December 22, 2011
Banff – Sunshine Village, AB/BC
On the second day of my solo Christmas peak-bagging adventure, I decided to do a real snowshoe objective. Thank to the accessibility, the scenery and the relatively low hazard associated, Twin Cairns is one of the must-do objectives for skiers and snowshoeers. I had no idea how fast I could walk on the snowshoes considering the fact this’d be my first ever time strapping ’em on, so I decided to take a gondola ride to Sunshine Village, to save the 6.5 km boring hike with 500 m elevation gain. Sunshine Village is one of the most frequently visited ski paradises in Canada, and probably, in the world. Indeed, I saw hundreds of skiers on that day, but few of them ventured into backcountry.
To get to Twin Cairns, I had to snowshoe up directly beneath Wawa Chair Lift, and then cross the backcountry border. After venturing into backcountry, the snow hadn’t been touched by others, and things became bad. As in December, the early season of skiing and snowshoeing, the snow was very unsupportive. I had to give my snowshoes an extension of 5’, but even with the “tails”, I still sank in a lot which was much different than what I was expecting from the idea of “snowshoeing”. I thought I’d be floating on the surface but apparently not….
Instead of following the route described in Chic Scott’s Summits and Icefields, I chose to directly aim the northwest skyline ridge, then directly ascend the true summit. There was avalanche danger on one section. The book’s route is safer but longer. After gaining the final ridge, the wind became considerably stronger.
Once on the ridge it was a mix of snowshoeing and scrambling. I scrambled up to a small outlier first, which involved a moderate step. The traverse to true summit was more serious, since I had to cross a steep snow slope, followed by a narrow ridge with drop-off on one side and steep snow slope on the other side. It’s not too bad though, but since I wasn’t that experienced at that time, I felt a bit nervous. Approaching from south ridge (the normal route) will not give these problems. On the summit, I got a full panorama view towards each direction. Mt. Assniboine was do doubt the majectic one, so was Mt. Ball and The Monarch. To the south, Mount Bourgeau dominated the view.
Since it’s still pretty early, the day continued with an ascent of Wawa Ridge.