Heather Ridge

Stephane Champoussin and Zosia Zgolak accompanied me for a ski ascent of Heather Ridge near the Skoki area of Alberta's Banff National Park on 12 February 2017.  Three years earlier, I had attempted Heather Ridge along with a large party of snowshoers and AT skiers.  While everyone else in that party had made it up to the high point that day, I had floundered badly with my light touring gear (very cold temperatures that day had severely affected my waxes) and had been unable to climb above the base of the ridge.  In 2015, Matthew Hobbs had also used light touring gear for the approach but had switched to snowshoes for the final climb up the ridge.  This is probably the best way to climb Heather Ridge in winter, but when I returned with Stephane and Zosia, we opted to keep things simple and just use AT gear.

Unlike the frigid temperatures from three years ago, we had much more pleasant weather conditions on this day.  As we geared up at the trailhead, we were pleasantly surprised to meet Alan Kane and Sim Galloway who were planning to do a circumnavigation of Fossil Mountain.  The preliminary grind up the ski out was unremarkable as usual, but we set a pretty good pace and made it to Boulder Pass in about 2.75 hours.  After skiing partway across Ptarmigan Lake, we turned right up an obvious draw leading to the base of Heather Ridge.  While the avalanche danger was rated "Considerable" on this day, much of the area we were in was windblown, and we found very little evidence of snow instability other than some slides that had already released on some of the surrounding peaks.  The line we took to ascend Heather Ridge felt very safe regardless, and although rocks protruded everywhere, we managed to skin all the way up to the false summit.  Just as the large party had done three years earlier, we ditched our skis at the false summit and boot-packed the rest of the way to the true high point.  Following the embarrassment of being the only one not to reach the high point three years ago, I felt very gratified to finally stand atop Heather Ridge.

We stayed at the high point for over half an hour before returning to the false summit to retrieve our skis.  Although Zosia and Stephane seemingly had no problems skiing back down our ascent route, I took a couple of spills while trying to maneuver through rocks and an inconsistent snow pack.  Once we dropped down to the base of the ridge, we enjoyed a nice and gradual descent back to Ptarmigan Lake.  Our return to Boulder Pass was hampered by a strong headwind, but otherwise, the remainder of our ski out was straightforward.

When we arrived back at the trailhead, we noticed that the vehicle that belonged to Sim and Alan was still in the parking lot.  I found out later that they ended up returning after dark.  In the meantime, Stephane, Zosia and I drove to Banff in hopes of devouring burgers at Barpa Bill's, but disappointingly, the place was closed on this day.  As a result, we had to settle for a celebratory meal at Wendy's in Canmore instead.
This was my first time meeting Sim! Stephane and Zosia ski past Sim and Alan who stopped to wax their skis.

I would like to ski Ptarmigan Peak some day...

Stephane and Zosia stop to enjoy the view of (L to R) Pika Peak, unnamed and Ptarmigan Peak.  Note the avalanche that has slid on Ptarmigan Peak.


It took us about 2 hours 45 minutes to get here from the parking lot. Stephane arrives at Boulder Pass.  Fossil Mountain is visible in the distance.
Heather Ridge looks a bit spooky from here... Stephane watches Sonny skiing across Ptarmigan Lake.  Heather Ridge is visible at right.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

The ridge looks deceptively low here... Stephane and Zosia head toward Heather Ridge.
Who knew that a ptarmigan could be so dominant? Ptarmigan Peak dominates the landscape behind Zosia and Stephane.
Unity Peak is starting to creep up my to-do list... Redoubt Mountain towers over its namesake lake to the right of Stephane.  Also visible in the distance is Unity Peak.
I briefly thought about skiing down these slopes...very briefly! Stephane and Zosia pause below the west slopes of Heather Ridge.
I can't believe we're still skiing at this point! Stephane and Zosia thread their way through a seemingly endless minefield of rocks.
Ho hum...just another gorgeous day in Banff National Park! Here is a more comprehensive view of Redoubt Mountain from further up Heather Ridge.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Might be fun to scramble up one or two of these...

Stephane and Zosia ski past some interesting rock formations on the ridge crest.


Time to ditch the skis! Sonny and Stephane arrive at the false summit (2654 metres).  The true high point of Heather Ridge is just ahead.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Mind the freakin' cornices! Zosia leads Stephane up to the high point of Heather Ridge.
Not sure why, but the photo is just slightly out of focus. :-( Stephane, Zosia and Sonny stand on the high point of Heather Ridge (2694 metres).  Check out Stephane's 360 summit panorama here.
So Stephane, just behind that mountain is where all the single girls hang out... With Redoubt Mountain behind them, Sonny points out some distant peaks to Stephane.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Richardson looks skiable... Beyond Heather Ridge's false summit are Mount Richardson (left) and Ptarmigan Peak.
Packer's Pass Peak is also on my radar now... The view to the north includes Deception Pass, Skoki Mountain and Fossil Mountain.
Anyone wanna take a shot at Douglas and/or St. Bride with me? Although Brachiopod Mountain is immediately to the northeast, it is easily overshadowed by distant Mount Douglas (left) and Mount St. Bride.
"Anthozoa" means "flower animals"! Anthozoan Mountain stretches away to the east.
Maybe a weekend bivy will be in order to bag some of these summits... Encircling the valley to the south are Mount Avens, Pulsatilla Mountain, Television Peak and Protection Mountain.
And Purple Mound is almost perfectly hidden behind Unity Peak. The Ten Peaks and Mount Temple are easily recognized to the southwest.  In the foreground are Unity Peak and Lipalian Mountain.

I hope our skis are still there...

Zosia and Stephane return to the false summit.  At right is Ptarmigan Peak.


Yeah...I suck at skiing!! Stephane waits for Sonny who is still somewhere up above.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Like getting an extra's all good, man! Zosia and Stephane ski into the teeth of the wind howling across Ptarmigan Lake.
Maybe someone should throw me a rope... Sonny struggles to keep up to the others as he shuffles across windswept Ptarmigan Lake.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

"How much you charge for a 'windy', Wendy?" Boulder Pass is much more windy in the afternoon on this day.
Actually, there are still a few annoying little uphill sections on the way back. Zosia and Stephane settle into a gradual descent back to the ski resort.

See ya later!

Here is a last look at Mount Richardson, Pika Peak, unnamed and Ptarmigan Peak.


So glad to get this 'monkey' off my back! Total Distance:  23.1 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  7 hours 50 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  1092 metres

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