Even though the forecast called for less than ideal weather conditions, Marc, Fraser, and I were still determined to go hiking/snowshoeing. After waking up to snow flurries in Lethbridge and enduring a few moments of white knuckle driving on Highway 3 between Pincher Creek and Lundbreck, we arrived safely in Coleman. In advance, I had mapped out several possible destinations for the day, but after noting the poor visibility due to cloud clover and not wanting to drive any further on the icy roads, we quickly narrowed our options and chose ‘The Saddle’, in large part because it was the only thing we could see the top of.
Locally known as ‘The Saddle’ or sometimes, ‘Star Creek Hill’, The Saddle is a volcanic formation located on the southern edge of Coleman. I first noted its potential as a winter hiking destination from the slopes of nearby Willoughby Ridge and from my trips up the North York Creek Trail. Readily visible from Highway 3, it is called The Saddle because, well… it looks like a saddle, especially from the west. Some also refer to it as, ‘Star Creek Hill’ – my personal favourite – because it rises above the eastern side of Star Creek and Star Creek Falls. On a bluebird day, The Saddle would provide excellent views of the Crowsnest Pass and even though we didn’t ascend it under optimal conditions, it was nevertheless, a highly enjoyable trip.
The Saddle is one of many ‘back pocket’ winter hiking destinations that I’ve mapped out in the Crowsnest Pass and Castle Crown. I normally bypass these places in the summer months, but always keep them in mind for the winter. In the case of The Saddle, I had drawn up two possible routes for reaching the summit. One was to approach it from the east, utilizing old logging roads off of York Creek Road to reach the col. The other, which was the route we chose and the most scenic, was to park at the end of 54 St. in Coleman and utilize the short trail to the viewpoint overlooking Star Creek Falls. From there we bushwhacked to the top of the ridge and followed mostly open slopes to the summit of northern tip of the saddle. We then descended to the col and made our way up to the summit of the higher southern end. For our descent, we went straight down the open western slopes beneath the summit until we reached a clearly demarcated logging road. We followed this back until we came to a large clearing which we used as a shortcut, though it involved crossing a steep gorge and Star Creek. From the other side of the gorge we followed a series of ATV roads back to our vehicle.
To reach our starting point, drive to the west end of Coleman and follow 16th Ave until you come to 54th St. Turn left and follow 54th St. a short distance until you come to a steep hill. Here is where we parked our vehicle and began our ascent. This is also the parking spot for Star Creek Falls which is a popular local destination.
Our round trip distance was 9.6km with total elevation gains of 735m. Despite the inclement weather, it was a really enjoyable trip which took us 5 hrs and 42 min to complete.
Looking west at The Saddle (a.k.a. Star Creek Hill) from 18th Ave in Coleman. The summit is on the far left. Given the poor weather conditions and cloud cover, it was the only landmark in the area that we could clearly discern in entirety. Our route followed the ridge from the far right to the far left.
Marc and Fraser gear up at our parking spot at the end of 54th St. in Coleman. Our route would follow the road up the little hill in the centre.
After a brief walk we arrived at this sign on the edge of the trees.
Looking east from the top of the hill on 54th St. (looking left from the sign pictured above). The ridge at the northern end of The Saddle is visible on the right. Our route followed this clearing down and across Star Creek and then part way up the far slope until we reached an obvious opening that branched off into the trees on the right (centre left). This is the start of the trailhead for the Star Creek Falls viewing point. In the foreground is the opening for the ATV trail that we returned on (centre right).
Fraser and Marc find a frozen spot to cross Star Creek. The top of hill at the end of 54th St. is in the distance.
Approximately halfway up the slope on the other side of Star Creek is the trailhead for the Star Creek Falls viewpoint (right).
Marc and Fraser make their way up the short trail to Star Creek Falls. It took us about 25 minutes to reach the Falls from our vehicle.
A nearly frozen Star Creek Falls. Despite the inclement weather, we were still treated to some beautiful scenery.
Another view of Star Creek Falls from the ridge above.
Another view of the Star Creek Falls gorge. The Falls are hidden behind the cliff in the foreground. The clearing we followed from 54th St. to reach the trailhead is barely visible through the trees in the centre. This is also the point where the trail ends.
