Three weeks ago, as Brad and I trekked to the top of Mount McGladrey, we took careful note of neighbouring, Mount Pengelly. Knowing that Rick Collier had ascended it in 1993 via its col (pictured) with McGladrey, we couldn’t help but to marvel at its towering east face while wondering for the life of us, how Collier was able to scramble up (and then back down) what looked to be a highly complex route with little margin for error. Collier himself, described the route as “varying from moderate to strenuous… many of the ledges and scree benches had to be traversed left (S) out onto the face in order to reach reasonable ascent moves; there were two fairly choice moves — made more piquant by serious exposure — up short walls. Although it was a delightful climb, in retrospect I would have preferred a rope and a partner who was willing now and again to belay.” (Source: An Autumn Odyssey: Ascents of Pengelly, McGladrey, and Darrah) In short, if the great Rick Collier found it to be sketchy, it was decidedly outside of our consideration.
That being said, on our way down and at Brad’s prompting, we gained the ridge that connects Pengelly to its small, but distinctive eastern outlier. From this vantage, we could see that a possible route might exist up Pengelly’s southeast face and that accessing it via the ridge we were standing on, did not appear difficult. We just couldn’t tell if it was feasible until we could come back and give it an honest try – which brings us to today.
Armed with an array of technical gear, Brad and I discovered that not only was the route feasible, it was little more than a steep hike up scree and solid rock. The only real scrambling we encountered, was getting onto each of Pengelly’s twin summits, which required negotiating a short but narrow ridge leading to the first summit, and then a small elevation loss followed by a short scramble up a couloir to the second peak – which my topo indicated was the true summit, though we couldn’t determine a difference in elevation.
If we were only the fourth party since 2017 to visit the summit of McGladrey, I’m sure even fewer people have visited the summit of Pengelly. Indeed, Collier’s is the only report that I can find and the absence of a cairn or registry on the summit provides a bit of a clue given that it is an official peak. While Pengelly looks more impressive than McGladery from most angles and especially on approach, it is actually smaller and offers less impressive views. The route we used however, was more enjoyable than the soul sucking slog to the summit of McGladrey. Moreover, because they share the same straightforward and scenic approach, getting to Pengelly allowed us to once again experience the serenity of the marvellous little trail that leads into the valley. If you are looking for an obscure, but official summit in a very unique part of the Castle (well, just outside of it), then Pengelly might fit the bill. On the other hand, if you are looking for the ‘wow’ factor, then you might be disappointed because the mountain is after all, named after someone’s in-laws. 😉
To get to Mount Pengelly from Lethbridge, drive west on Highway 3 until you reach the first turnoff for Blairmore (20 Ave). Drive west along 20 Ave for a short distance and then take your first left (133 St.) and cross the railroad tracks. Immediately on the other side of the tracks, take your first right (19 Ave) then your first left (132 St.). Follow 132 St. for a short distance and turn right onto 16 Ave. Follow 16 Ave as it curves south and turns into Lyons Creek Road (131 St.). From the end of the pavement on the edge of Blairmore, drive ~14 km until you come to the turnoff for Goat Creek Road. If you have a 4 x 4 or a high clearance vehicle, proceed down Goat Creek Road. If you don’t, it’s time to get out the bikes. We drove in on our McGladrey trip, but this time we biked in and to be honest, I’m not sure driving is quicker. From the junction with Lyons Creek Road, follow Goat Creek Road for ~2.6 km until you cross a small bridge and come to a fork in the road. The trail starts a short ways down the left fork, so park your vehicle here or keep on biking.
From the parking area, cross the black ATV bridge and follow the trail (keeping left at all junctions) for ~2.2 km until you come to a red ATV bridge that crosses Goat Creek. Proceed across the bridge and immediately on the other side, look for an old, vegetation-covered logging road located on the righthand side. Follow the old road keeping left at all junctions. We ended up ditching our bikes at about the ~1.5 km mark when we encountered recurring deadfall. Approximately ~2.3 km from the bridge we came to a junction that was partially hidden by deadfall just prior to a small clearing. We skirted the deadfall and followed the right fork to the creek. We crossed the creek and then crossed back again before ascending a small ridge located next to the drainage that originates in the bowl between Pengelly and McGladrey. From the base of the ridge, it was an ~800m hike to reach the slope that led up the north side of Pengelly’s eastern ridge.
