This seems to be a week of threepeats. Last Saturday I made my third ascent of “Blue Mountain” and today, I made my third ascent of Prairie Bluff, with my last being in November 2018. Normally, I always try to find a summit where I’ve never been (and there are so many), but for certain mountains, I will always make an exception. Prairie Bluff and its outliers are some of these.
This trip came about after my daughter, Janelle, and her boyfriend, Jacob, suggested a quick trip to the mountains on my day off. I had a few destinations in mind, but eventually settled on Prairie Bluff, and in particular, the quick but colourful route up the north ridge. It not only allows quick access, but has a short, but sweet little section of scrambling. This would meet the time requirements and provide us with some great views.
As I have always said, my best trips are the ones with my kids and today was no exception. Now I do have to hand it to Jacob – who by the way is a great guy and who Melanie and I have enjoyed getting to know over the last number of months – it does take a bit of courage to venture onto a mountain with your girlfriend’s dad, particularly one with cliffs. 😏 All in all it was a great morning, despite the cold wind on the summit. This was my second time using this route, and my only complaint about it, is that the section of scrambling is WAY too short.
Finally, I want to confirm Trent’s comment from a few weeks ago on my Prairie Storm 2 post: the ‘No Trespassing’ signs have been removed from the Victoria Ridge trailhead. This is great news if indeed, the landowner was the one who took them down. Thanks for the heads-up Trent!
To get to Prairie Bluff from Lethbridge, follow Highway 507 west of Pincher Creek to the Gladstone Valley Road which is located on the left side of the highway, ~1.4 km past the bridge over Mill Creek. After turning onto the road, keep left at all major junctions, and you will eventually cross two bridges over Mill Creek. Approximately ~16.3 km from Hwy 507 or ~3.5 km from the 2nd bridge, you will come to a junction where a closed red gate prevents you from continuing straight ahead. Continue on by taking the hairpin curve to the left and follow the road as it climbs upwards for another ~3.3km until you come to a side road on your right. This road leads to a gas well at the base of Prairie Bluff, but the parking spot for Nugara’s route is located on the other side of the gas well road near the junction. You can’t miss the large patch of gravel.
From here, the route is obvious. Climb the small embankment above the parking area and walk across the open meadow until you come to a creek. Cross the creek (it was dry for us but this may not always be the case) and follow it until you reach the point where it enters the trees. On your left you will see a slope leading into the trees. This is the beginning of the ridge, so follow it upwards through light forest for ~300m until you are above the tree line at the base of the ascent slope. A short, but steep hike of another ~300m will bring you to the base of the first and largest band of argillite. Pick whatever route you want from here depending on how easy or how hard you want it to be – or bypass much of it by keeping to climber’s left.
After ~100m or so (straight as the crow flies) of enjoyable scrambling, you will emerge on a small shoulder. A quick walk will bring you to a small high point and then a second rock band. Again, scrambling routes can be chosen to preference or bypassed. This band is shorter than the first and once beyond it, it is an easy hike to the summit ridge and then the summit.
We returned the same way, but chose a completely different route through the large argillite band. You could also drop into the drainage immediately to the west of the ridge.
This route allows for a quick trip. It took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the summit and our total roundtrip time was 3 hours and 9 minutes. Total elevation gains were 533 m and total distance was 5.1 km.
Gearing up at the gravel patch on the side of the road. The summit is to the left of centre and the north ridge is to the right of centre. Pretty straightforward stuff.
Janelle and Jacob walk across an open meadow as we head towards the trees and the start of the north ridge. Although the weather was sunny to start, a cool wind from the east picked up and the temperature dropped enough to see our breath.
This little creek bed was dry and easy to cross. The ridge starts next to where the creek emerges from the trees.
Easy bushwhacking through the trees and onto the ridge. It looked like at one time, someone had chopped down trees to make trails up the ridge and alongside the creek.
