tracks, so we followed their descent tracks further up towards the end of the valley rather than try to gain the ridge early. This was great advice and I would suggest that if snow conditions are stable enough you should do the same.
[Looking back at our ascent route and Epaulette Lake as we turn slowly climber's left between Epaulette and White Pyramid.]
[Higher up the snow is more sparse too far climber's left - Mount Cline is now visible in the distance.]
[Looking to the Epaulette / White Pyramid col and TJ following a very steep skin track.]
[Avalanches were pouring down Epaulette's east face all day in the warm, intense spring sun.]
[The terrain here is much steeper than it appears as we near the col.]
Eventually the skiing became so steep that we could hardly make the switchback turns! We had to lift our skis so high while turning that we were in danger of losing our balance each turn! TJ called out that he was going to go the rest of the way on foot and we peeled off the boards and headed up a very steep snow slope to gain the ridge above. About 75 vertical meters higher and we popped out on the ridge to some fabulous views of Howse Peak and the Blaeberry River valley. We decided to head up about another 30 vertical meters before roping up for the rest of the ridge - there are crevasses near the summit.
[After abandoning the skis, we boot packed up to the ridge before roping up.]
[Looking way down our ascent route - we're not even close to the summit yet! Epaulette at L and Cline at R.]
As we stopped for a quick break and to harness up we looked around at the wonderful world around us. There wasn't a breath of wind on the ridge and the sun was shining brightly and glistening off the world of white beneath our feet. We didn't do much talking but rather sucked in the incredible views and enjoyed the moment of peace. Thanks to our altimeter watches we knew that we still had 600 vertical meters to go and it wasn't going to be easy. We should have tracks to follow part of the way but since Al's party skied part of the ridge we knew we wouldn't be following tracks the entire way and we didn't.
[A spectacular coffee break on the west ridge of White Pyramid before we rope up and head for the apex. Howse Peak on the left. ++]
JW did a great job of leading up the soft slopes to the false summit. We looked for solid snow, solid rock or anything 'solid' but only ended up on soft, steep slopes of knee deep snow. We gained the summit of the bump by negotiating a narrow, steep gully that broke through a small cliff band. This was probably the only terrain that felt like it had the potential to slide on this warm spring day. The cliffs beneath Epaulette Mountain were thundering in the background from already early in the morning, dumping their winter coats noisily on the slopes beneath.
[TJ comes up the rope behind me.]
[Still a long way from the summit.]
[Looking south at Howse Peak.]
[JW breaks trail through a small cliff band on the ridge.]
What a spectacular day! There continued to be no wind whatsoever, and the views just improved as we got higher. Eventually JW turned over the lead to me and I slowed the group down considerably until we finally arrived at the summit of White Pyramid. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment on reaching the summit of this mountain - even more than Mount Hector a couple of weeks before. White Pyramid feels like a much bigger excursion than Hector and even though Hector has one of the best ski descents in the Rockies, White Pyramid isn't far behind! For us, given our snow conditions it was actually better.
[The steep roll on the ridge before the final slog to the top.]
[Ascending a steep section of the ridge.]
[JW on the summit, looking over to Mount Chephren.]
[Howse Peak to the south.]
[Pointing out other destinations in the area.]
[Great summit panorama looking south and west. Howse at left, Forbes just right of center. ++]
[Looking across to Chephren and down hwy 93 with Howse at right. ++]
[The massive bulk of Mount Murchison on the fg right with Cline in the bg.]
[The whole Murchison Massif is quite big and includes many towers and sub summits. Bison Peak is hidden in front of it here.]
[Looking across #93 to Mount Noyes.]
[Looking south down hwy 93 towards Hector and very distant Wapta peaks.]
[A zoomed version of the previous photo more clearly showing Patterson in the fg and Hector beyond to the left.]
[Mount Columbia, King Edward, South and North Twin show up over the ridge that connects Amery with Monchy and Hooge which Eric and I made second ascents of in 2012.]
[From L to R, the five Lyell Peaks (behind Mons Peak) include, Christian, Walter, Ernest, Edward and Rudolph.]
[Mount Forbes is the highest peak in Banff National Park.]
[Mount Mummery and Mummery Icefield.]
[Mount Temple in the far distance with some Wapta peaks recognizable in front, including Thompson, Peyto, Olive, Rhondda and Habel.]
[Some parties have traversed between White Pyramid and Chephren but that route looks a bit scary today...]
After 30 minutes or so on the summit in perfect spring conditions (slight breeze with clear blue skies and views to infinity) it was time to reluctantly head down. We made short work of the decent and soon were back at the skis. The ski down was nuts. I mean, I've caught good ski conditions before but this was the most fun I've had in a while on the planks. The snow was about ankle deep and in great condition, no slabby stuff at all. The sun was warm on our backs as we whooped and hollered our way down - at times like this you definitely don't want the day to end. Swooping down the rolling terrain we felt young and free - a great feeling that brings a smile to my face as I remember it.
[Following our tracks down the west ridge.]
[Re-ascending the steep snow drift on return.]
[Like I said - it's fairly steep!]
[Large snow slopes on the west ridge as we drop back to the Epaulette col.]
[Mount Cline looks very impressive from this angle!]
[Some exposure to the col.]
[Down climbing steep snow to our skis below the col.]
[Looking up at our tracks from near the col.]
[More tracks down from the col.]
[TJ and JW ski down below me.]
[Having a blast skiing down the moraine towards Epaulette Lake.]
[TJ coasts towards the flats at the head of the lake.]
[TJ skis down the final moraine with Chephren looming a vertical mile above him.]
[Almost done the fun part already.]
All too soon we were down the fun part and back at Epaulette Lake. The rest of the trip out was uneventful. The creek was just like Hector with dead fall and tricky sections. We managed to avoid isothermal snow and the track was firm enough to hold us all the way out to the Mistaya River where we followed Al's tracks to the snow bridge over the river. After crossing the river we strapped out skis to our packs and bush whacked a short distance to the icefields parkway.
[Looking back from Epaulette Lake - our tracks just barely visible down the steep moraines in the distance.]
[Skiing back along the Mistaya River - a very warm spring day.]
[Time to bushwhack to the highway!]
A short 0.5km walk brought us back to our car where we surprised a couple from the Netherlands catching some afternoon rays. When we told them where we had just gone I don't think they totally believed us. The fact that JW was walking barefoot down the middle of the parkway with his skis on his back didn't help our credibility too much! ;-) What a great day out. It's gonna be hard to beat this one this year but I'll do my best to try.
[JW makes a sight as he hikes back on hwy 93 to the car. What an idiot. :)]