“Gladstone’s Toe”, 30 September 2018

The view from “Whitney Creek Mountain” towards the four high points (HP) that make up the far north ridge of Mount Gladstone, or as I like to call it, “Gladstone’s Toe.”  This was on my snowshoe destination list for 2018/2019, but I wasn’t expecting to get to it so early.  However, an overnight snowstorm forced us to abandon our planned trip to Victoria Ridge and to salvage the day, we pulled this out of the queue and tackled it under complete cloud cover and fog.  In the end, it was an awesome trip even though we couldn’t see a thing,  inadvertently missed the first high point, and had a horrific time bushwhacking our way back to Mill Creek.  I will definitely return to “Gladstone’s Toe” under more ideal winter conditions because I think the views would be awesome, though I will choose a different route to descend.

⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer⚠️

Don’t ask me why I call the far north ridge of Mount Gladstone, “Gladstone’s Toe”, because I don’t really have an answer.  I know it stems back to last January’s trip up “Whitney Creek Mountain” (a.k.a “Victoria’s Secret”) and a rapidly devolving conversation with Brad about mountain sobriquets, so I’m assuming it has something to do with me taking the “foot-of-the-mountain” thing to another level – though wisely remaining PG.  😉 Whatever the origin, the name stuck in my mind and that’s what I’ve taken to calling it.

The original plan for the day was to bike the Bovin Lake trail and climb the Southwest Summit of Drywood and Victoria Ridge.  However, an overnight snowstorm combined with heavy morning fog and cloud, nixed that idea at the trailhead.  A hasty alternate to save the day, “Gladstone’s Toe” was on my list for 2018/2019 as a snowshoe destination, but with winter once again coming early to southwestern Alberta, it fit the bill.  So, with our frosty bikes strapped to the back of my 4Runner, Lance, Brad, and I made the short drive from the Bovin Lake trailhead to the base of “Gladstone’s Toe” alongside Mill Creek.

Despite that fact that we had no views whatsoever from the mountain; that we inadvertently missed the northernmost highpoint, and spent longer trying to bushwhack our way down than we did going up, it still ended up being an awesome day.  The snow-covered trees set against the backdrop of thick fog and an altogether silent forest, presented us with a portentous winter landscape.  It was evident that on a winter bluebird, the views from each of the high points would be excellent – which is why I’m planning to return, though I won’t be using our descent route.  Finally, my companions made every minute that I spent hauling myself over deadfall, more than worth it.  I mean, come on -with the names of Lance, Brad, and Dave, we have all the makings of a boy band supergroup.  😉

To get to “Gladstone’s Toe” (or whatever you want to call it) from Lethbridge, turn onto the Gladstone Valley Road off of Highway 507 west of Pincher Creek.  Follow the road for 13.3km keeping left, and in the process, you will cross two bridges over Mill Creek.  At ~13.3 km from Hwy 507 or .6km from the 2nd bridge, turn right.  Follow this road for 1.4km and then make another right turn.  Follow this road for 1.4km to reach the gas well next to Mill Creek.  This is also the starting point for Andrew Nugara’s route for Mount Gladstone, in More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies

After parking, we immediately crossed Mill Creek and started up the east side of the ridge – aiming for the glimpse of open slopes that we could see above us through the clouds. I forgot to turn on my GPS until I had crossed Mill Creek, so that explains the unmatched beginning and ending points on the map and probably why we mistakenly thought high point (HP) 1 was directly above us.  For the first ~100m we had to negotiate a steep slope covered in nasty deadfall.  Afterwards however, it was a pleasant by steep hike through light forest to reach open slopes and from there, a more or less, open ascent over ~1.3km to the HP 2.

As we decided on the fly for this destination, I had no time to double check the route I had mapped out last year, and because we could see nothing to use as reference points, we mistakenly thought that HP 2 was HP1 – which is actually ~900m to the north.  From HP 2, we became disorientated in the thick fog and mistakenly began to descend to the west, and had to quickly side-slope our way back to the saddle between HP 2 and HP 3.  Without our mistake, the distance between the two is an easy hike of ~860m.

From HP 3, we then followed the ridge for ~650m to the top of HP 4.  We were pleasantly surprised at the openness of HP 2, HP 3, and HP 4, and surmised that they would all offer up amazing views.  Indeed, each progressively got higher with HP 2 sitting at 1973m, HP 3 at 1974m, and HP 4 at 1986m.

