Victoria Peak

August 4, 2020. A scramble to the summit of a distinctive mountain in the Castle Wilderness.

UPDATE September 3, 2021: This post has been updated to reflect changes to access. Old access instructions have been deleted but time and distance information below still reflects the old route. The new route can’t be bike easily.

  • Region: Castle Wilderness. Traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, Tsuu T’ina, and Blackfoot First Nations
  • Distance: 12 km round-trip
  • Total Ascent: 1100 m
  • Elevation of Objective: 2572 m as per my Garmin, Nugara has it at 2587 m
  • Total Time: 5h 8m
  • Safety and Disclaimer
victoria peak topo
UPDATE Sept 2021: The initial part of this approach along the road is no longer accessible. See below.

Victoria Peak has been on my mind as an objective since I moved back to Southern Alberta a few years ago. It has a distinctive fang-tooth shape when seen from the east, and it’s visible from my neighbourhood in Lethbridge. A variety of routes are possible. Nugara describes a moderate-difficulty scrambling route in More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, and Bob Spirko‘s route seemed to follow a somewhat similar line – though his trip involved a visit to a rock window below the peak. Other routes involve an approach from the south or west along less rocky, but nevertheless steep terrain. I read a particularly impressive blog post by an 11 year-old describing an 11 hour trip plagued with route-finding challenges. I ended up taking a route up the east slopes that was similar to Nugara’s and Spirko’s. It involved a bare minimum of bushwhacking and plenty of great rocky scenery.

UPDATED ACCESS INFORMATION SEPTEMBER 2021: Access for this hike has changed significantly. The initial part of the route is no longer usable as it enters private property. This is a recent change and guide books published right up to 2021 still describe the old approach, unfortunately. Access still involves using a gravel road that heads to the base of Victoria Peak, but the initial part has to be bypassed on public land. Drive south from Pincher Creek on Hwy 6 and turn at the signs for Butcher Lake and the Gas Plant. Proceed to Butcher Lake and go past. Soon, there’s an intersection with Rge Rd 1-3A. Park near here and head up the road to the left to a well site. I’m not sure if parking is allowed at the well site or not. Click here for a Google Map with a pin on the well site. Follow a trail southwest from the well site and you’ll climb a hill under some power lines. Follow them to the west until you reach a barbed wire fence – this is the property line. The power lines carry on over the private property, but you can go through a gate to the south (close it again after) and then follow the outside of the barbed wire fence. Then proceed as per the picture below:

Click for a higher resolution, zoomable image.

For another perspective, check out this Facebook post from Adam Ess. He had a direct conversation with the landowner, and it seems they may be okay with people rejoining the road sooner than what I have mapped out above.

Once back on the road, follow it for a little over 2 km – almost all the way to where it ends in a big gravel area with a shed. Just before the trail descends to that area, look to the right for clear slopes heading up to a line of trees at the edge of the large gully splitting the eastern face of the mountain. There was actually a little cairn off to the side of the road marking the best place to begin ascending.

My plan was to follow the edge of the gully for the first part of my ascent, keeping the trees to my right as per Nugara’s description. Right away you need to go through a small area of bushwhacking to get across a little creek. It’s best to cross the creek and its gully immediately because the further upslope you go, the deeper and steeper the gully becomes.

Once on the open slopes, I headed to the line of trees and followed it up. The terrain was relentlessly steep, so when I finally got to rockier ground it was a nice relief for my feet. The line of trees eventually intersected with steep rocky terrain. I carried on along the same line. Eventually my line of ascent took me steeply uphill through the trees for some distance. In retrospect it would have been easier to deviate right before reaching this point, toward the gully, to pass to the other side of the trees so it would be easier to see where I was going. On my descent I even noticed a small cairn that, in retrospect, marked a good spot to cut over.

In any event, I eventually got above this last patch of trees and followed the foot of a white rock band to the right and passed through at a very obvious weakness. This spot was basically the top of the huge gully which I’d been following the edge of. Beyond the white rocks, I carried on up some scree, then through additional rock bands. Finding reasonably easy places to climb, my path seemed to go generally towards the right. Eventually a lichen-covered black rock pinnacle came into view and I headed towards it. It turns out this wasn’t the summit, but below it and to the right was the rock window described by Spirko.

From there I traversed left and around the corner of the large block of black rock. There was one area with narrow footing with a bit of mild exposure below it, but nothing difficult. Eventually I found a weakness that looked like I could safely ascend and descend. Climbing up I was on the summit ridge and made the short walk to the summit marker.

The summit was wide and almost completely free of wind – definitely an unusual situation in the Castle. There was some haze in the air, but I still had distant views in all directions. The highlight, as is frequently the case in the area, were the views of Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain just across the valley to the west. I had the mountain to myself, and spent a nice long time on the summit.

I descended along the same route, except I decided to explore a little further along the summit ridge to see if there was another spot I could have climbed up. There was another area that was mostly steep rubble and I did descend that (very slowly, and keeping to secure rocky footing I could re-climb since I wasn’t 100% sure what was at the bottom). This took me to a spot a little way beyond where I had traversed to when I found the weakness in the black rock that I ascended. All things considered, I much preferred my original ascent route.

I very thoroughly enjoyed this scramble, and could hardly have asked for a better day to ascend. I’m quite sure I’ll return.

