Distance: 10 km
Elevation gain: 1330 mRoute map
With a substantial dump of snow this past week and terrible long weekend weather to the south and west of Calgary, Sandra and I decided to drive 3.5 hours north to the sunny and dry David Thompson area for a couple days of hiking and camping. Alison had the same idea – if you wanted pleasant weather and no snow, this really was the only option this weekend for Calgarians – and so we ended up teaming up for both trips.
There is a general absence of detailed beta on many scrambles and hikes in the David Thompson area, and the first on our list – a scramble up Windy Point Ridge with an extension to The Buckle and Talus Peak – had reached the point in my planning that the only way I’d know if it was suitable or not was to just head out and do it. Unfortunately, when we arrived and Sandra saw the ridge she chose a simpler and more certain course of action: Stay in the truck and read an assuredly good book and leave the questionable scrambling to me!
So Alison and I set out as a team of two, making our way across the highway and picking up a trail to the east of where the highway cuts though the base of the ridge. The next 300 vertical meters or so was an easy scramble or hike on grippy slab, scree/rubble, and short sections of actually pleasant trail. After a short stint on less steep terrain, an annoying ascent on rubble brought us to an unavoidable section of moderate scrambling. I didn’t like the look of the most direct route and so we explored a bit to the left where we found a section with a few stunted trees and tiny ledges. We scrambled up here, then traversed back to the right. It was scary and unpleasant.
In another few minutes we reached the crux of the trip: An exposed scramble around a cliff. Alison went up first and I hesitantly peeked around the corner, but we both ended up backing off as we couldn’t see how long we’d be on exposed terrain. I was ready to call it quits, but another group passed us and shouted back that the route moved back onto tolerable terrain just beyond where we could see. This was enough for Alison and so she went around, and once she’d confirmed it was indeed not that horrible (and she knows my standards), I followed. It turned out that the most difficult part with the worst perception of exposure was right in the beginning, and with solid rock with incredible grip it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, although I was still pretty darn scared. Someone that does moderate scrambles on a regular basis probably wouldn’t find it bad though.
Once above this section we stopped to refuel, then continued onwards. Thankfully the remainder of the ascent to the summit of Windy Point Ridge offered multiple route choices and we were able to keep it all within the realm of easy, unexposed scrambling.
By the time we reached the summit the spectacular view and beautiful weather had mostly calmed my nerves, and after taking photos and admiring the panorama, we descended a little and continued along the ridge heading to The Buckle. I’d read that this was “mostly hiking” and was dismayed when we found ourselves easy/moderate scrambling again with a bit of bushwhacking and post-holing thrown in for good measure. At least it wasn’t exposed or steep.
We followed a good trail alongside the steep cliffs of The Buckle, then continued along the ridge towards Talus Peak. This traverse, while short, involved pretty much everything: A descent on ugly rubble, easy hiking, ascents on nasty rubble, and routefinding through a series of cliffy ribs bisecting the ridge. Some of the routefinding could likely be avoided later in the season by traversing a northeast-facing slope (probably easy), but today it was covered in snow with a nasty runout. The final ascent to the summit, which had looked awful from afar, turned out to be much easier (although still sucky) once we were actually on it.
Once we’d taken in the view and refueled we made our way back down. As we approached the final ascent to the base of The Buckle we spied a trail heading around its northern side that would lead to a hypothetically easier route to its summit (any route from the ridge would be difficult scrambling or climbing). It’s apparently debatable how we ended up on this trail, but we did, and it involved some unpleasant sidehilling, a short and questionable traverse of a snow slope, and an ugly ascent on loose rubble. We did make it to the broad summit of The Buckle, however, and were treated to the third iteration of pretty much the same view we’d had from our previous two summits today.
A little summit food later and we made our way back to the ridge via the same route, then descended as quickly as the terrain allowed. Surprisingly, neither of us had any great difficulty with the exposed crux of the trip, perhaps because the terrain makes it a bit easier and appear less exposed on the way down than it did on the way up. The lower crux was more difficult and it took us a bit of time to think our way through it, but we made it down without incident. Below that a maze of trails and routes had us take different ways down for a short distance, after which we regrouped for the easy descent back to the truck.
Back at the truck Sandra and I took off in search of a campsite, eventually parking on the dry bed of Abraham Lake, well away from the shore and the plethora of “respectful and considerate campers” that populated it. It was a pretty spectacular place to camp and the wind kept the noise of the shoreline creatures to a minimum, but a shockingly bright full moon limited the amount of sleep I got. Still, it was another great camping trip in our little truck camper and it made possible a second hike the following day.