⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer. ⚠️
This trip was a reset for Brad, Lance, and myself as we’d planned to do it three weeks ago, but arrived at the Bovin Lake trailhead the morning after an unseasonably heavy snowfall and quickly changed our minds. Instead, we settled for an ascent of “Gladstone’s Toe” under less than ideal conditions. That snowfall was just the beginning, and over the next week, portions of the Castle received over 60cm of snow. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that on October 7th, Andrew and I were snowshoeing through deep powder on Haig Ridge! I thought for sure winter had come to stay, but a week-and-a-half of warm weather had melted much of the snow and our original trip was back on.
The last time I was on Drywood Mountain was back in 2012, and I remember thinking how cool the Southwest Summit looked. At 2482m (my GPS), it’s only ~31m lower than Drywood’s actual summit, and when the intervening distance and elevation losses and gains are factored in, I’m really surprised that it doesn’t have an official name. It’s often referred to as the West Summit of Drywood, but in actuality, it’s really the Southwest – but hey, ‘tomato, tomahto’ – the fact is, it’s a summit well worth visiting!
We did things a little different from Andrew’s suggested route in More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, 3rd Edition, where it’s included as an extended ridge walk. Another way, and perhaps the easiest route, is to ascend the slopes above Bovin Lake and approach the summit from the southwest. Our route however, was via a small hanging valley located immediately to the northeast of the summit. This proved to be a fun ascent that involved some optional scrambling, unique scenery, and of course, all those awesome Castle colours! By sheer choice of scrambling routes, Brad and Lance also ended up ascending the intervening high point between the Southwest Summit and the summit of Drywood Mountain. Brad nicknamed this red argillite wonder, “Redwood” and while many have visited it as a ridge walk, I’m not sure many have ascended it directly from the Bovin Lake Trail.
After soaking in the awesome views from the Southwest Summit, we pondered continuing on to Victoria Ridge, but after enjoying a leisurely pace, we knew we wouldn’t have time under shortened daylight conditions. Instead, we ascended one of the two unnamed high points that sit along the ridge above Bovin Lake. Andrew had taken the time to explore them back in August and they looked like interesting little destinations. Not wanting to visit something without a nickname, I took to calling it, “Little Bo-Peak” which is short for Bovin Peak. I then had to come up with a related name for its southeastern twin, so I chose, “Little Bo-Blue” because Blue Lake is an alternate name for Bovin Lake.
This was yet another great adventure in the mountains with Brad and Lance and here’s hoping that the nice weather holds for a few more weeks. As much as I enjoy snowshoeing, it’s still too early to be thinking about it.
I’ll leave the description on how to get to the Bovin Lake trailhead to, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, 3rd Edition and the trip reports of others. I will however, mention one very important change that Brad had previously alerted me to. Until recently, it was possible to drive up to and park at the last well site where the trail begins. Now, the road has been permanently gated to the public ~4.1km from the trailhead. This might not be a big deal at the start of the day, but the added slog down a gravel road at the end of the day could prove to be soul sucking. We brought bikes and this evened the playing field.
Once on the trail, we rode and pushed our bikes for another ~2.5km until we were beneath the entrance to the hanging valley. For reference, this is only ~100m or so before the ascent gully for Loaf Mountain. After ditching our bikes next to the trail, we ascended a steep boulder field for ~650m until we arrived at the entrance to the hanging valley. We then avoided bushwhacking and post-holing our way directly up to the col, by ascending the cliff bands on our right. Here’s where I took a scramble route that led me directly to the col beneath the summit ridge, while Brad and Lance took one that led them to ascend, “Redwood” before following the ridge back to the col.
From the col, it was a very steep hike of ~600m to reach the summit ridge. Once on the crest it was a ~560m hike over gradual terrain to reach the summit. Instead of returning the same way, we proceed to hike another 2.5km to the southwest and tag the summit of “Little Bo-Peak” before descending to the shores of Bovin Lake and following the trail for ~3.2km back to our bikes and our starting point up to the hanging valley. The bikes ensured that we had a quick ~6.6km ride back to my vehicle.
A closer look at my route (green) to the col. In reviewing my pictures, it looks like it might be possible to continue climber’s left from the entrance to the hanging valley and onto the southeast face of the mountain, where a route (blue) may exist along the small east ridge. If so, this would be the most direct way to the summit. Brad and Lance’s route (red) to the top of “Redwood” went through a large gully in the cliffs. Of course, it’s also possible to advance to the end of the valley and go straight up to the col or you could try scrambling up the northeast slopes to the summit ridge. We avoided this due to snow, but a route should be possible.
The summit is very close in elevation to the actual summit of Drywood and stands on its own both visually and on the topo map. It’s definitely a worthwhile destination!
Including both the Southwest Summit of Drywood and “Little Bo-Peak, my total distance travelled was 24km with total elevation gains of 1184m. Brad and Lance also summited “Redwood”, so they will have different numbers, but that’s okay because they are different anyways. 😉 Our total roundtrip time was 8 hours and 48 minutes.
Gearing up at the trailhead. The new gate adds an extra ~4.1km to the trip, but like many approaches in the Castle and Crowsnest Pass, a bike helps to mitigate the extra distance.
The view down the South Drywood Creek valley from the last well site. The actual trail begins at the bottom of the hill in front of Lance and Brad. “Little Bo-Blue”, one of two small peaks on the ridge above Bovin Lake, is in the centre.
I’ve long thought that this erratic with the embedded old tree is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. To quote the Australian TV characters Kath and Kim, “It’s noice, it’s different, it’s unusual.”
It’s our lucky day!
Lance enjoys a brief time of coasting along the trail. As usual, we did more pushing than riding on the way up; however, the bikes would pay off in spades at the end of the day.
