⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer. ⚠️
In keeping with my recent pattern of ascending foothills on the front range of the Castle, I set off on a frigid Family Day to snowshoe up two unnamed foothills on the northeast end of Pincher Ridge. Coupled with this pattern has been my habit of mentioning that I do not know if there are local or Indigenous names for any of these foothills and so, I’ve chosen nicknames that fit with the name of whatever massif they belong to. These are not meant to be definitive, but work for an informal blog such as this. Therefore, to apply this rationale to today’s trip, as the name Pincher Creek comes from the discovery of “a pair of pincers (a tool used to trim horses’ hooves)” along its banks, I’ve decided to avoid ‘bucking’ the horse tack theme and ‘saunter’ along with, “Bridle Peak” and “Cinch Hill”. Hopefully this won’t cause too many folks to holler, ‘Hold your horses!’ 😉
This little trip also gave me the chance to ‘trot’ out my new GPS unit. I normally don’t write gear reviews, but I thought I’d share a little bit about the Garmin Fenix 5X that I purchased a few days ago. After doing some research into replacing my faithful, but now unsupported Garmin Vista HCx, I decided to go with the Fenix 5X smartwatch because in addition to its topo map capabilities, it has a barometric altimeter, a compass, a temperature sensor, and a ‘stable’ of other features that will useful for fitness training, mountain biking, and running. Now if only I could figure out how to make it do my taxes…
My verdict on the Fenix 5X after this initial trip: so far so good. The one issue that I did notice, was that the cuff of my glove could accidentally push the ‘select’ button that is located on the upper right corner of the watch. Doing so pauses the recording of the trip and I ended up with two short stretches near the beginning where there were gaps in my tracking data. Once I was aware of this, I made a couple of small adjustments to the location of my watch and I had no further problems – though I learned later that there is a lock feature that will inactivate the buttons and prevent this from happening. Otherwise, I found the Fenix 5X to be very easy to use and the battery did as good as could be expected in the cold – but again, this was just one quick trip and so I will give updates as time goes on. To read a more thorough review of the Fenix 5X, see The Hiking Guy’s review.
Now that I have the Fenix 5X, I can finally plot my route on Garmin’s topo map. A small victory, but the Garmin topo on my Vista HCx would not transfer over to Basecamp from the device. Map updates and transfers are easy on the Fenix 5X and apparently, so is loading .gpx tracks, but I haven’t tried that yet.
To get to the northeast end of Pincher Ridge, drive ~19.5 km south from Pincher Creek on Highway 6 until you reach the Shell Waterton Complex Road (Township Rd. 43A). Turn onto it and drive west for ~9.1 km until you come to a junction with a gravel road near to the entrance of the plant. Turn left and onto the gravel road and continue for ~3.9 km until you reach Butcher Lake. Turn left and onto another gravel road immediately prior to the Lake and follow this road for ~711m until you come to a gated road on the righthand side. Either park here (without blocking access) or continue down another couple hundred metres until you arrive at the entrance to a small gas well and the start of a cutline. I parked at the gate and then walked down to the cutline, but you could also follow the road past the gate, but that will add another ~500m or so onto the trip.
It is approximately ~850m from the start of the cutline to the gas well that is located at the base of “Cinch Hill’s” NE slope. I followed the cutline for ~465m before cutting over to the road to save energy as the snow was quite deep, but I did follow the entire cutline on the trip back. Just prior to the gas well, I followed an obvious little ridge that led to the slopes immediately behind it. From here it was a ~1.3km ascent with an elevation gain of 295m to reach the summit of “Cinch Hill”. The lower sections of the slope held calf- to knee-deep snow, so it gave me a bit of a workout. Once on the summit (note: “Cinch Hill” is the HP shown in Andrew Nugara’s route description for Pincher Ridge on page 101 in, More Scrambles In The Canadian Rockies, 3rd edition), I then made the ~900m trip across the col, to the much higher, “Bridle Peak”. This included a ~40m elevation loss and then a ~140m elevation gain up a rather steep slope to the summit. On my way back, I bypassed “Cinch Hill” to save elevation. After rejoining my tracks, I simply followed my route back to my vehicle.
The two stretches where the cuff of my glove paused the tracking on my Fenix 5X are the vertical lines at the 1.5km and 1.6km marks. My total roundtrip distance was 6.5km and total elevation gains were 538m. My total roundtrip time was 3 hours and 11 minutes.
My new fangled (perhaps Clem Fandango‘d – warning for language in link) Fenix 5X. Depending on where you live, it should come preloaded with either a Canadian topo map OR a US topo map. Even though I bought mine in Canada, it came with the US topo map. Fortunately, in an attempt to update my Vista HCx, I had recently purchased an updated Garmin topo for western Canada but did not own the US one, so this mistake worked out well for me. However, if you decide to buy a Fenix 5X, make sure to check which topo map is included prior to purchasing!
A comparison of the size difference between the Fenix 5X and my Vista HCx that I’ve used since early 2012. The screen on the Fenix 5X is definitely smaller, but you can still pan, zoom, and move around the map by using the buttons. I thought the size might bug me, but I really didn’t notice the difference. I did however, like the convenience of simply looking at my wrist to see the map. I also noticed that the Fenix 5X established a satellite connection much quicker than my Vista HCx. Neither are touchscreens, but the Fenix 5X has a ton of free watch faces, widgets, and other apps that can be downloaded from the Garmin Connect IQ Store. Its Sapphire glass screen is supposed to be (read: better be) incredibly durable. Click for Garmin’s Fenix 5X spec sheet.
