On Saturday, May 19, 2018, Wietse and I finally completed a nice front range hiking / scrambling loop that I've been eyeing up for several years. The loop starts with an pleasant hike / easy scramble up Porcupine Ridge before leading over moderate terrain to a few more summits west of Tiara Peak. From just north of Tiara's summit the route ascends to Boundary Peak along an undulating Boundary Ridge before finishing off with a nice moderate scramble over Midday and Midnight Peaks. We finished our loop a bit differently than most folks do, choosing to descend easy and very pleasant slopes back into North Porcupine Creek and rejoining our approach.
We started our day by parking behind 5 other vehicles in the west ditch near the Porcupine Creek bridge. Yes - FIVE other vehicles already at 07:10 in the morning! I've been hiking more front range peaks than usual over the past month or so and am finding things a lot busier than I'm used to on my Rockies wanderings. C'est la vie! Especially with snow still clinging to the bigger, more remote peaks, this is very much the norm for Spring in the mountains just west of Calgary. It's actually really nice to see so many folks enjoying the wonderful areas located so close to a major urban center. (Since I'm a bit of a recluse when it comes to my mountain adventures, I do tend to prefer the less busy places when I have a choice.)
We fully expected to either catch up or at least see a large group ahead of us, but for the next few hours we didn't. We also didn't see evidence of recent tracks, which also confused us. We pondered the meaning of it all while we grunted our way up Porcupine Ridge. The ridge is similar to Wasootch Ridge, which I'd done a week earlier, but a bit less traveled and more rustic. We followed a burgeoning trail up the NW end of the ridge, directly in between the joining of the North and South forks of Porcupine Creek. This track is forming into a nice trail with more and more traffic and even has the occasional ribbon.
[The ridge visible from the approach track along Porcupine Creek at center.]
[This interesting set of moves can be avoided if you cross the stream and hike along its south banks for a few hundred meters. But where's the fun in that?]
[The ridge and the trail start straight ahead of us, right where the two forks of Porcupine Creek come together.]
The dawn was breaking into another gorgeous Spring day as we quickly gained height in a mix of light forest and open slopes. It didn't take long before we could start to pick out the rest of our (long) day and possible descent routes from Midday and Midnight peaks. We weren't sure if wanted to redo Midnight Peak and we weren't sure if we could avoid descending to Baldy Pass and hiking out that trail before a 2km slog back to our vehicle along hwy 40 at the end of the day. I was absolutely determined to find a nice route back down from Midday / Midnight into North Porcupine Creek in order to avoid the highway slog. Wietse was cautiously optimistic but he didn't love my initial route choice which was a descent down the steep and cliffy SW end of Midday Peak. But there was still PLENTY of time to debate our descent! We weren't even on the first summit of the day, never mind the 5th or 6th.
[There is a pretty decent trail starting to form on the ridge.]
[The Pasque Flower is one of my favorite.]
[Another gorgeous day on another front range ridge. This is becoming a theme for the spring of 2018 - a pretty good one.]
[Looking back down the ridge towards Lorette and Mary Barclay's.]
[Wietse is "blessed" by a dead tree. Not sure if that's a good or a bad thing.]
It's funny. When I'm climbing 11,000ers or planning difficult scrambles I mentally prepare a lot differently for the day ahead than when I'm doing easy hikes and scrambles. For many of my early season objectives, especially this year, I've had very low expectations for how much enjoyment I'd get out of them. Sure! I was expecting the usual little pleasures such as warm sunshine, the smell of the pine trees and the chirping birds - but I wasn't really expecting to enjoy the hiking or scrambling very much. As a consequence of having very low expectations, I've been surprised a number of times already this year including by Etherington-Baril Ridge, Mount Mann, Stony Ridge, Wasootch Ridge and Cougar Peak. Maybe that's a good approach to life in general? Like my sister-in-law loves to say, "lowered expectations"! The Porcupine Loop quickly became another favorable outing. As we negotiated the easy scrambling up the infamous slab that everyone mentions, we both commented that it was a bit harder than the easier route on Wasootch Ridge, but also more engaging as a result.
[Starting up the "crux" section on the ridge. Easy scrambling.]
[More of the easy scrambling. Hikers may not *love* this section.]
[Great views towards our first summit of the day which is located ahead on the right. At left is our final two peaks of the Porcupine Loop Traverse - Midday and Midnight. ++]
[There's some really pleasant ridge hiking even to the first summit of the traverse. Note the elevation loss in front of us - this is something you'd best get used to on the loop traverse!]
[Making our way up towards the pinnacles and our first summit of the day.]
At around 09:20, two hours after leaving the truck, we found ourselves on the first summit of the day, enjoying fantastic views and the most incredible weather you can ask for on a ridge traverse - calm winds and cool air. The summit of the ridge is either right at the pinnacles or as Bob did it, just past them. Either way, the views were decent but we didn't linger as we could clearly see how much further we had to go.
[Looking back at the interesting lower ridge.]
[This doesn't look like easy scrambling anymore! An outlier pinnacle along the ridge. Wasootch Ridge running at left across the south fork of Porcupine Creek. ++]
[Continuing on past the first set of pinnacles the ridge narrows but is still treed which is a PITA on some sections. The north fork of Porcupine Creek and most of our traverse visible here from Tiara at distant right to Midnight Peak at far left. It's a bloody long way! ++]
After a quick break, we turned our attention to the rest of the loop - we were obviously barely started at this point even though we'd already completed around 700m height gain and more than a few kilometers.