Distance: 12.5 km
Elevation gain: 575 mView mapDownload GPS track
Foran Grade and Windy Point Ridge are two smallish peaks in the front ranges accessible during the winter from the winter gate closure at Sandy McNab day use area on Highway 546. A quote from Bob Spirko's
site describes them quite well: "When hiked separately they are considered half-day trips. But when done together – some of it in deep snow – starting nearly two km from the trailhead, it's still a half-day trip!"
With questionable weather and a high avalanche risk further west, however, we decided ascending these two diminutive peaks made a lot of sense. Parking at the gates on the 546 we donned our microspikes, strapped snowshoes to our packs, and headed west along the closed highway for about 1.9 km. Near the 1.5 km mark we passed the trail sign for Foran Grade, but opted to continue a bit further and ascend the grassy, snow-free southern section of Foran Grade. From the top of this end we continued north along the ridge, mostly on packed snow or grassy forest floor and occasionally through unsupportive snow, ascending a total of about 200 m over 2.7 km. There is significant deadfall along the ridge, but the trail is well maintained.
At the rather viewless summit the trail descends to the west, losing 100 m before reaching a low point between Foran Grade and Windy Point Ridge. From here we simply ascended the south end of Windy Point Ridge, following an old trail through the snowy section and angling towards the open grassy area. While the ascent was steeper than we expected, it presented no difficulties other than steep snow and we arrived at the south end - 170 m higher than the low point - within about 30 minutes.
After lunching with a view at the southern end we decided to forge our own way back rather than descend to the closed highway and trudge back that way. Instead, we headed northwest to the saddle between the north and south summits of the ridge, nearly got blown away by the wind, descended to the east via sketchy animal trails, then ascended towards the northern end of Foran Grade, following animal trails through the knee-deep snow. One set of tracks, although significantly distorted by melt, bore a striking resemblance to cougar tracks; when they arrived at an old, picked over kill site, we decided they probably were indeed cougar tracks! This revelation also explained some deep scratch marks
on a tree we'd passed earlier.
From the northern end of Foran Grade we bushwhacked through severe deadfall to where the official, maintained trail ended at the true summit, then headed back south along the ridge. Instead of descending off the south end as we had ascended, however, we exited the ridge via the usual trail heading off to the east. With several stops and struggles through snow, the entire ordeal took less than 5.5 hours, true to Spirko's assessment! And it turned out we never needed the 4 lbs of snowshoes strapped to our packs!