Once on the ridge, it was a matter of following it until we found ourselves on Pengelly’s southeast slope. We continued in a westward direction angling upwards for ~200m or so, until we were past a series of south facing ridges. We then trended upwards (north and northwest) in a more direct line, following a gully, and then patches of vegetation until we reached the summit ridge. It was steep but did not feel exposed. Once on the ridge, we proceeded to the southwest and had the option of ascending two high points prior to reaching the first of the twin summits. Getting onto the first summit involved a short scramble along a narrow ridge and we quickly discovered that the connecting ridge to the second summit, was not worth attempting. Instead, we descended a short distance and reached it via a small couloir. My topo map indicated this was the true summit though we couldn’t see a difference. It was a ~722m elevation gain from the end of the east ridge to the summit of Pengelly over a distance of roughly 2.5 to 3 km.
We returned down the southeast face and when we arrived on the east ridge, instead of descending to the north, we used the grassy south face and then followed open slopes to the south bank of the creek before reconnecting with the small trail. From here we returned to the main trail and returned the way we came. Both Brad and I recommend using our descent route off of the east ridge for ascent.
As we biked in from Lyons Creek Road, our approach was longer in length than it was for McGladrey. Our total distance travelled was 22 km with total elevation gains of 1149m. Our total roundtrip time was 8 hours even. The time from Brad’s car to the summit was approximately 4 hours.
Our starting point at the unmarked junction between Lyons Creek Road (left) and Goat Creek Road. If you don’t have a 4×4 or a high clearance vehicle, this is where you’ll want to park and get out the bikes. On our Mount McGladrey trip three weeks ago, we drove in with my 4Runner. This time Brad drove his Matrix and so we ended up biking, though to be honest, it was probably just as fast.
Early morning sunlight highlights Mount Darrah (far left), Mount Pengelly (centre) and Mount McGladrey (right of centre). Recent rainfall had turned sections of Goat Creek Road into a soupy mess.
About ~2.6 km from the junction with Lyons Creek Road, we came to this fork immediately after crossing a small bridge. The trail continues down the left branch, or if you are driving in, this is where you want to park. Mount McGladrey is in the background.
Mount Darrah provides a scenic backdrop as we descend a ~900m section of road prior to reaching Goat Creek. On both trips, we rode our bikes back up this section and it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t kill us either. 😉
After a ~2.2 km ride from the black ATV bridge, we came to this red bridge. The old logging road that leads to Pengelly and McGladrey begins on the other side.
Brad pauses to flex his biceps at the junction with the old logging road (right). 😉
Once on the logging road / trail, we kept left at all junctions. The lack of any signs of ATV use was remarkable. Kudos to the off-road crowd who frequent this area for sticking to the designated trails.
Close to ~1.5 km from the red bridge, we came to a short section of deadfall strewn across the trail. This is where we ditched our bikes on our McGladrey trip, but this time we pushed on past the deadfall for a few hundred metres before eventually giving up. In hindsight, it is better to leave them here. This is the view looking down the trail a short distance beyond the deadfall. Compared to three weeks ago, the upper section of the trail had grown over considerably.
This sweet valley has quickly become one of my favourite locales in the Castle. It is one of the most peaceful places that I have ever hiked in. Mount Pengelly is on the right.
A telephoto of Pengelly and an approximation of our route. Both Brad and I would recommend using our descent route to also ascend. The drainage on the right leads to the bowl between Pengelly and Mount McGladrey.
A portion of the upper trail turns into a washout.
Approximately 2.3 km from the red bridge, we came to a junction where the right fork was partially hidden by deadfall (pictured). The left branch continues through a small clearing but the right fork is what we used. We found it easier to skirt the deadfall by going partially into the clearing before cutting back through the trees and regaining the right fork.
On the short trail that leads to the creek. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
On the bank of the creek and looking towards Pengelly (centre). On ascent we would cross the creek and follow the opposite bank before crossing it again to reach the base of the small treed ridge in the centre. On descent, we followed the embankment on the left and avoided the creek altogether.
Brad easily crosses the creek near the base of the small ridge.
On the ridge and approaching Pengelly’s eastern outlier (right). I thought the trees made for an interesting composition.
Three weeks ago, this was a broad snow slope that gave us an awesome glissade. Today it was a carpet of rich green growth and the glissading sucked. 😉
Looking back to Brad and our route up from the ridge.
Brad hikes the steep slope next to Pengelly’s eastern outlier. We would gain the east ridge by heading up the section that can be seen at the top right.