The bushwhacking begins above Star Creek Falls…
Marc and Fraser make their way through the trees.
Fortunately the bushwhacking was not difficult and after about 20 minutes, we reached the open slopes of the ridge. The northern tip of the saddle is in the distance.
This was about as clear as our views would get. At least it had stopped snowing.
Marc and Fraser check out the views from the crest of the ridge. Barely visible on the left is Sentry Mountain, Crowsnest Ridge is in the centre, and the base of Mount Tecumseh is partially visible on the right.
The northern tip of the saddle from the top of the ridge.
The fresh snow provided some beautiful scenery. Almost time to put on the snowshoes…
Looking back at our route from near the top of the northern tip. Our starting point in the clearing at the top of 54th St. is visible on the left. As we gained elevation on the open slopes, we were exposed to a stiff wind that was blowing from the NE. Iron Ridge is the little bump in the background.
On the summit (1729m according to my frozen GPS) of the northern tip of the saddle, a distance of 2.36 km from our vehicle. The summit is in the distance behind Marc.
A closer view of the summit and the col. To reach the col, we had to lose 106m in elevation as well as navigate around a steep section of rock that in dry conditions could be safely down climbed, but not when it was covered in snow.
Marc and Fraser carefully make their way down to the col. The snow covered rock proved to be quite slippery.
A view of the col from our descent route off of the northern tip. To ascend the summit, we followed the clearing in the centre until we encountered a snow covered boulder field that was partially hidden in trees. It didn’t take us long to determine that it would be best to avoid climbing through it and instead, trend to the right through the trees until we reached the skyline slopes on the right.
Looking back at the section of rock beneath the northern tip that we avoided by partially descending the slopes on the left (west).
While in the col, I decided to test ride The Saddle 😉
The snow became progressively deeper between the col and the summit.
Marc navigates around several snow covered boulders near the top.
A winter wonderland! If only it were a bluebird day…
The top of The Saddle actually has two summits. Here, Marc celebrates on the top of the northern summit while the slightly higher southern summit (~5m difference) can be seen in the distance.
Marc and Fraser brave the wind chill to pose for a picture on top of the northern summit (1818m my GPS).
The southern summit lies approximately 430m from the northern summit. The NW end of Willoughby Ridge is barely visible in the distance.
There were some deep snow drifts in the section between the summits.
More beautiful scenery between the two summits.
The southern summit. The ridge continues a bit further to the south, but this was the highest point of The Saddle that we could discern.
Looking back at the northern summit from the slightly higher southern summit as Marc and Fraser make their approach.
Fraser and Marc on the summit (1823m my GPS) of The Saddle (or Star Creek Hill).
Marc and I on the summit. It was 4.32km from our vehicle to this point.
Instead of following our ascent route back, we decided to drop down the western slopes of The Saddle and then use the logging road that is visible in the distance above Marc and Fraser.
Our descent was quick and uneventful.
Looking back from the logging road at the clearing we crossed once we reached the base of The Saddle. The upper slopes and summit are hidden from view.
Fraser and Marc cross a tributary of Star Creek shortly after the logging road entered the trees.
The logging road was surprisingly wide and well maintained.
After walking ~1.2km down the road, we came to a large clearing which we decided to use as a shortcut. Though quicker, this route did require crossing a steep gorge and Star Creek. For some reason, we had trouble finding the cutline we were going to use to get back to 54th St., but fortunately, we found an ATV trail that took us in the right direction.
Fraser crosses Star Creek in the gorge.
One last look at The Saddle after crossing the gorge. The summit is on the right.
Marc checks his GPS as we navigate the maze of ATV trails.
We eventually emerge where we started – in the clearing at end of 54th Street. The trailhead for the viewpoint above Star Creek Falls is visible on the left.
The final walk down the hill to our vehicle. The weather might not have been great, but the company definitely was! It was a real joy to spend the day with Marc and Fraser, two former U of L students who have gone on to become an ER Doctor (always handy to go hiking with 😉 ) and a post-Doc in Neuroscience. ‘The Saddle’ or Star Creek Hill, or whatever you want to call it, was the perfect choice for this day and just as I had hoped, made for a great winter hiking destination.