Observation Sub Peak East
Stephane Champoussin, David Watt, Mike Wingham, Marta Wojnarowska, Zosia Zgolak and I headed out to the Icefields Parkway in Alberta's Banff National Park on 10 March 2019 to ski up the east summit of Observation Sub Peak.  This ski tour is described in Marcus Baranow's guidebook, Confessions Of A Ski Bum--The Icefields Parkway--Lake Louise To Bow Summit.  Although Observation Sub Peak's west summit is slightly higher and apparently more popular, the east summit holds some appeal with the promise of less skier traffic.  As per the guidebook directions, we parked on the side of Highway 93 about 36 kilometres north of the traffic control gate just beyond the turnoff from Trans-Canada Highway.

This area was teeming with backcountry skiers on this day looking to take advantage of the fantastic weather forecast and favourable avalanche conditions.  Despite the circus-like atmosphere at the trailhead, we did not encounter anyone else on our route for the rest of the day once we started skinning up into the forest to the east.  After an initial steep but straightforward climb through the trees, we entered a large valley separating Observation Sub Peak from Cirque Peak to the southeast.  We continued all the way to the back of the valley before climbing up a big headwall leading to a broad saddle southeast of our objective.  Up until this point, snow conditions had been generally good, but above the saddle, everything was very crusty and wind-blown.  This was not a problem at first, but as we climbed up the south ridge of the east summit, the gradually tilting slope was becoming dangerously slippery.
Parks Canada really needs to build a big pullout here before someone gets run over by a passing car. There is not a lot of room to park on the shoulder of Highway 93 near the trailhead.
The multitude of ski tracks here can be confusing... Mike, Marta and Stephane prepare to head into the trees at far right.  The west summit of Observation Sub Peak is visible right of centre.
It's still a tad chilly in the shadows...

Zosia and Stephane enter a large valley separating Observation Sub Peak from Cirque Peak.

The warm sun feels really nice! The group stops for a break in the middle of the valley.

Looks like a few skiers have already been here recently...

The group follows ski tracks to the headwall at the back of the valley.


Gotta have good avi conditions to go up here! The group climbs the headwall below impressive cliffs.
It's still a pretty good workout! The climb up the headwall is moderately steep.
You could possibly do a lot of yo-yo skiing here.

The terrain flattens out a bit near the top of the headwall.  Visible behind Marta and Stephane is the western outlier of Cirque Peak.

Starting to feel a bit of a cool breeze here... Zosia follows David and Mike up the last rise before the top of the headwall.
Looks innocuous enough from a distance... The group approaches the south ridge of Observation Sub Peak's east summit.
Below an obvious rock band cutting across the ridge, everyone else stopped to attach ski crampons.  I was the only one that did not have ski crampons, but I felt comfortable enough on the slope to continue upward.  Despite a couple of short slips, my ski edges generally held firm for me, and I managed to muddle my way up above the rock band to a high plateau.  Concerned about my safety because I did not have crampons, Mike suggested that I borrow Marta's ice axe since I had left mine in my car.  Although I felt confident that I could stop myself from an inadvertent slide with just my ski edges, I heeded to Mike's advice and accepted Marta's ice axe.  As it turned out, I did not use it much for the remainder of the ascent, but it was nice to have the ice axe in hand anyway for some added security while climbing the final icy slopes just below the top.
The icy snow makes the kick turn more difficult than it looks. David makes a kick turn just below a rock band cutting across the ridge.
Kinda scary... This photo gives a better perspective of the angle of the icy slope on the south ridge.
Almost there... The group crosses a plateau to climb up the final slope before the top.  Observation Sub Peak's higher west summit is barely visible at far left.

Brrrrr...the wind is brutally cold up here!

Gathered on the east summit (2939 metres) of Observation Sub Peak are (L to R) Stephane, Marta, Zosia, Mike and David.


Seems like there was just as much snow when I climbed Observation Peak 14 years earlier! To the northwest beyond Observation Sub Peak's west summit (left) is Observation Peak itself.

Looking into one of the more remote parts of Banff National Park.

Dolomite Creek valley stretches away to the north.


That's a pretty good to-do list for me! Cirque Peak (right) is clearly visible to the southeast, but other familiar peaks can be seen across the distant horizon including Mount Douglas, Mount St. Bride, Mount Hector, Mount Assiniboine and Mount Ball.
Because of a chilly wind, we only stayed at the top long enough to snap a few photos and remove our crampons and skins.  Not surprisingly, our initial descent left a lot to be desired as the icy slopes on the upper mountain did not make for particularly great skiing.  Getting through the aforementioned rock band was also a bit challenging although not as much as I had anticipated.  Snow conditions improved significantly once we descended past the broad saddle above the headwall, and the ski back down to the valley was much more enjoyable.

The descent through the forest to the highway was eerily similar to what most of us experienced the previous week on Hector South Ridge, and once again, we had to avoid getting impaled while skiing between closely spaced trees.  Fortunately, everyone made it down safely, and I recall having only a few minor wipeouts along the way.
We should have maybe continued on to the west summit and skied down from there. Stephane and Zosia watch as David carefully side-slips down the west side of the summit.
This is a little out of Zosia's comfort zone... Marta watches Zosia side-slipping down the icy slope.  Bow Lake is visible at far left while Mount Baker stands prominently above all the other peaks on the horizon.
Zosia is not enjoying this! Zosia goes into survival-skiing mode while following Marta down the icy slope.  Unofficially-named Watermelon Peak is visible in the distance at right.

It's really a shame that the snow sucked badly here!

Cirque Peak dominates the background as Zosia skis down the slope.


This was the crux on this day! Zosia employs Marta's ice axe while descending a steep section near the problematic rock band on the ridge.
Hmmm...I'm not sure why we didn't just ski down the slope on the right side of the photo instead of retracing our up-track! Well below the troublesome rock band, David, Stephane, Zosia and Marta continue descending the ridge.
The broad peak in the foreground looks like another enticing ski tour... Bobac Mountain (left) provides a striking backdrop as David skis down an easy slope.
Good--not great--skiing here, but anything was better than the crusty shit on the upper mountain! Zosia skis down the headwall.
I guess she's not ready to give up on the sport just yet! Back in the trees, Zosia is still smiling despite all the skiing challenges she faced on this day.
I'd like to come back under better snow conditions... Total Distance:  12.3 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  6 hours 32 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  942 metres

GPX Data