Distance: 17 km
Elevation gain: 800 m View map Download GPS track
Mount Barwell is the quintessential hike in Alberta's foothills outside the park system: Oil wells, logging, bureaucracy, and lots of gun fire. I knew to expect most of this so it wasn't necessarily a surprise, but the bureaucracy affected us right from the start. You see, Mount Barwell has historically been accessed by driving along a dirt road and parking at an oil well. Unfortunately idiots started causing trouble (shooting guns, among other things) and the road was gated at the very beginning. An earlier sign apparently indicated the closure was due to crime, but the current signs try to discourage even hiking by stating the reason for the closure is flood damage. I knew this was BS as others have been there since 2013, and after a few minutes of pondering what to do I noticed that the road was PLOWED on the other side of the gate. So much for being washed out.
With little else to do in the area we considered just going home, but decided to bite the bullet (almost literally with all the gunfire around) and trudge along the road for 3.5 km to reach the original starting point. Ironically at the point where we were to leave the road a cutline as wide as as highway continued along, then converted back to another plowed road that continued to within less than 2 km of the summit. This wasn't exactly the nature walk I'd wanted, but at least it made travel fast and easy.
While the road, cutline, and trail were of course very easy to follow and in very good shape, the route itself undulated up and down quite a lot. The average loss/gain on each dip was perhaps only 25 m, but the cumulative effect was that we gained 800 m of elevation on a hike with only 500 m net gain. It was certainly a good workout! Unfortunately we weren't rewarded for this effort as the summit was entirely treed and afforded only a narrow view of Moose Mountain
to the north and Forgetmenot Ridge
to the west. I'd noticed on satellite imagery before the trip that there was an open area a short distance south of the summit and had planned to continue in that direction (or perhaps further west), but the energy and motivation for that had been sapped by the trudge along the road.
We returned to the truck the way we came, but the map does show many other possible return routes. I suspect those are probably far nicer than the road route we took and I'll probably be back to investigate those sometime in the fall, hopefully outside of hunting and/or random gun shooting season.