Despite the wind, we decided to keep going after enjoying our short, but excellent scramble up the east side of the southeast ridge of Prairie Bluff. From the summit, we then made the easy ~2.9 km hike to the summit of “Prairie Fire” – which was my first visit since 2011. It was while we were on the summit that we noticed the almost equal highpoint immediately to the west. In fact, it looked higher than “Prairie Fire” and in reality, it is probably best described as its twin summit. Thus, with the wind diminishing, this was enough to convince us to head over and investigate it. While walking towards it, Andrew came up with a nickname that kept the Prairie theme – “Prairie Oyster”. 😂 Its broad summit registered at 2137 m or 6 m higher than “Prairie Fire” (2131 m). Cool.
From “Prairie Oyster”, we made the quick but enjoyable trip over to “Prairie Sky” (2042 m). As the day was getting late, we made the choice to forfeit tagging the summit of nearby, “Prairie Storm”, choosing instead, to utilize two different scramble routes off “Prairie Sky” to reach the bottom. From there, it was a pleasant hike back to our vehicles.
For what started out as a day of extreme wind, hence our last minute choice of Prairie Bluff, it ended in almost dead-calm conditions, but that’s southwestern Alberta for you. That’s also why having a great fallback like the Prairie Bluff Family is so important. Even though we’ve made repeated trips here, it always seems like a new mountain because of the variety of terrain and options for routes. Make no mistake, I will be back and will probably try something else on the east side of Prairie Bluff. I will also try some new routes (to me) up “Prairie Fire” and “Prairie Sky” as well. Who knows? Perhaps one day I will dethrone Andrew as Prairie Bluff Champ? Hmmm, on second thought, I doubt that will happen! 😁
Be sure to read Andrew’s trip report!
To get to Prairie Bluff, 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. Continue straight for another ~1.5 km, until you come to a Shell pumping house which is the original Windsor Ridge trailhead. Keep following the road as it curves to the right and continue for another ~2 km until you arrive at closed gate on your left where an old road leads toward the mountain. This is the starting point.
We followed the road for ~600 m until it came to an open gate. Once on the other side, we headed to our left and across mostly open fields and meadows towards the base of the southeast ridge. Eventually we came to a fence (this is not private land – see my “Prairie Storm 2” report for information) that after some searching, were able to step over without much effort.
After reaching the base of the ridge, we began to trend to climber’s right and around the mountain until we reached its east face and the start of some wonderful scrambling terrain. We ended up ascending alongside the first large gully that we came to, though if we had kept going, we would have found other spots to ascend. The scrambling was all on excellent rock with minimal ice and snow present.
From where we emerged on top of the ridge, it was then an easy hike to the summit, despite the wind doing its best to thwart us. Once there, it was an easy ~2.9 km hike to the summit of PF. From PF it was then a ~1.5 km trip to the top of PO, and then a ~1.4 km hike over to PS. We descended using the northeast and east scramble routes and then skirted the base of PF to end up at our original tracks back to the trailhead.
Our total roundtrip distance was 16 km with a total time of 6 hours and 34 minutes. Total elevation gains came in at 1167 m.
Leaving the summit of Prairie Bluff along the easy connecting road. From here, it’s an easy ~2.9 km hike to reach “Prairie Fire”.
Looking at the short, but fun north ridge route up Prairie Bluff.
Glancing back to the summit. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
The highpoint in front of me is really the western summit of “Prairie Fire” and is what Andrew nicknamed, “Prairie Oyster”. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
From the west, “Prairie Fire” (centre) is a benign walkup.
Follow the argillite road! Follow the argillite road! 😂
Gazing back to Prairie Bluff from the road.
Some sizeable snow piles along the road. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Andrew obeys the traffic sign and yields before proceeding straight ahead.
A small pumping station sits near the summit.
I make sure to stay on the right of way. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Passing a chain link fence on the way to the summit. This is definitely not as exciting as a scramble route would be!
The summit of “Prairie Fire” (2131 m).
Gazing back to Prairie Bluff.
Looking to the west. This is when “Prairie Oyster” really piqued our interest. Even though both of us have been here before, neither of us had recognized the reality of a western summit.
Even though it is lower than Prairie Bluff, the views to the south are still uninhibited.
Gazing out to the east.
Victoria Peak always makes a great backdrop for photos.
Goggles Pisano on the summit. 😂 (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Andrew leads us back to the road.
It’s not often you can do a ridge walk using a road.
Andrew ensures that his brakes are in good working order. 😂
The route from the road to the top of “Prairie Oyster” is straightforward. In hindsight, it would be better to tag it from the road on the way over from Prairie Bluff.
