On Saturday while driving back to YYC with Wietse after scrambling Cougar Peak, I was musing about possible destinations for the next day when he suggested "Wasootch Ridge" as a good hike or easy scramble to do with my daughter. I'd been considering Porcupine Ridge earlier this spring, so this seemed like an excellent idea. I did some quick on-the-spot research on my phone and quickly realized this was the perfect early season objective for us.
KC and I arrived at the Wasootch parking lot around 08:00. It was already getting busy so we wasted no time to start up the end of the ridge - literally about 100 feet from where we parked! Unlike the day previous when it took us at least 2 hours of relatively flat travel before finally gaining height, this day was the opposite. Wasootch Ridge isn't a huge objective, but there is a lot of ups and downs along it's spine and it wastes no time getting you up from the parking lot and presenting some nice views either, which suited us just fine.
[The trail from the parking lot has no mercy. Straight up through light forest.]
[The trial reaches a high point fairly quickly with this view of Wasootch Tower.]
[The views back to the west from the ridge open up pretty quickly and include Nakiska Ski hill, Wind, Allan, Lougheed, Collembola, Skogan and Mount Lorette. ++]
The next few hours were pure hiking magic as far as we were concerned. Bob really undersells this outing in his description including the following statement;
People aren't likely to put Wasootch Ridge at the top of their wish list and they may feel wistful after reaching a summit that's encircled by taller mountains, but they should find the journey to the top satisfying.
Kaycie and I both feel that this undersells the experience of an early season outing to this summit. The peaks around us were gorgeous, but being so early season there was no way we'd want to be on them with their unpredictable white coats of melting, unconsolidated snow. Our ridge was almost completely dry with a good trail and great views all around - why would we want to be anywhere else? The smells of spring were strong in the air as we identified trees and shrubs along the way and tried to connect with our environment a bit more. It's strange how just knowing something's name results in an immediate awareness of one's environment that wasn't there before. I started to notice that there were three main types of coniferous trees on Wasootch Ridge (White Pine, Mountain Hemlock and White Spruce) and lots of Juniper along the forest floor. I hadn't noticed that before slowing down and actually paying attention to the names of things. After finally arriving at the infamous "wind break" pile of rocks, we realized we still had a bunch of ups and downs and traverses to negotiate to the top. We also spotted a solo hiker ahead of us on the ridge.
[Yet another high point on the ridge which runs into the distance at left. Peaks running up the right side of the valley to the west of Wasootch Creek include Wasootch (not in sight here), Kananaskis, Old Baldy and McDougall.]
[Looking north over Yates Mountain towards Yamnuska.]
[So many of these nice view points - it's not nearly as thickly treed as it looks from afar.]
[Another glance back, showing how open the ridge is and Mary Barclay's showing up at right.]
[Looking ahead at the ridge - the summit visible far at distant center. Porcupine Ridge at left. ++]
[There is a trail beaten into this ridge hike making it even easier and more pleasant - especially on such a gorgeous, windless day.]
[The distinctive, "Porcupine Tower" is located along Porcupine Ridge which runs parallel to Porcupine Creek on the NE side of Wasootch Ridge.]
[An interesting tree along the ridge.]
[There are plenty of trees on route but they're non-threatening and the shade was welcome on this scorching spring day.]
[Great views of both Porcupine (L) and Wasootch (R) creeks with our summit at distant center. Peaks include Boundary, Tiara, Old Baldy and Kananaskis (L to R). ++]
[More delightful, open ridge walking.]
[Looking back as we approach another high point. Porcupine Ridge at right.]
[I have no idea why anyone wouldn't want to be here on such a gorgeous day? The open nature of the hike lends itself to a windless outing - with strong winds you wouldn't have as much fun.]
[It's surprising how much further the summit still is - rising at distant right.]
[We choose the ridge here, there might be easier hiking on the right.]
[Looking back at the fun terrain along the easy ridge.]
[The infamous "wind break" marks the start of either serious scrambling on the ridge crest, or easier terrain to its right.]
From the wind break there are two routes. We were enjoying our easy hike, so we picked the right hand side of the obvious rock fin which is rumored to be quite difficult and exposed scrambling - it certainly looks intimidating! There was more height gain and loss until we finally topped out on a nice high point before the summit. After greeting the solo hiker who'd turned back at this point, we continued along the ridge. Some easy scrambling brought us to another decision point. Sticking on the rock fin would again be quite difficult. Being with my daughter, I choose the safer option. Funny how that works. I can't stand watching her on difficult and exposed terrain if I don't have to... Once again we dropped down to our right and traversed along the bottom of the rock wall on fairly obvious trails in the scree. Where the trail was more difficult to follow there was usually a cairn or two marking the route.
[The rock wall on our left is interesting.]
[Looking alongside the wall at left you can see the trail in scree. Old Baldy and McDougall loom over Wasootch Creek at center. ++]
[Looking back at KC and the rock wall we avoided.]
[Cairns along the route helped a bit but weren't really needed as the way is pretty obvious - but not as obvious as the initial section of the ridge.]
