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Tonquin Valley Ski Touring Circuit

Difficulty: 
Moderate Ski Touring
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
51.7
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
700
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
1200
YDS Difficulty: 
2
Bushwhackyness: 
A bit near the hut
Tripdate: 
Saturday, April 8, 2017

After a long winter of ice climbing it was time to dust of the skis and take advantage of a (finally) settling snowpack. Josh and I set our sights on a loop of the Tonquin Valley to scout out snow-levels and conditions for a much larger trip starting in a few weeks. To make things a little more comfortable, we planned on staying overnight at the Wates-Gibson Hut. The last two times I had skied into the Tonquin we had gone from the Portal Creek trailhead passing over Oldhorn Col (a route that is quite steep in places and has significant avalanche hazard). Not wanting to tempt fate before the snowpack shifts into spring-conditions we stuck with a Portal Creek approach but planned on the long way around, roughly following the summer trail (trading more distance for less hazard).

Leaving town at the crack dawn, or more accurately just after the opening of the Bear Paw for coffee, we left the trailhead a little before 7 and were happily skiing right from the car. Travel on Portal Creek was in really good. There were some open patches but we had no-where near the amount of weaving between open water of the last couple trips up here! Being not in too much of a hurry, we kept a steady pace working upwards towards Maccarib Pass. After having climbed a lot of ice this past winter we were keeping watch for decent ice and there were a few good looking flows up on Peveril Peak that could be cool to check out at some point.

 

It did not take long before we had to de-layer.  Quite warm out!

 

A bit of skin issues to sort out.

 

Looking up towards Peveril Peak.

 

Two decent looking flows coming down off Peveril.

 

At Maccarib Pass we were hopeful to get a bit of glide while working westwards but the toasty spring sun had other plans. Anywhere sunbeams struck turned sticky quite quickly. Where was our nice cloudy flurry-filled weather as forecast? Slowly but surely we worked out way across the sun-drenched flats below Mount Clitheroe, treasuring the few open patches of creek for some refreshing water. Thankfully it seemed that Tonquin Hill and the Ramparts had stayed cloudy so only we were only a few kilometers away from better snow and more comfortable temperatures.

Still a ways to go, quite a few branching sets of tracks heading westwards.

 

Oldhorn Mountain is quite a striking peak.

 

While crossing the flats below Mount Clitheroe the sun was very toasty.

 

Reaching the shore of Amethyst Lake is a great moment summer or winter. The Ramparts looked particularly striking today with swirling clouds above and a thick blanket of snow making them seem more like Alaskan than Albertan peaks. The 5 km from one side of the lake to the other went on for quite some time and many breaks were had. A bit of downhill to get from lake-level to the Eremite/Wates-Gibson junction was a great change from the flat slogging for the previous few hours. From the junction it is a mere 1.5 km to the hut and fresh tracks in the snow showed us that there were other folks around. It is kind of fun trying to work out how many people are up at a hut based on tracks, we guessed two and turned out to be correct.

 

At the trail junction, not far to the lakeshore!

 

The view of the Ramparts alone makes the trip worthwhile. 

 

Getting closer to surprise point, not far to the hut!

 

Getting to the hut there were two folks from Canmore/Calgary who had been up for a couple days. After a quick hello they let us know "there are pine martens in here", and as if on cue one of the fell beasties then poked its head up from behind one of the benches. Apparently the critters had been around for a few days and ravaged whatever food had been left in the open. We took note and didn't leave any grub anywhere except hanging high from the hooks! The other folks were planning on waking up early and headed to sleep soon. Josh and I set to work trying to spook out the martens and plug up their access holes. After a thorough search, (moving benches that may have not been moved for many moons,) it seemed the beasties had two access holes. With one of the martens outside for a stroll we sealed the holes with rock and steel and unsuccessfully tried to shoo out the other one. The second beastie lurked somewhere under the sleeping area with an odd growling/purring sound keeping us awake till the wee hours of morning.  The next morning the remaining marten had opened up one of the holes (much easier to move from the inside) and make an exit. Thankfully, after finding a plate of half inch steel in the maintenance room to seal the breach, the critter hopefully wont be getting back inside any time soon!


The Wates-Gibson the next morning, having people in the hut over the past few nights quickly melted the roof!

 

Heading out back to town via the Astoria River was much quicker than expected. A good overnight freeze let us skate for most of the flats sections and then glide down any steeper roles. We made good time, reaching Cavell Road some 3.5 hours after leaving the hut (coming back down this way in the summer will feel a little bit tedious in the future by comparison!). Below about 1500 m the snow was starting to get pretty sloppy and gradual slow slush-skiing got us down the road (which has surprisingly more uphill than you think about in a car) and back to the parking area.

 

Looking up at the southern side of Oldhorn Mountain from the Astoria River.

 

Looking back towards the Wates Gibson from the Astoria River.

 

Really quick travel, skating across flats and sliding down inclines.

 

Another look at the false summit of Oldhorn.

 

Looking up at Throne Mountain (left) and Blackhorn Peak (right).

 

 

Not long until all the snow bridges over the river will vanish!

 

Back on Cavell Road, not as easy heading down as we hoped.

 

Overall this is a pretty great loop. Coming back another time when a good freeze is guaranteed to set up supportive snow for both days would make for a good trip. Still plenty of days left for skiing before summer!

 

Overall a pretty great loop, great to get some more distance on skis for a change!

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