Summit Elevation (m): 1905
Elevation Gain (m): 650
Round Trip Time (hr): 3.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 11.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your ego
Difficulty Notes: Difficulties are only related to figuring out which route to take and how to get views from the top!
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
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 off road 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-4×4 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.
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.
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.