In hindsight, we should’ve retraced our route back, but we thought that descending directly down the east slopes of HP 4 and then following a drainage back to Mill Creek would make for a nice loop.  We were wrong.  Don’t use this as a route back unless you are into extreme log hopping.  We ended up leaving the drainage and side-sloping our way along the upper bank until we found an animal trail that led towards our starting point.  When that ended, we endured another 20 minutes of log hopping and bushwhacking to reach the trail and Mill Creek.

“Gladstone’s Toe” is located directly across the valley from “Whitney Creek Mountain” which is another superb snowshoe destination.  It looks possible to ascend the ridge beneath HP 1, and this might be a good option when there isn’t a significant amount of snow, as otherwise it could be prone to avalanches.  When I return, I plan to use the ascent route from this trip and then follow the ridge to HP 1.  As a side note, I guess I should call this a ‘Toe Topo Map’.  😉

I forgot to start my GPS until I was ~350m into the trip and across Mill Creek at the base of the mountain.  Including our mistake on HP 2, our total distance travelled was 8.4km with a total elevation gain of 737m.  Our total roundtrip time came in at 6 hours and 35 minutes, though had we retraced our ascent route back from HP 4, I bet we would’ve shaved off at least an hour.

Gearing up next to the gas well alongside Mill Creek.  We brought our bikes because we had initially planned on biking up to Bovin Lake and then summiting Victoria Ridge and the Southwest Summit of Drywood.  In the background is “Whitney Creek Mountain”.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Lance would have a hard time riding his bike…

A short walk from my 4Runner brought us to the bank overlooking Mill Creek.  A small portion of our heinous descent route is marked in red.

After crossing Mill Creek our route was clear… well, not so much.  At this point we were going by memory and assumed that we were ascending directly beneath HP 1.

Starting up the mountain.

The first ~100m required us to negotiate a tangled mass of deadfall.

Once past the deadfall, it became a steep hike through light forest with minimal bushwhacking.

The first and only view of the day.

Looking up the open slope of the ridge.  From here it was a ~1.3km hike to reach HP 2.

Say goodbye to the view…

Outside of the cloud and fog, it was a windless day with a temperature that hovered around -5c.

Nearing the top of the first open section of ridge.  Up to this point, the ridge followed a northwest line; however, it would begin to curl to the west at the trees in front of Brad and Lance.

We went through a short ~100m section of light forest before emerging onto the open slopes that would carry us all the way to HP 2.

Back on open slopes but now into full-on winter.

This poor harebell(?)) represents the last vestiges of summer.

I thought that these trees looked like a person standing next to a large dog or deer…

…so naturally I jumped on for a ride!  (Photo by Lance Semak)

Lance stops to take a photograph.  You’d think because of the heavy fog and cloud cover, that we wouldn’t have many pictures, and yet, I think we took more because the snow-covered trees were so spectacular.

The ambience was intense and beautiful.

The snow became progressively deeper the higher we went.

Brad takes a break amidst a scenic section of trees.

The first of many tree pics to come.  There’s always something beautiful to see on a mountain.

Heading towards HP 2 while still thinking that it was HP 1.  (Photo by Lance Semak)

The reverse of the previous picture.

Another tree pic…

…and another.  I’m sure I won’t be this excited once the temperatures hit -20c, but for my first taste of winter since April, I was enjoying the experience.

Lance adds a splash of colour to an otherwise achromatic landscape.

And for good measure, one more tree pic.  😉

Looking to the south on the crest of “Gladstone’s Toe”.  To get to HP 1, we should have gone in the opposite direction for ~900m, but the heavy fog made the elevation loss to the saddle look like a steep drop off, so we assumed we were on HP 1.

Approaching a barely visible HP 2.  I would imagine that the views from this section of the ridge would be excellent – which is why I plan on returning.

Brad scrambles up the rock face on the northwest side of HP 2’s summit.  It was completely avoidable, but we chose to have some fun.

Brad stands on the summit of HP 2 – a truly monumental achievement. 😉

I followed Brad up the short section of rock.  (Photo by Brad Wolcott)

Lance and Brad on the summit of HP 2 (1973m).

LBD (Lance, Brad, and Dave) – the world’s newest supergroup!

Finding no cairn, I took it upon myself to build one.  I’d like to introduce you to our newest bandmate, ‘Bobby’.  Lance in particular, took a real liking to Bobby and we all agreed that our new band name would be LBDB.

Leaving HP 2 (still thinking it was HP 1) and heading to HP 3.

