Where on earth is Bens Hill you ask? It’s the hill east of Prairie Mountain, only 1000 feet lower than Prairie with an open summit and a stone circle on top. Really it’s the continuation of Prairie’s east ridge. It’s laced with bike trails, both DHS and multi use, built by the MMBTS (Moose Mountain Bike Trail Society), that are well on their way to being government approved and in time will have signposts at all junctions.
At this time of year the south-facing ridge trails: Pistolero, Loamzilla, Flo’s Diner and UShoulda are ideal for winter walking. A couple of weeks ago when we wanted a workout we chose Down Hill Specific( DHS) Loamzilla as the up trail and multi-use Pistolero as the down trail to make a loop. It actually makes more sense to go the other way round and will be when the lower end of of Pistolero is rerouted onto Elbow Valley trail.
Start: Hwy. 66 at the winter gate or in Elbow Falls parking lot and get onto Elbow Valley trail heading east. When the gate is closed it’s easier to walk up the road and at the first draw to the east of Prairie Mountain follow a side trail onto Elbow Valley trail. Incidentally, the glitch on Elbow Valley trail which led to the side trail in the first place, has been fixed by the MMBTS, so after the the gate is open you will also be able start from Beaver Lodge parking lot.
Loamzilla starts from the top of the hill east of the second side draw. The first part is easy going with the odd short uphill after the trail enters the snowy draw. At the forks, hikers divert from the bike trail that plunges over a rock band — the DHS bit. While it is followable in the uphill direction, I don’t care for beaver slide trails as James C calls them, so at WP558389 most of us follow flagging to the right into a side draw. Above a crag spanning the bed of the side draw, a narrow trail heads diagonally left up the left hillside (fallen tree to step over at the beginning) to a break in the rock band at flagging. A cairn marks the spot on the bike trail.
From here, the final third of Loamzilla climbs relentlessly upwards — it’s the get fit bit — to the junction with Pistolero. Turn left and in 400 flat metres arrive in the summit meadow. Prairie blocks the view to the west, but to the southwest is a far ranging view of Front Range peaks.
The trail continues west towards Prairie Mountain through a deeper snow area on a col, then after a short uphill heads down a broad south ridge. The going is fast and very easy, even flat. Low down do not follow the trail over the left edge into the second draw where it meets Loamzilla. Stay on the ridge. Bushwhacking is effortless through open forest all the way out to Elbow Valley trail. The only thing I would add is “keep on the left side.” On Elbow Valley trail turn right and in draw no. 1 follow the side trail out to the highway.
The good weather is supposed to continue for a week yet, so the ridges will likely remain snow free.
Distance: 7 km, Height gain: c.1400 ft. (427 m), High point: 6300 ft. (1920 m)