Steven Song's Peak-bagging Journey

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Steven Song
Lightning Ridge
(Feb 23, 2013)
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Steven Song
Mount Louie
(Feb 22, 2013)
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Steven Song
Mount Michener
(Feb 14, 2013)
I've been eyeing on this peak pretty much since March last year. It's a major objective in David Thompson, across Abraham Lake, and looks attractive. There's only one online trip report from Eric and Raff's ascent a few years back in February. Michener was proposed as my possible objective for almost every weekend since the first week of January, but never realized due to several reasons. There are not many peaks in David Thompson Country, so obviously, we don't have many alternate plans. And, I have quite a few friends wishing to try this peak, and it was very hard to schedule a day when everybody was available. It eventually came to this Thursday, the Valentine's Day. However, Kevin and Ben had to bail and it was left to only Mike and me. The scrambling season for Michener is very short, from mid January to March.

Apart from the short scrambling season (due to the lake crossing), you have to be really confident on the wind level in this area. Nordegg area was forecasted to have wind 5 kph, but we were nearly being blown off on the rib... I guess if the forecasted wind is more than 20 kph, you need to find something else to do...

Based on Eric's trip report, we figured that doing an early start was essential, so we started our day at 7:40. The lake is actually a reservoir, and the ice stability was variable. The ice was very thick though, but still, Mike and I roped up to cross it. Crampons were also mandatory. If you don't have them, you will spend hours boot-skating on the lake. Wind was almost non-existence in the morning, and it felt like a simple (and scenic) ice walk.

The next hour was tedious bushwhacking up forested rib. The worst part was actually the first 20 meters or so. In general the bush was very tolerable. Higher up we came across an old ascent track and followed it to treeline. It was very dry and post-holing was very minimal. I think even Heart Mountain holds more snow than Mount Michener... Once at treeline, the view looking back fully opened up. The Lake looked blue, instead of white. On the mean time, wind picked up. It was not too bad at this stage, but we found the wind to be constantly increasing throughout the day...

We were back at summer scrambling now... It felt so good to grip the slabs rather than slogging on frozen scree or post-holing on snow. Higher up, the ascent rib joins another rib. At this point, you will re-enter trees briefly, and MAKE SURE you take a mental note by looking back at this feature. If you don't do so, you will very likely go down the wrong rib on the way back. There's no obvious scrambling route down that rib, and backtracking can be very frustrating. Following the ridge up, the terrain soon changes to scree slogging. We traversed on climber's right skirting around a rocky section. This part was proved to be very miserable. We soon got tired of the side-hilling and shoot straight up towards the rock bands. Moderate scrambling was involved to overcome this band. Following the ridge up for another 20min or so, we were staring at the summit block.

The route goes up the scree ramp on climber's left side. It was mostly a hike, but near the end, the terrain steepens and the snow covered rocks were very slippery. This part was the crux for us. It wasn't technically difficult but required some concentration. After this bit of stuffs, we had to ascent a short steep snow slope, and then we were on the summit ridge.

The summit ridge was just a hike, and soon we made to the summit, less than 4 hours from car. High clouds were rolling in, and we lost the blue sky. But even so, we still got good views. So many David Thompson peaks were visible, but too bad we couldn't figure out the distant peaks on the Parkway.

Wind was fierce and there was little hope that the weather would improve, so we hurried down without doing much summit stay. Descending the snow covered terrain was easier and faster, and in no time we made back to the crux. Some careful moves were required on this bit.

We were way ahead of schedule at this time, and we all wanted to slow down and enjoy the view. However, the wind had something else to say, and we were forced to speed up down to treeline. Once in the trees, the snow was helping us to speed up. It was just so easy to slide and plunge-step. There were a couple of snow covered slabs that we slipped on.

Once we were back to the lake, wind picked up again. We did stop regularly for photos though. Round Trip time: 7 hours.

http://www.clubtread.com/sforum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=56154
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Steven Song
Smutwood Peak
(Feb 10, 2013)
None of us got exhausted after Opal Ridge and Little Chester, and we were hoping for another ascent on Sunday. Weather forecast was calling for a sunny day, and avalanche condition was moderate/low. Perfect! Then we would just keep our original plan, Smutwood Peak, with the option of traversing to Snow Peak. Before last weekend, there was only one online trip report for doing Smutwood Peak in winter, from Nugara. He didn't make to the summit and still called it as a mountaineering peak. Based on his photos, I didn't agree with the "mountaineering" part, but still, I wanted more beta on this route. So despite the superb view, Smutwood was on my "maybe" list, up until last weekend when Vern, Bill and Wietse successfully ascended it. Their photos suddenly raised this peak to my "must-do" list. I guess someone else was thinking the same way!

