Summit Elevations (m): 2014, 2009, 1939, 1932, 1928
Trip Date: Saturday, May 09, 2020
Elevation Gain – (m): 300, 640
Round Trip Time – Hearts, Cards (hrs): 3, 5
Total Trip Distance – Hearts, Cards (km): 9, 14
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your thumb
Difficulty Notes: This is a very easy and straightforward hike from the highway to the summit and back along an old road bed.
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
After struggling up Bluff Mountain in way more snow than we expected the weekend of May 2nd 2020, Wietse and I planned to spend the following weekend either skiing in Kananaskis or on the much drier looking set of peaks to the east of Bluff including Livingstone South and possibly The Dog and the Eagle watch site called “Piitaistakis“. We didn’t trust the overnight snow conditions or the weather so we forewent the ski idea (really, I didn’t want to get up at 03:30) and decided to drive south yet again. I’ve driven hwy 22 way too many times over the past month or two but since that area has a ton of front range hikes it makes sense to take that route in the Spring. Wietse and I are always fairly flexible on our objectives and this day would prove no different. Despite being loathe to do so, we threw our snowshoes in the truck in the morning before leaving YYC, “just in case” we needed them. As we drove south and started to get views of the southern Livingstone Range we grew nervous about snow levels and the weather. Livingstone South looked dry enough to hike but the clouds were building more than we expected and I had ideas that combined Morin with Livingstone South and required better weather and NO snow. We decided to change our objective for the day.
Despite having bagged many of the smaller objectives in the Crowsnest Pass area of the Rockies (such as Iron Ridge, Willoughby Ridge, Saskatoon Mountain, Wedge Mountain, Ma Butte, Greenhill Ridge and others), we still had enough local minor high points on our lists to make other plans work. Unfortunately for Wietse (who was absolutely loathe to use them) all of our choices involved the use of snowshoes thanks to copious amounts of the stuff in every direction we looked. In a clear case of “careful what you swear on”, we ended up deciding on a group of peaks that Wietse always swore he would “never bother with” – the so-called Cards Peaks. Many of our friends had completed Hearts, Spades, Clubs and Poker over the years. I was always bothered by the lack of a “Diamonds” and hoped I could find a worthy addition to the group for rectifying such an egregious oversight by whoever decided on these peak names and who were clearly not as OCD as I am!
The first peak of the day was the only outlier in the group – at least for our conditions which forced us to walk things that are normally driven. Hearts Peak is located towards the north end of Hastings Ridge, just west of Hillcrest Mountain which Wietse and I had ascended way back in 2010 – a decade ago already! At the time we ascended Hillcrest we made a half-hearted attempt at Hearts Peak but it wasn’t named at that time and we gave up after encountering bottomless snow on the east aspect of Hastings Ridge.
The approach road from Adanac up between Hearts and Hillcrest was mud covered but the birds were chirping and the sun was trying to peek out through the early morning cloud cover. We quickly noticed huge bear prints in the mud on the road too! Good thing I left my bear spray in the truck… After starting our regular bear yelling routine we continued up the road as it started curving north along the valley. We decided to follow the road further north rather than ascend a southerly track up the south ridge of Hearts and ascend via steep east slopes to the summit ridge. We thought we might descend the south ridge line but left that decision for later.
The snow slowly deepened on the road until we needed our snowshoes. Thankfully the snowpack was pretty firm and soon we were following the road as it switchbacked steeply up the east side of Hearts. I spotted a shortcut gully that we could ascend directly up the east face and Wietse agreed to follow it straight up. I was lacking energy for some reason and Wietse led most of the day. The snow slope was pretty big once we got on it and we were both glad it was fairly locked up after a cool night. Near the top of the east slope the snow became slushy and we bailed onto steep grass and mud to the ridge. This slope is certainly steep enough to slide and should be treated with respect if done with snow.
Views from the summit ridge were pretty good. We could see many of the Crowsnest and Flathead Range of peaks to the north and west, and even many of the Castle Provincial Park summits far off to the south. The snow on the ridge remained supportive as I followed Wietse to the summit where we enjoyed the far reaching views before turning back down the south ridge.
It didn’t take us long to realize that descending the south ridge was likely a huge mistake. For some reason there was a ton of deadfall right on the ridge crest – the 2003 burn was a real pain in the butt here! Thinking that things might get better as we went (yeah right – when does THAT happen) we stubbornly kept descending the south ridge. Things got worse. Way worse. Wietse kept reminding me that this route was my idea as we bashed our way through thicker and thicker deadfall and new growth. I won’t say too much more other than we made it out to the approach road with new scratches and weakened resolve to do any other peaks this particular day.
As we walked out along the road our moods slowly improved from the horrid descent route and we decided that since we’d driven 2.5 to get all the way down here we might as well give the rest of the “cards peaks” a shot. Wietse wasn’t too thrilled about the fact we’d almost certainly be snowshoeing them but what other choice did we really have in the area? There has been so much front range snow this year compared to most! We arrived back at the truck within 3 hours and continued driving up Adanac Road to our next set of objectives.
