On Saturday, March 22nd 2014 I joined Wietse and Dave for a snowshoe jaunt up Mount Barwell in Kananaskis Country, just off highway 549 past Millarville in the Northfork Provincial Recreation Area - the same area as Mesa Butte. We left Calgary at around 11:30 so it was definitely one of my latest starts for a winter hike.
You won't find too many descriptions of this mountain, mostly because it's in the heart of the McLean Creek offroad vehicle area and as such, not hiked very often. Also, the summit views are rather treed in - the best views seem to be from the hike up and from the further "west summit" mentioned by Gillean Daffern in her book on hiking in Kananaskis.
We managed to drive up a gas well road quite a bit further than I was expecting. Because Pengrowth has active gas wells in the area, the bridge over Gorge Creek was in good shape and the road had been plowed before the latest snowfall. We drove 2-3km up the road, including some pretty steep sections that wouldn't have been possible in a car or non-4x4 vehicle. I was a bit nervous about coming back down - it was steep enough that if a vehicle started sliding it wouldn't stop very easily on the snow covered surface.
Eventually we made it right up to the end of the road, see my GPS file for more details on the exact road / route we took. The weather was much sunnier and warmer than we were expecting. The air temperature was only around -10 but the strong spring sunshine made it feel much warmer than that. The fact that there wasn't a breath of wind helped too. We guestimated that we saved at least 4km of hiking along the road and probably 150 vertical meters of height gain by driving as far as we did. Considering our late start, this was a good thing.
[Our route to the summit, from the parking area by the gas well at the end of the road. The 'road' you see the track following for the first bit (before the other road joins from the right) is actually just a right of way along the power lines.]
We followed a steep track from the well site to the power line right-of-way before following an old set of ATV tracks along the right-of-way. The snow was supportive and at first we wished we were on skis. Once the terrain started rolling, however, we realized that 'shoes were much more efficient than the skis would have been.
The ATV track was snowed in, but was very supportive and made travel easy. Eventually we made our way over several bumps before meeting up with a major road coming in from our right. This road was plowed just before the last snowfall, and is obviously used to access another couple of active Pengrowth gas wells that we passed.
[A glorious start to our day and we're already pretty high up. ++]
[We started in trees to access the powerline right-of-way.]
[Following old ATV tracks along the right-of-way.]
[There were some surprisingly good views along the hike. This is looking back on my way up a hump along the way. ++]
[There were some steeper humps to go over.]
[We lost height too.]
[The steepest hill we had to ascend - the snow was rock hard here, even off the ATV track.]
[Dave and Wietse come up the steep hill.]
[Looking back as Wietse joins the right-of-way and the road that joined from the left side of this picture. We could have ascended this road too, but it would have been a longer approach and probably more boring too. There wasn't enough snow on the road to ski it, or that may have been a good option. There was dirt and rocks just under the fresh snow.]
Once we hit the major road travel was easy again as we passed two more wells. After the final well site the trail went into the bush and the going got considerably tougher. I broke trail most of the way to the summit, following what looked like Coyote or Wolf tracks for the part of the way. The trail was obvious through the trees - nobody but animals had been on it this winter, but the opening and the occasional signage made it obvious anyway.
The summit was basically in the trees. This isn't the sort of hike you do for views from the main summit - you do it for the exercise and only when there's not much else to do! :) The trip back down was fast. Our round trip time was just over 3.5 hours - a bit quicker than we expected but overall a very nice trip with much better weather than we thought we'd enjoy and even some decent views. This area would be kind of drab in the summer due to all the ATV's and logging in the area, but with fresh snow and nobody else around it was rather pleasant.
[On the road, looking up at the first well site we passed on it. The road looks perfect for skiing but there's actually soft dirt / gravel just underneath the surface making skiing impossible.]
[Looking back down at the first well site. ++]
[The last well site, the road ends at this one. This is looking back as I enter the forest. Mesa Butte is somewhere back there too.]
[The animal tracks along the trail in the forest.]
[Some signage in the trees - there's trails coming in all over the place up here.]
[Dave breaks trail for a bit.]
[We thought the tracks were cat at first, but the front claws are out and it looked more 'dog' to me.]
[The snow was plastered to the north sides of the trees making for interesting patterns in the forest.]
[The amazing summit view... :)]
[Looking over the slight inversion to the north east.]
[Wietse and Dave on the summit.]
[Coming down the steep hill on the way back.]