Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Pumpkin Traverse 2015

Sat April 18th 2015

Synopsis: 4 out of 5 stars, it's a classic tour and a lot of fun in the right conditions. A big day from the Fish Creek parking lot but a must do for anyone who has skied the Louise Resort and looked over the back longingly.

I had put this trip in the ACC Rocky Mountain schedule for April 18th and pretty much wrote it off by the end of February given the cycle of warm temperatures and rain. However, April was a good month, Louise received a fair amount of snow and the avy hazard had slipped into "classic" spring conditions, i.e. bullet proof in the morning, watch for solar radiation and cornice failures once it heats up. I felt better about the objective given warmer days earlier in the week and a forecast for some cloud and cooler temperatures.

For most of us, the day started at 6:30 am at Beamer's in Canmore and we were on the road pretty quickly with cups of Joe in hand. All 8 of us met up at Fish Creek parking lot on the road up to Lake Louise ski resort. With minimal fuss we were skinning up the road in to Temple Lodge at 8:15 in the morning. The day was starting off cool (single digit minus C) and some dissipating cloud.

I was a bit surprised at the climb involved in getting to the first run on Larch, it was a gain of 300 metres and took us an hour. A quick right turn and we were climbing on fresh corduroy, a new experience. Another hour and a quarter and 350 metres of elevation put us on top of the Larch chair, it was a bit longer than I expected and there were a few downhill skiers which kept us watchful (given they were all wearing helmets) but we stayed to the side and out of the way.

At the top of Larch chair we were lucky to find the start of a skin track just to the left of the boot packed trail. After ducking under the rope we stopped for a second breakfast and to take a breather. It was starting to turn into a fine day!

The skin track lead all the way to the summit ridge of Lapalian Mountain gaining the ridge after a traverse below the rocks climbers right. There a couple of the slower members of the party took a breather and the rest whipped up to bag the summit. It was a full 1000 metre gain from the parking lot and was 12:15 pm on the summit. We were moving although not setting any records.

It was about then that we realised that it was going to be a bigger day than Chic Scott's description of 900 metres and 13 km, my sense is that it is from the top of Larch chair. A little more exercise than anticipated.

Once we regrouped on the ridge the next step was getting over to Purple Peak. There is a pretty obvious ridge making it the easy line and the elevation loss was low enough that we chose to leave our skins on. Some great double corniced features at the col made for interesting terrain.

1:00 pm found us at the top of purple peak. Tracks lead straight down and a little right, however we chose to go to the left and stay high on an interesting ridge. Probably the technical challenge of the day what with a cornice on the right and fairly steep rocks to the left, however it allowed us to stay high.

From here, I initially thought the rocky knoll in the background was Unity Peak. Fortunately stability was excellent as everything was still solid and we found an easy way through the cornice. Once half way up the knoll it became very apparent that it wasn't Unity however we bagged it anyways and completed a high traverse over to Unity Peak.

Once on the shoulder of Unity Peak we divided into three groups; some waited for a bit on the shoulder and then headed down towards Redoubt Lake, some climbed half way up and 3 of us skinned to the top of the peak reaching it at 3:30 pm. The top part of the climb was fairly steep however soft enough that there was no need for ski crampons. We were fortunate enough to have great stability and skied the northeast bowl, the best turns of the day (okay almost the only turns of the day!).

Once we were down low and starting the slight climb to Redoubt Lake the sun started to make itself known. We were lucky enough to have tracks to follow, but it was getting warm out. If you look carefully in the background of the photo below you can see our ski tracks high on Unity.

Now it was really just a case of climbing up to Redoubt Lake, doing the long crossing and cutting up and around the corner to Boulder Pass. There was enough coverage that we were able to stay high and after a short climb from Redoubt rip the skins for the last time and ski down to the pass.

It was 5:30 pm by the time we hit the slopes just above Boulder Pass, and after 9 1/2 hours some of our party were starting to flag a bit. I was concerned it was going to be a lllooonnnggg way out. However we were lucky, at the pass you join the trail back from Skoki and the trees had kept it from getting too soft. It was hard packed and just the right slope to make fast work of getting back.

I was very surprised to pop out of the trees just above Temple Lodge on the backside of Lake Louise ski hill just 40 minutes from Boulder Pass. Our only regret was not stashing beer in the snow on the way up.

From there it was a quick hop down to the cars. All in all, it was a 10 1/2 hour, 1670 meter day. A fit party could obviously do it more quickly, although I'm not sure they would have as much fun! A highly recommended day out.