Summit Elevation (m): 2310
Trip Date: Sunday, May 13, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 850
Round Trip Time (hr): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 15.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: Almost all the scrambling sections on this ridge can be avoided. This is mainly a hike with some routefinding if you do the loop like we did. There are options for difficult scrambling.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
On Saturday while driving back to YYC with Wietse after scrambling Cougar Peak, I was musing about possible destinations for the next day when he suggested “Wasootch Ridge” as a good hike or easy scramble to do with my daughter. I’d been considering Porcupine Ridge earlier this spring, so this seemed like an excellent idea. I did some quick on-the-spot research on my phone and quickly realized this was the perfect early season objective for us.
KC and I arrived at the Wasootch parking lot around 08:00. It was already getting busy so we wasted no time to start up the end of the ridge – literally about 100 feet from where we parked! Unlike the day previous when it took us at least 2 hours of relatively flat travel before finally gaining height, this day was the opposite. Wasootch Ridge isn’t a huge objective, but there is a lot of ups and downs along it’s spine and it wastes no time getting you up from the parking lot and presenting some nice views either, which suited us just fine.
The next few hours were pure hiking magic as far as we were concerned. Bob really undersells this outing in his description including the following statement;
People aren’t likely to put Wasootch Ridge at the top of their wish list and they may feel wistful after reaching a summit that’s encircled by taller mountains, but they should find the journey to the top satisfying.Bob Spirko
Kaycie and I both feel that this undersells the experience of an early season outing to this summit. The peaks around us were gorgeous, but being so early season there was no way we’d want to be on them with their unpredictable white coats of melting, unconsolidated snow. Our ridge was almost completely dry with a good trail and great views all around – why would we want to be anywhere else? The smells of spring were strong in the air as we identified trees and shrubs along the way and tried to connect with our environment a bit more. It’s strange how just knowing something’s name results in an immediate awareness of one’s environment that wasn’t there before. I started to notice that there were three main types of coniferous trees on Wasootch Ridge (White Pine, Mountain Hemlock and White Spruce) and lots of Juniper along the forest floor. I hadn’t noticed that before slowing down and actually paying attention to the names of things. After finally arriving at the infamous “wind break” pile of rocks, we realized we still had a bunch of ups and downs and traverses to negotiate to the top. We also spotted a solo hiker ahead of us on the ridge.
From the wind break there are two routes. We were enjoying our easy hike, so we picked the right hand side of the obvious rock fin which is rumored to be quite difficult and exposed scrambling – it certainly looks intimidating! There was more height gain and loss until we finally topped out on a nice high point before the summit. After greeting the solo hiker who’d turned back at this point, we continued along the ridge. Some easy scrambling brought us to another decision point. Sticking on the rock fin would again be quite difficult. Being with my daughter, I choose the safer option. Funny how that works. I can’t stand watching her on difficult and exposed terrain if I don’t have to… Once again we dropped down to our right and traversed along the bottom of the rock wall on fairly obvious trails in the scree. Where the trail was more difficult to follow there was usually a cairn or two marking the route.
For descent I did something I don’t usually do – I chose a different route than the ascent one. Why? Two reasons. The first was that I thought an exit via Wasootch Creek would be interesting and the second was that I didn’t feel like redoing all the undulations in the ridge again on exit! Essentially I picked the lazy option. I also thought there’d be fresh water in the creek and it was a bloody hot day. We could use a fresh refill at this point to be honest. Without further ado I scoped out the alternate return (using a Gaia breadcrumb trail on my iPhone app) down the south end of Wasootch Ridge.
There’s no doubt that having a breadcrumb on my GPS app was key to finding this route, but even then there are enough micro terrain traps on this descent to keep things ‘interesting’. I had a few moments of doubt that I could keep the scrambling “easy”, but we did manage to find an easy way down. The trick was to keep traversing above steep gullies and cliffbands to our left (east) – nothing too dramatic but simply going left when in doubt. Eventually we ended up on a very steeply treed ridge running down the east bank of a steep, manky looking drainage that I was very glad to NOT be in. This was our key to keeping things reasonable and soon after starting down the dirt / treed slope we were approaching a lively Wasootch Creek.
The rest of our day was hot and mostly uninteresting, but not in a bad way – more of a meditative, plodding kind of way. Very low stress, which is exactly how I like my exit hikes. The one major PITA was that after starting out very lively with running water and deep, clear pools of heavenly aqua goodness, Wasootch Creek became a dried up desert valley with absolutely no running water of any kind! WTF is that? It shouldn’t be called a “creek” IMHO. It should be called a “creek bed”… When you’re thirsty and it’s 28 degrees outside, there’s a huge difference between the two. All’s well that ends well and after an hour or so we were running into climbers scurrying up and down Wasootch Ridge’s infamous slab walls.
I heartily recommend Wasootch Ridge as an early(ish) season hike and/or scramble. When most other, bigger objectives are still threatening with avalanches and sucky approaches, the ridge should be dry and pleasant. The views are great and there’s an easy alternate exit via a wide valley with more great views. What more could you want in an early season outing?