Distance: 23.5 km
Elevation gain: 1120 m View map Download GPS track
Not quite ready for hiking in the snow, Sandra and I decided to head north to the Ya Ha Tinda for our hike today. Alison Sekera
, whom we’d met two weeks ago on Little Temple, decided to join us.
We left our house at 5:25 am, and after picking up Alison, arrived at the small parking lot next to Bighorn Campground in the Ya Ha Tinda at 8:25. The road beyond the campground was under construction, and so after crossing the bridge next to the parking lot we turned right and headed up into the meadows on a good trail. Our two choices for peaks today – Wellsite Mountain and Hat (Sheep) Mountain – were visible from this vantage point and after a short discussion we decided to head for Wellsite Mountain. With no real obstacles in the way we aimed directly for it and set off across the vast meadows. [Upon returning to the parking lot in the afternoon we noticed an old sign indicating that this area was off-limits. There were not, however, any other signs or indications that this was the case.]
Halfway to the base of the mountain we came across a large herd of elk with at least two bulls bugling and presumably preparing to fight. I’ve heard elk before, but being this close in the forest (as opposed to a town) was novel and was a highlight of the day for me.
After about 6 km of easy hiking through meadows and patchy forest we arrived at the treed base of Wellsite Mountain. While a few roads and trails continued to the north at this point and would’ve taken us to our preferred ascent route, we chose to take a more direct route and so set off into the forest. There was a fair bit of deadfall along this route, but none of it was problematic, and we soon found ourselves on an old road below the steep and burned southeastern slope of the mountain.
At this point we were faced with the crux (still very easy) of the entire day: A short scramble from the road onto the main slope. Alison went straight up, but I poked around for a minute looking for an easier way for Sandra. [We found on return that further east would’ve been dead easy.] A long grind up the steep grassy slope of the old burn then brought us to a gentler section below the southeastern end of the summit plateau, where we stopped for a quick snack before continuing.
A cold wind greeted us when we reached the southeastern edge of the vast summit plateau, and the ensuing 2 km walk (with 200 m of gentle ascent) to the true summit forced us to put on nearly every piece of clothing we had in an effort to stay warm. The summit was so vast and flat I needed my GPS to confirm the actual highest point, and while the views were novel and quite nice in every direction, the cold prevented us from exploring the entire plateau.
We retreated the way we’d ascended, with the only difficulty once again being the short descent to the old road where we again had to search a bit to find a good way down. A long drive back to Calgary with a stopover at the Burger Baron in Sundre for food (ok, but not great), then concluded another great day of fall hiking!