⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer. ⚠️
It was good to be back in the mountains after an emotional and busy past few weeks. At the beginning of March, my mom passed away unexpectedly. This was followed by the usual busyness of work combined with the extra duties of teaching an evening course in history and making revisions to a manuscript. Perhaps being Easter Sunday made today even more meaningful as I reflected on mom and not only her deep faith, but her direct influence on my love of the outdoors. Being a ‘Whoops! I missed my vasectomy appointment’ child, I came along quite unexpectedly to my parents when they were in their mid-forties. Having already raised 4 other children, I’m sure the last thing they were looking forward to was a baby, but they adapted and gave me an incredible childhood. One of the things that mom did – and probably for her own sanity 😉 – was to encourage me to play outside as much as possible. At our place west of Calgary, this meant exploring forests, creeks, and rivers for hours at a time and without direct supervision. Mom knew roughly where I was, and if she wanted to know my exact location she could always call my dog, as he was better at listening than I was. This unstructured outdoor play fostered in me a a passion for exploring and with it, a sense of wonder and awe for the natural world. Growing up Anglican, it also confirmed to me that my own faith was deeply rooted in God’s commitment to the renew the earth – a theology tied directly to the empty tomb of Easter Sunday. These and an incalculable number of other influences from my mom are a part of me and I will be forever grateful to her.
It was awesome to be joined today by one of my favourite people, Andrew Nugara, along with his friends Raff and Nancy. I’ve wanted to meet Raff for a long time as he is an incredibly accomplished scrambler and between himself and Andrew, they have combined for well over 1500 summits. It was also a great pleasure to meet Nancy and to be able to celebrate her birthday on top of a summit. Now that’s the way to party! 😉
Our objective was another set of foothills on the front range of the Castle, this time on the northeast end of Drywood Mountain. I’ve been picking away at the foothills in this area as a series of winter hikes and snowshoes over the last few months, and I was more than willing to tackle this objective when it was suggested by Andrew. In fact, this was Andrew’s third trip up the the NE end of Drywood in just over a month! Back in March, he did it as a snowshoe and then just two days ago, he made a second trip to explore the east face, but was hampered by insane winds.
In keeping with my tradition of doling out nicknames that correspond with the name of the massif, I’ve decided to call the three little unnamed summits, “Stumpy”, “Woody”, and “Barky” – with “Woody” being the highest at 2037m. Overall, this was a great little loop that offered up the usual Castle colours, good views, and even a few sections of avoidable, but fun scrambling. I’m planning to re-ascend Drywood Mountain at some point and I think I will try a variation of this route when I do.
Also, be sure to check out Andrew’s awesome trip report!
To get to the northeast end of Drywood, drive ~19.5 km south from Pincher Creek on Highway 6 until you reach the Shell Waterton Plant 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 ~1.4 km until you come to the junction with another road on your left. Turn here and follow it for ~2.7 km until you come to the gated entrance for a gas well on your right. This is the starting point.
From the gate, hike the road for ~60m and then take the left fork. Hike another ~790m until you arrive at a gas well. The ascent slopes are immediately behind the well and there are many options. We chose to trend left until we were on the east face. Again, there are many options for ascent. Once on top of the southernmost branch of the NE end, it is an enjoyable ~670m hike along the ridge to the summit of “Stumpy”. After enjoying the views, it is a ~500m hike to the northernmost branch and the summit of “Woody”, the highest of the three little points. The trip from “Woody” to “Barky” is an easy ~390m along the ridge and from here, we descended down to the intervening gully and made the ~3km trip back to our vehicles.
Our total distance travelled was 8.2km with a total elevation gain of 514m. Our total time was 5 hours and 16 minutes. The perfect little loop for a snowshoe or shoulder season hike!
Our starting point at the entrance to the gas well. The southernmost branch of the NE end of Drywood is the on the left and the northernmost branch is on the right. The drainage that divides them – and which we used for descent – is in the centre.
Enjoying the gorgeous weather as we hike in along the road.
The ascent slopes are easily accessed from behind the well.
Andrew leads the way. Though it’s possible to ascend the NE slopes directly in front of him, we would trend left and over to the east face that Andrew had explored only two days prior.
Making our way onto the interesting eastern slopes. The rock prominence on the left was a definite attraction.
By the time we reached this point, both Raff and Nancy had discovered several ticks hitchhiking on their gaiters.
Andrew arrives at the base of the prominence.
The start of those amazing Castle colours! (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Andrew looks upwards at the impressive overhang.
A small waterfall had discoloured the rocks making for an interesting contrast.
While I was checking out the brightly coloured lichen, Raff and Nancy were dispatching more ticks.
It’s golden eagle migration season and it was amazing to have one soar above us.
The eagle’s enormous wingspan was on display as it caught a thermal above the overhang.
This route up the NE end of Drywood Mountain is fittingly adorned with numerous dead trees.
Andrew stands on top of the rock prominence. (Photo by Raff)
Two gnarled trees that somewhat resemble angry elk, watch over Raff and Nancy as they hike up the slope.
The view upwards from the top of the prominence. We ended up taking three different routes past this section of rock with Andrew choosing the green line, myself the blue, and Raff and Nancy the yellow. It was sure nice of whoever was last here to leave these coloured lines to follow. 😉
Andrew checks out another cool tree at the base of the rock band.
After scaling the short section of rock in the foreground, I check out the potential of a using a small gully for ascent. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Heading up the wood-filled gully. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Looking down at Andrew from near the top.
This old tree had an ‘electric’ vibe to it.
The view down to Andrew as he makes his way up the rock band using a different route.
The rocks provided a nice frame for this shot.
