On Saturday April 10 2010 Wietse and Naomi joined me on a relaxing outing to the summit of Hillcrest Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass. We got the idea for this mountain from Bob Spirko and Rick Collier. Originally we had planned on a ski trip up Crowfoot Mountain but with avalanche warnings in the red zone we thought it best to avoid as much snow as possible. It turns out that this was harder than expected.
To access Hillcrest Mountain from Hwy 3, turn left (south) onto East Hillcrest Drive, go across the railroad tracks and the bridge before turning left on Adanac Road. Follow this road for a little ways before turning left on Adanac Rise. From here it's a short drive till you can see Hillcrest and the road coming off the mountain on your right. Park anywhere along this stretch, we could have driven another 200 meters or so but there's lots of access points here.
I was surprised by the amount of snow clinging to Hillcrest's slopes. It didn't look like enough to stop our ascent but I expected almost nothing. At the very least it probably kept the wood ticks at bay. We decided to follow the road until the south slopes were above us. We followed an obvious gully / clearing (forest fires ravaged this area and the efforts to fight it are all over here) that petered out about 300 meters up the south slopes. From here it was easy hiking / scrambling to gain the ridge. We made things more difficult, but interesting, but scrambling up the cliff band after skirting it on climber's right for about 200 meters.
[Hillcrest from the parking area. We basically went up the left hand skyline ridge.]
[Naomi and Wietse walk up the fire road.]
[We cut up the first obvious break in the vegetation to our right, up the south ridge.]
[The burnt out forest is cool.]
It was the most windless Crowsnest Pass peak that I've ever been on! The weather forecast was actually accurate for once, the warm sunshine and stunning scenery of the peaks on the divide to the west kept us entertained on a very pleasant hike to the summit of Hillcrest. There was hardly any snow on the west side of the upper ridge which made for very pleasant walking while everything west was plastered in a fresh coat of white.
[A great view from near the cliff band.]
[We cut up through the cliff band for entertainment reasons only!]
[Views of the ridge, looking east.]
[More cool looking dead trees on the south ridge.]
[Panorama looking west off the south ridge. ++]
[Looking east off the summit ridge.]
[Looking south into the Castle region. ++]
[Sentry and Tecumseh.]
[Summit of Hillcrest Mountain.]
[Looking west there's some attractive peaks!]
[Turtle Mountain to the north and Centre, Livingstone, Tallon and Robertson in the background.]
[Summit panorama. ++]
We should have spent more time soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the views but after about 20 minutes on top we turned our attention to Hastings Ridge. It would be cool to bag two peaks in such gorgeous conditions! We headed down the west slopes just under the summit to try to negotiate our way to Hastings. Our hopes were not high considering the amount of snow on the route. It was interesting how little snow was on Hillcrest and how much snow was on Hastings just to the west.
The west slopes of Hillcrest are better for descent than ascent, but not by much. We negotiated some fairly steep (but very firm) snow that would have made me very nervous if it was any warmer / looser. We could see some avalanche debris across the valley on very low angle terrain which made us very cautious.
Once down at the col between Hastings and Hillcrest we decided to keep going towards Hastings until the snow became too soft to walk on. We managed to stay on top of the snow up to the first bump after Hillcrest but after walking a bit further towards Hastings we started to post hole and the snow pack showed signs of going isothermal in the strong spring sunshine. We decided it wasn't worth it and bailed back into the valley bottom to find the road / trail that would take us back to the car.
[Looking back at the summit after descending the west slopes just below the summit and re-ascending to the next ridge west.]
[About as far as we got. Hastings Ridge is running through the background but we didn't make it there due to soft, unstable snow.]
[A burnt stump that consumed a rock back when it wasn't burnt out!]
[Another consumed rock!]
A very pleasant stroll down the road (snow was amazingly firm) brought us back around the south end of Hillcrest and to our car. I found this hike very pleasing, which I'm sure had more to do with the beautiful weather than anything else. Driving 6 hours round trip to hike for 4.5 hours still seems a bit silly but when it's spring and you're desperate it can be justified!
[Hiking back on the road around the south end of Hillcrest. Hastings is ahead and to our right.]