I know it would be another insanely long day if we do traverse to Snow Peak, so we set up alarm at 5:45, and got to trailhead before 8. Sky was crystal clear and I was very excited. We were treated with some alpenglow view while crossing the swamp area. (Of course there's no swamp in winter time).

The approach should be pretty easy to follow given the fact this is a very popular area for skiers. However I was a bit paranoid about getting too far climber's left to Commonwealth Lake.. So at the first major junction, we took the right hand side fork... BIG Mistake! This trail eventually goes to Engadine Lodge. I recognized this when we got down to Commonwealth Creek, and we started the bushwhacking and post-holing up the creekbed. Obviously the creekbed was not easy to follow. We had to hop over some questionable snow bridges in order not to wet ourselves, and the trail breaking definitely was definitely not enjoyable. After 20-30min of these stuffs I thought we must be off-route. We ascended the bank on left side and soon found the real trail. It was in such a good shape... Oh man, we shouldn't waste time and energy here. Once got back on track, we soon made to the open area, and the morning view of Smuts and Fist was gorgeous.

From here on the route parallels with the summer trail, and it was a long way across the flat area. Make sure you constantly have eyes on The Fist. At one point it looks like Roche Miette. The steep gully on climber's right side of The Fist was apparently skied recently. Further up the valley, we crossed a huge slide path coming down the east face of Mount Smuts. This path goes all the way from summit to valley floor. I think if you are crazy enough, you can bag Smuts on skis. After this bit we were directly aiming for the big face of Birdwood, doing another creek-side traverse, and then we almost arrived at the base of steep slope up Smuts Pass.

The slope was definitely steep and obviously, avalanche prone. The ski tracks we were following was too flat for snowshoeers, and we decided to shoot straight up. The snowpack felt like spring condition and was very supportive. We gained elevation very quick, and it didn't take us long to top over this hill, and then we were staring at the infamous Mount Smuts. The summer route up Mount Smuts requires you to aim for the big pile of scree cone. But this time, we could stay high on climber's left avoiding losing elevation. On the meantime, we got better perspective of its scramble route. On the meantime, Mount Birdwood was trying her best to compete against Smuts. But as for now, Smuts was the winner.

Once we topped over Smuts Pass, we got our first head-on view of Smutwood Peak. It looked to be awesome. The alpine bowl was also very inviting if you're a skier. But for us, the side-sloping on hard snow was almost a nightmare for our ankles for the next 20 minutes. We kept looking back and the awesome view helped to reduce pain. We did a short break (perhaps the first break) at the pass between Birdwood and Smutwood. The view towards the other side fully opened up. Oh man, it was gonna be awesome! It was already awesome!!

We tried to keep snowshoes on for as far as possible on the ridge, but soon a short climbing section required us ditching shoes and switched to boot travelling. I also took out an ice axe for this bit. It wasn't too hard but there exist easier lines if you want to traverse further climber's left. And then we simply followed the ridge crest up. Miner rock bands were blocking our way, and we could just by-pass almost all of them on climber's left side, but we didn't bother. One of them was extremely hard. Ben and I had to swing ice axe to hook a hold and pull ourselves up the snow covered down-sloping slabs. Mike and Andrea found a much easier line on climber's right, but this would bring you closer to the big cornices. We were forced to stay below other rock bands up towards the false summit. I tried to climb up one band but gain, it involved hooking with ice axe. I was pretty tired and wasn't in the mood of challenging unnecessary stuffs. We cut back towards the ridge crest and followed it to the false summit. The connecting ridge to true summit looked to be inviting. Looking back, we noticed a group of 3 approaching Birdwood/Smutwood pass. We immediately dropped down to the col and started the final slog. The summit ridge was actually pretty easy. There was one section requiring probing, but mostly just a walk-up. Near the top there were some interesting cornice scenery. The summit itself was actually a big cornice. I took out my probe and carefully probed the safe boundary.

