Early season run to Horseshoe Basin

Jeremy C

Member
Joined
Aug 27, 2014
Messages
101
Here's my first trip report since rejoining. It's not a huge trip and I did get caught with some early season snow packs that put a hard damper in the slog going forward.

I left Calgary at 4:45am an got on the highway for the 3hr drive to the trailhead on the east edge of Waterton National Park. Seeing the weather and avalanche reports I was aiming for the clearer skies vs the snow storms hitting the western parks, as well the dry winter down south meant I should have clear-ish trails (or so I had thought).

Got to the trailhead just before sunrise and set off up the first ridge past the buffalo paddock heading up towards the shoulder of Belevue hill.

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Looking south towards Waterton propoer and Old Chief hiding on the left there.

I got up and over the shoulder into the valley to be greeted with the omnipresent Mt Galwey being splattered with nice dappled light, which was one of my primary goals for the trip, so I found a viewpoint and setup the 4x5 camera for the first exposure of the day.

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After packing up the struggles began. Making your way down into the valley you come upon multiple early season snow packs that were sketchy at best. The crust was the typical spring 3 inch crust for the rockies, so slick ice on top and softer slush underneath. In hindsight I should have packed snowshoes but didn't. SO making my way through the first section I slowly poked my way across the non-obvious trail and punched through a few times but overall it was just slow. This area was ravaged by wildfires a few years back and there was a lot of "hidden gems" of dead fall and remnants that were just under the snow cap which played in my head. Getting to the second major set was worse as it was in the middle of a skeletal forest so I really slowed down and picked my way across coming to a nice valley below the end goal of Lakeview Ridge. As the temps rose I decided that the two main packs I crossed already were going to be a bad idea if I waited longer into the afternoon, so I cut the hike shorter of my goal and picked my way slowly back (only managed to punch a few holes and no long lasting injuries hehe). Stopped at the top of the shoulder looking south towards Waterton again for another photo with the 4x5 and lazily walked back down the ridge to the car. All in all it has a lot of potential for mid season, but needs a week or three to clear some of that remaining snow off to be a bit safer.

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Dry creekbed looking towards Lakeview Ridge

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Skeletal pine forest after the fire

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Final shot of the day
 

Ugly

Life really is better Here
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Joined
Apr 20, 2013
Messages
903
Welcome to BCP.
I liked Waterton a lot the times I visited years ago. Hiking in the late winter, early spring is always a mixed bag (usually a bag of mud and postholing combined with some nice walking with almost no one about).
Is that normal snow levels for March?
 

Jeremy C

Member
Joined
Aug 27, 2014
Messages
101
@Ugly Nah, I’d say that is an unseasonably low pack for the area. Seems from the pass east to Waterton is quite low. Now as I type this it’s snowing again in Calgary, but yea you’re right, early season is a mixed bag and I probably should have been a bit better prepared either way.
 

SteveR

Member
Joined
Sep 22, 2016
Messages
501
Really like the second of the B and W! Both for the skies, and the way it captures the feeling of how the mountains at Waterton rise so abruptly out of the prairie landscape. Regarding the snowpack- your comment sparked my curiosity and I took at look at Alberta Environment snow pillow data. Yes- Waterton is down substantially from last year- but I had to extrapolate a bit as there is no average range shown on the Akamina Pass graph. Looking at sites in Glacier NP and to the north in the Castle- the surrounding mountain areas are in the normal range. What I have noticed from skiing this winter is that while the mountains have a pretty much normal snowpack- foothill areas have been well below average.
 

Jeremy C

Member
Joined
Aug 27, 2014
Messages
101
Really like the second of the B and W! Both for the skies, and the way it captures the feeling of how the mountains at Waterton rise so abruptly out of the prairie landscape. Regarding the snowpack- your comment sparked my curiosity and I took at look at Alberta Environment snow pillow data. Yes- Waterton is down substantially from last year- but I had to extrapolate a bit as there is no average range shown on the Akamina Pass graph. Looking at sites in Glacier NP and to the north in the Castle- the surrounding mountain areas are in the normal range. What I have noticed from skiing this winter is that while the mountains have a pretty much normal snowpack- foothill areas have been well below average.
I should have been a bit more explicit, you're right. I'd agree that the mountain and alpine areas are near normal or over normal in some areas, but it's weird that foothills out and edges of the ranges seem less than previous years or at least earlier cleared than past years. Heading out to passes would still be deep postholing or snowshoe accessible only I think. So you are right it's more limited to the very front range and the foothills!
 
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