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This Meetup is cancelled

McPhail Creek to Weary Creek Gap 3 Day Backpack

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  • This is totally wild , absolutely NO FRILLS backpacking. There are NO FACILITIES. we bear bag our food, we s@#t and p@#s in the woods. CAMPING HERE IS FREE. RSVP opens May 5, 2013 Sunday 9:00pm

    Here is Mike Potters description:






    McPhail Creek to Weary Creek Gap


    By Mike Potter

    Map reference:

    C-2 on Gem Trek's Highwood & Cataract Creek map
    Rating: Easy to suggested campsite, strenuous beyond. Requires fords.
    Distance: 20 km return to suggested campsite.
    Elevation gain: 290 m to suggested campsite. Allow: 5 ½ to 6 hours return.


    From Highwood Junction (the meeting of Highways 541, 40 and 940), drive 5.7 km west on Highway 40 to Cat Creek Recreation Area. Alternatively, this recreation area is 32.7 km east of Highwood Pass. The trail leaves from the northwest side of the turning loop, at the end of the spur road.

    Annual road closure:

    Highway 40 is closed between Kananaskis Lakes Trail turn-off and Highwood Junction from December 1 to June 15.

    Trail summary:

    Backpacking up McPhail Creek brings you to a wild basin almost completely enclosed by mountains and ridges, a remote spot where grizzly bears and elk roam. Camping 50 metres up the trail toward Lake of the Horns gives you several attractive options for day trips, including Lake of the Horns, Weary Creek Gap and Hill of the Flowers.

    Elevation gain up McPhail Creek to the campsite is minimal; however, be aware that forays from there, however short, involve substantial elevation gain - 3 km round trip and 400 m to Lake of the Horns, 7 km round trip and 435 vertical metres to Weary Creek Gap, and 4.2 km return and a hefty 550 m to Hill of the Flowers.

    The trail:

    The beginning of this trip is easy, a gentle warm-up on an old road that leads to a ford of the Highwood River in a little less than 2 km. Across the river, continue on the old road, gaining a terrace and keeping right at its top. This shortcut reconnects with the road up McPhail Creek, where you turn right (northwest) at km 2.6. Several shortcuts are evident as you progress up the valley.

    Keep right (west) at a junction in a meadow 6 km from the start, and after one more shortcut descend to McPhail Creek. The open area here, a former lumber camp, can serve as an alternate campsite. The usual campsite in a basin 50 m up the trail toward Lake of the Horns is only 2 km farther, though, so most will opt to continue there. Take an old road to the right before corrals near the end of the cleared area, and soon join a wide cutline. It undulates over two climbs, but a third rise (which links with the route up the Hill of the Flowers) can be skirted by a detour left.

    The well-defined side trail to Lake of the Horns leads, in just 50 m or so, to the spot where you can pitch your tent.

    To Weary Creek Gap


    The continuation of the trail up McPhail Creek leads to Weary Creek Gap on the Alberta/British Columbia border. Be aware that when the old road ends, there is a vague section before you locate the trail that angles up to the right of the waterfall on the right side of the headwall. There is a small lake just atop the headwall, after which another short stint of navigation will see you picking up a trail that leads across a meadow to Weary Creek Gap. For a pass on the divide, this isn't very distinct, marked only by a small cairn. After a short, narrow defile through trees, however, the trail heads downhill, a conclusive signal that you're now in B.C. It is an 8 km round trip from the suggested campsite to Weary Creek Gap, with an additional 435 m elevation gain.

    Lake of the Horns option


    This small body of water lies cupped in a high rocky bowl between Mt. McPhail and Horned Mountain, and presents almost tropical shades of turquoise and green if it's sunny. From the suggested campsite, continue on the well-used horse trail. (An alternate path goes right and rejoins the horse trail high up, but can be muddy.) The more scenic horse trail soon comes close to a canyon on the creek flowing from the lake, then works steeply up the open bank. There are some small hoodoos en route.

    The final approach is via a line through the headwall that requires scrambling and routefinding. The sublime setting is ample reward for your exertions, and you may even see some of the fossils that gave the lake its name. This option is a 3 km round trip from your campsite; the amount of climbing is indicated by the fact that it is almost 400 m higher.

    Hill of the Flowers option


    The name of this feature, which, like that of Lake of the Horns, was given by renowned author R.M. Patterson, is evocative and accurate. There are many and varied wildflowers to be enjoyed on this jaunt. From your campsite, backtrack to the junction with the detour used on the way in. For this hike, veer left to the high point, then left again on a mostly well-defined horse trail that leads up through trees to open slopes.

    The trail fades here but it's a simple matter to proceed up the ridge. En route are larch trees, and superlative views from the top take in the Highwood Valley and then back into the basin at the head of McPhail Creek. This option is 4.5 km return from your campsite, and again is steep, climbing 550 m.


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  • Jennifer

    Sorry found out a friend I haven't seen in 7 years will be in town this weekend!

    July 27, 2013

  • Andy D.

    July 26th update. The roads are still closed. If they are still closed Monday I plan on calling them personally but may have to pull the plug on this trip. Sorry.

    July 26, 2013

  • Andy D.

    As of today July 21st, this area is still closed for access. I will monitor for another week but we may have to go elsewhere or cancel all together.

    July 21, 2013

  • Andy D.

    We will get together for a pretrip discussion about a week before we leave to discuss gear and sharing arrangements.

    July 16, 2013

  • Misty W.

    Lake of the horns has a very steep headwall from what I've read.What would it be classed as on our rating system? I'm thinking the going down might be more "invigorating" than the going up! lol

    May 18, 2013

    • Andy D.

      S5 just to be safe. Probably an OT% though. The trip is exploratory for me.

      May 18, 2013

    • Andy D.

      OT5 that is

      May 18, 2013

  • Atash

    I am in!!

    April 12, 2013


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