On a beautiful sunny, wintry May 1, 2011 I was joined by Raff and Mel on a ski trip through Sunshine Meadows to Citadel Pass and up Citadel peak. Our original plan (as per Raff) was to do a winter ascent of Fatigue Mountain but due to an unusually snowy winter we ended up on Citadel instead due to an extremely wind loaded west slope on Fatigue.
The morning started out well, with a ski up the ski-out at Sunshine Ski Resort. Raff was hoping to take the gondola up but both Mel and I considered that 'cheating' and we kind of wanted the workout of skinning up the ski-out due to a planned ski trip to Castleguard the following weekend (which is a brutally long day trip). Because we arrived at the parking lot at 07:00 we didn't have another option anyway, the lifts weren't running yet!
Once at the top of the strawberry ski lift, we had our first glimpse of Sunshine Meadows and our destination. It didn't look that far, but looks are deceiving in a world of white. And it was certainly a world of white. We couldn't believe how much snow was in the meadows and plastering the peaks all around. Fatigue looked very snowy and Mel right away stated that the west / south slopes looked dangerously wind-loaded. Raff and I weren't ready to admit 'defeat' yet so we began our trek to Citadel Pass. The snow was extremely supportive and this didn't change all day, even with a strong sun. The temps stayed cool (for May 1st!) so that helped. We couldn't help but notice that nothing had slid on any of the surrounding peaks as we skied through the meadows and this was starting to make us a bit concerned, especially with a warm sun baking the slopes.
[Our first glimpse of the Sunshine Meadows area with Fatigue and Citadel in the far distance left of center and Quartz Hill at right of center. ++]
The trail to Citadel Pass runs along the west (right) side of the meadows, close to Quartz Hill before making a turn for the pass. This is to avoid unnecessary height loss, but doesn't avoid all height loss. From just under Quartz Hill you lose quite a bit of elevation before gaining it all back to the pass. This section takes a lot longer than you'd think. We ended up swapping our skins on and off 3 or 4 times because of the rolling terrain. I think some kick wax would help tremendously here.
[Mel follows the skin track as I glance back at Sunshine and the Monarch at left.]
[Sunshine Meadows is a big, beautiful place!]
[Raf and Mel follow me up one of many 'dips' in the terrain around Sunshine Meadows.]
[Looking down down Howard Douglas Creek as we go through another dip (heading right of this photo). ++]
[Speaking of the devil - looking back at Mount Howard Douglas.]
[Howard Douglas Lake in the foreground with Fatigue, Golden and Nasswald at left and Citadel at center in the bg. ++]
[Pano from near Howard Douglas Lake towards Citadel Pass and Peak. ++]
[Looking back at our long approach - Quartz Hill at center, Howard Douglas at extreme right. ++]
[Mel heads up yet another small slope above Howard Douglas Lake.]
[Mel skis towards Citadel Pass - Fatigue above her on the left. ++]
[Citadel Pass views are incredible. Golden and Nasswald on upper left, Assiniboine just right of center with Simpson Ridge in front and Citadel out of sight to the right. We will trend to the right before turning sharply up the south ridge of Citadel. ++]
At the pass we determined that there was no way we were attempting Fatigue! The west slope was baking in the sun, sections had already slid and most of it was still plastered with wind loaded snow. Our attention turned to the other side of the pass - Citadel Peak. We knew that TJ and JW had ascended right from the pass but again, south / east facing snow gullies were loaded with fresh snow and already starting to sluff off the mountain so we weren't going to subject ourselves to them. We decided to descend from the pass, traverse around the south side of Citadel and attempt the summit on skis up the gentle south facing slopes - hopefully they would be gentle enough not to slide.
The theory worked well until the summit block where we were forced to take off our skis. My skins were balling up like crazy so I knew I'd need some ski wax on the way out. Skiing uphill with an extra 10lbs on each foot is hard work... ;-) A short cliff made this little peak as technical as Hector or White Pyramid but wasn't a huge problem to get up.
[Golden Mountain from near Citadel Pass.]
[Looking up gentle slopes on the south ridge of Citadel.]
[Fatigue on the left and Golden / Nasswald on the right as we start up the south ridge of Citadel.]
[The cliff band up ahead as we ski up the south ridge of Citadel - Fatigue to the right. ++]
[Almost at the end of our ski approach - just before the summit ridge / cliff band.]
[View from just under the cliff band looking SW at Simpson Ridge.]
[Mel breaks trail up the cliff band.]
Once on top of Citadel we had to traverse some snowy terrain over to the summit, trying hard to avoid steep west slopes and a massive cornice on the east. Mel heard a loud 'whump' on one section which sent us much closer to those west slopes, back from the cornice! It's probable that this 'whump' triggered the slides we noticed later on the east face when we descended back around the mountain.
[On to the summit! But we have to be careful for cornices and steep snow slopes. Raff ascends the final tricky slope just before topping out at the summit of Citadel Peak. The slope to our right has slid while we were ascending the south end of the mountain, we just don't realize it yet... ++]
The final section to the summit was probably not a great place to be on this particular day. Raff led the way and we smoked up it as fast as humanly possible, one at a time. Once on top of this short section we could see that about 30 meters below it there was a very fresh fracture line and avalanche that had obviously broken off while we were coming up the south end of the mountain, since we didn't see or hear anything earlier while traversing under the east face. This was sobering and we rushed to the summit and didn't linger long before cruising down this same section as quickly as possible.
[Views from the summit include (L to R), Howard Douglas, Unnamed, Fatigue, Golden, Nasswald. ++]
[Incredible views west and north include (L to R), Shanks, Verdant Creek Valley, The Monarch, Ball, Quartz Hill, Sunshine Meadows and Howard Douglas. ++]
[Golden Mountain in front of Nasswald. It's hard to believe but Rick Collier may have had a first ascent of Golden.]
[Incredible panorama view towards Mount Assiniboine includes (L to R), Nub, Naiset Point, Terrapin, Magog, Assiniboine, Sturdee, Wedgewood, Strom, The Marshall and Simpson Ridge. ++]
[Telephoto of the Assiniboine region includes (L to R), Towers, Nub, Naiset, Terrapin, Magog, Eon, Assiniboine and Sturdee.]
The ski down the south ridge was great - heavy corn skiing with some tricky crusts through the trees. The slog back to the car was uneventful but long. A great day out in great weather with great company!
[Descending the south ridge with mind blowing views towards Mount Assiniboine. Familiar peaks at left include Cave and Wonder peaks. ++]
[Raf descends to the small cliff on the south ridge.]
[The terrain here is huge! Simpson Ridge in the fg at right is impressive from this angle. ++]
[Raf descends the short, tricky cliff band back to our skis.]
[The best backcountry skiing we got all day was down the south ridge of Citadel.]
[Looking ahead to a long slog back! Fatigue at right.]
[Looking back at our skin track and route to the south ridge of Citadel.]
[The east face of Citadel. The summer route goes straight up this face through the upper cliff bands (easy scrambling). Note the recent avalanches that we kicked off from the summit ridge! ++]
[Skiing past a very buried trail sign!]
[Impressive views of Quartz Hill (R) with the Monarch beyond.]
[Panorama of Sunshine Meadows. ++]
[Looking back at a major dip in the route.]
[Mel tops out of yet another dip.]
[Mount Howard Douglas with Brewster Rock at left.]
[Kite skiing would make Citadel or Fatigue much easier! Watching this guy float over the snowy meadow in late afternoon sunshine was surreal. I was jealous.]
[One more glance back at the Sunshine Meadow area before dropping down the Sunshine ski resort - which is devoid of skiers at this late evening hour.]