I left truck at 0930 after an easy but long drive. My muscles were still a bit sore after my recent Assiniboine trip but I was feeling pretty good overall. I was originally planning on a Victoria Peak / ridge trip but was concerned I didn't have enough time any more. I'd do that one the next day instead so I needed a shorter trip. I probably wasn't really ready for a Nugara 'difficult' but I started up anyway. I headed up steep grassy slopes north west of parking area and then up an obvious break lower down in the cliff band than Nugara suggests but it worked perfectly.
[Looking up the lower grassy slopes of Pincher Ridge. The summit is JUST visible peaking over at center left. ++]
[Lots of dead trees on the first, grassy slope.]
[Looking back out over the prairies to the north east where Pincher and Drywood Creeks run out of the mountains.]
Once on top of the first bump, I traversed slightly down and up the next one. This was a bit of a grunt but not too bad either. Crappy thing is that you lose elevation yet again before getting to the ridge proper.
[Looking ahead from the first bump to the second one. There's some elevation gain / loss involved but not too much.]
[Looking ahead to the scramble - left hand ridge with detours off to the left and then the right. ++]
I barely went on the ridge from this point on. I went left to avoid the first cliff on the ridge and went up an obvious gully after another short left traverse (upper moderate) and then traversed over to another gully on the south side of the ridge. (3 gullies total - not on the ridge at all in between them.)
[Typical terrain on the NE ridge - I went left already at the first cliff band up obvious breaks.]
[Looking back down at the nose of Pincher Ridge, my approach route comes in from the right hand side.]
Here the scrambling became serious. I wouldn't want to descend from this point on if I didn't have to. I stayed left of the ridge for at least 3 gullies - each one steeper and harder than before but with excellent rock and good holds. Lots of fun!!
[Looking at the first gully (upper left) as I round the bottom of the first cliff on climber's left.]
[The gully isn't too bad.]
[Another gully to avoid ridge difficulties at upper right now. Every gully gets harder.]
Eventually I figured I was getting closer to the summit so I started looking for terrain that resembled the 'steep grassy ledges' in the book. I was beginning to get a bit nervous since there was no way I was going back down the terrain I just came up and the terrain in front of me just kept getting harder. I traversed right on some grassy ledges until I was wrapped around the summit block on the north side and west of the summit.
[Looking over some ledge terrain on climber's right of the ridge towards Victoria Peak.]
[Another upper moderate scrambling section on the ridge.]
[Avoiding some pretty serious terrain]
[I guess these could be the 'grassy ledges'.]
[Looking ahead to more traversing on climber's right (north) side of the ridge. Note the exposure to the right!]
[Looking back as I traverse climber's right under the summit block. I approached from the right side of this photo. ++]
I worked my way up and slightly left (eventually you are blocked by a drainage while traversing) before coming to a seriously exposed move that would get me onto the summit block. I couldn't do it! The move was probably mid fifth class - slightly overhanging and very exposed with only one good hold for my left hand. There had to be an easier way... Thank goodness there was! I traversed even more back to climber's left and found a slightly less crazy break onto the summit ridge. From here it was a 2 minute stroll to the top.
[The summit of Pincher Ridge.]
I found a register in a Ziploc bag from Kris Thorsteinsson dated August 12 2012 but no other official register or container. I checked out the easternmost summit but surprisingly it was a bit lower. It took me under 3 hours to reach the summit so I spent a good 1 hour on top. Very warm with no wind! The view was marred by smoke but the peacefulness of no wind on a Castle area peak made up for that!
[Summit views are smoky. :( This is looking west towards my descent route - which peels off to the left after a bit. I came up from the right. ++]
[One entry! And no pencil so I couldn't even add my name to it. But I certainly agreed with Kris' assessment.]
[Looking back at my ascent route from the summit. My camping spot is at lower right.]
[Telephoto of Prairie Bluff]
[Victoria Peak on the left and Prairie Bluff on the right - Victoria is my destination for the following day.]
[You can tell it was pretty warm for the end of September! Other than the smoky views though, I wasn't complaining.]
[Looking to the SW towards Victoria Ridge with Windsor and Castle Peak in the far distance right of center - which I did from Victoria Peak (R) the next day.]
[Starting down easy slopes - Victoria Peak at right.]
For return I went down the ridge to the west. When I saw the large gully to my left I assumed this was the descent route. Half the gully was dark rock and the other half was light brown scree. I went down the scree and into the creek at the bottom. I nervously broke through the underbrush at the bottom and immediately realized I was totally cliffed out. Dang! I thought this was an easy and obvious route! I had a 100 meter cliff right under me with a small waterfall and everything. I flipped the dice in my head and started traversing very steep grassy slopes to skiers right above the cliffs. This worked perfectly and soon I was bashing my way down again. I made one more traverse skiers left to avoid any bush whacking before the road.
[I assumed this was the easy descent route. It's pretty easy but I would be trapped by the gully at the bottom of it.]
[Getting closer to the end of the gully and feeling like my luck is about to run out.]
[Looking back up my escape gully.]
[Yep! My luck just ran out! But then I got pretty lucky again. I managed to escape to skier's right but I think left would also work. I had to traverse some pretty steep, exposed grassy terrain to escape it.]
[Looking down the south slopes of Pincher Ridge to the road below.]
[Looking back up the south slopes - my escape drainage at left.]
[Still some drainage terrain to go!]
[Looking back up at the terrain I descended.]
Once on the road I made my way back to the truck under the blazing late September sun. I was back at the truck at 15:00 for a round trip time of 5.5 hours. (Including almost 1 hour on the summit)
[Pincher Ridge and fall colors as seen from the descent road. I ascended from right to left.]
[An easy stroll back to the truck.]
I highly recommend this scramble for those with good route finding skills and a penchant for soloing pretty decent rock. Just remember you can't get back down once you start up the route so pick your lines carefully! ;)
[My excellent camping spot (slept in the truck) at the Pincher Ridge trailhead. It had a running stream and nobody bothered me either. The tree gave me shade.]
[It was a very relaxing 4 days / 3 nights in the Castle Wilderness]