Summit Elevation (m): 2290
Trip Date: Saturday, November 28 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Round Trip Time (hr): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 34
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1/2 – you fall, you sprain your ego
Difficulty Notes: Finding the motivation to walk something that can obviously be biked much quicker is the main difficulty here.
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
I always meet a new month with a slight sense of dread. It’s not a horrible dread, rather it’s the concerned anticipation of the diabolical monthly exercise challenge that Tim Cook sends me courtesy of my iWatch. As October 2020 closed and November began, I knew what the incessant “buzz” on my left wrist was before I even checked it. Tim is NEVER late with his silly challenges – dang it! Sure enough. November’s goal was ridiculous, only made more over-the-top by the simple fact that I was still nursing the after effects of a badly sprained ankle from a month previous while returning from Marvel Peak. I was encouraged to meet Tim’s approval by traveling 459.8km over the 30 days of November. WTF?! Seriously Tim? On a bum foot? With winter starting? Only someone from sunny California would think that a Canadian November would be the perfect month to travel a minimum of 15.33km each and every day of said month. I dismissed the challenge as clearly unobtainable and set about my month as usual, walking each day in my neighborhood and Fish Creek Park while slowly healing my injury. And then it happened! As I walked back from yet another hike in Fish Creek, my watch buzzed enthusiastically – more so than usual, prompting a quick glance. WTF?! Apparently as of November 27th I’d somehow managed to meet my November challenge! Mr. Cook knows me better than I know myself, and while that’s a whole new reason for a little anxiety and a healthy dose of dread, it also prompted me to have a little more faith in my weekend plans.
Wietse and I had been conversing about the possibility of a backcountry ski trip on Saturday to close out November with a trip to the mountains – my first one in 2 months since Marvel Peak. I didn’t love the “considerable” avy rating in the alpine and also didn’t like all the wind-loading that had been going on most of the week. Not knowing how my ankle would react, I decided to try a nice hike before bringing out the snow sticks for the long winter season. I have many friends who enthusiastically start skiing as early as October, but I have also known many people who have broken a leg with early season skiing over the years. 🙁 I’ve always considered even December to be fairly early season and don’t start skiing the backcountry in earnest until Jan most years. YMMV but I value my legs in one piece, thank you very much! 🙂 The mountains closer to the divide and up along hwy 93 have been getting a lot of snow over the past month but the front ranges have been drying out. A large group of friends had just spend some time hiking around some smaller peaks in the Sheep River / Dyson Creek / North Coal Creek area of Kananaskis Country just SW of Calgary. Neither Wietse or I were really in the mood for front range hiking but we decided it would be good exercise and a good test of my ankle. Matt Clay suggested “Hoffman Hill” as an ankle test, so we decided that was as good a plan as any. We slightly (!!) expanded the scope of the day to cover Junction Lookout, “Hill 651038” and Green Mountain with Hoffman Hill tacked on for a return objective. When Wietse told me this was a 30km +, 1500m day I was worried about whether it was a bit more than I could handle but Wietse was quick to assure me that he was fine with turning back at any time. We planned to meet in the Indian Oils parking lot at 07:30.
It was dark enough for headlamps as we started up the trail to the Junction Lookout but the temperature was fairly warm at +2 degrees. Thanks to a bridge built over the Sheep River near Tiger Jaws Falls in 2016, our crossing was a bit easier than my 2013 trip up Mount Hoffman. It didn’t take long for us to put on our micro spikes to counter the icy, but snow free trail. The weather was dull enough when we left the parking lot that I didn’t even take my good camera, opting instead to use my phone camera. As the morning dawned grey around us, we even started wondering aloud if a short day on Green Mountain, Spaulding Point and Hoffman Hill might suffice to test my ankle. I commented quite early on that this was likely a good candidate for a bike approach and Wietse agreed. It was quite icy so winter tires would have been an asset, but other than that I would highly recommend doing at least Junction Lookout on your mountain bike. The angle is fairly gentle and the ride back would be a blast! As the day continued to dawn over us Wietse convinced me to go with our original plan with the caveat that we could always turn around. We shuffled along at a nice 4km/h pace and at just over an hour we were turning up towards the Junction Lookout on a trail that got snowier the higher we went. The track from Matt, Raff, Alison, Heath and Dave the week previous was still there and assisted our progress greatly.
