Cat Creek Hills

Summit Elevation (m): 2148
Elevation Gain (m): 630
Trip Date: Feb 21 2016
Round Trip Time (hr): 5
Total Trip Distance (km): 13.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain or bruise something
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties – this is a hike with some very easy scrambling opportunities if you look hard for them.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

After I wasted almost 4 hours of driving the weekend before, I was ‘ready’ to once again make the drive from Calgary, down past Okotoks and Black Diamond to Longview and along the Highwood River into Kananaskis from the south on hwy 40. Unlike the weekend before, this time the weather forecast was 100% chance of sun (instead of 90%?!) so I figured the odds of running into a blizzard at the trailhead was slim. Thankfully, I was right. Truth be told, I’d have much rather been on my skis – seeing as it’s February – but I have a policy that I don’t do backcountry skiing if the avalanche hazard is ‘considerable’ or ‘high’ so the latest forecasts made my decision to stay off the snow sticks easy. I was also recovering from a nasty bout of the flu, so I picked a low energy objective.

Cat Creek Hills Route Map

I arrived at the highway 40 closure / gate parking area under much different conditions than a week previous. The sun was shining and there was a gaggle of cars parked around the area. The highway was bone-dry, stretching out past Junction Hill and I wished I’d brought my bike instead of my snowshoes! I packed my ‘shoes just in case the summit ridge was drifted in, but I highly doubted I’d need them as I started the easy 3km approach on the highway. The views towards Mount Armstrong and up the closed highway kept getting better and better as I walked in the warm sunshine, enjoying my Sunday morning stroll immensely. As I walked down towards the Fitzwilliam Creek picnic area, I could clearly spot the “Cat’s ears” of the first two summits on the north side of the road.

Just past the Fitzwilliam Creek picnic area, I turned climber’s right through the ditch and started up the Cat Creek drainage towards the first Cat Creek hill – the route was obvious and many different approaches would work here. I ended up walking along a ‘landing strip’ to the ridge and from there I was hiking on grass and through low density forest to the first summit. I have to say that initially I wasn’t that excited to be hiking up a grassy hill but as I took in the amazing views along the spine of the Rockies to the west my enthusiasm for this little hike grew.

The impressive summit cairn on the second cat ear looking over the first summit at lower left. Peaks in the background include Baril, Cornwell and Armstrong.

The wind stayed reasonable and the ridge was mostly bone dry as I continued from the first to the second summit, which looked to have a large stone cairn on it. After dipping down to the col (copious amounts of elk detritus along the way…) I started up steeper grass / rocky slopes. A large herd of elk ran along the col beneath me as I grunted upwards. Near the second ‘Cat Ear’ summit, I had a choice to go climber’s right or straight up some steeper slabs. I choose the scrambling terrain and enjoyed some short, hands on scrambling to the second summit of the day. In my opinion this summit is probably the best one to attain, as the views in all directions are unimpeded. I enjoyed a nice cup of coffee from my thermos near the impressive summit cairn before somewhat reluctantly heading off to the third and final summit along the ridge.

Great views over the spine of the Rockies – click here for a labeled panorama.

The ‘shoes stayed on my pack as I slogged to the third summit of Cat Creek Hills. Thanks to the herd of elk and previous hikers, as well as the cool temperatures, I could simply walk on top of any snow along the ridge and had no major issues attaining the small, treed summit that is the highest one. Views towards Head, Holy Cross and Junction Hill were pretty decent from this high point, but honestly the views to the west, south and north weren’t any better than from the second summit.

Just before the landing strip, where is all the snow?!

After another coffee break I headed back along my ascent route. I enjoyed more great views and weather back to the highway, which I followed to the truck. The road was fairly busy in the afternoon, with campers heading back to their vehicles (pushing wheelbarrows of gear?) and day hikers with cameras. I can highly recommend this easy hike, especially when it’s this dry, for anyone who wants a break from the winter blues.

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