For the last day of winter 2022 I decided to climb Forum Ridge in Waterton. The trip is detailed in Nugara’s Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies 2nd ed and the route he describes ascends terrain that is low avalanche risk. The trip culminates up on a ridge overlooking Cameron Lake. Once past the tree line on the ridge you are in a land of cornices at the top of major avalanche pathways, so I didn’t stray beyond the trees. Nevertheless, the broad treed ridge ascends quite high up and I was treated to some excellent views.
Access is via the Akamina Parkway. I parked at the winter closure site and walked up the road to the Akamina Pass trail. I followed the trail looking for the cutline marking the provincial boundary. The forest had been burned by recent fires so it was actually a little tricky to see the cutline at first. When I reached a kiosk near the top of the pass I ascended up a hill to my left (south) then backtracked until suddenly the cutline came into view. I followed this southwest until it descended to the base of what Nugara calls “the big hill”. The cutline goes straight up the hill, but I zigzagged a bit then diverted diagonally to my left (east) to get to some more gentle slopes. This ascent was a slog. There was lots of snow on the hill. Plenty of burned trees were still standing and acting as anchors but as time goes on and the trees fall I get the feeling it will be quite unsafe to charge directly up the path of that cutline.
From the top of that ascent I rejoined the cutline and carried on through a couple patches of un-burned forest. I was now up on the broad northeast portion of Forum Ridge. Views began to open up in all directions and I carried on until I could see the end of the trees. The major avalanche pathways down to Cameron Lake begin around there and I could see plenty of cornices overhanging towards the lake. Some backcountry skiers were up there cutting a test block before descending beneath the cornices. We exchanged greetings and they expressed the standard sentiment I encounter from skiers (along the lines of “why would you climb something you’re not going to ski down?”). I found a place to sit on a big drift beside the trees and enjoyed the views.
For the descent I decided to follow Nugara’s advice and go down to the lake. Parks Canada’s website had some advice regarding assessing the safety of burned forested slopes. It was basically “if the standing standing tree trunks are sparse enough to ski between then consider it an open slope”. I backtracked to where the angle of the slopes became more shallow and the trees were still thick and made my way down.
This route will likely become more hazardous in the coming years as the natural anchors on these slopes fall away (that’s just an opinion, I’m not an expert). It may be safest to ascend and descend on the broad, shallow-angled toe of Forum Ridge that starts near the north end of Cameron Lake (which I think was the route taken by the skiers I met).
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