Distance: 15.5 km
Elevation gain: 625 m View map Download GPS track
The Strawberry Hills are a series of small hills to the west of Highwood Junction. While the name implies they would make for a very nice (tasty?) hike in the early summer, we figured they'd make also make a great winter hike for Sandra's birthday.
We parked just south of the Highwood River bridge on highway 940 and started hiking west on the Fitzsimmons Creek trail. The trail was packed and icy and we wore microspikes for the entire hike. While quite boring to begin with, the trail soon neared the creek and a series of former beaver ponds that were blasted out by the flood of 2013. The view north from here was surprisingly nice and meadows and breaks in the trees from this point forward kept the views coming until we were fully above treeline on the hills.
What I didn't fully anticipate was that by heading west we would also be heading closer to the divide and much deeper snow. Thankfully the trail had been packed by snowmobiles and snowshoers, but as we neared the hills the prospect of leaving the trail to ascend through knee deep snow had me reconsider our route up the hills. Instead of gaining the hills from the east as planned I decided to head up the west side of the ridge of the hill furthest west on the assumption that it would be mostly windswept. This plan looked like it would work wonderfully as we intercepted an old packed trail just east of the ridge I planned to ascend, but it ended up wandering all over the place and I soon abandoned it and began wading through crusty sugar snow. After a bit of quality suffering I glimpsed a dry ridge to the east and headed straight for it, using a series of animal trails to make the going a bit easier.
We followed this dry ridge to the summit of what might best be called the center peak of Strawberry Hills. The views from this summit were great, but we decided to head to the more westerly summit anyway, reasoning that at just 500 m distant it wouldn't be all that hard. This turned out to be a bit of a silly assumption as those 500 m involved post-holing up to our knees most of the way, but we did make it and after a brief stay started down the windswept ridge of this peak. This was the ridge we'd wanted to ascend in the first place and it was dead easy until just before we reached the trail. The point at where it connected up was marked by flagging and I'd wanted to head up there, but the open aspen forest at this exact point meant the snow was terribly deep and from the trail it just hadn't looked all that appealing. I've got to stop looking for the perfect route and just go with what my gut says!
There was tons of wildlife sign along this entire hike, but the only living creatures we saw were four mule deer. More interesting were the huge wolf tracks in 12-hour old snow we crossed on several occasions.