16 December 2016
Purple Peak and Lipalian Mountain are a great objective for an easy, stress-free snowshoeing trip in the Lake Louise area. This was my first trip on snowshoes this season and despite bitter cold temperatures (a high of -26°C in the valley!), I was glad I ventured out to check out this beautiful route described in detail in Nugara’s Snowshoeing book.
I was surprised to see quite a bit of truck and snowmobile traffic on the Temple Lodge access road, but it does make for a fast and direct approach to the upper valley. The alternative ski-out route appeared not have been used in a few days, so I opted to simply hike up the access road. After passing under the Larch lift and across two ski slopes, which were all deserted on this chilly Friday morning (it was around 9am), I followed what appeared to be ski tracks along a clearing that led me directly into the valley between Wolverine Ridge and Mount Redoubt. The tracks must’ve been used by several skiers up and down because the trail was fairly packed, so I was lucky to be able to simply hike in my winter boots without having to put on my snowshoes. This definitely made for faster and easier travel and after about 2 hours from the parking lot I reached the base of the ascent slope leading up to Purple Peak.
Stupidly, I had completely forgotten to bring my camera on this trip. My Canon can be handled with mittens on, but using an iPhone in these temperatures is a different matter! Every time I wanted to take a photo I thought twice about it, it was simply too cold to expose my hands, although my glove liners did help a little bit.
The snow got softer and deeper here, so I put on my snowshoes and followed the ski tracks that snaked their way up through the trees to a broad ridge, where I enjoyed beautiful views of the valley below. It was a stunning day with clear blue skies and very little wind, but I got so cold every time I took even just a short break, I had to constantly push myself to keep going. The tracks made a few zig-zags in the slightly steeper parts of the upper ridge and then led directly to the summit of Purple Peak. With an avalanche forecast of low for all three terrain zones today, the snowpack was very stable and I felt quite comfortable going up here solo.
After enjoying sunny views of nearby Unity Peak and Mount Redoubt during my short summit break, I continued on to Lipalian Mountain, which is just a short distance to the west. It took me about 30 minutes to snowshoe down along the gentle ridge and back up to the summit of Lipalian. There were a few small cornices near the col to watch out for, but otherwise it was really easy. At the summit cairn I made the second mistake of the day: my GPS batteries were dead so I momentarily took off my mitts to quickly change them out. Not a good idea at -40 with the wind chill! My hands were numb after that and the pain I felt when they slowly warmed up again half an hour later was excruciating.
The return trip was fast and I only stopped twice for very short breaks and to take off my snowshoes. My water bottles and sandwich were all frozen, so I had no choice but to make my way back down as quickly as possible!
This trip really gave me another level of appreciation for the dangers of cold-weather hiking. In weather conditions this extreme, what would normally be a simple “hike” becomes much more physically demanding and the available room for error shrinks to a minimal level. Getting injured or somehow delayed out there when it’s that cold is simply not an option. I was glad I had all the energy and motivation to move along quickly today to stay reasonably warm, while enjoying the fantastic winter wonderland of the Lake Louise area in sunny skies along the way!
DISCLAIMER: Use at your own risk for general guidance only! Do not follow this GPX track blindly but use your own judgement in assessing terrain and choosing the safest route.