It had been a while since Phil and I had gotten up to anything and when plans for a big backcountry ski day in the Rockies fell apart thanks to an unpredictable weather forecast, we started looking at hiking / scrambling alternatives. At first we settled on a repeat of Midnight Peak with a bit of a traverse for Saturday, April 14. As I was lounging around on Friday evening browsing my IG feed, I noted another pair of scramblers had abandoned their plans for that area based on copious amounts of fresh snow. I texted Phil and told him we should likely change plans. He agreed and we eventually settled on the diminutive and oddly monikered "Anklebiter Ridge" with it's even odder sounding neighbor - "Bluemat Hill".
Wietse has been telling me about the Anklebiter Ridge loop already for years. It is a small ridge sitting in front of Gap Peak to the SE. I had fond memories of scrambling Gap Peak way back in April 2004 with my brother Rod and always favored the Anklebiter loop for an after work trip. Phil and I weren't counting on a long day, so we decided to meet at the late hour of 08:30 in the Grotto Pond parking lot. Interestingly, we were still among the first cars in the lot! Apparently our definition of a "late start" needs some tweaking. The entire route looked pretty bone dry from our vantage. I wasn't as trusting of this as Phil, remembering trips where I ended up in much more snow than planned.
The rumors were that the best scrambling was right on the ridge crest, so after muddling around for 5 minutes along the myriad of trails heading off to Steve Canyon, we found a trail leading up to the ridge proper and quickly took advantage of it. The weather was gorgeous and soon we were in t-shirts and light jackets, enjoying the warmth immensely, after a winter that never seemed to end. As we got onto the ridge, the rock remained dry and grippy and we started picking moderate scrambling lines - most of the harder sections could be bypassed if one wished. Phil was looking like a genius at this point - wearing only light scrambling shoes compared with my heavy duty boots and gaiters. Views off the lower ridge across the Bow Valley were very respectable considering the industry we were gazing over. I had fond memories of finally scrambling up Mount McGillivray the summer before.
[A dirt trail leads away from Steve Canyon and up to the ridge.]
[Very respectable views back over the Bow River and Lac des Arcs towards Mount McGillivray.]
[At this point Phil's light scrambling shoes are definitely the preferred footwear. Looking forward to some dry rock scrambling for the first time in months!]
[Yes! Back on rock!]
[There's route options up the ridge that vary from easy to moderate scrambling depending what you're in the mood for.]
[A gorgeous morning view back over Grotto Pond and Lac des Arcs towards Pigeon and McGillivray mountains. ++]
[More easy ridge scrambling.]
[The best view all day was towards the Morningside cliffs and the mountain they belong to - Mount McGillivray. I'd discovered in the summer of 2017 that this mountain is actually not as big an outing as its reputation implies.]
[The rock on Anklebiter Ridge is nice and grippy.]
As we worked higher, it seemed like we'd be done the whole loop in a mere matter of a few hours. We slowed down a bit just to enjoy the scrambling and nice weather a bit longer. Phil even made the terrible mistake of declaring confidently that "summer is here". That little comment was a grave mistake. We should have known better. There were some ominous looking skies further west - enough to make me glad I wasn't on the originally planned ski traverse. Some severe gusts of wind managed to steal my cap and blow it into a tree down valley. We topped out on the dry rock section only to realize we still had quite a ways to go. No big deal - but there was certainly more snow up the following section and enough to make me happy for boots.
[We start to hit snow on the trail...]
[What is that grey wall headed straight for us in the distance over Gap Mountain? Oh yeah. It's winter. And looking ahead - we're not there yet!]
[More snow on this part of the ridge - but this isn't the summit yet either.]
[Kicking steps up a small snow slope on the ridge.]
[Uh oh. A snow squall starts to blow in.]
Just as we crested the slightly snowier section and realized we still weren't at the summit, a snow storm slammed into us and took away our nice spring day and a good solid chunk of our mountain mojo along with it. The next hour or so was a pretty hard struggle against blowing, wet snow and patches of zero visibility. We were swearing in deep, half thawed snow that had us sinking well past our knees whenever we lost the faint track we were following. It's always the little peaks that make you pay! Finally we topped out on the summit to essentially zero views. This was too bad as they are probably pretty good from here - especially over Lac des Arcs and towards Grotto and Gap peaks. We hung around in the whipping wind and snow for a few minutes - hoping against hope for at least a slight clearing but it refused to come. Grudgingly we turned our attention to the rest of the loop and started down the ridge towards Bluemat Hill, which we couldn't even see at this point.
[I quickly snapped this shot as the storm blew in. This is looking at the rest of the route to the summit (R) with Gap Peak at left, already disappearing in the whiteout. ++]
[Wait! What happened to SUMMER Phil?!?!]
[I'm thinking my boots are pretty darn sweet at this point.]
[Looking back where we came from as we near the summit.]
