Bull Creek Hills

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The Bull Creek Hills are a collection of hills and ridges at the entrance to the Highwood Valley.
This area is often in good hiking condition earlier and far later than much of Kananaskis, and makes for great fall hiking.
On this day we were lucky enough to have a mix of sun and clouds all day - while observing some pretty major storms on the Mist and High Rock Ranges to the west.
We started from the east side, which means we first go up and over a small ridge, then dip into the creek valley behind, and emerge at the base of the hill.

Looking across the road to our starting point.

The path heads uphill in open forest.

Typical trail for much of the day.

Looking ahead from the top of the small ridge.

The creek valley between the ridge and the eastern Bull Creek Hill behind.

Once across the creek valley, the trail opens into a meadow, at which point the trail heads climber's left to reach the base of the ridge.
The trail tends to hide within the meadow, and this is one of the areas where the route can be a little uncertain. When in doubt, going up leads to the trail.
The route then heads up the face of the eastmost hill, on a variety of paths and tracks. The hiking is straightforward, though unrelentingly steep.

Gate into the meadow.

Laurier and Jeff make their way through.

A bit of a path heads towards the tree tunnel.

The trail contours around and up.

Looking up at our first hill.

Jeff and Laurier take a water break.

The base of the hill and start of steep ascent.

Jeff and Laurier hiking up a section of trail.

Mixed terrain on the ascent.

The route mostly follows the ridge line.

Looking back to the first little ridge.

The path leads straight up.

Near the top, the route traverses to climber's right to reach the far skyline, then switchbacks up from there.
The route is mostly through trees in the top section, but there's a clear route, and they're fairly open.
We emerge from the trees near the top for the final ascent along the ridge.

Traversing the hillside.

A look upslope from the far east ridge.

The view west of the rest of the hills.

Decent trail heads into the forest.

Good trail along this section.

Looking back down the east ridge.

We reach the summit of the east hill! The route breaks out of the trees for a great view.

At the east summit, we stopped for some food, and to enjoy the view, though had to duck off the edge for it.
It was a very windy day, and we definitely needed more layers when exposed to the west.
From the east summit, the route becomes quite clear - we head along the high ridgeline to the west across the other high points.
The route ducks below treeline on the low points, but is largely clear on the grassy windwards sides of the ridgetop.

Laurier takes the fun route instead of going around.

Laurier getting in some climbing.

Typical ridgeline terrain.

There are small trees all along the way.

Jeff takes a look back at the east summit.

Storms in the mountains to the west.

Survey marker on the top of the high hill.

Jeff and Laurier take a break below the ridge to avoid the wind.

Full pano from the top of the highest hill, centred on the view to the west. Our route continues just left of middle, while our ascent route is directly behind.

A dry Holy Cross mountain.

Junction Mountain to the NW.

From the summit, there are a number of possible route choices. Of course one is to return the way you came. Possible, but not the most interesting.
The common way to finish the loop is to descend to Grass Pass, west of the top, and then head south down the Grass Pass trail.
There are also a number of other connecting ridges, so that many different loops and combinations can be created.
We started out down the trail towards Grass Pass, but stopped at the hilll overlooking it.

Looking down to Grass Pass.

Jeff starts down the trail.

Clear trail heads down to the Pass.

A look down the creek valley to the road.

The view back along the ridgetops.

Trail through a section of forest.

On the ridge east of Grass Pass stands the well-known Boundary Pine. I wanted to check out the tree, so we started down that ridge.
We didn't end up locating the tree on this trip, but decided to continue down this ridge to the end, rather than heading down to Grass Pass.
The initial walking was easy along the grassy ridge, except for the wind. The wind had been strong all day, but as we moved south, we lost all protection.
Fully exposed to the wind, it was insanely strong. Thankfully, it was a strangely warm wind, or it would have been very painful.
As it was, it left us barely holding on to our hiking poles, and frequently stumbling left as we stood. It would have been unsafe on a narrow ridge.
A couple times we were also hit by a gust of snowflakes - despite being under sunny skies - as the wind carried them from the storms far to our west.

Piglet's summit shot on the western peak.

Looking down Boundary Pine Ridge.

Study spot on the ridge.

Looking back up to the hills.

A herd of cattle blocks our path through the trees..

Good trail towards the end of the ridge.

A rainbow lights up the valley below us.

Once we got to the end of the ridge, the easy walking was over. The ridge tapers steeply, and we descended its SW corner.
This was a mix of bits of game trail, short easy scrambling sections, and a couple short sections of bushwhacking.
The direction was quite simple, but routefinding skills definitely help to make this section easier.

Starting down into the trees.

A rocky step along the way.

Looking ahead to the final bushwhack.

Jeff hikes a more open area.

Jeff pushes through some shrubberies to make it the last little bit to the bottom.

Once you reach the road, it depends on how you set it up. This can be a good horseshoe if you have a car.
Otherwise, it's ~3km along the road back to the start. We mostly hiked the ditch path and finished up quickly for a great loop hike.

Laurier at the road.

Hiking back along the end of the road.

Photos taken by Rachel

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