Heather Ridge

February 1, 2014

2640m

Skoki / Banff National Park, AB

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.

Heather Ridge ski ascent route

Heather Ridge ski ascent route

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.

Alpenglow on Haddo and Aberdeen

Alpenglow on Haddo and Aberdeen

Alpenglow on Victoria

Alpenglow on Victoria

Looking back at Mt. Temple

Looking back at Mt. Temple

Boulder Pass ahead

Boulder Pass ahead

Redoubt Mountain

Redoubt Mountain

Raff is catching me up

Raff is catching me up

Skinning up towards Boulder Pass, with Ptarmigan Peak behind

Skinning up towards Boulder Pass, with Ptarmigan Peak behind

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.

Mike at Boulder Pass, with Fossil Mountain behind

Mike at Boulder Pass, with Fossil Mountain behind

Skiing across Ptarmigan Lake. Mt. St. Bride in the background.

Skiing across Ptarmigan Lake. Mt. St. Bride in the background.

Looking back from Ptarmigan Lake

Looking back from Ptarmigan Lake

Easy slopes.

Easy slopes.

Vern and Andrea skinning up a steeper roll

Vern and Andrea skinning up a steeper roll

Merging into the upper snow gully

Merging into the upper snow gully

Skinning up!

Skinning up!

Higher up, we managed to stay on snow avoiding the rocks.

Higher up, we managed to stay on snow avoiding the rocks.

Raff with Ptarmigan Peak behind

Raff with Ptarmigan Peak behind

Crossing a plateau before the summit ridge

Crossing a plateau before the summit ridge

One of the many pinnacles. Any volunteers?

One of the many rock pinnacles. Any volunteers?

Same as above, a zoomed-out view

Same as above, a zoomed-out view

Another pinnacle

Another pinnacle

Skiing on the plateau

Skiing on the plateau

One more photo of this pinnacle

One more photo of this pinnacle

Probably my favourite photo from this trip.

Probably my favourite photo from this trip.

Raff approaching the false summit

Raff approaching the false summit

Wietse on the false summit

Wietse on the false summit

The Ten Peaks and Mt. Temple from false summit

The Ten Peaks and Mt. Temple from false summit

The impressive Redoubt Mountain

The impressive Redoubt Mountain

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.

Leaving the false summit

Leaving the false summit

True summit ahead

True summit ahead

Summit Panorama. Click to view large size.

Summit Panorama. Click to view large size.

Fossil Mountain and Baker Lake (frozen)

Fossil Mountain and Baker Lake (frozen)

Douglas, St. Bride and Lychnis from the summit

Douglas, St. Bride and Lychnis from the summit

Mt. Richardson, an easy scramble

Mt. Richardson, an easy scramble

Cyclone Mountain. Looks doable even in winter..

Cyclone Mountain. Looks doable even in winter..

Willingdon, Crown, South Tower and Harris in the distance

Willingdon, Crown, South Tower and Harris in the distance

Lychnis Mountain

Lychnis Mountain

Mount St. Bride

Mount St. Bride

Mount Douglas

Mount Douglas

Mt. Avens and Pulsatilla Mountain

Mt. Avens and Pulsatilla Mountain

Bulwark Peak at center

Bulwark Peak at center

Television Peak on the Castle/Protection massive

Television Peak on the Castle/Protection massive

Me on the summit

Me on the summit

Brandon and Spencer approaching the summit

Brandon and Spencer approaching the summit

Group shot. From L to R: Vern, Spencer, Mike, me, Wietse, Andrea, Raff and Brandon. Photo by Vern Dewit

From L to R: Vern, Spencer, Mike, me, Wietse, Andrea, Raff and Brandon. Photo by Vern Dewit

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.

Vern skiing down the upper gully

Vern skiing down the upper gully

Awesome skiing in the lower gully

Awesome skiing in the lower gully

Down to Ptarmigan Lake now.

Down to Ptarmigan Lake now.

Looking back. Part of Heather Ridge is visible.

Looking back. Part of Heather Ridge is visible.

Fossil Mountain

Fossil Mountain

Looking back from Boulder Pass

Looking back from Boulder Pass

One last view of Douglas and St. Bride

One last view of Douglas and St. Bride

Ready for the fast return!

Ready for the fast return!

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.

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