Distance: 16 km
Elevation gain: 825 m View map Download GPS track
Today Sandra and I headed to the Ya Ha Tinda for a long hike up The Hat, a southern peak of Hat Mountain. Also known as Top Hat Mountain or Sheep Mountain and sometimes erroneously as Hat Mountain, this peak entered my radar a few years ago when I spied it from Evangeline Peak
. With gentle slopes leading all the way to the summit my plan had been to simply head directly up it, but a report
from this past spring indicated there was a trail all the way to the top and so we decided to follow this presumably easier, but more circuitous, route instead.
We arrived at the Bighorn parking area about 15 minutes before sunrise. There wasn’t a cloud in sight, but it was also -20 C, a bit colder than we’d expected. After crossing the bridge over Bighorn Creek we turned right onto a trail and started hiking due north towards The Hat through the vast meadows of the Ya Ha Tinda. A herd of horses, either wild or belonging to Banff National Park, kept a close eye on us and momentarily distracted us from the spectacular scene unfolding as the first rays of sun hit the mountain peaks.
About 2.8 km from where we parked the road entered forest and curved westward. A few hundred meters later a road peeled off to the right and we followed this for about 1.5 km until we reached a large cutblock. The crusty sugar snow was about a foot deep here and I lost the trail for a few hundred meters, but picked it back up as we re-entered the forest. A pack of wolves howling and vocalizing on the south slope of The Hat kept us entertained during this rather boring stretch, and cougar tracks, albeit a few days old, kept us a bit on edge.
We followed the trail as it headed west, gently ascending the southwest slope of The Hat. The trail was partially covered in icy snow, but we got by without spikes. At a small meadow the trail we were following intersected another trail and we turned north to follow it. It was a bit steep to start, but quickly became quite gentle. As the incline decreased, however, the snow depth increased and trailbreaking through the crusty sugar snow became increasingly strenuous. Eventually we lost the trail amid a maze of minor animal trails, but navigation remained easy and the bushwhacking very light.
After nearly 2 km of breaking trail we reached a windblown false summit, then endured a short section of even worse trailbreaking before we reached the windblown slope of the summit block. The final ascent was easy and we were soon enjoying the spectacular view from the top. It was a bit breezy, however, and with the temperature hovering around -10 C we soon retreated back to the forest and made a small campfire to keep warm while we ate lunch.
On our way back down we were quite surprised to encounter the tracks of another human or two just below the false summit. The Hat isn’t very well known at all, so to have two groups on it today was unusual.
Lower down, at the small meadow we’d passed through on our way up, we continued on the trail we’d intersected on our ascent. It didn’t quite go where I wanted it to, so after losing most of the elevation on the trail we did a bit of easy bushwhacking to reconnect up with our ascent route. An easy walk back to the truck and a short detour to see Bighorn Falls then concluded another amazing winter hike!