⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer. ⚠️
“Vicary Creek Ridge” is the nickname that I’ve given to a small, unnamed mountain located immediately to the north of Ma Butte and McGillivray Ridge in the Crowsnest Pass. For the past two years, I’ve wanted to explore this obscure destination as a snowshoe or early season hike but the one problem has always been access. The Forestry Trunk Road is not maintained in the winter and so you travel at your own risk – meaning that if you get stuck, your vehicle will become a salt lick for moose and elk until you can return to dig it out in the spring. So, after trying to gain access two times earlier this year, I was delighted to discover that the third time was the charm. Warm weather combined with renewed forestry activity in the region meant that the road had been plowed to give access to machinery and loggers. Even better, a 12 – 15cm snowfall on the previous day provided us with the perfect conditions for snowshoeing!
I’ve asked around, but have not been able to discover if there is a local name for this mountain. There are numerous mining and logging roads that crisscross the mountain and the topo map indicates 4 old mine sites, so I’m assuming that an unofficial name does exist. In the interim however, I will use the name “Vicary Creek Ridge” because Vicary Creek borders the entirety of its southern and eastern slopes. At 2364m (my GPS) the summit is readily comparable to nearby Ma Butte (2370m) and McGillivray Ridge (2358m).
Edit April 7, 2016: My friend Brad did some investigating and while a name for the mountain was not found, he did discover that an open pit mine called Vicary Creek Mine owned by Coleman Collieries Ltd., operated on the mountain between 1957 and 1981. A second mine owned by Coleman Collieries called, Vicary Creek No. 2, also operated between 1964 and 1966. The original Vicary Creek Mine was quite deep at 308m and during its lifetime, 7481 tonnes of coal was extracted (Alberta Energy Regulator – Coal Mining Atlas). Jane Ross and William Tracy make a brief reference to the Vicary Creek Mine in, Hiking the Historic Crowsnest Pass, in their chapter on the Wedge Mountain Trail. They note, “To the north and east is the McGillivray Ridge and the scarred remnants of the modern-day Vicary open pit mine. Access to the mine has recently been destroyed by the massive quarrying of limestone for the Oldman Dam east of the Pass.” (p. 65 1992 edition) Thus, thanks to Brad’s research, I’m not too far off base in calling it “Vicary Creek Ridge” and so I will stick with that for now.
Even though we did this as a snowshoe, “Vicary Creek Ridge” would be a short but enjoyable spring/summer/fall hike. You might even be able to mountain bike your way close to the summit using one of the many old roads on the western side of the mountain.
To get to it from Lethbridge, drive west on Highway 3 until you reach Coleman. Just before the Subway and 7-11, turn right onto Highway 40 (the Forestry Trunk Road) and follow it for 17.3km (or 13.6km from the cattle guard) to the trailhead. For an even easier way of locating the trailhead, drive north and pay attention to the kilometre markers on the left side of the road. The trailhead is easily recognized next to the 14km sign.
The route we chose followed a direct line up the main southern ridge to the summit. After parking, we followed an old logging road for ~600m before leaving it to bushwhack our way onto the ridge. We could have followed the road further to the base of a clearcut at the bottom of the ridge, but we decided to save time by leaving the road as soon as it started to lose elevation. From the road we worked our way up ~250m of deadfall to gain the ridge. Once on the main ridge, it was an easy trek through light forest and open slopes to the base of the summit. There are several options for reaching the summit and in the summer, one option might be a very (emphasis on ‘very’) minor (emphasis on ‘minor’) scramble up the east side. Due to overhanging cornices, we chose to go up the gradual southern slope.
This was a short trip that clocked in at a total time of 4 hours and 11 minutes. It was ~3.7km from my 4Runner to the summit with a total roundtrip distance of 7.4km. Elevation gains were 660m.
Fresh snow made for a scenic drive in along the Forestry Trunk Road. The summit of “Vicary Creek Ridge” can been seen to the right of centre.
A closer look at the southern end of the mountain from the Forestry Trunk Road. The logging road that we started out on can be seen in the trees near the bottom. We then bushwhacked across the lower clearcut in the centre to reach a second clearcut that can be seen above and to the left. We followed this second clearcut along the ridge and through the trees until we reached the open slopes in the upper centre. The snow covered summit is clearly visible in the upper right portion of the picture.
Gearing up at the trailhead. That 2003 4Runner is the best vehicle that I’ve ever owned.
The trailhead is located next to the 14km sign.
It was a beautiful day for a snowshoe!
Shortly after starting, we came to small clearing where the road forked to the left and followed Vicary Creek. We kept to the right.
Looking back along the logging road. The Forestry Trunk Road can be seen in the distance. (Photo by Jeff Lang)
We came to a second fork where part of the road branched to the right, however, we continued straight ahead – across those pillowy drifts.
