September, 2004   Gain- 3600'+/-   Summit- 9820'+/-    5.5 Hours+/-   Solo Easy Scramble
February, 2006 Gain- 3700'+/-  6.5 Hours+/-  Ski
Lat 51; 42; 00 Lon 116; 25; 05 - Click for SATELLITE Image
Cirque Peak is located on the northeast side of the Columbia Icefield Parkway in
Banff National Park, one of four connecting national parks located in the heart of the
Canadian Rockies, between
Dolomite Peaks and Observation Peak.   Cirque Peak
was officially named in 1909 because of a large cirque that lies below its northern
cliffs including a small glacier and bergschrund.   Cirque Peak was first ascended in
1899 by Nichols, Noyes, Thompson and Weeks.

There are two published routes.  One is a scramble and the other is a ski ascent,
both using similar approaches.  
The true summit is divided by a notch from the
ridge and is the crux of this climb, particularly in the winter.
  Like all of its brethren
on the east side of the Icefield Parkway, Cirque Peak offers grand views of ice to the
west including the
Wapta Icefield peaks, Crowfoot Mountain and its hanging glacier.   

Getting There    
The Trans-Canada Highway dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come
in from Calgary.  Continue past the Banff and Sunshine Ski Resort exits to Lake
Louise.  Exit onto the Columbia Icefield Parkway.  
Drive 33kms north from the park
kiosk
(forced stop to check park driving permit which you should already have).  Pull
out to the right in the Dolomite Pass-Helen Lake Trail head across from the Crowfoot
Glacier view point.   I have encountered a black bear crossing the Parkway at
Mosquito Creek.  This road is probably the most “wildlife viewed” road in all of North
America.  I have witnessed Moose cross the road as well in this area.  I advise
following the speed limit for that reason.

Red Tape   
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter the park.   This
pass is good for all four national parks.   If you plan many visits to Canadian National
Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass.   There are no permit
requirements to climb in Banff National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is
also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry
versus the town campsites.   This can be obtained via the parks website which is
included in the camping section below.   Park headquarters are located in Banff and
you will drive through the manned kiosks as you enter the park.

This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your
person during non-hibernation months.    I advise checking with Parks Canada for
any area and/or trail closures.

When To Climb   
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June
through September. I climbed Cirque Peak in September and the route had
considerable snow at the higher elevations.  There is a published ski
mountaineering route up Cirque Peak for the winter months.   I did the ski route in
February.

Camping     
The closest camping is located back south a few kilometers at
Mosquito Creek
Camground
located on the west side off of the Columbia Icefields Parkway.     You
can go on line at
Banff National Park to pick your camp site and obtain your camping
permit.  You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit, if you are going
to use a backcountry site, which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously.

Mountain Conditions    
The National Park website has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside
of the parks web site,
Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly
for winter travel.
Canadian Alpine Accident Reports is also extremely relevant.    

Route-Scramble
This is a 3600’+/- ascent day.  Park at the Helen Lake trail head (east side of road) on
the Icefields Parkway 33 km north of the Trans-Canada Highway.  Proceed on
Dolomite Pass-Helen Lake Trail for 6kms to Helen Lake.
Now you have two options,
either continue on the trail to Dolomite Pass or, as I did, just head straight for
the peak via the left side of the lake.
 This route takes you to pristine high alpine
meadows and eventually to shale and rubble.  As I proceeded to the base of Cirque,
I bypassed some short cliff bands to the left and dove straight up snow and ice
angling back right, aiming for the summit ridge.  An alpine axe was necessary in
September.  This was a steep hump, but once I gained the ridge, I traversed with
axe over to the first, lower summit and then carefully descended and made for the
real summit slightly south, which had a register in 2003.

I made the summit in under three hours from the car.  My summit day was a cold,
blustery and cloudy one, but still offered good views of the Crowfoot and Bow
Glaciers to the west. I returned the same way.  Helen Lake is a great place to have
your lunch.

