Despite some fresh snowfall, Zosia and I had no problems driving to my selected starting point along the access road which presumably gets plowed from time to time during the winter. After a quick check of the snow on the ground, we opted to begin our approach on skis, but we strapped our snowshoes onto our packs just in case the upper parts of the mountain proved too difficult to ski. From the gate, we started skiing along a road through light forest and soon passed a large open field on our right. We continued southward and climbed up a corridor cutting through a separate stretch of forest. Resembling a short ski run, this corridor is steep enough to warrant donning climbing skins, but we managed to get up by herringboning and zigzagging a bit in the forest beside it. Emerging from the top of the corridor, we entered another large field and crossed to the southwest corner where we found the start of another longer corridor which undulates along the eastern flank of Okotoks Mountain.
Finally donning our skins here, Zosia and I
climbed only about 400 metres along this second corridor before
abandoning it to ascend a lightly forested slope leading to the summit
ridge. Although we probably could have skinned all the way up, we
soon realized that descending this same slope on our light touring gear
might be a bit too ambitious for our skill level. As a result, we
ditched our skis partway up the slope and switched to snowshoes, and even
then, I struggled a bit to climb the last 50 metres before the summit
ridge. This was the steepest part of the ascent for us, and the
variable snow conditions here (fresh powder overlying a mix of icy crusts
and unconsolidated sugar) made it challenging sometimes to gain purchase
with our snowshoes. Fortunately, this difficult section is short,
and once we gained the crest of Okotoks Mountain's north ridge, we had
little trouble traversing over the north and middle summits to reach the
highest south summit.
Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak
While the open slopes beyond the south summit looked very tempting to descend, Zosia and I regrettably had to go back the way we came in order to retrieve our skis. Again, we had no issues traversing the summit ridge, but the descent of the steep slope we had come up was not without a few anxious moments due to the aforementioned snow conditions. When we got back to our skis, we picked them up and continued to descend the slope on our snowshoes until we returned to the second corridor. We removed our skins here and strapped our snowshoes back onto our packs before commencing our ski out. The ski descent proved to be the real highlight of the day for me as we glided almost effortlessly all the way back to the gate at our starting point. If doing laps on light touring gear was a thing, the approach route for Okotoks Mountain would definitely be the place to do it!
With the necessity to obtain access permission, Okotoks Mountain is probably not destined to become a classic hiking or snowshoeing objective especially given the wealth of similar or even better options in nearby Kananaskis Country. Still, the uncomplicated terrain and general solitude here may appeal to those looking for an easy day out away from the usual outdoor crowds.
Zosia climbs over a gate to enter OH
Ranch Heritage Rangeland.
A light dusting of fresh snow makes for some great ski conditions
on this day.
Zosia approaches the first corridor which climbs up to the right behind
The north ridge of Okotoks Mountain is visible in the background as Zosia
skis toward the start of another corridor which climbs through the trees
to the left.
After ditching her skis and donning snowshoes, Zosia climbs up a steep
Zosia gains the crest of Okotoks Mountain's summit ridge.
Zosia reaches the north summit (1582 metres) of Okotoks Mountain.
Although much of the summit ridge is forested, travel is still generally
easy with very little bushwhacking.
Zosia arrives at the middle summit (1582 metres) of Okotoks Mountain.
Zosia approaches the south end of the
Sonny and Zosia stand atop the south
(highest) summit (1585 metres) of Okotoks Mountain.
Whisky Ridge is barely visible to the
After backtracking along the summit ridge, Zosia descends the steep
forested slope to retrieve her skis.
Back to skiing mode, Zosia prepares to glide down the rest of the
Sonny sails back down the first corridor as
if he was at a ski resort.
Distance: 6.1 kilometres
Round-Trip Time: 3 hours 3 minutes
Net Elevation Gain: 237 metres
Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak