On a wierd weather day we recently snowshoed up McLean Hill from Hwy. 549. We have been up Ridge trail many times before, but always as a spring tune-up. This would be our first time on snow and we guessed that the motor bike trail would translate well into a snowshoe trail. It did. The hills are manageable (not for novices, though) and the pine forest retains the snow well. Amazingly, the snow was more like mid-winter snow, and very often we were breaking trail through 14 inches of the stuff.
The winter gate across Hwy. 549 near the McLean Creek camper centre was closed, so we walked up the road. Our usual route up Ridge trail actually starts just past the yellow 1 km marker. But this time we short-cutted by turning left in 500 m onto a NE–SW cutline at a fence. At the steepening, we took the cutline access road to left, crossed the cutline at the top of the hill, then continued on the access road to where Ridge trail comes in from the right.
Still on the access road, we flogged up a short steepish hill to a north ridge and at two orange signs, turned right onto a narrow trail that follows the ridge southeastward. We had no problem finding the trail in the snow, which was good, because here and there you have to weave around some windfall. Below where the ridge steepens,we headed off left and crossed a NW-SE cutline at more orange signs. This marked the start of a steeper, deeper climb to open forest near the summit. All that remained was to cross a N-S cutline and step up to the summit. We scraped some snow off the rocks for a seat and took in the view while sharing half a Mars bar. The sun shone on us briefly, but most everywhere else the foothills and Front Range peaks were playing peek-a-boo with black swirling storm clouds. We noticed the temperature was falling fast.
On the way back, we decided to follow Ridge trail out to the 1 km point on the road. Not only was the trail undulating, it called for some serious trail breaking. So by the time we reached the road, the storm clouds were fast approaching, and only 100 m from the car we got pummeled by a sudden onslaught of wind and wet graupel.
Groping our way back along Hwy. 549 and Hwy. 66 in the car, with the wipers going at full blast, we passed the area’s wild horses, who didn’t seem at all bothered by the wild weather and were calming munching on bits of brown grass sticking up through the snow. By the time we got to the Bragg Creek watering hole the sun was out.
- Approach via Hwy. 66 from Bragg Creek, then Hwy. 549.
- Distance our route 7.8 km return, via Ridge trail 8.8 km return from the winter gate (opens on April 30).
- Height gain our route c. 366 m (1200 ft.) High point 1722 m (5650 ft. )