For Mother's Day 2016, Hanneke wanted to go hiking. That was fine with me! After doing a bit of research I decided the perfect Mother's Day hike would be Bull Creek Hills in the Highwood Range near Eden Valley in Kananaskis Country just west of Longview. I was right - it was the perfect hike!
There is more than one way to reach the summit(s) of Bull Creek Hills. The most popular way seems to be hiking to Grass Pass before heading eastward over some intervening bumps and hills before finally summiting the eastern high point. I've been to Grass Pass before, when I descended Gunnery Peak with Wietse and when I ascended Holy Cross, and I've read that there can be a lot of horse poo on the trail so I wasn't keen on doing that route. After some searching around I came upon the illustrious Sonny Bou's trip report from January 2015 and I liked the direct nature of his route and the fact that it was a loop taking advantage of two prominent ridges. I love ridge hiking.
We parked just past where Sonny parked, at the entrance to a group campground just past the Kananaskis sign on the south side of hwy 541. There was an obvious trail starting on the north side of the highway in the ditch, and we promptly followed it up towards our two ridges. The key word here is "up". This hike doesn't mess around, but rather starts gaining the 800 vertical meters right from the highway! Right away I was very impressed with the abundance of wild flowers. I've never seen so many Three-Flowered Avens or Shooting Star flowers in my life - both flowers that are among my favorite. We hiked along an obvious trail until it started to lose height to Marston Creek where we turned climber's left to gain the east end of the western ridge. We decided to go up the ridge with no trail and back down the ridge with a trail (east) in a clockwise loop and this worked very well.
[Blue Beardtongue aka Alberta Beardtongue - (penstemon albertinus)]
[Low Larkspur (delphinium bicolor) - highly toxic alkaloids in its leaves.]
[Three-flowered Aven (geum triflorum) - a member of the rose family.]
[Showy Jacob's Ladder (polemonium pulcherrimum)]
[Looking at our descent ridge on the right, just before going off trail to the left and up the westernmost ridge of the loop.]
The hike was relentlessly steep up the ridge but the route was obvious. There were smatterings of game trails but no obvious hiking trail to follow. We enjoyed the many wild flowers - carpets of them - and the views also helped distract us from the steep grind under a very warm morning sun. As a note, there were many more wild flowers on the western ridge than there were on the eastern one, for whatever reason.
[Carpets of Shooting Stars and Forget-me-nots.]
[Forget-me-not (myosotis alpestris)]
[Hann and KC grinding their way up the nose of the western ridge.]
[Shooting Star flowers with the white ones being older and fading from purple to white as they age. (dodecatheon conjugens)]
[Looking back over hwy 541 and the Highwood River.]
[The last section before reaching the western ridge proper is really steep, but pleasant hiking on open slopes.]
[It's a grunt!]
Once we reached the west ridge proper, the hiking was more fun and scenic than I was expecting. Again, the route is very straight forward. Hiking on the west side of the ridge was less treed but looser and windier, while hiking on the east side got a bit bushy at times. Sticking right on the ridge crest introduced some fun sections of easy scrambling on good rock. We spent the next hour or so working our way towards the west summit of Bull Creek Hills with great views of Gunnery, Holy Cross and Mount Head and distant views of Armstrong and other Highwood peaks.
[Before starting the final steep section to the west ridge, Hanneke and Kaycie take in the great views. ++]
[Looking ahead to the twin summits of Bull Creek Hills (R) with Holy Cross and Head at center left. Treed sections aren't nearly as thick as they appear. ++]
[Good rock and thin trees make for very pleasant hiking.]
[The witches lair?]
[A very open forest with interesting terrain.]
[The way ahead to the west peak wasn't quite as easy as it looks here, but still not difficult either.]
[A sure sign of spring.]
[Interesting rock formations on the ridge.]
[Enjoying the great weather and views on the way up. ++]
[Some easy scrambling on the spine of the ridge keeps things interesting. Mount Burke in the far distance at center. ++]
[Summit views from the lower west summit of Bull Creek Hills looking west and south. ++]
After enjoying the views from the west summit, we turned to the east one. We had to lose a few meters to the col before hiking up easy shale and grass slopes to the survey marker and geo cache at the summit. Surprisingly, the register was almost 10 years old without a ton of entries for such a prominent and easy front range hike but maybe a lot of folks don't bother signing it. The views west are almost better from the west summit since there's nothing blocking the view, but the views from both summits make the hike worthwhile. We enjoyed lunch and a warm sun for 40 minutes before reluctantly heading down the east ridge on a good trail - trying to avoid the incoming clouds and rain that were getting closer from the north.
[The traverse between the two summit of Bull Creek Hills is pretty easy. ++]
[Hann comes up to the summit with Holy Cross (L) and Mount Head (R) in the background.]
[Obviously higher than the west summit, but views are partially blocked by trees! ++]
[The cloud bank moving in from the north can be seen at left but we are enjoying gorgeous weather where we are! This is looking east to the prairies. ++]
[Holy Cross, which I ascended in 2007 via the right hand ridge.]
[Mount Head is a scramble just north of Holy Cross.]
[Many peaks along the Great Divide, including (R to L), Armstrong, Cornwell, Baril, Etherington, Scrimger, Farquhar, Pierce, Gass and Lyall. ++]
[Prairie Crocus with Holy Cross in the background.]
Choosing to do the route in a clockwise direction proved a great choice as the descent was on a dirt / scree trail for the most part - nice and fast! There were far fewer wild flowers on the descent ridge for some odd reason but other than that the views were great and the trail was mostly obvious. We managed to do the loop in 5 hours, including a nice long summit break and several breaks in between.
[Any difficulties on descent have good trails around them on skier's left. ++]
[Some rocky slopes on descent - the loose stuff can usually be avoided on climber's right.]
[Interesting rock formation on the descent ridge.]
[Looking back at the ascent ridge and summit.]
[Looking up at a steeper section of the eastern ridge.]
[This massive tree is a leftover from another era - most of them are burnt and dead and replaced by Birch trees in the area.]