Highwood Circuit

July 19, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

On July 13-15, with snow still persisting in areas like Assiniboine, Dustin, Jessica, and I decided to do a highly rated front-range hike, in the Highwood Circuit. We had a couple route descriptions and the GemTrek map to navigate with, but for the most part we hadn't heard much about the area.

The first day involved hiking Mist Ridge. It was warm and visibility was reasonable, and the views were excellent.

Then we descended Rickert's Pass, past an old coal mining site to the Sheep River, with the backside of Mt. Gibraltar dominating the view. We walked the decommissioned road for a few kilometers before setting up camp. This involved a couple easy fords.

We set up camp along a tributary to the west, next to a pretty little stream with a small waterfall.

The next morning at breakfast, a bull moose walked right across the top of the waterfall. It was a beautiful sight.

Day two involved a fairly monotonous hike to Blue Rock Provincial Park and up Junction Creek Valley. Getting to the Junction Creek trail, however, involved a thigh-deep ford of the Sheep River, and with a strong current, it was not to be taken lightly. En route to the Waterfalls Valley turnoff, we walked past an old dam, created to ease the passage of logs down a rough stretch of creek, and an old sawmill site. The hike became steep as we gained the subalpine of Waterfalls Valley, and we found a perfect camp site on a bench overlooking the valley.

The next morning, the visibility was low, and rain looked imminent.

We navigated to what we expected to be the head of the valley but without being able to see the the col, we just started climbing in the direction of our compass bearing. All I can say is thank goodness for a brief break in the fog; we got turned around for a while until we were able to locate the small break in the ridge to access the descent to Picklejar Lakes. For a few moments as I shivered and we struggled to find our bearings, I was getting pretty nervous. The point was also driven home that clear decision-making is more difficult when you're soaking wet and shivering. Anyway, we discovered our location, wondered how the hell we got there, but were glad to be sure of our route. The scree descent was very steep, and a lot of fun. The rest of the hike out Lantern Creek was uneventful, other than meeting a surprising number of unprepared day-hikers in ponchos and running shoes, slipping and shivering in the cool rain.

I'm not sure how best to rate this hike. There are sections of well-maintained trail and sections of route-finding. And to borrow from the Copeland's rating system, I would say that some sections are "premier" (Mist Ridge and upper Junction Creek to Picklejar Lakes), and some would be rated "don't do" (Sheep River and lower Junction Creek). The fords added some adventure, as did the route-finding in the fog. In summary, I'd say this hike is definitely worthwhile in the early summer before the bigger Rockies objectives are in good condition. The "new Rockies Classic" as Explore Magazine claims? Meh.


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