A quick hike of ~300 m brought us above the tree line. The route goes up and through the small cliff band in the centre.
I thought this old tree looked like the creature from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.
The next ~300 m from the tree line to the cliff band is deceptively steep. “Whitney Creek Mountain” is in the background to the left of centre.
The small cliff band is among the most colourful in the area.
A closeup shows the vibrancy of the orange and yellow lichen.
Janelle and Jacob stand at the base of the cliffs.
The route up is really a choose your own adventure. To avoid almost all of the scrambling, keep to climber’s left and follow the base. Otherwise, there are many other ways to ascend and descend. My only complaint is that this section is WAY too short.
Janelle enjoys a short section of scrambling. In the background, you can see the road and our parking spot.
Looking to the west at Mount Gladstone (right).
More colourful rock.
While Janelle and Jacob (lower left) pause to enjoy the views, I continue to admire the amazing rock.
At the top of the first section of rock and looking towards the summit (left).
Approaching a small band of rock along the shoulder.
Accordingly, the views opened up the higher we went. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the summit, clouds would obscure much of it.
An easy hike up from the small shoulder.
Though completely avoidable, I chose to scramble up this small section of rock. (Photo by Janelle McMurray)
Another ridge to the west that can also be used for ascent. I tried it once in March 2018, but had to turn around due to deep snow in the trees.
Arriving on the summit ridge.
“I feel trapped. Like a moth. In a bath.” – Maurice Moss, The IT Crowd. (Photo by Janelle McMurray)
Strolling to the summit.
My third time on the summit of Prairie Bluff (2258 m).
This was however, the first time that Janelle and Jacob had been on Prairie Bluff.
Unfortunately, most of the views to the south were obscured.
Another view slightly to the southwest. From left to right: Pincher Ridge, the SW Summit of Drywood Mountain, Pincher Ridge Centre Peak & South Peak, and Victoria Ridge. The latter three are destinations that are long overdue for me. In the foreground are “Prairie Fire” and “Prairie Sky”.
It doesn’t look like much from this angle, but in the foreground is the fun outlier, “Prairie Storm”.
A telephoto of Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak.
The view to the west features Mount Gladstone (left), “Eagle Peak”, “Whistable Peak”, “Table Top”, and Table Mountain (far right). In the foreground on the right are “Gladstone’s Toe” and “Whitney Creek Mountain”.
The view to the northwest is pretty hazy and little Mount Albert (centre) in Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, is about the only thing you can see.
The view east and onto the prairies.
It was cold and windy, but it’s always awesome to be on a mountain with your adult kids!
There was a small geocache located in the main cairn.
After a quick bite to eat, it was time to head back.
Dropping down from the ridge to get out of the wind.
In addition to copious amounts of red argillite, there is also plenty of green argillite.
Janelle descends past a colourful rock.
We took a slightly different path through the rocks on the way down.
Croci growing among the rocks.
When I was here in 2018, I used this small gully on descent. So why not again today?
Jacob makes his way down the bottom section of gully.
Followed by Janelle.
Janelle stands at the bottom of the gully.
The mountain has a wart. 😳
Continuing to make our way down through the rocks.
One last look at the colourful start to the section of cliffs.
Arriving back on open slopes.
I think this is yarrow.
A nice patch of bright yellow lichen.
Looking over to Mount Albert and Beauvais Lake Provincial Park.
It did not take us long to arrive back at the tree line.
Another cool old tree.
The view back to the top.
Gorgeous alpine forgetmenot with some alpine buttercup behind it.
Crossing the dry creek bed in the meadow.
This was a quick, but awesome little trip – taking just 3 hours and 9 minutes in total. There are a number of ways up Prairie Bluff, but this has to be one of the better ones. This trip was special in that I was accompanied by my daughter, Janelle, and her boyfriend, Jacob – and whenever I get a chance to spend time with my adult kids, I count myself to be a blessed man. 😊