Distance: 10.5 km
Elevation gain: 670 m View map Download GPS track
It's rare that everything works out far better than expected on a hike, but that's exactly what happened to us today on Hell's Ridge. The forecast was calling for cloud all day complemented with snow showers in the afternoon and for nearly the entire drive out the clouds were just a few hundred meters off the ground, enveloping nearly every hill. It was miserable weather! Then, just a few kilometers from the trailhead, the skies mostly cleared. The place we'd chosen to hike had no low cloud, only moderate high cloud, and the sun was shining and it was reasonably warm! Not only that, but the weather continued to improve during the morning until it was plenty warm in the sunshine and that enabled us to have our first lunch in more than 6 months during which we didn't freeze. To top it off, the weather remained wonderful until about 15 minutes after we got back to the car, at which point we could see it snowing where we'd just been! Incredible luck!
That wasn't the only thing that worked in our favor today either. Reports on Hell's Ridge didn't exactly make it sound like a great place to hike ("we can say we went to Hell and back
", according to one), but we really liked it. Views were nice in all directions from several open bumps, the ridgewalk was long and easy, and the ascent gave us a bit of a workout too. Better still, the return route along the lower Etherington Creek trail was in fantastic shape (we'd heard it was washed out in areas) and made for an easy walk back to the car.
So where exactly is Hell's Ridge? It's the ridge to the east of the north end of Highway 940 (the gravel road heading south from Highwood Junction). I’d noticed it before from Raspberry Ridge
and Coyote Hills
and made a note to return to it at a later date, which I guess turned out to be today.
A bit of pre-trip research had indicated that while there were several ways to gain the ridge, crossing just south of where Etherington Creek crosses Highway 940 made the most sense as then we wouldn’t need to cross the creek ourselves. We found a nice pullout here in which to park, right across the highway from the Etherington Creek Recreation Area. From here we made our way up the slope via the path of least resistance, encountering some useful flagging marking a very faint trail about halfway up. The bushwhacking was moderate along this section and the final bit to gain the ridge was quite steep, but overall it wasn't too difficult. Once on the ridge we simply followed it north. It undulated up and down a lot, but each bump was small and none were steep. Initially there were only a few openings in the trees that granted great views west, but further south large grassy sections afforded wonderful views in all directions.
A bit past the last grassy bump we turned off the ridge and descended to the Lower Etherington Creek trail. The point where we left the ridge was marked by a cairn and in the few hundred meters before it there were no fewer than 9 firepits, several of which were ON the trail (campfires are great, but you're a total douche if you make one in the middle of the trail and leave a mess behind, FYI). The trail along the creek is actually an old road and it was in such good shape I'm sure I could've driven my Civic over long sections of it. A few very minor side streams have washed out a few feet of it, but the damage was insignificant. It made for an easy and enjoyable end to a surprisingly good day!
One last note: While we followed a few pieces of flagging on our ascent and found them useful, once we started the descent and all along the Etherington Creek trail there was a ridiculous amount of flagging. In one place I stood and counted 13 pieces! I have no idea what the purpose of all this was, but they were completely useless as route markers.