Distance: 15 km
Elevation gain: 690 m View map Download GPS track
Sandra and I were both suffering from annoying colds this weekend, but we’ve repeatedly found that sitting around indoors doesn’t help and often seems to prolong them. Instead we decided to head out for a very easy hike up High Noon Hill and Sandy McNab Hill in Sheep River country. With no continuous ascent greater than 100 m I figured we’d both be able to handle it in our current states, albeit at a much slower pace than usual.
These two destinations are described in Volume 4 of the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide and we followed the directions in the guidebook to the usual parking location, then picked up a trail heading into the open forest, reaching a gate in a barbed wire fence a short distance from the road. From here we followed a good trail through light forest and a few meadows before arriving at the top of the first hill, just 1.3 km from the truck. The view was surprisingly nice, but it was clear that the sunny skies we’d briefly had when we started had unfortunately been an anomaly.
Judging that the trail descended too far from this summit we forged our own easy way down, briefly picked up the main trail again, then started heading up the summit to the east, again off-trail. We scared up a small herd of deer at this point, ironically as I stared at the evergreen forest and said “that’s where the deer will be hiding”. The going remained easy and the forest, when we weren’t in one of the many meadows, was wide open.
We were surprised and a bit dismayed to find a fence and “No Trespassing” signs blocking our way just before this summit, but it did explain the peculiar linear trail in the guidebook that in retrospect clearly followed the property line. Unable to continue along the ridge as planned we turned our attention to Sandy McNab Hill, further to the east and separated from us by Long Prairie Creek. The route in the guidebook required backtracking to the low point between the two High Noon Hill summits before crossing the creek, but a more direct approach seemed feasible and so we set off hiking towards where the creek intersected the Sheep River.
This route worked just fine until we reached the creek, where we unfortunately discovered it was in a very steep gorge that was impossible to cross. Instead of backtracking we hiked along the high bank of the creek until we reached the recommended crossing point, easily crossed the tiny frozen creek, then picked up an old snowshoe track heading through the forest. A few inches of crusty snow hid any conclusive sign of a trail for most of the way, but the forest was open and travel was easy even without the snowshoe track.
After just 700 m of travel through the forest – by far the longest stint of the day – we reached a vast meadow above the north bank of the Sheep River. We followed this to the base of Sandy McNab Hill and slowly plodded up, had lunch on a minor subpeak, then continued to the main summit. Views were again quite nice for such a lowly hill and the open forest and meadow encouraged us to continue to a more westerly summit a few hundred meters away. This involved a few short ups and downs that were taxing for us today, but the added dose of scenery was worth it.
From the western highpoint of Sandy McNab Hill we turned and started back, but contoured around both Sandy McNab Hill and the first High Noon Hill to avoid unnecessary elevation gain. This worked very well and we were soon back at the truck. At 15 km and a cumulative 690 m elevation gain, these two hills were a pretty good workout for two people who couldn’t breathe properly!