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A Ski Traverse of The Bonnet Icefield

Ski Mountaineering (Glacier Travel, Steep Snow)
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
YDS Difficulty: 
Very Dense In Patches After Badger Pass
Friday, March 18, 2016

With spring approaching, the time was right to start thinking about longer ski traverses.  Sadly the Rockies snowpack still wasn't up to completely stable shape and really big trips with big lines were still a ways off.  After tossing around a few possible plans Sean and I settled on a 4 day trip traversing the Bonnet Icefield (a route described in Chic Scott's book).  This trip would see us going in a loop from the Skoki trailhead (Lake Louise ski hill).

The trek started with a jont up to Boulder Pass along the super packed "Skoki Highway", the packed trail leading from Lake Louise to Skoki Lodge.  We were caught up by several cross country skiers heading in to the lodge (only carrying day packs made them quite swift indeed).  From the pass it was time to leave the trail and head east towards the access col to the north of Lychness Mountain.  Travel was fairly quick downwards but steep trees in non ideal snow made the going up to Heart Lake a little trying.  After double checking the time we reckoned we didn't want to tempt the steep slopes before the col after they had been baking all day so set up camp and went for a short scouting ski upwards to gauge the snowpack.

The first part of the route heads up the ski out, thankfully no skiers coming down this early!


Past the ski hill along the route to Skoki Lodge.


The view from Boulder Pass looking back towards Mount Temple.


Sean taking in the sights with Mount Saint Bride brooding in the background.


Looking towards the Lychnis Col from Baker Lake.


A bit of bush to descend down to Baker Creek.


Looking up at towards the col from near Heart Lake.


A wider view of the area around Heart Lake.


Not a bad place for a camp while we wait for the snow to harden up.


Looking west near sunset with sundogs on either side!


A nice moon-halo, no moon-dogs tonight sadly.

The next day we set off (an hour later than expected due to my watch not being adjusted from daylight savings time!) up to the col and didn't find the route to be that bad (being late in the day and spreading out for the suspect slopes).  Just before the col the low snowpack led to a bootpacking up steep and icy scree to reach the col itself.  Traction was hard to come by and progress was not swift.  Once atop the col we had some decisions to make.  There were two main routes: a steep loaded ski down a roll almost in the sun to reach the lower slopes or a bootpack down a few meters of steep snow then thin snow on scree.  I really didn't lime the look of the steepness of the ski line so reckoned the snow/scree would be a decent way down.  After kicking steps down loose but not unsupportive snow the angle lessened and some crampon work led to a line breaking through a short cliffband to 'face outwards' type snow on scree below.  After reaching a stable place Sean followed down having some troubles but eventually catching up.  After some less than graceful equipment change to skis and sliding down the last few meters we were glady back on flat ground and could carry on with the route.

The next morning getting going around sunrise.


Sean working his way up towards the col.


Finally the actually col is in view, looks boot-packy.


Looking back down towards Heart Lake.


Atop the col looking down the other side, Mount Saint Bride is very striking.


To avoid the sunny steep snow we stuck to bootpacking.


Looking back at the Lychnis Col from the east side.


To get into the icefield itself requires reaching a ridge below Mount Saint Bride and ascending to a high col.  It didn't take too long to reach the col and the views from there were well worth the effort!  Descending onto the icefield, coverage looked quite good and we agreed to travel unroped.  The Bonnet is a strange icefield traveling north/south with little east/west extent.  We had another descicion to make of where to camp.  After some discussion we reckoned we'd head over one col to reach glacial lakes to the south.  Chic warned that the south side of the col was steeper than the map suggested and he was certainly right!  After skiing down we camped on the edge of the glacier amidst a sea of peaks and stars above.

Almost at the high col, quite the view!


Sean making his way up to the high col.


A closer view of the huge chunk of Mount Saint Bride that is 'missing'.


The ridge connecting to Lychnis has some sweet ski lines!


Looking south along the very narrow Bonnet Icefield (more icefields, they arn't that connected anymore...).


Sean stoked for a little bit of downhill.


Onwards southwards towards our intended camp past the pass in the middle of view.


Atop the pass looking down at what would be a lake in summer.


Looking back at the steep slopes we skied down, lots of recent avi debris around!


