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View from below my turn-around point

Pincher Ridge (northeast ridge attempt)
Castle Provincial Park, Alberta
May 5, 2006

Two weeks after ascending Whistler Mountain Lookout, Dinah and I returned to Castle Wilderness with hopes that some of the snow had melted, but it wasn't the case. The snow conditions appeared unchanged.

We decided to attempt Pincher Ridge anyway. I got the idea of ascending this ridge when we hiked up Prairie Bluff last year in spring. The J-shaped NE ridge which curves back to the summit looked like a natural ascent route. Apparently it looked good to Linda Breton too when she scoped out some of the ridge last fall although in poor visibility.

But under clear skies while driving to the trailhead, I was disappointed to see that the rock prominence that interrupts the ridge looked impossibly steep. Nor did I hold out hope for the couloir and slopes below the prominence. If there was a route, we wouldn't know until we got there.

After parking at the Shell plant, we hiked up the road a short way before taking a side road that led to a powerline. We followed the powerline and then headed up the ridge. After several minutes of bushwhacking, much of it using animal trails, we gained the lower open slopes.

Since much of the ridge above us was undulating and treed, it was easier to traverse below until the ridge straightened and became largely free of trees. Soon we gained elevation and were enjoying the beautiful coloured rock of the area, at least where it wasn't buried under snow! At one point we frightened a grouse. On our way back we would see a much larger bird, one that could have stepped on that grouse.

As we ascended, the terrain steepened. As I expected, the slopes below the prominence on either side of the ridge were too steep to traverse.

Just below the couloir, the ridge steepened considerably. Leaving Dinah, I scrambled up and reached a bench level with the bottom of the couloir. The couloir looked impossibly steep to scramble up even in dry conditions. I stayed clear of it in case it avalanched. Sure enough, just when I was putting away my camera an avalanche released.

There was no place left to go but back down.

We were less than 30 minutes from the car when we saw the turkeys. At first we both thought they were three black bear cubs. It took a couple of seconds to register: they were wild turkeys! We spent the next hour on a wild turkey chase trying to shoot the birds, not for dinner but for photos. But the big birds were elusive. As soon as we caught a glimpse of them, they would disappear.

Wild turkeys are native to North America, but not to Alberta. There are five kinds of wild turkeys in North America; these were Merriam's turkeys. They appeared about half a century ago when sportsmen's groups transplanted them. They've been introduced to the Cypress Hills, the Porcupine Hills and along the Sheep River west of Turner Valley. Although I found no mention of it, I assume they were also introduced to the Castle Wilderness area.

Although we were unsuccessful in bagging Pincher Ridge we had a chance to study another route. Maybe our next attempt won't be a turkey!

Postscript: I returned and easily ascended Pincher via the SW ridge.


Seen from Prairie Bluff our route looked promising


The view of Pincher Ridge on our way to the trailhead: summit is on left. Note the rock prominence on the right and the snow-filled couloir that cuts into it.


Flowers like this Shooting Star are making an appearance


The valley spreads out below us as we start up the lower slope


Easy hiking as we head to the rock prominence


This spruce grouse decides to leave when we appear


View of the north ridge


Victoria Peak


Although we were unsuccessful, we enjoyed the scenery


Looking back at the ridge


Mount Victoria


Fascinating rock


Prairie Bluff in the background


Following the ridge, the rock prominence is barely seen on the left


Closing in on the prominence, the terrain steepens


The summit seen here would be out of our reach this day


The rock prominence: above me is a bench that I scrambled up which put me level with the bottom of the couloir. Mouse over for a close-up after the avalanche released.


On the bench and at the end of the line


Wild turkey


...and their huge tracks!

After chasing turkeys this was my best shot


82 G/8 Beaver Mines

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