Summit Elevation (m): 2179
Trip Date: May 08 2016
Elevation Gain (m): 800
Round Trip Time (hr): 5
Total Trip Distance (km): 10
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1 – you fall, you bruise your ego
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties – this is a hike with some very basic route finding and easy scrambling if you want it.
Technical Rating: OT2; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps
For Mother’s Day 2016, Hanneke wanted to go hiking. That was fine with me! After doing a bit of research I decided the perfect Mother’s Day hike would be Bull Creek Hills in the Highwood Range near Eden Valley in Kananaskis Country just west of Longview. I was right – it was the perfect hike! There is more than one way to reach the summit(s) of Bull Creek Hills. The most popular way seems to be hiking to Grass Pass before heading eastward over some intervening bumps and hills before finally summiting the eastern high point. I’ve been to Grass Pass before, when I descended Gunnery Peak with Wietse and when I ascended Holy Cross, and I’ve read that there can be a lot of horse poo on the trail so I wasn’t keen on doing that route. After some searching around I came upon the illustrious Sonny Bou’s trip report from January 2015 and I liked the direct nature of his route and the fact that it was a loop taking advantage of two prominent ridges. I love ridge hiking.
We parked just past where Sonny parked, at the entrance to a group campground just past the Kananaskis sign on the south side of hwy 541. There was an obvious trail starting on the north side of the highway in the ditch, and we promptly followed it up towards our two ridges. The key word here is “up”. This hike doesn’t mess around, but rather starts gaining the 800 vertical meters right from the highway! Right away I was very impressed with the abundance of wild flowers.
I’ve never seen so many Three-Flowered Avens or Shooting Star flowers in my life – both flowers that are among my favorite. We hiked along an obvious trail until it started to lose height to Marston Creek where we turned climber’s left to gain the east end of the western ridge. We decided to go up the ridge with no trail and back down the ridge with a trail (east) in a clockwise loop and this worked very well.
The hike was relentlessly steep up the ridge but the route was obvious. There were smatterings of game trails but no obvious hiking trail to follow. We enjoyed the many wild flowers – carpets of them – and the views also helped distract us from the steep grind under a very warm morning sun. As a note, there were many more wild flowers on the western ridge than there were on the eastern one, for whatever reason. After enjoying the views from the west summit, we turned to the east one. We had to lose a few meters to the col before hiking up easy shale and grass slopes to the survey marker and geocache at the summit. Surprisingly, the register was almost 10 years old without a ton of entries for such a prominent and easy front range hike but maybe a lot of folks don’t bother signing it.
The views west are almost better from the west summit since there’s nothing blocking the view, but the views from both summits make the hike worthwhile. We enjoyed lunch and a warm sun for 40 minutes before reluctantly heading down the east ridge on a good trail – trying to avoid the incoming clouds and rain that were getting closer from the north.
Choosing to do the route in a clockwise direction proved a great choice as the descent was on a dirt / scree trail for the most part – nice and fast! There were far fewer wild flowers on the descent ridge for some odd reason but other than that the views were great and the trail was mostly obvious. We managed to do the loop in 5 hours, including a nice long summit break and several breaks in between.