Sparrowhawk Tarns


Trip Details
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Trip Date: 
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Elevation Gain (m): 
Round Trip Time: 
Total Distance (km): 
Difficulty Notes: 

No difficulties for experienced hikers. For beginners there is some easy scrambling up the headwall beneath the tarns and some routefinding.

Trip Report

On a beautiful Saturday in August, my wife Hanneke and I wanted to hike something without huge amounts of other people. After throwing around ideas the day before while driving home from a scramble up The Monarch, Phil had mentioned Sparrowhawk Tarns. This was a great idea and Hann and I were delighted with the trail, the views and the total lack of other people. Even on one of the nicest days of the summer we only saw around 10 other people the whole day on this trail. Highly recommended, especially if you love alpine meadows, tarns and Marmots.


[The trail is a highway from the Sparrowhawk Picnic area to the High Rockies Trail (HRT).]

[At least there are some signs indicating which way you shouldn't go if you are headed for the tarns. This one looks unofficial so it may not last.]

[The HRT is quite the project! We checked out the bridge over Sparrowhawk Creek before continuing up the proper trail to the tarns which is out of sight at upper right here.]

[Views from the bridge over Sparrowhawk Creek.]

[The trail is well-defined and passes through some blow down areas.]

[After a few kilometers of nice forest hiking the trail turns sharply right near a pile of debris (rocks) before continuing left up a steep roll. From this point onward the trail gains most of its 750m of height.]

[Interesting terrain - I'm not sure why some of these trees are so dead - and still standing.]

[Another boulder / debris field to ascend. Also note the larches? This will be very colorful in another 3 weeks or so.]

[I have never seen so many marmots on a hike before. This is marmot heaven.]

[We picked a gorgeous day to hike to the tarns.]

[Looking back at our approach from Spray Lakes with Old Goat rising at left and Read's Tower at upper right.]

[Picking through the various boulder fields was fun but it was easy to lose the trail. No matter, because the route is usually pretty obvious and there's a TON of cairns everywhere. Mount Sparrowhawk rises above Hann here.]

[An interesting boulder along the trail.]

[The terrain in the upper meadows under Sparrowhawk, Bogart and Red Ridge is awesome.]

[More nice alpine meadow. You lose height as you near the headwall to the tarns and start trending to the right.]

[More interesting terrain as we near the lower part of the headwall beneath the tarns.]

[Beginner hikers may not like some of the loose / steep bits on the headwall but there is usually an easier way up if you look for it.]

[The final green little valley before the last headwall to the tarns.]

[Marmot baby and mama.]

[An adolescent marmot scopes us out.]

[Looking back at our approach (L) from on top of the headwall to the tarns. Mount Sparrowhawk left of center and Bogart out of sight at upper right. Red Ridge is running along the valley at extreme left. ++]

[Interesting rock ribs near the tarns.]

[Our lunch spot sitting over one of the tarns. To be honest, the tarns are pretty low this late in the summer. I would recommend either catching them full in July or waiting until September and at least getting the full effect of fall colors. ++]

[Hanneke hikes to the furthest tarn at the back of the upper hanging valley. The peak at upper left can be accessed via a scree slope just out of sight to the right here.]

[This tarn was also almost completely gone this late in the season - it is obviously refreshed with snow melt rather than glacier melt and so it's level drops precipitously over the summer season.]

[Lots of fossils around the upper tarn.]

[Big bunches of fossils.]

[On return we took an easier line down the tarns - further to the east end of the headwall. There are three tarns on this photo. ++]

[Again, beginner hikers might need some coaxing on several of the looser / steeper sections.]

[One of the lower tarns with Red Ridge looming over it on the upper left. ++]

[Lots of routes and lots of cairns marking them can make it confusing exactly where one should go. But at least there's options... ;)]

[Looking along the headwall on descent - we went up somewhere at left. The further east you go (behind me here) the easier the headwall is.]

[Great views over the Spray Lakes and our egress valley before we drop down towards treeline.]

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