Looking across to “Prairie Fire” as we near the top.
Andrew arrives on the broad summit of “Prairie Oyster” (2137 m).
A small depression in the middle of the summit gives the illusion that one end is higher than the other.
Same view to the south as the rest of the day, but with a slightly different take on Victoria Peak.
The gorgeous little ridge that sits to the northwest. This would be a long, but unique way to reach the Prairie Bluff Family. Hmmm, maybe a snowshoe..? 🤔
Gazing to the southeast.
Prairie Bluff under the late afternoon sun.
A pano to the north. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Andrew on the summit. The wind had diminished significantly by this point, so it was actually an enjoyable experience.
Me on the summit with “Prairie Fire” in the background. Andrew’s readings pegged “Prairie Oyster” as 6 m higher than “Prairie Fire”.
Leaving the summit and making the ~1.4 km walk to “Prairie Sky” (foreground left).
To say the route is obvious is a bit of an understatement.
Note the ram on the road in front of Andrew. We had watched him earlier from the summit of “Prairie Fire”,
A wide angle as we watch the ram stop to look back at us.
A closer look of the previous picture. The beautiful ram is in the centre of the snow patch on Victoria Peak.
A telephoto of the big guy. With all of the hunters around, he’d better take cover. In fact, when we got back to our cars, a hunter pulled up and asked if we’d seen any sheep. I told him no.
What am I looking at? (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
This! Our previous three destinations of the day. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
It was a pleasant hike along the ridge.
Andrew walks past some ripple-marked argillite.
The rock changes to basalt as we get closer to the summit.
Now that the wind had all but disappeared, we could see that it was really a gorgeous day.
The trip from the road is longer than it looks to be.
Andrew on the summit of “Prairie Sky” (2042 m).
Looking back to “Prairie Oyster” (left), Prairie Bluff (centre), and “Prairie Fire”. From here, it is obvious that “Prairie Oyster” is really the western summit of “Prairie Fire”.
Gazing across to “Prairie Storm”.
Pincher Ridge is a cool peak that also has multiple routes to the top.
Looking down the impressive east face of “Prairie Sky”.
The short ridge walk and scramble route that I used in 2011.
On the last summit of the day.
We’re very blessed to live in this part of the world!
I wander over to check for a route down as we decided against the long trip back on the road.
My view back to Andrew.
A very distinct trail is carved into the side of “Prairie Fire”.
Andrew scopes out a possible scramble route down (and also up 😊).
Heading down over steep and frozen terrain. While Andrew would choose a different route on the east side of the mountain, I would continue down these slopes.
Slow going near the top.
Andrew checks out a cool formation of argillite…
Before deciding to continue onto the east side of the mountain.
I followed him to check things out. The route he used is laid out behind him.
Some of the interesting terrain that Andrew encountered on his way down. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
This was close to the descent route that I used in 2011, only this time, I didn’t break my poles!
Overhanging layers of argillite.
Late day sunlight accentuates the summit of “Prairie Fire”.
At the base and heading towards the gas well in the centre.
Glancing back to “Prairie Sky” from beside the well.
Several options exist for scrambling up the east side of “Prairie Fire”.
Hmmm, where is Andrew? Hopefully he made it down alive!
Ah, there he is!
Watching him make the trip over reminded me of the running scene with Sir Lancelot in The Holy Grail. 😂😂
Andrew’s view back to me.
Skirting the base of “Prairie Fire” as we make our way back to the trailhead.
The days are getting shorter and shorter… (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Following a decent trail.
Even more options for scrambling up “Prairie Fire”. Andrew has done a few of these, but I haven’t… yet. 😊
On the actual trail for a short distance. We would leave it when it curled towards the valley between Prairie Bluff and “Prairie Fire”.
Thankfully the snow was hard packed.
Crossing a small creek.
The same fence that we had crossed earlier in the day. It was so dilapidated that we could easily step over it.
Following the cutline back to our original track from the trailhead. Prairie Bluff is on the left.
One last look at “Prairie Fire”. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
There are so many old friends in this picture.
Arriving back at the trailhead after 16 km and 6 hours and 34 minutes.
A final look at Prairie Bluff (right), “Prairie Fire” (centre), and “Prairie Sky” (far left) from the trailhead. Once again, this ended up being an awesome day in the mountains with Andrew. Even though it was a multi-repeat trip for both of us, we still were able to explore a new route up Prairie Bluff – and there are still other options that we haven’t yet tried. The same goes for “Prairie Fire” and “Prairie Sky”. Like “Blue Mountain”, the Prairie Bluff Family is a fantastic fallback when the weather is miserable or time is short – or when you simply want to have some easily accessible fun.