Victoria Peak has been on my ‘to do’ list for a long time. We attempted it once in 2011, but extremely hot temperatures in the morning caused us to change our minds and summit Prairie Bluff Mountain instead. This time, weather would once again play a factor but would not deter us from reaching the summit. Instead, a day that began enshrouded in cloud and rain transformed beautifully into an afternoon of sunny skies which just so happened to coincide with our arrival on the summit.
Victoria Peak sees quite a few visitors each year because it is such a fun scramble and is one of the more prominent front range mountains in the Castle Crown Region. It is readily visible from Lethbridge and it becomes even more noticable as you drive west on Highway 3. However, despite its impressive appearance, at 2575m Victoria is not the highest peak in the area. Loaf Mountain which lies just to the south (and which Jeff and I ascended exactly one year earlier), is the higher summit at 2639m.
We followed Andrew Nugara’s route from, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. After parking at the gate, we biked 3.5km up the road toward the base of Victoria Peak. We then stashed our bikes in the bushes and began to hike up to the climber’s left of the treelined gully. The bikes made the return trip down the road fast and easy.
The total distance of our hike was 12.1km with a total elevation gain of 1122m. It took us 7 hours and 23 minutes from beginning to end. This included a lengthy stop for lunch as we waited out the weather and a prolonged stay on the summit.
Jeff bikes toward the base of Victoria Peak. The entire mountain was obscured by cloud cover (see below for what the view should be). We were counting on an accurate forecast which called for clearing later in the day.
This is what the view would have been on a clear day. Our route went up to the climber’s left of the treelined gully in centre. From the top of the gully we then enjoyed the scramble to the summit.
The view from the road looking up Victoria’s slopes. In the foreground you can see where we stashed our bikes. Heavy rains over the past day and a half meant that the vegetation was soaking wet, so we tried to avoid any unnecessary bushwhacking or tall grass.
On our way up, we encountered several herds of mountain sheep (no mature rams though, just ewes and lambs). We also saw several grouse, one deer, numerous pikas, and a couple of marmots.
A ewe and a lamb watch me climb towards them in the pouring rain. I had no idea they were that close beacuse the hood on my rain jacket hindered my peripheral vision. I’m sure the ewe was saying to the lamb, ‘Now there goes two idiots.’ (Photo by Jeff Lang)
The clouds briefly thinned out as we neared the upper slopes. This gave us a glimpse of the fun scrambling that lay ahead, though we still could not see anything near the summit.
Unfortunately, the rain and clouds came back with a vengance as we topped out of the gully. We took shelter among the rocks and ate our lunch while we waited for the weather to clear. (Photo by Jeff Lang)
Just as we had hoped, the weather began to clear and we could now enjoy a fun scramble to the summit.
We trended right as we navigated through the rock bands, but you can only go so far before you run into a massive drop off on Victoria’s north face. Be very careful around this section!
Steering well clear of the edge, Jeff heads onwards and upwards. Like Drywood and other mountains in the region, the type of rock begins to change from dolomite and argillite to black igneous rock as you near the summit.
The famous window beneath Victoria’s summit. On the other side of it is the massive cliff face that was pictured earlier.
Looking through the window. The sky was beginning to clear and the sun was starting to shine.
Jeff climbs up to peer through the window. I would guess that at some point, the entire outcropping will break off of the mountain as there are noticeable cracks around the window.
This is what it looks like on the other side of the window – a shear drop off. Be very careful around this section!
After we reached the window, we headed left along the rock band looking for a place to ascend. We would scramble up a couloir immediately to the left of this colourful rock face.
The couloir that we chose to scramble up.
I head up the couloir. We would descend on easier terrain further to the climber’s left of the couloir. (Photo by Jeff Lang)
Jeff emerges from the top of the couloir as more blue sky begins to appear.
The view to the west as we near the summit. The improved weather would be timed perfectly with our arrival on the summit. Three cheers for meteorologists!
Jeff makes his way up the final section of rock below the summit.
The summit cairn of Victoria Peak appears! Not only did the weather completely clear, there was almost no wind.
The view west toward Windsor Mountain (left) and Castle Peak. Mount Gladstone is on the far right.
A telephoto of Windsor Mountain (left) and Castle Peak.
Another view to the west from the summit. Mount Gladstone is on the left.
Looking north toward a very colourful Prairie Bluff Mountain.
The view southward. Colourful Pincher Ridge is in the foreground while Drywood Mountain is behind it. Loaf Mountain (distant right) is partially obscured by a cloud. Spread Eagle Mountain is also visible in the distance on the left.
Looking southwest from the summit toward the highpoint on Victoria Ridge and the headwaters of Pincher Creek.
Looking from the summit along Victoria Ridge.
Another look at Mount Gladstone while Jeff relaxes beside the summit cairn. “Mill Creek Peak” is visible just in front of Mount Gladstone.
Jeff and I on the summit of Victoria Peak.
Looking down our ascent route from near the summit. Pincher Ridge is in the foreground.
Jeff downclimbs some rock as we leave the summit.
A fantastic photo by Jeff that highlights the beautiful variations in the colour of rock on Victoria Peak. Like most of the other mountains in the region, Victoria Peak abounds in colour. In this picture, I’m making my way down a section of black igneous rock while a band of lighter dolomite is beneath me. Across the valley, the contrast of red argillite and orange dolomite is visible on Pincher Ridge. The rocks in this region including Waterton National Park are some of the oldest exposed sedimentary rocks in the Canadian Rockies at 1200 – 1500 million years old. (Photo by Jeff Lang)
Clear weather meant that we could look back from our descent and see the upper sections of Victoria Peak. The window is barely visible on the upper right side near the top.
Clear weather also allowed for stellar views of the Pincher Creek Valley. Heavy rainfall in the days before had turned Pincher Creek into a raging torrent, but it also created spectacular waterfalls off of Pincher Ridge.
Another view up the Pincher Creek Valley toward Victoria Ridge.
An old tree on Victoria’s lower slopes.
A morning (left) and afternoon (right) picture from the parking area that highlights the change in weather. Victoria Peak is visible behind the sign in the picture on the right.
Looking back at Victoria Peak from the road near the Waterton gas plant.
Looking south toward Chief Mountain (left) and Sofa Mountain (centre) from the Waterton gas plant road.
A late day pano of the front range mountains in the Castle Crown. From right to left: Prairie Bluff, Victoria Peak, Pincher Ridge, Drywood Mountain, Loaf Mountain, and Spread Eagle Mountain (Mt. Roche).