[The height gain adds up after all the dips and doodles in the ridge. By the time we got to the final ascent slope we were ready for the summit.]
Finally we found ourselves on the final summit push and soon were enjoying great views and even better conditions from the highest point on the ridge. It was interesting to see the Midnight to Porcupine Ridge traverse in its entirety. The views of Tiara and Mount Bryant were also engaging. Old Baldy, Kananaskis and McDougall stole the show to the south as they had been all day already. Looking NW, Skogan Peak continued to steal the show there. We enjoyed the perfect weather and solitude on the summit for around 45 minutes before deciding it was time to head back down.
[Almost at the summit, looking back along the more serious rock wall at right.]
[Summit is in sight!]
[Looking east (R) north (C) and west (L) from the summit over Porcupine Creek. Summits include (L to R), Mary Barclay's, Yates, Baldy, Midnight, Midday, Boundary, Porcupine, Tiara and part of Mount Bryant. ++]
[Looking back down the long ridge towards Skogan Peak in the distance. Our long exit via Wasootch Creek at bottom left.]
[Mount Bogart, Ribbon Peak and Mount Sparrowhawk loom above Kananaskis Peak to the west.]
[Looking over Wasootch Peak towards Mount Collembola and Lougheed at distant center.]
[A panorama of peaks along the front ranges includes (L to R), Lorette, Skogan, Mary Barclay's and Yates with many others in the background.]
[Midnight and Midday.]
[Tiara looks nice from this side.]
[Orient Point rises over Yamnuska to the north.]
[Looking far over Heart Mountain towards Saddle Peak and Mount Costigan.]
[The Fairholme Range includes Fable, Townsend, Stenton and Cougar Peak which I stood on yesterday.]
For descent I did something I don't usually do - I chose a different route than the ascent one. Why? Two reasons. The first was that I thought an exit via Wasootch Creek would be interesting and the second was that I didn't feel like redoing all the undulations in the ridge again on exit! Essentially I picked the lazy option. I also thought there'd be fresh water in the creek and it was a bloody hot day. We could use a fresh refill at this point to be honest. Without further ado I scoped out the alternate return (using a Gaia breadcrumb trail on my iPhone app) down the south end of Wasootch Ridge.
[Starting down the south end of the ridge, heading for the obvious break just ahead before we'll cut back to our left to search for easier descent terrain.]
There's no doubt that having a breadcrumb on my GPS app was key to finding this route, but even then there are enough micro terrain traps on this descent to keep things 'interesting'. I had a few moments of doubt that I could keep the scrambling "easy", but we did manage to find an easy way down. The trick was to keep traversing above steep gullies and cliffbands to our left (east) - nothing too dramatic but simply going left when in doubt. Eventually we ended up on a very steeply treed ridge running down the east bank of a steep, manky looking drainage that I was very glad to NOT be in. This was our key to keeping things reasonable and soon after starting down the dirt / treed slope we were approaching a lively Wasootch Creek.
[Loose and fairly steep - a brain bucket isn't a terrible idea here.]
[The impressive upper reaches of Wasootch Creek with McDougall and outliers of Bryant rising above. We will traverse further left here to avoid cliffs below.]
[Traversing left we start seeing possible escape routes through the cliff bands.]
[This scree gully worked perfectly. Once near the bottom of the snow patch we again traversed a bit left, out of the drainage.]
[Traversing out of the drainage which gets slabby and manky with scree on slab.]
[The rest of the route to Wasootch Creek isn't horrible. Once again we avoided the gully and stuck to scree on the left as it was quicker and easier.]
[Looking back up the drainage we exited at left with upper Wasootch Creek at right. ++]
The rest of our day was hot and mostly uninteresting, but not in a bad way - more of a meditative, plodding kind of way. Very low stress, which is exactly how I like my exit hikes. The one major PITA was that after starting out very lively with running water and deep, clear pools of heavenly aqua goodness, Wasootch Creek became a dried up desert valley with absolutely no running water of any kind! WTF is that? It shouldn't be called a "creek" IMHO. It should be called a "creek bed"... When you're thirsty and it's 28 degrees outside, there's a huge difference between the two. All's well that ends well and after an hour or so we were running into climbers scurrying up and down Wasootch Ridge's infamous slab walls.
[Wasootch Creek is pretty confined right where we exited the ridge. It soon widens and disappears altogether.]
[This is our next few hours. Not horrible, not terribly exciting but nice hiking in a beautiful, open valley.]
[Wasootch Tower looks impressive again as we slowly make our way back to the parking lot.]
[Glancing back up creek with the lengthy Wasootch Ridge at left and distant center.]
[Mary Barclay's rises over a climber on Wasootch slabs.]
[KC wanders out of the creek with Wasootch Tower rising above her in the distance.]
I heartily recommend Wasootch Ridge as an early(ish) season hike and/or scramble. When most other, bigger objectives are still threatening with avalanches and sucky approaches, the ridge should be dry and pleasant. The views are great and there's an easy alternate exit via a wide valley with more great views. What more could you want in an early season outing?