The Mesa Grind route up Mesa Butte is the usual trail up this oft-climbed foothill with its fabulous panorama.
We parked at the trailhead and put on our trusty microspikes. A few metres in, at the well gate, we met a hiker just returned from the summit who spoke of a viciously cold cross wind on the open upper ridge.
Based on his report we decided to forgo the usual route and take the direct way to the top from behind the well site. The going-up slope left of the draw was easy: snowy aspen woodland thinning to meadow with only the occasional snow patch. Best of all, it was well-sheltered from the northwesterly blast by a thick swath of conifers.
This led straight to the prayer flags on the west side of the summit plateau, just a few minutes walk away from… the summit picnic table. Something new for 2018! We picked up a wine bottle top and after donning extra clothing headed off down Mesa Grind, the normal south ridge route.
Down at the junction with Curley Connector, there is the option of returning to your car via Mesa Grind trail. But the sky was suddenly blue and we swore the sun had some warmth to it; reason enough to prolong the hike. So we followed the lovely Curley Connector over the ridge to the south and down to the next gap where one connects with Curley Sand trail.
Not having two vehicles, Tony elected to walk 1.4 km back up the highway to the car. “Pick you up somewhere near North Fork Campground,” he said on leaving. I carried on over the last ridge traversed by Curley Sand trail, winding out of spooky dark forest into sunny aspen woodlands along the ridge top, the grasses glowing orange in the last rays of the sun that was swiftly being overtaken by a menacing band of black cloud coming my way.
At the far end viewpoint It was tempting to drop off the ridge through bare meadow, but I dutifully stuck to the snowy trail in trees to its left. Before hitting the big meadow opposite North Fork Campground, which I knew would be drifted in, I snuck out to the highway where Tony, anticipating my move, had been waiting for a half hour…
By this time the moon was up, huge and blue. Unfortunately by the time of the lunar eclipse in the early hours of Wednesday morning the clouds had moved in and it was snowing. It has been snowing on and off ever since so you may have to wait awhile before emulating this most enjoyable half-day route.
Getting there: Hwy. 549. Start: 4.3 km beyond the K Country boundary, park at the bottom of the Pengrowth well road. Finish: Park either near the 4-way with the cleared well road and uncleared North Fork Campground road 750 m in from the boundary or in the small parking area just north of the closed Ware Creek Road (signed Gorge Creek Trail).
Total distance, including Curley Sand is 6.3 km if you take Mesa Grind trail to summit. This requires two vehicles, otherwise you’re in for a 3.6 km road walk back to your car.
Conditions: This is a low snow area. Grassy slopes facing west and south are often bare. Trails are all hard packed and ideal for microspike walking. Junctions have red triangular signs giving trail names and distances.