Drywood Mountain

July 10, 2020. A full-day excursion involving biking, scrambling and ridge walking in the Castle Wilderness.

  • Region: Castle Wilderness. Traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, Tsuu T’ina, and Blackfoot First Nations
  • Distance: 25 km round-trip
  • Total ascent: 1417 m
  • Elevation of objective: 2473 m (official summit), 2485 m (ridge high-point)
  • Total Time: 7h 33m
  • Safety and Disclaimer

topo drywood

Climbing Pincher Ridge last week, I spent a lot of time staring south across the valley at neighbouring Drywood Mountain and its ridge. Looking through the available information, I found that there are scrambling routes to Drywood’s summit from the north and the south side, but that the southern approach is considered more scenic. On top of that, the southern approach uses the same access trail as Bovin Lake. This meant that after tagging the summit, one could then walk the length of Drywood’s ridge before descending at Bovin Lake and following the trail in the valley bottom back to the parking area – a big loop.

Nugara’s More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies describes a “moderate” scrambling route with one stretch of potentially difficult scrambling. The route description was appealing, heading pretty directly up to the summit, but I decided it wasn’t right for me as a solo trip. Instead, I decided on a route that followed one of the tracks on the Topo Maps Canada app. This route seemed to involve only easy scrambling but was slightly less direct, requiring a bit of back-tracking to tag the summit.

Access is the same as for Bovin Lake and Loaf Mountain: Go south from Pincher Creek on Hwy 6, turn onto the Shell Waterton Complex Road and drive past the complex. Where the road branches, turn left (Forest Reserve sign) – this is Twp Rd 4-3. Follow this about 3.8 km to Butcher Lake and turn left onto Rge. Rd 1-2a. Drive 1.4 km and turn left onto Twp. Rd. 4-2. Follow that 5km (you’ll pass by Bathing Lake) and then turn right. You’ll immediately be faced with the locked gate. If you enter these coordinates into Google Maps: 49.272782, -114.019878 it’ll drop a pin on the parking area.

The gate at this parking area used to be opened after June 15, but is now permanently closed. Bicycles are allowed, though, so I decided to bike the 4 km to the end of the gravel road beyond the gate to reach the start of the “real” hiking trail. As is often the case when I bike and hike, at the start of my trip I questioned the wisdom of starting off the day by tiring my legs out with an uphill bicycle ride into the wind (I think cyclists have some sort of crazy specialized anatomy and physiology – this is why they’re all built like Spider-Man). However, at the end of this long day I was very happy to be able to coast the last 4km back to may car.

Once on the dirt trail to Bovin Lake, I hiked a little over 1km watching for the ascent drainage to my right. The one I was looking for was a few hundred meters past a distinctive dead tree on a boulder (see the picture gallery below). The drainage is wide and obvious, with dark grey rocks and rubble. Climbing up, I passed some areas of underbrush and stayed to the left. Eventually I had to move off the creek bed a little and crash through some bushes before reaching open grassy slopes. Ahead there was a lovely little waterfall in a gully.

To the left of the waterfall there were some rubble slopes that were easy to ascend, as well as some options for fun and easy scrambling up rocky areas. Once past the waterfall, I started traversing to the right, passing in front of a rocky outcrop. Continuing to ascend I eventually saw the false summit. As soon as I was at this point, up on the ridge, the wind hit me – very cold and strong. I ended up taking cover behind some short trees until it died down a bit. Carrying on in toque, gloves and two layers, I continued toward the false summit and soon saw the black rocks of the true summit beyond.

There was a bit of a narrow ridge to cross between the false summit and summit. The wind was gusting strong at that point and the ridge felt a little exposed. I was crawling in a couple spots because I felt like I’d get blown over. Finally, I reached at the summit cairn and survey marker. It took about 3 hours from my car – that time includes a lot of time down in the gully admiring the waterfall from various angles.

The summit cairn was arranged as a little wall, which gave some welcome respite from the wind. A yellow weather-proof canister behind the wall held the summit register.

After huddling behind the wall and eating my lunch I set out along the ridge-top. The full length of the ridge from the summit to the slopes above Bovin Lake is about 5.7 km. There’s a significant elevation loss followed by gains, eventually reaching the high point of the ridge, which turns out to be slightly higher than the official summit. Along the way I enjoyed the usual spectacular views offered by the Castle region.

Eventually, I reached the end of the ridge walk above Bovin Lake. I think it’s possible to continue along the ridge to connect with Pincher Ridge to the north or Loaf Mountain to the south (I’m not sure how difficult the terrain would be). Looking down and to the left, I had a great view of Bovin Lake and the open slopes descending from the ridge. I picked a line of descent that I could see all the way down, then descended quickly and easily to the valley bottom. Some brief bush-whacking brought me to the Bovin Lake trail. I walked over to the lake for a little break before returning along the valley bottom to my bike.

