McLean Hill

Summit Elevation (m): 1710
Trip Date: Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 300
Round Trip Time (hrs): 2
Total Trip Distance (km): 8.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Bring micro-spikes or snowshoes in the winter – these trails aren’t traveled as much as others in the area when snow covered. The many ATV trails in the area probably provides the crux. I would avoid this area when wet!
Technical Rating: TL2 / OT2;
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

McLean Hill was never destined to be a top priority for me – not even an off-season priority. I knew that it had limited views and I was worried that the copious amounts of ATV trails and off roading in the area would ruin any trails that did exist to its minor summit. I also knew that there was recent logging in the area which I assumed would not help its natural character. As it turns out, I was mostly right on all counts. As my habit has been over the past few weeks, I found myself driving west of YYC towards the Rockies front ranges after work on March 11. Snow squalls were busy making the roads slick and wet and the weather wasn’t inspiring.

McLean Hill Route Map

My motivation was the forecast which once again showed a ‘limited options’ weekend thanks to highs of -18 and intense snow – sure to cause another spike in avalanche danger conditions. The winter of 2019/2020 has not been kind to weekend warriors looking to avoid avy hazards! Oh well. Nothing to do about that. Since I am getting a wee bit bored with daily grinds up Prairie Mountain, I decided to try some variety this week. The day previous found me on hard pack trails in the Fullerton Loop area while today I would try McLean Hill and the McLean Creek side of hwy 66. I have literally never driven into the McLean Creek area in all my years of driving down hwy 66! It looked about how I imagined and that’s with a thick white coat hiding a lot of the wear ‘n tear.

I parked near the winter gates on the McLean Creek Trail road and stared off down the recently plowed road behind them. (Good thing I read the sign asking not to park right near the gates as a truck went through them just as I was leaving.) It felt a bit strange to hike up the cleared road but I broke into a slow jog and found myself enjoying solitude for the 2nd day in a row. My original plan was to go all the way to the cut line connected in a pretty straight SW line to the summit before ascending, but I got tempted early by an ATV track and veered off to my left to explore a bit. This decision definitely caused me to burn extra calories but that’s why I’m out doing these bumps after work in March so why not?

A rather bleak landscape up here! Prairie and Moose Mountain at distant left.

The ATV track soon disappeared in a direction I didn’t want to go, so I followed very old and faint tracks in the snow along the GPS track I’d downloaded from Sonny. The tracks helped a bit but there was a foot or two of fresh snow on them and soon I was questioning the decision to leave the freshly plowed road. After ascending steeply to a ridge crest I noted that I was one ridge west of the McLean Hill ridge. I reluctantly followed what remained of the old snowshoe tracks as they descended through a recently logged wasteland in 1-3 feet of fresh snow. My micro-spikes did not give me any flotation as I struggled to the far side of the cut and ascended to the proper ridge.

From the ‘proper’ ridge I simply followed old snowshoe tracks, flagging and bits of trail to the summit. I questioned certain life choices a few times along the ridge and especially one time I went off trail for 20 meters but other than that everything worked out just fine. My views were both better (distant) and worse (near) than the day before. There was a LOT more snow on the south side of hwy 66 and a LOT less traffic packing it down! I would recommend snowshoes if you’re doing this hike in winter. I also noted that the copious amount of ATV trails would be hellish muck when wet so don’t even think about hiking here in spring or after rainfall.

Summit views looking west over McLean Creek towards familiar front country peaks such as Glasgow, Banded and Prairie Mountain.
Views over McLean Creek over Quirk towards Banded, Outlaw, Cornwall and Glasgow (R).

From the unremarkable summit I followed snowmobile and ATV tracks down the cut line pretty much straight back to the approach road. There were some ups and downs and dipsy doodles along the way but I ran pretty much the whole thing and really enjoyed it.

Descending the cutline direct to the McLean Creek Trail (road). There are some detours to get around damaged areas including this one to the right.
Descending the cutline direct to the McLean Creek Trail (road).

As I jogged slowly back to the truck along the road I passed 3 wild horses and enjoyed the sounds of songbirds in the early evening atmosphere. Sure! This minor summit means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, but one again I was surprised by how cathartic just being out in nature enjoying a hike all by myself can be. It’s certainly getting me pumped for spring and summer objectives on a (much) grander scale!

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