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Prairie Bluff

Summit Elevation (m): 2254
Trip Date: May 28 2016
Elevation Gain (m): 800
Round Trip Time (hr): 4.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 12
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1/2 – you fall, you bruise your ego
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties. Easy scrambling and hiking with some very minor route finding. 
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Hiking)
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After squandering a perfectly good weekend, followed by a disappointing May long weekend, I was more than ready for some time away from the rat race in Calgary by the time the last weekend of May rolled around. Both my kids were also ready for a break and with Hanneke home studying and writing assignments, we decided that a two day trip to the Castle / Crown area was just the ticket for us. The original plan – given a sunny forecast – was to scramble Southfork and possibly Barnaby Ridge on Saturday, followed by something short and easy on Sunday. We planned to camp at either Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, or the Beaver Mines Campground in southern Alberta on Saturday night. The drive to Pincher Creek went pretty smooth early on Saturday morning. As we opened the truck doors at the gas station we were surprised by the strength of the wind. My doors have reminders of the strong southern Alberta winds thanks to this very gas station! (Tip: Use caution when opening your vehicle doors in the area as they could fly open a lot harder and quicker than you realize. ;)) The strength of the wind combined with a surprising amount of clouds to the west prompted me to pull up some alternate plans on my iPhone. I love the ability to save web pages as .pdf documents on the iPhone, this allows me to have alternate plans without an internet connection.

Prairie Bluff Route Map

 After debating a bit and looking at various options we decided to tackle Prairie Bluff first. If that went well we would attempt Mount Backus in the afternoon on our way to set up camp at Beaver Mines Lake, since it was literally right off the highway on the way. We got back in the truck and headed south on Cowboy Trail from Pincher Creek and towards the Victoria Peak parking spot past the Shell Waterton Complex.We walked the road that I used to access Victoria Peak and Ridge in 2012 until an obvious cut-line opened up on our right. We followed the cut-line up to another road. After the upper road curved sharply left, we followed a trail through scrub bush heading east towards Prairie Bluff. The trail we found ourselves on was very easy to follow. A myriad of wildflowers kept us entertained as we enjoyed warm sunshine and delicious smell of the wild and lack of annoying technological distractions. I love watching the kids as they get back into nature after being cooped up in the city for too long. I’m a realist. I get that cities are part of making a good living and that video games and social media aren’t inherently evil or even bad (Niko has every gaming device known to modern kids) but there is a lot of value in connecting kids with the natural world. We ARE nature ourselves after all!

There was no obvious trail once we gained the south bowl but the terrain was easy to hike and the route was obvious.
Classic Castle landscape. Brightly colored rock and dead trees.
Kaycie enjoys the views towards Pincher Ridge (c) with Drywood Mountain at left. Chief Mountain in Montana is barely visible in the far distance at left.

After hiking along very pleasant rolling terrain it was time to earn our peak. The bowl leading up to the peak was gorgeous, with cascading waterfalls and a bubbling brook heading south down to Pincher Creek far below us. The red rocks of the area combined with deep early season greens and carpets of wildflowers made the hiking very pleasant. The scree leading up to the south ridge of Prairie Bluff was significantly less pleasant. We bashed our way up on easy slopes, breaking a cliff band via an obvious (and annoyingly loose) scree cone before being hit hard by the vicious winds that southern Alberta is famous for. Snow pellets were being blown out of the storm clouds many kilometers to the west which made for interesting photos. At first we could clearly see the impressive eastern cliffs of Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain but as we gained the summit apex the stormy clouds started to cover everything to the west.

KC enjoys a wild scene near the summit of Prairie Bluff.
Looking south and west, summits include (l to r), Drywood, Pincher Ridge, Loaf Mountain, Victoria Ridge and Victoria Peak, Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak.

After enjoying the summit as much as we could in the relentless gale, we started down the broad west ridge towards a very obvious and wide road that would guide us down the alternate return. After passing an installation of some sort we continued down a very well built road. The road was almost too tempting as we followed it too far and had to backtrack slightly before finding the trail leading back into the east bowl that took us through a nice valley and back to our ascent route and the lower cut-line and road. We stopped often along the way down to take photos of wildflowers and just enjoy the scenery.

Victoria Peak (L) and Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak (C) are the most impressive and recognizable summits in the area.

As we walked along the road back to the truck, I was reminded again how much I love the southern Alberta Rockies. I could do without all the gas exploration roads and random installations with their flare stacks and other detritus but looking past that this area is so much less traveled and busy than either Kananaskis or Banff / Jasper that it’s worth the long drive. Colorful rock cliffs, untold amounts of wildflowers, small streams, easy access and a myriad of easy ridges and peaks to climb – it’s no wonder that Andrew Nugara has multiple guidebooks on the area and chose to build a home down here. Who knows? I could certainly see myself living down here some day.