Andrew’s view back to my floating head and giant hands of stone. 😉 (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Above the second band we encountered yet another fun section of rock. Again, we chose three different routes with Raff and Nancy skirting left along the yellow line, myself along the blue, and Andrew the green.
Raff makes himself look big in order to scare off a tick… 😉
Love those argillite colours!
Approaching the base of the rock band.
Andrew skirts climber’s right.
Raff and Nancy head climber’s left, while I head towards the gully in the upper right corner.
Nancy and Raff disappear amongst a mass of twisted trunks.
Ever play ‘Whack A Mole’? 😉 (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Heading up easier slopes. Christie Mine Ridge is on the far left.
The last section before reaching the top of the ridge.
The snow-covered summit of Loaf Mountain appears in the distant centre.
An old tree provides the ideal frame for capturing a prairie landscape.
I knew I liked Raff before, but when he pulled out a stormtrooper to photograph inside the log, he instantly achieved the highest level of awesomeness on the internationally recognized ‘Dave Scale’. Seriously, this is genius!
“Aren’t you a little short for stormtrooper?” – Leia Organa
While Andrew, Raff, and I were preoccupied with the stormtrooper, Nancy decided to take in the views.
A closer look at the snow-covered summit of Loaf Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Enjoying an easy hike along the ridge. We still couldn’t see the high point called “Stumpy” but we could definitely see the summit of Drywood (left of centre).
Ah, there’s “Stumpy” in the shadows on the far right! Hmmm… now that would be a scary sentence if this were a political blog. 😉
A gorgeous section of bright red argillite.
Man, do I love those Castle colours!
The final stretch before the summit – or ‘stumpit’ 😉 – is an interesting little ridge walk.
The view to the northeast.
Our other objectives for the day, “Woody” (centre) and “Barky” (right of centre), appear across the drainage. The summit of Pincher Ridge is directly behind “Woody”.
The ‘stumpit’ of “Stumpy” (2031m my GPS).
The summit of Drywood Mountain (left) towers above little “Stumpy”.
A closer look across the drainage at “Woody” (left of centre) and “Barky” (centre). Prairie Bluff is in the distance.
Looking northeast and onto the prairies.
A telephoto of “The Muffin” and “The Croissant” on the northeast end of Loaf Mountain. The symbol from the Blair Witch Project that can be seen on the slopes of “Raptor Peak” (far right) is purportedly from an old copper mine.
Andrew arrives of the ‘stumpit’ of “Stumpy”. Note the striking band of red argillite on the right.
Nancy and Raff make their way along the ridge.
A nice shot of Andrew, Nancy, and Raff. What a gorgeous day!
Now those are some colourful jackets!
Andrew leads the way over to the other ridge.
Looking back as we make our way to the drainage.
The summit of “Woody” is on the right.
The view to the upper slopes of the drainage. Someone must’ve had a snowball fight recently. 😉
The drainage would prove to be an excellence choice for descent. “Woody” and “Barky” are on the left.
Andrew is tempted to keep going up…
Raff and Nancy cross the snow-covered slope while Andrew snaps some photos.
It’s an easy walk to the summit of “Woody”.
Looking west towards the Centre Peak of Pincher Ridge.
Glancing back to the snow-covered slope above the drainage.
The summit of “Woody” (2037m my GPS) is the highest point on the NE end of Drywood.
May I introduce you to “Woody” himself. He’s having a bit of a bad hair day; but hey, so would you if you lived on a windy summit! Though a bit knotty, the old Sap’s firmly rooted despite the needling he takes from his friends. In fact, instead of pining he’s branched out lately and has even turned over a new leaf… Okay, I will stop now…
A closer look at “Woody’s” interesting face.
A pano to the northwest.
I think I will come back one day and try this route to the summit of Drywood.
A pano to the northwest.
The view across to “Stumpy”.
Celebrating Nancy’s birthday with some Big Rock Honey Brown courtesy of Raff.
Not only does Raff wear an orange jacket and drive a silver 4Runner, he also does headstands on summits. Hmmmm… #seperatedatbirth
Alas, poor “Woody” was no match for an E-11 blaster. (Photo by Raff)
Making the easy ~390m hike to the summit of “Barky”.
Once last look back to the summit of “Woody” – see you later ‘Bud’!
The summit of “Barky” (2031m my GPS).
Out of the three, “Barky” has the most bark and the most colour.
Looking skyward from underneath a tree.
Nancy snaps a picture of Andrew on the summit.
A pano to the west.
Oooh those sweet, sweet Castle colours.
A herd of ewes and lambs enjoy some snow-free grazing on the side of “Barky”.
Andrew, Nancy, and Raff on the summit.
Another cool, twisted tree trunk near the summit.
It was a quick descent from the summit to the drainage.
My kingdom for a Krazy Karpet!
Raff celebrates as he sets the distance record. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
The snow was perfect and the descent was easy.
Searching for the Rebel base on Hoth. (Photo by Raff)
This would be a nice long run if you had a pair of skis.
Near the bottom, Andrew told us that he had to post-hole through the trees when he was here back in March. He then recommended cutting over the grassy slope on the far left.
Reaching the grassy slopes required a short gain in elevation.
Emerging crocuses signal that spring has finally arrived.
After a brief section of bushwhacking, we arrived at a small creek with an easy trail next to it.
Gazing back to our route along the drainage.
One last look back as we hike along the road.
Arriving back at our vehicles after a roundtrip distance of 8.2km and a time of 5 hours and 16 minutes. This was an excellent day due in large part to the great people that I was with. Thanks Andrew, Raff, and Nancy! Just for kicks, I think I will return one day using a slightly different route and then continue on to re-summit Drywood Mountain. This little loop though, is definitely a fun winter or shoulder season hike or snowshoe.