Syncline Mountain
I was admittedly a bit hesitant when Marta Wojnarowska invited me to go on a camping trip for the weekend of 25-26 July 2015.  I have done my fair share of camping and backpacking in the past, but as I have gotten older, the appeal of sleeping outside on the ground (or inside my car) has waned considerably for me.  Still, the prospect of bagging some peaks with Marta over the weekend proved irresistible, and we decided to head to the Castle Crown Wilderness in southwest Alberta to attempt Syncline Mountain on the first day and possibly Barnaby Ridge on the second day.  Joining us at the last minute was Marta's friend, Aga Sokolowska, an avid mountaineer whose original plan to climb elsewhere was postponed due to the unsettled weather forecast.  Speaking of the weather forecast, it looked promising for the Pincher Creek area when we headed out from Calgary early in morning of 25 July 2015.

Following directions from Andrew Nugara's More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, we parked on the side of the highway about 1.3 kilometres south of the bridge over Suicide Creek and headed west into the forest aiming for Syncline Mountain's northeast ridge.  Even as we gained the ridge, rain clouds from the west brought showers over us, and we paused briefly to wait out the fast-moving storm.  Once we resumed climbing, we quickly worked our way up the relentlessly steep ridge and passed through the weakness in the rock band guarding the summit block as described by Nugara.  An easy plod soon had us on the summit of the first peak of Syncline Mountain.

After a short break, we descended the ridge to the southwest and traversed along the north side of the impressive pinnacles separating the first and second peaks.  A few steep drop-offs required careful down-climbing, but overall, I thought the traverse was both easy and very enjoyable.  We took another short break beyond the pinnacles before tackling the tedious but straightforward rubble slope leading to the top of the second peak.  When we reached the summit of the second peak, the weather started to deteriorate again, and we all descended slightly and huddled under Marta's tarp to wait out more rain.  At this point, we were still a bit unsure about where Nugara's route goes between the second and third peaks since his description to head southwest seems counterintuitive.  Once the rain abated a bit, we took another look over the edge of the summit ridge, and sure enough, we found Nugara's "steepish scree gully".  Descending this gully was tricky because of all the loose rocks funneling down it.  The rain had also made the rocks slick, and when I momentarily lost my footing at one point, I snapped one of my hiking poles.  Thankfully, that was the only casualty on our descent of the gully although I came close to nailing Aga with a dislodged rock near the bottom.

Goat trails made traversing below the summit block of the second peak quite easy, and we soon reached the col separating the second and third peaks.  By now, the rain had returned and was coming down steadily with no signs of letting up anytime soon.  However, we were now committed to bagging the third peak since we had already come this far.  We started up the south ridge of the third peak but eventually veered to climber's right to circumvent a couple of big cliff bands.  Another steep but easy plod brought us to the summit of the third peak.  Because of the wind and rain, we retreated slightly from the summit before taking another short break to re-fuel.

From the top of the third peak, we descended loose rubble into the cirque enclosed by the three peaks of Syncline Mountain.  For the next several hours, we bushwhacked down the valley trying to stay as close to Suicide Creek as much as possible.  Just as Nugara describes, some, nay, a lot of the bushwhacking was "downright nasty".  Between the rain and the wet undergrowth, we were all thoroughly soaked.  Despite my occasional bellyaching, Aga and Marta remained unflappable despite the seemingly endless thrash through the forest.  We all felt immense relief though when we finally came upon the ATV trail as promised by Nugara.  There are one or two confusing junctions along the sometimes overgrown ATV trail, but we essentially took what we felt was the most direct route back to the highway.  Near the bottom, the ATV trail crosses Suicide Creek and seemingly heads in the opposite direction from where we started.  Uncertain about where the trail was taking us, we elected to simply follow the creek out to the highway.  This entailed some more nasty bushwhacking, but at least it was short-lived.  When I popped out of the bushes at the bridge over Suicide Creek, I was dismayed to see two roads--one on each side of the creek--emanating from the forest I had just left behind.  Wet and tired, the three of us quietly marched the final 1.3 kilometres along the highway back to my car.

