December 30, 2014
Banff – Mt. Shark to Assiniboine, AB
Mount Turner is a prominent peak en route from Mt. Shark to Assiniboine via Bryant Creek, but doesn’t seem to draw much attention from the scrambling community. My first time having a real impression with this peak was on Mt. Fortune two years ago. Ever since that I’ve done some research and found that in fact, a few of my friends had ascended it in winter on skis. Speaking the route they took, it’s merely a Class 1 scramble via the long NW ridge, but does involve a very long approach (35 km round trip distance with 1700 m cumulative elevation gain).
A brief high pressure system arrived towards the end of 2014 and Grant and I were gaming for a day-trip. To take full advantage of the blue sky my suggestion was to pick the most (physically) difficult objective we could succeed… Obviously I knew Mt. Turner’s going to be a long day but I never actually looked at the statistics. To make a comparison the distance and elevation gain is similar to Castleguard Mountain, and planning something like that as a day-trip in December on snowshoes is surely aggressive…
And we didn’t manage to start our day early. We did wake up at 4 am in Calgary but it took us forever to get ready in the morning. By the time we started the trek it was already 8 am and we didn’t even need to use head-lamps. (That’s still okay as we just had to descend in the dark then). It was also super cold. The forecasted temperature was about -28 degrees but I was sure it’s colder than that. My camera failed instantaneously and I couldn’t turn it on in the first 2 hours or so… That really reminded me Balfour and Ghita…
I’ve done the Bryant Creek winter approach almost exactly one year ago, and I knew exactly what to expect. For Mt. Turner we’d follow this popular cross-country ski trail for 12.1 km to Owl Lake junction. This is one of the most boring trail I’ve ever done with minimal views nor net elevation gain, but lots of up-and-downs. That was alright in the morning but we knew those elevation re-gain would be very tedious towards the end of this trip.. On the positive side there were many skiers setting up the tracks so we didn’t have to break trail, and this initial 12 km approach took us 2 hours 40 minutes.
Unfortunately the Owl Lake trail wasn’t tracked so we had to start post-holing from there. We rarely have to sink passing our knees fortunately, but that’s not due to a consolidated snowpack, but rather the fact we didn’t have much snow at all… The average snow depth at lower elevation was about a foot, and that’s it… At sections the snowpack wasn’t deep enough to cover the grass. The trail led us down (yes, down) to a good bridge crossing Bryant Creek, but soon after that we started losing the trail. That wasn’t problematic as we were already pretty close to the base of Mt. Turner’s long NW Ridge. Aiming towards the ridge we started bushwhacking with tedious trail-breaking. Ascending to treeline was a long haul – much longer than what’s suggested by the map. Good thing was the temperature finally rose up a bit and near the treeline we were finally treated with sunshine and some nice views.
Up and over the first highpoint on this long ridge we finally saw the distant summit block. It didn’t appear to be far away but we knew the view was foreshortening. According to my GPS we still had to gain 500 m height… The next horizontal kilometer along the ridge was on undulating terrain with again, elevation loss and regain (that’s the theme of this route). But thankfully post-holing was finally over. Seeing the entire ridgeline being wind blown we ditched snowshoes and proceeded on foot.
I ditched my backpack at just below the final summit block – 300 m elevation gain on steep rubble slope mixed with snow. At this point there was a layer of high clouds rolling in on a rapid pace and we lost blue sky in no time. That was a bit disappointing but we’d already got most of the views. Our summit stay was short due to the fact it was getting late. We’d only have about 2 hours daylight time left..
The descent went by quickly and in short time we were back down the summit block. We utilized snow for as much as we could to save our knees. Snowshoeing down through the trees was fast but by this point I was getting really tired. I was overall not on my best physical condition and I knew the rest of this long return would have been miserable. And it was… We managed to get back to the main Bryant Creek cross-country ski trail just before it’s too dark to see. Head-lamps on, we still had 3.5 hours of “zombie walk” to go. Towards the end Grant went ahead to warm up the car, as I could no longer move as quickly as in the morning.
Our round trip time was 13 hours and this was surely an exhausting day out. 35 km on snowshoes that’s a wee bit too much for a day-trip especially for this time of a year. Wearing full-rigid mountaineering boots was also a poor choice, and I have to say these boots do not fit the best with snowshoes.. I really enjoy snowshoeing downhill on soft snow, but not so much if wearing rigid boots. For those of you interested in Mt. Turner, you can spend a night (or even two nights) in Bryant Creek Shelter to make your trip easier.
It was almost midnight when we got back to Calgary. That was too late and I was too exhausted to drive back home. Thank Grant again for offering me another stay in his house. I slept in the next morning till 9 am. The weather was inspiring to make another ascent, but too bad I no longer had enough energy, so drove home. A great finish of an awesome year!