Icefields Parkway Crusts and Exploring

Words By: Simon Coward

After observing last weeks Bow Summit and area PowFest on social media (and not being able to get out) Tom and I decided, despite the last few days of +20 temps in the mountains to head out and do some poking around on the icefields parkway.

We had no real plan other than we were not going to go and ride old melt freeze tracks at Bow Summit!  After driving a little aimlessly down the parkway, we decided to try and explore a new zone (for us) in behind Jimmy Simpson Junior.  We had zero beta on it and spied a steep treed ledge that looked like it linked up with the cirque we wanted to go and look in.

PHOTO:  Beautiful light over the still very unfrozen Bow Lake (We saw canoeists out during the day)

A treed ledge it was, however, it was much steeper than we though and didn’t link up with the cirque as we had thought.  So, a few short sections of easy 5th class climbing on snow and verglassed rock got us to the top of the ridge and onto easier ground.

PHOTO:  Tom starting out on the really steep part of the treed ledge

We were treated to amazing views of the icefields and the always impressive Little Bow Lake, still unfrozen and looking spectacular.  After lunch in blazing sunshine we rode down into the cirque and made a handful of turns in very crusty though rippable snow.  It is worth noting at this point we had been on nothing but heavily crusted snow sitting over the top of a now totally facetted snow pack.

Once in the bottom of the cirque we climbed up the ridge on the opposite side of the cirque which put us on the shoulder of Jimmy Simpson Junior.  As we had plenty of daylight remaining we decided we would head to the summit, although the riding seemed like it was going to be pretty dire on the way down.

PHOTO:  Our tracks in the cirque tucked in behind Jimmy Simpson Junior

Ironically, I had just put my splitboard crampons away after emptying my pack from Spring/summer riding.  In hindsight that was a poor choice, the entire climb had a crust that was very challenging to edge on so we ended up bootpacking to the summit.  Foot pen varied from 0 to knee deep, depending on how dense the crust was.  After a short steep bootpack and once scrambly move we made the summit.  From our perspective on top it revealed a mountain range with very little snow and even from a distance the icefields looked like they were bullet proof as far as the eye could see.

PHOTO:  Tom heading towards the summit via the boot escalator 

PHOTO:  Navigating the final step to the summit

PHOTO:  Tom enjoying spring like weather on the summit

Now, onto the ‘fun’ part.  Our descent was super fun, but on the spicy side for the first run of the year.  The riding was on an unbreakable crust and you certainly had to be aware of your edging, a fall at any speed would have had some pretty severe consequences, a long scary slide to the bottom at the very least.  The lower elevation riding (to valley bottom, down the obvious creek/avy run out facing the highway) was hilarious.  Almost impossible to turn, and not filled in at all.  Made for some pretty funny riding.

PHOTO:  Dropping in from just below the summit.  One nice long ice patch from top to valley bottom

PHOTO:  Don't let the moving snow fool you, they are just ice pellets. Ha ha ha

In summary, the parkway is looking very fall like right now, and I think the likelihood of good snow right now is slim.  Looks like a new batch of precip is forecast the next few days, just remember it is falling on a pretty widespread and slippery crust layer.

Happy Shredding