My ‘hitching post’ at the entrance to the gated road (not shown). To shave ~500m off the trip, I would walk down the road in the foreground for another ~200m to reach the start of a cutline. In the background is “Cinch Hill” and the summit of Pincher Ridge.
Starting up the cutline from the road.
Looking back from the initial ~95m elevation gain along the cutline. I wish the Fenix 5X came with a team of clydesdales to break trail! Seriously though, the metric tracking activities on the watch include hiking, mountaineering, climbing, cross-country skiing, and a host of others, but snowshoeing is not included. Afterwards, I looked online and found an app (for a small fee), but I really think snowshoeing should be included as part of the stock package. I mean, who hasn’t slogged up a steep, snow-covered hill and yearned for a high-priced gadget to verify that, yes indeed, you are getting a good workout? 😉 Perhaps as an added feature, the Fenix 5X could do so using the voice of Matt Berry?
Two of the routes suggested by Andrew Nugara in, More Scrambles In The Canadian Rockies, 3rd edition, utilize the slope on the far left. My approximate route is marked in red.
Looking south at Drywood Mountain from the gas well at the base of “Cinch Hill”.
Just prior to reaching the well, I left the road and followed the little ridge in the foreground to the base of the northeast slope.
The topo map in action on my Fenix 5X. Can you feel the magic? This was just before I repositioned it on my wrist to prevent the cuff of my glove from pausing the tracking. Once I did this, I had no further problems. Garmin claims the battery will last “up to 12 days in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 20 hours in GPS mode or up to 35 hours in UltraTrac™ battery saver mode.” I started the day at 74% battery with bluetooth, GPS + GLONASS, all turned on. After a 3 hour and 11 minute snowshoe where it was sheltered from the -19c temperature underneath the single layer of my shell, the battery was at 60%. I think this is acceptable, but will do further testing as time goes on.
Slogging up calf- and knee-deep snow on the lower section of the mountain. If only Andrew were here, then I could tell him to keep taking the lead because it will be a cool picture… 😉
I had no issues in ‘loping’ past this small section of rock. 😉
A fascinating old tree branch nestled among the rocks. Drywood Mountain is in the background.
The view back at my route from above the rock band. On the way back (blue), I would follow the entire cutline as it was easier to descend this section as opposed to ascending it through deep snow.
My first good look at the summit of Pincher Ridge.
The summit of “Cinch Hill” is on the far left while Prairie Bluff sits on the far right.
A small cairn sits on the ‘rangy’ summit of “Cinch Hill” (2079m my GPS). I didn’t ‘graze’ too long as the -19c temperature had dropped even further thanks to the wind chill.
To the north (on private land) sits Christie Mine Ridge.
From the summit, I could see people ice fishing on Butcher Lake.
When Jeff, Bruce, and I ascended Pincher Ridge in 2013, we enjoyed an awesome scramble up the other side of the outlying peak on the far left.
The wind chill forced me to ‘rein in’ my stay and ‘bolt’ toward the somewhat sheltered slopes of “Bridle Peak” (foreground centre).
‘Balking’ at the ~140m elevation gain to the summit of “Bridle Peak”.
A herd of sheep cross my snowshoe tracks as I look back – and to think I didn’t see a single sheep crossing sign on my way up… 😉
Follow the leader!
The summit of “Bridle Peak” (2180 my GPS). It sounds ‘tacky’ but it was hard to ‘harness’ my excitement. 😉
A pano to the south. It was getting too cold to venture further down the ridge.
A pano to the southwest.
A pano to the northwest.
The waypoint I marked while on the summit didn’t quite square with the summit indicated on this scaling of the topo; however, all was good when I opened it in Garmin Basecamp on my Mac.
My ascent reading on the summit.
My time and distance to the summit of “Bridle Peak”. As it was so cold, I didn’t spend too much time ‘horsing around’ with the other metrics. Again, the audible voice of Matt Berry reading out your data would be the biggest improvement that I could suggest to Garmin. 😉
A telephoto of the summit of Pincher Ridge.
Gazing west at Victoria Peak. You definitely don’t want any ‘blinders’ attached to this bridle!
A telephoto of the Flathead Range. The tall peak on the distant left is Mount Darrah while Mount Coulthard, Mount McLaren, Phillipps Peak, and Mount Tecumseh are on the right. Sitting in front of Mount Darrah is Table Mountain.
This old horse was chomping at the bit to get out of the wind. 😉
I bypassed “Cinch Hill” on my way back.
To be consistent, I should probably include the northeast end (left) of Drywood Mountain as one of my winter destinations. 🙂
Out of the wind and enjoying the scenery as I follow my route down the northeast slope.
On the road and looking back at my ascent route up “Cinch Hill”.
On the way back, I decided to use the upper section of the cutline. My snowshoes tracks leading to the road are in the centre.
Arriving back at the hitching post and my trusty steed after a roundtrip time of 3 hours and 11 minutes.
A pano taken from the road next to Butcher Lake. “Cinch Hill is in the centre, with Victoria Peak, “Prairie Sky” and “Prairie Fire” on the right. Despite the frigid temperature, this was a fun trip that gave me a chance to test out my new Garmin Fenix 5X. Moving forward, I will try and provide periodic updates on it as I become more familiar with its many features, but for now, I will give it an initial thumb’s up. As for the snowshoe… it was yet another fabulous day in the Castle! 🙂