Nigel Pass and Hilda Peak December 2016
A cold Arctic air mass had blown into the province with temperatures about twenty degrees below seasonal, but that didn’t deter an intrepid groups of skiers from Parkland. There were second thoughts, of course, but there was snow in the mountains and not much on the prairies… The group of five met up at the hostel at Rampart Creek on Friday evening.
Dave A. had come up the day before and took the opportunity to break trail along the old horse trail part way up Nigel Pass. It was cold, he reported! He skied for three hours without a break and by the time he returned to the trail head he was done. Dave had skied the hiking trail before, but not the horse trail, and as Tour Leader felt a certain responsibility to scout out the route. We certainly appreciated his trail-breaking efforts!
Dave, John and Linda D., Barb C., and Bill F. left the hostel shortly after nine on Saturday morning. We all piled into the big Suburban and headed up the Icefields Parkway. The temperature was minus 22 Celsius. The weather forecast from Parks Canada had mentioned an upper level inversion with warmer temperatures, but there was no sign of this on our drive!
Bill was trying out a new pair of tele skis (new to him) that he had bought from Todd. He also had brought his new hiking poles with the powder baskets. But because of the cold weather and a certain laziness, he had not tried out the combination in town before the tour. So he was working harder than he should have had to as the poles seemed too short! Bill had woken up with a sore throat which he was hoping to attribute to the super-heated air in his upper bunk and ice-cold floor of the cabin. I think Bill was the first to skin up after expending much of his energy side-stepping and herringboning up the steeper pitches of the trail.
Past the Warden’s cabin and hitching posts we climbed, warmed up by our exertions. Dave and Barb led the way, with Linda as the assistant TL acting as sweep. What a pleasant surprise it was to round a corner and find Dave and Barb enjoying the warmth, sunshine and a snack in a little sun pocket! Bill pulled out his thermometer and it read minus 5! In the snow it read minus 2. Just a beautiful little spot with a long south facing approach, backdropped by large conifers and no wind.
Dave had skied a long way the day before, but eventually we ran out of track and started to break trail again. The snow was dry and deep, with skis settling a foot or so. It was easy enough to follow the old horse trail through openings in the trees. Eventually we reached the upper headwaters of the creek and had a good view to the pass ahead. It had become a beautiful blue sky day, with a light breeze. Mindful of the shortness of the December day, we decided to stop short of the pass and return back to the trailhead. All told, we were out about six hours on the skis and had skied about 12 km return. Bill thought skiing at 7000 feet was still hard work, even with just a light day pack. We returned to the hostel about 4:30 p.m.
The Saturday evening feast included various cheeses (Brie, Goat with wild blueberries, Goat with fig, and Blue) accompanied by artisan crackers and a bottle of ten year old Spanish wine. This was followed by a home-made soup, Caesar salad, and lasagna. Dessert was Tiramisu. Our TL retired to the sauna after dinner, while Bill took to his bunk.
The second night was even hotter in the top bunk, while the floor remained freezing cold. Bill’s boots were frozen in place the morning after. He definitely had a cold now but didn’t know it, and all night long he said to himself, “I’m not skiing tomorrow. Maybe I can just hang out at the hostel?”
After a good breakfast to start the day, all packed up and headed up the Parkway to Hilda Creek. We skinned up at the road side and Bill kept his skins on for the duration. As we climbed up past the hostel, the guests came out to cheer us on. One astute observer remarked on the “tele reunion” and asked “Are those Chili bindings?” Back at the Ramparts, Ken the hostel guy had noticed the toes of Bill’s boots sticking out from his overboots and asked “Three pins! How are they working for you?”
It was cold with light flurries, but as we climbed up above the hostel we warmed up. Snow was quite deep at times and it was a pleasure to be up high. Dave did ask Bill if he was feeling all right, and Bill said something about old age. We traversed the slope and noted some old lumpy bumpy snow from a previous slide. Avalanche conditions were moderate in the alpine and had been forecast to drop to low, but this did not occur. We skied down the glade where the Hilda YoYo skiers play and onto the moraine. John demonstrated that if you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough. It wasn’t just John, of course, who was trying hard enough. The ski out along the creek was pleasurable and we were out about noon.
Back to the Ramparts to retrieve the two remaining vehicles and Dave had a surprise waiting for him. The back window of his minivan was smashed and there was glass everywhere! But nothing was stolen and so we blamed the snow plow we had met earlier. It must have thrown up a stone or a chunk of ice at the minivan which was parked in the nearest spot. We said our goodbyes and Dave headed down the road with the heat on full blast, no doubt. Barb followed and then John and Linda and Bill. We never saw Dave again and figured he must have been going as fast as he could on his way back to Stony Plain.
It was a great weekend, enjoyed by all. Thanks to Dave and Linda for their leadership! Great snow, better weather than expected, and of course fine food, wine and beer, and comradery!