Shortly after the second fork and ~600m from our vehicle, we left the road to bushwhack our way through a clearcut up to the ridge. (Photo by Jeff Lang)
Here’s hoping that all of the ticks are still sleeping… 😉
The snow made it easier to navigate over the larger sections of deadfall. Post-holing here could turn a guy into a eunuch!
The Livingstone Range provides the backdrop as Jeff follows my tracks up to the ridge.
After bushwhacking for ~250m (or about 25 minutes), we arrived at a second clearcut located along the ridge. The tough work for the day was now behind us and all that was left was to enjoy the walk.
Looking at McGillivray Ridge, Ma Butte, and the Seven Sisters from the first sustained opening that we encountered.
Travel through the forested sections presented no difficulties.
Approximately 1.2km from our vehicle, we reached continuous open slopes that would take us all the way to the summit – which can be seen poking over the trees to the right of centre. The rocky outcrop in the centre is where the ridge levels out.
We encountered some deep drifts which made us glad that we had snowshoes. (Photo by Jeff Lang)
“Vicary Creek Ridge” offers gorgeous views of the Livingstone Range.
There’s something awesome about laying down the first tracks on fresh snow! Surprisingly, we did not come across many animal tracks. One thing that I’ve noticed this year in comparison to previous years has been the lack of cougar and wolf tracks. (Photo by Jeff Lang)
Looking south from partway up the ridge. What a beautiful day to be on a mountain!
Approximately 2.8km from our vehicle we came to the rocky outcrop that had been visible from the lower slopes. From here, the ridge levels out before reaching the base of the summit.
Once above the rocky outcrop, we gained our first real view of the summit.
The summit sparkled under sunshine and fresh snow.
With the wind picking up, we stopped for a quick lunch in the trees before making the final jaunt to the summit.
Heading towards the summit. (Photo by Jeff Lang)
Jeff stands out against a backdrop of fresh snow.
To avoid climbing over cornices we followed the gradual southern slopes.
The broad summit of “Vicary Creek Ridge” (2364m) offered wonderful 360 degree views.
We couldn’t see any immediate signs of a cairn, but after searching for several minutes we found what looked to be a few rocks that had been placed on top of each other (just to the right of Jeff)…
…so we decided to supersize the little pile into a more recognizable summit marker. I named it Bert.
A pano to the southwest reveals the Flathead Range (distant left of centre) and the High Rock Range.
A pano to the east provides a comprehensive view of the southern portion of the Livingstone Range. Centre Peak is the dominant peak on the right.
A pano to the north follows the Livingstone Range into the South Kananaskis.
A more comprehensive pano to the north shows both the High Rock Range (left) and the Livingstone Range (right).
A pano to the west offers more stunning views of the High Rock Range.
A telephoto of “Lightning Peak” (centre) which is the second highest peak on the Livingstone Range.
A closer look at Crowsnest Mountain and the Seven Sisters.
At 2514m, the Sugarloaf Fire Lookout (centre) is the highest active lookout in Canada. The twin peaks of Cabin Ridge can be seen on the right.
Looking northeast at Funnel Peak (left) and Gould Dome (centre). The lower portion of Tornado Mountain can be seen just to the right of Gould Dome. Tornado Mountain (3099m) is the largest peak in the region.
Looking west at “Mount Racehorse” (far left) Racehorse Mountain and two unnamed peaks to the north that I call, “Stallion Peak” and “Thoroughbred Mountain”. My hope is to one day find a way to ascend them.
The wind begins to pick up as Jeff poses for a summit shot behind our newly built cairn.
It was getting a little chilly.
Increasingly strong winds forced us off the summit a little earlier than we would’ve liked. Sugarloaf Mountain can be seen behind Jeff.
Heading home sans snowshoes.
Looking down at the ridge beneath the summit. The South Peak of the Livingstone, Grassy Mountain, Bluff Mountain, Turtle Mountain, and Hillcrest Mountain can be all be seen in the distance on the left. The front range of the Castle Crown is also visible from the summit.
Jeff follows our tracks down from the summit.
Now out of the wind, it was time for one last look at the summit.
Great views surrounded us all day long.
Looking down our open ascent slope. Outside of the one short section of bushwhacking, the trip was easy and enjoyable.
It’s possible to follow the clearcut along the ridge all the way down to a series of logging roads.
Most of the fresh snow had melted since we had first bushwhacked our way onto the ridge.
Moves like Jagger!
Jeff arrives back on the logging road.
“Vicary Creek Ridge” was a day well spent! With a roundtrip time of 4 hours and 11 minutes and a total distance of 7.4km, we were able to make it back to Lethbridge shortly before 4:30pm. I’m sure there is probably a local name for this mountain and if you find it let me know. As I mentioned earlier, there is a maze of logging and mining roads on the western side of the mountain that you could hike or bike if you wanted to try a different approach. The bottom line is that this is a fun and worthwhile outing in an amazing part of the world.