“Boot Hill”, 14 October 2023

“Boot Hill” (2498 m) as viewed from the summit of “Sapper Peak”.

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The wind, ice, and near whiteout conditions on the summit of Mount Haig meant that we didn’t linger too long before setting off for, “Boot Hill”. Originally nicknamed by the late, Rick Collier, as a play on nearby, Tombstone Mountain – think Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where Boot Hill is slang for a cemetery where the graves had to be dug in such rapid succession, that they were shallow enough to see the unfortunate cowboy’s boots poking through the dirt. (source) Interestingly, the profile of the mountain is also boot-shaped, so the name unintentionally lends itself to a physical description as well.

Since neither Brad or I, had previously explored the connecting ridge between Haig and “Boot Hill”, we were excited to see what it was like. Unfortunately, due to the socked-in nature of the clouds, we didn’t see much of anything. Not only was this disorientating, but when combined with sections of wet or icy rock, it made navigating the ridge into a bit of an adventure. The inability to visually landmark anything more than a few metres away, meant we were always guessing when the next down-climb would be or even where the summit was located once we’d maxed out the topo lines on my GPS. In short, if we weren’t careful, “Boot Hill” could have been boots up for us.

Given this, we wisely decided that Tombstone Mountain would have to wait for another day. Our return was relatively easy, with a quick descent off “Boot Hill” and then easy scrambling up each step to the top of the first high point. It even started to rain, but fortunately, it was short-lived. We experienced the worst weather on the ridge between the high point and Haig, where intense wind pelted us with ice. Again, this didn’t last long because once we started the traverse across Haig’s southeast slope, the weather tamed. In fact, the traverse was surprisingly easy and avoided all of the cliff bands on Haig that we had scrambled earlier in the day – huge thanks to Andrew Nugara for recommending this! 😀 Soon we were back at Paradise Lake and then the trailhead.

The only glitch encountered on the way back, was Brad blowing out the rear tire on his bike. Thankfully, we were not far from the trailhead and he could push his bike quicker than he could change the tube. I know we’ll return under better conditions, but regardless, it was still a fun trip. Thanks Brad!

The routes to Mount Haig and “Boot Hill” are nicely described in Andrew Nugara’s, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, 3rd edition. To get to both peaks, we drove south from the hamlet of Beaver Mines on Highway 774 until we arrived at the parking lot for the Castle Ski Resort. This was our starting point.

From the trailhead, we biked the south Haig Lake trail for ~515 metres until we came to an obvious fork. Here, we kept to the left and followed the Paradise Lake trail for ~3.2 km until we came to a small cairn on the left side of the trail. This cairn marks the point where the trail continues as a single track through the trees. It is also the spot where we left our bikes. We then followed the single track for ~660 m to the point where we left the trail to head onto the east ridge of Haig using a secondary trail marked by blue flagging tape.

Once on the ridge, it was relatively straightforward hike / scramble to reach the summit of Haig, with three prominent rock bands to negotiate along the way. From the point where we gained the ridge to the summit of Haig it was ~2.4 km combined with a 700 m elevation gain. For reference, from the trailhead at Castle Ski Resort, it took us exactly 3.5 hours to reach the summit of Haig.

From the summit we then descended Haig’s easy south ridge (~247 m elevation loss) to the col with the first high point on the way to “Boot Hill”. From here we hiked to the top of the high point and then began our descent to the col with “Boot Hill”. This entailed down-climbing several rock steps over the ~950 m (167 m elevation loss) distance to the col.

The hike from the col to the summit of “Boot Hill” was also straightforward (unless of course, you are in a cloud) with a total elevation gain of 264 m over ~1 km. For reference it was a ~3.3 km hike from the summit of Haig to the summit of “Boot Hill” which took us 1 hour and 50 minutes. In total, it took us 5 hours and 20 minutes over a distance of ~11 km from the South Haig Lake trailhead.

After experiencing no views whatsoever, we then returned the same way, except after arriving at the base of Mount Haig, we proceeded to hike up Haig for a hundred metres or so, until we could see an obvious traverse route across Haig’s southeast slope. We then followed the traverse for ~1 km until we were back on Haig’s east ridge.

After descending to our starting point on the east ridge, we kept walking past the first trail we used, to a second, more gradual trail off the ridge. Once back on the Paradise Lake trail, we returned the way we came.

Our total roundtrip distance was 20 km with total elevation gains of 1784 m. Our total roundtrip time was 9 hours even.