Crux-  If you follow the route I suggest, traversing right to the true summit  can
present a challenge.   If you are doing this in the winter, take a rope.   

Essential Gear
Compass, Map,  Bear Spray, Helmet, Gaiters, Alpine Axe, etc

Route-Ski
This is a 3700’+/- ascent day.   Park just beyond the Helen Creek bridge on the right.   
There is no signage for this trail.   It starts gaining elevation on the left side of the
creek straight away so you will need your skins on from the car.   Once you ascend a
few hundred feet, the trail flattens out and curves to the left (north) offering you a good
view of the Dolomite Peaks on your right.   Continue along and shortly descend to
Helen Creek and cross to the other side.  Follow the creek closely across three
avalanche slopes until you run into it again as you head north and it curves east.   
Cross it again and start a steep glade ascent that takes you above tree line and
below limestone cliffs on your right that make up Dolomite Pass.   At this point
Cirque Peak comes into view to the north with reasonable visibility.  

Stay to your right through a large open snow field and pay attention for any
avalanche hazards above your right side.
  As you top out onto an open snow
plateau, descend ever so slightly hugging the right slope.   
You do not want to
descend to Helen Lake.
 Stay above the lake and to the right.  You are looking to
hook around a rock buttress on your right to gain a snow ramp that takes you to the
top of Dolomite Pass, but away from Cirque Peak.  
You can continue on this ramp
and do a U turn at the top, but we chose to ascend a steep snow section on our
left that broke through the steep cliffs above without having to follow the snow
ramp in the opposite direction of Cirque Peak.  

Once on top of the pass, continue north until you reach a rock step that will make it
necessary to remove your skis.   At this point there is another 1000’+/- to the summit
of Cirque Peak and you will have to make a decision based on conditions whether
you even want to carry your skis above the rock step.   
Despite being listed in Chic
Scott’s alpine ski book, Summits and Icefields-Canadian Rockies, I have never
seen Cirque Peak when it was not completely wind blasted.
  We chose to put our
crampons on at the rock step and ascended on foot up the wind packed thin layer of
snow to the summit.    
Make sure to stay off of the cornices to the right.   Some of
these cornices extend out for quite a distance.  As you near the summit ridge, the
grade gets considerably steeper.  Eventually you gain the rocky summit ridge and
ascend a short distance through thin ice and rocks to the first summit.    

The true summit requires that you descend to a notch on rock and snow above a
precarious hanging cornice.   I have been to the summit of Cirque Peak twice,
September of one year and February another.  On both occasions this cornice was
approximately the same size.   
A slip here could be fatal and some, including Chic
Scott, advise taking a rope for this crux.  
 On both occasions I felt comfortable
enough to descend down to the cornice and hug the rock feature as you turn left and
cross over to the true summit feature.   The ascent up the true summit offers some
exposure as well.   Left is less steep, but perhaps more exposed.  In February, the
right side offered more stable ice and snow.  An alpine axe or ice tool is helpful in
this section.  Once up a couple of meters, the ground becomes less technical and
the summit is just a minute away.   

There is a dying glacier with a bergschrund that can be seen in the summer on the
east side cirque of the mountain which is in fact what Cirque Peak was named
after.   On ski descent we found decent powder in the before mentioned snow ramp
and again right above tree line.   There are a variety of routes to ski out depending on
conditions and visibility

Essential Gear
Compass, Map,  Skis, Skins, Poles, Crampons, Alpine Axe or Tool, Gaiters, Short
Rope, Avalanche Safety Gear, Goggles, etc
CLICK TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
1.  Cirque Peak from Dolomite Peaks (June)
2.  Cirque Peak on Winter Ascent (February)
3.  The Summit Crux (February)
4.  On Ski Approach (February)  
5.  Ski Descent (February)
6.  The Summit Cornice (February)
7.  View of the Ski Out (February)
8.  Dolomite Peaks (February)