All those September hiking possibilities

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Ed McMackin

Ed McMackin

For some people, when September comes the hiking is done, but actually there are still possibilities for some great hiking before snow and freezing temperatures prevail.  As of September 9 there was snow on all four summits of the Sphinx Range, the highest being Sphinx Mountain (approx. 8580 feet elevation), right down to the East Saddle (approx. 7900 feet).  Of course there was snow on Snowcrest from its peak at about 9500 feet down to the southerly most saddle on its NW Arm (Ridge)  which is a bit less than 8000 feet.

On Thanksgiving Mountain, just north of Gray Creek Pass, Friday  morning’s sun had melted any  snow and/or no snow fell there.  Along the  shaded part of the trail from Gray Creek Pass (6800 feet) there was just a bit of frost.   Now,  if significantly  above-freezing, day-time  temperatures prevail, from  here on,  and there is no new snow,  the new high-elevation snow may disappear.   So, if good hiking conditions continue,  it seems practical to do the higher trails first, while conditions are favorable, and then do the lower elevation trails.  If you missed doing  that hike to Sphinx, Thanksgiving, or Haystack Mountain it can still be done.  Now remember that it will not likely be shirt-sleeve weather in them hills just because one is wearing a t-shirt at home.  Go prepared for any kind of  trail conditions!

A favorite fall hike is into Haystack Mountain.  About the time  you read this,  the larches around Haystack Lakes could possibly  have reached that golden yellow hue that is a favorite with many hikers.  When that happens depends on the amount of frost there has been.  Consider it an “extra” if the gold is reflected in the lakes.    The hike may be extended to the Saddle to the SW and then north,  along the rounded ridge to Haystack Summit.  Access to Haystack Lakes (approx. 5 hrs return) is by Sanca Creek Road.  Study the map, follow the main drag, look for  signs and go with someone who has been there before.

There is another colour change that has already happened in some areas.  This may be  where the inside of the needles on the trees have been eaten out by a very small insect larva called the larch case-bearer.   The leaves will turn  brown,  but it is only for a season.  The infestation  doesn’t appear to kill the tree.

Another favorite fall hike is up Thanksgiving Mountain.  From its 7760 foot top, one can get a great view of the Sphinx Range on a clear day, which includes, from west to east, Sphinx West, Sphinx (Mountain), Sphinx East 1 and Sphinx East 2.  All are over 8000 feet in elevation , with Sphinx  Peak at about 8580.   Slightly to the North West,  Loki can be seen in the  far distance.  To the SE  and  to the right of Burdett, Snowcrest Mountain  (about 9500 feet)  looms up showing what appears to be a double peak,  as well as  its SW and NW Arms.  Looking at it in an aerial photo reminds me of an octopus with arms going out in several directions.

Access to Thanksgiving Mountain is by the Gray Creek Pass Road (closed in the winter).   The trail goes north from the pass (6800 feet).  Follow ribbons marking  the route up through an open sub-alpine  (4 hours).

A bit of a longer hike is into Sphinx Mountain.  Access by Gray Creek Pass road (3/4 hrs drive). Continue over the pass, pass the yellow metal  gate posts,  to the first old road adjacent to a wide place on the left.    Look for flagging tape.   An hours hike over this old trail takes one to the trail head and  primary trail  to the West Saddle of  Sphinx.  Go 50  yards  or less, along the road, and to the NE, look for flagging tape and a bridge over the brook.  The  mostly dirt trail  (2 hrs) has been cleared of historic windfalls.  (Note the flagging in the open sub-alpine so as not to miss the same route down).  From the West Saddle,  at about 7740 feet, one can continue the hike by proceeding  up to the East to the top of Sphinx,  approx. 8580 feet and under 2 hours  hiking time, depending on number of stops,  weight of pack, and ability (which applies to all hiking endeavors).

When the snow comes down the mountains one can take to lower elevation valley hikes.  Pilot Peninsula  and Lockhart Creek Trails provide nice,  late fall hikes.  To the south are Creston area trails such as Lady Slipper, Balancing Rock-Fern Forest, Trans Canada Trail (West along Summit Creek) and Creston Mountain Trails and the Pack Trail on lower Mount Thompson. When you come to a trail, take it!