Out There: Highlights of summer hiking in the Kootenays

Columnist Ed McMackin writes about summer hikes on Meadow Mountain and Snowcrest Mountain...

Majestic Mount Cooper as seen from the reaches of Meadow Mountain west of Meadow Creek.

Majestic Mount Cooper as seen from the reaches of Meadow Mountain west of Meadow Creek.

It has been a rather unusual summer with hiking into two new mountain areas, with forest fire tragedies and with expeditions into the mountains being curtailed by forest fires and by forest fire “weather”.

The first high elevation hike was into the Haystack Lakes area, which was marked by my first sighting of a grizzly at close range, a memory with mixed emotions, both scary and entrancing. I like to make my presence known and I do this by occasionally slapping a hiking stick against the shrubbery or on tree trunks or by blowing a horn to saying “I’m here.” (This has less effect if by a roaring stream.) Well, I did this all the way into Haystack Lakes and when I entered the open meadows heading towards the lower saddle, because I could see for quite a distance, I quit making noises.

I spent sometime snooping around the meadows looking for and at plants, and then headed along the brookside meadow towards the saddle. Nearing the meadow adjacent to the steep trail going up to the saddle, I stopped and was poking at a plant with my hiking stick when my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a commotion in the open area ahead of me. I looked just in time to see a young mother grizzly whirl around leap over a log and head into the trees to my left. One cub beat her to it and the other cub was at her heels. I watched them go out of sight in the open forest but moments later saw the young mother standing in the woods looking at me, as if to say, “What is that?”

The one-season cubs, with silver hair down the back, were certainly cute. They could certainly move! I don’t recall the young lady even speaking to me. I initially had a hard time understanding why she let me get so close, less than 100 feet. But then I thought, she, being a young grizzly, may never have seen a human before and thus didn’t feel any immediate threat. Also, my sauntering gait certainly wasn’t aggressive. I didn’t see them again that day and neither a week later when 30 of us went up on Haystack to install a memorial plaque to Ralph Moore. The grizzly encounter, even though a bit scary, was an unexpected summer highlight. Thought of the camera (nor the bear spray) didn’t even cross my mind. But I have a memory!

The first of two hiking highlights of the summer was on the northwest arm of Meadow Mountain where I had never been before. Actually, the expedition was in two trips one week apart. A third trip, if time had allowed, might have more exploration. The expanse of open alpine interrupted by many shallow ponds and clumps of trees, provided panoramic vistas of surrounding mountains, including Mount Cooper, to the west, with all its glaciers.

The many varied habitats on the mountain provide specific requirements for many diverse species of plants and varied types of flowers. One pond-side meadow was white with a large crescent of solid cotton grass seedheads. Then there were thick clumps of river beauty whose flowers gave a striking pink hue to the landscape.

The second hiking highlight was an exploratory jaunt up unto the northwest ridge of Snowcrest Mountain. The aim of the trip was to check for a good route to some meadows on the other side of the ridge. (This is also a route to Snowcrest Peak.) Camp was made up Redding Creek Forest Service Road and then the next morning the ridge was accessed. We first considered the steep scree slope closer to the main Snowcrest route, but there was still smoke coming from small fires remaining from a forest fire a few weeks earlier. So rather than breath smoke, we chose a route up the wooded ridge that was accessed farther down Redding Creek road and upwind from the smouldering spot fires.

We avoided the smoke but unwittingly, on a portion of the ridge, ended up walking through of blackened forest, affectionately tagged as the “black forest”.

On much of the wooded ridge upward we followed a game trail that lead into open sub-alpine landscape with great views of the Redding Creek valley and surrounding mountains. On the ridge that leads to the final ascent of Snowcrest Mountain, we had lunch in sight of the north bowl of Snowcrest and two small alpine lakes below.

Weather one enjoys the whole hiking experience, flower colours, varied landscapes, mountain vistas or just good cardiovascular exercise, hiking on Meadow Mountain and its many reaches or on Snowcrest’s northwest ridge are excellent choices. However, the access to Snowcrest Mountain is far enough from Creston that it is better to camp the night before. The road along Redding Creek is good compared to the final part of the road up to Meadow Mountain, where it gets quite rough and made more difficult by the short steep sections. Four-wheelers go up there quite regularly. For anyone who wants to hike in a new area, there can still be some great hiking weather in October and even early November. Try out a new area!

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.


Creston Valley Advance