After changing into some dry clothes, we drove past the Castle Mountain ski resort and pitched our camp just across the bridge over West Castle River.  We cooked and ate a quick dinner before retiring for the night.  We all slept quite well, but rainy weather the next morning scuttled any desire to ascend Barnaby Ridge.  Instead, we packed up and went to visit a couple of gliding clubs near Cowley and Okotoks before heading home.

Be sure to check out both Aga's and Marta's photos.
Not so bad when it's dry... Aga and Marta wade through some cow parsnip at the beginning of the trip.
Keep an eye out for huckleberries and strawberries! The trees start to thin out as Marta and Aga climb higher up the ridge.
It was a miserable ski season this year at resort. West Castle Ski Resort is visible to the south.  Mount Haig (dark) is just visible behind Gravenstafel Ridge at right.
Strong it is with the dark side of the Force! This gnarly tree trunk has seen better days.
Also known as "the gates" as coined by Bob Spirko. Aga and Marta approach the weakness in the rock band guarding the summit block.
Looks pretty ominous up close! Here is a closer look at the left side of weakness.
Nice weather, but will it last? Aga ascends easy slopes not far below the first summit.
Mandarin Orange and Polish Purple! Sonny, Aga and Marta stand on the first summit (2445 metres) of Syncline Mountain.

 Do we really need to tag those other two peaks?

This is the view of the second and third peaks of Syncline Mountain from the first summit.


I may need an ATV to access Mount Darrah! Mount Darrah (left of centre) is the most recognizable peak to the northwest.
Aga must be reading some dirty limerick! Aga and Marta check out the contents of the geocache at the first summit.
Bet you didn't even notice the Q-Tip! The contents of the geocache are somewhat unique.
Very windy today. Marta and Aga make their way toward the second peak (far right).
Look at the different shades of green. Here is a look back at the first peak from the start of the traverse.
Both impressive and colourful! Aga and Marta pause at the base of one of the pinnacles along the connecting ridge between the first and second peaks.
Being mostly out of the wind on this side was a bonus. Goat tracks make parts of the traverse easier.  The second peak looms beyond.
Good fun! Marta and Aga scramble in tandem.
Aga is a real mountain nut! Aga down-climbs a short drop-off.

 Hard to believe there's a route through all those cliffs!

This is looking back at the first peak and the pinnacles from the end of the traverse.


Put your mind back on cruise control here! Marta and Aga slog up rubble on the second peak.
Yep, I'm a conehead! Marta, Aga and Sonny take a break on the second summit (2477 metres) of Syncline Mountain.
Gee, it's sunny everywhere BUT here! This is looking back at the first peak from the summit of the second peak.
Can you spot Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain? Southfork Mountain and Barnaby Ridge lie to the southeast.
Hmmm...those clouds don't look very nice to the west... A connecting ridge leads southwest to St. Eloi Mountain (left of centre).
With the incoming wind and rain, most sane people would bail at this point... Marta and Aga try to figure out how to get down to the col in order to ascend the third peak which is visible behind them.
Maybe I should join them... Marta and Aga huddle under Marta's tarp to wait out the rain.
Lotsa loose rock here. Be careful! Aga and Marta descend the "steepish scree gully" as described by Nugara.
This is the point of the trip where you decide that you will get that third summit regardless of the weather! Marta and Aga traverse below the summit block of the second peak en route to the third peak.
The weather sucks now! Marta and Aga stop for another short break at the col below the second peak.
The weather really sucks now! The two cliff bands ahead are easily circumvented to climber's right.
Nothing like being on a summit in the rain...again! Marta and Aga are still smiling after reaching the third summit (2535 metres) of Syncline Mountain.

Was it worth it? Hmmm...

Here is a look back at the second peak from the third summit.


Be prepared for several hours of miserable bushwhacking if you go back this way! Marta and Aga descend into the cirque enclosed by the three peaks of Syncline Mountain.
You should only do this trip with 2 crazy Polish women! Total Distance:  ~14.0 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  12 hours 29 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain:  ~1420 metres