July 19, 2017
2017 was a devastating year for forest fires in my neighbouring province of British Columbia. There was over 1,300 hundred fires, more than 1.2 million hectares burned, and a state of emergency was declared.
As the prevailing winds are from the west, Alberta was engulfed in smoke for most of the hiking season. I remember being very happy heading up Windtower this day, because there was an inversion – the smoke cleared the higher we went.
From the Smith Dorian highway, hike up through the forest to the West Wind Pass. Many people will make this their destination. From here, turn right and begin traversing across to the base of Windtower. This is the most interesting part of the scramble as you climb up several small rock bands. Once past these, you come to the wide open face that is an unending field of scree to the summit.
From the Smith Dorian highway, pull off to the East side of the highway. If you are here on a dry day, be prepared for your vehicle to be completely encrusted in road dust by the time you get back.
The trail starts on the East side of the highway. It heads straight up into the forest, and begins to gain elevation almost immediately. There are some trails near the highway that join in from the north and south. Ignore these and go straight up (east).
The trail from the highway to West Wind Pass is very straight-forward – just keep going up. It is a bit boring, especially for kids, as the views are all behind you. This section of the trail is 2 km long.
The photos don’t do it justice, but there was a distinct layer of smoke from the forest fires that lifted the higher we got.
As we approached the pass, there are several trails heading off to our right towards the base of Windtower mountain. Choose the biggest trail. It is 3 km from the turn-off to the summit of Wind Tower. If you go all the way to the Pass lookout, you must then backtrack to the turn-off. This of course adds a couple hundred meters.
This is the one area I had to pay attention as the trail would fade in and out. There are several small cairns along the way, and I used the eagle eyes of my daughters to ensure I didn’t miss any.
By far the best part of this trip is the rock bands on this section. My daughters were very happy to see these, and they brightened up what would otherwise by a bit of a drab hike.
Once past all the fun rock walls, we faced the final part – the grand wide scree face of Wind Tower. This might sound and look like a slog, but it was actually a nice grade and quite enjoyable.
As the name suggests, it is VERY windy on Windtower. This means our legs and clothes were coated in the find dust kicked up as we moved through the scree.
At the summit, we dove behind the high semi-circle wind block that some amazing soul (THANK YOU!) built up there. My daughter bravely crawled out to the summit cairn to grab the summit register, and pull out the contents. She thought it was full of garbage, but it was really just bits of scrap paper that people used once the notebook was full.
The views are stunning from up here, even on the smokey day that we had.
When I hiked Wind Ridge in 2015, I remember being awed by the mountains towering above me, one of which is Windtower. It feels great being able to reverse the view, and look across at Wind Ridge!
I gave the girls a stern lecture about staying well back from the edge. It is straight down on three sides, and with the wind wanting to push you over, this was no time for horsing around.
This doesn’t mean we didn’t have any fun though.
Time to summit was 3 hours and 15 minutes. 970 m (3,200′) elevation gain, and about 5 km distance.
We returned the way we came.
The only issue we found was making our way through the rock bands. Someone built a cairn on a lookout, where they had no doubt stopped to enjoy a lovely view. Unfortunately, this drew me further down than I wanted to be, and required a bit of work to get back onto the main trail.
I hope you found this trail report helpful, and you decide to give this route a try. Please join Al’s Adventures by following this blog, like this page, or you can go to my facebook page Al’s Adventurers and like my page.
Date: July 19, 2017
Group: Three (Alisen, and two daughters)
Distance: 10 km
Elevation: 969 m (3,200′)
Time: 5 hours 45 minutes (includes 1/2 hour lunch)