Winter Walk over Bens Hill

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.

Looking down the step on Loamzilla which is avoided by a detour up the side draw.

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.

Two weeks ago and upper Loamzilla is free of snow.

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.

The stone sircle on the summit of Ben’s Hill. Upright rocks mark the cardinal points of the compass.

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.

Leaving the summit on Pistolero. Prairie Mountain in the background.

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 ridge section of Pistolero at the mid point.

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)

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8 comments… add one
  • davebloggs Nov 25, 2019, 10:46 am

    Went over Bens hill yesterday a very nice hike not a single person on the trail. the snow at the top was about a foot in drifts but still an amazing walk on a winters day. this is a great hike and well worth the trip if you have not done this one yet.
    https://youtu.be/nvpQKOYQ-Hw

  • davebloggs Jul 22, 2019, 6:18 am

    My first trip to Bens hill on Sunday and i have to say that is a very pleasant hike only about 6 kms round but the views from the top are stunning . heading up pistolero and down loamzilla was great advise way easier on the legs, there is one steep part from the left turn at the bottom of pistolero but that only goes on for a short time then its a slow easy walk up to the top of the hill where sitting in the sunshine enjoying this amazing place we live in was worth every step. half way down loamzilla is a rock band and there is a side route down that part well marker with tape, just head down the slope and rejoin the main trail all in all a very nice hike
    https://youtu.be/9YXlHRvCGa8

  • davebloggs Dec 30, 2018, 11:55 am

    Now that was the first thing that went through my mind, where the heck is Ben’s hill 🙂 i have done prairie several times but not been along that way its now on my to do list for sure looks like a fairly straight forward hike. thanks for the info.

  • Kirsten Phillips Dec 26, 2018, 6:01 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation of Ben’s Hill. I never knew about it before. I had a lovely solo walk with an energetic puppy on Boxing Day. Not another soul and the Pistolero-Loamzilla direction seemed to work well. There was only 2-3 inches of fresh snow.

  • Tony Daffern Dec 21, 2018, 11:03 am

    Seeing as mountain bikers have taken over most of the hiking trails in the Elbow I think hikers are entitled to hike some of the easier DHS trails. We certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to hike trails with technical features.

  • Gord Dec 20, 2018, 6:32 pm

    Sorry I meant bikers should be allowed in Brown Lowry Provincial Park

  • Gord Dec 20, 2018, 6:04 pm

    Mmbts had nothing to do with these trails!! In fact the Former president Reg Mullet discouraged the trail builders being there stating sacred native land. Hikers were not meant to be on these trails as they are downhill specific. These trails were built at a cost to the builders with no provincial funding! If hikers are allowed here then hikers should be allowed in Brown- Lowry provincial park.

  • TimO Dec 20, 2018, 9:20 am

    I like this area, it is easy to access and there are cut lines roads and trails to traverse. The Bens Hill summit seems to get a lot of late sun, I always wish I could stay.

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