Return to Cox Hill
Date Walked: 15th May 2012
Distance: 8.5 miles (13.8km)
Actual Ascent: 2687ft (819m)
Time Taken: 5.5 hours
Cox hill was one that got away in March this year when I had to turn back due to snow. Obviously such things nag away at you and a return was needed to get rid of the nagging.
I assumed that the previous two week heatwave we had enjoyed had thinned out the snow sufficiently and I was so confident that I put on my new lightweight summer boots, lightweight trousers and T-shirt then headed off to Dawson Campground just off the Powderface Trail which links to Highway 68 22km South of the Trans Canada Highway.
The car park was empty and free of snow and ice in stark contrast to the last time I was here. Looking at the hills as I drove up I could see some snow up top but a good distance away from the start point. I had no snow kit with me anyway, I was dressed for summer and determined to have a nice hike in lightweight gear for the first time this year.
the now familiar bridge was easy to find this time and the river below was bustling through with fresh melt water
I was soon climbing up and out of the dark green valley and making excellent time on the good firm trail
it was nice to stay within the trees sheltered from the incessant beating of the sun, humidity was only 24% today and the dry air raked at my throat as I quaffed huge quantities of water on the ascent.
from a clearing I can see the snow covered top of Cox Hill and find myself wondering just how far I'll get before reaching the snow this time
every open area in the forest had a lovely covering of delicate mountain flowers in bloom adding a splash of colour at random intervals
I reached the point where I'd turned back last time before finding any snow, I didn't expect it to be this low down and I still had quite a lot of ascent to go but there would be no turning around this time, I'd got this far in good time and had plenty of time to make it the rest of the way
the trail was clearly laid out with the footprints of others but one step off these prints and it was down to the knee immediately, suffice to say the new lightweight summer boots were dripping wet in no time...worse still they began to chafe on both heels
the path (such as it was) became almost unusable after a while with thigh deep slumps and constant 'break through and sink' events draining my energy I decide to take a much more aggressive line up the mountain and set off toward a pile of rocks poking out of the side of the hill
when I reached the rocks I stopped to apply some heel plasters before continuing, it was no fun putting soaking wet boots and socks back on after they had cooled down in the mountain air, but at least I had good quality wool socks and my feet were soon warm again. As I sat enjoying a short rest I was joined by a little chipmunk
he stayed about 2 minutes before making a mad dash down the mountain, skidding along the top of the snow
just a short way ahead now I see a summit cairn which turns out to be one of two up here so I visit both
at the second cairn I stop for lunch and take in the incredible sight of mountains stretching away into the distance layer upon layer, the closest and seemingly highest one on the left of shot is Moose Mountain another planned target of mine for later in the year.
it's surprising what a viewpoint at 7300 feet will show you, down the other side of the mountain is lush snow free forest and ledges
a shot in any direction gives the same outlook of layer upon layer of beautiful mountains still sporting a winter coat in the higher areas
to the left is the same string of wondrous hills, with the snowline around 6500 feet (I think) it will be a while before those 'big guns' can be reached
behind me and down the western flank of the mountain looks much easier, snow free walking and I begin hatching a plan for a circular route avoiding the ascent route and its snowmageddon pathway altogether
I take a last look around the beauty of the summit scene before heading off in a North-Westerly direction toward the planned snow free route. As always in the mountains there were a few surprises, a couple of scrambles and vertical drops from hidden ledges; at one point I had to trust the snow drifted against the rocks and use it as a cushion as I hung and then dropped off a ledge using it to break my descent. The ledge in the shot below actually almost cut back under itself and scrambling down it was followed by one of those run/walks down the slope to the relative safety of a lower section.
from a lower ledge I could see the route in and planned myself a route out as I had now virtually committed to going this way. The map showed a stream running between me and an unnamed hill I worked out I could follow the ridge through the trees, pick up the stream and follow it down Powderface Trail which I could see from my vantage point. The shot below shows where the car is parked in a gap behind the hills shown with the arrow, the small red dots to the right show the route in and to the left my planned route out.
hiking the snow free ledge in the forest was great and it broke out occasionally showing the beautiful views across the valley and the deep carpet of trees which suddenly remind me of the bear potential around here.....yikes
it was nice to reach the shade of the trees once again though I didn't realise I'd be stepping over fallen trees for the next 2km, after a while its almost as bad as the snow. Everything that moves in here is a bear until proven otherwise making the senses really sharpen for the passage through the forest
there are a number of locations in the forest where huge piles of destroyed pine cones are heaped under trees but not the 'cores' and scales as usually attributed to squirrels just heaps of scales and for the piles to be so deep there must be thousands of pine cones scattered there, I can't help but wonder what does this.
after a strenuous but enjoyable hike down through the forest and along the ice covered stream disturbing dozens of deer along the way I finally break out onto clear ground in a small meadow
the stream has now joined another to make a deep fast moving river, I turn right and head downstream seeking a crossing point, not too concerned as I know back at the car park there is a bridge
with about 1km to go I come across a huge landslide that prevents me continuing, going up and over would be damn hard as the bank there was very steep and would require a hands on scramble (which I didn't have the energy/inclination for) I tried crossing the slide but it was far too mobile. In the end I thought 'to hell with it' I'm 1km away from the truck, so I just stepped into the river boots an all and steady waded across picking my way using my walking poles for balance, the rocks were slippery so it was a slow process and on exiting the far side my legs were frozen from the knees down.
less than a hundred yards later I was on the Powderface Trail warming up in the beautiful sunshine as I made the last km to the car park with a smile on my face and squelchy boots.