Crowsnest Ridge

March 13, 2021. A snowshoe trip to the top of a low ridge on the Continental Divide.

  • Region: Crowsnest Pass. Traditional Territory of the Ktunaxa and Blackfoot First Nations
  • Distance: 9.9 km round-trip to both the main and secondary summit
  • Total Ascent: 594 m
  • Elevation of Objective: 1893 m
  • Total Time: 3h 46m (includes a fairly long stay on the summit)
  • Safety and Disclaimer
Topo map of the route, up is North.

Almost exactly 3 years before this trip I snowshoed to the summit of Island Ridge on a warm and sunny day. I had taken note at that time of Crowsnest Ridge, directly across the valley. A telecom tower sat on top, which made the ridge itself less than picturesque. However, I figured the views would be pretty good, making it a good objective for a future outing. I reviewed Bob Spirko’s trip report, describing a route that began along the same road I used to approach Mount Tecumseh, but deviating to climb directly up a cutline ascending the northwestern toe of Crowsnest Ridge. From there Spirko followed the ridge until it intersected an access road that switchbacked from Phillips Pass up the steep north face of the ridge. Then he followed the road to the summit. This struck me as a more interesting route to take rather than climbing up the access road the whole way, and it would keep me out of avalanche terrain, which I thought the lower reaches of the switchback road were definitely in.

On the day of this trip, I was treated to weather almost exactly the same as 3 years ago. The sky was clear, the wind was never more than a light breeze, and the air was warm.

The route starts from the Crowsnest Provincial Park parking area off Hwy 3, just to the west of the Alberta/BC border. There’s a big parking area with some toilet facilities and picnic tables, but it’s closed in the winter. I pulled off the road and parked in the pull-out area outside the locked gate. Click here and Google Maps will drop a pin on the spot. When I was heading to Mount Tecumseh I had my bike with me, so I got onto the old Phillips Pass road where it departed from the western end of the parking lot. Since I was on foot this time, I just followed a path north through the trees from the parking area and got myself onto the road. I followed it eastward until it reached the base of the northwestern toe of Crowsnest Ridge. A very clear and wide cutline proceeded straight up the slope at that point, while the road deviated north to hook around the ridge and stay in the valley.

Ascending the cutline made for fairly steep climbing, but it was short lived. The cutline’s apex, where it intersected the wide ridge-top, was marked by a distinctive boulder. Up to this point I hadn’t needed snowshoes, since the wind and warmth had scoured much of the snow from the west-facing slopes. On the ridge and on the leeward side there was still lots of deep snow remaining, so I put my snowshoes on then departed the cutline, heading south and ascending the ridge. Eventually I intersected the snow-buried road as it reached the ridge, and then I followed it to the summit. Spirko had mentioned that staying high on the ridge crest just above the road that wasn’t a good idea since a deep notch part of the way to the summit would require you to down-climb. I can confirm that’s good advice.

The summit is the site of a giant telecom tower and some service buildings. There’s even a pit toilet up there. The views from the summit were excellent. Mount Phillips and Tecumseh are nearby to the north, Crowsnest Mountain peeks around Tecumseh’s shoulder to the northeast. Sentry Mountain dominates the view across the valley to the south. Directly below the ridge to the south are Crowsnest, Island and Emerald Lakes. Far to the west is the distinctive shape of Mount Washburn.

I was surprised to notice that the lower eastern summit was marked by a very large cross. I’d seen a similar cross at the top of Wedge Mountain, so I imagine it’s the work of some local enthusiasts. I made my way over to the cross just to prolong my stay on the top of the ridge. The view was more-or-less the same, aside from affording a bit of a better angle to see Crowsnest Mountain.

After a nice long stay on top I returned by the same route. Comparing this trip to Island Ridge, I think this ascent was more interesting to do. The views are very similar, but I’ll give the edge to Island Ridge, since its location also provides views of Mount Ptolemy and Andy Good Peak.