Prairie Bluff
46 photos
Walking the access road for Victoria Peak (rising above us), Victoria Ridge and Prairie Bluff (out of sight to the right).
Walking the access road for Victoria Peak (rising above us), Victoria Ridge and Prairie Bluff (out of sight to the right).
The first cutline on our right (north) that we followed to an upper road.
The first cutline on our right (north) that we followed to an upper road.
Looking back down the road - the access cutline down to the left. Pincher Ridge in the background here.
Looking back down the road - the access cutline down to the left. Pincher Ridge in the background here.
We followed this road until it curved sharply left where we found an excellent trail leading to Prairie Bluff - visible at center here.
We followed this road until it curved sharply left where we found an excellent trail leading to Prairie Bluff - visible at center here.
The trail leads through some low scrub which would be problematic to bushwhack through.
The trail leads through some low scrub which would be problematic to bushwhack through.
We followed obvious terrain into the bowl before cutting up slopes to the right (east) to gain the ridge south of Prairie Bluff.
We followed obvious terrain into the bowl before cutting up slopes to the right (east) to gain the ridge south of Prairie Bluff.
One of the series of small falls draining down towards Pincher Creek.
One of the series of small falls draining down towards Pincher Creek.
Kaycie and Niko enjoy the views south as we get further into the south bowl.
Kaycie and Niko enjoy the views south as we get further into the south bowl.
There are many options to the summit from here. I wanted to avoid the loose orange scree so we cut up to the right before then.
There are many options to the summit from here. I wanted to avoid the loose orange scree so we cut up to the right before then.
Classic Castle landscape. Brightly colored rock and dead trees.
Classic Castle landscape. Brightly colored rock and dead trees.
Niko 'enjoying' the scree bash to the east ridge. At least the views behind us are opening up.
Niko 'enjoying' the scree bash to the east ridge. At least the views behind us are opening up.
Closer to the scree cone now.
Closer to the scree cone now.
Kaycie enjoys the views towards Pincher Ridge (c) with Drywood Mountain at left. Chief Mountain in Montana is barely visible in the far distance at left.
Kaycie enjoys the views towards Pincher Ridge (c) with Drywood Mountain at left. Chief Mountain in Montana is barely visible in the far distance at left.
Kaycie and Niko head for the summit of Prairie Bluff (r) with Victoria Peak rising just left of center.
Kaycie and Niko head for the summit of Prairie Bluff (r) with Victoria Peak rising just left of center.
KC on the ridge.
KC on the ridge.
Our approach valley at lower left. Windsor and Castle now visible at distant center to the right of Victoria Peak.
Our approach valley at lower left. Windsor and Castle now visible at distant center to the right of Victoria Peak.
KC enjoys a wild scene.
KC enjoys a wild scene.
Almost at the summit, looking south along the Rockies towards Waterton. I love the green prairie leading up to the colorful peaks.
Almost at the summit, looking south along the Rockies towards Waterton. I love the green prairie leading up to the colorful peaks.
A great view of Victoria Peak (l) with Windsor Mountain (c) and Castle Peak (r).
A great view of Victoria Peak (l) with Windsor Mountain (c) and Castle Peak (r).
The incredibly green prairies and rolling foothills to the east of the Castle Wilderness Area.
The incredibly green prairies and rolling foothills to the east of the Castle Wilderness Area.
Drywood, Pincher Ridge, Loaf Mountain, Victoria Ridge and Victoria Peak, Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak. North Castle and Gladstone
Drywood, Pincher Ridge, Loaf Mountain, Victoria Ridge and Victoria Peak, Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak. North Castle and Gladstone
Heading down the broad west ridge. I'm still not convinced whether clockwise or counter-clockwise is best for this peak.
Heading down the broad west ridge. I'm still not convinced whether clockwise or counter-clockwise is best for this peak.
We weren't sure what the weather was going to do as we descended but it made for some dramatic scenes.
We weren't sure what the weather was going to do as we descended but it made for some dramatic scenes.
Interesting landscape looking north off the west descent ridge of Prairie Bluff - visible at upper right here.
Interesting landscape looking north off the west descent ridge of Prairie Bluff - visible at upper right here.
The route is obvious - follow the curving ridge until it heads towards Victoria Peak, then drop left (south) towards the ascent road
The route is obvious - follow the curving ridge until it heads towards Victoria Peak, then drop left (south) towards the ascent road
Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak (r) are the most impressive and recognizable summits in the area.
Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak (r) are the most impressive and recognizable summits in the area.
Bypassing an installation of some sort (out of sight on the left) as we head to the obvious road.
Bypassing an installation of some sort (out of sight on the left) as we head to the obvious road.
Following the very robustly built road as it curves back east. Prairie Bluff looks a long ways off at center!
Following the very robustly built road as it curves back east. Prairie Bluff looks a long ways off at center!
This is the escape gully that will lead back to our approach road lower down.
This is the escape gully that will lead back to our approach road lower down.
The trail in the scree is more obvious than it appears here.
The trail in the scree is more obvious than it appears here.
It's still a chilly wind as we descend the loose scree trail.
It's still a chilly wind as we descend the loose scree trail.
Where trees go to die.
Where trees go to die.
Looking back at the escape gully - the trail is visible running along the scree at right.
Looking back at the escape gully - the trail is visible running along the scree at right.
Kaycie.
Kaycie.
Niko.
Niko.
Blue Beardtongue
Blue Beardtongue
My kids take after me - they love photographing wildflowers.
My kids take after me - they love photographing wildflowers.

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