Hector South Ridge
David Watt, Mike Wingham, Marta Wojnarowska, Zosia Zgolak and I headed out to the Icefields Parkway in Alberta's Banff National Park on 3 March 2019 to ski up one of the high points along the south ridge of Mount Hector.  Usually referred to as Hector South Ridge, a snowshoe ascent of this objective has been reported by Bob Spirko, but since we were all skiing, we drew most of our inspiration from the route description in Marcus Baranow's guidebook, Confessions Of A Ski Bum--The Icefields Parkway--Lake Louise To Bow Summit.  As per the guidebook directions, we parked on the east side of Highway 93 about 10 kilometres north of the traffic control gate just beyond the turnoff from Trans-Canada Highway.  There were already a couple of vehicles parked here when we arrived, and I was quite delighted at the prospect of having a broken trail to follow.

For the next 90 minutes or so, we climbed up moderately steep slopes through a rather thick forest.  Already, I had some concerns about how we were going to dodge all the trees on our way back down.  Despite cold temperatures that day, the steady climb kept us warm through the shade of the forest, and once we broke out onto the open slopes above tree line, we were treated to clear skies with warm sunshine and hardly a breath of wind.
Nice truck, Vern! The group gets ready on the side of Highway 93.
Beep...beep...beep... Marta conducts an avalanche transceiver check on Mike as he starts up an old skin track at the start. the heck are we gonna get down through these trees??

The group climbs up through thick forest.

Thank heavens we didn't have to break trail! Marta and Mike climb up a switchback in the broken trail on a steep slope.
Things are looking up!

The trees begin to thin out higher up the slope.

Still a lot of climbing left...

Zosia continues climbing up the skin track.  Part of Hector South Ridge is visible in the distance.

What a view!

Hector Lake is visible at distant right as Mike climbs past the last trees.

Not as tame as it looks from here...

The group approaches Hector South Ridge.  Note the skin tracks heading up the slope at left.

Further up, David, Mike, Marta, Zosia and I stopped for a break at a plateau just below a big slope leading to the crest of Hector South Ridge.  Here, we noticed six people descending the slope above us--two were on skis and the rest were on snowshoes.  To my utter surprise, the first skier to reach us turned out to be none other than Vern Dewit, my old scrambling buddy and outdoor enthusiast/photographer/web author extraordinaire.  Although we keep in touch through social media, I had not seen Vern in about five years.  The second skier to join us was also another familiar face--Alison Sekera, an avid peak-bagger with whom Zosia and I had done a couple of ascents in 2017.  We were soon joined by the snowshoers which included Matthew Clay (another local outdoor enthusiast/web author), Hanneke Dewit, Sandra Jacques and Phil Richards.  Although I had never met any of the snowshoers before, I was familiar with most of them thanks to Vern's and Matthew's websites.  In any event, the meeting of our two parties on the same ridge felt like a delightful reunion of sorts and was definitely the highlight of the day for me.

The Dream Team?

The meeting of two parties include (L to R) Mike, David, Marta, Zosia, Alison, Matthew, Sandra, Phil, Hanneke and Vern.


After parting ways with Vern's group, David, Mike, Marta, Zosia and I climbed up the slope leading to the crest of Hector South Ridge.  This slope is only moderately steep, but because of foreshortening, it is a much longer climb than it looks from below.  Before tackling the ridge itself, we took a short detour north to a minor high point which grants an unobstructed view of nearby Mount Hector.
It's farther and longer than it looks to the top due to foreshortening! The group heads up the slope leading to the crest of Hector South Ridge.
This is a good place to stop for those who don't like any exposure. The group takes a detour to this minor high point with an unobstructed view of Mount Hector.
When we resumed our ascent of Hector South Ridge, we began encountering some unexpected challenges.  Massive cornices hung over the north side of the ridge, and it was sometimes difficult to ascertain where terra firma was.  The south side of the ridge dropped away steeply and felt exposed because the slope was covered with icy, wind-blown snow.  Given these conditions, David and Zosia opted to abandon the ascent and head back down to the plateau where they would later hike along a lower subsidiary ridge to the south.

So many familiar peaks!

The group descends slightly to follow Hector South Ridge which is out of view to the left.  David and Zosia would later hike along the subsidiary ridge in the right foreground.


