Summit Elevation (m): 2342
Trip Date: Sunday, April 19, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 500
Round Trip Time (hrs): 3.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 10
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: The drive is more difficult than the hike. This area can get a lot of snow in winter which can mean a much tougher trip than we had.
Technical Rating: OT2; YDS (Hiking)
It’s strange. When the hiking restrictions started in late March for my beloved Rocky Mountains due to the Covid-19 pandemic myself and many of my hiking and climbing friends were pretty much convinced that our hiking, skiing, scrambling, climbing days were over for the foreseeable future. Because many of us hike and climb for reasons other than just being selfish pricks (i.e. mental health) we started doing a ton of research and realized pretty quick that there was still a surprising amount of legal possibilities. As I type up this trip report I’ve added a couple more options to my “Covid List”. When Ephraim Roberts posted on IG that he was turned back on “Wigwam Ridge” the weekend before, I got another idea or two. Googling “Wigwam Ridge” quickly led me to Cornelius Rott’s website and his trip report from January when he and Trevor struggled mightily through a very unconsolidated snow pack to this minor summit. Wietse and I both noted that although he writes a total of 1000 meters of height gain, the GPS track only showed ~500 meters in Gaia. Something was up with that but we figured the only way to find out was to get out there and try it ourselves!
As with many of my “Covid Hikes”, Wigwam Ridge is a long drive from my house. This was a good thing considering we were going on a weekend and a very nice day – probably the nicest day so far this horrible spring of 2020. I decided to drive since the Panther River Road could be quite muddy at this time of the year – especially with the amount of up-slope snow we’ve had recently. I figured there was a 95% chance that we’d meet Ephraim on route since he had been turned back a week earlier due to snowfall and was likely looking for revenge. The roads from Sundre were in the best condition I’ve ever seen them! As we drove the smaller Panther River Road past the gas plant at the Zombie / Otuskowin / Winchester Ridge trailhead the driving conditions changed dramatically. Soon we were sliding around a bit and I was getting a wee bit concerned about the results of a 15 degree day on the copious amounts of snow and mud on and beside the road. We figured it was nothing the Taco couldn’t handle so we decided to continue.
As we neared the parking spot Wietse spotted snowshoe tracks across a clearing. Sure enough! Someone was just ahead of us and I guaranteed Wietse it was Ephraim since there were also dog tracks. We were slightly confused by no vehicle but figured he must have parked a bit further up the road. We parked and started out across the meadow, slightly off of Cornelius’ track but headed in the right direction at least.
Very quickly we realized how lucky we were with not only Ephraim’s very fresh track but an underlying much older track that could only be Cornelius and Trevor’s from early January. It’s crazy how long an old track can keep snow stable! On Massive Mountain we followed a very old ski track which also worked out rather well for us. As we worked up the switch-backing OHV track weaving its way around the very steep cutline we noted that the snowpack beside the trail was horrible! We could easily sink our poles all the way to the handles with snow to spare underneath. After 30 minutes or so we caught up to Ephraim and his rather fierce dog. We greeted each other and Wietse and I quickly moved on to take our turn at breaking trail. When we passed Ephraim we realized just how much the old track was helping to support us – it was rather surprising. We were still in around a foot of fresh snow as I broke onto the first shallow ridge and high point before the main ridge.
Of course we lost the old track on the shallow ridge thanks to copious amounts of fresh snow since January but I could see the OHV track continuing in the distance so I simply headed straight for it. Along the way we ran back across the track and continued to follow it and the born-again tracks. Wietse and I took turns breaking trail up the treed NE end of the ridge in soft fresh snow, but still on the old track. We realized how quickly we were moving when it only took us just over an hour from the Panther Road to reach the wind blown slopes at the base of the NE ridge. For comparison it took Trevor and Cornelius many hours just to reach this point in January.
Soon we arrived at the “crux” on the ridge and I quickly sussed out a bypass which meant zero exposure to avy slopes and was simply a walk up even in snowshoes. My route went slightly climber’s right of the nose of the ridge. From there it was one step in front of the other on wind hammered snow to the summit with stunning views in every direction.
There was a slight breeze at the summit but no doubt this was the best summit of 2020 so far other than Quartzite Peak which was only a month previous despite feeling like a year ago! I greatly enjoyed familiar views of unfamiliar peaks including Ghost, Aylmer, Davidson, Oliver, Zombie, Otuskowin, Dormer, Winchester, Labyrinth, Maze and many others. Wietse had only done Maze and Labyrinth in the area (2014) and enjoyed the unique views.
We signed the register that Cornelius had left in January and started back down. It had only taken us 2 hours to reach the summit from the road in the great conditions we had! This left us wondering what to do next?! We couldn’t be done already on such a gorgeous day and so far from home. Too bad we didn’t know about the Burnt Timber Lookout or we’d likely have done that peak – considering it’s just up the Panther Road from our parking spot. Oh well. I was getting concerned about the conditions on the road in the warm sunshine anyway. We decided that Blue Hill would be our next objective. With a south facing route we reasoned it might even be mostly melted out.
After passing Ephraim just under the summit we quickly descended the ridge and made our way back over the shallow intervening ridge to the cutline. Instead of switch-backing the OHV trail we went straight down the cutline in deep, sticky, unconsolidated snow. This was a very fast descent and within only 3.5 hours of leaving the Panther Road we were back at the truck already! Thankfully the road was fine and despite some awfully greasy stretches we were soon back on the dry and smooth main road and barreling off to our next destination for the day.