February 1, 2014
Heather Ridge is a smaller summit in Skoki’s core area that’s missed (or ignored) in Alan Kane’s scramble book. However, after finishing the ascent, I should say it’s certainly worth a visit. All other nearby summits except for Fossil Mountain and Unity Peak are more or less only doable in dry condition, so a winter visit to Heather Ridge would give a totally different experience and views. The gentle slope on its west side grants a safe way up even when avalanche hazard is high. After a dozen changes of plan, Mike and I eventually decided to join Vern and Wietse for a ski ascent of Heather Ridge. And after throwing out the plan, our group grew rapidly to 9 people in total (Andrea, Raff, Sonny, Brandon, Spencer, Vern, Wietse, Mike and myself). With a ridiculous temperature of -28 degrees outside, we all met at the trail-head by 8:50 am. This was my first time meeting Sonny, Brandon and Spencer.
I must love Skoki so much that this was my 7th visit within 2 years, but first time on skis. With Wietse leading at a peak-bagger’s racing pace, we were cruising up the approach in no time. Despite the frosty air I was down to just T-shirt by the time we reached Temple Lodge. The next section up towards Boulder Pass was as long but not as steep. I was sweating like hell and eventually I gave up the race. Raff caught me up from behind and we regrouped at near Halfway Hut. We took a short break allowing the snowshoeers behind to catch up, but it was too cold to stand still so we started moving again, at a slower pace though.
Up and over Boulder Pass, we were welcomed by incredible scenery. Last time I was here in winter was Fossil Mountain trip, but the weather was way worse than this day’s. Down to Ptarmigan Lake, we followed the ski tracks for a short while before deviating more to the right side. We left Ptarmigan Lake at about halfway across, and then we aimed at the broad area between Reboubt Lake and the NW ridge of Heather Ridge. There was a big scree ramp in front of us but based on the photo I took from Unity Peak, we knew that wasn’t the way up so we kept contouring. Now we had multiple choices. We could ditch the skis and start bootpacking up one of the many dry lines, but we decided to keep skinning up and see how far we could go. Good call! We managed to find a snow gully just to the climber’s right of that big scree ramp and managed to follow it all the way to summit ridge. There were a couple tricky spots with lots of rocks but manageable. I found the best scenery came at near the summit ridge. There were many quartz rock pinnacles and they looked impressive in winter. We skin’d all the way to false summit.
The true summit appeared to be far away with lots of elevation loss, but it wasn’t the case. It was a straightforward traverse to the highest point. The wind was brutal but thankfully the rocks on the summit provided sheltered areas for us. Brandon and Spencer showed up shortly after and we managed to get a group photo. Nobody had seen Sonny since Boulder Pass, so we though he’s turned around so we started the descent soon.
The ski down that snow gully was easier than I thought. We managed to stay skier’s right to avoid most of the rocks. There were a few steep and icy slopes but nothing side-slipping can’t manage. Lower down we decided to ski down a big gully that we spotted earlier. Across Ptarmigan Lake and then up Boulder Pass which was the last major uphill for this trip. We also ran into Sim Galloway’s group at near Temple Lodge. It’s good to run into those Rocky Mountain peak bagger legends. At the mean time Sonny finally showed up. Apparently he’d turned around and he just came out of Temple Lodge. The return was fast and furious and we got back to the parking lot in no time.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. A moderately long day out in excellent weather with great company. I’d highly recommend Heather Ridge as a ski ascent. I’d snowshoe’d Skoki’s approach 3 times before, and this return was so fast on skis and it impressed me a lot. I’m looking forward to more ski trips like this.