With the morning temperature in Lethbridge hovering around -21c, I set off by myself for what I thought would be a quick snowshoe up diminutive Ginger Hill in the Castle. I was relieved to see the temperature steadily climb as I made my way towards the Crowsnest Pass, reaching -13c by the time I turned onto Highway 507 at the Burmis junction. Even better, by the time I arrived at Township Road 64A, it had increased to -11c – a perfect temperature for snowshoeing!
However, after driving only a few kilometres, the road deteriorated to the point where the only visible tracks were those left by snowmobiles. Not wanting to get stuck, I turned around and thought of driving north to try for the Porcupine Fire Lookout. Yet, by the time I returned to Highway 507, I had decided to do a repeat trip up nearby, “Blue Mountain”, which looked absolutely splendid under a covering of fresh snow. Indeed, when I first ascended it in January 2017, sections of it were bare, however, on this day it was completely enveloped in white.
Though the skies weren’t quite as clear as when I first climbed it, walking through the windless winter landscape near the summit was breathtaking. In addition to the scenery, I saw large numbers of deer and elk, which made for an interesting moment after I had returned to my vehicle and had begun to drive away. Someone had spotted me walking along the southeast ridge and thought that I was illegally hunting elk, so a call was placed to Fish & Wildlife. Just prior to reaching the highway, a conservation officer in a truck turned on his lights and signalled me to stop. He then asked what I was doing on the ridge because there had been reports of a possible poacher. I happily explained that I was merely out for a recreational snowshoe and voluntarily proceeded to show him all the gear in my 4Runner. Satisfied that I didn’t have a firearm or any other means of hunting – and probably thinking that I was rather loopy for snowshoeing up the mountain all by myself – the friendly officer said that everything was fine and that I could go.
I left feeling pleased that our conservation enforcement system functioned so well and in particular, I felt that this officer handled himself with great professionalism. I also have to give kudos to the person who thought I was a poacher, because keeping a watchful eye is good stewardship of the land. In hindsight, I should’ve left a note on the dashboard that provided the details of my trip which in turn, may have prevented the call going in to Fish & Wildlife. This is just a good safety practice in general and 75% of the time, I usually leave a note – I learned this from J. Walter Weatherman and the Bluth family 😉 – but this time I didn’t. I will next time though!
All in all, “Blue Mountain” once again proved to be time well spent, and in a winter that’s been unusually harsh, it was a great to enjoy one of the seemingly few windows of favourable weather. Given the amount of snow in the mountains this year, I think that snowshoes are going to be a must well into the spring – if indeed spring ever comes!
As I’ve already described the details for “Blue Mountain” in my post from January 2017, and because I used the same route, I’ll refer back to it for any pertinent information. The one major difference between January 2017 and today was the amount of snow, particularly on the narrow southeast ridge. The first time that I ascended the mountain, the ridge was dry and bare, whereas this time it was covered in snow which required much more diligence on my part. Thus, this might not be the best route if you’re looking for a benign snowshoeing experience.
Blue Mountain is almost identical in height to nearby Burmis Mountain and Mount Backus. The smaller hillock immediately to the west of Blue Mountain could make for a secondary objective as part of a loop if you drove further down Township Road 62A. However, ~900m past my starting point, Fish & Wildlife maintains a seasonal closure on the road, so a loop is perhaps best done in the spring unless you want to add on an extra ~1km, which when I think about it, isn’t that big of a deal.
My total distance travelled was 5.1km and total elevation gains were 422m. My total roundtrip time was 3 hours and 21 minutes.
“Blue Mountain” from the access road. It had significantly more snow on it compared to when I first ascended it in January 2017. It also looks much more impressive from the west and the north.
I parked a little closer to the main road to leave room for other vehicles to pass.
Looking up the cutline that I used to access the ridge. The land to the north (right) of the fence is leased public land. The land to the south is private.
The view from partway along the cutline.
Looking back to my 4Runner after reaching the southeast ridge and firmer snow drifts. Now that was a good workout! 🙂
“Blue Mountain” looked spectacular under its winter blanket.