Click on the pictures in the gallery below to access full-sized images.

drywood overview
Route overview.
Elevation profile. Note the elevation loss and gain along the ridge, and that the high point on the ridge is slightly higher than the official summit.
Drywood Mountain, as seen from Butcher Lake.
From the parking area. Morning sun on the mountain. Waning moon in the sky.
After biking to as spot just before the gravel road drops down and ends at a gas facility, I stashed my bike and walked down to this sign and carried on down the path.
A short distance along the trail, there’s this – it looks like a possible ascent route, but I don’t think it’s Nugara’s.
A short way further along. This seems to be a little more in keeping with Nugara’s description: “an obvious ascent line that has been cut through the mountain by water”. It also describes ascending “water worn rock”.
The distinctive marker tree. The route I would take ascended an obvious drainage a few hundred meters beyond this point.
These dark grey rocks on the trail a few hundred meters beyond the tree mark the start of the ascent.
Looking up the line of ascent. I followed the drainage up to a little waterfall in the grassy area, then ascended to the left through bushes and onto open grassy slopes. In the shadows ahead there’s a waterfall, which I kept to the left of, then I crossed to the right in front of the rocky spire top-centre in this picture.
The first little waterfall cascading into the drainage. I went up and left. There was some minor bushwhacking before reaching open slopes.
Climbing to the left out of the drainage and into some bushes.
Once I was onto the open slopes, the waterfall cascading over the black rocks came into clearer view. I carried on to the left of the waterfall.
Getting closer to the waterfall.
The wind had begun to gust by this point. Every now and then the water stream would actually get blown upward.
Above the waterfall and below the rocky spire that had been in the distance at the start of the ascent. I hopped over the creek and ascended to the right.
Nearing the ridge top, the false summit finally came into sight.
Getting closer to the false summit, the black rocks of the true summit come into sight.
The view from the false summit to the true summit.
The cairn/wall at the summit and the survey marker eventually came into view.
The summit.
Summit panorama looking south. Loaf Mountain is directly across the valley.
Summit view looking west, along the ridge to the distant high-point.
Summit panorama looking north. Pincher Ridge directly across the valley, Victoria Peak and Prairie Bluff (aka Corner Mountain) beyond. Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak in the background on the left. Crowsnest Pass in the far distance.
Telephoto view – I was surprised to discover that I could see part of Bovin Lake from the summit.
Climbing back down to the ridge from the summit, I set off to the west, prepared to lose and regain a bunch of altitude.
Every few minutes there was some new spectacle to take in. New terrain, or sometimes the same terrain but with different lighting or different angles
A distant waterfall in a hanging valley on the north side of the ridge – invisible from the valley bottom. It felt like a little secret world.
Approaching the smaller of the two ascents along the ridge. I bore slightly left around the high point, since I’d just have to lose the altitude again on the other side.
Some of the locals were watching me from a distance.
Coming around the high point of the first ascent, the second (more substantial) ascent came into view. The trees along the saddle were fairly easy to navigate and they gave me a bit of relief from the wind.
To the north, I had a nice view into a hanging valley on Loaf Mountain’s long eastern ridge.
Toiling up the final ascent.
Looking east, back the way I came.
Finally up on the high point of the ridge, a spot that’s actually slightly higher than the official summit – the rocky prominence ahead seems like it’s at a higher altitude in this shot, but it’s not. The red cliffs to the right – connecting Pincher Ridge and Drywood – were the scenic highlight of this part of the trip.
I spent a lot of time looking at these cliffs from the distant top of Pincher Ridge last week. They were fascinating to see up close. The drainage from here feeds Drywood Falls, a few kilometres down the valley.
I saw this tiny tarn down in the cirque below the cliffs – completely treed in and at the head of a valley, it would be impossible to see from anywhere but above. Once again felt like I’d discovered a little secret.
A shift in the clouds brought out the red colour of the rock. There must be some official or common name for this place. Until I find out what it is, I’m calling them the Christmas Cliffs, and that little tarn is Christmas Lake.
Telephoto view of distant peaks in southeast B.C.
The end of the ridge walk, descending toward Bovin Lake.
The final journey back east along the trail to finish the loop. Drywood’s black summit rocks visible in the distance.

8 thoughts on “Drywood Mountain

  1. Thank Par for sharing your hiking trips.
    The pictures are very nice and are helpful In visualizing the beauty of the mountains.

    Liked by 1 person

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