Looks a little daunting now...

Hector South Ridge stretches away to the southeast.

Lotsa enticing peaks back there... Molar Mountain (left) sticks up like a sore tooth to the north.

Not as easy to ascend as it looks...

The group begins to ascend the upper part of Hector South Ridge.


Meanwhile, Mike and Marta both attached crampons to the base of their skis and continued climbing up the ridge.  I did not have ski crampons, but I was determined to keep going even if it meant removing my skis at some point to boot-pack the remaining distance.  As it turned out, there were only a couple of sections that gave me some trouble due to steepness or protruding rocks, but I managed to muddle through them in my skis with some difficulty.  The actual high point was covered by a massive cornice, and we only dared to venture as far as where the tracks of Vern's party stopped.  It was perhaps a bit disappointing that we did not have a 360-degree panoramic view from the highest point we reached, but given all the glorious views we had already witnessed on our way up, it was hard to complain.
Good thing it wasn't windy on this day! The cornices on the left and the increasing steepness of the slope on the right render the ascent of the ridge much more challenging in winter.
This section was a bit problematic for me without ski crampons. Mike and Marta climb above some protruding rocks along the ridge.

After all the effort to get here, it sucks that we ain't getting a 360-degree panorama!

Marta and Mike approach the high point of Hector South Ridge.  With the presence of a massive cornice, it is difficult to tell where the actual high point is located.


Might be worth coming back here in the summer for a more complete panoramic view... Mike and Marta cautiously venture somewhere near the high point.  They would turn around pretty much at this point.
Close enough for today! Sonny takes a selfie somewhere near the high point of Hector South Ridge.  His recorded elevation is 2743 metres.
Keep your skins on for now; there are a few short annoying uphills on the way back! Mike and Marta are satisfied with their ascent of Hector South Ridge and prepare to return the way they came.
Mike and Marta removed their crampons but left their skins on before retracing their tracks back along the ridge.  I followed suit, but while they stopped to remove their skins after clearing the last significant uphill climb on the way back, I descended a little further past a rocky section before removing mine.  The wind-blown snow on the ridge was not terribly enjoyable to ski on, but conditions improved somewhat on the slope we ascended earlier below the ridge crest.  We eventually made it to where David and Zosia had ditched their skis to hike the subsidiary ridge.  Marta started following their boot prints to search for them, but David and Zosia soon returned to join us and retrieve their skis.
Not the best skiing due to the rocks and wind-blown snow. Mike skis down the upper ridge with Marta following behind.
Still have to mind the cornices! Marta and Mike return to safer ground along the ridge.
Looks like an ad for a ski resort! Descending from the ridge crest, Marta skis through some choppy powder.  Mount Daly dominates the background.
The skiing was good but not great. Mike continues to descend the original access slope for Hector South Ridge.
Rip it, Marta! Marta fights through some crusty snow on her way down.
Reunited, we all subsequently enjoyed the best skiing of the day while descending from the plateau to tree line.  The snow condition was generally excellent here, and we all got in some nice turns before entering the forest below.  Skiing down through the forest was markedly more challenging, but surprisingly, it was also a great deal of fun as we maneuvered in between and around a seemingly impenetrable array of tree trunks.  It is a miracle that none of us were seriously speared or had our eyes gouged on our way down.  Mike did a masterful job of route-finding and leading us efficiently through the forest, and we were fortunate that the snow quality remained very good all the way back to the highway.

We wrapped up an already spectacular day by having dinner beside a roaring fireplace at Outpost Pub in Lake Louise.

And people pay good money to ski at Lake Louise Ski Resort?

Zosia descends an easy slope against a magnificent backdrop which includes Hector Lake.


Looking like a pro! Zosia enjoys some nice powder skiing near tree line.
Best skiing of the day was right around here! Marta finds a great line to ski down.
A pretty challenging descent--not recommended for novices! David, Zosia and Marta pause briefly during the long and tricky descent through the forest.
Pricey, but the ambience, food and service were excellent! Sonny, Mike, David, Zosia and Marta enjoy their après-ski at Outpost Pub in Lake Louise.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

A spectacular ski mountaineering objective that is also relatively safe. Total Distance:  10.3 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  6 hours 15 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  929 metres

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