Two of the many deer that I saw. They must be so hungry given the winter we’ve had. Wait, maybe that’s why they’re looking at me? Maybe they’ve developed a taste for meat…? 😉
Yes, there’s a fence under there!
Looking west to the top of the south ridge.
The last time I was here, the narrow southeast ridge was completely devoid of snow and made for a fun ridge walk…
…this time it presented me with a bit of a challenge.
I’ll warn you now that this is the first of many snow-covered tree pics. It was just an amazing scene.
I love making tracks through fresh snow. Unless of course it’s really deep, then I love following behind someone who loves making tracks through fresh snow.
The view back along the southeast ridge.
The upper section of the southeast ridge.
Gazing to the north at Burmis Mountain (centre).
The summit (right) sits ~400m from the upper portion of the ridge.
Okay, how awesome is this? Oh, and is that a stuffed rabbit on the far right?
A cartoon fox sits in the foreground… or is that a poodle?
Maybe you had to be there, but I thought it was a cool landscape.
This time it looks like there’s a cartoon meerkat standing up on the lower left in the shadow beneath the tree… see, this is what happens when I’m forced to hike alone… or maybe this is why I’m hiking alone… 😉
The snow sparkled in the sunlight.
Heading towards the summit.
What I initially thought to be a few elk…
…soon turned into many more as they kept popping out from the forest.
The view back to the southeast.
The summit of “Blue Mountain” (1715m). Steve, the cairn that I built in January of 2017, had become a snowman!
Looking northwest along the summit ridge. Burmis Mountain is in the centre.
Unfortunately, clouds interfered with what is otherwise is an excellent view of the Flatheads. If you want to see what the views are like on a clear day, go and look at the pics from my first trip. To the left of centre is Carbondale Hill and on the right are Maverick Hill, and Ginger Hill.
Mount Albert (distant centre) is about the only thing that could be seen to the south.
Looking northeast. Even Ky-es-kaghd-oghsuyiss (the Porcupine Hills) were shrouded in cloud – and perhaps mystery, but who knows…
To get a better view, I carefully made my way along the narrow summit ridge.
A telephoto of Byron Hill.
Looking back towards the summit.
I made sure to give Steve ‘the brush off’ before I left.
To the west sits a slightly smaller hill that I nicknamed in January 2017, “Screwdriver Creek Ridge”. It would be possible to connect both destinations as a loop via some bushwhacking, cutlines, and a few trails. To do this, I would approach Blue Mountain from the southwest along a cutline that starts just before reaching a cattle guard on Township Rd 62A (a further ~1.7km from where I started today). I would follow this cutline to the south ridge and then to the summit of Blue Mountain. I would then descend the gully on the left side of the picture above to reach another cutline that runs almost to the summit of “Screwdriver Creek Ridge”. From the summit I would follow the ridge south until I intersected a trail just prior to the southern boundary of the leased land. I would then follow this trail all the way back to my vehicle. All of this could be done as a snowshoe, but a seasonal road closure on 62A would mean adding on an extra ~1km from the gate to the original cutline.
Leaving the summit.
Another tree pic…
An unnamed outlier to the north of Mount McGladrey appears through the clouds.
Some deer stare back at me as they forage on the slopes of the southeast ridge.
What a gorgeous day!
Are you getting treed up yet?
One last view of the summit.
Following my tracks down the ridge. I debated using the south ridge and then cutting across the valley on the right, but I wasn’t sure how deep the snow would be – that and I didn’t want to regain the elevation back onto the southeast ridge.
Navigating my way along the narrow ridge.
Seriously, how can anyone not enjoy snowshoeing?
More ridge line manoeuvring.
Back on easy terrain.
Arriving back at my 4Runner after a total of 5.1km and 3 hours and 21 minutes. Shortly after loading up and pulling away, a conservation officer stopped me just prior to reaching the highway. Apparently someone had seen me on the ridge and reported me as a possible poacher. I happily explained that I was merely out for a recreational snowshoe and voluntarily proceeded to show him the gear in my vehicle. Satisfied that I didn’t have a firearm, the friendly officer sent me on my way. To be fair, I can totally see why someone reported me as I must’ve looked suspicious because who in their right mind would snowshoe up an obscure little mountain just for the fun of it? 🙂