Distance: 18 km
Elevation gain: 1075 m View map Download GPS track
With sunny and warm weather across the Rockies and little to no snow in many areas, I was very interested in getting out on something big today. Alison was too, and we eventually settled on Victoria Peak in the Castle Wilderness. Most people ascend this peak from the east via the route published in Andrew Nugara’s scrambling guide, but this would be a bit sketchy for me even in dry conditions and downright dangerous with snow. Instead we chose to ascend via easy and dry scree slopes to the south.
The one concern we had was the wind. Forecast to be 60 to 80 km/h just to the northeast in Pincher Creek (and reported at 72 km/h there as we left the city), it didn’t seem like a great idea to climb a vertical kilometer. A very careful analysis of the various weather models, however, suggested the wind would be much calmer just a short distance west of Pincher Creek and at higher elevations, oddly enough. We had a backup plan just in case, but the allure of scrambling up such a nice peak this late in the season was worth the risk we’d get turned around by the wind.
We parked at a locked gate by a large industrial complex and started hiking along the gas well road at 8:45 am. The wind was moderately strong along the road and it was a bit tiring to be walking directly into it, but this got a bit better when the road changed to trail and entered the forest about 3.5 km from where we parked. Long sections of the trail were covered in hard packed snow that made travel just a bit annoying, but overall it was very easy going and we were able to keep a very good pace.
A bit over 6 km from where we parked, just after the trail turned north and entered the forest after having been in the open for a while, we left the trail and headed up the southwest slope of Victoria Peak. After a short stint of very intense bushwhacking we reached a steep scree slope that we followed all the way up to a small plateau 400 m below the summit. We were a bit surprised to find dozens of fresh bear diggings on the slope and tracks in a patch of snow, but with warm temperatures and little snow I guess there isn’t really any reason for them to be hibernating just yet.
From the plateau a small snow-filled forest separated us from the scree slope of the summit ridge, but thankfully the snow, while waist deep, was mostly supportive (many thanks to Alison for finding the areas that weren’t supportive so that I could detour around them!). The scree leading to the ridge was also easy to ascend, and the rubble on the final 100 m to the summit was similarly pleasant to hike along. Remarkably, the wind was light (far lighter than on the access road) and with the sun beating down on me I didn’t even need a jacket or gloves!
The view from the summit was absolutely fantastic! After the smokiest summer in decades and a fall of cloud and flurries, it was one of the best views I’ve had in a long time, and with winter presumably about to arrive, likely the best I’ll have for quite some time. After about 30 minutes on the summit we returned the way we came, arriving back at the truck after just 6.5 hours on the trail. It was an unexpectedly amazing day in the mountains!