My ankle was holding up better than expected as we rounded a corner on the approach road and got our first glimpses of the lookout, still quite far away at this point. The good news was that the sky was basically cleared off and despite a brisk and very biting wind, we were mostly protected in the trees and warmed up quickly as we progressed upward. Soon we were at the junction between the lookout (L) and the hill (R). We decided to do the hill first since it was highest and involved the only deep snow and bushwhacking required.
After putting on googles and face masks to deal with the cold breeze we started up along a set of tracks leading up towards “Hill 651038” through some annoying intervening scrubby trees. Soon we were back on open slopes and taking in some pretty sweet views as we approached our first summit of the day. We didn’t spend long in the cold winds and soon turned back down to the lookout road below.
The hike up to the lookout was fairly short from the junction and soon we were on our 2nd summit of the day. We enjoyed a 15 minute lunch break out of the wind before starting back down the road towards the distant Green Mountain trail. It took us around 4 hours to the summit of the lookout and we decided we had plenty of energy and time left for Green Mountain.
My ankle continued to hold up as we descended the snowy trail back towards the main approach to Green Mountain. The snow assisted our progress and pace. It was around 13:30 when we arrived back at the Green Mountain approach road. We were surprised to meet a mountain biker going up to the lookout here. He had slightly wider tires than normal but wasn’t on a fat bike. We wondered if he’d get up through all the deeper snow patches. We decided to follow a newish horse trail up the SW slopes of Green Mountain before cutting off to the summit part way along. The SW slopes of the mountain were surprisingly snow free and hiking through here in afternoon sunshine was a highlight of the day for me.
We weren’t 100% sure where to leave the horse trail but soon it became rather obvious that we should head up to the summit. We left the trail with two other hikers just below us and scrambled up through some easy rock / grassy terrain to the summit above. We’d heard that there were very little views from Green but we experienced the opposite. Sure! The high point doesn’t have views, but the open SW slopes are very pleasant to hike and have fantastic views back to the Highwood Range to the west.
After running into a few folks descending from the summit (apparently Green is a popular little peak in this area) we walked through light forest to a summit cairn. At this point we could either descend our ascent route or check out Spaulding Point at the south end of Green Mountain. We decided that we had time and energy so we’d check out the point.
Spaulding Point was kind of neat with some low, rocky cliffs and open grassy slopes below. I enjoyed the late afternoon lighting over the foothills to the south of the point. We scrambled off the southern end of the point and picked up a trail below – likely the horse track we’d approached on earlier. Following this trail back along the SW open slopes of Green Mountain was another highlight of our day. The late afternoon sun and mountains to the west provided a very pleasant hiking experience. Soon we were back at the Sheep Trail leading to Dyson Falls where we took another short break, enjoying the setting sun over the partially frozen falls.
My ankle was starting to ache a bit, but I still felt good enough to suggest we tackle Matt’s suggested “Hoffman Hill” on our way past. Wietse wasn’t 100% convinced but looking at the map and the contours we figured that if we descended the north slopes of the hill back to the trail we’d only gain an extra 40-50 vertical meters by ascended it. What the heck – why not? We were realizing that we weren’t getting quite as much vertical gain as the planning maps had indicated – the ViewRanger topo map is screwed up a bit in this area. Our total would likely not quite hit 1400 despite all the extra bumps and “peaks” we’d bagged. But our total distance was certainly sneaking up on 34km – much further than I thought my ankle would be able to go.
Hoffman Hill proved worthwhile with views to rival Green Mountain. Soon we were at the summit and descending easy, open slopes down the NW end towards the icy Sheep Trail below. Families were returning on the trail over Tiger Jaws Falls (which I thought were named “Indian Oils Falls”) as we returned to the parking lot in fading light. Our total distance of 34km and almost 1400m height gain was proof that my ankle is well on its way to healing. Oh yeah – the biker made the lookout and did the trip in ~3hrs or less proving that a bike is the smart way to go for this effort! 🙂 I might be back some day with my two-wheel steed to enjoy the fun ride back down. For a late fall objective before the road closes (on December 01), this is a nice area to get some last hikes on dry(ish) ground before fully committing to a winter mindset. I’m looking forward to ski season now, and am grateful for yet another beautiful day of hiking in 2020.