Distance: 11.5 km
Elevation gain: 585 m View map Download GPS track
Crowsnest Ridge is one of those peaks that entered my mind at the beginning of the season and then grew in standing until I was convinced it would be a spectacular outing. So today, with the first perfect forecast in a long time, Alison and I set out to snowshoe up Crowsnest Ridge.
After an early start and a very long drive from Calgary we parked at the weigh station to the west of the ridge, then hiked along the shoulder of the highway until we reached Crowsnest Provincial Park where we started snowshoeing. Normally it is possible to park there, but the park is closed this time of year and the short section of road before the gate hadn’t been plowed.
We picked up an old snowshoe track at this point and began following it as it made its way towards the ridge. We’d both expected deep and fluffy snow, but the snow at lower elevations had a very thick and icy crust on it that couldn’t quite support our weight. Without the old track we would’ve had a very hard time. On a positive note, the weather was as spectacular as forecast with blue skies and temperatures warm enough that I didn’t even need a jacket!
When we reached the usual ascent route at the western end of the ridge, the snowshoe track we were following instead continued on the road towards Phillips Pass. We chose to continue following it to the highpoint of the pass, then did some light bushwhacking and seriously strenuous trailbreaking to join up with the more typical ascent path.
Breaking trail was very strenuous until we reached the windblown crest of the ridge, and with little wind today we chose to follow it towards the summit. This worked beautifully to start, but about halfway to the summit we encountered a huge gap in the ridge. Continuing forward was impossible and so I descended and backtracked slightly looking for a way down to the access road, just 25 m below us. Alison was a bit hesitant about this strategy as a short cliff rose up from the road, but as it was only a few meters high I figured we’d find a way down.
Shortly I found an area that looked tame enough to descend. From above it looked like I could cut a zigzagging path down to the road 3-4 meters below with little difficulty, so I removed my snowshoes and tossed them down to the road. Within two steps of starting down, however, I started to slide uncontrollably, shortly being launched off a section of cliff I’d planned to detour around and faceplanting in the deep snow of the road. While my hands and arms were a bit scraped and freezing from plunging into the snow, I was otherwise physically fine. In the back of my mind I’d actually considered what would happen if I fell and correctly assumed the deep snow would make for a safe enough landing, but I certainly never imagined I’d actually fall. What had happened was that the cliffy section was one big snow-covered and steep slab with zero traction, something I probably should have anticipated or checked out first. Regardless, it’s a lesson learned and a very good reason why I don’t do exposed scrambles or stand on the edge of cliffs for photos.
Alison learned from my mistake and made her way safely down to the road, and after a short snack and mental-recuperation break we continued to the summit on the road. Trailbreaking was generally easy along here, but the summit was deceptively far away; the enormous tower on the summit makes it seem much closer than it actually is.
The view from the summit was, unfortunately, not nearly as nice as I’d been expecting. Peaks to the west were enshrouded in cloud, views to the south and north were blocked by much larger peaks, and peaks to the east were far enough away that they seemed really tiny! The summit structures didn’t exactly enhance the scenery either, but a young sheep did add a bit of cuteness to our summit stay.
The descent was uneventful, but surprisingly long and tiring. I’d hardly slept at all the night before and this was certainly part of the problem, but I think the adrenaline rush from my fall took a ton out of me too. While we had plans to snowshoe up Island Ridge across the highway, we both realized we’d be doing that trip just to say we did it, and so instead wisely decided to head directly home. It was another nice day in the mountains!