The entrance to the hanging valley. For reference, it’s only ~100m or so before Nugara’s ascent gully for Loaf Mountain.
We ditched our bikes alongside the trail, though to avoid thick brush and cliffs we wouldn’t leave the trail until we reached the grassy section that is visible behind Lance and Brad.
A rough approximation of our route from the trail.
Heading up steep slopes to reach the boulder field. Our route in along the trail can be seen in the background.
Thanks to stable rock, the boulder field was not difficult to ascend – but it is steeper than it looks. (Photo by Lance Semak)
Loaf Mountain provides the backdrop as Brad and Lance (lower right) ascend the boulder field. Nugara’s ascent gully for Loaf is to the left of centre.
Out of the boulders and into the trees. A series of animal trails lessened the severity of the slope.
The cliffs that frame the entrance are impressive! Passing between them reminded me of The Gates of Argonath in the Lord of The Rings.
Arriving at the entrance to the hanging valley. Here come those Castle colours!
Lance and Brad (lower left) are minuscule next to the immense cliff face.
This gully leads from the valley down to the trail, but a series of cliffs and thick brush make the lower section a less-than-ideal ascent route.
Brad does some scrambling while Lance opts for the easy bypass.
Once enveloped by the morning sun, it felt like a summer hike. Quite the difference from a few weeks ago! The plateau above Lance and Brad is where I think another, and perhaps a more direct route to the summit may be found. It didn’t even cross my mind until I began to look at my photos.
The final obstacle before the valley. Depending on how you feel, you can choose to simply hike up the ramp on the left or scramble the rocks beside it.
I chose to scramble my way up. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
A cool shot by Lance from inside the entrance to the hanging valley. (Photo by Lance Semak)
Brad stands inside the hanging valley. The two things that stood out to me were the number of widely scattered boulders and the flatness of the the ground.
Gazing back towards the entrance as Brad walks among the boulders. The far end of Loaf Mountain is in the background.
Of the options presented to reach the col (pictured) between the summit ridge and “Redwood”, this was the least appealing. Deep snow and thick brush would’ve made reaching the slope in the centre a laborious experience. The picture also belies the severity of the slope.
With snow ruling out any attempt to scramble the northeast-facing slopes, our attention turned to the southwest-facing slopes. To get past the cliff bands, I took the route on the left while Brad and Lance followed the gully on the right. Both worked well, but it set us on different courses to reach the col, with me following a goat trail that side-sloped directly to it, while Brad and Lance ascended the intervening high point between the summit of Drywood and the Southwest Summit. Brad nicknamed it, “Redwood”.
A cool piece of argillite… that or someone dropped a mold for making styrofoam packing peanuts. 😉
The plateau above the cliffs at the entrance to the valley can be seen on the far right. This would’ve been interesting to explore as it may have led to a direct route onto the small east ridge and then the summit ridge. This may be a quicker way to the summit.
Above the cliff bands and heading towards the col. The northeast slopes were not an option due to snow.
A sheep (upper left) stares down at Brad and Lance as they ascend “Redwood”.
Brad’s view of the sheep. You’d think it should be hanging out on “Little Bo-Peak” or its twin, “Little Bo-Blue”. 😉 (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
Meanwhile at the col, I was treated to an awesome view to the northwest. From left to right: the South Peak of Pincher Ridge (far left), Windsor Mountain, Castle Peak, the Centre Peak of Pincher Ridge, Victoria Peak, and the summit of Pincher Ridge.
A telephoto of Pincher Ridge. Look at those awesome colours!
From just above the col, I could see the summit (right of centre).
Meanwhile, on the summit of “Redwood”, Brad and Lance are barely visible against the skyline.
Brad and Lance’s view down to the col. (Photo by Lance Semak)
Looking northeast at the summit of Drywood Mountain from “Redwood”. (Photo by Lance Semak)
While waiting for Brad and Lance, I thought I do them a favour by post-holing a route across the col. However, when I got to the trees, I discovered that my work had already been done…
A grizzly had been up here sometime in the last few days, and all I had to do was retrace its steps. I also picked up the sunglasses that it dropped. 😉
This is WAY steeper than it looks. From the col to the summit ridge, it was a ~190m elevation gain over ~600m.
Brad and Lance (lower left) start up the slope behind me. The cliff bands that we passed through on our way to “Redwood” and the col are on the right.
Once on the ridge, it was an uncomplicated hike of ~560m to the reach the summit (far right).
The broad summit ridge. The far end of Loaf Mountain (right) looks like an interesting place to explore. The small foothill at the very end will be a snowshoe destination for me this winter. I’ve already decided to call it “The Muffin”.
On the Southwest Summit of Drywood (2482m my GPS) a.k.a the West Summit of Drywood.
A pano to the northwest.
A pano to the southeast.
One of my favourite pictures from the trip! A pano to the southwest.
The view back to the summit of Drywood Mountain.
In the foreground is the South Peak of Pincher Ridge. Behind it from left to right: Windsor Mountain, Castle Peak, North Castle, Mount Gladstone, “Mill Creek Mountain” and “Mill Creek Peak”. The prominent peak in the distant centre is Mount Darrah.
Loaf Mountain sits across the South Drywood Creek valley.
The summit of Spread Eagle Mountain pokes over the far end of Loaf.
Gazing down toward the South Drywood Creek valley. A large herd of sheep can be seen on the patch of red argillite in the lower centre.
Lance on the summit with Victoria Peak in the background.
A repeat of a similar summit shot from “Gladstone’s Toe”. Mountain’s bring out the love in Brad…
Getting ready to leave. It was such an enjoyable stay as there was little to no wind.
Heading to our next destination for the day. Click to continue to my trip report for “Little Bo-Peak”.