Summit Elevation (m): 1628
Trip Date: Thursday, April 09, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 300
Round Trip Time (hrs): 2.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 7
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: The only difficulties here are convincing yourself that the drive from Calgary is worth this bump. Doing it with a shitty spring snow pack only makes it more questionable.
Technical Rating: OT2; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
After a very underwhelming hike on Stimson Creek Hills I drove further down a muddy 532 towards the parking spot for Indian Graves Ridge and Willow Creek Ridge as per Bob Spirko. I wasn’t too excited after the dull affair on Stimson Creek Hills but the weather was gorgeous and I was happy to note how dry the SE slope above the road was looking. On my drive I’d stopped and chatted with an RCMP officer who had stopped to chat with a family camping along the road. I was surprised at how little he seemed to know about the restrictions and closures. He also didn’t seem to care about the constant gunfire that was echoing all over the Willow Creek PLUZ area! I noted a vehicle parked at the bridge and realized I wasn’t alone despite the lateness of the day.
The SE end of the ridge was the highlight of the trip. The grassy slopes were bone dry and it almost felt like scrambling season as I topped the end of the ridge in my t-shirt. No wind, warm, beautiful! The feeling would not last long…
As I worked my way along the ridge I started noticing more and more snow. I knew a friend had hiked this route a week previous and he told me that he wished he had snowshoes for the Willow Creek Ridge portion of the hike. He didn’t elaborate but I should have asked more in depth questions. At first the tracks in the snow held my weight just fine – surprising in the +13 degree temperatures. As I caught up with a group of 3 hikers however, the snow started to collapse under me and things got annoying. Views were OK from the high point, but not really worth the effort IMHO. The south end of the ridge is as far as you need to go on Indian Graves to get the best bang for your energy.
I passed the group of 3 as we descended soft and deep snow towards Willow Creek Ridge. They were a mom with two younger daughters and they also didn’t have snowshoes. She seemed determined to keep going despite the deepening snow pack. I felt a little bad breaking through the old tracks and I’m sure causing them more issues as they were lighter than me and sinking less severely.
I was getting nervous as I wallowed my way towards Willow Creek Ridge from Indian Graves Ridge. The snow was collapsing under my feet and occasionally was up to crotch deep. This was not good! Of course I’m stubborn and I kept going but I wondered how the 3 much smaller hikers behind me would cope with this energy sucking obstacle. I finally hit the valley bottom only to realize that now the real struggle was going to begin! I’m not going to spend a lot of words on it but the next hour or so was TERRIBLE. This is the stuff of nightmares and is really funny that it always happens on small hills in the off season! 😉 I waded and slogged my way along the old tracks which only held my weight very occasionally. The tracks went around the worst aspect of the ridge for holding deep snow (north) following an ATV track or road. There were moments when I almost gave up but going back was just as bad as finishing at this point so I waded and swore my way forward at a glacial pace.
I was totally exhausted, mentally and physically as the tracks finally gained the north end of Willow Ridge and started up to the first summit. The snow was still crotch deep but at least my target was in sight at this point! I slogged over the first high point and finally gained the main one. Views were OK but I wasn’t feeling like these front range bumps were worth the effort they’d taken at this point! At least I have some new “summits” under my belt I guess. One other positive aspect to these sufferfests is that it prepares me for the scrambling, climbing and hiking season when shit hits the fan, which it always does at some point along the way.
The hike down to the Willow Creek valley was pretty decent and quick in warm spring sunshine. My mood slowly improved as I hiked out along the muddy track back to hwy 532. I really hoped the group following me had managed to slog through and would be OK. Their car was still parked on the road when I arrived so they likely hadn’t turned back but were following my tracks.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. If it weren’t for Covid-19 and the many restrictions around hiking and closed parks and areas I would NOT have done any of the hikes in the Willow Creek PLUZ area. Despite a very few moments of enjoying the sunshine and the limited views it’s a beat up area with ATV tracks everywhere and you’ll likely “enjoy” the sounds of gunfire as you hike, only making you wish you were hiking somewhere else. 😉