Shangrila And Sunset Peak

Kicking off an extended weekend in Alberta's Jasper National Park, Zosia Zgolak and I skied to Shangrila cabin with an extension to nearby unofficially-named Sunset Peak on 20 March 2021.  The ski tour is described in Chic Scott's Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies, and while it would have been nice to stay overnight at the historic cabin, we had to settle for what turned out to be a long day trip.

Starting from an unsigned pullout located along Maligne Lake Road about thirty-six kilometres from the junction with Highway 16, Zosia and I headed north along the west side of the road for a short distance before descending to partially-frozen Maligne River.  We then followed ski tracks across a snow bridge and up the far bank which had one short section of bare ground.  Entering forest, we continued along a flagged trail and soon passed a junction with the summer trail coming in from the left which is also the alternate ski approach when the river crossing is not feasible (the alternate approach starts from a bridge one kilometre further south of the pullout).  We soon intersected Jeffery Creek and settled into a long but otherwise uncomplicated ascent up the creek bed.  More than seven kilometres from the start, we left the creek at an obvious sign with an arrow pointing left and skied an additional kilometre before reaching Shangrila cabin.  Although the cabin was locked, we were able to sit on the front porch for a short break and had access to the nearby outhouse.  The well-maintained cabin was built in 1936 and is operated by Maligne Lake Ski Club, but bookings require a club membership and appear to involve a lottery system.

Snow was falling heavily when Zosia and I left the cabin to follow, with some uncertainty, ski tracks heading south.  These tracks eventually led us into an open basin where the possibilities for ski touring are endless.  We opted to climb up to Little Shovel Pass which is one of the waypoints along Jasper's famed Skyline Trail.  By the time we reached the pass, the sky had cleared enough for us to consider ascending the rounded hump to the northeast which is unofficially known as Sunset Peak and is about two hundred and fifty metres higher.  The route to the top is not technically difficult, but much of the upper sections were so windswept and bare that we decided to ditch our skis after gaining only about fifty metres of elevation.  While the remainder of the ascent was straightforward, we arrived on the summit with bone-chilling winds and limited visibility.  As such, we only stayed long enough to snap a quick photo before retreating back to where we ditched our skis.

For our ski out, Zosia and I essentially retraced our route in its entirety.  The skiing near Little Shovel Pass was fantastic, and it was a shame that we did not have the time to explore more of the basin.  In contrast, the ski back to Shangrila and then out Jeffery Creek was a nightmare for me because I had virtually no glide.  Between the residual skin glue on my skis and the bountiful fresh snow on the trail, I had a lot of trouble maintaining momentum on any flat or low-angle sections.  I probably could have skied faster had I kept my skins on!  Zosia, who had no problems with her glide, was very patient and constantly waited for me to catch up to her.  I fared a little better where Jeffery Creek begins descending in earnest to its confluence with Maligne River, but by then, my feet were in agony after such a prolonged shuffle.  Fortunately, I did not develop any blisters as I limped back to the unsigned pullout behind Zosia, and by the time we drove back to our accommodations in Jasper townsite, I was already feeling right as rain.
Still feels solid...for now!

Zosia carefully crosses a snow bridge over Maligne River.

Ho hum.

The ski up Jeffery Creek is long but uncomplicated.

Darn weather! The creek bed widens here, but the views of distant ridges are obscured by low clouds.
Birdie num num. A lone ptarmigan is distracted from chewing on a twig sticking out of the snow.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Exit, stage left! The trail to Shangrila cabin leaves Jeffery Creek at this obvious arrow.
Zosia is using an icicle as a pointer! Shangrila cabin was built in 1936 by Donald "Curly" Phillips and Doug Jeffery.
Hope we're going in the right direction! Zosia skis beyond Shangrila cabin under heavy snowfall.
Awesome ski touring possibilities here! With the snowfall ending, Zosia enters an open basin and breaks trail through fresh snow.
Very pleasant ski touring! Zosia approaches Little Shovel Pass.
The last time I was here was almost 25 years ago! Zosia arrives at Little Shovel Pass (2231 metres).  The elevation on the sign reads "2240 m".
Time to ditch the skis! Zosia begins to climb up Sunset Peak from Little Shovel Pass.
Maybe a moderate or difficult scramble? In this view from the lower slopes of Sunset Peak, unofficially-named Trowel Peak rises up on the opposite side of Little Shovel Pass.
Very marginal skiing here... Zosia has ditched her skis since the upper parts of Sunset Peak are mostly bare of snow on this day.
Steeper than it looks! Zosia approaches the final rise before the summit.
It's a real shame that we didn't have clearer weather here. Sonny and Zosia huddle against the wind on the summit of Sunset Peak (2487 metres).

Still looks amazing under cloudy conditions!

Zosia retraces her steps down Sunset Peak.


Bagging Mount Aberhart seems like a great reason to return here! As Zosia descends Sunset Peak, clouds clear to reveal another peak in the distance.  According to Chic Scott, this other peak is unofficially known as Mount Aberhart.
We may come back sooner than later... Back on skis, Zosia returns the way she came.

Sonny runs out of snow to ski on.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak


Definitely worth a return to the area in better weather. Total Distance:  24.0 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  10 hours 20 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  902 metres

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