Summit Elevation (m): 2110
Trip Date: Saturday, May 01 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 785
Round Trip Time (hr): 3
Total Trip Distance (km): 7.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class II / III – you fall on the crux on the SE ridge you could break a leg otherwise it’s just hiking
Difficulty Notes: The SE ridge is easy to moderate scrambling the south ridge is just a steep hike
Technical Rating: SC5
Map: Google Maps
Due to a mixture of boredom and longing for summer scrambling season to begin, I’ve been fixing up some of my older trip reports over the past few weeks. Recently I was poking around with Phil and my long day on Vimy, Arras and GR939323 and this got me thinking of how much I love the Waterton Lakes National Park area. While musing on many past forays along Waterton’s tight valleys and wonderfully colored peaks I realized I still hadn’t done one of the easiest official summits there yet – Bellevue Hill. I’d been saving this little gem for many years, keeping it as a backup objective in case I ever made the long drive for another objective and couldn’t do it for whatever reason. After finally standing on the summits of Mount Dungarvon and Glendowan last year I was now pretty much done with official Waterton summits, only having a few left and not “premier” ones. I decided I was in the mood for a nice long drive down highway 22 and an easy solo outing for the first day of May 2021. After some basic research on my planned objective I realized two things. Firstly, there was a fun sounding loop route that Cornelius Rott did that I was keen to try. Secondly, May 1st 2021 was the opening day for the Red Rock Canyon Parkway so I wouldn’t even need to bike the approach as I was originally planning to do.
The Waterton Lakes Information Center emailed me back on my inquiry for details regarding the opening of the Red Rock Parkway. They were a bit vague on the details. Apparently the parkway would “likely open May 1st but there’s no guarantee as it’s conditions dependent”. Also they indicated if it did open it would likely be sometime between 08:00 and 09:00 but again – no guarantees. The smart move was to bring a bike, get to the gate at 07:00 and bike the 3.5 kms to the start of the SE ridge. That would have me hiking up the SE ridge before the parkway even opened. As you’ve probably guessed already, I didn’t do the smart thing for some reason. To make a long story short I ended up waiting at the closed gate for almost 2 hours before a member of the parks staff finally opened the parkway to traffic. Even more amusing is that despite sitting there by far the longest of anyone else a couple of vehicles still managed to beat me across the start line! Oh well. The weather was gorgeous and I chatted with a park warden for ages which was quite interesting. He filled me in on the role of the park warden since sweeping changes were made in the mid 2000’s. Once the gate finally opened it was a very short drive up the parkway towards a dry looking Bellevue Hill. I pulled into one of several little pullout options and started hiking towards the bottom of the SE ridge on a mix of dried grasses and Prairie Crocus.
I wasn’t in a hurry whatsoever as I started ascended scree / grass slopes on the east side of the SE ridge. Why should I be? I knew the hike would only take me ~3 hours and the weather was gorgeous as were my views. Waterton rarely disappoints in the views department, usually it’s the wind that puts a tiny damper in an otherwise sublime outdoor experience here. After groveling up loose scree slopes to the obvious access ramp I was happy to see some actual scrambling ahead of me to gain the SE ridge proper.
The access ramp was moderate scrambling at most with some limited exposure. I could see a hiker not appreciating it as much as I did. I was delighted to be scampering up dry, solid(ish) rock again! It didn’t last nearly long enough but the continuation of the SE ridge looked nice and dry and the views up Blakiston Creek and the parkway more than made up for any disappointment at a lack of scrambling opportunities. After all this was only supposed to be a “hill” and I wasn’t expecting much in the way of difficulties. I managed to find some more moderate scrambling by sticking to the ridge crest but soon the terrain slacked off and I was back to hiking.
There wasn’t much in the way of obstacles to the false summit, I barely even had to step on any snow. Evidence from the Kenow wildfire of 2017 is all over this area and makes from some very dramatic landscapes. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of peaks I could see from the false summit.
From the false summit there was a small dip along the ridge before a pleasant hike in light winds to the tippy top of the hill where a large cairn and obvious summit register awaited. The register was filled right up with bits of random paper (not sure what that accomplishes) so I didn’t bother adding my name to the mix. I did however, bother taking in the views and enjoying many pleasant days past as I gazed across the familiar landscape. As the winds were picking up I decided to stroll down the easy south ridge to the parkway far below where I could see a steady line of cars already filling the valley.
The south ridge was easy – as expected. Barely scrambling at all, more of an OT3 hike. Combining Bellevue with Mount Galwey would be a nice option – I almost considered a repeat but didn’t trust that the crux would be snow and ice free. Near the bottom of the ridge I was delighted to see purple and yellow color in all the rock and dead trees and grasses.
As I hiked back to the car along the parkway I was not surprised to see the first “bear jam” of the season just in front of me. It was a bit amusing to stride right past a mama and cub (black bear) in the burned out forest as people were videoing and photographing the scene from their vehicles. Just another bear folks. Move on. I found myself smiling as I walked in warm sunshine past the lower SE ridge and back to my car with sweeping views to the lakes and Vimy Peak rising beyond. Waterton Lakes National Park is a special place – no doubt about it. For some reason driving 5 hours to sit around for 2 hours and wait for a gate to open just to hike 3 more hours seemed worth it. That doesn’t happen just anywhere.