We had some discussion whether traversing to Snow Peak or not. There's a substantial elevation loss towards "Birdwood col", and then we had to drop down below treeline to the other side, and regain the elevation towards Burstall Pass. There wasn't enough time allowing us to do so, and we did a quite long summit stay on Smutwood Peak, soaking in the views. Eventually we started the descent.

It was much easier than going up, and in no time we made back to the col below false summit. At the meantime the group of 3 were coming down from the false peak. They turned out to be Golden Scramblers and their friend, Evelyn. Nice to meet them again! We had some nice discussion about some future plans, and after saying goodbye our group decided to skirt around to save some elevation regain. There was ice spots on SW facing slope and we had to take out crampons to traverse. The rest of the descent back to our snowshoe ditching are was nice and fast.

We had lots of extra time. There's a bump ahead of us and we decided to go up there and check things out. We ditched snowshoes and backpacks at its base, and scree slogging brought us to its highpoint. Mount Birdwood looked to be rather a Himalayan Giant. Mount Smuts were trying its best to compete, but this time Birdwood is the winner. I highly suggest everybody to do this variation if you still have time after Smutwood, or if you cannot go up Smutwood Peak. This gives a better perspective for Smuts, Birdwood and the surrounding alpine environ.

We plunged step down the fresh powder to the bowl below, and re-ascended back up to Smuts Pass. We met another 2 skiers at the pass, and soon after that, we started the even faster plunging step down the big slope. It was very fast and enjoyable. At one point I stepped onto a thin snow covered hard slab and started to glide on the surface. Some sort of snowshoe skiing?. Well.

The rest of the way back was scenic and fast. Round Trip Time: 8 hours including all of the stops, variations and detours. Overall, this is a very satisfactory day out. The view ranks high on my winter adventure list. I highly recommend Smutwood as a winter ascent. I didn't get good view from the nearby Burstall Pass Peak and Mount Smuts, and this made up for the loss. I'll definitely do Snow Peak in winter, under crystal clear sky!
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Steven Song
Little Chester
(Feb 9, 2013)
The weather looked to be hopeless when we finished Opal Ridge. However, it was only 12:30 and we had the entire afternoon ahead of us. I didn't want to just call it a day, and we started to plan our next objective. Andrea had left her car at the Casino, and given the condition we figured out that Ben and I should do King Creek Ridge, while Andrea and Mike should go for Little Lawson. But we didn't want to split up and it was hard to find a peak that none of us had done. Little Chester, there we go... This is rated as the most dangerous ascent in Nugara snowshoeing book, well.. Of course we were not going up that big avalanche gully. I did spot a less ambitious line from the trip to Fortune and Fortulent. Our route would be going up the SW slope.

So we drove to Chester Lake parking lot. Weather did improve somehow around Lower K-Lake, but got back to snowing as we approaching the parking area. I got near perfect weather from the nearby Little Galatea and I was just wishing to tick this off my list. I personally was not quite interested in this ascent but since I'm a snowshoeer, I have to finish Nugara snowshoing list someday, and this is not a one that I can omit. It is overall rated as the hardest.

We quickly strapped our snowshoes on, and started the busy-as-usual Chester Lake trail. About 20min we entered into the trees and started the tedious and endless post-holing and bushwhacking. The first thing to do was to lose about 20m elevation and cross a (snow covered) creek. Once on the other side, heavy duty trail-breaking up a very steep treed slope was required. We post-holed to knee deep and travelling was not fast. We kept going towards climber's right diagonally. There was not much to describe here except for post-holing and bushwhacking. The weather was actually getting worse and we were hit by several quite heavy storms.

After what seemed like eternity, we finally could see the snowy upper slope. It looked to be quite steep, and yet, quite far away. But since we were there, we would give it a go. The sky magically cleared up once we hit treeline. Oh man, we were LUCKY. We spent the bad-weather periods on the descent from Opal and on the ascent up Little Chester, but we did get good weather on both peaks' alpine sections.

The slope was pretty steep. It reminded me both Mosquito Mountain and Ramp Peak. We were forced to do some switchbacks. It was also very foreshortened. The elevation is marginally lower than Little Galatea, but apparently I didn't realize this until I was on the summit. We could see another storm quickly moving in. Ben and I were not far from the summit at this point and we hurried up and successfully beat the storm. We got some interesting views but apparently Andrea and Mike were not as lucky. They were treated with white-out...

