Summit Elevation (m): 2200
Trip Date: Sunday, October 20, 2019
Round Trip Time (hr): 4
Elevation Gain (m): 815
Total Trip Distance (km): 12.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: A short, delightful hike with a crux that could turn back many hikers. The by-pass to the cliffs is still very steep and should be avoided when wet or icy. There may be an easier route around both cruxes on the south slopes.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
After a mojo-boosting hike in perfect conditions on Prairie Mountain the week before, Wietse and I were back out on an easy / short objective on Wind Ridge on Sunday, October 20 2019. With snow blanketing the Rockies pretty early in the Fall of 2019, it’s been difficult to find worthwhile objectives that I haven’t done before and that still hold some interest. I’ve driven past Wind Ridge on my way into the mountains along the TCH countless times and was saving it for an after work evening jaunt. When Wietse texted to say he was in the mood to get out on Sunday, we decided it was time to see if Wind Ridge was worth the good things we’d read about it. It was.
We knew the ridge was a pretty short outing so we didn’t leave YYC until around 08:00, arriving at the trailhead near the Banff Gate Mountain Resort at 09:30. I was wearing my trail runners, somewhat optimistically hoping that there would be a beaten track up snow to the summit. A big surprise was looking at the ridge from the parking lot and realizing we’d have almost no snow at all! Thanks to an update from the Dafferns on the trailhead, we knew there were new bridges built over Pigeon and Wind Creeks and used this info to save ourselves 4 creek crossings.
After about 20-25 minutes of brisk hiking we crossed the final bridge and came to an old road and two route choices. The “official” route with a blue stake for a sign, went left (south) up West Wind Creek. The “unofficial” route went right (NW), over an obvious barrier of dirt and trees laid across the road. We decided to ascend the official trail and perhaps descend the unofficial one just to make things more interesting. The road up West Wind Creek was quick and obvious. After another 20-25 minutes we found ourselves turning north – still on a road – heading up towards the east end of Wind Ridge.
The road running north was gently graded and made for quick walking. The weather was gorgeous with a warm sun on our necks and even the occasional bird or squirrel bidding us “good morning”. It felt great to be on a dry trail in runners again! My idea to wear shoes instead of boots was looking genius at this point – unlike it did the week before in ankle to knee deep snow on Prairie Mountain. Within about an hour of leaving the parking lot we came to the junction with the unofficial, north route that many others seem to take.
We turned left at this junction, continuing up a much narrower trail that remained bone dry thanks to its excellent routing on the south slopes of the east end of Wind Ridge. Despite a chilly wind, we continued to enjoy the wonderful conditions and sunny morning as the trail first contoured a bit south before steeply ascending north, up towards the ridge proper on a series of tight switchbacks. Our views towards the headwaters of West Wind Creek with Mount Lougheed, Windtower and The Rimwall were stunning and made the hike worthwhile already at this point. Looking up to the ridge we could see that it remained bone dry to the obvious crux wall, still pretty high above us.
The trail stubbornly stuck to the south slopes of the ridge, avoiding any trees and staying dry in the process. Our views over Skogan Pass and along the Lougheed cliffs kept us entertained. Eventually the trail became pretty steep and a bit slick on wet, half frozen dirt as it ascended towards an obvious rock wall. At the (thankfully dry) wall, we decided to follow our noses straight up (trending right) rather than take either of the trails going left (south) or right (north) avoiding the rock. The scrambling was way too short on solid rock and soon we were above the crux and hiking to the summit. I’d rate the scrambling as a moderate step – it’s steep and you don’t want to fall here.
The summit ridge was the only section with snow but it didn’t present any issues as we traversed it to the high point. The views were pretty good for such a diminutive front range bump along the TCH – much better than they deserved to be. I was surprised with myself that I’ve done “peaks” such as Exshaw Mountain and not this hike. Just like Prairie Mountain, but with more dramatic views, we both commented that Wind Ridge is a good repeat hike when other hikes are out of season. After a quick break in a cool summit breeze we turned to the descent.
For descent we opted to try the alternate treed route that avoids the cliffs. This was a very bad idea. Whereas the cliffs were bone dry with great holds, the treed route (being more northerly) was iced up and only had the occasional tree for a hold. It took us far longer to descend this route than it would have to simply down climb the cliff or take the south route that Matt took. It didn’t help that I forgot my icers in the car – Wietse was very surprised that I managed to down climb the slick trail without hurting myself. I can’t stress enough that you should not count on taking the “easier” route down if it’s icy or wet. I highly recommend avoiding this bypass unless you know it’s dry. I’m not the only one who didn’t find it easier than the cliff route.
After the crappy down climb through the trees we joined back up with the dry trail and followed it back to the eastern end of the ridge. Here we deviated again from our ascent track, choosing to follow a faint track heading slightly up towards a nice viewpoint on the eastern end of the ridge. From the edge of the viewpoint I wondered aloud why we couldn’t just descend the nose on grassy slopes back to our approach trail. Wietse agreed and soon we were off trail on steep grass and dirt slopes leading SE and then south to intersect our approach trail. This worked perfectly and we even managed to stick to open grassy slopes right to the trail.
We followed the northerly “unofficial” route back to the bridges over West Wind, Wind and Pigeon Creeks, arriving at the parking lot 4 hours after leaving it.
I highly recommend this hike for those days when other hikes might be snow covered or you just have half a day to enjoy the Rockies. Wind Ridge would be a perfect evening hike too. We were very surprised to have the entire trail to ourselves on such a lovely Fall day – it’s certainly less crowded than other local half-day favorites such as Heart, Baldy or Prairie Mountain.