Leaving Haig and heading to the connecting ridge with “Boot Hill”.

Looking back to the summit. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)

Negotiating some slippery rock.

The wind picks up as we near the col between Haig and the first high point.

Should we keep going or head back? 🤔

Nah, we’re this far already and maybe things will clear up…? 🙃

A scene from Gorilla’s In The Mist. 😂

On top of the first high point. We almost made a wrong turn towards the col with “Middlle Kooteny Mountain”.

Down-climbing the first in a series of steps.

We didn’t know how many steps there were, as we could only see to the next one.

More of the same.

A brief break in the clouds lets us know that we still had more elevation to lose before reaching the col with “Boot Hill”.

Looking back at the last step.

Heading up the final high point before the col.

Arriving at the col and skirting underneath the clouds.

A brief look into the Cate Creek valley.

A wider look at the col.

Starting up “Boot Hill”.

Easy hiking.

Looking towards the first rock band. When we got closer, we realized that water was pouring off of it.

Not wanting to risk scrambling up what was essentially a waterfall, we headed a short distance to climber’s left where we had no trouble ascending a series of small bands.

The bands also let us avoid another option: treadmill scree. 😑

Back on the ridge and heading to who knows where?

A small cliff that we easily avoided by keeping to climber’s left.

Since there wasn’t much to look at, here’s some layered argillite.

Back on the ridge.

The ridge narrowed as it continued upwards.

Brad scrambles over some slippery rock. Just like on Haig, once we neared 2400 m in elevation, things got greasy.

Is this the summit? Nope.

Is this the summit? Nope.

My view back.

Is this the summit? Maybe…

Another look back.

This has to be it…!?

Yes! We made it!

The summit of “Boot Hill” (2498 m).

Brad with the majestic Cate Creek valley in the background. 😂

There was no way that we were continuing on towards Tombstone Mountain. That peak will have to wait for another day. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)

Signing a very wet register. Without teflon tape on the threads, ABS register containers leak badly – much like scramblers in their fifties. 😂 (Photo by Brad Wolcott)

Brad celebrates with a summit selfie. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)

After only a few minutes on the summit, we began to head back.

Brad leads the way.

The way this rock cleaved, left what I thought was an interesting pattern. Of course, I also see faces in rocks so I’m probably not the best person to judge what’s interesting. 😂

Carefully making our way along the ridge.

Finally off of the slippery rock and back onto scree.

Making a quick descent towards the col. Now this is what treadmill scree is good for!

Almost there.

Wow! We could actually see some stuff! 🤪

The view along Cate Creek.

Syncline Mountain almost made an appearance.

Gazing towards a beclouded, “Sapper Peak” (centre) and St. Eloi (far right) with St. Eloi SW1 as the only peak in full view (left).

And just like that, the show was over.

Arriving at the col.

Heading up as it begins to rain.

Despite the rain, scrambling the steps was not difficult.

Thankfully, the rain was short-lived and the rest of our ascent was straightforward.

Brad makes short work of a wall.

Onwards and upwards.

Scrambling up the small step in the previous photo. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)

Almost at the top.

On the final high point and heading towards the col with Haig.

This is where the wind was at its worst; buffeting us with ice pellets and rain.

A short hike up from the col, brought us to a natural traverse across the southeast slopes of Haig. Using this as our return route to Paradise Lake had been recommended by Andrew.

The traverse was easy and avoided all of the cliff bands that we had scrambled earlier in the day. Thanks Andrew! 😊

Looking back to the col.

The only obstacle we encountered on the ~1 km traverse, was a small gully that was easily crossed.

Back on Haig’s east ridge and looking down at Paradise Lake.

Looking across at Haig Ridge (foreground) with Gravenstafel Ridge behind it.

Another look back and towards “Middle Kootenay Mountain”.

As it was earlier in the day, the weather was better in Alberta.

Approaching the lower section of the ridge.

Instead of using the morning’s trail onto the ridge, we chose to follow a second, more gradual trail for descent.

Arriving in the clearing with the main trail.

Enjoying the easy hike back to our bikes.

Things got easy from here…

Because we could just cruise along.

Yikes! Brad pulled a Dave and blew out his back tire. 😢 I did the same thing when Andrew and I were riding back from Haig Lake in August.

Fortunately, we were close enough to the trailhead that Brad didn’t have to push for long. Despite being duped by the forecast, this was still a fun trip even though we saw next to nothing for scenery. Brad’s always a great companion to spend the day with and I know that we’ll be back for a repeat trip under better conditions.

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