South Mist Hills
I doubt if a view more grand could be found on the South Mist Hills than what we saw on our trip. Below us stretched a blanket of mist broken only by sharp peaks that sought the sun. Rare is the climb where one gets to look down on a solid cloud cover.
The day held no promise when Zora, Sonny and I started out. A gray ceiling of persistent low cloud hung above the treetops at the Mist Creek trailhead. At our feet, a few yellow aspen leaves littered the ground, and along with a skiff of snow, they signalled fall. But as we hiked higher, the terrain transitioned to winter. Everything was covered in snow and frost. And the mist never cleared; we never saw anything beyond a few dozen metres.
When we reached the barren col between the east and west hills, we were disheartened by the lack of views. Instead of expansive mountain scenery, we saw only gray mist. We couldn't even make out the lower slopes of either hill right beside us.
With little enthusiasm, we set off up the east hill, the highest point in the South Mist Hills. Soon, though, a patch of blue appeared in the leaden sky overhead. Moments later, we emerged from the murky mist into bright sunlight, and climbed onto a little island in a sea of clouds.
After hiking for hours in fog, the grandeur was unexpected and welcomed. We gazed at the mountaintops soaring out of the clouds as we ate our lunch.
All good things must come to an end. Reluctantly, we left the sunlit summit and dropped down the mountainside, back to the col and back into the mist. Taking the suggestion in the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, we wanted to trace a loop. That meant ascending the west hill next and following the southeast ridge to Picklejar Creek trail. The trail comes out at the highway, a kilometre from our starting point.
After hiking up the west hill, we found the summit didn't quite break the cloud cover, so it lacked the views we had on the east hill. We didn't stay long. We started down the southeast ridge.
We didn't take the ridge all the way down, however. When we came to a gap in the ridge, we didn't climb up the other side. Instead, we kept low and followed a trail on the west side of the ridge. When the trail disappeared into a grassy slope, we made our way down to Picklejar Creek trail. By now, the clouds had begun to dissipate, giving way to blue sky. As we walked back along the highway to our car, I could plainly see the last summit we climbed. The mist had finally cleared from the South Mist Hills.
Starting up Mist Creek Trail
We took the right fork at the first junction
It's beginning to look a lot like winter
We took another right a the next junction
The trees thinned but the mist hid any sign of the col ahead
We arrived at the bleak col
We could see nothing of the east hill even though it rose 150 m above us
We were amazed to find blue sky above the summit
Behind us, Mist Mountain appeared above the mist
Sonny walks along the crest
Standing on the east hill
On our way down to the col, we were again enveloped in mist
Starting up the west hill from the col
We hiked up a road on the left side
After leaving the road we headed to our second summit
We saw many larches on our trip but they had lost most or all of their needles
On top of the west hill
Coming down the west hill, the summit is far left
Soon we'll be in trees
Instead of climbing up the other side of a break in the ridge, we kept low and followed a trail
Even under snow, the trail was obvious
150 m above Picklejar Creek trail, our trail petered out on a grassy slope
Coming down without the aid of a trail
On Picklejar Creek trail
Zora crosses the pavement of what was once Picklejar parking lot (mouse over for another view)
We passed a memorial for Rick Cross, a hunter killed by a bear
last year while hiking along Picklejar Creek trail
Back at the trailhead, the west hill is visible through the trees
82 J/10 Mount Rae
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