Lipalian Mountain

Zosia Zgolak and I completed a ski ascent of Lipalian Mountain in Alberta's Banff National Park on 13 March 2021.  When we ascended nearby Wolverine Ridge and Purple Mound in 2017, we did not have enough daylight left to go after Lipalian Mountain, and on a subsequent attempt in 2019, we pulled the plug due to high winds.  This time, the weather forecast promised calm conditions, and we had ample daylight to complete the trip.  The only fly in the ointment was an avalanche hazard rating of "Considerable" at all terrain levels due to rising temperatures.  Normally, this would be enough to make me consider changing objectives, but having already skied most of the ascent route on two previous occasions, I was fairly confident that we could avoid or minimize exposure to serious avalanche terrain.  Furthermore, recent images from the Lake Louise ski resort web cam showed that the steepest part of the route below Purple Mound appeared to be windswept with lots of exposed patches of bare ground.  With these considerations in mind, we decided that it was worth risking another attempt on Lipalian Mountain with the provision that we would turn around if we felt that snow conditions were unsafe.

Starting from the Fish Creek trailhead near Lake Louise ski resort, Zosia and I skinned up the all-too-familiar ski-out to the start of the trail to Skoki Lodge.  Not far along the trail, we branched off to the right on an obvious track which led us up into Wolverine Valley.  Further up the valley, we picked out a skin track which climbed efficiently up to the col separating Wolverine Ridge from Purple Mound.  There are some short slopes here that have the potential to slide, but contrary to the day's avalanche hazard rating, the snow felt very stable and unreactive.  From the col, we climbed up the windswept ridge leading to Purple Mound.  There was a lot of exposed ground here, and the final steep slope before the top of Purple Mound was mostly bare rock.  Rather than climb all the way up Purple Mound, I opted to traverse the slope just below the top to reach the connecting ridge to Lipalian Mountain.  Zosia was not as comfortable going across this slope mainly because of the steepness, and instead, she boot-packed up the bare rocks almost to the top of Purple Mound.  The snow felt very stable on my traverse, but I did employ my ski crampons here to help reduce side-slippage.  Upon gaining the crest of the connecting ridge to Lipalian Mountain, I waited for Zosia to ski down from near the top of Purple Mound.  Once she rejoined me, we continued down to the low point of the connecting ridge before climbing the remainder of the uncomplicated route to the top of Lipalian Mountain.  With warm sunshine and hardly a breath of wind, it felt luxurious to take an extended break on the summit.  The only mishap of the day occurred when I sat down on my pack and inadvertently broke a bottle of wax remover that I always carry while skiing (in case I have some residual skin glue on my skis).  Fortunately, there was not much left in the bottle, but the solvent did leave a rather interesting smell on my pack and a blue stain on the summit snow which attracted the attention of a couple of crows after our departure.

For our descent Zosia and I headed back across the connecting ridge to Purple Mound.  Just as before, Zosia elected to climb back nearly to the top of Purple Mound before walking down the steep rocky slope she boot-packed earlier.  Meanwhile, I took a slightly lower line below my previous shortcut to bypass the top of Purple Mound, and this traverse turned out to be quick and easy especially since I was now descending across the slope.  When I regained the aforementioned windswept ridge, I waited for Zosia to make her way down to me, and during this time, I was entertained by a lone ptarmigan trying to remain inconspicuous as it slowly tiptoed away from me.  Reunited, Zosia and I enjoyed a wonderful ski back down into Wolverine Valley via the open terrain below Unity Peak.  The steep and narrow descent out of the valley always has a few thrilling moments, but we both regained the main Skoki Lodge trail without any spills.  With warm afternoon temperatures, the snow was starting to grab at our skis a bit as we descended the ski-out, but otherwise, the rest of our trip was uneventful.
I know that ski-out now like the back of my hand!

After climbing up the ski-out, Zosia heads to the start of the Skoki Lodge trail on the far side of the ski run ahead.

The mundane part of the trip is behind us now!

Zosia enters Wolverine Valley with Unity Peak visible at left.

Everything felt very stable and safe though. Sonny follows a skin track past a potential avalanche slope near the east end of Wolverine Ridge.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

I will never ever climb up this cliff face! Zosia reaches the col between Wolverine Ridge and Purple Mound (right).
That bowl looks tempting to ski, but I've heard the exit is fraught with route-finding difficulties not to mention avi hazards. The north end of Lipalian Mountain is visible behind Zosia as she skis across the col separating Wolverine Ridge and Purple Mound.

Hmmm...lotsa rocks I can see!

Here is a view of the connecting ridge between Purple Mound (far left) and Lipalian Mountain (right).  Zosia is barely visible near the last trees at far left.


It's further away than it looks! Zosia climbs up a windswept ridge leading to Purple Mound.
This was a great slope to ski the first time we were here. As Zosia climbs higher up Purple Mound, the snow coverage becomes thinner.
This is hard work...too hard for me! Zosia boot-packs the final steep slope before the top of Purple Mound.
Cruddy skiing here. Zosia skis down from near the top of Purple Mound.
Still looks far away! The summit of Lipalian Mountain is more obvious from this perspective.
At least I think that's the lee side...

These cornice-like snow features on the connecting ridge are quite safe to ski on as there is little to no exposure on the lee (left) side.

Who doesn't like it gentle and easy?

The final approach to the top of Lipalian Mountain is gentle and easy.

Guess who was on their knees... Zosia and Sonny stand atop Lipalian Mountain (2713 metres).
How many peaks can you name? To the west are the many famous peaks near Lake Louise.
Pandemic? What pandemic? At centre, the parking lots of Lake Louise Ski Resort are jam-packed on this day.

A ski ascent of Ptarmigan Peak is beckoning me!

To the north is Hidden Bowl surrounded by Mount Richardson (left), Pika Peak (right of centre), and Ptarmigan Peak (far right).


It's a good day when you can see the 'Boine!

Protection Mountain dominates the view to the southeast.  Also visible on the far right horizon is Mount Assiniboine.


Mount Hector is another one I would love to ski someday... Zosia leaves the summit to begin the descent.  At left is Mount Hector.
Survival skiing already! The snow quality on the upper mountain leaves a lot to be desired for Sonny.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Yikes! Hard to believe this was even skiable! Zosia tries to avoid hitting bare patches on the way down Lipalian Mountain.
Birdie num-num. A lone ptarmigan tries to move inconspicuously away from its photographer.

This is the real reason we came here today!

Zosia skis the open slopes below Unity Peak (left)..


No worries--there are more downhill sections to come! On flatter terrain such as this, Zosia finds it easier to ski down an old skin track.
The left side of the half-pipe is maybe a bit too rocky to ski! This gully resembles a ski resort half-pipe.
Rock and roll, Zosia! Zosia seems to be having fun descending the steep and narrow trail exiting Wolverine Valley.
A relatively safe and easy ski objective. Total Distance:  18.5 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  7 hours 34 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  1008 metres

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