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

route overview1.jpg
Route overview. (OUTDATED)
route overview 2
Closer look at the ascent. * = initial creek and gully; Arrow = the patch of trees I climbed through that I could have circumvented by cutting to the right, into the gully; W = rock window location. (Note that this is still accurate as of Sept 2021)
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7880-pichi.jpg
To stay off the private land, you can head to this well by going left just beyond Butcher Lake. Then go to the southwest corner of the large gravel pad.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7876-pichi.jpg
Power lines were visible overhead as I left the gravel pad. I went uphill and followed along beneath them.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7871-pichi.jpg
The ground levelled out and eventually reached this intersection of fences. Straight ahead is the fence demarcating the private land. This is very near the southeast corner of it. I stayed outside the line of that fence by going through a gate in the fence to the left (one of those post-and-wire gates). I then followed along the outside of the fence as it went south a few meters then turned west.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7862-pichi.jpg
The terrain descended, got pretty soggy, and I eventually got to the southwest corner of the fenced area. I followed the fence north from there, jumped a creek and avoided some deadfall, then got back out on the road. I suspect there’s a better way to get to the road if you follow the cutline west a little further (see my overview map near the top of the post)
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7858-pichi.jpg
Back to the road, beyond the private property. The fence and Texas gate mark the boundary. From here the road can be followed for a little over 2 km to the base of Victoria Peak.
P8040002.jpeg
Victoria Peak from the access road. If you can, I’d definitely suggest bringing a bike. (UPDATE: bringing a bike is far less feasible given the changes to access in 2021)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Just before the gravel road ends by descending to a big open area with a shed and flare stack, there’s an open area to the right (circled), before the road passes over a culvert directing a creek underneath it. As of my trip, there’s a (very) small cairn there. Even without the cairn, it’s not hard to see it’s the right place to begin ascending. If you cross to the other side of the creek before ascending you’ll just be in for a bit more bushwhacking.
P8040005.jpeg
The very small cairn. I added a couple of rocks.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The view from the base of the mountain. The rock window is actually visible in this shot. It’s a couple of blue pixels below and right of the topmost rocks.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Having crossed the creek in its little gully, I was out on open grassy slopes. I made my way steadily upward and walked right along the edge of the trees.
P8040007.jpeg
The one and only slightly level part of the ascent on the grassy slopes. The whole way along the lower slopes, there were traces of a trail. The wildlife in the area seem to understand this is the best way up and down the mountain.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Things do eventually get more rocky and steep. This picture makes it look a little steeper than it is, though.
IMG_4575.jpg
Tree graveyard, part of the way up. You get an idea of the steepness of the slope.
IMG_4574.jpg
A former tree.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Above the grassy slopes now, still following along the edge of the trees.
P8040014.jpeg
Looking back downhill. Shortly before my line of ascent took me into the trees, I saw this little cairn (a little below and to the right of dead-centre). In retrospect, it marked a good spot to cut to climber’s right to the other side of the trees and continue ascending. I stuck to the ridge line and entered the trees. It wasn’t impossible to climb through the trees, but it wasn’t pleasant.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The initial line of ascent ends here, at a white stone cliff band. I traversed right and passed through at the obvious weakness. This is the very top of the huge gully dividing the east face of the mountain.
P8040021.jpeg
A bit of scree beyond the white cliffs, with a second rock band ahead. I found a reasonable weakness and ascended. The general trend was toward the right, heading towards a black rock pinnacle at the top of the mountain.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Scrambling up, heading towards the black rock pinnacle.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Higher yet, still heading for the same landmark. The picture makes the climb look more dramatic than it actually was. Some steep, hands-on scrambling, but nothing exposed.
IMG_4480.jpg
Onto the black rocks of the upper reaches of the mountain. The colourful lichen was everywhere.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Finally at the pinnacle, and the rock window came into view.
P8040027.jpeg
Peeking through the window to an adjacent ridge line. I didn’t climb up and poke my head through – because just below the frame of this picture there was a narrow crack, and I could see through it to the other side of the rocks. This little section of mountain will fall down once enough freeze/thaw cycles pass.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Traversing left below the black rocks of the summit ridge. The footing gets a little narrow ahead and there’s some mild exposure. Continuing around the corner I eventually found a weakness to climb up.
IMG_4486.jpg
Here’s where I ascended. A bit of moderate scrambling. At the top of this, it was just a short walk along the summit ridge to the summit marker.
IMG_4489
The summit of Victoria Peak.
P8040039.jpeg
Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The red walls of Thunder Basin, and the summit of Victoria Ridge beyond.
P8040041.jpeg
Looking east towards Prairie Bluff/Corner Mountain.
IMG_4527
Me on the summit. I had the whole place to myself.
IMG_4494
Summit panorama looking south and west.
IMG_4492.jpg
Summit panorama looking west and north.
IMG_4566
Peeking my camera over the sheer drop on the northeast side of the summit.
IMG_4576.jpg
Descending back to the access road. Pincher Ridge across the valley and Drywood Mountain beyond.

8 thoughts on “Victoria Peak

  1. Hi Par. Great write up and pictures. Unfortunately things have changed regarding access. We went to hike Victoria Peak on Friday June 25, 2021 and the MD of Pincher Creek and the land owner confirmed the road passed the gate is on private property. There is now also a no trespassing sign on the other side of the gate. They suggested a different route to access the trail head. Park at Butcher’s Lake and follow the cut line under the power lines that head west towards Victoria Peak. These power lines end up crossing the road close to where the hike starts and following this would allow access to this area without going on the private property.

    Like

    1. That’s good to know. Thank you for the update. I wonder how broad an area there is private property and why they started enforcing it. There was a kiosk there for ages with trail information about Victoria Ridge.

      Like

      1. The owner said there is a quarter section that is private, after the gate. The kiosk is still there with Victoria Ridge information. I’m wondering if that will be removed at some point. Because it makes it appear hiking or riding through would be ok. But not the case.

        Like

Leave a Reply to Dave Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s