Sean sticking on the high road above the lake as we make our way to our camp on the edge of the Bonnet Glacier.


Another great place for a camp.


Warm, windless, and stars above; can't complain about this camp at all.


The next morning, weknew we had to get off the icefield early as our descent col was south facing (and temperatures were going to be mighty tropical!).  After packing up camp we left towards the col which lies directly below South Bonnet Peak.  Travel was quite swift, with good snow and no problematic crevasses to be seen; however, the air temperature was heating up quite quickly.  After reaching the col and seeing lots of fresh avi debris we agreed that the detour up South Bonnet, though just a hike (likely ~ 1 hour round trip from the col), would have increased the hazard on the slope considerably so we skied down right away instead.


Getting going around sunrise.


Sean approaching the Bonnet Glacier with Bonnet Peak in the background.


The col to leave the icefield is in the distant centre-left.


Looking back north from the Bonnet Glacier.


At the 'exit-col' with a sea of Banff peaks visible.


Zoomed in view, Badger Pass, our next destination, is in the centre-right.


There was one find hazard before reaching Badger Pass, a decent sized cornice that had been warming in the sun during our descent.  We skied below the cornice to a rocky bench and then I kicked steps to the pass.  On the other side of the Pass swift skiing awaited us.  Or at least it would have in supportive snow.  The rapidly weakening snowpack led to spontaneous drops making for very careful, and slow descent.  At least there was flowing water!  As we descended further down the creek the inevitable post holing and sticky snow problems reared their heads and progress slowed further.  Eventually we reached the junction with the Johnston Creek Trail and headed up the valley a short ways before calling the day; the snow was too soft to continue and we would wait for some overnight recovery before carrying on.


Sean pointing up at all the avi debris on these very sunny slopes.


Lots of cirrostratus clouds making for halos everywhere!


At Badger Pass looking west towards Pulsatilla Mountain.


A very radiant 22 degree halo below Badger Pass.


We came across a very long section of W1 ice ;)


Lots of scramble-able peaks near Badger Pass!


Snow quality was quite poor at this point...


Later on after setting up camp we realised that our watering hole was deep enough to be a swimming pool!


Looking south along Johnston Creek.


Nice night to roast some dogs over a fire.


Another calm night for camping, very peaceful.


The next morning weather finally turned for the worse with cloudy flurries shrouding the valley.  We made decent time reaching the surprisingly avi prone slopes leading to Pulsatilla Pass summiting the pass with far from ideal visibility.  Terrain to the north of the pass is interesting with a small lake or depression separating Pulsatilla from an unnamed pass (the parks trail follows directly below the large avi slopes on the east and should be avoided in winter).  Descending from the more northerly pass down Wildflower Creek was very wearysome with poor snow and steep dense bush delaying progress.  Eventually lower down we came across the Parks trail that made the going somewhat easier.  Lower down travel in Wildflower Creek cut off a bit of distance and we came to the Baker Creek valley.


Looking up towards Pulsatilla Pass, I'm sure it is much prettier in summer!


Further along the trail, a clearing was a very welcome change from bush-slogging.




Quite a mesmerising snow-twister on the edge of the clearing.


So there is a trail around here after all! :)


On the map the distance between the junction with Baker Creek to our tracks below Baker Lake was only a handfull of km it felt like much more!  Dense bush, lots of up and down, and no sign of the trail made for considerable effort to progress forwards.  As the snow got softer and softer skins started to become very arduous.  Lumbering on with a steady pace we made it to the clearing below Baker Lake.  The last couple hundred meters of elevation lay before us, including crossing Baker Lake and Ptarmagin Lake.  Right around sunset we crested Boulder Pass (the eighth pass of the trip) and could take off the skins and swiftly ski back to the car.  Getting back from the trip there wasn't much time to spare as mere hours later I would meet up with Liam, Jake, and Josh for a four day trip up to the Hargreaves Shelter.


Sean on the last sloggy slope before regaining our previous tracks.


Back down below Baker Lake.


Back up at lake level, only two more lake crossings to Boulder Pass!


Nice lighting for the final push back to the pass.


At Boulder Pass, time for downhill back to the car!


One last parting shot to the east.


Quite the loop, in good snow it would be really awesome!

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