This was one of those days that is pretty much perfect. What more do you need than a relatively unknown route, wonderful bluebird skies, a goat breaking in a track for you to follow to treeline and a fun scramble with great 360 degree views at the top? Not much. I highly recommend this route for competent scramblers looking for something fairly straightforward with a little less popularity than other nearby peaks.
My round trip time of 7.5 hours surprised me on this trip as I never felt rushed or like I was pushing hard. A combination of great conditions and interesting scrambling and climbing kept me moving all day. The views from these front range peaks always take me by surprise – they’re better than you’d expect. I highly recommend my route considering the other options and what they seem to entail. I think I found a combination of routes for these two peaks that utilize their best features without getting too dangerous. Just bring your brain bucket and don’t forget ax and ‘pons if there’s any snow still laying about!
I enjoyed Highwood Peak about as much as I expected to. It’s not the world’s most attractive mountain and definitely not the easiest or most straightforward to approach either. Unlike a peak such as Haiduk, which is also quite an involved approach, Highwood doesn’t have larches either. But it’s close to Calgary, has a great approach trail that includes 4 lakes, is a quick trip and has great views to the Divide including giants like Harrison and Abruzzi. I recommend this as a late season objective when larger and more mid-range peaks might be out of scramble condition.
This is another highly recommended “Nugara Scramble” that deserves the attention it obviously gets by the busy summit registers on both peaks. I can only imagine that with clearer air and better views then I had, this would be a pretty darn nice short day trip for scramblers comfortable on moderate terrain.
After the easy (hot and lengthy) scramble to the summit of Pyriform Mountain and its fly-covered summit cairn, Wietse and I turned our collective attention to the alluring ridge joining it to Junction Mountain. The first part of the traverse was, as expected, fast and pleasurable. This was a good thing, because we were running low on water and were feeling the effects of an incredibly hot and windless summer day up high.
Wietse and I found ourselves with a day off mid-week on August 22, 2018 and decided we should probably take advantage of the perfect weather forecast by standing on a summit somewhere. The real question was which summit should get the nod? The issue wasn’t conditions – everything was pretty much in great condition – the issue was the levels of smoke we’d encounter and the corresponding lack of views or breathing issues we’d have to deal with. After going around in circles several times, we finally settled on an ascent of Pyriform Mountain in the Highwood Range of the Rockies in front range Kananaskis Country.
Hanneke had a rare opportunity to join me for a hike on Sunday, May 6th 2018 so I figured I should take advantage of that. I was determined not to make her wade through the knee deep snow drifts that I kept ending up in over the past few weeks and decided that surely Stony Ridge in the Highwood area of Kananaskis would be dry by now? Yeah…The past few weeks have seen me drive past Black Diamond and Longview a few times, including a solo jaunt up Three Cairns, Hell’s Ridge and Mount Mann.
The weather during the work week (of course) has been gorgeous so far in late April and early May 2018. Sitting in the concrete jungle, looking out at another gorgeous day made me leave the office 20 minutes early, jump in my truck and start driving to the mountains to see what I could hike in the evening. I knew from doing Hell’s Ridge and Etherington Baril Ridge on the weekend, that although there was still snow on the ground in the Eyrie Gap area of the Highwood Range, there wasn’t a copious amount of it.
After completing a very pleasant scramble / hike on Etherington-Baril Ridge I stupidly decided that I should cap off a perfect day with a jaunt up something named, “Hell’s Ridge”. What was I thinking?! It could be convincingly argued that I was so overcome with the powerful elixirs of Spring that I wasn’t thinking at all…
Saturday, April 28 2018 was forecast to be summer time in Alberta! After a bitterly long and cold winter, April was ending on a high note with several days pushing 25 degrees above zero, even in the mountains. Of course, these temperatures were too warm to safely enjoy the snow pack so I was left wondering what to do on Saturday. Any meaningful scrambles weren’t in shape yet (way too much snow). I’d had Etherington-Baril on the list for awhile already and decided that since I was going to be solo, this was the day to try it.
After grunting my way up Serendipity Peak, I didn’t linger long in the fierce winds at the summit but turned my attention quickly towards a distant looking Patterson’s Peak. Actually, my first glance towards Patterson’s made it appear much closer than I was expecting. It’s not until I actually started descending to the Pyriform S5 / Patterson’s col that I realized it was further than I first guess. Typical.
After several weekends in a row of very low motivation, I finally felt the call of the mountains again as the last weekend of October 2017 approached. My apathy the weeks previous had been mostly due to typical fall conditions – hurricane force winds in the front ranges, despite warm temperatures. I’ve done a lot of front range hikes and scrambles in these conditions and they’re never as fun as you imagine they’ll be when planning them. It’s like peak bagging in Waterton. The peaks are always more enjoyable afterwards, when looking at the photos without the wind trying to blow you off the peak!
