Distance: 9.5 km
Elevation gain: 785 mView mapDownload GPS track
With a rare perfect blue sky weather forecast we were eager to get out, but with a morning temperature of -27 C in Banff we needed something fairly easy and short; when it's that cold I don't like being too far from safety should something go wrong. We settled on Cat Creek Hills, a series of hills near Cat Creek that grant excellent views towards the Great Divide. The views wouldn't be all that different from those we had from Lineham Ridge
a week ago, but with fresh snowfall they'd still be quite nice.
We arrived at the trailhead at 9:30 and quickly started hiking to stay warm in the -24 C temperature, but almost immediately I discovered I had no idea where to go! I'd done a bit of research the night before, but the 2013 flood had destroyed any trails near the creek and the entire area is a maze of old roads and human and elk trails. With the freezing temperature I couldn't really stop to figure things out and so just started heading up, intersecting an old road that seemed to be heading in the right direction (this was after having crossed or followed 3 other roads!).
Here we met another group of hikers who were familiar with the area. They weren't quite going where we were going, but our initial paths were the same and I was more than happy to follow them and take the time to figure out how to get us on track. I knew there was supposed to be a newer trail marked by blue flagging exiting an old road that would take us up the ridge to the open slopes where getting my bearings would be much easier, and around the time I was starting to think we missed it, there it was! (Up until this point I wasn't even sure we were on "the" old road!). It was steep, but even with 15 cm of snow on the ground it was easy to follow.
From here forward navigation was easy. The trail disappeared near where the meadows began, but the route along the ridge to the highpoint was by now reasonably obvious. In fact, the entire route from the car would have been obvious had I not complicated it by trying to find and follow a trail or old road. I found "the right one" in the end, but following it certainly wasn't necessary. The forest is thin in most places and so simply heading up the path of least resistance and following ridges and elk trails would have lead me to the highpoint.
From the highpoint we had the option of heading back to the highway along another ridge, but we instead opted to retrace our steps and then take a steep shortcut back down to near Cat Creek. The options really are endless in this area and the open forest makes it relatively easy to explore. In fact, the group we met were planning to follow a ridge a bit further to the east of the highpoint we reached and exit to the east of Junction Hill. Ironically, this was the route I had originally traced out on a topo map, but had decided to go with the description in Gillean Daffern's Trail Guide instead. From our vantage it looked like a nicer and more adventurous route than what we did. I guess that may be an adventure for next year!