Trip Details Date: May 20, 2019 Summit Elevation: 2,763 m Total Elevation Gain: 1,721 m Total Distance: 28.1 km Round Trip Time: 10:36 Difficulty Notes: Significant avalanche hazard and fall potential on 35-40° slopes. In the summer this is supposed to be an easy scramble. Class 2? GPS Track: Pyramid-Mountain
There was an idea…to bring together a group of remarkable people…to see if we could ski a Kane peak!
Alex came up with the idea last May when he saw the snowy east face of Pyramid Mountain while scrambling up Hawk Mountain. He thought the face looked skiable and began laying plans for our ascent. We couldn’t find any information online, so we didn’t know if this was going to work but were pretty optimistic. Now that we’ve been up there, it’s clear that this mountain has been skied a few times. Hopefully this post will encourage some more people to explore the beautiful terrain up there, but, given the effort required, I don’t think Pyramid Mountain is going to become a popular ski destination any time soon.
After waiting a few weeks for a good weather window, we finally set off on Sunday evening of the May long weekend. We enjoyed a sunset drive along the Icefield Parkway before bivying at the back of a parking lot in Jasper. This was new experience for me, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. The angle of the parking lot and the occasional pedestrian walking along the other side of the fence was not ideal, but I managed to get in a fair amount of shut-eye. Apparently Rob didn’t fair as well, being woken up by a large number of trains passing through in the night. This was partially made up for by a warm breakfast and some coffee at the Bear’s Paw Bakery in the morning.
After breakfast we made our way to the trailhead, making a brief stop to enjoy a beautiful view of Pyramid Mountain above the still waters of Patricia Lake. We then strapped our skies to our packs, got on our bikes and began the 12 km approach. The first section went quickly but then the trail started gaining elevation. 500 m of elevation gain on a bike is quite a lot for some who doesn’t bike much, and I ended up walking a large chunk of the way. In my defense, I was often in front when I started walking, so I didn’t really slow the group down.
About 7.5 km in the trail forks. The large trail on the right leads to the Palisade Lookout, while the narrower trail on the left leads to the base of Pyramid Mountain. We hit snow less than a kilometer after the branch and dropped our bikes. We weren’t sure how long the first snow patch would last, so Rob and I bootpacked for a while before hanging our shoes on a tree and stepping into our skis. Obviously the snow patch dried up shortly thereafter and briefly return to bootpacking.
Apart from a few short bootpacks at the start, we were able to easily ski to the base of the mountain, passing by a hiker that was enjoying the snow a lot less than we were. Once at the mountain we started by making our way towards the north ridge that serves as the normal scramble route. However, when we reached the top of the first bench we decided that we didn’t really want to bootpack up to the ridge and chose to enter the bowl below the east face and see if we could find a better route.
From the bowl we could see the remnants of several large avalanches that had come down the east face and off of the north ridge, a good reminder of how dangerous these slopes can be. We then had to decide on our route. One option was to ascend straight up the east ridge. The route looked straightforward, but a large part of the slope had slid recently, so that was a little disconcerting. The other option was to try to ascend a steep snow slope to get onto the north ridge. A few slides had also come down that way, though they were smaller and looked older. We also didn’t know what we would find on the north ridge. We split up briefly to explore the two options, before deciding to all go up the east ridge.
We crossed the debris of a very large slide that had come down the east face, exposing many of the rocks below, and made our way to the bottom of the east ridge. There we put on our crampons and prepared for a 350 m bootpack to the summit. During the transition I managed to drop my crampon bag. Thankfully my second crampon fell out and got stuck just five meters below us while the bag itself soared down several hundred meters to the bottom of the slope. I crawled down to retrieve the crampon, but had to leave the bag until our descent.
We found a narrow section of firm snow that made for a smooth ascent and proceeded mainly using the French technique. If we wandered a little to the left or the right the snow quickly became unsupportive and we had to return to our little firm patch. Alex measured the angle of the slope a few times on the way up and found it to lie mostly between 38° 40°, prime angles for a slide so make sure you have stable conditions.
The ascent seemed to go on forever, but we eventually reached a patch of rocks near the top where we ditched our skis. After crossing a second section of rubble, we top out on the summit just after 2:30 pm. The summit was covered with a large flat patch of snow. We crossed the snow to find some exposed rocks where we enjoy a break and some snacks and the gorgeous view all around us. It had been quite the adventure, but it was well worth it.
The time had come to snap into our skis and get some turns in (once we got back down to our skis). The mountain provided us with quite a variety of snow conditions. The first part of the ridge was covered in a think breakable crust. It also dropped off fairly sharply on both sides. So after face-planting during my first turn, I decided to side slip down the ridge to avoid a fall and, more importantly, losing a ski down the wrong side of the mountain. Shortly thereafter we dropped onto the east face, where firm, predictable snow made for smooth turns. It was probably some of the steepest skiing I’ve done, but the solid conditions allowed me to stay fair comfortable throughout.
As the angle eased off at the bottom of the face, the snow became unsupportive. My skis dug in deep, and I went for a nice sail. After recovering myself, I went to retrieve my crampon bag, which had patiently waited at the base of the mountain for the last three hours. I then rejoined the team for a nice patch off corn snow on the exit from the bowl. The corn turned to slush when we reached the bench, and there was some tough survival skiing through the trees.
Once we were back on the approach trail, the slush slowed us down but otherwise didn’t pose much of a challenge. The real challenge was not collapsing any snow bridges or falling into the streams that had popped up while we were climbing the mountain. It’s amazing how much the snow coverage can change in an afternoon: I could hardly recognize the lower portions of the trail.
Thankfully no one fell into any streams, and we were able to safely get back to our shoes and bikes. Then we really started cruising, covering the last 8 km in less than half an hour. This was probably my first time doing any “serious” mountain biking, so it was exhilarating. I could use some more practice, and perhaps some shocks.
This was one awesome trip! It was fun to try something new and not knowing what to expect. The bivy was an interesting experience and so was biking with skis. And we were rewarded with spectacular sights throughout. Thank you Alex for coming up with the crazy idea and bringing us all together to pull it off!