Spades, Clubs, Diamonds & Poker Peak
After descending Hearts Peak Wietse and I piled into my truck and drove a little further south on the Adanac Road towards the pass that marks the boundary with Castle Provincial Park. We were a bit surprised to realize that the road was still snowbound near the pass and that we’d have to walk at least an extra few kms to the small summits of Clubs and Spades. In normal summer conditions you can drive a small approach road going west off the Adanac Road but in our conditions we parked on the main Adanac Road under the pass and started on snowshoes about 0.5 kms from the pass on old snowmobile tracks. Thank goodness for the old snowmobile tracks because the snow beside it was a giant slurpee! Almost immediately we noticed that our friendly giant bear was also walking along this section of road – his tracks looked like snowshoe tracks. This was a big bear. I had my bear spray along this time at least.
We snowshoed and walked on a muddy shoulder up the main road towards the pass where we were treated to great views south over Castle Provincial Park at the base of Poker Peak. The road was dry up from the south to the snowbound pass and I was amused to see a car turning around behind us as we shuffled our way up the side road towards Clubs and Spades peaks. I was surprised that Clubs and Spades peaks are semi-official, they have signs on the approach road indicating where they are and guiding folks to the parking area for them. Too bad they forgot about Diamonds but hopefully my idea on this much needed additional “peak” sticks and it gets added some day. 😉
It didn’t take long before we needed the snowshoes full-time on the approach road. I felt sorry for the bear who was clearly not having a great day, sinking 2-3 feet at times. I was really hoping we wouldn’t run into him since he would obviously be very grumpy. There were many food sources available with all the fresh snow and I can imagine that he’d be feeling quick peckish by now. Soon we were at the base of Clubs Peak, looking ahead to a dry Spades Peak to the north. We had to travel a few kms down an obvious approach road to reach the east slopes, and this road was covered in at least 2-3 feet of firm snow. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise because when Matt Clay hiked this road dry in 2018 he found a lot of deadfall issues on it. Sonny Bou avoided the road completely in 2019 and hiked the ridge crest, taking much longer to reach Spades Peak than we did.
The approach didn’t take as long as I suspected it might, thanks to very firm snow and fast travel. For once the snow as our friend. Our views were quite good with a moody atmosphere and brilliant white slopes on the impressive Flathead Range to the west including the always impressive Mount Darrah, Ptolemy outliers and Mount Coulthard. Wietse was ahead of me once again on the dry east slopes of Spades and within 15 minutes of leaving the end of the approach road we were standing on the summit with more respectable views than I was expecting when planning this trip. I guess there’s good precedence for smaller peaks having the better views since everything around them looks big and the “cards” peaks are no different.
After enjoying the views in a cool wind we descended the east slopes of Spades and walked back towards Clubs Peak. We didn’t even need the ‘shoes for half the road back as the snow as so firm we didn’t sink. Eventually our luck ran out and we donned the snowshoes again. Wietse again led as we tackled snow slopes up the west ridge of Clubs Peak. The snow mostly held us and soon we were on the summit with limited views thanks to some trees covering the high point. It was from here that I noticed an obvious candidate for “Diamonds” peak. Just south of Clubs there is an abandoned mine site on a small peak. Since diamonds can be made from coal and since every “cards” peak is smaller and closer together from Hearts to Spades to Clubs, the small outlier makes a perfect candidate for “Diamonds”. Wietse wasn’t convinced but agreed to join me while I checked it out.
We easily descended the south slope of Clubs and started snowshoeing up a side road running along the east face of Diamonds. The side road ended at the south ridge and here we got a very nice surprise. Diamonds is much more scenic than Clubs and arguably the south ridge is some of the most scenic and nicest sections of hiking on the entire set of cards peaks. The mind scar is obvious along the west side and is complete with a small tarn. The views south over the Castle Provincial Park and west to the Flathead Range are absolutely stunning from this minor peak and completely worth the 20-30 minute side trip from Clubs.
After enjoying the summit views from Diamonds Peak we returned to the base of Clubs and from there down the approach road back to Adanac Road and the pass at the base of the western side of Poker Peak.
Dark clouds were quickly approaching from the east as we dropped our packs and made for a quick ascent of Poker – only around 180 vertical meters above the road at this point. We wondered how much snow we’d encounter but thankfully the faint trail avoided almost all snow and within 25 minutes of leaving Adanac Road we were enjoying dramatic summit views from Poker Peak towards Castle Provincial Park and once again, the Flathead Range to the west.
As a cool wind and groupal hammered us we started our descent back to Adanac Road. The descent went very quick and soon we were back in the snowshoes for the walk along Adanac back to the truck. Wietse and I agreed that despite initial misgivings on these small “nothing” objectives, they did sport some pretty sweet views and the combination of bear tracks and wild weather made them worthwhile. Just barely. The cards peaks are a good option for families looking to try some off trail hiking with some pretty sweet views.