Mount Hector 11,135-ft and Fairview 9003-ft
Banff National Park
January 15-18, 2010

Sky Sjue skiing down Mount Hector with the sun glinting off the summit pyramid.

Photos and story by Jason Hummel

Once you are atop the Canadian Rockies and have seen layer after layer of peaks slanting, looming, jutting skyscraperishly upward - you realize the ‘Rockies’ are in a league of their own, and, at least for me, the most beautiful mountains I have yet visited in my life.

Before knowing any of this, with a full tank of gas, I set off to meet Kyle in Kent and Sky at his Vancouver lab. It is at this point I programmed my GPS incorrectly and not only sent myself to the wrong place, but to another city entirely. Well behind schedule and less than enthused about a night’s worth of travel, I arrived over an hour late to a bemused Sky waiting beside the road.

With darkness and a deluge of rain, we fought steering wheel, bright lights and puddles eastward across Canada in our search for sun and powder, our drug of choice to which we'd go to any lengths to get. And we would get it, by God! A cheap hotel, crummy breakfast, and caffeine brought us to Mosquito Creek Hostel. With detailed maps and books of every sort, plans were hatched and changed in the course of another late night. Finally we laid our eyes on Mount Hector, an 11,000'er that appealed to all parties. Avalanche danger and snowpack in the Rockies are quit different than the maritime conditions found in the Cascades. We wanted to play it safe. Yeah, believe it or not, age has made us wiser.

Easy climbing from the highway, about a mile or two from the Hostel, led us into the trees. Overhead clouds still dominated the sky, but that was quickly changing. As we proceeded upward, we went on snow your ski pole, when pushed, went all the way to the ground in. Yummy. We were happy to be over and out of the danger zone and into flatter terrain that was squeezed in by surrounding cliffs topped by smaller peaks. By the time we were to the head of the cirque, sights of a slew of other peaks fought for our attentions. We were tongue twisted.

What snow there was here was laid between rocks. It wasn't too long before we arrived at the glacier head, climbed over older avalanche debris, and found the snow to be deep and powdery. To top it off, the sun and blue sky had arrived, which did little to stem the cold, but enough to stroke the stoke. Having come so far, the excitement was palpable. Thrown curses around every corner and fold of slope weren't enough to release it. So many months of sloppy rain had left us desperate for sun and shadow, blue sky and far-off views.

Now we were on the final climb. While Kyle ascended to the highest subsummit, Sky and I donned crampons and axes to tackle the true summit. There was 25-ft of rock, mixed with snow, leading to gentler slopes before another 15 feet led to the top. Sky was waiting for me as I climbed over the brim. Wow, my first summit in the Canadian Rockies. Heck yeah! I'd left my camera behind, so no photos from me, but Sky had his so we traded places and took summit shots.

Once down to our skis, I stepped off the rock and slipped on the ice that was gathered under the snow. It was a scary moment, as the cliffs are big. It really struck deep the differences of maritime snowpack and Rocky Mountain's much thinner snowpack. After 10-ft I stopped, brushed off and climbed back up to my gear.

The ski was great! The first 1000-ft were the best, each turn looking down toward Lake Hector's frozen outline. We only pulled up three times before gliding all the way down and off the glacier. By then a late sun was beginning to turn the cliffs red, making the views even more impressive than they already were.

On the way up the snow felt horrible, but cold air seemed to have improved its disposition. Sky jumped off a small cornice and led the way down through rocks and cliffs. Thin snowpack hid many 'a rock shark', but they hardly thwarted us. A scratch here or there just gives the skis character. Better to point it over rocks than to turn and risk blowing an edge. Only wimps have horizontal scratches!

Back in the trees, soft snow awaited and we didn't milk the slopes cause of questionable snow. A short cruise on our skin track led back to the highway where I stood next to the car with my skis and looked upward. The mountain looked awesome. All up and down the Icefields Parkway is awesome peak after awesome peak. Too much awesomeness.

>>>On to DAY 2 and # MOUNT FAIRVIEW and Rogers Pass


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