Trout Creek Ridge

Zosia Zgolak and I hiked up Trout Creek Ridge near the north end of Porcupine Hills in southwest Alberta on 2 May 2020.  A route description for this officially-named ridge can be found in the guidebook, From Grassland to Rockland: An Explorer's guide to the Ecosystems of Southernmost Alberta by Peter Douglas Elias.  Unfortunately, the described access via Ward Creek may no longer be feasible since it cuts across a short strip of private land.  To avoid any hassles, we improvised an alternate albeit longer approach via a subsidiary ridge to the north where we could directly access the forest reserve.

From Highway 22, turn east onto Riley Road 9.2 kilometres south of the junction with Highway 533 or 17.7 kilometres north of the junction with Highway 520.  The northern boundary of the forest reserve borders the straight section of Riley Road between 2.0 to 3.2 kilometres east of Highway 22 and can be accessed anywhere along this stretch.  We drove for 2.9 kilometres and parked just before a Texas gate.  Another gate in the barbed wire fence along the south side of the road was our starting point.

Heading south through the barbed wire gate, we crossed an open field and squeezed through another barbed wire fence before climbing up a forested slope (although we were totally inside public land for the entire trip, we would encounter numerous annoying barbed wire fences throughout the area).  We soon reached the crest of a subsidiary ridge located between Highway 22 and Squaw Coulee, and we followed this ridge southward toward the west end of Trout Creek Ridge.  Travel was generally easy, and after stumbling onto a 4x4 road, we were able to follow it for most of the length of the subsidiary ridge.  At one point, we spotted some big bear tracks in a lingering snow patch, but we did not give them much further thought since they did not appear to be freshly made.

Upon gaining the west end of Trout Creek Ridge, we turned eastward onto another 4x4 road, but we began encountering more lingering snow patches.  We tried to avoid the snow as much as possible, but some surprisingly deep post-holing was inevitable.  We eventually stopped to have lunch on a partially-treed hump located about midway along the ridge.  Our highest elevation reached was actually on a bump just before our lunch spot, but this bump is merely the shoulder of an even higher ridge branching off to the southeast.  As such, the exact high point of Trout Creek Ridge is ill-defined.
This gate has a latch. Yay! Zosia opens a gate to enter the forest reserve.
For a public land, there sure are a lot of darned barbed wire fences here! Zosia hops over a barbed wire fence within the forest reserve.
Holy cow dung, Batman! I think we just stumbled onto the Shitting Field! Stretched across the horizon is Trout Creek Ridge.
Curiously, they sadden Zosia who somehow attributes them to suicides. Aspen trees are abundant in this part of the forest reserve.
That's one happy-looking hiker! There are already far-reaching views from the crest of the approach ridge.
A sure sign of spring! This is one of many pasque flowers blooming throughout the area.
If you go down in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise... Sonny examines some very large bear tracks in the snow.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

The aspen trees kind of hide all the ugly clearcuts around here! Zosia hikes through another stand of aspen trees not far from the crest of Trout Creek Ridge.
I thought we were home-free here, but there were some problematic snow patches ahead. Zosia follows a road along the crest of Trout Creek Ridge.
It doesn't look like much, but that snow is really deep! Zosia tries to figure out how to get around the deep snow after dropping down from the high point (1758 metres) of the day.
It's still ski season up here! Sonny flounders in a deep patch of snow on the ridge crest.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Not the high point of the day! Zosia and Sonny pose for a photo near their lunch spot on the crest of Trout Creek Ridge.
Once we finished lunch, Zosia and I had little interest in continuing to a subsidiary bump further to the east, but instead of returning the way we came, we decided to drop down another branching ridge to the north.  This ridge sits to the east of Squaw Coulee and also has a 4x4 road running along the length of its crest which made for more easy hiking.  Near the north end of this ridge, we ran into a lone hunter equipped with a bow.  He was hunting for black bears and said that he had seen a very large one earlier in the day running off the subsidiary ridge that Zosia and I had ascended.  The hunter, who also happened to be a wildlife biologist, surmised that we had probably spooked the bear off the ridge, and this may have been the same bear that left the tracks we found earlier.  We enjoyed a lengthy and pleasant chat with the hunter before going our separate ways, but I could not help thinking that this guy had some nerves of steel going up against a big bear with bow and arrows.

The very north end of the branching ridge is on agricultural public land, but because we did not secure access permission from the leaseholder beforehand, we felt it was prudent not to continue northward along the 4x4 road which presumably intersects Riley Road.  Instead, we turned westward and followed the forest reserve boundary fence line which drops into Squaw Coulee and then climbs over the crest of the same ridge we started on at the beginning of the day.  Despite the annoying extra elevation loss and gain, we were at least making a beeline for our starting point, and the only real difficulty was having to dodge a lot of cow dung and muddy sections along the way.  We eventually merged onto Riley Road at the point where it borders the forest reserve boundary, and we easily walked the remaining few hundred metres back to my car to complete a most satisfying loop hike.
It's a great return route except for the very end! After dropping off the crest of Trout Creek Ridge, Zosia contemplates her return route down the broad ridge at far right.

A walk in the woods.

Most of the return route is pleasant hiking along a 4x4 road.


Much more so than our approach route, I think. The return route is surprisingly scenic.
It's Man versus Bear! This wildlife biologist is hunting black bear in the area with a bow.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

It's beautiful country! Sublime grasslands stretch far away to the east.
The worst part is trying to avoid all the cow shit along the fence! At the northern boundary of the forest reserve, Zosia turns west along the fence line and has to drop down into Squaw Coulee before climbing over the far ridge to get back to her starting point.
A very satisfying ridge walk. Total Distance:  17.0 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  7 hours 23 minutes
Total Elevation Gain:  744 metres

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