A closer look at our route up to Pengelly’s east ridge. This is steeper than it looks and we quickly decided that it would not be great for descent. This is why we recommend using our descent route to also ascend, unless you are going to summit McGladrey first.
Brad surveys the route ahead from the top of the ridge. The peak in the background is unnamed and at 2620m, is 34m higher than Pengelly.
Heading up the east ridge. Our route would take us climber’s left of the cornice in the centre.
The view back to Pengelly’s eastern outlier. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
The north face of Pengelly and the summit of Mount McGladrey (small bump to the right of centre) from the east ridge. From this perspective, Pengelly looks to be the more impressive objective, but in reality, McGladrey is the higher peak.
Brad (lower left) took a more direct line to Pengelly while I enjoyed the short ridge walk.
Though it had severely deteriorated, this cornice still presented as an impressive wall of snow.
Gazing back to the eastern outlier and the open slopes of our descent route.
Not knowing what to expect, we had packed an assortment of technical gear. We were more than pleased when we realized that none of it would be needed. From this point, we would continue in an upwardly westward direction towards the centre of the picture and until we were past the south facing ridges on the right.
The terrain was steep but there was always solid footing.
We would head past the snow patch at the bottom of the ridge in the centre, before taking a more direct route up the mountain. This section allowed us to take advantage of several goat tracks.
The unnamed peak (2620m) to the south of Pengelly looks to be a simple scree hike to the summit. From the BC side, there is a nice valley that leads directly to it, though it may not be accessible due to land restrictions surrounding the Corbin mine. It may be entirely possible to reach the col from Pengelly, but we did not have time to explore this option due to an approaching storm.
Heading up solid rock next to the last of the south facing ridges.
We followed this gully by sticking to climber’s right.
Closing in on the summit ridge.
Looking over to Brad (far left) as he takes a slightly different line.
We could now see the first of the twin summits (distant centre) – though we didn’t know it at the time.
We bypassed the first high point on the ridge, but would tag it on the way back. This is where Pengelly connects to the col with McGladrey.
Enjoying the ridge walk to the first summit.
Just prior to the first summit, the ridge narrows but by sticking to climber’s left, we avoided any exposure and made short work of it. On the left is the second summit.
Brad’s view back as I scramble across the ridge to the first summit. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
On the first summit and plotting a route over to what my topo map indicated was the true summit, though we couldn’t tell the difference. We quickly discovered that the small connecting ridge was sketchy at best, so I volunteered to descend to the south and search for a way up.
Success! (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
My view back to Brad who appears to be… break dancing. 😉 Even from here I couldn’t tell if there was a difference in height between the two summits.
Brad follows my route down a scree slope…
And then up a small couloir and onto the second summit.
The views from Pengelly are not as good as the ones from McGladrey, but there is still lots to see. This is a pano to the north.
A pano to the southeast…
And a pano to the south.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Brad is one of only a handful of people who have stood on this summit.
I’m so elated that I look like I’ve downed a bag of edible cannabis… 😉 (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
The valley that leads from the Corbin mine to the unnamed peak to the south. In the background are Barnes Peak (far left) and Michel Head (far right) – two destinations that I want to get to this year.
There wasn’t a cairn, so I built one and called it ‘Penny’. We searched both peaks and could not find a register. I thought because Rick Collier had left so many, that one might have survived since his trip in 1993. If you visit Pengelly, maybe bring a canister and a new register – and then sign our names along with yours. 😉
As the views seemed better from the first summit, we decided to head back. In the background is the large and surprisingly unnamed peak (2761m) that sits immediately to the north of Mount McGladrey (left of centre). Why A.O. Wheeler and the Interprovincial Boundary Survey decided not to give this peak a name is baffling. Though in hindsight, perhaps this is a good thing since Wheeler and company are the reason why we have such random and generally poor naming conventions for the mountains in southwestern Alberta. As Jay Sherwood notes in, Surveying the Great Divide: The Alberta/BC Boundary Survey, 1913-1917, “Wheeler seldom consulted anyone about naming the geographical features, and he ignored the principle of naming peaks to reflect the natural or human history of the area… Unlike 19th-century scientists and explorers, Wheeler and his survey party rarely met indigenous people who could provide names for the features of the Rocky Mountains, but he made no effort to consult them when making his maps.” (157) That Pengelly is named after Wheeler’s assistant, A.J. Campbell’s wife (162) while two larger peaks remained nameless, perhaps says more about Campbell’s relation to his in-laws than anything else. 😉
Back on the first summit and looking down at the pretty tarn that sits between Pengelly and McGladrey.
