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)
Map: Google Maps
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.