Unity Peak

December 13, 2012

2641m

Skoki / Banff National Park, AB

This was the 3rd day of my December exam period peak-bagging trip. I was glad to have a partner on Thursday, which almost never happened before, even in summer months. Ben and I had an awesome trip traversing Heart Mountain to Twin Towers earlier in this month, and we were hoping for the Pumpkin Traverse this time. I have done both Lipalian Mountain and Purple Peak back in May, so I suggested to do Unity Peak first (to give myself an excuse to omit the other two at the end of the day)… Unity Peak is the most difficult one among the three.

Unity Peak ascent via direct route

Unity Peak ascent via direct route

We met at Skoki parking lot (Fish Creek) by 7:30 am, and quickly made our way up the Temple Lodge road. It was a bit cold and we kept moving fast. Despite the compacted snow, it was much easier to have snowshoes on right from the start. Remember that going uphill is always faster on snowshoes as the crampons give much traction than boots. A few snowmobiles passed us along the way and in less than 1 hour, we made to the Larch Chairlift.

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Mount Temple

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Redoubt Mountain

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Lake Louise Group – Haddo, Aberdeen, Lefroy, Fairview

Instead of losing elevation to Temple Lodge, we followed the signed trail towards Skoki Lodge, and about 10-15 min later, we left the main trail and followed some up-tracks into the Wolverine Valley. I missed this turn on my Lipalian Mountain trip and ended up doing unnecessary bushwhacking and elevation loss. This time the skin tracks were easy to follow, and there was no post-holing involved until near treeline.

Josee and Fabrice (the Golden Scramblers) have an awesome trip report about Unity Peak’s “direct route”. As opposed to traversing all the way around Redoubt Mountain as suggested by the exit of Pumpkin Traverse, this route pretty much picks a steep line aiming more-or-less straight up towards Redoubt/Unity col. It definitely looked feasible to try this route as we could see scree (actually boulders) on the slope. After some brief discussion we decided to give it a go. We left the main set of skin tracks in Wolverine Valley and post-holed steeply uphill aiming for the least snowy area. The next 1 hour or so was extremely tedious trail-breaking. We took turns and eventually made to the rocky slope. We still could manage to stick to the thin snow and kept our snowshoes on. I eventually took off the ‘shoes but the travelling didn’t get any easier as the ground wasn’t scree. At the base of first cliff band, we traversed horizontally towards climber’s right aiming for a break. I ascended the first break, wallowing through waist deep unconsolidated snow up a steep gully, while Ben kept traversing right. My line was definitely harder and I encountered a rock-hard snow section and were forced to took out my crampons. We re-grouped at the col between Redoubt and Unity.

Our ascent line is visible from here. It looks awfully steep. Well, it is very steep..

Our ascent line is visible from here. It looks awfully steep. Well, it is very steep..

Ben snowshoeing up the steep avalanche slope

Ben snowshoeing up the steep avalanche slope

Traversing steep terrain near the ridge top

Traversing steep terrain near the ridge top

Me traversing steep terrain. Photo by Ben Nearingburg

Me traversing steep terrain. Photo by Ben Nearingburg

I took a high line further up which is slower than Ben's route. Photo by Ben N

I took a high line further up which is slower than Ben’s route. Photo by Ben N

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Finally made to Redoubt/Unity col, looking at Unity Peak

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Looking over shoulder of Whitehorn, towards Kicking Horse Pass

The ridge walk up Unity Peak went easy initially, but higher up, the terrain became a snow covered boulder field and we had to use caution. The wind also picked up and clouds rolled in. We lost the view on the summit. We waited for about 15 min and it did clear up and we got some awesome view. The December sun was low enough to provide orange colours on the skyline. Based on a (summer) trip report from ClubTread, I knew the connecting ridge between Unity and Purple should only be a moderate scramble, so we set off for that.

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The last few steps, a bit slippery.

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There’s a plaque on the summit.

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Panorama of Skoki area.

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Unity Peak summit. We should have climbed up this rock though.

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Mt. Douglas and Mt. St. Bride, with Anthozoan Mountain in the foreground.

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Fossil Mountain, with Heather Ridge in the foreground

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December’s sun is low enough to produce orange colour at lunch time…

With the snow, negotiating the quartzite terrain was definitely not easy. It was very slippery and exposed at sections. We kept descending, overcoming several cliff bands, until we were facing at a huge drop-off. Based on my observation from Purple Peak, the route should go down on skier’s left side. I did went down that way to check things out, and any feasible route would involve steep, deep snow with very bad run-out zone. If any of these slope slide, we could be sent down the cliff bands. Under these conditions the down-climb was beyond our comfortable level and we decided to backtrack back to Unity Peak summit. Going up the ridge was definitely a difficult scramble given the slippery and snow covered condition. We took our time and made back to the summit.

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It was windy and cold!

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We traversed under this rock outcrop.

Ben traversing another steep slope.

Ben traversing another steep slope.

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It was too dangerous to continue. We had to cross this slope…

Scrambling up minor rock bands. Wet and slippery

Scrambling up minor rock bands. Wet and slippery

Another step

Another step

We followed our ascending line and had an awesome glissade for hundreds of meters down the west face. In no time we made back to Purple Bowl.

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Super-long glissade track!

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Back to Purple Bowl. Wolverine Ridge in the center

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Whitehorn Mountain and Lake Louise ski hills

Since Ben was still wishing to bag the other two peaks, we didn’t drop all the way down to valley floor, instead we started traversing horizontally resisting losing elevation. I was pretty beat at this time and I felt really hard to keep up with Ben. It was probably because of the lack of motivation to bag something I’ve already done. So I decided to wait for him, and it was pretty windy and cold. When I travel in winter, I kept myself warm by keeping moving. Ben quickly went up Purple Peak but he decided to give Lipalian a miss.

Ben breaking trail towards Purple Peak

Ben breaking trail towards Purple Peak

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Redoubt Mountain

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Unity Peak

The descent went by fast and once we made back to the ski out, I took off the snowshoes and walked down the rest of the way. I felt it’s easier to walk down on compacted snow. The ski out was closed to some reason but whatever, that was our only option to go out. Andrew Nugara’s suggested time in his Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies was way pessimistic. We could have done all three peaks in the shortest time of the year, without using head-lamps.

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