Eagle Mountain (Goat's Eye Mountain)
Located at the confluence of Healy Creek and
Sunshine Creek in Alberta's Banff National Park, officially-named Eagle
Mountain is more commonly known as "Goat's Eye Mountain" especially among
visitors to nearby Sunshine Village Ski Resort.
Goat's Eye is actually the official name of a seldom-visited natural
window located along Eagle Mountain's northeast ridge. Climbing to
the summit of Eagle Mountain is little more than an easy walk-up, but
because of logistical reasons, ski ascents can be problematic.
On 28 November 2015, Sunshine Village Ski Resort was already open for the
new ski season, but the Goat's Eye Mountain section was still closed to
downhill traffic. Because of this, Rafal (Raff) Kazmierczak and I
assumed that we could skin up the vacant ski runs to ascend Eagle
Mountain. After climbing up the resort's ski-out to the
mid-mountain gondola station near the bottom of the Goat's Eye Express
Quad chairlift, we veered onto one of the ski runs leading to the upper
mountain. While nothing was groomed yet, we were able to follow a
convenient cat track all the way to the top of the chairlift. On
this day, the final slope above the top of the chairlift still had a lot
of rocks protruding from the snow, and I had doubts about being able to
ski all the way to the top. At worst, we would have to boot-pack,
but in any case, I had no concerns about possible avalanche hazards
(rated low-low-moderate that day) since there had not been any recent new
snow and what was already on the ground felt quite bomb-proof. As a
bonus, the weather was perfect--clear and calm.
Raff was a bit further ahead of me as we left the ski resort boundary to
ascend the final slope. Surprisingly, I heard a voice all of a
sudden in the distance far behind me. I looked back to see a lone
figure walking up the cat track, and he was shouting and waving to get my
attention. Regrettably, I stopped to find out what this person
wanted, and he turned out to be a ski patroller walking on foot. To
this day, I am still not sure what he was doing there so high up on a
non-operating section of the resort, but I suspect that he was skiing
nearby to take advantage of some pristine snow slopes and happened to
catch sight of Raff and me just by chance. Anyway, he informed me
that Raff and I were not allowed to climb up Eagle Mountain beyond the
ski resort boundary, and when I asked why, he came up with some BS about
avalanche danger which, as I have mentioned, was virtually non-existent
on this day. With some help from me, the ski patroller tried to get
Raff to also turn around, but Raff's Polish radar warning system must
have kicked in and made him deaf as he continued up the slope seemingly
oblivious to all our shouting. Eventually, the ski patroller gave
up, and after I promised him that I would not continue climbing but would
wait for Raff's return, he left me there and disappeared down the slope
almost as quickly as he had appeared. In hindsight, I probably
should have continued climbing after the ski patroller left, but instead,
I sat there nonplussed and waited until Raff returned from his successful
summit bid. Together, Raff and I skied back down the cat track and
the ski-out without any further issues.
Given the restrictions on the mountain during the ski resort's
operational season and the fact that the ski-out is usually unskiable
during the off-season, I came to realize why ski ascents of Eagle
Mountain are seemingly so rare. Having said that, there has been at
least one ski ascent done immediately after the end of the ski season as
Nakagawa, and of interest is a snowshoe ascent by
Steven Song where he managed to avoid ski patrollers by climbing
super early. While I was happy that Raff was able to tag the summit
of Eagle Mountain, I would continue to stew over my missed opportunity
for quite a long time to come.
As a result of a
coronavirus pandemic, Sunshine Village Ski Resort was closed for
operations on 22 March 2020, and I saw a golden opportunity to return for
another attempt to ski up Eagle Mountain. Joining me this time was
Zosia Zgolak, and coincidentally, we met with Raff and our mutual
friends, Andrea Battistel and Peter Henostroza, just outside the resort's
closed parking lot that morning. Andrea, Peter and Raff had plans
to ski up Quartz
Hill that day, but Zosia and I shared the ski-out with them for the
first hour and change until we reached the gondola mid-station. We
parted company here, and Zosia and I followed the easy ski run
"Forget-Me-Not" for awhile before cutting uphill through a short stretch
of forest to intersect another run known as "Sunshine Coast". This
run eventually leads all the way to the top of the now-familiar Goat's
Eye Express Quad chairlift, and we essentially followed much of the same
route as the cat track that Raff and I ascended in 2015. One steep
section early on prompted us to use our ski crampons but only briefly.
The rest of the climb up "Sunshine Coast" was generally easy but also long
and even a bit mundane at times.Upon reaching the top of the
chairlift, Zosia and I re-attached our ski crampons before ducking under
the resort boundary rope. This time, there was no surprise ski
patroller appearing to prevent us from proceeding. The final slope
had a bit more snow than my first visit, but I was still confident that
avalanche hazard was minimal (rated low-low-low on this day).
Unfortunately, the snow was highly variable with an unpredictable mix of
hard crusts and unconsolidated powder. The final slope is also steeper
than it initially appears, and I was thankful to have my ski crampons for
the ascent. Partway up, Zosia felt that she would not be able to
safely ski down the slope, and although she was willing to continue
climbing on foot, she was not comfortable doing so without boot crampons.
As such, she turned around and would wait for me back at the top of the
chairlift. I continued to zigzag upwards on my own, and
although my progress was slow, the slope never became too steep for my
skis. After what felt like an eternity, I finally dragged myself up
to the snow-covered summit cairn.
||Raff follows a cat track leading to
the top of Goat's Eye Express Quad chairlift which is barely visible
at far right.
||Raff goes beyond the ski resort's
boundary to climb the final slope leading to the top of Eagle
Mountain. He would remain "oblivious" to the calls from a ski
patroller prohibiting access to the upper mountain.
Familiar landmarks to the west include Monarch Ramparts
(left), Wawa Ridge
(foreground left of centre), and
Mount Bourgeau (left of centre) is the most distinguishable peak to the
Besides many familiar peaks near the Banff townsite, part of Lake
Minnewanka can be seen to the northeast.
The prominent peak left of centre is the high point of
the Sundance Range to the east.
Despite being buffeted by a rather chilly wind at the top, I
was thankful that the weather remained clear, and the summit views did
not disappoint. I snapped my usual requisite photos before
detaching my ski crampons and climbing skins. As expected, the ski
down from the summit to the top of the Goat's Eye Express Quad chairlift
was challenging. The highly variable snow plus the occasional
protruding rock forced me into "survival ski mode", and I had one
where I did a somersault while losing one of my skis. Fortunately,
I recovered from this wipeout without too much grief, and I avoided
further spills by skiing a bit more carefully on the lower part of the
The impressive north face of
Douglas attracts the most attention to the southeast. Also
visible on the right horizon is Mount Assiniboine.
After reuniting with Zosia, we enjoyed the best skiing of the
day cruising down "Sunshine Coast". In contrast to the
wind-affected slope above the chairlift, the groomed run was a real
pleasure to ski. Best of all, we had it all to ourselves. We
had no problems skiing back to the gondola mid-station and subsequently
down the ski-out to the parking lot.
A few days after this trip, Parks
Canada shut down vehicular access to all National Parks across Canada
amid growing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Just like
that, the window of opportunity to climb Eagle Mountain had closed once
more, and I am eternally grateful to Zosia for having the patience and
understanding to allow me to continue my ascent without her.
Dziękuję bardzo moje kochanie!
Here is one last look at Eagle Mountain as Zosia
continues descending "Sunshine Coast".
Distance: 16.2 kilometres
Round-Trip Time: 6 hours 48 minutes
Elevation Gain: 1188 metres