We were in a complete white-out storm roughly about 2 minutes after leaving the summit. We passed Andrea, and then Mike on their way up. Sky magically cleared up again, but only for maybe 30 seconds. It went back to white-out again... The strong wind and blowing snow was smashing our faces and after quickly strapping snowshoes on, we started the fast descent. Plunging-step down the face was very enjoyable and quick. Mike somehow disoriented himself and ended up too far skier's left. Luckily he spotted us and we regrouped together at treeline. Weather was gradually improving again. The rest of the descent went by nice and quick. Once we got back to the trails, Ben and I took off snowshoes and walked down the hard-packed tracks. Weather was even much better now, oh well. Round Trip Time: 4 hours.

While finishing a very satisfactory day given the not-so-good weather forecast, we drove back to Canmore and hoping to have good weather on Sunday. (And we did.)
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Steven Song
Opal Ridge
(Feb 9, 2013)
Ben and I missed the good weather day (Saturday) on the weekend of February 2-3. The forecast was pretty similar for both days but it turned out that Sunday was way worse. So this weekend (Feb 9-10), I asked him to have both days free. We would be joined by Mike from Edmonton and Andrea from Calgary. However, the forecast was getting worse and worse, and we would take what was given there. Flurries on Saturday indicated we should do something less ambitious, and after throwing back and forth objectives, we decided to do Opal Ridge. Obviously there were some confusions regarding this peak. I was mentioning the true summit of Opal on Facebook messages. Andrea has done Opal South twice, and obviously she thought I was planning on the Kane scramble - Opal North...

To give us more flexibility, I said we should start our day by 8am... This was very unnecessary for a summit as small as Opal, but it turned out we made a GOOD call. Andrea was surprised that we drove to Fortress ski hill turn-off... This is the start of direct route up Opal True Summit, aka, Opal Ridge South. I pointed out an alternative objective just on the opposite side of the Highway, namely The Spoon Needle. But we decided to stick to our original plan, and we quickly got ready and started. The route was very dry and we didn't bring snowshoes up.

The route follows the cut-line until crossing an obvious creek. We went up too soon and ended up post-holing and bushwhacking. We did correct ourselves not far up, by crossing the stream to its other side. From there on, we were treated with summer condition.. Weather was also much better than expected. The flurries ended and more and more blue colours started to show up. There were some optional moderate scramble sections up some rock bands, but I believe you can bypass all of them if you do look for the easiest line.

Some cool rock formations started to show up higher up. We were aiming at an obvious break between some walls. The travelling was easy going, and soon we made to the ridge crest. The view was so nice and we decided to play with a cool looking boulder. We all climbed up it and enjoyed some hands-on scrambling. I highly recommend this variation. It only adds maybe 10 minutes. The summit was not far up, and it was mostly just a hike. Some snow offered good step-kicking. The view to the other side fully opened up. We could see the impressive Mt. Denny and Potts. They both are scrambles and I'd like to tick them off in the following summer. Some snow just made them even more attractive. Looking back, the entire Opal Ridge traverse looked to be very inviting. There would be some difficult sections so you might want to attempt the traverse in summer.

While being amazed by the views, we could see the nasty weather moving in fast, from north side. We figured that we would have another 30min before being soaked in... Oh well, we soon started the way down. Indeed, the clouds rolled in and we got snowed. The descent went by very quick. It was such a pleasure to get rid of the heavy stuffs after more than 2 months of snowshoeing and skiing, and to realize how fast I can travel without these extra pounds on my feet. Round Trip Time: 4 hours.

It was only 12:30 at noon, and despite the weather, we decided to do something else. And yep...
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Steven Song
Fossil Mountain
(Feb 3, 2013)
I was joined by Kelly Smith and Ben Nearingburg and three of us left Edmonton Saturday evening, and we all bivy at Trail Head. There must be stuffs working in night at Lake Louise ski resort, and we could constantly hear the snowmobile sounds. But even though we all got a good sleep. I had done the Skoki approach 3 times, and I knew exactly how boring the initial approach is, so we decided to start in darkness. Your first view would be looking back at Temple, but that's roughly after 40min into the trip. So we woke up at 6, and started at 6:40.