A telephoto of Mount Ptolemy.
One thing that Pengelly has that McGladrey doesn’t, is a view of Mount Coulthard (right).
A closer look at the aforementioned unnamed peak (2761m) and Mount McGladrey (2638m).
The view from the first summit towards the other unnamed peak (2620m) located to the south and behind it, a beclouded Mount Darrah.
A telephoto of the previous picture. Even from this angle, it looks like reaching the top of this unnamed peak is an achievable goal. It just depends on whether you can reach it from Pengelly, or if you can use the valley that leads up from the Corbin mine.
A telephoto of Tent Mountain. PLEASE NOTE: Montem Resources is considering reopening Tent Mountain as an active mine, and as such, they have recently closed off all public access.
A telephoto of the mine at Corbin. In the background is Michel Head (centre) and Mount Taylor (right).
Brad descends from the first summit. Our stay was cut short by an approaching rain storm that at this point, gave no indication that it was actually a thunderstorm.
Before we left, we had to check out the high point (right) where Pengelly connects to the col with McGladrey (left). It looks like I’m super close to the edge, but I’m a safe distance away. Rest easy family… (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
Looking down to the col with McGladrey and still wondering how Collier did this. Our ascent route up McGladrey followed the obvious gully on the right, though at the time, it was filled with snow that undoubtedly made it much more enjoyable than it would otherwise be. On a soul sucking scale, the gully with snow would be a Hoover while without it, it might be a Dyson. 😉
An even closer look at the ridge leading down to the col.
Gazing down Pengelly’s immense east face and into the bowl below.
Enjoying the scenery moments before an unexpected and intense clap of thunder would remind us that we had metal ice axes, metal poles, and various other pieces of metal climbing gear strapped to our bodies. We had heard no thunder nor had we observed any lightning up to this point.
Booking it down the mountain. Though we heard more intense thunder, there did not appear to be any lightning; however, I can now charge my cell phone by simply holding it in my hand. 😉 Actually, descending down the scree slope would’ve been quick even if we hadn’t been fleeing for our lives.
Nearing the east ridge in the rain. We had no sooner mentioned that we wanted to venture onto the small outlier on the right, when another crack of thunder made us decide otherwise.
Descending down the south slope of the east ridge. As I’ve mentioned before, I think this would be a much better ascent route.
Blue sky and a skiff of sunshine illuminate the unnamed peak to the south of Pengelly.
More blue sky! Looking back along grassy slopes to the east ridge. Even if you never wanted to climb a mountain, the two alpine bowls in the valley are very cool places to visit.
Open slopes guide us all the way back to the creek and the trail.
A pano with Pengelly to the left of centre.
Following the embankment above the creek. The bushwhacking was not too bad and we made good time, but I’m not sure what it would be like come mid-summer.
Back on the small trail that leads from the creek to the main trail.
Enjoying a peaceful walk along the main trail.
Gazing back to Pengelly. This is such a sweet place!
A mid-afternoon telephoto of Pengelly with our route clearly visible.
Arriving back at the bikes. In hindsight, we should have just left them at the deadfall where we did last time. They really aren’t much use past that section of trail.
Brad coasts by an open gate along the trail. Once on the bikes and past the deadfall, I don’t think you really need to pedal that much until you reach the red ATV bridge.
Looking back at Pengelly (centre) as we cycle out along the Goat Creek Road.
The storm that didn’t look like a thunderstorm when we were on the mountain, now looks like a thunderstorm.
Arriving back at Brad’s car after a roundtrip distance of 22 km and a time of 8 hours. The nice part about cycling in along the Goat Creek Road is that you can coast along many sections on the way back – and you only have to power wash your bike and not your vehicle. 😉 All in all, this was an incredibly satisfying day. Not only were we able to validate our theory that an ascent of Pengelly was possible via the southeast face, but we were able to once again return to what has quickly become one of my favourite locales in the Castle – even though it is technically outside of it. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that very few people visit Pengelly, which makes the novelty of an ascent a bit more gratifying. When compared to Mount McGladrey, the slog to the summit is more enjoyable though the views from the top are not as good. Pengelly is probably not the mountain that I would recommend to someone who is an occasional visitor to the area, as there are many others, such as Mount Coulthard that will give you more bang for your buck. However, if you love the obscure like Brad and I do, then Pengelly and McGladrey might be of interest.