[Looking at the continuation of the loop route towards Bluemat Hill (not visible here yet). There's a difficult downclimb hidden just ahead on the ridge proper. We'll detour to the left to avoid it.]
There was rumored to be a short, difficult section right under the summit of Anklebiter Ridge, as one continues along it towards Bluemat Hill. Indeed, we got to the top of a slippery, sleet covered band of low cliffs and decided we'd try to traverse to our left to get around them. This worked out, and after wallowing in crotch-deep snow around the north end of the cliffs and then traversing rocky slopes back south, we were back on the ridge crest. A few ups and downs later and we were wondering what the heck we were doing in the blowing snow and deep, unconsolidated drifts along the treed ridge top. Our progress was frustratingly slow and without views the enterprise was quickly becoming more meaningless than usual! In other words it was a very typical offseason day in the Rockies.
[Looking north from on top of the cliffs, we will descend this way before cutting back sharply to the right.]
[Delicate stepping on the now-slick terrain along the top of the cliffs.]
[Looking back along the cliff band we're avoiding and towards the main ridge which we will traverse back towards soon.]
[Escaping around the north end of the cliffs on a steep snow slope - wouldn't want to be here on a high avalanche day.]
[The cliffs to our right and the ridge straight ahead with Exshaw Mountain at center left. ++]
[Blustery winter weather continues to hammer us as we start back down the ridge proper.]
[Looking back up to Anklebiter Ridge summit with the cliffs obvious and our approx route around them marked.]
[Continuing down the ridge - views opened up slightly but never fully recovered. ++]
[Another view back towards the summit with the cliff band obvious higher up. Gap Peak buried in clouds above at center right.]
[Our day may have gotten a bit tougher, but we were still happy to be out scrambling after months off.]
[Bluemat Hill is somewhere down to the left with Anklebiter Ridge at upper right. The snow remained deep for the next hour or so, slowing our progress significantly]
As I watched Phil flounder around in the crotch-deep snow in his light runners ahead of me, I was struck by the hilarity of the situation we were in. In typical Rockies fashion, the "small, insignificant little unnamed summit" was throwing the goods at us and humbling our attitudes. There's something to be said for that, and it's good preparation for much longer days ahead when it could be a true life-or-death situation rather than just an annoyance. As we neared Bluemat Hill, we realized the snow was getting even deeper and less supportive. Eventually we found ourselves scrambling up a snowy slab before finally topping out on the insignificant hill to some decent views over the Bow Valley - certainly much better than they were from Anklebiter's summit!
[We thought the sky might be clearing but it was temporary - still a nice break though.]
[We were following old tracks but they weren't very supportive anymore. The slope up to Bluemat is just ahead here.]
[Back in some sunshine, Phil scouts possible routes up Bluemat. The Bow River and Lac des Arcs is still quite a ways below us at this point.]
[We had to scramble up this snow-covered slab to get up Bluemat Hill. Normally you could stay in the forest behind me here, but the snow was so deep and crappy there that we tried our hardest to avoid it.]
[Better views from Bluemat Hill than from Anklebiter Ridge! The ridge at right with our ascent line from center bottom to top right. ++]
[Starting down Bluemat Hill to complete the loop with some views towards McGillivray (L) and Pigeon (R) opening up again.]
We descended the ridge from Bluemat, angling to our left down some pretty snowy slopes - much more than expected at this point to be honest. It was nice to have the sun back in small bursts and we even managed to eat lunch in a nice dry, sunny spot near some exposed rocks. The day was starting to feel "worth it" again at this point. We continued to chat our way down the drying ridge until we were finally out of the deeper snow patches and back in light forest. We followed the GPS and our noses back to Hwy 1A before walking in the dusty ditch to the incredibly busy Grotto Pond parking lot.
[Dramatic views across the Bow Valley towards Windtower and Lougheed I (L), which I also finally ascended in 2017.]
[Clockwise is certainly the way to go for this loop! We got to ascend grippy rock and descend a surprising amount of scree.]
["Industrial views" over the La Farge Exshaw Plant and it's futuristic materials storage dome towards popular Bow Valley peaks such as Engagement, Yates, Heart and McGillivray (L to R). ++]
[The scree sections were very quick to descend.]
[From Grotto Pond looking at the loop route. We ascended the ridge at left and descended from the bump (Bluemat Hill) right of center. Note how dry and innocent the entire route appears from down here! ++]
The Anklebiter Ridge loop route isn't going to make any "top 10" lists but it proved to be a sufficiently challenging and fun little outing for the off-season. Personally I think if you're doing it with snow / ice it could easily be a moderate scramble rather than a much easier one in dry conditions. The loop has some routefinding down from Anklebiter, especially around the cliffband, but it's not too convoluted. It was nice to get out with Phil again and reminisce about our many wonderful trips last summer and plan the next ones for the coming one.