Distance: 20 km
Elevation gain: 1250 m View map Download GPS track
Summer has finally arrived in the Rockies! For a week it’s been warmer, drier, and sunnier than for most of the summer and that was not something we were going to let go to waste. The only problem was the forecast wind of >100 km/h at elevation, but by staying relatively low I figured we’d manage well enough. Our destination was Zephyr Creek and some hills to the east of it, an area we’ve never explored before.
Our hike started with a windy and cold ford of the Highwood River, just downstream of the former Sentinel day use area. We had a hard time finding the best place to cross as the strong wind churned the surface of the river and made it impossible to judge the depth more than a few feet from shore. Eventually I decided on a spot where the water appeared to be moving slowly and started wading across. At points the water crept above my knees, and while this was technically safe in the gentle current, it froze more of my body than I was mentally prepared for!
Once Sandra was across we quickly made our way into the forest on the other side. A wide horse trail ran along the south bank and we followed it a short distance east, then followed an old road up a small hill to some meadows. An obvious trail then led us into the Zephyr Creek valley. We followed this excellent trail for 8 km through beautiful forest, passing a side trail to some indigenous rock art and scaring up a few grouse and a deer, before reaching Zephyr-Bear pass. The wind was gusty and fierce on the final approach to the pass and we didn’t linger long before heading up the ridge in a futile effort to find shelter behind the main ridge.
While we did find some shelter from the wind on the lee side of the ridge, it was near impossible to even stand in any open area where we might have been able to enjoy the wonderful view west. We decided to continue along the ridge and its various highpoints anyway, rationalizing that we’d get some relief from the wind in the forested patches and whenever we ended up on the east side of a highpoint.
From the initial northwest highpoint we’d reached from Zephyr-Bear pass we continued to the main summit 3 km further east, following the ridge as it undulated up and down. While I didn’t find a trail of any sort on the initial section of this traverse, we found and followed a good horse trail on the ascent of the false summit. For most of this traverse the forest was thicker than I’d expected and it was snowy on eastern aspects, but neither became an issue, and the few scrambly areas along the way were easy too. Unfortunately the wind remained a problem and at times we were unable to stand on the ridgecrest and could never relax and enjoy the view from the many open areas along the way.
After snapping some photos from the highpoint we retraced our steps to the false summit, then headed further north along the ridge, aiming to descend to the Highwood River from the far north end. A good horse trail led the way through most of the forested sections, but I kept losing it on the open rocky terrain and so we ended up bushwhacking a bit more than was likely necessary. In gentler winds this would have been a wonderful ridgewalk, but with the wind a steady 80 km/h or more the time we could’ve spent admiring the views was instead spent racing to the next potentially sheltered spot.
At the far end of the ridge we descended west towards a drainage and followed the horse trail and various game trails back to the Highwood River. We got a mild scare near the bottom of the ridge when we came across dozens of very recent bear diggings, but thankfully he’d either moved on or was scared away by our shouts. The forest along the river was beautiful and open and with the aspens in the area it would be a great place to visit in the early fall. I’ll definitely be back to explore this area further!