Kelly would be the skier, while Ben would be the snowshoeer, so I had the complete freedom to choose between skiing and snowshoeing. I didn't want to challenge myself so I kept my snowshoes on. Kelly got a huge pack since he had to carry an extra pair of scrambling boots for the final 500 vertical meters of slog. Mixing skiers and snowshoeers together means all of the group members cannot match speed very well, even if they have the similar fitness level. Snowshoeers have slight advantage when going in, while skiers are much faster coming back. The approach to Larch Chairlift took Ben and I less than 50min on our December trip to Unity Peak. It took us 1 hour this time, which is a very impressive pace on skis for Kelly. The sky was getting brighter and weather was cloudy.

We kept marching towards Bolder Pass on a well marked trail. This trail eventually leads to Skoki Lodge. I didn't know this trail gets regularly maintained. I'm not sure if they do this all year around or not. Fossil Mountain is also a peak that can be done even if avalanche condition is high. The approach is as easy as one can expect, and the ridge rarely holds any snow on it. Anyway, we quickly made to Halfway Hut, where Kelly went in for a break. You can always catch the morning light on impressive Temple if you know where to look back. The slope to Boulder Pass is kinda foreshortened. There's quite a bit of elevation gain to get there.

The other side fully opened up once we topped out on the pass. Ptarmigan Lake was frozen and everything was white. Everything looked to be very different from the classic summer view. I think one must go in Skoki in different seasons to fully understand its beauty. The trail across Ptarmigan Lake was well marked, we we were even passed by a snowmobile. Our objective, Fossil Mountain, appeared to be a true slog from this vantage point. In no time we made to the other side and quickly started gaining elevation towards Deception Pass. There was no avalanche hazard what so ever and we started to go up on our own pace.

This was another foreshortened slope. It took us a while to finally topping out on Deception Pass. Wind suddenly picked up. It was blowing fiercely and we were nearly being knocked off balance. Now I started to realize I had left my ski goggles and wind-breaker at home, because I was using them on Monday. It was below -30 with windchill in Edmonton and I had to dress properly for school... Oh well, there was no way I can turn around at this point. There's a bump to go over and after that Ben and I ditched our snowshoes. From here on, it was a true slog battling against the gusting wind, for 500 vertical meters on frozen scree. We started to see Heather Ridge and Brachiopod Mountain becoming smaller and smaller, but that was not enough as Fossil Mountain is more than 2900m high. I felt considerably short on energy at this stage due to the fact I had only ate one muffin. But the wind prevented me from stopping and having a break. Eventually we made to the summit and surprisingly, wind almost died off on the top. It was not a white-out on the summit, so we got some good views. Oyster Peak looks to be very small on the other side, and one would think why bothering with that peak... One would also never think about descending straight down its west face from the summit.. It looks to be very serious... Well...

Ben and I didn't do the summit stay as we couldn't see if Kelly was going up or not. We passed him lower down on the slope. It was a hellish experience to change boots in such wind, but he was still going for the summit. We had a brief discussion whether attempting Heather Ridge or not. Kelly didn't want to do it, but I was still wishing for a 2-summit day. However, after a bit of thinking I decided to wait for another day. This is not a remote area, and Heather is far from impressive nor difficult. It's as straightforward as an ideal winter solo objective. It would also give some impressive views when the sky is clear. It could also be linked to the Redoubt to Brachiopod traverse to make it a 4-peak day. Ben and I certainly didn't want to wait for Kelly on Deception Pass due to obvious reasons. Based on my learning from Ramp Peak, we had to set an agreement of where to re-group. This time we agreed on Halfway Hut.

We decided to side-slope around the highpoint to save some unnecessary elevation gain, and as a result we heard a whump sound. We should have picked the safest line, which is to retrace our steps to Deception Pass. Well, the terrain wasn't steep enough, and we made back to the maintained trail quickly. We passed at least 10 skiers on the slog back across Ptarmigan Lake. Once at the other side, we decided to play around with some big boulders. I climbed up 2 of those. Then we slowly slogged back to Halfway Hut. I think this area is more popular in winter than in summer. I never remember seeing 30 people on the Oyster Peak/Skoki Mountain trip... After a long wait, maybe 40-50min ish, Kelly finally showed up. We were a bit worrying about him, but really there's nothing you can go wrong on this route.

Now it was our turn to speed up, but we knew we could never catch Kelly up because he was on skis... Once we made back to the ski out, we took off snowshoes, and jogged down the Temple Lodge road. It was quite icy though. Round Trip 9 hours including all of the stops.
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Photos taken by Steven