Zenfolio | Matthew Clay | Mackay Hills, Sept. 10, 2017
Visitors 41
62 photos

Distance: 18 km
Elevation gain: 1470 m
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I’ve had my eye on the Mackay Hills as an easy fall hike for several years now, but damage to the lengthy approach route from the 2013 flood had discouraged me from hiking there. Recently, however, a route that avoided nearly all the damage and shortened the approach was published, and with the fall colors starting to show up I figured it would make a great hike for today.

We followed the directions from Autumn Sky, parking at Wedge Pond and picking up a very good trail climbing to the ridge below The Wedge. In the cool, clear morning – perhaps the first morning like that in over a month – we were able to make quick work of the ascent, and reached the larch forest along the upper ridge in a bit over an hour. The drought from this year has caused the larches to turn yellow weeks earlier than usual, and the larches along this ridge were no exception. Discouragingly, however, many of them had already dropped their needles, some without even having changed to yellow.

We slowed down considerably at this point, settling into a slow and relaxed pace for our traverse of the three hills. The scenery was fantastic and it was literally a breath of fresh air to be able to see mountains near and far; the omnipresent smoke of the summer had blown out the night before. It was also cool – another rarity in a summer that has been sweltering, often 10 degrees or more above average – and we even had to use the jackets we’ve been carrying for the entire summer!

The traverse of the west and center peaks was straightforward and easy, although the ascent of the center peak looked quite intimidating from far away. We stuck to the ridge and found only very minor scrambling was required, and all areas that might be considered difficult to a hiker could be easily detoured around. The rolling grassy hills, vast mountain panorama, and the fall colors made it a very enjoyable and scenic hike, and we seemed to arrive at the eastern summit far too soon.

After a leisurely lunch it was time to head down. I had a GPS track with me from Autumn Sky which descended east from the hill to connect up with a horse trail running along the north side of the hills, but I figured it would be quicker to descend roughly north. A band of larch trees existed along this route and I thought it would make the hiking colorful and easy too. This was indeed the case for a short distance, but after about 100 m of descent the forest started to thicken, all animal trails disappeared, and we found ourselves bushwhacking and climbing over deadfall for the next 200 m of descent before we intersected the horse trail. This route down was rather unpleasant, and so I’d recommend heading off the hills via the published route.

The horse trail dramatically improved travel, and while it was in rough condition where we intersected it, it soon smoothed out and made for very quick travel, depositing us on the bank of Evan Thomas Creek after about an hour of hiking along it. Sandra took quite a while to cross, eventually debooting and wading through the ankle-deep water, and just after she finished putting her boots back on a cow moose walked down the same trail we’d just come from! She looked at us and slowly retreated as I snapped a few photos, then we started slowly along the trail. Once we’d left the creek bank she came down the trail and trotted along the riverbed a short distance.

Then things got momentarily dangerous! While we were walking away the moose decided that she wanted the trail, not the creek bed, and when I briefly turned around I saw the moose trotting very quickly towards us on the narrow trail, and only about 10 m away! I plowed into the thick brush by the side of the trail and yelled at Sandra to do the same, and the very large (and insane) moose moved quickly by. I’d have expected this from a bull moose this time of year, but in an area where moose can be hunted this was very odd behavior from a cow moose!

We waited until she was out of sight, then continued, ascending out of the creek bed to the former Evan Thomas fire road. An easy and quick hike along the roadbed then brought us to the Wedge Connector trail, which we followed back to our car at Wedge Pond. It was an excellent day in the mountains, and while I haven’t hiked the usual route up Mackay Hills, the only issue with this route was my inventive descent of the eastern hill, which I’m quite sure has better options.

Categories & Keywords
Category:Lifestyle and Recreation
Subcategory Detail:Hiking
Keywords:Kananaskis, Mackay Hills, hiking, scrambling