This is the story of two trips to Highway 549. The first was to check out reports of well roads being gated in an effort to stop Pengrowth’s well sites being used as shooting ranges. And it’s true. Gates have been installed by ministerial order (am I the only one who dislikes that term?) on the Mesa Butte access trails down by the highway. Just means we have to walk a little bit farther. No big deal there. However, the gate on the Threepoint Creek trail is another story. It is situated on the east side of the bridge over Threepoint Creek and means we can no longer drive to accesses 2 and 3 described on page 204 of volume 4. You’re gonna need a bike if you have any hope of getting to the great viewpoint on the Hogs Back trail.
So we parked in a pullout just before the gate and walked up the well road expecting flood damage as per a second sign, but there wasn’t any. We had just got to access 3 for Mt. Barwell (page 219) when a pickup came zooming up the big hill, the driver asking if it was our vehicle blocking access for heavy equipment turning left across the bridge. (This was on a Sunday.) So Tony was driven back to our car while I carried on breaking trail up the pipeline trail. Eventually we reunited higher up the pipeline and made a small loop with Mt. Barwell trail and First Ridge where we discovered a large part of Barwell’s east ridge and its northern slope had been logged. On returning down the well road we ran into the heavy equipment that was stuck at the bottom of the steep hill. The pickup driver offered us a ride back to our car but we very politely declined saying we were out for some excercise. Judging by his expression, he thought we were crazy.
Initially, the second trip went much better. We started from access 1 for Mt. Barwell at Fisher Creek staging area and followed the Mt. Barwell trail up the steep eastern escarpment (ironically, to the noise of gunfire from the wells under Mesa Butte) and along the logged east ridge that offered really enjoyable walking. This time we avoided the snowy pipeline trail by sticking to the Barwell trail until it more or less hit the well road come up from Fisher Creek.Here we tranferred to the road and followed it to the upper well site below the east summit. (The bit of trail we omitted is twice as long with many steep ups and downs.)
On the trail again, we climbed to the east summit—our original objective. Here we decided to carry on to the main summit, reasoning that if we returned via the more straightforward well road to Fisher Creek and the closed portion of Hwy. 549 we should be able to reach the car before night fell at 6.30. We had headlanps in any case. So having made that decision we weren’t worried about delaying pockets of deep snow on that last endless pull to the top of Barwell. And so it worked out. But what we should have been worrying about were the flurries forecast for that evening. We had a gnarly drive back to Calgary in a blizzard so intense we couldn’t see the centerline or the sides of the roads.
Distance 16.1 km (16.8 km if returning the same way), 707 m (2320 ft.) of height gain. Microspikes and headlamps essential.