It may be Spring in the foothills, but there’s still skads of snow in the Smith-Dorrien. Right now is a really good time for snowshoeing, the base has firmed up and the snow isn’t yet isothermal (wet from top to bottom), though it’s getting there.
Recently we’ve been looking at the snowshoe possibilities of the High Rockies Trail between Buller Creek and Black Prince. Judging by all the trail breaking we’ve had to do, few others have cottoned on to the fact that the HRT’s single track makes snowshoeing so much more enjoyable than the logging road plods farther down the road at the official Sawmill snowshoe trails. On the downside, the HRT being a linear trail means you need vehicles at either end of your chosen point-to-point if you don’t want to walk Hwy.742 back to your starting point, hoping at every muddy step that some motorist will stop and give you a lift.
If you go, aim for a blue sky day because the mountain views are magnificent. However, avoid very hot days, when there is danger of slushy snow from steep slopes above sluffing down onto the trail. Of particular concern are the very steep slopes just south of the bridge over Engadine Creek. For maps see the HRT Centre and HRT South maps
The most obvious point-to-point is the 8.3 km long Buller to Rummel trek starting from Buller Mountain day use access road. All 2.4 km of the Rummel Lake trail down to the highway will likely be packed so this is a good way to end the day.
You can also extend the trek to Chester Lake parking lot for a distance of 12.9 km, 1.6 km of it packed when you hit the Chester Lake trails. If you take this longer option, finding the connecting trail to Chester is problematical under snow. That’s because on reaching Rummel Lake trail, you will likely be descending uphill tracks on that big open slope that go nowhere near the HRT. Either download the HRT track log or make for important trail junction GR176332.
Another alternative is Rummel to Chester at 8.7 km. (Both ends packed for a total distance of 3.6 km). Again, you’ve got to find junction 176332. Incidentally, like the Rummel Lake trail, the Engadine Burn access on the north bank of Engadine Creek is another way off or on the HRT. While only 700 m in distance, it’s a steep calf burner used mainly by alpine skiers and by more advanced snowshoers heading to Rummel Ridge.
Highlights for me: the crossing of five finger burns on the west flank of Mount Engadine which give views of Mount Assiniboine; the crossing of Engadine Creek valley, that without regular traffic can be a little challenging; Rummel Creek bridge, plastered with snow gargoyles; the exceptional ridgetop view from Rummel Lake trail; the environs and view from the traverse midway between Rummel and Chester.
Going south, I’d give the Sawmill snowshoe trails a miss, (I still believe they make better ski trails, with the exception of Sawmill Loops.) The HRT follows Frost Heave then Grauple and it’s at the south end where it diverges from Grauple for a short distance enabling you to make a lollipop loop from Sawmill of 7.7 km. However, you are still following logging roads with just two very small sections of single track.
Going south from Sawmill parking lot to Hwy. 742 at Black Prince trailhead access road is 6.2 km. It starts off on the single track HRT, then runs along the old red ski trails (logging roads) a way before reverting to single track and climbing. At 2 km reach the high point and highlight at the scary bridge as we call it. At least it was very scary last summer before the hand rails went in, because on the downslope there is a vertical drop in the creekbed, and very steep slopes all around. So it was interesting to see that in winter the snow on the bridge was almost up to the handrails. Ha ha. After that the rest is mostly downhill through less vertiginous slopes.
Next winter, going south from Black Prince, we can look forward to crossing the 230 ft-long suspension bridge across Blackshale Creek!
Note to winter walkers: While you may be able to walk on the trails early in the morning, assuming they freeze overnight, you will be post-holeing later in the day without snowshoes.