I did something on Saturday, May 16th that I've never done before. I bagged a peak on skis on the May long weekend! Wietse and I had already made two half-hearted attempts at Snow Peak near Burstall Pass in Kananaskis Country over the winter of 2009. Finally on May 16th we decided that we'd had enough of this 'easy' peak and ended up summiting in perfect conditions in around 7 hours, round trip.
[The wide approach trail is still well covered in snow this late in the season.]
[Gorgeous and very wintry views as we cross the Burstall Lake flats before gaining some serious height to Burstall Pass which is out of sight on the right. This is a view of Sir Douglas (L) and Whistling Rock.]
[Very impressive views up the Robertson Glacier towards Robertson (L) and Sir Douglas (R).]
[One more view looking up the Robertson Glacier from the Burstall flats.]
[After a steep grunt through forest, we popped out at the upper Burstall Meadows. Snow Peak on the upper right here.]
We were very surprised that we were the only 2 people to make the pass on this perfect spring day and we even broke trail from the FHR traverse cutoff point. In the AM we were on hard snow on the flats and about 2-4" of fresh snow in the trees. There were massive cornices hanging off the easterly side of the peaks in the Burstall Pass area, we expected some of them to collapse during the heat of the day but most of them held on stubbornly. There were some wet slides throughout the day on South and East aspects.
[Ascending a draw towards Burstall Pass, looking back at Snow Peak (L) and Mount Birdwood (R).]
[The views from the Burstall Pass area never disappoint! Snow Peak at left, Birdwood at center, Wietse at right. ++]
[We've turned climber's right and are now gaining final slope to Burstall Pass. This is looking back our ascent slope to the SE - Mount Sir Douglas at right and Whistling Rock at center.]
[Sir Douglas steals the show every time I visit this area!]
[Above the pass now, looking back at Sir Douglas and Burstall Pass Peak on the right.]
[Wietse starts up steeper snow slopes on Snow Peak.]
[This is big terrain - you really need stability to be on it with this much snow!]
There is no rocket science involved in this peak but you do need some energy reserves and some decent snow conditions as there is significant avalanche terrain, especially as you get high on the mountain. We ended up probing with an avi probe near the summit because we weren't sure where the summit stopped and a massive cornice began! Once the probe stopped hitting ground we decided that we were close enough to call it an official summit success.
There were some very steep rolls on the upper mountain that approached being vertical. With any more freezing we would not have gotten up these without crampons so I would suggest bringing those if you do this peak in the winter.
[Incredible views back down our ascent route.]
[Looking west over Lemon Lake (R) and Mount Lemon and Leval to the left and right of it respectively. Other peaks include King Albert and even the Royal Group at far left. ++]
[The striking form of Talon with Soderholm to the left.]
[We ditch the skis and start boot packing the steep slope.]
[An incredible panorama from near the summit with Sir Douglas at center and the Royal Group to its right. ++]
[We started getting nervous here, and probed for cornice edges and unstable snow. Thankfully we didn't find either. ;)]
[Summit panorama - Lemon Lake at right of center. ++]
[Incredible shot of Talon with Soderholm to the left and White Man to the right.]
[Looking over tiny Burstall Pass Peak at French, Robertson, Whistling Rock, Sir Douglas, King George, Back and Prince Albert (L to R). ++]
[The Royal Group includes Prince Albert, Kind George an Prince Henry (L to R).]
[Sir Douglas is a beast! Both glacier routes are visible here, the North Glacier on the left and West Glacier to its right. I ascended the West Glacier before heading up the right skyline ridge to the airy summit.]
[Great shot over South Burstall Pass to Whistling Rock Ridge (L) and Sir Douglas.]
[A wider shot on descent, showing CEGFNS and Murray at center, just left of French.]
[Looking east to the Chester Lake area includes Gusty, Fortress, Chester and James Walker (L to R).]
[Telephoto of CEGFNS (L) and Murray (R).]
The run back down the mountain was superb, excellent snow stability with about 6 inches of corn snow on a hard base. After whooping down from Burstall Pass I actually went back up to the pass for another quick run down while Wietse grabbed a quick nap in the (very) warm sunshine.
[Wietse skis down behind me.]
[The corn snow was fun to ski.]
We were fully expecting the ski back out to the parking lot to be isothermal hell but it wasn't. We were on someone else's tracks (they followed us in but not even to the pass for some reason - they missed the nicest part of the trip by about 15 minutes!) and since this is such a popular destination in the winter even the creek bed was packed enough to support us all the way back to the flats. The snow was just sticky enough that we didn't slide on the slight uphill sections to the parking lot but still fast enough that we made pretty decent time.
[Surprisingly good snow conditions despite being mid-May and warm on the Burstall Lake flats.]
[Looking back at the flats with Snow Peak rising to the right.]
I highly recommend this trip as a winter destination for experienced parties. There is an option to ski off Snow Peak and short cut the pass on the way back down, but you really need to be sure of snow stability to do this option, as you'll be skiing right down a huge avalanche gully that slides all the time.