Distance: 12 km
Elevation gain: 905 m View map Download GPS track
Pincher Ridge is a long ridge running southwest – northeast in the newly created Castle Wildland Park. I’ve had my eye on it for a few years, largely as a place to hike in the fall larch season, and was under the impression that the most easily reached point of the ridge and its summit were at the far southwest end. Motivated by a recent report, however, I took a closer look and discovered that not only was the northwest highpoint the official summit, but that it was also very easily reached via scree slopes to the south. As this route was far shorter than my original route and likely to be snow free much earlier in the season, it quickly became a high priority target for me.
By today, however, I also had a bit of a score to settle with Pincher Ridge. Shortly after “discovering” the route to its summit from the south we drove down to hike up it, only to be turned around by fresh snow that had fallen mid-week. It wasn’t that deep, but in the mid-morning heat it was avalanching all around and it just seemed like a bad idea to head up the ridge, especially when I couldn’t see what lay above the initial part of the ascent. Then two weeks ago we drove down again, only to be turned back by ferocious winds before we even got out of the truck! Today I had a dozen backup plans, but the conditions turned out to be absolutely perfect.
We parked at the gated exploration road between Pincher Ridge and Drywood Mountain and followed it for about 4 km, beginning the steep ascent of Pincher Ridge at a minor high point of the road just before it ended. The initial bushwhack looked quite ferocious, but turned out to be not too bad and we even found bits of manmade trail to follow at times. A steep climb up a grassy and bushy slope followed, but served as a good warmup for the horrible scree section we faced next.
It’s been a long winter, and while we’ve gotten out nearly every weekend we haven’t really faced anything difficult for many months. The steep scree we faced on the lower section of Pincher Ridge quite effectively compensated for those gentle times. With each step we’d slip back at least half of it, and while I’m sure I’ll be used to such things in a few months, it was an interesting re-introduction to the scree slogs Sandra and I tend to gravitate towards.
Things improved dramatically when we reached the crest of a minor rib to the east (climbers right). In retrospect we may have been able to avoid the bulk of the horrible scree by heading to this rib as soon as possible, but we didn’t investigate the possibility on the way down as the scree we’d ascended was quite lovely to descend.
From the top of the minor rib we turned east and headed to the summit. From below it had looked like this would involve a short downclimb, but in the end the drop was only an insignificant meter or two. Over this final traverse to the summit the scree was replaced by bits of grass and larger rubble, but the going remained very easy and I reached the summit just under two hours after leaving the exploration road (2:50 from the truck). The views were spectacular, and the red rock, spring greens, blue sky, and winter snow made the panorama incredibly beautiful. On a peculiar note, a few square meters of the summit were home to hundreds of swarming ladybugs. In some areas they were clumped tightly together and the free-crawling ones seemed drawn to these areas. It was pretty fascinating and sort of weird. Even weirder, we didn’t see any ladybugs more than a few meters away from the summit!
After a long, relaxing summit stay we retraced our steps back down the mountain. The terrible scree we’d faced on the way up was beautiful on the way down, and the only adversity we faced was the heat, something else I suppose I’m going to need to re-familiarize myself with in the coming weeks!