Given this past summer’s tinder-dry conditions, I’m thankful that there’s already a fair amount of snow in the mountains. So much so, that Brad and I were able to get in our first snowshoe trip of the season! Our chosen destination was an unnamed peak located ~3.6 km south of Ma Butte, ~3.2 km north of Wedge Mountain, and ~3.6 km west of Crowsnest Mountain. Unaware of a local name – though one might exist – both Brad and I agreed that “Pa Butte” was an apt moniker for this plucky peak considering its proximity to Ma Butte. Now everyone who travels to the Crowsnest Pass can be confident that Ma is no longer alone! 😉
My GPS pinged “Pa Butte” at 2131m, but the highest contour line on Toporama is 2040m, so I’m guessing that it probably sits around 2079m which makes it shorter than Ma Butte (2331m) but higher than Wedge (1870m). Indeed, “Pa Butte” is much more impressive mountain than Wedge and if it weren’t for the windy and cloudy conditions that we ascended in, we would’ve been treated to some great views. As a snowshoe destination it is definitely on the steeper side of things (at least the route we used) and the last ~500m before the summit required us to ditch our snowshoes and hike up a steep talus slope. All in all though, it was a great day and I highly recommend it if you are into tackling obscure destinations.
For us, the crux came when we were returning to Brad’s car and someone suddenly began firing large caliber rifle rounds from a nearby location. We counted close to 20 shots and so we began yelling loudly because we couldn’t see anyone. Just before reaching Brad’s car, we saw two guys on the road firing into the trees from beside their truck. When they saw us, they quickly – and suspiciously – jumped inside the truck and waited until we passed. As we were getting into Brad’s car, they got out and began to fire more rounds into the trees. I’m sure glad that I have a bright orange jacket as both of us felt that this was a potentially unsafe situation!
Our starting point for “Pa Butte” was the same parking area used for Wedge Mountain. From Lethbridge we drove to Coleman and turned right off of Highway 3 and onto 61st Street. We then turned right again and onto 23rd Ave which we followed for 2.8 km to the parking area at the base of Wedge Mountain. From the parking area, we continued to follow the road (keeping to the right at all junctions) for ~4.2 km until we came to the point where we left the road to cross McGillivray Creek.
A closer look at our route up “Pa Butte”. Once we crossed the creek, we then snowshoed our way up the southwest ridge. After a short reprieve in grade where the ridge crest shifts from a northeast/southwest track to a north/south line, we then continued slogging our way up the from the southwest to the tree line and the beginning of a talus slope. Here, we removed our snowshoes and hiked ~500 m to the summit. From the road to the summit it was a distance of ~1.7 km with an elevation gain of ~529 m. We returned the same way.
Alternate routes include a traverse along the ridge from Wedge Mountain or, to continue along the road for another ~1 km from where we left it (~5.2 km from the parking area) and then trying to find what looks to be a trail or cutline that leads up the gully on the northern side of the mountain. Once on the ridge, you could then head south to the summit. This might be a more gradual way to gain elevation than our route, but it will still require a steep climb up to the summit. Another route might be to use a series of trails in the valley between “Pa Butte” and McGillivray Ridge that originate just east of Wedge Mountain.
A topo showing “Pa Butte’s” location in relation to Ma Butte, Wedge Mountain, and Crowsnest Mountain. As I mentioned before, my GPS pinged “Pa Butte” at 2131m, but the last contour line on Toporama is 2040m, so I’m guessing that it probably sits around 2079m which makes it shorter than Ma Butte (2331m) but higher than Wedge (1870m).
Now that’s a pointy looking graph! Our total distance travelled was 11.9 km with total elevation gains of 679 m. Our total time was 5 hours and 14 minutes.
Gearing up at the parking area at the base of Wedge Mountain.
Brad heads down the road towards a beclouded Crowsnest Mountain. For the first ~1.6 km, we did not need our snowshoes thanks to fresh tire tracks.
Approximately ~650 m after starting, we came to the first junction where we discovered that we weren’t the only ones out for a morning stroll. 🙂 This is looking up the road that we would NOT take…
…instead, we kept to the right and followed the road towards the youth camp.
Brad stops to admire McGillivray Creek from the top of a small bridge.
Approximately ~1 km from the first junction (~1.65 km from parking area) we came to the turnoff for the youth camp (left). Here, we would continue straight.
Looking at Wedge Mountain from the previously pictured junction with the youth camp. On the right is the start of a trail that I think leads to the ridge north of Wedge. This might be an alternate way to ascend Wedge and is probably used by the camp.
Shortly after passing the youth camp, we stopped to put on our snowshoes.
Ah, much better!
After snowshoeing for another kilometre or so down the road, we finally caught our first glimpse of “Pa Butte” through the trees. For a small mountain, that’s a nice looking peak! 🙂
A rare glimpse of the sun as it shines down on McGillivray Creek.
Approximately ~3.5 km from our vehicle, we were presented with our best view of “Pa Butte” from the road. Our route went up the right side of the talus slope.
Looking to the west at Crowsnest Mountain from the same vantage point as the previous picture.
We enjoyed a great snowshoe along the road and were surprised that there weren’t any snowmobile tracks.
Approximately ~4.2 km from the parking area, we came to this rather nondescript location along the road. This is where we would leave the road to follow my previously mapped-out route up the mountain’s southwest ridge. Our alternate route (and what we considered as a possible descent route) was to have continued down the road for another ~1 km (~5.2 km from the parking area) to a drainage on the north side of the mountain where there looked to be a trail or cutline leading up to the ridge. This route might provide a more gradual ascent than the southwest ridge but it would still require a steep climb from the ridge to the summit.
