Hillcrest Mountain (left) rises above the small community of Hillcrest in the Crowsnest Pass. Like the town of Frank, which is located beneath Turtle Mountain (right), Hillcrest has also suffered through significant tragedy. On the morning of 19 June 1914, 189 men were killed in an explosion at the Hillcrest Coal Mine. Even today, the Hillcrest Mine Disaster is still classified as Canada’s worst coal mining accident. Those passing through the Crowsnest Pass are made acutely aware of the Frank Slide, as Highway 3 bisects the immense debris field. However, the Hillcrest Mine Disaster did not leave the same kind of physical scarring to remind travellers of the events which took place almost 100 years ago. Even though there is a well kept cemetery with a large memorial to the miners within the community of Hillcrest, to those passing through, the knowledge that they are within the promixity of Canada’s worst ever mine disaster is largely obscured.
In many ways, Hillcrest Mountain itself is also obscure. A minor peak which lacks the rugged form of its popular neighbour, Hillcrest sees few visitors. This is a shame because even though it looks the lesser, the views that it offers are excellent. Ravaged by the Lost Creek Fire in 2003, the forested slopes that once reached almost to the summit, have been replaced by a burned out landscape of dead trees which I think, add to the hiking experience and visual dynamic.
Our route began just off of Adanac Road on the southern end of Hillcrest Mountain. While there are many ways to reach the summit, my son, Joel, and I followed the most common route which goes up the south slopes to the summit ridge. Once on the ridge, it is a gentle and enjoyable hike to the summit amidst scenic views of the Flathead Range to the west. After spending a relaxing time on the summit, Joel and I decided to descend using an avalanche slope on Hillcrest’s east face just below the summit. In the summer, it would also be possible to ascend this way as well, though there is one rock band that would require some quick scrambling.
For the most part, Hillcrest Mountain is just a steep hike up the southern slopes, though there is a rock band at the top where you can scramble if you want to. Otherwise, this is easily avoidable. Our total distance travelled was 6.7km with a total elevation gain of 687m. Slightly lower than Turtle Mountain, Hillcrest’s summit tops out at 2164m. Our total hike time was 4 hours and 17 minutes, but we took our time and even stopped to chat with a couple of forestry workers who we met at the ruins of an old mine. I think it took us just under 2 hours to reach the summit.
The view along the ATV road toward Hillcrest’s southern slopes. We walked along this road until we found an area on the lower slopes that had a minimal amount of vegetation. We began our ascent from here. The band of rock at the top can also be seen, but this can be avoided by keeping to the right, though Joel and I easily scrambled up and over it.
The burned out forest offered an intriguing landscape to hike through.
It was a beautiful Saturday for hiking, with minimal wind, sunny skies and temperatures in the low 20’s. Here, a sun bleached tree is juxtaposed against a dark blue sky.
Joel stands on the branch of a fire scorched tree.
The terrain became rockier as we gained elevation.
Near the top of Hillcrest’s southern slopes, Joel heads toward the rock band.
You can avoid scrambling by keeping to the right, but we went up and over the rock band quite easily. Here, Joel picks his way up.
Another shot of Joel as he navigates the upper section of the rock band.
Once we were over the rock band, the views to the west began to open up. It’s an easy hike to gain the ridge once you are over the rock band.
The summit of Hillcrest Mountain comes into view. The South Peak of the Livingstone Range is visible on the right.
I think that the old forest added to the visual dynamic of Hillcrest Mountain’s upper slopes.
Joel on the summit of Hillcrest Mountain with the summit of Turtle Mountain in the background. Turtle was Joel’s first summit and Hillcrest was his seventh. Also in the background is The Saddle, Mount Tecumseh, “Deadman Peak”, Crowsnest Mountain, Wedge Mountain, Saskatoon Mountain, Ma Butte, and McGillivray Ridge.
A wide angle pano of the summit view west toward the Flathead Range. In the immediate foreground is Hearts Peak.
A telephoto view to the west. Hillcrest Mountain itself may not look impressive, but it offers up some fantastic views.
The view looking slightly to the southwest.
The summit view toward the north. Turtle Mountain is in the foreground and the South Peak of the Livingstone Range, Morin Peak, and “The Dog” are in the background to the right. The debris field of the 1903 Frank Slide is visible in the centre.
The view to the south and back down the gentle summit ridge. Poker Peak and Maverick Hill are on the left and Carbondale Hill is barely visible in the distance on the lefthand side. Clubs Peak and Spades Peak on Hastings Ridge are foreground right.
The summit cairn with the registry resting on the top.
The registry was quite new and by the looks of it, those who had placed it on the summit were also the last people to have ascended Hillcrest Mountain. For some reason we thought it was July 26th – even though it was really the 27th. Oh well, what better place to lose a day?
It’s always a joy to stand on the summit of a mountain with one of your kids.
The section of rock that we encountered part way down the avalanche slope. We easily downclimbed it by angling to right hand side of this picture (or skier’s left).
Looking back up the avalanche slope after we had passed the rock band (middle).
Near the bottom of the avalanche slope we headed back into a section of burned out forest. We lingered in here for quite a while, captivated by the beauty of death and rebirth.
In the forest, we happened to stumble upon a lesson in the ‘birds and the bees’ or in this case, the ‘birds and the green bugs’.
One more shot of the intriguing forest.
Exploring the mining ruins. The avalanche slope that we descended can be seen above the old building.
The foundation of an old building that is slowly being consumed by the forest.
Back on an ATV trail headed toward our vehicle. We stopped and chatted for a while with a couple of friendly forestry workers who were using GPS to mark sections of invasive Hawkweed on Hillcrest’s lower slopes.
Looking back at the south end of Hillcrest Mountain from higher up the Adanac Road. This hike was a fantastic way to spend our Saturday morning!