If sheep could speak, I’d like to think that they would’ve told us that we were heading in the wrong direction.

I can’t remember the last time that I’ve been so disorientated in the backcountry.  With no visible references, we began to drop down a small ridge into the valley between “Gladstone’s Toe” and Table Mountain.  Fortunately, we realized our error and were able to side-slope back to the saddle between HP 2 and HP 3.  From this point on, we paid close attention to our GPS and topo map.

Lance and Brad demonstrate some new LBDB dance moves as they celebrate reaching the saddle between HP 2 and HP 3.

Heading into the trees as we begin to ascend HP 3 (now thinking that it was HP 2).

Easy travel through the trees.

Lance leads the way.  This was such a fun ridge walk!

Without factoring in our navigation mistake off of HP 2, it would’ve been a pleasant ~860m hike to reach HP 3 from the summit of HP 2.

An interesting summit cairn sits on HP 3 (1974m).  I wonder if it folds down into a communication dish to contact the mothership?  Again, I bet the views from here would be outstanding.

At some point in the past, someone cut down many of the trees on the summit.  Perhaps to make room for the flying saucer?  I wonder if the ‘saucer’ delivers HP Sauce?  😉

Brad kisses the cairn…

Ouzo or sambuca?  I always prefer sambuca on a winter summit, though this year I’m going to test out sortilege.

LBDB on the summit of HP 3 and still thinking that it’s HP 2.  I’m digging how the tree in the background makes me look like Lyle Lovett.  Meanwhile, I think Lance is pining for Bobby…

Leaving HP 3 and heading to HP 4.

Again, travel along the ridge was easy.

If the forecast is correct and we get another few days of snow, snowshoes will become mandatory.

Brad and Lance show off yet another LBDB dance move on the broad summit of HP 4 (1986m).  Even though it was higher than the others, there was no cairn, and sadly, there was nothing I could use to build one.  So, I guess we’ll remain as the ‘Flab Four’.

Brad kisses… Lance?

The next stop after HP 4 could be the north shoulder of Mount Gladstone itself, which begins just ~500m from the summit and rises another ~370m over ~1.5km.  However, we decided that “Gladstone’s Toe” was just the right digit for the day, and so we began to make our way to the saddle with the north shoulder, where we planned to descend.

At the saddle and looking for a way down to the drainage that would take us back to Mill Creek.

Lance (lower centre) almost disappears amidst the frozen vegetation.

The beginning of our ~3.5km bushwhacking nightmare.  “Gladstone’s Toe” is a great winter destination so long as you don’t use our descent route.  When I come again, I will use our ascent route to descend.

The snow-covered fir trees were breathtaking.

Meanwhile, like molasses in winter, Lance blazes a trail one log at a time.

I took this picture of the trees behind me…

…and then I turned around and Lance took this picture of me.  This is one of my favourite pictures from the whole trip!  It not only shows how much snow there was, but also how steep the slope was.  (Photo by Lance Semak)

A sliver of open terrain buoyed our hopes that we’d eventually find a quick egress.

Pausing for a break at a small creek that we would ‘follow’ to the main drainage.

Yeah, okay…

At least it was pretty.

“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…” – John McLane, Die Hard

It was a long slog, but after ~1.4km we finally reached the main drainage.

Lance be nimble, Lance be quick, Lance jump over the crappy stick.

We stayed in the drainage for only ~500m before leaving it to try and find easier terrain above.

So close, but so many logs to jump…

Thankfully, we found an animal trail that we could follow towards our starting point.

However, the trail only lasted for ~300m before it disappeared, so we had to take the plunge and do the ‘deadfall dance’ for the final ~100m back to the trail.

Back on the main trail though I’m not sure who Brad is talking to…

…because it wasn’t me and Lance was completely the opposite in direction.  Must’ve been a monkey.

It was an easy ~830m walk back to my 4Runner once we were on the trail.

Arriving back at my 4Runner after ~8.4km and 6 hours and 35 minutes.  Despite the arduous descent route, we all agreed that “Gladstone’s Toe” was a great little winter destination that saved the day.  I will definitely return, because I think on a clear winter day, the views of the surrounding mountains and prairies would be fantastic.  I just won’t use our descent route!  As for LBDB, we’re still waiting for that elusive recording contract, but in the meantime, we’ll keep on practicing.

Epilogue:  In a strange case of irony, Lance shows off the toe he wounded on “Gladstone’s Toe”.  Perhaps I should have called this trip, “Gladstone’s Toe: The Stubbing”. 😉

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