Crystal Ridge

Elevation: 2600 m
Elevation Gain: 640 m
Crystal Ridge is a feature which extends to the south from nearby Cirque Peak. The ridge was unofficially named by Bob Spirko in 2001 following the discovery of football-sized crystals on its south-facing slopes. Crystal Ridge is also known as “Helen Shoulder” in reference to nearby Helen Lake.
My Ascents:
February 28 2015.
Trailhead: Crowfoot Mountain Pullout
GPS Track: Crystal Ridge

Recently, Crux took advantage of a brief lack of supervision in order to decimate a package of muffins which Brianne and I had, apparently, neglected to secure behind locked doors. Although we had no direct evidence of his guilt, the hyperactive, bouncing dog we found seemed a much more likely culprit than the lethargic, ever-napping cats. Indeed, some elementary math (5 muffins x 400 calories each = 2,000 calories) accounted for Crux’s sudden abundance of vivacity. Seeking to burn off some of Crux’s excess energy (and hoping to unleash the imminent gastrointestinal consequences far from home), Crux and I made our way to the mountains for a winter snowshoe ascent. With the avalanche hazard still extremely low, we were able to push deeper into the main ranges to unleash Crux’s fury upon Crystal Ridge (which, as it so happened, had been on my to-do list for some time now)!

Starting our day with a beautiful prairie sunrise en route to the mountains.

After parking at the Crowfoot Glacier pullout (the Helen Lake parking lot is closed during the winter), Crux and I made our way along the hard-packed Helen Lake trail for about 20 minutes as Nugara suggests. Once the trail began to turn east, we left the main trail, following a back-country skiers up-track through woods. 15 minutes later, the track brought us to the base of the steep roll pictured here. We initially attempted to tackle this slope near the edge of the forest, however, the snow there proved too deep and powdery for (snowshoe-less) Crux to ascend. After digging the poor pup out, we retreated back down and found the going easier on more supportive snow near the left edge of the boulder field.

Crux enjoys a well-earned break amidst ever-improving views of Crowfoot Mountain from the top of the steep boulder field.

Despite being only 250 m above the highway, the open slopes above the boulder field provided a superb panorama of Bow Lake and the snow-covered peaks across the valley. Click to see larger.

Crowfoot Mountain makes for an impressive backdrop to this beautiful winter rock garden.

From the rock garden, we ascended more gentle slopes to the right before making our way upwards through thinning glades to the rocky summit above.

A fissure, spanned by numerous snow bridges, immediately above the previous photo’s cliffs. Be sure to mind where you step up here!

After continuing upwards through thinning glades (be sure to give potential tree wells a wide berth), we finally reached the wind-hardened slopes above tree line. Crystal Ridge has 3 distinct summits and the central one can be seen above in this photo. From here, we followed more gentle slopes to the right to access the col between the center and south summits.

The manic muffin-muncher bulldozes his way through the alpine. Mouse over for a closer view (and a good laugh)!

The final slopes leading to the center (left) and south (right) summits. On this day, we opted to ascend the center summit. Maybe next time, we’ll try one of the others? Regardless of which peak you choose to ascend, you can’t go wrong with the views on top of Crystal Ridge!

Crux pauses to enjoy the magnificent panorama from the ridge crest. From left to right: Dolomite Peak, Noseeum Peak, Mount Andromache, Little Hector, Mount Hector, Bow Peak, Crowfoot Pass and Crowfoot Mountain. Click to see larger.

After becoming accustomed to the wonderful view of Crowfoot Mountain to the south during the ascent, Dolomite peak suddenly (and spectacularly) appears to the east upon reaching the ridge crest.

A closer look at the steep summit towers of Dolomite Peak.

Noseeum Peak (left), Mount Andromache (center) and Mount Hector (right) rise steeply above the highway in the valley beyond Crystal Ridge’s south summit.

A closer look at pointy Little Hector and his big (11,000er) brother.

Looking over Crowfoot Pass towards Pulpit Peak and the giants of the Lake Louise group beyond.

Summit besties (despite the fact that he stole my dessert)!

The expansive alpine meadows below Cirque Peak (left) make for an ocean of white which runs unbroken until the towering cliffs of Dolomite Peak. Click to see larger.

Observation Peak (left) and Cirque Peak (right) beyond the more exposed north summit of Crystal Ridge.

An impressive outlier of Watermelon Peak to the east.

Impressive peaks guard the Wapta Icefield’s eastern edge high above Bow Lake. From left to right: Crowfoot Mountain, Mount Collie (background), Mount Rhondda (background), Portal Peak, Mount Habel (background), Mount Thompson, Trapper Peak, Mount Jimmy Simpson, Cauldron Peak, Mount Patterson, Howse Peak, White Pyramid and Mount Chephren. Click to see larger.

Self-timed summit shot with beautiful Bow Lake below.

White Pyramid (center) and Mount Chephren (right) are the most eye-catching peaks to the north.

Red-roofed Num-Ti-Jah Lodge is faintly visible (look for the red pixel) on the northern shores of Bow Lake.

Trapper Peak makes an appearance beyond the Thompson – Jimmy Simpson col (Hi Raf!).

Wapta Icefield giants Mounts Rhondda (left) and Habel (right) are split by distinctively shaped Portal Peak.

Crowfoot Mountain dominates the panorama to the south and west. Click to see larger.

Distant giants Mount Des Poilus (left) and Mount Collie (right) present their icy east faces.

Waiting for the muffins to pass…

One more summit shot with Bow Peak and Crowfoot Mountain.

A closer look at the three-toed Crowfoot Glacier.

After enjoying a sunny summit stay, Crux and I reluctantly began to make our way back down.

Although there are many potential ways down, we opted to follow our up-track in its entirety in an effort to avoid any and all unnecessary post-holing.

Back at the tree line (and out of the wind), we paused to enjoy some tea amidst the splendor of the Rockies. Summits are great but it’s these little moments of peace, far from anyone else, that are the real highlight of many Rocky Mountain adventures!

Re-entering the rock garden: as scenic on descent as it was earlier.

Muffin-powered, Crux tears down the last steep roll. Fortunately, he calmed down nicely once we arrived back at the car – success!

Even the parking lot is scenic on Crystal Ridge! Luckily I didn’t have to enjoy the views from here for too long; Upon returning to my car, I was horrified to discover that I’d left my lights on all day! Worried that I’d be stranded waiting for Brianne to come pick me up, I cringed as I turned the key in the ignition; Thankfully, the little Honda started right up and we were able to get home unassisted! Now the only question was whether or not to stop at Laggan’s on the way home. Unfortunately for me, Crux was sick of muffins so we elected to pass. Perhaps someday I’ll get my just desserts…