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

Route overview looking to the southwest.
The locked gate leading to the big parking area (off to the left). I went to the left to sort some gear then just walked through the trees to get to the Phillips Pass road. There’s also a corridor through the trees ahead and to the right that you could follow. It intersects a north-south oriented backroad shortly before it joins the Phillips Pass road.
Heading east on the Phillips Pass road. There’s boundary marker telling you when you’ve reached the edge of B.C.’s diminutive Crowsnest Provincial Park (which encompasses only the parking area and a small area of woods around it).
The cutline comes into view on the wooded slope in the distance. That’s the northwestern end of Crowsnest Ridge. Either of the clear paths ahead will get you there.
The base of the cutline. There were snowshoe prints that looked like they were from the day before. Lots of animal tracks, too. This is the only area of sustained steep ascent, and there are 2 “steps” to it, the 2nd one being steeper.
Looking back to the west from the apex of the cutline. Mount Washburn is the distinctive rocky peak in the distance on the right.
The comm tower on the summit was visible once I reached the ridge. There was a boulder sitting there like a marker. The cutline descends from this point back to the valley bottom to rejoin the Phillips Pass road near Phillips Lake. Snowshoes were necessary beyond here – the lee side of the ridge was still heavily snow loaded. I headed off to the right, ascending beside the trees. I had to cut back through the trees at one point to stay on the crest of the ridge and avoid descending.
After ascending a bit, cutting right to get through some trees and stumbling up a short, steep area I was out on open terrain with lots of deep snow.
In short order, I encountered the service road, switching back sharply as it got to the ridge.
Shortly after reaching the road, I climbed a little higher to get to the ridge crest. The snow was mostly eaten away by the wind and the warmth, and there was even a little survey marker – even though it wasn’t the summit. Looking west, Mount Washburn remained eye-catching in the distance, and Mount Erickson in the mid ground came into better view.
Telephoto view of Mount Washburn.
On the service road, passing an open gate. The snow here was a couple feet deep. Further ahead there were very deep drifts. Only one spot was snow-free, and only for about 10 feet.
Looking north from the service road. Phillips Lake, in Phillips Pass, with Phillips Peak towering above.
At the foot of a minor switchback just before the summit I got my first glimpse of Crowsnest Mountain peeking out from behind Mount Tecumseh.
Telephoto view of Crowsnest Mountain.
The summit. The tower is actually quite huge, which you don’t fully appreciate until you’re standing under it. There are a bunch of service buildings around it.
There was a small herd of sheep up on the summit when I arrived.
One sheep didn’t trot away, and basically stood posing on some rocks.
Looking west from the summit.
Mount Washburn and nearby peaks.
Phillips Peak, Mount Tecumseh, and Crowsnest Mountain.
A closer look at Phillips Peak and Mount Tecumseh
Looking south at Sentry Mountain. Crowsnest Lake, and smaller Emerald Lake, are below. That sheep was still hanging out on the rocks.
Tent Mountain to the southwest, showing the scars from open pit coal mining.
Looking east, I was surprised to see a cross on a secondary summit. I don’t recall it being mentioned in other trip reports. I decided to make my way over. A similar cross is on the summit of Wedge Mountain, on the other side of Crowsnest Mountain. This is why you never meet any vampires around here.
Looking back at the main summit from the cross. It looks much more photogenic from this direction.
Telephoto view of Crowsnest Mountain and the Seven Sisters.
Looking across the valley at Island Ridge. I was perched on the little clear area to the left of the ridge top roughly 3 years earlier.
Panorama view looking west.
Heading back towards the summit, once again stopping to admire Mount Washburn and Mount Erickson.
Almost back to the tower. There were 3 buildings up there, a bigger grey one, a red shed, and an outhouse.
One last shot before heading down. Panorama looking north. Mount Washburn in the distance, Mount Erickson, Phillips Peak, Mount Tecumseh and Crowsnest Mountain.

5 thoughts on “Crowsnest Ridge

  1. Drive by this little beauty many times over the years and have photos from the turn of the Century Boundary Commission standing where the radio tower is now!
    Hope to actually stop and make the climb some day this summer.

    Liked by 2 people

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