On Friday, June 09 2017 I managed to summit Mount Head in the Highwood Range of the front range Rockies with Wietse and Kev Papke. Exactly ten years previous, to the day, I scrambled up Mount Head’s southern neighbor, Holy Cross Mountain, also with Wietse. Also, almost ten years to the day, was the first time I became aware of the scrambling on Mount Head when some friends did it and reported back. It was on my radar ever since and just never seemed to get priority until now. This was long before Nugara’s scrambles book added it to yet another list.
With avalanche conditions at “considerable” in the alpine, we had several different options for the weekend of January 21 2017. We could ski something below the alpine, go xcountry or resort skiing, or hike something in the front ranges. Dave Salahub had been trying to con Wietse into a day scramble up Zephyr Creek Hills (aka Miller Creek Hills) for a few years already. This was the perfect time to pounce on the idea yet again – and this time it stuck! To be honest, the only reason I agreed to the adventure was the cool sounding name and the fact that it would be my first summit starting with the letter “Z”. Sometimes it doesn’t take very much to get me off the couch.
For Mother’s Day 2016, Hanneke wanted to go hiking. That was fine with me! After doing a bit of research I decided the perfect Mother’s Day hike would be Bull Creek Hills in the Highwood Range near Eden Valley in Kananaskis Country just west of Longview. I was right – it was the perfect hike! There is more than one way to reach the summit(s) of Bull Creek Hills. The most popular way seems to be hiking to Grass Pass before heading eastward over some intervening bumps and hills before finally summiting the eastern high point. I’ve been to Grass Pass before, when I descended Gunnery Peak with Wietse and when I ascended Holy Cross, and I’ve read that there can be a lot of horse poo on the trail so I wasn’t keen on doing that route. After some searching around I came upon the illustrious Sonny Bou’s trip report from January 2015 and I liked the direct nature of his route and the fact that it was a loop taking advantage of two prominent ridges. I love ridge hiking.
After I wasted almost 4 hours of driving the weekend before, I was ‘ready’ to once again make the drive from Calgary, down past Okotoks and Black Diamond to Longview and along the Highwood River into Kananaskis from the south on hwy 40. Unlike the weekend before, this time the weather forecast was 100% chance of sun (instead of 90%?!) so I figured the odds of running into a blizzard at the trailhead was slim. Thankfully, I was right. Truth be told, I’d have much rather been on my skis – seeing as it’s February – but I have a policy that I don’t do back country skiing if the avalanche hazard is ‘considerable’ or ‘high’ so the latest forecasts made my decision to stay off the boards easy.
After snowshoeing Coyote Hills the day before, Raf and I decided that Junction Hill looked too tempting to leave it alone for long. We both returned on Sunday, January 19 to see what it’s summit would offer for views. Ironically we took different routes and drove separately – never even running into each other en route! This was not the intention. When Raf told me that Kev and him were going to attempt Junction Hill on Sunday, I assumed he meant Kev Barton. I agreed to meet at the trailhead since it’s easier for me to bomb down hwy 2 and go past High River and Longview from that direction than go through Calgary. When Kev Papke called me at 08:30 as I was driving past High River already, I realized that I should have asked which Kev. Oh well. (Kev Papke and I can usually carpool together.)
On Saturday, January 18 2014 I was joined by a gaggle of friends for a snowshoe trip under an extremely warm, winter sun. Due to high avalanche risks all over the Rockies (all the way to the coast actually), we decided on a relatively low angle and hopefully snow free ascent. We scored on one of our objectives at least. Due to a mix-up with some of Marko’s friends, Raf, Wietse, Andrea and I ended up breaking trail to the summit with Marko, Amelie and company following. We decided that this was our anniversary present for Marko and Amelie since they just got engaged.
After a pleasant solo scramble up Mount Bryant the day previous, I wasn’t sure about another off-season peak in possible wind and snow but still found myself driving to Okotoks to pick up Wietse on Sunday morning! How can you turn down a peak with the name “Shunga-la-she” right?! I had a feeling that I should plug a few way points into my GPS for this outing. While looking at the map and at Bob’s trip report I realized that the road crossed the river about 700 meters further west than Bob’s crossing. I decided that it would probably be worth crossing the bridge(if there was one) rather than getting our feet wet in mid-November!
On Saturday, June 09 2007, Wietse, Jeff and I all headed out to Kananaskis country to scramble another mountain. Again, we were ‘forced’ to choose a front-range peak. We chose Holy Cross because it sounded kind of fun.