Pincher Ridge to Victoria Ridge Traverse (South Peak), 13 June 2020

The South Peak (2450 m) of Pincher Ridge and our third destination for the day. As the highest point on the ridge, I’m not sure why this isn’t considered to be the official summit? No matter, the trip over from the Centre Peak has few challenges and the ascent is easy.

Tagging the summit of the Centre Peak of Pincher Ridge achieved my initial goals for the day, but with our speedy time and improving weather, Brad and I began to discuss extending our trip to the South Peak – a place neither of us had been. We wandered to the far end of the Centre Peak and surveyed the ~3.1 km route along the ridge. Nothing looked particularly challenging, but we weren’t entirely convinced yet. Knowing that we would regret not pressing on, we made the decision to make our final decision atop a small high point overlooking the col with the South Peak. As we set off for the high point, we both inwardly knew that we would keep going regardless of what we saw, and after surveying the route from the high point, we officially concluded that yes, if we didn’t keep going we’d regret it. And so we did.

With the change in plans, our conversation now shifted to our return route, and we began to look for possibilities as we ventured on. The valley beneath us was the most obvious choice and had it been a summer’s day, we probably would have dropped into the headwaters of North Drywood Creek and followed a trail out – but not today. Even from high up on the ridge, we could see that there was still a ton of snow amongst the trees and the thought of a nightmare egress – post-holing and bushwhacking for kilometres – turned our attention to retracing our steps and descending closer to the Centre Peak. As we made the long, easy hike up the South Peak, we quickly picked out a possible route and filed it away, before turning our attention to the wonderfully broad summit of the South Peak – and more importantly, the proximity of Victoria Ridge.

To get to Pincher Ridge via the south 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 ~1.4 km until you come to a junction where you can either turn left or keep going straight. Keep going straight for another ~610 m and you will arrive at a locked gate and a parking area. This is the trailhead for North Drywood Falls and the starting point.

Following Andrew’s directions, we rode our bikes for ~3.2 km until we came to a drainage coming off the south side of Pincher Ridge. We then hiked up the right side of the drainage to check out the waterfall he describes. We continued past the waterfall, along the base of the south ridge until we came to an obvious weakness in the cliffs (from the ridge, it looks like there could be more than one to choose from). We then scrambled up and onto the south ridge. The next ~700 m provided a few more options for scrambling should we so choose, or just a hike. The total elevation gain from the trail to the summit was ~770 m.

From the summit of Pincher, the route to the other peaks is clear, with the Centre Peak being a colourful ~2.2 km hike (plus a short scramble) away. The elevation loss from Pincher Ridge to the col is ~226 m followed by a ~122 m gain to the summit. From the end of the Centre Peak it was another ~3.1 km hike to reach the summit of the South Peak with a ~160 m elevation loss followed by a gain of ~282 m. From there, it was another ~3 km to Victoria Ridge with an elevation loss of ~124 m to the col and a ~196 m gain to the summit. It should be noted that once we were past the Centre Peak, no scrambling was required.

If it had been the summer, I suspect that we would’ve descended into the valley beneath Victoria Ridge and followed the trail back. However, from the ridge, it looked like there was still too much snow to chance it. Instead, we returned to the southwest base of the Centre Peak and descended to the trail from there.

Our total roundtrip distance was 26.7 km with total elevation gains of 1747 m. Our total time came in at 10 hours even.

Leaving the Centre Peak for the high point on the right. That’s where we’ll decide whether or not to continue on.

A gorgeous view across to Victoria Peak (left) and Prairie Bluff.

Glancing back to the Centre Peak.

Another view toward those fabulous colours from along the ridge.

Leaving the high point for the col. It took us all of 30 seconds to decide to keep going. 😊

Brad checks out the impressive northeast face from the col.

Some very deep and steep cornices.

Wanting to avoid as much snow in the valley as possible, we chose the red slope leading down from the Centre Peak (foreground right) as our most likely descent route.

Once again, a hardened patch of snow expedites our ascent.

Despite the severity of the northeast face, the trip from the col to the summit is merely a long, uncomplicated hike over a distance of ~1.5 km and an elevation gain of ~282 m.

Victoria Ridge (left) begins to tease us…

How’s this for physical distancing while hiking? (Photo by Brad Wolcott)

Despite the long march, I found myself frequently distracted.

The summit of the South Peak (2456 m) is HUGE! For reasons that will become obvious later on, Brad nicknamed it, “Bullseye Peak”.

As Brad noted, the summit is so big, that you have to move around just to have clear views.

Hmmmm… Victoria Ridge sits only ~3.1 km to the southwest…

The view to the northwest at Windsor Mountain, Castle Peak, and Mount Gladstone. From this angle it is possible to really see the geologic differences between Windsor and Castle and the surrounding peaks. Comprised of Paleozoic limestone, Windsor Ridge (on which Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak sit) is a geologic youngster compared to Gladstone, Victoria, and the rest of the front range mountains that dominate Waterton and the Castle. These mountains are part of the Lewis Thrust and feature some of the oldest preserved pre-Cambrian rock on the planet.  (Peaks of the Canadian Rockies)  Windsor Ridge, like Crowsnest Mountain, is a klippe and a geological anomaly for this locale.

Another closeup of our friend. On the far right is North Castle and behind it, the twin summits of “Frankie Peak” and “Larry Mountain” that Andrew named after his amazing mum and stepfather.

Victoria Peak looks even cooler from this vantage.

Looking to the northeast at Victoria Peak, Prairie Bluff, Pincher Ridge, and the Centre Peak. I had to walk a fair distance from the cairn just to get this shot.

A closer look at the day’s previous two destinations. Our ascent route up the south ridge to the summit of Pincher Ridge is easily identifiable by the dark rock.

Good ol’ Drywood Mountain sits to the east.

A telephoto of “Bakery Peak” and in the foreground, and a high point along the ridge of Drywood that Brad has fittingly nicknamed, “Redwood”.

Immediately across the valley lies the Southwest Summit of Drywood, and across from it, Loaf Mountain (far right).

A telephoto of the end of the valley and the connecting ridge between the Southwest Summit of Drywood and Victoria Ridge. I nicknamed the highpoint in the centre, “Little Bo-Peak” as a play on Bovin Lake which sits directly beneath it on the other side of the ridge.

So, this is looking back at Brad (squint if you have to) on the summit as I check out what the col looks like between the South Peak and Victoria Ridge. I said that I’d quickly check it out and then we’d decide if we wanted to keep going. When I turned around and saw how far away I was, I had no choice but to telepathically communicate with him that the decision had already been forced upon us. I waited while he hiked down to meet me and the first words out of his mouth were, “Well, I guess we’ve decided.” 😊 We both agreed that with the growing expanse of blue sky and our speed of travel, we would really, really, REALLY regret it, if we turned around.

In a show of mountain savvy, Brad guessed that it would take us 50 to 60 minutes to reach Victoria Ridge. We did it in 55 minutes – which Brad was quick to point out! 😂  Click to continue to Victoria Ridge.

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