Twin Cairns And Wawa Ridge

On 31 March 2018, Zosia Zgolak and I went for a ski tour near Sunshine Village ski resort in Alberta's Banff National Park.  With sunny weather in the forecast and avalanche danger rated as low-moderate-moderate, I felt it was the ideal opportunity to revisit Twin Cairns.  Zosia had never been there before, and when I ascended it in 2015, I had no views to speak of.

The ski-out had been freshly groomed when we set off from the lower gondola station, and the preliminary grind up to the village did not seem as long or tiresome this time.  When we arrived at the village, we took a break in the day lodge before hitching a ride to the top of the Wawa chairlift.  This saved us about 175 metres of elevation gain and probably about an hour's worth of time.  With our avalanche transceivers turned on, we crossed the ski area boundary and made a beeline for Twin Cairns.  Remarkably, there were no signs of other backcountry skiers in the area, and we had to break our own trail through the pristine snow.

Upon reaching the base of Twin Cairns, we began climbing up at an angle on the northeastern slopes.  At some point, the slope became too steep for Zosia's liking, and she opted to forego the summit and descend to a safe spot to wait for me.  I was in a rare groove on this day and felt really strong climbing up to the summit ridge.  I eventually tagged the summit cairn, and after taking a few requisite photos, I removed my skins and skied back down the way I came.
Paying the price of admission...again! Zosia climbs up the ski-out.

I'm still tickled that we rode the Wawa chairlift to get up here!

Leaving the ski resort behind, Zosia heads toward Twin Cairns.


Aim for the big patch of rocks to the right. Zosia approaches the base of Twin Cairns.
Thank you, Zosia, for breaking trail and getting me this far! The slope becomes considerably steeper as Sonny climbs up to the summit ridge.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Can you spot Zosia in the photo? Sonny's approach tracks can be traced all the way back to the top of Wawa chairlift in this view from the summit ridge.
Ironically, we never got a clear view of Mount Assiniboine itself on this day! This is looking south past the summit cairn into British Columbia's Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

The last time I was here, my GPS gave me an elevation of 2544 metres.

Sonny stands on the summit of Twin Cairns (2551 metres) for the second time in his life.


Maybe scramble up this thing this summer? The Monarch lives up to its name to the southwest.

I climbed Sugarloaf Mountain in 1996. It has also been referred to as Natalko Nubbin.

Visible to the northwest are Sugarloaf Mountain (far left), the highest of the Pharaoh Peaks (centre), and Mount Ball (right).


Mount Brett is to the left, but its summit is shrouded in clouds. Mount Bourgeau (right) is the easiest peak to identify on the northern horizon.

F**cking Eagle Mountain!

The summit of Twin Cairns provides a great overview of Sunshine Village ski resort including Eagle (or Goat's Eye) Mountain to the left and Mount Howard Douglas to the right.


When I made it back down to the base of Twin Cairns, Zosia was nowhere to be seen.  However, I was able to follow her ski tracks and eventually found her wandering in the meadows north of Twin Cairns.  After reuniting, we both decided to head north and ascend Wawa Ridge.  Zosia and I had already climbed Wawa Ridge together in 2016, but like my first trip up Twin Cairns, we were not rewarded with any views.

We skied across the intervening flats and made it to the crest of the south ridge before putting our climbing skins back on (Zosia had removed her skins while I was on top of Twin Cairns).  The remainder of the ascent was very easy and straightforward.  While Zosia chose to ditch her skis and boot-pack up the last few metres to the summit, I was feeling like a ski purist and managed to skin all the way up.

Although we were granted far-reaching views on this day from the top of Wawa Ridge, a chilly wind made it too uncomfortable to linger.  Zosia promptly headed back down to where she left her skis, but I stuck around a bit longer to take a few photographs before joining her.  With our climbing skins off for good, we skied down the south ridge and worked our way back to the ski resort at the top of the Wawa chairlift.  The resort had already closed for the day, and except for a few stragglers, we generally had the ski runs all to ourselves.  Unfortunately, that also meant that there had already been a lot of maintenance vehicle traffic on the ski-out which created some rather choppy snow conditions for much of our descent.

The marginal skiing at the end notwithstanding, this was still an outstanding day of ski touring, and it was great to return to these two summits under much sunnier skies.
Easy trail-breaking here! Zosia heads for Wawa Ridge (left of centre).
Sunny and warm--I still can't believe nobody else is ski touring here today! Sonny follows Zosia's tracks across the meadow north of Twin Cairns.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

The most gentle ski ascent ever! Zosia comes across some tracks heading up Wawa Ridge.
She values the base of her skis more than I do mine! Zosia ditches her skis just before the top of Wawa Ridge.

The last time I was here, my GPS gave me an elevation of 2482 metres.

Sonny and Zosia both stand for a second time on the summit of Wawa Ridge (2473 metres).


We didn't get this fantastic view last time we were up here! Here is another perspective of Sunshine Village ski resort from the top of Wawa Ridge.
Hey, I was just Twin Cairns, that is. Twin Cairns and The Monarch stand out to the south.
I hope to do some ski touring there next winter... Here is a comprehensive view of the terrain near Healy Pass (left).
If you have a really sharp eye, you might also be able to spot a small chunk of Lake Minnewanka in this photo! The view to the northeast includes Mount Bourgeau (left) and Vermilion Lakes near Banff town site.

Unfortunately, it's NOT all downhill from here!

Zosia descends Wawa Ridge to return to the ski resort.


We timed that well! The ski runs are deserted as Zosia re-enters the resort.
I don't think I'll be in the mood for more skiing once I come back from Arizona in two weeks! Sonny zips down the ski-out on what would turn out to be his last run of the season.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Just an awesome day of ski touring! Total Distance:  20.2 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  7 hours 43 minutes
Total Elevation Gain:  1144 metres*

GPX Data

* Includes ~175 metres gained riding Wawa chairlift