Looking from the road to where we would enter the trees. Unfortunately, I did not have any flagging tape to mark the location. If it helps, there were a couple of dead trees, some living trees, and a bunch of snow… 😉
We had no difficulty crossing McGillivray Creek.
Brad starts up the slope on the other side of the creek. For the first ~100 m or so, the grade is gradual, but in the distance through the trees, it’s possible to see that it begins to get steep quite quickly.
Being the heroic individual that he is, Brad forges a trail through deep snow. 😉
On this particular day, Crowsnest Mountain did not want to come out and play.
Though steep, travel through the forested sections on the southwest ridge was not difficult and required minimal bushwhacking. The hardest part would come while trying to ascend a short section of large boulders (not shown). (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
This giant boulder looked like it was ready to roll down the mountain at any moment!
After a steep ascent, the ridge crest swings to a north/south route above the boulders. Here, we experienced a brief reprieve as the grade became more pleasant.
Brad slogs up towards the tree line. After heading north for a bit, the ridge swings back to a northeast/southwest track. Here is where it begins to get steep again.
Arriving at the base of the talus slope and the point where we had to remove our snowshoes.
From the tree line to the summit it was a ~500 m hike. However, 80 km/hr winds and intermittent periods of snow turned it, and our summit stay, into a less than joyous time.
Brad uses a patch of snow to expedite his ascent.
Looking south along the ridge towards Wedge Mountain.
Following Brad up the snow and ice-covered rock.
This picture shows how miserable the conditions were at times. Our ascent ridge can be seen directly behind me. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
Brad draws close to the summit.
The summit of “Pa Butte” (2131m my GPS; ~2079 topo) is quite small and is surrounded by steep drop offs… so where did Brad go?
Not wanting to linger in the intense wind, he had dropped behind a cornice on the northeast side of the mountain.
Brad snapped this pic of me as I arrived on the summit. These would turn out to be the only pics that we took of ourselves on the summit. I also didn’t build a cairn, which I would’ve named ‘Harry’ had I the chance. 😉 (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
If it wasn’t so cloudy, “Pa Butte” would have provided outstanding views of Crowsnest Mountain and the Seven Sisters.
The view to the southwest and the northern end of the Flatheads. Again, this would probably be a good view minus the clouds. Only the lower slopes of Sentry Mountain (right), Mount McLaren (centre) and Mount Coulthard (left of centre) can be seen.
The view south was a little clearer. In the foreground is Wedge Mountain and behind it are Willoughby Ridge (right of centre) and “The Saddle” (far right). On the far left are Turtle Mountain, Hillcrest Mountain, and Hearts Peak. In the foreground on the left is Saskatoon Mountain.
Looking southeast at Bluff Mountain (far right), “The Dog”, Morin Peak, and the South Peak of the Livingstone. On the far left is Grassy Mountain which is closed to access because of an active coal mining operation.
Glancing from the summit down the north face of the mountain. The alternate route I was considering, comes up through the trees in the centre. I couldn’t see it from the summit, but Google Earth shows what looks to be a cutline leading up to the ridge. If anyone finds this trail and uses it, let me know!
It’s a steep approach to the summit from all sides but it would be possible to combine “Pa Butte” with a traverse to or from, Wedge Mountain. Another route might be to use a series of trails in the valley (left of centre) between “Pa Butte” and McGillivray Ridge that originate east of Wedge Mountain.
Brad (barely visible in the centre) leaves the summit after a short and blustery stay. We decided to forgo trying to descend using the north route and instead, returned the way we came.
Heading down the talus slope. I’ve added a rough approximation of our ascent route from the road.
We made quick time on the way down!
Brad chose to slide down the short, but steep section of large boulders that we had encountered on the way up.
Nearing McGillvray Creek and more level ground.
Brad gets ready to sign some autographs as we arrive back on the road (foreground). 😉
Enjoying the snowshoe back.
Once last look back at “Pa Butte” from the road. If you love obscure summits like Brad and I do, then you might really like this peak! 🙂
Brad stops to enjoy a Hemingway moment along the trail – or perhaps it’s a Gandalf moment?
Sunlight on the slopes of Wedge Mountain.
Shortly after passing the first junction on the road (650m from the car), we began hearing shots from a high-powered rifle. We started yelling as the shots sounded very close and when we emerged from the treed portion of road and onto the open section near the parking area, we saw two guys firing from beside their pickup into the trees on the right. We stopped counting after 20 rounds and as soon as these guys saw us, they suspiciously jumped into their pickup and waited until we had passed by, not even acknowledging us when I gave a courtesy wave. As we were packing up at Brad’s car, they jumped out of the truck (which bore the name of a trades company) and began firing again. I’m glad that I wear a bright orange jacket because we felt that it was a potentially dangerous situation. If you’re interested, here is a video of the event. 😉
Arriving back at Brad’s car in the parking area after 5 hours and 14 minutes and 11.9 km. Despite experiencing less than ideal conditions on the summit, both of us really enjoyed our ascent of “Pa Butte”, and felt that it was a much more impressive destination than some of the other smaller peaks in the Pass. Our route might not be everyone’s cup of tea for a snowshoe but there are other options available. However, regardless of the chosen route, be aware that the summit guards itself by requiring a steep ascent from all angles. Finally, and as always, it was a pleasure to usher in this season’s first snowshoe with Brad – who willingly blazed most of the trail up the mountain and through deep snow. He receives the Hero Cookie of the day!
Oh, and here’s the real video that I took as we were getting into Brad’s car: