South Mist Hills (Mist Creek hills), Alberta
July 19th, 2021
This was the last hike of our great Alberta 2021 adventure. It was an extra special hike for Fynn because it was the one he had specifically chosen beforehand out of the many we had viewed online. What had stood out for him were some photos of the grassy, serene slopes along the way surrounded by incredible mountain vistas. I pushed aside my usual desire to focus on peaks and just accepted whatever kind of climb this would be. I wasn't expecting much and yet it turned out to be one of the more lovely hikes I have done in my life! I will be eternally grateful to my son for choosing such a perfect last hike on such a great trip.
After a beautiful drive from Black Diamond to highway 40 (be aware this road is closed from December to mid-June), we arrived at the empty parking lot next to the trailhead of South Mist Hills (otherwise known as Mist Creek hills) by 10am. We had downloaded a GPS route from Bob Spirko's website which made the route up pretty clear. Finding the trail at the parking lot isn't evident and we simply started the hike on the dry river bed / runoff area, but if you walk along the forest edge on the left side of this, the path is right amongst the trees.
We followed this dry bed for longer than we needed to and eventually climbed up a small embankment to reach the official trail (where upon the bank broke away as I stepped up and led to an awkward twist of my left leg). This could have been a quick end to the hike as the fall tweaked my knee awkwardly... I cursed myself for this clumsy tumble, but stretching it out and continuing on seemed to resolve the slight pain I was feeling. What an "old man" injury that could have been! Especially in view of my spry young son hopping about from rock to rock. Oh well, time is on no ones side anyway!
Following the trail was beautiful, straightforward (I thought) and leisurely. Elevation gain at this point was nothing excessive or difficult. We were often awarded incredible views of the surrounding mountains and a beautiful mountain river below. Maybe the simple trail and scenery was so distracting that I never bothered to check the GPS route on a regular basis, I just assumed it was a one way trip up. I don't recall ever coming to a fork in the path where a decision would need to be made, but like I said, I must have been distracted by all the beauty.
Next thing I knew we were at a point in the trail that would cross a dry stream bed and start heading east! This certainly didn't seem right and a quick check of the route revealed we had long passed the unseen fork that would have led us up the ridge southwest of the hill we were heading for. Refusing to backtrack, we both stared at the little dry stream bed in front of us that would clearly lead us straight up to South Mist hills. Neither of us fearing a new off trail adventure, we plowed ahead into the small stream bed filled with convenient stepping stones, offering a kind of natural staircase towards our goal.
We spent about 30 minutes (and 125m of elevation gain) making our way up the stream bed until we exited onto the main southwestern grassy slope of South Mist hills. From here it would be a steep slog of 261 meters elevation gain until we reached the top of the hillside and the summit of our last hike. Despite the steepness, the environment we suddenly found ourselves in was of such exceptional beauty, the strain of the hike did not matter. We could pause as many times as needed and we would just take in the views. Only problem we encountered were the ever present deer and horse flies, but they did serve to help propel us forward.
This was obviously the most challenging section for us and required more "catch your breath" breaks, but at the same time it was an incredibly serene, quiet, calm and divine place. As I looked around at the surrounding grassy hillsides on the ridges to the southwest of us, I felt a deep stirring and resonance from something in my childhood. What was this feeling of long awaited arrival? Of some kind of dreamlike remembrance? Then it came to me.
As an adolescent I used to spend much time starring at the photos in a camping/hiking book I had, before I had ever had a chance to do either of those things and for which I longed to experience. One particular image always stood out. It was photo of a tent nestled on a sunny, grassy, mountain hillside very similar to this one. It was a place I could only dream of going to at that age and something that seemed destined to remain far out of reach. And now here I was, finally arriving 3 decades later through the fateful choices of my own son. The realization of the moment was supremely beautiful and joyful. What a life we lead, so often guiding us to where we need to be without us ever realizing it is happening. It's incredible. It's spiritual. It's perfect.
In the middle of this hillside was an interesting rock outcropping that was serving as a motivating landmark for us to reach. It took close to 40 minutes to reach it, which shows the effort it took to get up this slope. We took a much needed pause and had some snacks from our lunch. I took in the views and was thankful to mother earth for having created such astounding landscapes. The sense of serenity in this area was powerful. It felt relaxed and safe, even at such an altitude and isolated location. I loved it.
After our short lunch break, it was time for the final push up the last 100 meters. Heading up at such an angle always makes it very difficult to tell how close you are to the top, so we just kept pushing and breathing, knowing the end was not much further. And so it was, 30 minutes later we found ourselves on the top of the ridge spine of South Mist hills, surrounded by epic mountain views in all directions.
With hugs of joy, satisfaction and pride, Fynn and I took all the necessary summit photos and videos while feeling a great sense of accomplishment. I couldn't believe what an awesome hike he had chosen for us to climb, and for it to be the last one of our trip added a kind of perfection to it. As we stared eastward and homeward at the nearby summit of Highwood Peak, I couldn't help but picture us returning in the future and attempting to summit the mountain! Alas, how quickly the mind can move out of a splendid present and into an ethereal future. How transitory it all is, especially 2 months later writing this.
Once again, we found a nice pedestal rock to leave some of my fathers ashes on before deciding to head back down the mountain. I tried to convince Fynn that we should try returning via the clear trails in the valley below that would circle back to the parking area in a kind of loop, but he insisted we return the same way we came. And so it was.
It was a full 2 hours of descending back down the same route, pausing occasionally to gather cool stones for mementos, which unfortunately most were lost due to not being secured in the backpack properly. This was a bit of a downer for Fynn, since he had found some truly beautiful stones. We even backtracked at the end of our hike near the dry river bed to see if we could find one he had accidentally left on the ground when we took a pause. But it had vanished. So it was with some sadness that we said goodbye to this final hike and the end of our trip (we were leaving the next day).
Since our return Fynn and I have already had many conversations about returning for more adventures next year. Here's hoping to more hikes, the end of the pandemic and the return to freedom and joy for all.
Round trip distance from parking spot to top of South Mist Hills: Approximately 4.5 miles (7.26 km)
South Mist Hills highpoint: 7,975 feet (2431 m)
Elevation gain from parking area to South Mist Hills highpoint: 2,208 feet (673 m)
GPS Coordinates of highpoint of South Mist Hills: 50.535033 N; -114.817522 W (DD - Decimal Degrees system)